A Head remembers – Frank Beal of St Mary’s School, 1927-32

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My Memories of Shackleford

by

FRANK BEAL

(Headmaster of St Mary’s School, 1927-1932)

It was my good fortune to come to Shackleford School just about half-way through its century of service to the community, when conditions were in many ways as good as they had ever been or were likely to be again. The by-pass road had not yet been thought of, the depression of the thirties had not yet come and the vast social changes to be caused by the Second World War were still some years away. Shackleford was a prosperous and happy village.

I was privileged to follow two fine headmasters who had brought the village school to an excellent level. My immediate predecessor was Mr J.A.S. Williams who was at Shackleford for twelve years, and before him Mr G.A.T. Waters who had a very long tenure of office. Mr Water’s son, beginning his education at Shackleford, became Professor of Romance Languages at Oxford University. Mr Williams’ daughter Catherine, a schoolgirl when I came to Shackleford, has just retired from the deputy headship of Sunbury Grammar School! Before these, of course, there had been several worthy Masters battling, with more or less success, against the insufferable system of annual inspection when, according to the old Log Book of those days “My Lords (of the Treasury) will always in future expect the classes to be entered in Column VI of the Examination Schedule”. And “the attention of the Managers is requested to the Ninth Supplementary Rule”.

The true rural life which existed when the school opened in 1871 was still flourishing when I came in 1927. Only the well-to-do had care and if there was a bus at all it ran only at rare intervals. So the village made its own amusements, talked its own gossip and, like most inward-looking communities made its own little mountains from its own little mole-hills! If it was still a case of

 God bless the squire and his relations
And keep us in our proper stations

That condition prevailed only in the kindest and most generous way.

A mere list of the prominent people residing in the immediate neighbourhood of the school at that time looks rather like Debrett. I will mention only those who took a special interest in the school. The Earl and Countess of Midleton were at Peper Harow, social and political leaders in the County. And while they entertained King George V and Queen Mary at their town house, 34 Portland Place, they still found no difficulty in extending to me, the local schoolmaster, a very kind welcome and hospitality both above and below stairs. I remember an occasion when I was taking tea with them in the library (then a beautiful room over looking the river) and Lord Bolton was there. The main topic of conversation? The outrageous proposal for a new by-pass road cutting right through the Peper Harow estate! Others concerned were Mr Hagart-Spiers and Dame Ellen Terry at Compton.

I knew the Hon. Francis and the Hon. Michael Brodrick, fine young men so tragically lost at Salerno. Lady Midleton, who passed away only recently, one remembers with the greatest respect and affection. At Hall Place, Shackleford were Sir Edgar (Chairman of the Prudential) and Lady Horne, generous patrons of all good works. At Hurtmore Holt were Sir Henry and Lady Gooch. Sir Henry was then Chairman of London County Council: at Shackleford House Mr D.J. MacAndrew the ship-owner and Chairman of Dr Barnardo’s Executive Committee. Mr J.F.C. Kimber at the Gate House was a school manager who took the keenest interest. Mr Crichton the ship-owner was at Burdon Hall – he sent his two grandsons to the school. Then, especially dear Lady Caroline Grenville, last of the line of the Dukes of Buckingham and Chandos, at Grenville with the Messrs Hadaway: Mr and Mrs Buttermer at St Mary’s up the lane from the school and Mr Ernest Young the geographer. Many of his school text books were tried out on our children before publication. I remember also the Messrs Twigg at the old Cottage because I enjoyed many a game of bridge there.

I was a member of Godalming Rural Parish Council and Mr E.P.Stovold, the farmer at Lydling, kindly took me to meetings in his car. Lord Midleton gave me the freedom of his Library; Lady Horne also lent me books. Sir Henry Gooch lent me music. Lady Caroline arranged for me to visit her old home Stowe, in Buckinghamshire, now the public school. Such kindness I met, such tolerance. It was a rich experience for a raw young man.

