Article Index


The remainder of us headed for Oxford in two coaches, one for the boys and one for the girls, and we were all provided with a packed lunch. But what I remember most clearly about the journey, as a ten-year-old, is that we weren’t supposed to arrive early. Marjorie Seaver was in charge of our coach, and as any enthusiastic ‘historian’ might have done in her place, she instructed the driver to take diversions to Windsor Castle and the Stone that commemorates the signing of the Magna Carta, stopping en route at just about every public toilet between Maidstone and the ‘City of Dreaming Spires’.

When we did finally arrive at Oxford, it was still too early so we were taken to a park near the river for some exercise. But eventually it became possible to enter Somerville College, which had earlier been the ‘seat of learning’ for our ‘tour guide’! This is a Ladies college, and permission had already been granted for the girls, including my sister Valerie, to remain there for the duration. However, the boys’ accommodation at St Peter’s Hall wasn’t ready for us, so we were obliged to sleep on the Somerville dining room floor for a couple of nights, surrounded by our possessions.

The Principal of St Peter’s was Mary Stocks, a close friend of Miss Leila, and her daughter Helen, would eventually join our staff when we moved to Hyde House. But this was a small college in the centre of the city, and the student accommodation consisted of single study bedrooms. So with three boys assigned to a room, one slept at each end of the bed and the third lay on a mattress on the floor. But despite these cramped conditions, we were now more comfortable than we had been in the cellar, and would take turn to wear the black gown and the academic hood that were discovered in the wardrobe.

The month of August was warm and dry in 1940, so the local park became our classroom during the morning, and the afternoons were spent playing games, visiting historic buildings or watching a film at the nearby cinema. Nevertheless, we were obliged to vacate the students’ premises at the end of the month, as preparations were being made for the commencement of the Mickaelmas term. So we went our separate ways until the following January, when Hyde House in Dorset became available to Caldecott Community, and we were able to re-establish ourselves there safely until 1947.