A collection of individual memories of Chorleywood
These memories have been collected as part of the 150th celebrations of NCW in 2016 and the 100th celebration of Chorleywood in 2021. They have been gathered largely from former students and staff of the college.
Christmas at Chorleywood
Students are enjoying end of Autumn term events, including staff/student football matches and the College Christmas dinner. Also, the Choir and other performers are busy preparing seasonal music for tomorrow’s concert. The Christmas concert has been an important part of the history of Worcester, Chorleywood and New Colleges Anne and Eileen recalled Chorleywood carol concerts from the 1950s and Trish and Julie remembered the 1960s and 1970s:
Christmas in the fifties was a much more low key affair than it is now. The nation was still recovering from the war and, although we weren’t hungry, there wasn’t an abundance of food. This was very much reflected at Chorleywood. What we remembered about Christmas at school is mainly music. They practised and sang carols for weeks in readiness for the Carol Service which was held in what was then the hall. A few people from the neighbourhood were invited and how we all squashed into that small space is beyond me. The one thing we do remember very clearly is the party given by the Rickmansworth Firemen. It was brilliant. We all went to the Fire Station and they entertained us and then we sang, “All in the April Evening” which reduced the hulks of men to quivering heaps.
By the late 1960s, we still spent weeks practising carols, especially as in some years we had a carol concert, to which parents were invited, in addition to the more private carol service. We walked in procession down the oak stairs, across the entrance hall, through the library into the winter garden and coming through into the back of the hall for the carol service? What a performance!
Miss McHugh loved carols, and in the Christmas term before she retired, we started singing carols in our morning prayers from early November. No firemen’s parties for us, though sometimes the choir did have a trip to Ford’s at Dagenham, where our carols were relayed all through the factory. We were rewarded with a very good lunch, and usually were each given a box of chocolates or other small gift.
During her oral history interview, Julie reflected on what she gained from her time at Chorleywood:
The thing that has shaped me the most has been learning how to make friends and relate to people, which happened there very much. Also what came through my parents, and was fostered by both my schools, was having high expectations of myself and not seeing limits. Seeing only opportunities – to have a go and try to find a way to do it, and not, ‘oh dear I can’t do that because I’m blind, it’s too difficult.’ Chorleywood did foster that sense of not feeling limited. We always assumed we would get jobs, husbands, houses and do stuff. That is what we thought would be the norm. We didn’t think in terms of this might be difficult. Sometimes it was difficult, but it wasn’t the first thing we thought of. This is what has shaped me because I’ve always wanted to have a go at things. It is better to have tried and failed than not to have tried at all.
‘Pathway into Light’
In 1952, Chorleywood and Worcester College students took part in a film called ‘Pathway Into Light’, which had a commentary provided by the actor Jack Hawkins. John describes his involvement:
While I was at Worcester RNIB sent a crew down to make a publicity film and they wanted some activity in the gym. I was singled out for this and I had to kick a football at Ray Follett, who was in goal, i.e. the window ladders at the end of the gym. Ray rolled the ball out and I promptly belted it back at him. The cameraman said this would not do and insisted that I bent down to feel the ball with my hand before kicking it. I tried to explain that this was not what we did, but was silenced and told that if I kicked the ball without touching it people would not believe I could not see. Much to my shame I capitulated and did what I was told.
In 1959, the Chorleywood Choir produced a 45 RPM extended play record called ‘The First Christmas’ which was issued in the HMV Junior Record Club series. As the record sleeve describes:
Christmas is inevitably linked with carols and many of the most popular of them are sung on this record by the Chorleywood College Blind Children’s Choir. They form the musical background against which the story of the shepherds watching their flocks by might, of the three kings from the East following the star to Bethlehem, of the child Jesus in the manger, is told by Dame Edith Evans, one of Britain’s best loved and distinguished actresses.
Another Chorleywood Christmas tradition was recalled by Trish when she was interviewed as part of our Oral History Project, supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund.
The Sixth Form would get up early on the last day of term and walk around the main building singing carols. Each dormitory would have submitted a choice of carol and the members of staff did too. And so they would sing that particular carol up at the windows; coming from outside it just sounded beautiful. We used to wait for the carols coming. You could hear the carols coming from around the other side of the building. When we were younger, we used to follow it round. We used go into other people’s dorms to listen to their carols. I took part twice. One morning it was a real winter’s morning and by the time we had finished we were absolutely frozen, but it was good fun. Some of the dorms would throw bags of sweets down after you had sung the carol.
The Sixth form also went out on two evenings during the last week, round the village to sing carols to the friends of the school, like the local vicar or some of the cleaners who lived locally. They weren’t expecting us. Then there was one lady who had been a housekeeper at the school and she was expecting us. We always made that the last port of call and she would invite us all in and she would be ready with hot mince pies and hot drinks. We used to spend the rest of the evening with her and sing the occasional carol; and that was really good.
