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Miss Lamb's Meadowcroft Nursery School

 Memories of Meadow Croft School... with thanks to Jackie Evans, Bill Dancer, Julian Haxby, Diana Suard, Dave Jordan and Terry Phillips

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Introduction

  

Nowadays, we tend to accept nursery schools as part of everyday life. However, it wasn't so back in the early 20th century. In those days, most kids waited for the relevant Education Act to force them into St Alphege or Westmeads Infants school at the age of 5! However, by the 1930s -1950s, parents were becoming more enlightened and a handful of private nurseries had sprung up around town. Perhaps the best remembered was that run by Miss Dorothy Lamb in Church Street. The photo of Miss Lamb (below) was kindly supplied by Diana Suard....

   


Miss Dorthy Lamb and charges 
Photo kindly supplied by Diana Suard

  

The school operated in a lovely old house alongside The Monument pub and directly opposite All Saints Church. Although it was usually referred to as "Miss Lamb's School", it had an official title based on the name of the property -  Meadow Croft School.

Both the school and Miss Lamb were held in great affection by local people and we have received many comments from ex-pupils over the lifespan of Simply Whitstable. We have now trawled back through our archives to locate some of those observations and to discuss some of the mementoes that accompanied them. This article is the result.  

  

The Location Today

   

Whilst the school itself has long since disappeared, the building still stands and the location remains an attractive setting to this day.....

    

Above: Church Street in modern times - with the Monument public house on the left and the old Meadow Croft building on the right. (photo 27 Aug 2011)

Below: Meadow Croft (photo 27 Aug 2011

   

 

A Basis for that "Village Feel"?

  

Of course, in the mid-twentieth century, it had even more of a  "village" feel to it than it does today. There were historical reasons for this rural atmosphere. Most local historians accept that the Church Street locality was the original community of Whitstable - safely located above marshland that was so often subjected to flooding by both sea and Gorrell Stream. For economic reasons, a  "newer" community eventually developed on the lowlands (around the area we now know as High Street and Oxford Street) and this was linked to the Church Street village by an important thoroughfare known as Church Road (now subdivided and renamed as Bridge Approach, Old Bridge Road and Belmont Road). The lowland community expanded to become the town centre that we know today. However, that expansion was not sufficient to fully engulf the Church Street area until the early 1960s when fields were extensively developed by local builders such as Child Bros.   

Thus, when Miss lamb's school was flourishing in the in the 1940s-1950s, the Church Street "village" area comprised little more than All Saints Church, the Monument pub, Meadow Croft house, Summerfield house, the Vicarage, the Old Parsonage and a handful of cottages. It was surrounded by attractive fields belonging to two farms/dairies - Smeeds (also known as Sampers farm and located at the junction of Church St and Old Bridge Road) and Bartletts (located at Bartletts corner in Church Street). Most of the fields were edged by hedgerows and some were lined by mature horse chestnut trees.  Even road signs were quaint and colourful as Terry Phillips recalls.....

  

Many readers will remember the old road signs before the continental ones became standard towards the end of the 1960s. The standard school sign showed children stepping off a kerb. However, before that became the norm, the school sign was a flaming torch (the torch of knowledge?). Usually the pictures on these signs were drawn wholly in black but, for some strange reason, the signs warning motorists of Meadow Croft had a black torch with red flames. 

I never recall this on any other school sign or indeed colour being used on any information plate on a warning sign. 

Terry Phillips
Fareham
Hants

  

An alleyway (guarded by stiles) passed between the school and the Monument pub and led to a field owned by Smeed farm. The  scene provided an idyllic setting for Meadow Croft school and this instilled indelible memories for many ex-pupils. 

  

A Hidden History? 

  

As yet, we do not know when Meadow Croft was built but we suspect that it might have an interesting history. Writing about Whitstable's widespread smuggling activities of the 18th and 19th century for the Simply Whitstable Vistors Book, Dave Jordan related an interesting story of a trip to Meadow Croft in the 1950s.....

   

As a young lad, I was  delivering groceries to Miss Lamb's "School House" with my Uncle Ted. It was a beautiful building and, when I expressed an interest in old buildings and secret passages, Miss Lamb took me to a staircase. We climbed halfway up to find a very small window., She said that this could not be seen from anywhere adjacent to the house and that it was a window used for placing a spout lantern as a signal that it was "Okay".... or "Do not land on this tide, revenue riders about". 

There was a lot of sympathy for "free traders"  in Whitstable as most of the inhabitants derived benefit from this activity in one way or another. That is why the "good times" lasted for so long.

Dave Jordan

  

Certainly, Meadow Croft would have been one of the most elevated properties in the Church Street community and therefore visible from the sea.

