Memories of Ken Whiteman

By Ken Whiteman


It was a two-storey block, infants on the bottom, juniors on the top. As you entered the school near the road, this vast corridor stretched ahead - at least, that is my childhood memory of it – classrooms to the right and to the left, the hall, the office and the Head’s, Miss Myatt’s, study. (How long was it? How many classrooms were there? I think it was a two-form intake but I can’t be sure.)  Class 1 was nearest the road and as you progressed you moved along the ground floor to the end, up the stairs to the juniors and along the top until you finished up above where you had started. 

Photo:Malmesbury school report 1938

Malmesbury school report 1938

Donated by Ken Whiteman


My first teacher was Miss Plum and I can only say that she was lovely: young, pink cheeks and fair hair gathered at the back. We moved on to Miss Beech. I remember her bringing back from a weekend in Surrey a big bunch of autumn leaves and bracken, rich red, like something from a foreign country. I also recall a spelling lesson when she wrote up the word ‘put’ and we all had to guess how it was pronounced; no-one got it right. I never got to the end of the row of classes as I was jumped upstairs a year early into the juniors.

I actually won a prize in the infants. It was a shortened version of Robinson Crusoe which I never succeeded in reading to the end. After 70 years it fell apart and I threw it out – although I did save the bookplate.


Photo:Prize book plate

Prize book plate

Donated by Ken Whiteman

The first junior teacher was a Miss Tarrant, regarded as “a terror”. (Teachers were generally graded as “all right” or “terrors”.) My next teacher was Mr Loman, a fine teacher, firm and dedicated. He took an interest in those he thought had potential and did what he could to help them. At one stage he asked my parents if he could nominate me for a place at Christ’s Hospital School. They agreed reluctantly (‘people in our position don’t go to such schools’) but it turned out I was too old by a few days so I never went to a Public School. Perhaps it is as well as the boys in the cul-de-sac would have taken me apart if I’d turned up in a long gown and yellow striped socks.

Besides being a teacher Mr Loman was the Parliamentary Labour Party candidate for Kingston and fought the seat a couple of times. We learned from him about parliament, the roles of the Commons, the Lords and the Civil Service but, very properly, he never mentioned party politics. Another thing that he did for us was to widen our horizons and interests. We learned a bit of Esperanto. He started a chess club and the set I bought then (a penny a week) was still in use when my own children began to play. Another relic of those days is a few scraps of paper that I recently found among my mother’s old photographs: an end-of-year report from the junior school that she had kept for all those years.

I should mention ‘corporal punishment’. In those days teachers in the juniors still used the cane, a bamboo cane about two feet long bent round at one end into a semi-circular handle. It was not used all that often, probably every few weeks. Even Mr Loman used it occasionally, once on me, I can’t remember why. I stood facing him, right arm extended sideways (I’m left-handed), – then “thwack” as the cane came whistling through the air onto my palm – boy, did it sting! He said later that it hurt him more than it did me but I knew differently.

One thing I haven’t mentioned is the Christmas parties we had in the infants, not just our school but others on the estate too. There was a conjuror and games. For tea there were piles of sandwiches and jam tarts and slab cake of a particularly rich, brown kind. And who did we have to thank for all this? As far as I know it was Mr Hatfeild, the owner of Morden Hall. In the summer he opened his house and grounds to each school in turn with games and roundabouts and tea. Before the estate came he lived in lovely quiet country beside the river Wandle. The estate changed his world but, nevertheless, he was a wonderful benefactor to his new neighbours.

I won a place at Grammar School in 1939. Few children on the estate went to Grammar School, even if they won a scholarship; I was the only one I knew of on our part of the estate. The cost of the uniform, sports gear and travel deterred most parents. I can remember that Mum was doubtful and Mr Loman came round to talk to her. In the end I went to Mitcham High School (Wimbledon and Sutton were the other possibilities) as I could walk there and the uniform was cheapest. The school cap had horizontal stripes of green and lavender, the latter as Mitcham was, in years gone by, a place where lavender was grown.

The last time I went to No.4 School was about the start of the war. It was the distribution centre for gas masks in our area. We queued in sombre rows and family by family were fitted with these monstrosities; you had one put over your head and it was checked for size and you had to breath in and out making rude noises out of the loose cheeks of the mask. A boy from our cul-de-sac, behind us, screamed and screamed and wouldn’t have one put on.


Photo:First Form Mitcham County School

First Form Mitcham County School

Donated by Ken Whiteman

This page was added by Ken Whiteman on 29/11/2017.

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