With the end of term and Cathedral concert approaching, the students are looking forward to Christmas. The girls at Chorleywood have fond memories of their Christmas traditions, although Susan, a student from the 1970s, remembers her worry of one year:
I dreaded the day before the October half term when, as we filed out of assembly, we each took a piece of paper from a drum. The paper bore the name of the person for whom we had to make a “tree present”, to be given out at the Christmas party. These were to be made rather than bought, they weren’t supposed to cost much and food (though plentiful) was discouraged.
One year my worst nightmare happened – I was to make something for our headmistress. Nobody wanted to swap. What did she get? A spring bonnet pin-cushion made out of a paper plate turned upside down, a round bath sponge, a bit of an old dress and some different coloured pins and a spray of artificial flowers. Miss Markes found out who made it and thanked me.
In February 1978, a group of eight girls and four staff went from Chorleywood to Sappada in Italy on a ski-ing holiday. Miss Blunt described their experiences:
We stayed in the Hotel Europe where the girls enjoyed the juke-box in the lounge after supper. As the ski slopes were close by we ate three meals in the hotel, with not much variety except in the shape of the pasta. However, an ice cream parlour next door and a patisserie at the top of the ski slope helped supplement our diet.
Skating on the outdoor rink and tobogganing were enjoyable activities on the first two days, but rain spoilt these for us. A chair-lift taking us up 2,000 metres above the village was another memorable experience. Most of the group tackled down-hill ski-ing with commendable success, considering the poor weather conditions. We spent four to five hours on the last day, and two of the girls were rewarded with an exciting run down the full piste, returning for the first time on a drag lift.
The war effort
Over the years, Chorleywood students devoted their time to a variety of philanthropic activities. In the Second World War years, these were devoted to helping with the war effort, as described in the College magazine of 1942-3:
This year the school has again helped with domestic duties, knitted comforts for the troops, gathered eight-four pounds of hips needed by the Government for hip syrup and sent the money thus obtained to the Red Cross.
Crafts at Chorleywood
In the 1930s, Chorleywood had a Crafts’ Guild. The College magazine of 1934-35 described some of their activities:
The Country Life Group worked vigorously throughout the summer term. Interest was stimulated by various competitions, these were: I to recognize the leaves of various trees; II to recognise a number of wild flowers; III to arrange wild flowers; IV to make miniature gardens; V to imitate bird songs.
The Emergency Group had a series of lectures on ‘Some general principles of First Aid,’ illustrated by practical work. The other members devoted most of their time to simple bandaging.
After the merger
Auriol describes the new College in the months after the merger:
All the rest of the girls arrived at Worcester on Tuesday 8 September 1987. I arrived in time for lunch, then I was taken to the Gables, (now Brown House). There were twenty-three girls all packed into the one house: all the would-be occupants of Dorothy McHugh and Peggy Markes houses put together. After several weeks, the Peggy Markes people moved out of the Gables, so there was much more space. Then we moved into Dorothy McHugh shortly before Christmas.
As the months turned into a year or two, we found our way between the main building, the houses and the temporary buildings, apparently coping well with areas of building site. In the spring term 1989, the leisure block opened. It was very full of echo and noisy at first, but basically I was impressed: there was much more choice and the food was a considerable improvement. The carpet was a later addition.
Our first Christmas after the merger seemed a massive undertaking. On Saturday the 19th, there was the first informal Christmas concert. It was held in the gym. No other concert was ever quite like it to my mind: but then, there is always a magic about the first event of that kind. Two senior boys were the comperes, posing as cleaners, and the programme included a recorder duet, the college blues, the first of the school psalms on fire regulations, the deafening and almost frighteningly noisy “If At First” to finish with, and my unaccompanied rendition of “Hark The Herald”, in which I forgot the words and the audience helped me out. On Sunday the 20th, we had my first carol service at Saint Martin’s.
When the decision was made to merge Chorleywood and Worcester Colleges, there was considerable discussion about where the new college should be located and its nature. Two reports were written and both came to the decision that the site in Worcester should be chosen. The Report of the Working Party led by Miss Chapman stated:
4. Members wish to record their admiration for the present schools. At both, a most impressive list of academic subjects is studied with conspicuous success in GCE examinations and in university entrance. The schools have established an academic reputation which is unequalled anywhere in the world, and an excellent range of sporting activities takes place at both schools.
5. The working party believe it important to stress that whatever arrangements are made for the future they should be such as to ensure that these high standards continue. We believe the functions of the new school should be to provide for pupils the opportunity for optimum personal, social and academic development, and enable them to realise their potential, and that it should continue to provide for those pupils capable of benefiting from it an education leading to university and equivalent higher education.