No doubt we will collect more fascinating stories and information from our readers in the years to come

 

Miss Lamb and the School

  

Miss Lamb, her wonderful house and the surroundings are recalled by so many local people. Bill Dancer kicks us off with the comments....

   

Miss Lamb ran a Kindergarten in a house next to the Monument for ages. Miss Lamb was amongst other things a Scout badge examiner so I visited her wonderful home on many occasions.

The house just to the east of Miss Lamb's was famous in the 40's for having a fruit bearing peach tree in the front garden (and they ripened most years) within scrumping distance of the road. I imagine the word scrumping is still used?

Bill Dancer
Victoria
British Columbia
Canada

   

The term scrumping still survives, Bill. Sadly, few people seem to use the lovely word "kindergarten" anymore. Nowadays, they tend to refer to "pre-school nursery". It's all very accurate, academic and efficient.... but a bit lacking in style!!!

The school house was also Miss Lamb's home as Julian Haxby describes..... 

  

I briefly attended Miss Lamb's nursery school. My recollection is that we were taught in the drawing room of her home.

Julian Haxby
Woodford Green
Essex

  

... and it seems that it wasn't just the drawing room that was over-run by little people. Jackie Evans picks up the story....

  

As we went up through the school, we moved rooms in her house until we ended up round a large rectangular table in a room at the front. I've attached a photo of me taken at Miss Lamb's in my final year (early 1953). 

 


Photo kindly supplied by Jackie Evans (Ferrell)

  

The girl on the left was Pat Wells. We both went on to the Endowed Girls School but Pat eventually moved away to go to a specialist music school. 

  

Jackie Evans (nee Ferrell)
Digswell
Herts

     

Staff

   

Although we have received many Visitors Book entries  about the school, none have referred to members of staff other than Miss Lamb herself. However, there was at least one other "helper" at the establishment. When Diana Suard kindly forwarded the photo of Miss Lamb, she included this explanation.... 

  

I attended the school from around 1943 and must have left about 1947, but I have no idea when the picture was taken nor who the two children were. In actual fact, I 'inherited' the photo from my aunt, Miss Dorothy Allen, who supervised the school dinners, distributed the milk, etc. She was a friend of Miss Lamb's.

Diana Suard
Paris

   

A Professional Curriculum

 

Miss Lamb's school was a professionally run establishment with a planned academic curriculum. This meant that it was more than just a place for working parents to dump their children during business hours. Jackie's school report for the Autumn Term of 1951 provides an insight into the wide range of assessed activities....

  

  

As Jackie pointed out in one of her emails, all this was achieved "without national curriculum levels and SATs". Everything was "aimed at preparing the pupil for junior school rather than league tables"

Jackie was at the school from Autumn 1950 to July 1953 when she moved on to the Endowed junior school at a "fraction under the age seven". This suggests that, in the early 1950s at least, Meadow Croft School extended beyond kindergarten stage and provided a private alternative to the mainstream infant schools of Westmeads and St. Alphege. This may have changed in subsequent years as I seem to recall some of Miss Lamb's pupils transferring to Westmeads Infants in the mid-1950s. The pre-school education at Meadow Croft actually put those pupils well ahead of the rest of us in terms of academic progress.

  

A Royal Memento

  

After all these years, mementoes of Meadow Croft School are few and far between.  However, Jacky Evans still owns one document that she acquired at the school and it marked a national event.... in 1953.

It seems Miss Lamb handed all Meadow Croft pupils a booklet celebrating the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. It's author was John Ridgeway and it was published by Thomas Hutton Ltd (The Ormskirk Advertiser). The cover contained a photo of Her Royal Highness.... but, for the purpose of our article, the most interesting features appear on the back of that picture. A label had been affixed containing a message to pupils from the Chairman of Whitstable Urban District Council and Miss Lamb had added her own handwritten note..... 

   

Above Left: The front cover of the booklet. Above Right: The message from WUDC

   

It's not clear whether the WUDC issued the booklet to all local pupils or whether Miss Lamb purchased a supply for the school. 

 

Lifespan of the School

  

We don't yet know the full lifespan of Meadow Croft School but an analysis of messages in the Simply Whitstable Visitors book suggests that it was educating local youngsters from, at least, the early 1940s to the early 1960s.

   

Financial Considerations

  

What did schooling at Meadow Croft cost? Well, evidence comes from another of Jackie's seven school reports. Her document for the Spring term of 1952 contained the following note....

  

"Owing to the increased cost of school materials, the fees are reluctantly raised to 4-17-6d".

  

Ahh.. what memories!


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