The Richard Jefferies school – a personal memory
My recent post about the Richard Jefferies museum at Coate, Swindon has prompted a reader of this blog to share with us his memories of his secondary school which was named after the eponymous writer. The school is no longer with us – it was demolished to make way for New College. But of course the memories live on in former pupils like Lee. I have truly enjoyed reading Lee’s memories which are funny, moving and bittersweet – as I guess most of our school memories are. And Mrs Howard – I’d like to shake you by the hand. If only ALL children, from every background, could have a Mrs Howard! She clearly left a lasting and positive impression on Lee.
“The Richard Jefferies Secondary School is no longer with us, it was demolished a few years back now to make way for the New College and housing estate close by. I would love to be able to tell you who named the school after the great writer of Coate but alas I cannot. I was at the school from around 1969/73.
At the time Swindon was a boom town for kids, with the London generation mainly squeezing in to schools like Richard Jefferies, the nearby Walcott Secondary School and also Churchfields. It’s amazing to think that three very big schools were in spitting distance of each other.
I remember very well my first day at the school as I was the only boy wearing shorts and got some terrible stick for that. I remember too, Mr Adams the maths teacher, Mr Summers the PE teacher, Mr Petit in science and, my favourite teacher by miles, the English teacher Mrs Howard. She saw my interest in poetry and writing. And though at the time I didn’t realize it, she tried hard to convince me that I should embrace this.
I was in Council care as a kid…fostered for many years, ultimately living out my young days in The Limes Childrens’ Home so I wasn’t the happiest kid to teach. But Mrs Howard did her best to make me feel special. The class was astonished to hear that I had been picked to play the King in King Canute in the school play, she did her best to get me to hold back the tide with conviction but to no avail…i was terrible and was replaced.
I vividly remember the school dinners, was I the only one to fall in love with them…who can remember the vivid taste of the school dinner salad cream, like a sweet battery acid?
Amazingly the school had a fair size swimming pool where I was bullied into learning to swim, I doggy paddled my way to red, yellow and green badges that were sewn onto my trunks.
Many of the kids around me were fairly rough and tough and from the Parks area. You had to hold your own with them. I remember the football with a tennis ball at break time, my moment of glory arrived one dinner time when Ant Adams crossed the ball for me to bullet a header in the goal, I was pounced upon by all my team with joyous celebration…it is a moment i still remember and cherish.
Most of the school went to Park/Oakfield school for their last phase of education on leaving Richard Jefferies, for me it was onto Headlands School because the Limes Home where I lived was/is in Stratton.
So what would the great man have thought of the school named after him? That is anyone’s guess. Reading Animal Farm in English was the first inkling that the world was a strange place through an adults eye…that book was both weird and wonderful to me.
So for me Richard Jefferies taught me more about myself than it taught me educationally. Many Swindonians passed through the door of this school and there must be a story to tell by every one of them.”