8. There is a need for an energetic special school to enable parents to express a preference for educational placement and to act as a focus for specialised curriculum development and for the development of teaching methods and materials within groups of visually handicapped pupils.
11. We believe that there is relatively little to choose between the Worcester buildings and the Chorleywood buildings, though either site would need considerable development. We did, however, form the opinion that Worcester is a preferable location. It is a lively and friendly market town in which young blind people have been naturally accepted, and it has good accessibility for all parts of the country.
There was some sadness when Chorleywood was closed. Concorde dipped in salute to the girls as it flew over the last garden party in June 1987. The last year was described in the Old Girls’ Association Newsletter of 1987:
1986 was frequently punctuated with the remarks “this will be the last time we do this”, and “we won’t need these any more after this” – reminding us constantly that the life of Chorleywood College as such was gradually winding down. During the year a number of staff left. After the Summer Mrs. Kirkwood and Miss Murdie began commuting between Worcester and Chorleywood, so we see much less of them.
In spite of, or probably because of the above circumstances, the spirit in school during the first half of 1986 was very positive. Both the sixth form and the fifth years (who knew they would all leave) gave a great deal to the school in leadership and initiative, and by many of them staying on to the end of the Summer term instead of leaving straight after their exams.
Of course since September with our numbers in the mid-twenties and only six full-time teachers it has seemed like a different world. Nevertheless the year as a whole has been much like any other in that we have participated in the usual sports, swimming and athletics at numerous events, sailing, tandem marathon, fun run, judo and, new to us, goalball; in various kinds of speech, drama and music, culminating in an excellent performance of “Toad”; outside activities like Red Cross, Guides, church youth clubs; in fund raising through sales and sponsorships, and in theatre outings and educational visits. The usual parties and annual events have been celebrated – much photographed and videoed for posterity! Two girls were privileged to be chosen to visit Japan and Australia respectively, while the furthest most people ventured otherwise was France.
Feelings about the merger
Although the merger of Worcester and Chorleywood Colleges to become New College took place in September 1987, the first girls who were beginning GCSE and A Level courses arrived in the Autumn term 1986. Anita, who came in 1987, describes her feelings about the change:
As the merger grew closer, there was an almost 50 – 50 split in my year group in terms of those in favour and those against the idea. I most definitely belonged to the latter group. I was very comfortable in my Hertfordshire “home”. During the final days at Chorleywood, many tears were shed by many of us.
Then, summer came and for me it changed everything. I had the opportunity of getting to know some of the boys from Worcester at an international goalball competition in Milton Keynes and I began to realise that things might not be as black as they appeared to be. September came and with it many novelties – new friends, a new place to live, and a new course (first year of A-levels). I don’t recall those early days at Worcester being half as traumatic as I had imagined and I think that this was due to the fact that although I had left many good people and things behind at Chorleywood, I had also taken to Worcester perhaps the most important part of my life at that time – my friends. We gave each other the confidence and support needed to adapt to the new situation. The environment at Worcester also helped us along the way. It was more open and willing to embrace differences than Chorleywood; there were a wealth of new experiences to be discovered and enjoyed.
The third KS3 and KS4 boarding house is named after Peggy Markes. Miss Markes was the final headmistress of Chorleywood. Former students, Susie and Julie, provide some recollections:
Miss Markes believed that anything was possible for her girls to achieve, and would do all she could to enable a girl to study her chosen subjects if she showed interest and stickability. She would fight, too. It was only through the sheer tenacity of Miss Markes that I ever walked through the doors of Chorleywood as a pupil.
She was very clear in what she thought was right to do. I thought she did a lot of very good things, such as getting greater involvement with the community. She set up long weekends so that we could get out and meet up with our parents more regularly and for longer and there was fund-raising for a caravan on the premises so that parents could take their daughters out for two or three nights. She was a very strong champion of “her gals”. She was very proud of our achievements. I respect a lot of her achievements, but oh she used to shout.
The Sixth Form Hostel at NCW is named after Phyllis Monk, headmistress of Chorleywood from 1921 to 1944. Peter Foale, Miss Monk’s great nephew, has loaned NCW some of her diaries and her MBE for the 150th celebrations, and provides his recollections:
Phyllis Monk – or Great Aunt Phyllis as she was known to us – was a part of my life from my earliest memories until she died when I was aged 16. As children, we knew that she had done some remarkable things in her life. Her school prizes – lots of them – sat on our book shelves at home. We knew that she had gone to Cambridge University but had to go to Dublin to get her degree. Most importantly, we knew that she had been the first Head of Chorleywood, which was a ground-breaking school in so many ways.
