Stories about Schools

Whitehill Girls in the 1950s

Jenny (Jennifer) Gurnett (nee Parker)

I lived in Chorleywood, and along with about five other girls I would catch the Aylesbury train to Chalfont, dash under (or over) to the Chesham branch line and thus arrived in Chesham.  Because of the timing of the trains and connections it was always a mad dash along the “backs” – past the brewery – and then up the hill to the school in an attempt to be there on time.  Back in 1951/2 the secondary school girls was on the lower level of the hill, while the junior boys were taken care of on the upper level of the site.

Because of the blind bends on Whitehill our headmistress devised a system (carried out by the more senior girls) of traffic control.  It was dangerous for the girls to cross at the lower entrance to the school, so a “monitor” would be stationed on either side of that part of the hill.  A little further up was where the teachers came in with their cars – this was on the 2nd blind spot of the hill, so we would be stationed there since we could see up to the highest blind corner – on the way up to the old tech. – and thus indicate whether the road was clear.  We had a signalling system worked out, mostly we used head nods or shakes and it worked extremely well – motorists soon realised what we were doing and really reacted very well – in fact they would look to us to help them negotiate the blind bends.  One day someone from the New Zealand education system visited our school and was very keenly interested in our “safety system”.  She was so impressed that on her return to N.Z. she had the system implemented over there.  I have met one or two Kiwis who knew the system but had absolutely no idea from whence it came – so as far as I can see, that was a fantastic global achievement on the part of Whitehill Secondary School.

I well remember having to be rostered on the “milk crate run” – especially in the winter – where we would make sure the right number of milk bottles had to be delivered to the boys’ classrooms and our own of course, trying to find a radiator that actually worked and stacking the bottles up against it in the hope it would unfreeze in time for morning break!  Lunch was cooked off-site and delivered in large metal containers – most of us thought the food was absolutely disgusting, especially the “frogs-spawn” which we used to mix up with spoonfuls of jam just to get it down our throats.  Frogs-spawn was our name for tapioca.

Our headmistress Miss Dyer was a strict disciplinarian. She strictly forbade any of us girls to abbreviate or shorten names. I frequently got sent to stand outside her office – shaking like a jelly and knees knocking together.  She certainly was very hard on us girls but to her credit, woe betides anyone who criticised us from outside – she would defend us all like a tigress!  I think that’s why (dare I say it) all of us were afraid of her, but we also had a sneaky respect for her. I recall one occasion when my parents were going to the Chelsea Flower Show and my father decided that I had to go with them.  Well my Mum rang and said I was sick and couldn’t possibly attend school that day.  So we duly set off to Chelsea and once we were inside who should be coming towards us but the “ogre” Miss Dyer.  I nearly died on the spot!  The next morning I was summoned to her.  With great trepidation I waited to be called in and was actually asked to sit down – well, I did, but it happened because of sheer shock.  I was duly told there was absolutely no need to have my parents ring up and tell lies because I wasn’t at school; she would absolutely ALWAYS let us attend “educational events”.

In our 3rd year of school we would be sent up to the boys’ technical college further up the hill.  How we looked forward to that – despite all the dire warnings of getting pregnant if we dared to look at the boys!  We had to have different break times and sports were alternated between the boys and girls and we were forbidden to look out of the windows. Of course both sexes made a point of looking at each other – the hormones were rampant!

I well recall being crocodiled down to the High Street where the town crier announced the Coronation and then the birth of Prince Charles.  We also had to crocodile down to the Swimming Baths, and Germain Street School for Boys where we did our cooking and ironing – or probably more accurately learning how to do such tasks.  The gas stoves were much too close for safety and there would be four girls to each stove.  One day my best friend’s apron caught alight and the flames went up into her long hair – fortunately I was standing next to her and was able to get the flames out without too much damage.

I was made school captain during the final year of my Whitehill days, and stayed on an extra year to do commercial studies.  In those days you were allowed to stay on that extra year provided you did either commercial or pre-nursing studies.

Overall I quite enjoyed my five years at Whitehill – I certainly learned many core values (in addition to my good parents’ work of course) which have stood me in good stead over the years.

Jenny moved to Australia in 1969 with her husband and is currently living in Perth. February 2012