St Hilda’s School

A unique Wartime Education

My Secondary Education was at St Hilda’s School in Harpenden. It was then a single sex independent school and I remember having to get a bus from the top of Ludlow Avenue Luton and travelled along what was then called the A6 into Harpenden and being dropped off at the bottom of Douglas Road and walking up the hill to the school. As I got established there I made a lifelong friendship with Jean Ballantine and when she left in 1948 we had, in their words, reached the giddy heights of the top form, ie the eldest pupils and lodged on our own in the roof attic.

I have fond memories of school and hopefully capture an eclectic period at a rather ‘posh’ school during the war. I remember two teachers Miss Hallett and Miss Hanson who were already teaching there when I arrived and believe they took over in 1939 when they came to Harpenden from Emsworth near Portsmouth. With the War on and in keeping with the maxim to ‘make do and mend’ my uniform was made out of some old navy blue material. I am keen to point out that I did have the correct summer dress and Panama hat and for winter months the beret. Many hours were spent in the air raid shelter, which was the basement area converted with benches – most uncomfortable and not at all conducive to learning. I remember being envious of Jean as she lived nearby so could go home for lunch as the meals for those staying at school left much to be desired.

Misses Hallett and Hanson were ‘a breed all their own’ and not least eccentric. The former was tall and gaunt, amusing and also interesting if one was able to follow what she was saying, which was not easy due to her having a permanent ‘plum’ in her mouth. This was particularly disconcerting during French class and as a result the pronunciation was quite extraordinary.

Miss Hanson was the better teacher, though did not have quite such a ‘loveable’ character. Throughout all my time there, she wore alternately a sea green outfit and a violet one of identical style and design, not infrequently topped by a hat of a matching colour. From an early age I would wonder which outfit she would be wearing on the day. I have since thought what a sensible idea and most economical. In an odd way it didn’t even become boring as it was a style that just belonged. It was not unusual to find Miss Hallett wearing a hat and as she had an unfortunate habit of staring at one for long period of time, albeit with a twinkle in her eye, it did help to take one’s mind off the stare and concentrate on the hat.

Miss Hanson was the most hardworking person. She used to recount how she would be up in the early hours, correcting books, cleaning or doing whatever was required before the school day began. She also sometimes had to do the cooking for lunch and was frequently nursing Miss Hallett who was by this time ill more than she was well. Pupils were therefore abandoned. The situation was always rather desperate. Having seemingly condemned the Head Mistresses, I was happy there, and we were taught beautiful manners, including to blow one’s nose at the start of the day whether one wanted to or not.

I left St Hilda’s in 1948 aged 15 a much better person for my education there and even kept all my reports .

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