All these influential people were but half the story. The School and the Church could not have flourished without the help of the village people. Ted Nash the head gardener at Shackleford and an excellent tenor in the Choir, Dick Nash with his fine bass voice, Charlie Jones chorister and cricket enthusiast, the Cooper brothers, gay young men and so helpful, the Maloneys of Shackleford, both gifted singers, and their sister Pat renowned for her monologues at the Christmas party. Mr Smithers the Rector’s warden, Mr Wadham the People’s Warden, Mr Billingham, Lady Caroline’s chauffeur, Mr Welland, Lord Midleton’s steward, the Rev. W.A. Shaw, noted naturalist and Rector of Peper Harow.

I was also much helped by Mrs Masters and Mrs Wild, two of our keenest parents from Hurtmore and by Mr and Mrs Hayward at Norney Grange. Nor do I forget dear old Mrs Preedy from Squirrel Cottage who looked after the school as caretaker, coming early on the bleakest winter mornings to light the fires and tidy up.

It was on 10th January 1927 that the Rev. John C. Montgomery, the greatly esteemed old Rector who died later that year, wrote me an official letter saying he “was pleased to inform me that the Managers of the School have decided to offer you the post of Head Teacher. You will be expected to take up your duties on March 1st next. I, as Rector of the Parish offer you the position of Organist and Choirmaster at our Church at a salary of thirty pounds a year”.

It was still a full-range school – all ages from infants to school-leaving age and there were just two other teachers besides myself. The Infants Room was in the charge of Miss Violet Kemp who cycled in from Guildford each day. She never missed and she was never late, whatever the weather. Standards 1, 2 and 3 (children from about 8 to 11) were taught by Miss Gertrude Steele a highly intelligent and cultured woman who did a marvellous job. Standards 4, 5, 6 and 7 were taken by me in “the big room”, the sole heating for which was a temperamental coke stove and one fireplace. The school had no telephone so I had one installed at my own expense.

Between us, we three teachers had to do the best we could with every subject in the curriculum.

For me it was a seven days a week job because I ran my classes on the Dalton system with individual assignments for every child and this involved a mountain of marking and preparation. As well as this I had the Church services and Choir practices so it is perhaps not surprising that when the long summer holidays came I just seized a rucksack and went off to the Continent with a maximum of anticipation and a minimum of money. My subsequent adventures provided a lot of teaching material on my return and I have reason to think that my wanderlust fired the imagination of more than one child. Young and improvident, I remember getting back to Guildford Station after one such expedition with just four pence in my pocket. I was contemplating a long trek home when along came Lord Midleton’s chauffeur. “Want a lift?” he asked, and I came back in grand style with my four pence intact!

I suppose I made up in vitality and enthusiasm for a lack of experience. I certainly hope so. Events like prize-givings, open days and school journeys are all so commonplace today. So also is the school uniform. But in 1927 most of these things had not yet come to Shackleford and I was able to introduce them, with the kind financial help of the people I have mentioned. No official grants in those days! We played hockey in the field opposite the school and football, cricket and rounders in Peper Harow Park. At country dancing we excelled, winning many competitions. One expedition we all looked forward to was the annual autumn fungus foray led by the Rev. W.A. Shaw. With his guidance we knew all the fungi and all the birds and animals of the locality. Speaking of animals there was a fine herd of deer at Peper Harow and each year Lord Midleton presented a buck for the Farnham Venison Dinner.

At that time there were no houses in the woods on the other side of the lane by the school and I will confess now that when “browned off” by some particularly frustrating circumstances in the classroom I used to wander out into the most delightful sylvan glade right where the by-pass is now. The road down to Eashing ran between high banks on either side, and the school garden (for teaching) was high up in a field halfway to Eashing. C.H.Middleton, the broadcaster of the thirties often spent an afternoon “yarning” with me there in the intervals of “inspecting” the gardening.

By the untimely death of Edward Kinnaird and the passing of Alfred Vickes I am now the sole survivor of all those headmasters who have worked, wished and worried in the village school at Shackleford during a hundred years. It is indeed a privilege to have been among their number.