Miss Farris : PIRTON SCHOOL, 1927 – 1971
The Editor is indebted to Miss Farris for her recollections which were shared with him and Joe Titmuss during a recent visit to Miss Farris’ home. Former pupils will be delighted to know that she is in wonderful health, soon to celebrate her 90th birthday. 1996
The sound of the Francis Barnett motor-cycle coming from Hitchin and then swinging down Walnut Tree Road and High Street to the village school was so regular in the early 1930’s that Pirton residents could set their watches by it. This was the young schoolteacher Miss Farris, who first came to the school in 1927 and was to devote her next 45 years to successive generations of Pirton children. After fourteen years as a class teacher, Miss Farris was invited to be head teacher in 1940 until she retired in 1971.
“When I went for an interview to the school in 1927 I didn’t think I had a chance of getting the job”, she recalls. “I think what worked in my favour was that the recently appointed headmaster, Mr Bryant, wanted a teacher straight from college whom he could ‘mould in his own way’. The chairman of Governors, Mr George Davis, and his wife were both at the interview. Miss Farris has been a close friend of their daughter, Miss Vera Davis, for many years and still regularly calls on her at her home at Pirton Grange on the edge of Shillington. “Anyway I got the job. I certainly did not expect to be there for the rest of my teaching life. It was just how things worked out!”
In 1927 Miss Farris lived with her parents in Stevenage, she still lives in the same family house, – but having no transport at the time stayed from Monday to Friday with Mr and Mrs E.Titmuss. “I remember so well my first day at the school. I walked along Royal Oak Lane holding five year old Joe Titmuss’ hand; it was his first day at Pirton School, too! I don’t know which of us was the most anxious.” Nor was Joe the only child starting at the school that day sixty eight years ago – Betty Huckle from Great Green remembers the day, too. Miss Farris went to the Titmuss’ for lunch until school dinners finally came to the school. She had firm views about children and school lunches. “I believed in a balanced diet and that meant every child having at least a half spoonful of greens. By the time they came to leave the school they enjoyed greens….I only had one child being sick after having to eat greens!”
Miss Farris, remembered with affection by so many and still a very dear friend of several former pupils, believed in discipline. She did not often use the cane, ” But when it was necessary then, I did. Mind you the first time I saw Mr Bryant cane someone I trembled all over. He really was strict – and not only with children. I believed in marking all the children’s mistakes, but one day Mr Bryant looked at my class’ books and said, ‘You’ve missed one spelling error. Go through them again!'”
Pirton School had children aged from 5 to 14 until local schools were reorganised in 1940 and the older children from the village went to Hitchin secondary schools. Mr Bryant was head teacher with Miss Weeden, Miss Wirledge and Miss Farris as teachers until, in 1940, he became head at Wilshere Dacre in Hitchin. Then Miss Farris took over. “I never applied for the headship. I was just asked’.
The coming of the Second World War brought many changes. With the threat of bombing in 1939 the whole of a school from North London, teachers as well as pupils, moved to the village. “They worked quite separately to our school, were billeted around the village but as the phoney war wore on they began to drift back to London”, Miss Farris recalls. “But then with the bombing in 1940, many of them returned to the village; this time they did not bring teachers with them. From September hardly a day passed without a new family arriving at the school. For the fifty Pirton children there was only one teacher, Miss Weeden, in addition to myself. Then the numbers greatly increased, until on reaching 98 (still just the two staff) the HMI who had been as worried as Miss Farris finally organised extra staff.
“Mind you, the children from London were not without problems. In the village we knew nothing about headlice but they were not strangers to some of the London children. Miss Baldwin, the nurse, used to come in and inspect heads. I can remember one parent complaining; but only one. Of course, at this time the school just had the one building. The toilets were outside, near where the wall is now. Mind you, the children used to enjoy the running across the playground to them”.
Many of Miss Farris’ memories are wonderful anecdotes of individual children and incidents. “I remember it being reported to me that a boy from Little Lane used to knock on the door of the corner house at the junction of High Street and Little Lane, then owned by Miss Burling and then run off. ( Later a shop run by Lil Gazeley and now no. 53 High Street) He finally confessed to this and I rehearsed him in making an apology. Holding his hand we walked straight to Miss Birling’s house and she listened as he said he would never repeat the offence. Mind you all the way he kept asking me to cane him instead of making him go to see Miss Birling! But one child who was not a stranger to Miss Farris’ cane was Tony Magannon of Royal Oak Lane. “Many years later, around 1990, he came to my house during a visit from Australia where he now lives, and told me he was anxious to see that same cane which he said had never done him any harm’. I told him the last time I had seen it was when I retired in 1971. It was on top of a cupboard then, I wonder what happened to it?’
“When Pirton entered the Best Kept Village Competition in the 1960’s I told every child to bring a plastic bag to school and then we went on a big litter pick. I gave a bar of chocolate to those with the heaviest bags. I had one or two complaints from parents but the village looked a lot cleaner afterwards. On another occasion a child reported some money missing from his desk. “I knew which child had taken it and kept him after school. Eventually he admitted to it and took me out of the school gate and up towards Docklands. There, in a ditch we found it!’
Miss Farris admitted to feeling guilty on one count! ” When I left the school I took with me the high desk and chair from which I remembered Mr Bryant supervising the children. I just felt it would be a shame if they disappeared.” Years later Miss Farris donated the furniture to the British School in Queen Street, Hitchin. Recently she had her photograph taken whilst sitting on that same chair; a chair from which Miss Farris watched, taught and cared for the children of Pirton in a remarkable career spanning 45 years of her own and Pirton’s life:
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