Red Hill - circa 1935 (by Tony Watson)
Note: Tony Watson was amongst the first group of boys at Red Hill when it opened in 1935 and most likely the youngest boy at six to ever attend RHS. Tony was also at Chislehurst for a few months before the school relocated to East Sutton.
Red Hill School, circa 1935, as recalled 67 years on:
At the back door, in the square yard, under a porch supported by one pillar on the outside corner. The roof of the porch is below the junior bathroom - in through the door, turn left: this is the kitchen. The left hand wall divided; on the left a door goes into the sculleries, on the right a short passage, starting with a glass door right leading to the kitchen garden, down the passage to two large walk-in larders. Facing the kitchen door the wall has two windows looking out on the kitchen garden. The right hand wall has the much-needed cookers; presided over by Mrs Brown, wife of Ted the gardener/handyman. Next is the door which leads down the steps to the cellars. It was on to these steps for being a right little XXX!! I was placed without clothing for what seemed at the time forever, and with the door locked and no light. To the right of the back door: an opening into a small room, this was the sink room, windows onto the square yard on one side and on the other the boiler room.
Ahead from the back door, first on the right, what was known as the dark passage, because it was dark and tunnel shaped. At the bottom of this was a door into the main hall also a staff toilet. Back to the passage from the back door: ahead was first a narrow room which led off to the left. This was the butler's pantry. Worktops and cupboards on both sides, some right up to the ceiling. Right at the bottom on the right the lowest cupboard was the tuck cupboard, run by one of the latest Red Hill recruits, Paul Pollak. I once found the key to this and spent a pleasant hour or so walking around the lower field devouring a ½ lb of anchor butter. This little theft cost me dearly.
Next to the butler's pantry was the dining room, right below the senior dorm and looking out onto the terrace. Out of the butler's pantry on the right was an odd-shaped little room, this was the staffroom. At the far end a fireplace and on the mantle a telephone, Sutton Valence 104, later to become 3104. Next a short flight of stairs. At the top right three steps go up and turn left into an L shaped passage leading to bedroom(s?) Facing the 3 steps a square room, no furniture and no carpet - this was the "playroom" with a window on the far left of the facing wall looking onto the kitchen garden, this room was immediately above the kitchen.
From the 3 steps turn right and up a narrow flight of stairs to an attic bedroom. Facing the top of the back stairs, and above the boiler room, there is the junior bathroom, apart from the weekly hot baths it was also used quite often for punishment purposes - COLD baths - luvverly! On from the junior bathroom, up three steps and on the right an opening which led first on the right to a toilet and ahead: the senior bathroom. Onwards on the left was Marion 0. Farrell's room, later to be graced with baby Peter, no sight or sign of daddy at the time I was detained during my parent's pleasure. Next the junior dorm, above and the same shape and size as the butler's pantry below. Bunk beds on the left wall and on the right was a fireplace; sometimes used to melt bars of chocolate to produce a form of rather yuckey hot chocolate using an old baked bean tin.
Onwards there is the senior dorm above the dining room. From this window we had great fun watching German bombers on their way to London, and now and again fighter planes sent to attack them. Out of the dorms, turn left straight into the trunk cupboard. On the right a door to the square landing as it was known with its ceiling window.
Going clockwise: door which opened onto the main staircase which led up to the doors of Holland's room and Shaw's study. Then up a couple of steps and into the library /classroom, right above the dance room which was right next to the front door in the grand hall, full of polish and oak panels. Next to the library: a staff toilet, used by all and sundry. Then through a door and up a narrow stair which led to an attic bedroom and Shaw's study - the back door used by the inmates (guests used the grand way up to his front study door). Back down these stairs turn left and left again and into the staff bathroom/toilet; used by the staff only, or so they thought.
0ut of here and on to a small bedroom used by the first two girls to arrive (about '38) they were Wendy Bakewell and Julia Steinberg. Lastly on the square landing is the linen room which also held everyone's clothes, clean and otherwise. On bath days we collected our clean stuff from Marion, queued up in an unorderly rabble to have a bath and return to Marion our dirty clothing; poor soul! The seniors had a far more dignified time during their ablutions. I once found a bottle part full of lemonade sitting on the junior bathroom window sill. Drank the lemonade and replaced it with something else! And I got away with it.
Recap: at the back of the sink room a door leads into the senior common room, although used by all who chose to do so no matter what their age.
