Early days at 'Hatch' by Richard McClean 1948-1950
These memories were received into the Archive in November 2015, after Richard 'found' our website, and made contact with us. He also provided Caldecott School reports for the two years he attended and these are linked here. (link not made yet).
My brother David (born 1937) and I (born 1940) lived at Mersham le Hatch from September 1948 to July 1950. Our parents separated in 1944 and we were looked after first by our maternal grandmother until 1945 and then by our father’s parents in Ruislip, Middlesex. Our father, who served in the Royal Navy during the war, had difficulty in settling down after the war, and had no home of his own. After the death of our grandfather in 1947 we moved to Caldecott and stayed there until our father was able to offer us a place we could share with him in 1950. For holidays, we were taken or sent to stay with our father’s brother and his wife in Surrey or to our maternal grandmother in Lytham St Annes, Lancashire.
Sometime in 1948 our father took us to London and we went into a large room containing a long high desk, behind which there sat a row of people. Even when I stood up, I could not see more than the tops of their heads. A voice would ask me a question, and I could not decide to whom I should reply. We were then told that we would be going to boarding school in Kent, and were taken there by our father.
The place was impressive and, early on, I was overawed by its size and grandeur. David lived in the west wing, and my dormitory was in the main building, looking out over the front lawn. David went to school in Ashford, while I joined the class in the schoolroom looking into the stable yard. As a result, we did not see much of each other.
I was at first homesick and it took me several weeks to settle in. School lessons were fine, and included some features which, today, seem extraordinary, as they included Dalcroze eurhythmics and dancing (in the library), gardening, horse riding and woodwork. My reports suggest that I was more at home with desk work than with activity-based subjects (and an aunt called me “the professor”).
Our daily routine was: arise, wash, get dressed and make our beds (when I learned about hospital corners), breakfast in the dining room (my favourite dish being muesli, which was made the day before and soaked overnight), then household tasks. These included drying and putting away the tableware used in the meal, cleaning and tidying the dormitory and, memorably, sweeping the timber floors in the main areas (hall, dining room, living/playing room and library) and then polishing them with heavy dampers operated with a long pole. We then went off to the schoolroom. We had free time after school and before dinner, and were then packed off to bed.
My memories of Caldecott are pleasing. I cannot recall any times when any teacher or member of staff caused me any upset or distress, and I was kindly cared for. My class was a mixed bunch of children, some of whom were less settled than me, but I have no memories of trouble or disturbance between staff and children.
* The rhododendron bushes in front of the house, where we played hide and seek.
* The long Sunday morning walks to see the Golden Arrow on its way from London to Dover.
* Visits on Saturdays to a local tuck shop, where I recall buying my first Wagon Wheel.
* The pond where there were two swans (I remember them as swans, not herons).
* Riding round the estate on my new Rudge bicycle and, once, falling off into a nettle bed.
* Piano lessons in the library – these were offered to me by the music teacher. I think I was the only child learning the piano at the time – out of the eight schools I attended to my O level year, she was the only teacher who noticed that I was musical, and I pay tribute to her for this.
* The Queen Mother’s visit in, I think, 1949. We were told to occupy ourselves with something, and I chose to work on my stamp collection – the QM commented to me that her husband was a keen philatelist. I still have the magnifying glass given to me at Christmas for examining my collection.
* The noise of the huge colony of rooks that roosted in trees at the front of the house.
* Sliding down the stair banisters, straddled over the rail under our stomachs – terrifying.
Years later, I looked Mersham le Hatch up in Pevsners guide to buildings in Kent and saw that, in his concluding sentence, he said that the house was used as a school for deprived children, a remark which jolted me – although my childhood was rather nomadic and continued to be unsettled, I had not thought that I had been deprived, just unlucky. I still remember my days at Caldecott with affection.
11th November 2015