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Memories of Fairfield School

by David Buckland

I was quickly ushered into my first classroom which happened to be the main hall, a type of classroom not uncommon to me in future years. I was in this class until the Christmas holidays and cannot remember very much except the great thrill that was had from all the decorations and the post box where we all posted Christmas cards to each other. I cannot recall the name of my first teacher, but I do remember spending most of my first day playing with building bricks and an early plastic type of conical puzzle.

Of course the war was still on and we occasionally had to duck under the heavy wooden desks when the wail of the siren was heard.

For the second term of my schooling I was put in the very capable hands of a lady called Miss Cannings who, like Miss Shand, is no longer with us. I was rather a timid child, no doubt caused by my many weeks spent in Hackwood Road Hospital, but Miss Canning was a remarkable teacher and long before I moved on to Class 3, I had learnt to read, write, and master my tables and I could add, subtract, multiply and almost divide. I cannot recall having trouble with any of these tasks.

The winters at that time seemed endless and hard with lots of snow, and there was a permanent frost in the playground, and super slides were produced that shone like glass. Other games of the time that we played were marbles (alleys), tag, hopscotch and five stones, and many played with early dinky toys and lead soldiers. Others played trains or buses.

The school meals were a strange mixture at the time and I hated cheese, lettuce and grated carrots, and had to bring notes from my parents to be excused from eating them. Incidentally in later life I came to love all these foods. The potatoes had a strange earthy smell, peculiar to school meals and the cabbage was a black-looking mass. However, I enjoyed the mashed potatoes and fish mixture that was often produced, and I even managed to enjoy the beetroot and swede when mixed in well. I always enjoyed the puddings, treacle, spotted dick, plain etc., that steamed in the long round tins.

The caretakers name was Mr Barnes; he was well liked.

The toilets were very primitive and at the far end of the playground reached by walking through a peculiar little building filled with coat racks and hooks.

We had the usual one or two school bullies, and I became the prey of one big lad called Tony Bane who travelled to school on the same bus as me. He came from the Tunworth area, I believe, and soon I had to hand over sweets and anything else that I had. I also had to provide him with chestnuts and conkers in season, which grew in abundance in Hackwood Park where I lived. I am afraid that he died tragically in a swimming accident in later years.

I didn’t have many close friends, but those that I did have were very loyal and I had quite a happy time really.

Memories are rather dim for the next year or two, but I think that my fourth term was spent in Miss Knight’s class where I learnt about 1066 and all that. Prior to this my class had the unusual experience of spending a term in May Place Hall on the top floor where we had a grand view of the surrounding countryside. We were lined up in the morning and marched from Fairfields School across Southern Road, down Castons Road, along London Street and finally to May Place. Once again it was wintertime and I remember one unfortunate boy slipping on the ice where Castons Road joined London Street, or rather the Market Square and getting very wet and muddy.

Early in my school life I was introduced to the little tuck shop just outside the school gates in Southern Road. Mr Clemson’s shop stood across Southern Road and was rather out of bounds. More popular was the shop of Mr Hailstone which stood where the Chinese Take Away is now. He did a roaring trade every lunch-time selling lemonade powder, sherbet dabs, Oxo cubes (sucked like sweets), rather watery ices, and his famous 1d drinks which I discovered years later were really watered down Tizer.

We were not allowed to leave the school grounds during the lunch-break, but a friend and I often used to slip away for a walk down Beaconsfield Road and back via Fairfields Road. However, on one occasion we almost walked straight into Miss Shand as we turned one corner. I am sure she saw and recognised us, but we ran hard back to school and heard nothing more that day. Next morning at Assembly, though, Miss Shand gave a lecture on children leaving school during the dinner break and said that she had seen two boys out of bounds the previous day; we felt her gaze rest on us although we were not named. Needless to say we didn’t take any more illegal walks at lunch-time.

Very soon I was old enough to move up to the top school, Fairfields Junior, but I wasn’t there long before a very exciting period entered my life. Rationing ended as we were able to buy chocolate for the first time. Children today just couldn’t imagine how wonderful this was to actually buy and eat chocolate, and to have Easter Eggs.

