Vigo School - Lucy Burgess Recollections

Lucy Burgess, of the Dairy Farm, Fairseat attended the school from 1949 to 1955 and has very fond memories of the building, the teachers and her fellow pupils.
Note: Lucy can be seen in the article photo in the front row, third from the right.

A Vigo school class in the 1950s with headmistress Dorothy Randall and her dog ‘Boffles’
Image courtesy of Paul Baylis

It was a real thrill to read the article about Vigo County Primary School. My education started there in September 1949, a month before my fifth birthday, and continued until I left in July 1954 to “go up” to Gravesend County Grammar School for Girls. In the year that I started, there was no reception class (this began the following year) so I went directly into the juniors. This suited me very well because I had already begun to read and write at home so was well motivated to carry on learning. My class teacher, Miss Williams, was a very experienced and gifted teacher and I took to her immediately. Because there had been a severe shortage of books at schools in which she had worked during and immediately after the war she had created her own, encompassing the teaching methods she had found to work well with all sorts of children over the years. Every book was painstakingly written out by hand and bound with red adhesive tape, including taping the edge of each page to make them hard-wearing, and there were enough copies for everyone in the class to have their own. Imagine having a teacher so dedicated as to take on all that work to ensure that all the pupils in the class had access to the textbooks they needed to be able to learn. No wonder I found her inspirational!

The following year, in 1950, a new teacher, Miss Tomlinson, joined the school and an infant class was formed, making four classes in all. This was needed because the number of children in the recently created “village” was growing due to the post-war baby boom. Most of the Nissen huts in the defunct army camp had been taken over by the Council and converted into homes (two per hut; one at each end). They had been fitted with modern bathrooms and kitchenettes and really made quite comfortable homes. Three “estates” were created, the first between Hamilton Lodge and what was then the Erskine Parade Ground (at that time being used as a recreation ground and now the village playing field) was Hamilton Estate, the other side of the road, off Whitepost Lane, was Beechwood Estate and between Erskine Hall (which stood where the scout hut/ pavilion now stands) to Commority (Lane) was Highview Estate.

There were still plenty of huts outside these estates which had not been adopted by the council so they were in a more dilapidated condition and those were the ones occupied by squatters. These people tended to have no regular income and found life hard. Just to the south of Erskine Parade Ground, on the edge of Hamilton Estate, was a road where the first hut on the left housed the village shop and the next Dr Jenman’s surgery, with Nurse Oliver’s clinic in the other end of the same hut. She looked after all the village families and took special care of the neediest. The names of the three estates, Hamilton, Beechwood and Highview were adopted by the school to be the names of the sports houses. I belonged to Beechwood and our colour was yellow.

I entered what was, by then, class three, taught by Mr Ford, a month before my seventh birthday, which I was excited to do because he also was a gifted and inspirational teacher. He was a man of catholic interests who had the art of engaging the attention of children and imparting to them all sorts of interesting information in a memorable way. He had a particular interest in archaeology and I remember my father, in the evening when the farm work was done, joining him on a dig at Oldbury Hill, Ightham. He was deputy head of the school and I recall him taking over from Miss Randall for a few weeks on an occasion when she had a medical problem requiring an operation. He was very capable of doing so and, in due course, left to take over a school of his own.

His place was taken by Mr Strachan who was himself an excellent teacher. His style was very imaginative and engaging and he created a science fiction childrens’ adventure story in instalments which he would read to us each week at the Friday afternoon “end of week” assembly. The more formal school assemblies were held each morning before lessons started. Then Miss Randall would lead us in prayers and the singing of a hymn, which she would accompany enthusiastically on the piano, before giving us the daily messages. If for any reason she was otherwise occupied Miss Tomlinson was also a capable pianist. The school hymn was “He Who Would Valiant Be” (otherwise known as “To Be a Pilgrim”). Our experience of music was also enhanced by programs broadcast by the BBC, Music and Movement for the little ones, Singing Together and Rhythm and Melody for the Juniors.