As to the 'roads', behind me is the road to Maidstone, to the right the road in which Shaw's bungalow was situated, ahead South Lane, left the start of Sutton Valence High Street. Halfway down on the left the white painted Dr.'s surgery. At the bottom on the left a pub, the Swan Inn. On towards East Sutton, a little way up the hill on the left a cottage set up above the road with the name on the gate near the road, "Beggar's Way". Further towards to ES, past a little lane on the left, then a junction. A little lane on the left, another on the right which goes around ES Park anticlockwise, and past a number of little houses and comes out on the other side of the park.
Ahead from the park, leaving a lane going on from the left, past the borstal on the right, on and on past a little old school building on the left. Here now is a T-junction, left a lane, ahead a gate from which can be seen across the valley Harry Payne's farm. Right on towards RHS. Little way down the hill a pillar-box next to a gate which leads to what was known as the steep drive, narrow and dark! Further on the main gate, 5 barred, on the other side of the road old Mrs Payne's farm.
Looking in through the main gateway: to the right a path alongside the shrubbery which leads to the front door where there is a wide gravel area with a huge flowerbed in the centre, allowing vehicle turning. Ahead three stone steps lead on to the terrace, which lies below a gravel path running right across the building. Near the corner of the building on this path is right below Shaw's study, and from his window he emptied his ash trays - full of loverly big dogends - much to our competitive delight. On the right of the terrace stands a copper beech tree. Then on the far left side of the terrace and on the right, close to the wall protecting the lower field, are two huge fir trees. One in front of the other. The tallest one "The Big Fir" only the big boys were allowed to climb, it was the slighter shorter one that the rest of us were allowed to scale. Even from the top of this one there was a magnificent view of the countryside looking towards Dover.
At the end of the path running past the front of the building there was the kitchen garden and the end of the long wall which ran along the main garden. Back to the main gate; ahead past the bottom of the steep drive on the left, to the right a massive lawn which went right down towards the front door, to the left of which, the lawn that is, was a privet hedge and a gravel path which went on past the cottage which housed Shaw's elderly mother and down to the square yard and the back door. Straight on from the bottom of the steep drive there was, going anticlockwise: from right the cottage, the generator room, the stables. On the ground floor were still the actual horse stalls; all of well seasoned and 'horsey' wood, windows and cobbled floor. The upper floor was made into a couple of bedrooms, occupied by two of the older Levitt brothers. The third and younger slept in the junior dorm. Round the corner in a cobbled area were two or it might have been three large garages with huge doors on the right of this area. I never saw the doors opened or looked inside the garages. On the left of this cobbled area and in the far left corner was a stand pipe. Having cadged stale loaves from the visiting baker, we would dampen the loaves under the standpipe then make a small fire in the gangplace. Then with a stick pushed through the length of the loaf we would 'rebake' it. It was delicious!
Ahead on now, there was a slatted fence with a gate, this led into what we called the gangplace. First on the right there were a few derelict potting sheds close to the main garden wall; no interest to us. On the left of the gangplace was a watercress bed, at the end of which was a brick wall a few feet high the other side of which was ....our pond, green weedy and great fun for all. At the end of the gangplace was a gate which led into the back field, which in turn led to the lane which ran past the back of the school and on right up to Harry Payne's farm.
Back to the cottage now, down the path along the wall, complete with a couple of huge and delicious fig trees. Towards the end of the wall, an opening or archway which led on the right to a little toilet, or so it seemed, then a door into the main garden, Ted's domain. Now we are in the 'square yard'. On the right are several sheds, wooden, shaped. Next to the sheds, going anticlockwise, an archway in the brick wall which leads past the lawn and onto the front drive. Looking at the backdoor, which opens from the left halfway up the red brickwork on the left are the letters: B W T . The letters had been scratched there by one Pat Andrews, aged about 16, and meant: Bony Wony Tatson. That's me! That was just one of the ricer things I was called.
Having arrived at RHS straight from its starting place in Chislehurst, we spent days exploring that whole place. Found next to the lower field there was oblong shaped woods that stretched from the lane that ran along the back of the school right down to the bottom of the lower field. In these woods we found something that no-one had a clue about. We used these 'things' as roundabouts, not knowing that they were fully functioning filter treatment beds. Due to it's 'newness' there was few staff at that time, apart from Shaw, there was Ivor and Lily Holland, Humphrey Swingler and his flashy MG car, and then Leslie Weatherhead, plus the long-suffering Mrs. Brown and hubby Ted.