I have clear memories of visiting her in the 1960s at the home she retired to in Jordans in Buckinghamshire: an elderly, dignified and rather serious woman but still with a twinkle in her eye and a great line in afternoon tea for her great nephews.
It’s only as I have got older that I have really come to understand what she achieved and I count myself very lucky to have known her.
The residential houses are named after some of the former heads of Worcester and Chorleywood Colleges. Dorothy McHugh House has students from Key Stages 3 and 4. Miss McHugh was headmistress of Chorleywood from 1945 to 1968. She is described by Barbara, a former student from 1942 to 1951:
Miss McHugh taught Science to many of the classes. She was Irish and, although she spoke with an accent, she spoke well. She introduced a system of prefects and sub-prefects. Prefects were from the Sixth form. Members of the school nominated the prefects. They took prep with the Third and Fourth forms. They would also be at the ends of the meal tables to keep order.
Miss McHugh was very keen on every girl being able to perform. During Lent the school was divided into 4 or 5 groups. The groups had to do a Saturday evening concert. This would include sole items such as a piece of poetry, a story or a piano piece, or a vocal duet. Miss McHugh did not like girls to sing on their own as she felt this made them big-headed. Teachers would check the items before performance.
Miss McHugh was considered very democratic as she would even go and help cleaning shoes. Nothing was beneath her. She would read books to older girls for an hour in the evening.
Mobility at Chorleywood
Changes in the approach to Mobility is a very rich vein of memories. Formal training only began in the 1960s. Judy recalls going out of Chorleywood in the late 1940s:
We walked for miles and there were many really lovely walks. We predated the using of long canes or any formal mobility training. Looking back, I’m amazed at the responsibility that the partially sighted girls were given. I don’t think it occurred to us at the time though.
Of course, there wasn’t a great deal of traffic because petrol was probably still rationed. However, we took it for granted that our partially sighted partners would get us on and off the correct bus and that we’d arrive back in one piece.
Weekends are now free time for the students. They can go home or take part in a range of activities which are organised. The students of both Worcester and Chorleywood Colleges had Saturday morning lessons, as Miss Boreham, a former member of staff at Chorleywood, recalls:
Saturday Morning School was from 9am to 1pm and involved living skills and music besides academic lessons. To compensate for Saturday lessons, Wednesday afternoons were broadly extra-curricular activities but could also include visits to the dentist or buying new shoes.
Care Staff slept in school as did the Headteacher or member of staff deputising for her. Teaching staff did weekend duties twice a year following Saturday morning School. The duty ran from after lunch on Saturday until 11pm on Sunday and the Teacher would have to sleep in school (often in Sick Bay) during that time.
Wendy also remembers some aspects of the Chorleywood uniform requirements of the late 1950s less than fondly:
The uniform was all brown on top, and for many years after leaving school I would refuse to buy any clothes which were brown. The tunics were Harris tweed, as were the heavy overcoats. I had a beret but never wore it, as there were velour hats for the winter and panamas for the summer. I’m sure half the uniform was unnecessary, but apparently the laundry took three weeks to turn round, hence the numbers of items needed.
We had two pairs of lace up walking shoes and a pair of house shoes, which I think had a strap and buckle. I seem to remember that we had to have 24 small handkerchiefs and 6 larger ones for the winter colds. Also, six white pairs of knickers for the summer, and six pairs of brown knickers for the winter. At least I missed the dreadful lisle stockings worn by older girls in my time. In my day once we had got through the junior forms wearing the sort of socks men might wear for football; we were allowed to wear 60 denier stockings in our senior years.
We also had very short tunics for gym which only came down to the tops of our thighs. Then there were overalls for science which got holes in them from the acid we used in the lab. I remember the gingham summer dresses, and again I would never buy any gingham clothes after leaving school.
Christine Cousins, a Biology teacher at Chorleywood, discussed the use of Fieldwork at a Curriculum Conference held at Worcester College in 1978:
This is the most exciting part of Biology, and should provide lasting memories. At Chorleywood, it is assumed that we will attempt anything that sighted people do.
The most important thing is to select your area carefully, and then to prepare your course extremely thoroughly: you must be certain that at the time you arrive, the tide will be right out, and that there will be so many fossils that you can’t walk between them.
Projects range from the grand ones, including rock surveying and construction of belt and line transects, to quadrat method (tie the quadrats to the pupils before they start to throw them), analysis of rock pool fauna, use of the dichotomous key and so, ending with simple ‘obvious’ things like the frequency of waves, tide changes, the nature of groynes, direction of flow of a stream. And when someone walks over the side of the bridge into the stream, we just turn this into an experiment!
