Lessons by lamplight at Westbourne

LESSONS held by the light from an oil lamp, while pupils sat up to their ankles in water. This was how it was for pupils at the new Western Senior School in Ipswich, at the end of the 1930s.

LESSONS held by the light from an oil lamp, while pupils sat up to their ankles in water. This was how it was for pupils at the new Western Senior School in Ipswich, at the end of the 1930s. The new school, now Westbourne High School, was a smart new building, but with the outbreak of World War Two in September 1939, authorities hastily built air raid shelters where lessons continued in less than ideal conditions during alerts and air raids. Life at the new school was recalled recently in Kindred Spirits by Ipswich man David Routh, who was a pupil there when the school opened.

Ray Fuller of Goldcrest Road, Ipswich said: “I was a pupil at Westbourne when Mr Saunders was headmaster. Mr Lawes, Mr Webber, Mr Ives, Mr Hudson and Mr Basham were all my teachers. I have very happy memories of my days there. I think I had every punishment that was going; cane, slipper and staying in after school, but I always respected the teacher afterwards.

“During the air raids of the Second World War we had to go down the shelter and carry on with lessons with oil lamps hanging from the roof and sometimes ankle deep in water. I wonder what children of today would have thought of that? If we get an inch of snow now all the schools are shut. I had to walk to school through heavy snow. All the teachers always turned up. How times and attitude have changed today. I am seventy-five now and that article brought back a lot of happy memories for me. Thank you.

Wendy Orviss of Bramford Road, Ipswich, added. “I was among the first to attend the opening of Westbourne School. I was twelve-years old and had come from Springfield School, Bramford Lane. What a lovely school it was with all mod cons! I thoroughly enjoyed every word of David Routh's memories. I knew of most of his teachers David recalled as my brother David was there at the same time as him.

“My headmistress at the girl's school was Miss Baker and the teacher's names were Miss Dunkley art, Miss Garrard general, Miss Turner and Miss Boon geography, Miss Saunders music, Miss Chalker needlework, who would insist on silence during her lesson. She would tap her desk and say: “Girls, I want to hear a pin drop!” Miss Eldridge botany, she always cutting up frogs, UGH! The cookery teachers and housewifery were Miss Cordle, a very religious lady and Mrs Rankin. Every lesson was a joy.

“I enjoyed school very much and finished up head girl for a short period as I left to start work at 15. I had three sisters at the school, two of which aspired to head girls and the third sister was very much into sports and dramatics and had quite a following among the girls. She could sing too!”

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Times spent down the air raid shelters during World War Two were never wasted. We used to sing and have quizzes between keeping an eye on how the raid was going.

We came home one afternoon to find our road closed and mothers and younger children had all been herded together at St Thomas Church Hall on the corner of Shafto Road. There was a bomb in the road. Apparently you could see the fins. I was told by those who had to tiptoe past it. From the hall we were taken in bus loads to a very big house on Norwich Road near Sherrington Road. It was owned by a Miss Hammond. There were several families there and everyone knew everybody else. The severity of the situation didn't hit us children and it was like an outing. The poor mothers didn't think so, mine among them, and I was brought to heel and told to be an example to the younger ones. It was weeks before we were allowed back. Everything stood in the houses just as they were left, even cutlery in the kitchen my mother was using to make sandwiches for tea that afternoon.

“Even though it was war time the boy's school was used as a youth club three nights a week. All sorts of activities went on even though it was during the black out. I especially liked the dancing evening. Sometimes I helped in the canteen and made watery cocoa, the boys loved it. We just made the most and best use of everything and nobody was really unhappy, maybe we were too young and naïve. On one special occasion we even got to dance with the headmaster Mr Saunders. We girls boasted one against the other, but all agreeing it was like being “in the pictures with a film star”. The cinema was still very magical at that time. Yes, I remember dear old Westbourne and am proud to have been a pupil there.”

Tom Scrivener of Heron Road, Ipswich, said “I was one of the lucky ones to go there at the time of it opening. It brought back a lot of old memories both good and bad. I was caned by headmaster Mr Pip Offord once. What David Routh said was true; you got caned at the drop of a hat. I remember him though as a good headmaster.

“The main teacher I remember was Mr W Ives the master for woodwork. I still have a pair of candle sticks made under his tuition. There was another whose name I cannot recall. He was an old man and he took us out for gardening. I often wonder what happened to all the things we produced with all our hard work. Does anyone remember the old chap's name?

“Prize giving was held in the main hall. Most lads went for books, but when I was asked what I would like I said an inner tube as I was at that time renovating an old Runwell bicycle. I was surprised as I got my inner tube and I had that bicycle until I left the RAF after ten years.”


Do you have any memories or photographs from Westbourne School from the past? What was life like there in the 50s 60s and 70s? Write to Kindred Spirits, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich. IP4 1AN.

Childhood for most of us was spent surrounded by a happy family with a nice comfortable home with a room of our own or one shared with brothers and sisters.

For some children life was spent in children's homes. Life for some there was very harsh with children who had become orphaned or in some cases placed their by single parents who could not cope with them. A reader of Kindred Spirits, a former inmate at the home from 1936 until 1950, who does not wish to be named, sent me a photograph of an outing from the St John's Children's home in Britannia Road, Ipswich to Frinton in 1948. He said: “The photograph shows that not every day at the home was grim and harsh. At the back of the group are Mr Scoles, Mr Andrews, Mr Gowling and Mr Churchyard. All of the boys featured would have been pupils at Copleston Road School between 1946 and 1950.

The records of the home are now at the Suffolk Record Office, they date from 1883 to 1950 when the home closed. There are few photographs of life there. They would bring the records to life.”


Were you at the home or do you have any photographs of life there? Write with your memories to Kindred Spirits at The Evening Star.