When I was ten years old a brand new school was built at the Shrubbery. I was put into the class of Miss E Gould and we were the second class to be installed in this school. She was a wonderful teacher whom I liked and respected.

After drab old Fairfields the new school was marvellous. I remember very well Miss Gould’s opening address to her new class. She said that the new school was only temporary, but she would bet that it would still be going in 20 years time – how right she was. She also stated that if any child gave her any real trouble, they would receive the cane on their backsides – boy or girl. She had two canes one of which she called “Jiminy Cricket” and I well remember an amusing incident when she went to the cupboard to fetch her cane to administer punishment to a boy called Humphries. Not wishing to be caned, he locked her in the cupboard to the cheers of the whole class. Somebody soon released her of course, and the unfortunate Humphries received his caning, but Miss Gould had a big smile on her face.

At this time we took the dreaded 11 plus examination, and although I could do pretty well at most subjects, my glaring weakness was my maths, and I failed so it was back to old Fairfields Senior School again and into Class 1A under the influence of Mrs Newman and my first encounter with that legend of Fairfields, Headmaster J.L Littlefair, commonly known as Johnnie (when he couldn’t hear you). What a colossus he was! I know that he was much disliked by many people, and some even questioned his academic ability, but times were very hard then, and he commanded respect, and he had some very hard cases to handle. We called them the South View Boys and they were war orphans and pretty tough, but Mr Littlefair demanded and got discipline, and most of these boys have grown up to be decent honest members of society and I think that a lot of the credit must go to him for this.

His school motto “To see and admire, not harm or destroy” was drummed into us at every opportunity as was his poem:-

I hear a sudden cry of pain. There is a rabbit in a snare. Etc.

He loved poetry and had his favourites in every class who were asked to recite on his frequent visits to the classroom. He gave an address at assembly every morning and often boasted of never missing a day’s work walking to Fairfields from Worting and home again every day. He was rather eccentric, and often appeared not to be wearing socks. After his address and morning prayers at assembly, we marched away to our classrooms usually to the music of The Washington Post March played by Miss Brown or Mr Banwell.

I didn’t make much progress in 1A, and Mrs Newman said that had I worked harder, I could have got to the Technical College, but once again maths was the great mystery to me and let me down. The following term I was in the class of Miss de Souza in 2A and then into Miss Russell’s class 3A which was held in the upstairs hall. I had my best ever examination results whilst in this class and even got fair maths results.

Whilst I was there the school received its very own radiogram which was a great event at the time. The records that we had were limited and consisted of “Song of the Morning”, “Tubby the Tuba” and “Sparky’s Magic Piano”.

Having a class of about 40 in a hall with two classrooms leading off was never easy, and pupils from other classes were not allowed to take short cuts through the hall. One day I remember two boys entering the hall carrying a desk and being ordered out again despite protests. About five minutes later they appeared again through the door at the opposite end of the hall, having taken the desk down one flight of stairs and up the next. They were, of course, trying to reach one of the internal classrooms, and Miss Russell was rather red- faced. I enjoyed the occasion, and we all had a good chuckle.

From 3A I moved on to 4A and Mr John Carter. I enjoyed the time spent in his class, and although he seemed quite strict at times, he loved sport, and as this was my strong point, I got on well with him. At last I was able to play cricket and quickly found my way into the school team where I did quite well. Mr Carter preferred the summer sports to winter, but we played both.

We were often opposed by teams led by Mr Bichard who was a very fine sportsman who played cricket for Basingstoke and North Hampshire CC. Invariably Mr Bichard’s team won because he hated to be beaten at anything. Mr Carter was more placid but I am sure that he became more than a little fed up at times because I recall an unimportant class football match where Mr Bichard kept running through everybody and scoring goals. After one unfortunate lad had watched him run through without being able to stop him, an exasperated Mr Carter strode up to him, took a flying kick at the ball which sailed away into the allotments in Castle Field where we were playing and made the lad go and retrieve the ball.

Mr Bichard, being a sports master, also took us for games of skittle ball in the school playground which was very enjoyable.   A was the first class which was all boys; all previous classes were mixed. Throughout my time at Fairfields, I was always in the A stream, which I have since decided was a mistake because the lower grades did many things that would have suited me far more. For example I didn’t have any opportunity for gardening, beekeeping or chicken rearing which I would have enjoyed had I been in Mr Jones’s class. The lower grades had more opportunity for music, which I thought was rather strange.