Miss Phyllis Monk, the first headmistress of Chorleywood, was a Science teacher. In ‘Though Land be Out of Sight’, she described some of the adaptations made in the inter-war years
In simple experiments there would be several groups at work, but in chemistry, as for instance when studying the composition of water, when hydrogen was passed over heated copper oxide, the class shared the work of putting through the apparatus for a single experiment, and it was carried through with the sense of touch, hearing, smell and sight all employed. Plant physiology experiments were carried through as teamwork by the girls. We had many of the bones of a skeleton and a few models – ear, eye, throat.
Reproductions of my simple section diagrams, made with a spur wheel, for re-calling the chemistry and plant physiology experiments, were made by a volunteer, who wrote that he used an old sewing machine for the purpose.
Health and Safety
Judy, a former Chorleywood student, has also reflected on how life has changed:
In the late forties and early fifties the words “Health and safety” seemed to mean that hands must be washed before meals, outdoor shoes worn outside and house shoes inside. There seemed to be so much freedom and none of the staff seemed to bother at all that we took considerable risks jumping up and down the staircases, climbing the trees and running over the bridge across the ha-ha down to the tennis court and small wood.
How different our lovely old house and wonderful grounds were from descriptions made by pupils who arrived years later when the stone stair case had become known as the rubber stairs, and had special rails made to prevent the girls from falling over the ordinary banister.
For those of us who were interested we could have a small garden partway down the back drive, look after hens, cleaning them out or gathering the eggs. A pony and donkey joined us after some time, followed by a lamb which was so pretty and sweet when it was young.
Social Service group
Chorleywood under Miss Monk had an active Social Service group. Its activities are described in the College magazine of 1938-9:
Weekly working parties have been held on Sunday evenings, resulting in a large parcel of children’s knitted garments and some woolly balls from the juniors being sent at Christmas to the National Children’s Home at Harpenden.
Wood-gathering has been the work of Middle School, and the traditional neat bundles have been taken on Saturday to the Almshouse ladies on the Common, who paid a return visit at the Estate Christmas Party.
A new idea of sending occasional parcels of catkins, cones and horse-chestnuts for the Chelsea Day Nursery children was started.
Chorleywood is sending a terminal collection to Queen Mary’s High School, Walsall, so contributing towards the help given to three refugee children.
The financial challenges of the early years of Chorleywood College inspired two of the members of staff to write a school song called ‘Our ship’. The music was by Albert E. Bevan, and the words by Gwen Upcott:
The wind in the rigging, a clamorous salt sea,
Fair or dirty weather, it matters not to me,
For I’m afloat
In a sea-going boat,
And she won’t go down, not she! not she!
And she won’t go down, not she!
Though skies be overcast, and land be out of sight, The company I’ve shipped with is navigating right,
As seamen do
When the needle’s true,
And the racing sea foams white! foams white!
And the racing sea foams white!
Once aboard the Cedars, you’re never going back,
The wind is blowing forward, an awkward wind to tack,
You’ve swung your cot
With a pioneer lot,
You’ll very soon get the knack! the knack!
You’ll very soon get the knack!
Voyaging, voyaging! It’s not a pleasure trip,
Passengers not wanted, but if you’ll take a tip,
You’ll join the crew
And steer her through,
Here’s to all aboard our ship! Our ship!
Here’s to all aboard our ship!
Despite the problems with getting hold of class sets of textbooks in Braille before the Second World War, the girls of Chorleywood were very successful in their studies for English examinations. Miss Deavin, the teacher of English, Mathematics and Latin, describes the experience in lessons in Though Land be out of Sight: The Early Years of Chorleywood College:
I was always very glad that English fell to my lot, as it was a subject with infinite scope and universally popular. I look back with pleasure on out literature lessons, and remember the poetry and plays we enjoyed together. I have never much elsewhere such interested and attentive listeners or such spontaneous response. Even before fluency in Braille has been achieved, classwork in this subject presents few difficulties, and when pupils can read for themselves it has few limitations. The majority of our language work was incidental to our reading. We have cause to be thankful that we were spared the multiplicity of books of English exercises with which the educational market has been flooded for years past.
The request for memories has produced some evocative accounts, such as this description of Chorleywood from Janet:
Sitting in the oak panelled library of Chorleywood College, on a warm, Summer Sunday evening, with the bells ringing out from the local church, you could imagine yourself in the countryside. The grounds were extensive with lots of specimen trees and gave the impression of peace and space. Just like the romantic poetry you were studying for exams. The school was a small country house but had a gracious atmosphere and always smelt of polish. The large entrance hall had bay windows looking onto a circular lawn with a sundial. The library led off to the right and itself led into a Victorian Winter Garden. In these surroundings, it was easy to transport yourself into another era and lose the thread of your books. Whenever I hear country church bells, on the radio, I always think of Chorleywood.