Miss Randall herself taught class four (the top class) and I was pleased to move up into it. I was very fond of Miss Randall and had great respect for her. She had a way of teaching that really spoke to me and engaged my interest. Her history, geography and natural history lessons sparked a lifelong interest in me. We had a nature walk each week and brought specimens of flowers, leaves and grasses back to the classroom to study. These walks were of particular interest because we looked out for red squirrels which still lived on the scarp slope of the North Downs at that time and we often saw them and their dreys. She also made sure that we were encouraged in creativity and Wednesday afternoons were given over to art and craft. Miss Randall had a droll sense of humour and would tease me because I tended to daydream in craft lessons.

One day she said to me “If you ever manage a whole row of knitting in one afternoon we will put the flags out.” A few weeks later I did manage that feat and when I went into class the next morning, sure enough, there was the Union Flag erected on the back of my seat. In spite of being a small school, she encouraged and directed full interaction with the community so every year we had a school concert, a nativity play, a school fete, a sports day and always a school outing to the seaside. There was a very active Parent/Teacher Association (my parents were members as were those of most of my friends) and events such as jumble sales, whist drives, beetle drives and socials were organised quite frequently. Rather less popular, but necessary, were the regular visits of the school nurse and the dental wagon. The school library was housed in glass-fronted cabinets at the back of Miss Randall’s classroom and the library van came monthly to change the books. Prefects were allowed to help with the changing of books and even to choose some, which we felt was a great privilege.

I thought the building very stylish as it was built in the “Art Deco” style with white walls, a green pantile roof and a facade of three arches, the middle one taller than the other two, over each door. (Hamilton Lodge was styled in the same way at that time and was not “modernised” until the nineteen seventies.} The courtyard surface was just earth throughout my first winter at school which was catastrophic because that was a very wet winter and it turned into a sea of wet clay and mud. We had to have boardwalks laid out to enable us to reach the toilet block and the water fountain. This was remedied when it was covered in tarmac the following summer (except for the area around the big, beautiful horse chestnut tree that grew there). At the same time a tall, strong fence and gate was put across the back entrance which was kept locked except at afternoon break on Wednesday afternoons when Walls Ice Cream van called. My favourite was a cylindrical orange lolly costing 2d. (two old pence which is less than one new penny). The classrooms were light and airy with large arch-shaped windows which opened inwards with the help of a long pole. Ceilings were high and on the walls, above the samples of good work, colourful posters of the alphabet, times tables and illustrated nursery rhymes were prints of famous “Old Masters”. My favourite was “The Laughing Cavalier” although anything painted by Constable, Monet or Turner was also popular. (The pictures must have been on loan because they were changed occasionally.) In winter each room was heated by a big pot-bellied stove which also served to thaw out the third-of-a-pint bottles of milk that we had at the break.

The sports field was on the opposite side of Harvel Road in the meadow behind Millers Farm and here Mr Ford (and later Mr Strachan) took the boys to play football (girls did not play football then) while we girls played rounders or tunnel ball. Sports Days and School Fetes were held there. Our school cook was Mrs Lundy, from Cullverstone, who was properly trained and qualified and made delicious freshly cooked meals. Our Dinner Lady was Mrs Liscoe who was the mother of Peter Liscoe in our class. There may have been some difficulty in retaining a caretaker in the early days but soon after I started school Mr George Childs took up the position and was diligent and reliable in it until the school closed. By then he had moved to Wrotham and for many years was a popular resident and a leading light on Wrotham Parish Council.

I loved my school and was, and still am, very proud of it and grateful to the wonderful teachers and other staff who served there. It was a place to feel secure and happy.

Author: Lucy Burgess
Editors: Dick Hogbin, Tony Piper
Contributors: n/a
Acknowledgements: n/a
Last Updated: 30 August 2021