I was encouraged to learn to play the violin under the direction of Miss Boyd, but I hated it and didn’t get very far. I would have liked to learn to play the piano, but didn’t have the chance. I think I learnt quite a lot whilst I was in 4A as Mr Carter was a very able teacher.

David Buckland’s class in 1952. David is second from the right in the back row.

My final year was spent in 5A, Mr Blunden’s class. I had always thought of him as a hard-looking strict disciplinarian, but beneath this awesome exterior was a very kind, gentle and clever teacher. He loved anything to do with nature study, and I must confess that more than once during rather boring lessons someone might say that he had seen a flock of starlings on the telegraph wires on the way to school, and Mr Blunden would go to great lengths to explain why this was so. This trick was played many times, usually during maths lessons, and rarely failed.

Mr Blunden’s speciality was mathematics, and I might have learnt something if I had spent more time with him, but for some strange reason I was selected to become one of two Stock Prefects, so much of my year was spent in the stockroom which was adjacent to Mr Littlefair’s office. My fellow prefect and I saw a lot of Mr Littlefair in that time, and sometimes saw a very different side of the man. For example he caught me once swinging from the bars of the shelter in the playground, which was a caning offence, but took no notice because he needed me to check some stock.  However, I felt that this was only fair because I received the cane on two occasions during my schooldays, and I was completely innocent both times.

Mr Littlefair was a master with his cane, which he always carried tucked inside his jacket.  He always drew it rather like a swashbuckling pirate, and being of rather short stature administered the punishment from the foot of his steps where he could gain height for a more accurate stroke. He was dead accurate with that cane, and never failed to find the joints in one’s hand, and it carried quite a sting, especially in cold weather.

On another occasion I remember that my fellow stock prefect and I were alone in his office, which was very rare because Mr Littlefair or his secretary, Mrs Perry, were usually there. Suddenly a knock came at the door, and being in a rather mischievous mood I rang the bell on his desk which he used to admit anyone into his office. To our surprise Mr Littlefair himself marched in and with a cry of “Burglars, eh!” proceeded to chase us round his desk in playful fashion. This was so unlike the man that it had to be seen to be believed, but it proved that he was human after all.

He used to hide behind bushes in Castle Field to catch boys who might be tempted to watch cricket matches being played at May’s Bounty because we were not allowed to touch the dividing fence between the fields. When he caught an unsuspecting victim, he would blow a loud blast on his whistle, and beckon the offender towards him and utter the command that brought terror to the ears: “Go to the foot of my steps, boy, and wait for me.”

During my last week at school I wanted to play cricket all the time, but he would lie in wait for me, and as I passed towards the exit, he would grab me by the collar and direct me to the stockroom to cut up soap or polish, or deliver pencils, pens and ink.

I left Fairfields in Coronation Year and all pupils were presented with a book called “Elizabeth, our Queen” by Richard Dimbleby.   During my final term our class visited Lansing Bagnall’s new factory in Kingsclere Road. At the time it only consisted of the main office block and one tin hut. How it has developed since then; I saw a lot of that, but that’s another story.

The only other factory we visited was S R Verstage, the printers, which must have been an influence on one of my friends because he subsequently worked there for twenty years.

We always very much enjoyed the nature walks that we participated in led by Mr Tappenden; at least we were led at first, but as the walk usually progressed (across Basingstoke Common golden with buttercups and humming with bees and butterflies) some of the boys would make their way ahead and arrive back at Fairfields long before Mr Tappenden steamed in rather red faced after his efforts. What a kind man he was, I remember, as also was his fellow woodworking teacher, Mr Holton.

I cannot remember many important events during my schooldays. The Festival of Britain was held in 1951, of course, but I cannot remember if anyone visited it.   I do remember, quite clearly, the day in February 1952 when George VI died. I was standing by the hornbeam tree at the top of the playground when I noticed that the flag which always flew from the Town Hall clock tower was at half mast. Later I heard that the King had died in his sleep at Sandringham.   I also remember an important royal tour taking place in the late forties, but little else.

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