Lyndall was one of the first girls to come to New College as part of the merger with Chorleywood. As part of our 150 years, we have gained Heritage Lottery Funding for an Oral History Project. In her interview, she recalled what she gained:
It’s my study and my friends that I really love most from what I did here. There are loads of people I am still in contact with. There is something about boarding school, about sharing life with people like that, that I think makes you closer, so my friendships are a really big thing for me from here. That was once we’d got over the weird boys, and that they didn’t want to talk to us.
One break time someone said something and made someone else laugh and suddenly all the girls went over and we were all talking to each other. It was about four weeks in, but when we did start talking to each other, we became very close. Those people would still be people I talk to today.
Today is the first day of the Autumn Term and the beginning of induction for new students and new sixth formers. Judy describes her excitement when she transferred to Chorleywood in 1946 at the age of eleven from another residential special school; she shows how uniforms and residential accommodation have changed:
My mother spent hours stitching name labels on to all the uniform items. There were six of all the underwear items and blouses, two pairs of outdoor shoes and one of indoor. A winter coat and gabardine mac and a hat with a brim and a beret were all packed into a trunk which were sent off by rail a couple of days before the term began.
How thrilling it was to sleep in a dormitory with only six beds covered by a pretty patchwork counterpane with a wool rug to step on to when I got out of bed. Now we each had our own washstand/dressing table at the bottom of our bed, with several drawers in which to keep our clothes, and a jug and bowl on top of one half which was covered with marble.
Off we would go in the morning soon after the waking up bell, carrying our jug and filling it in a small lobby at the end of the corridor with hot water in which we washed after we’d taken it back to the dormitory and tipped it into our wash bowl.
How smart I felt sitting on a comfortable cane seated chair at one of the seven refectory tables in the dining room and being able to choose to drink tea or coffee and to use marmalade which I removed from a dish in the middle of the table rather than the spoonful that had been placed on the rim at the edge of my plate.
Oh yes, this was certainly a wonderful place and one day it would have taught me to be a real lady, of that I was certain.
Travel to school
Today is Travel Day for the end of the summer term, and so this is our last memory until 6th September when the autumn term begins. These days most students go home by taxi or family car. This wasn’t the case for most students in the twentieth century. Miss Boreham describes the role of Chorleywood staff:
Students were escorted both ways; to London (Paddington/Marylebone), Heathrow Airport and Sheffield. Each member of staff took 4 pupils on the train to London. On one occasion one pupil wore all her clothes to enable her to take her radio/tape player in her case. She fainted from the resulting overheating of her body! Pupils were normally only allowed to carry a suitcase and a white cane, although a musical instrument was permitted. Staff were not supposed to help students carry their luggage, but we often did. In the early days we had to walk from the station across the common, but later on a coach was provided.
In July 1964, a group of fourteen Chorleywood students, accompanied by four staff went to Bergen, Norway. A scrapbook includes accounts by the students of visits to museums, markets and churches, as well as walking in the mountains and folk-dancing. Jane and Judith described one trip:
We began a slippery climb up a steep narrow path, with only a barbed wire fence on our right, and a precipitous drop on our left into the bog beneath. This took us quite a time, and we were glad to be able to sit down about an hour later for lunch. We chose a pretty spot under a high bank, and in front of us a wood, where we could hear the sound of a waterfall. We were all very hungry, and the buns, meat, cheese and tomatoes were soon all demolished. We proceeded to climb a wall into another boggy field, where we crossed a river on stepping stones, and after further hazardous climbing found ourselves on the lower slopes of the Liajfell, or Lia mountain.
Another of the ‘Personalities in the World of the Blind’ who influenced the history of Chorleywood and Worcester Colleges, as well as the RNIB, was Sir Beachcroft Towse. Towse was a former Gordon Highlanders’ Captain who had lost his sight as a result of a Boer War action which had gained him the Victoria Cross. He had official state duties as a member of the Honourable Corps of Gentlemen-At-Arms during the reigns of King Edward VII and George V, and played a leading role with a number of charities. He became first Chairman of the Chorleywood Governors, where, according to Miss Monk, ‘he supported, encouraged and inspired full life for the school and its individual members’. Something of his character is evident in The Beacon’s 1924 description of his private life:
He makes his own pergolas and rustic walks, and if a tree is to be taken down, he himself climbs it – 50 or 60 feet – and fixes the ropes. Animals and birds are to him a constant source of delight; each bird he distinguishes by its note or its flight. He is a breeder of Large Black Pedigree Pigs. In the summer months sculling is his favourite pastime, but this energetic man is most happy when creating something, and many hours are spent in his carpenter’s shop, where interesting and useful objects are produced.