During my time there '35-'41, I have very poor recollection of what went on daily, just a few vague memories of incidents. Classes, what classes? Those are something I have least recall about, for some reason which could easily be explained by a somewhat cultivated shrink. Though at the time of writing this I have a fair idea about the whys and wherefores of poor 'recall'. As in later years, during my time there were very few if any activities for the likes of me, aged 6 when I arrived. Classes if any seemed very optional, I don't remember going to many, it might have been much better for the one or two older boys. I have no idea who taught what in those days, and I seemed always to be in some kind of trouble, either breaking things, going into tantrums, smashing my glasses outside the sinkroom window, and then have to be taken to A.J. Rawlings Optician in Maidstone. I have recollections of cold baths and being locked in the cellar in the dark without my clothes. I have no doubt that I probably deserved all that I got, though I must say that I never suffered any physical punishment, not quite but near.
I remember the pillar box at the top of the steep drive very well; several times I had posted, minus stamp, pleading letters to my parents begging to be brought home on the sworn promise to be good, very good. I also ran away several times and managed to get as far as Maidstone. The result was a call from the police to Shaw, begging him to take me off their hands, having fed and watered me to some degree. One policeman gave me a cap, and on the way back a very angry Shaw snatched it of my head and threw it through the fast moving car window. I was not amused. The next day I was summoned to his study. Seated on a settee, Shaw was walking round and round glaring and saying nasty things to me, a frightened little boy (who was a damn nuisance). The one thing I recall him saying was "My hand is just itching to hit you". He never did, nor did anyone else.
Just before the war, it must have been early 1939, two foreigners appeared - Paul Pollak, who went on to run the tuck cupboard, and Alexander Czillag (pronounced Chillag), Alexander was from Hungary and Paul from Czechoslovakia. Also just before the war, probably early mid '38 we were taken to Camber Sands camping. Everyone had a great time except me, for some reason that I cannot recall I was brought back to the school halfway through the week. I spent solitary hours sitting on the terrace, looked on now and again by MOF, who gave me tea and bread and jam on the terrace. I had to go and fetch it from the kitchen window. At night I was spoilt for choice for somewhere to sleep. I do not think there was anyone there who cared much about where I slept so long as I was out of sight and sound.
Not really a place I would send a six year old to, but then as the Islington Child Guidance Clinic decided that there was nowhere else to send me but to an experimental school just opening, Thank goodness for that. For me I did not have much choice; even running away did not get me very far, in more ways than one.
Little bits keep filtering back, so now for some names; to begin with there were two others beside me at Chislehurst, but it might well have been three, no matter. In the 'early days' at Chislehurst there was Pat Andrews, Geoffrey Best and Roy Webb from Croydon, then at East Sutton there were more names added: Robin Wyles, Leonard Bloom, Michael and John Nicholson, who used to chant "We live at 6 Chartfield Avenue, Putney", John Sydney Martin who went into the R.A.F., Phil Pascoe who went into the Navy, Dick Waller, Peter Crammond from Willesden, the Levitt Brothers from Southend, Helmut Kunert - this boy suddenly disappeared without warning because he was German, David Baden-Powell - relative of the 'scout founder', then the girls: Julia Steinberg and Wendy Bakewell arrived just before the war. There was also a boy named Peter Rice, who now in hindsight, should never have been sent there, but should have gone to a mental hospital maybe dealing with children. Perhaps there just was no such place to send him. I felt so sorry for him then and still do have memories of him being mis-treated verbally by staff, mainly MOF, and gently made fun of by other boys. Very, very sad.
From what I have heard the years after I left (which was 1941) aged 12, things were far better, better educationally, better staffed, better socially, better disciplined and a great deal of different activities and interests to be enjoyed both in and out of the school. After I departed, I went home for one day and then to Somerset to stay and be unwelcome by my brother, for just over a year before going back to my parents' home. It was not really mine in the sense that I had not been 'brought up' there. At this moment in time I have very mixed feelings about RHS. My main feeling is that being there I had been 'brought up' without what to most would been a family life with love and nurturing, I was, it would seem, never allowed to develop by means of stimulation which would have shaped me as a person, with a definite personality.
I left school at 14, having learnt - educationally- very little. I had no particular interests in either employment or social activities. I made friends quickly and then lost them even quicker. I really became something of a cross between a butterfly and a loner. I feel now that my time at RHS did a great deal of damage though there is no-one who can be blamed for those years, it just happened, and I am sure it would never happen in these enlightened days of social and psychological knowledge. I know that in later years Shaw would never have considered taking a child like I was at the tender age of 6 and I doubt if he would have taken even one slightly older if he behaved as I did. Sorry, this began as a piece about RHS and has digressed into a piece about me. Trouble is that one thing leads to another.
Tony Watson (March 2002)