Stories about Schools

Education in the early 20th century

Alice/Alison Rose (Rosie) Horsnell, nee Culverhouse

I was born in 1908 to Edward Culverhouse and Alice Mary (nee Chance). I started school at the age of five at Townsend Road Infants School and then at the age of seven I went to Whitehill Girls School.

I had an excellent education there. The head teacher, Miss Jane Morrison, was a very strict Scottish lady. I was afraid of her, as were her teachers too. Nevertheless she was a very efficient Head and the standard of education was high. At ten, I was in the top form with girls of 14. I was doing percentages, stocks and shares, etc, two years before I was doing this at grammar school. We had a lot of homework, the leading article of the Daily Mail for dictation every day and to say the French for everything at the dinner table.

Miss Morrison took us for literature and together we read ‘A Tale of Two Cities’ and ‘Romeo and Juliet’. At 11 I passed the entrance exam to go to Dr Challoner’s Grammar School at Amersham, which my brother Bob already attended. We cycled to school each day and I stayed there until I was 17 when I passed my School Leaving Certificate, called Matriculation in those days.

I had to take 10 subjects – English Grammar ad English Literature, Maths (Arithmetic, Algebra and Trigonometry), French and Latin, Science (heat, light and sound), Chemistry, History and Geography, and Art, at which I was hopeless. The exams lasted three weeks and that year was an exceptionally hot June and July. Overnight we had bad thunderstorms keeping me awake and the following morning I would cycle to school bathed in perspiration. My glasses steamed up and I could hardly read the exam papers. What a gruelling month that was!

I was too young to go to training college, so I spent a year as a student teacher at Townsend Road School. I had wanted to be a teacher since the age of three and never wavered from that decision. One of my great pleasures as a young child of three and four was when my mother took me up to Whitehill School and left me there in my father’s classroom (Edward Culverhouse, teacher) to come home with him. My Head at Townsend Road was Miss Gaudie, another Scottish disciplinarian. However, it was excellent experience and stood me in good stead when I went to college.

It was the last year that uncertificated teachers were allowed to teach and so there was a rush for them to go to college. Consequently, I did not get a place at the top two colleges I applied for. So I took a job at a C of E Boys’ school in Aylesbury, travelling there by train. 
After three weeks I received a telegram to say that there was a vacancy at the Greystoke Place Day Training College in London and I had to attend the following day. I took the train to Holborn and then walked to Fetter Lane. I had to be interviewed by the Principal, yet another formidable Scottish lady. She said “You’re Scottish, aren’t you?” “No” I replied. “With a name like Culverhouse, it comes from Claverhouse, so you must be of Scottish descent.” * After a few more questions she said “I have a long waiting list, but I am putting you high up on the list.”

So I was accepted there and then and was introduced to a lecturer who interviewed me as to what optional subjects I should take. The college had started its autumn term and I had missed four days. Only one other girl came from the country, the rest were typical Cockney girls. I commuted for two years. We had to work very hard with lots of homework. I was studying until midnight many nights. Finals were taken at Birkbeck College. I passed all my subjects and had distinctions in two, Botany and English.

I started applying for jobs in Buckinghamshire and was accepted to do my provisional first year at Desborough road Infants’ School in High Wycombe. I left college on the Friday and started teaching on the following Monday, so that I got my holiday pay. My father bought me a yellow Austin 7 car for £50 and I drove to and fro for the next two years. I was very unhappy there. I did not take to the Headmistress. The classroom was heated by an old-fashioned coke stove and I had nothing but throat trouble. As soon as I was able I applied for another job, in Bovingdon, Hertfordshire and I was very happy there.

Alice/Alison Rose (Rosie) Horsnell, nee Culverhouse. *A search on genealogy websites found that the surname Culverhouse derives from the Old English culfrehus meaning dove-house, therefore a keeper of doves or pigeons.