At Chorleywood, Music was taught from the beginning which included ‘pianoforte, class singing, and Musical Appreciation’, and twenty per cent of the girls in the first twenty years achieving Grade V or above at cello or piano. The Music Society reported on activities in the College Magazine of 1942-3:
Three lecture recitals have been given by members of the committee, one on Schumann in the Christmas term by Josephine, another in the Easter term by Muriel on Schubert, and the Third in the Summer term on Mendelssohn given by Pat. At each recital illustration of piano solos and singing were provided by members of the Club.
We have had one visitor, Miss Isabel Wilson, LRAM, to perform for us during the year. Besides many smaller works she played the solo part of the first movement of Beethoven’s ‘Emperor’ piano concerto. The Junior school sang and played their percussion band at one of our meetings.
Some competitions and ‘quizzes’ have been held, a few songs have been learnt and we have also heard a little about the music of other countries.
Julie, a student in the late 1960s and early 1970s, recalls some of her experiences of music at Chorleywood:
We all started piano and then some of us took up additional instruments. One slightly scary thing was that many of us learnt to play at least one hymn so that we could, from time to time, accompany the singing for daily prayers. I learned “Father, hear the prayer we offer” and I so remember the total nervous state I and all of us experienced when it was approaching our turn to play. We were terrified that we would make an awful mistake, stop dead, start up in the wrong octave and have to begin again, or get lost and be totally left behind. Sometimes we did, which was very embarrassing but I guess at least taught us that life doesn’t end because a “performance” goes wrong. More often things went well and we felt very relieved to have got the task done and to know we probably wouldn’t have to repeat it for, at least, some months, possibly never again.
Susan recalls prize-giving in the 1970s:
Prize giving was an auspicious event at Chorleywood. As far as I remember, students had no prior knowledge that they had been awarded a prize. The prizes were especially chosen for each individual student. As well as the prizes there was the reading out of each girl’s braille reading speed (we all learned braille), and also posture grades, when everyone sat up a little straighter in their seats as if this could make some last-minute difference to their grade. I won one prize and I was commended for my posture – this was in the year when it was decided that commendees should no longer receive badges for their achievement. Shame.
Air raid warning
Chorleywood’s girls, and the boys of the kindergarten, were joined at the beginning of the war by adult evacuees from the headquarters of the NIB. Mary Thomas, the Information Officer of the N.I.B., described the experience of an air raid warning in the College magazine of 1939:
On that first night, it was a warning. We all went down in perfect order, said ‘Here’ very bravely as the Roll was called and then sat down somewhat demurely on our soap boxes in the rather dim light of cycle lamps. The cellars are most impressive, having the smell of mushroom characteristic of all the best cellars.
Soon the All Clear sounded and, complete with the black kitten, which had been brought down partly for his own sake and partly as a solace for the smallest of the small boys and girls, we trooped upstairs again and back to bed.
Build up to war
In the build up to war, many of the Chorleywood staff met the challenge of qualifying in first aid and air raid precautions. Miss Deavin put her experiences into a poem, the extract from which is quoted in Phyllis Monk’s book ‘Though Land Be Out of Sight’:
Of many gaseous substances my ignorance I try and hide
But not of Lewisite, C-L or Bromo-benzyl-cyanide,
I’ve sniffed at all the tubes and wept at gases lacrimatory,
And learnt the use of anti-dim in matters respiratory,
I know that there are times when one must needs become a troglodyte,
Especially at dusk or on a warm and foggy night,
I’ve heard the call of buzzers and of sirens ululatory,
And memorised the layout of sheds decontaminatory.
In the days before the development of recognised sports for the visually impaired, the staff at Chorleywood experimented with a variety of outdoor games, as the first headmistress Phyllis Monk described in her book ‘Though Land be out of Sight..’ The Early Years of Chorleywood College:
For the summer we made up a new game that we called Quickit. It was played with a wicker ball and wickets from which the ball could rebound – no batsmen required! But, as no one had invented a ball that would sound after it was still, fielding by a blind player was haphazard. A bowling board was erected, marked out with scores that enabled those practising bowling to be told how near – or far! – their ball lay from the target. Bumble-puppy and a kind of clock-golf were also tried out, especially for those with sight, but netball-tennis for them was the really successful summer game, and became well established in 1929. This was a modification of lawn tennis, using its rules and scoring, but played with a netball which was flung, when served, from the court line, caught and returned after, or before, the first bounce.
Girls at New College have taken part in a range of sports, including football. In this account written by Rachel in the College magazine of 1996, they won in the final of a national event held at the Aston Villa Leisure Centre:
This year we started playing and practising once a week. We had enough for two five-a-side teams and one substitute. It came to the final: Worcester A against Exhall Grange. It was a very close game. They took the lead and I think it is a credit to the girls that they didn’t let it slip after the first goal. We got one back. We took the pressure and hit them on the break and got a third and fourth. We won four three. The feeling was really wonderful.
Phyllis Monk, the first headmistress of Chorleywood College, had seen the value of team sports when she had worked at Roedean School. As there were no team sports for students with a visual impairment in the 1920s, she created ‘Sport X’. The girls would play this against other schools, having taught them the rules first. Anne describes the game which she played in the 1950s:
Sport X was based on three sections of field, the central section being twice as large as the two side sections; these were surrounded by a tarmac running track with raised humps at all four corners, and paths separated the small sections from the larger one. Teams consisted of eleven, four partially sighted fielders and seven blind runners. The fielders passed the football to each other after it had been thrown into play by a runner, the aim being to keep passing it to a member of your own team so when the opposition caught the ball they ran to the side path to get the ball across and out of play. The runners could only run whilst their fielders kept the ball, but they were the ones who scored by completing full circuits being guided by tapping baskets at each end and the above mentioned raised corners.
Chorleywood College for Girls was based in Hertfordshire. It opened in 1921, when the Cedars, a Renaissance-style mansion, was given to the NIB by J.H. Battye. The building had a large conservatory, known as the ‘Winter Garden’ and large grounds, as described by Miss Boreham:
The school was set in beautiful parkland grounds of 32 acres and there were lots of wild rabbits, deer and a good variety of birds. It stood apart from Chorleywood village, being separated by the Common. It was therefore somewhat isolated. Some of the grounds were sold to build the M25 motorway and a badger sett had to be reconstructed to protect the badgers when they were moved. A lot of new housing was built around the school during the latter years which brought civilisation up to the back door.
The production of a College play requires not only the demands of performance, but has sometimes required considerable invention in acquiring props. This was obviously the case when the Chorleywood magazine described their 1935 production of Barrie’s children’s play ‘A Kiss for Cinderella’:
The production was not only ambitious in the size of the cast but also in the completeness of its costume effects and stage properties, the most unlikely garments and homely articles, ruthlessly commandeered from the whole establishment, surprisingly proving, upon trial, to be the exact requirements. Even a street scene, complete with lamps and snow-storm, was provided! The whole was exceedingly well cast and all the players entered fully into the spirit of the play.
At New College Worcester, students are currently busy with exams. Today many students are able to use laptops or electronic Braille devices. Very few produce Braille scripts which wasn’t the case in the days before the merger, as Miss Boreham, a former teacher at Chorleywood College, describes:
Saucers of French chalk (like talcum powder) were placed on each exam candidate’s desk. The exam papers were produced on Braillon (a plastic paper used to make multiple copies)and it used to get very slippery particularly in the hot weather.
Candidates would dip their fingers in the saucer of chalk to enable them to read more efficiently. Everyone sat in the school gym for exams, except the occasional pupil who had to dictate their script if they didn’t know Braille. The exam would then take place in a separate room. Computers were introduced in the closing years of the school but they were very primitive and large, compared with what we have today. They often went wrong and were not considered to be reliable for exams. Therefore, most of the exams were brailled and all the staff had to transcribe the scripts. We often sat up into the early hours of the morning in order to be able to post the exam papers within 24 hours of the exam. Our reward was a tin of toffees between us supplied by the Headteacher each week. One year we were given a bottle of sherry to share!
A Hertfordshire ‘home’
Chorleywood College was housed in ‘The Cedars’ a Renaissance-style mansion. Anita, one of the final students before the merger, remembers her time at Chorleywood College:
I generally have very good memories of my time there. For me, this was the perfect environment in which to try anything and everything, and we did – sport, music, drama, singing (any time we got on a bus!), and anything else we could think of. Personally, if I were given the chance to turn back time, I wouldn’t change anything about my time at Chorleywood. The things I liked about the place have filled my memory with good recollections and the things I disliked have in hindsight served as a means of consolidating my opinions and strength of mind. I was very comfortable in my Hertfordshire “home”. I had everything I could wish for and had grown very used to our way of living and studying and the beautiful surroundings of the college.
The long view
New College Worcester was formed when Chorleywood College for Girls merged with Worcester College. Susan, a former student in the 1970s, reflects on what she gained from the College.
At Chorleywood, the long view was always taken. Yes, we did our lessons, but not just for that time or that year or the next exam, etc. – everything was structured so that we would be made competent enough to stand on our own in the world and be as good as the next person (if not better) in whatever we chose to excel at because the skills we had were finely honed and tuned. I’m absolutely convinced that this is why I have a good memory, because we were taught that to memorise was a life-saver to us because we did not have the prompts that sighted people have all the time, wherever they go and whatever they are doing. Taking the long view was something I admired then, cherish now, and try to put into practice whenever I can.