In 1928, my father, two sisters and I came to Pillar House; in those days, Harwell had no electricity, gas or water main, but there was an excellent well inside the gate, and a pump, to supply the water. We had to provide ourselves with an oil cooker and oil lamps. The first evening was not very successful, as we lit one of the new lamps, having unpacked all the china, then went with another into another room, to do some more unpacking; when we returned to the dining-room, the room was black with smoke, and all the china had to be washed.
On our first morning, we heard a church bell, so we decided to go and find the church; when we arrived, the bell (a single bell) was still ringing, and we went in, to find an empty church; presently the bell stopped and an elderly man came out of the vestry. We asked if there was a service “Oh no,” was the reply “that is the Death Bell, sixty-nine strokes” – one stroke for each year of the deceased’s age. With much amazement we withdrew. We have since been told that that custom continued in Harwell, of ringing the “passing bell” for all deceased, until the Second World War came, when all bell-ringing was stopped.
Pillar House in those days was a lovely mellow redbrick Georgian house with beautiful stone pillars. There was little traffic, few cars. There was a carrier’s cart which went weekly to Abingdon, and would bring back any necessary shopping; it was altogether a very happy village.
Miss Clarke’s School
In 1929, Mr and Mrs Baker persuaded me to teach their son Val, aged seven, and his friend Duncan Herbert, who was Commander Hazel’s grandson, so in September I went daily to King’s Piece and taught the two boys. In 1930, Dr Rice asked me to have his granddaughter Gillian as well, so in January she and I began to walk together along Grove Road every morning, and it was always a very surprising occurrence if any car came along Grove Road. This continued for a time until there came requests to take more pupils, so I had to erect a wooden building in my garden, and we had to adapt part of the studio, which had been used by more than one artist who had lived in Pillar House. I usually sent boys on to prep. school at about eight or nine years, and later, in 1948, I sent my girls in for the eleven-plus, and that was the age limit. After my father’s death in 1933, my sister Rachel became my partner, and we took pupils as boarders.
During the war we were asked to take many more children, often from bombed areas, and on more than one occasion we took in a mother and child. We were very fortunate in being lent Ranger Cottage as an overflow, and a member of staff went with several children to sleep there. Later, in 1943, we obtained the tenancy of Osterley from Mr Caudwell, and my sister used to bring four small boys there to sleep every evening. On one eventful day, we were having a dress-rehearsal of a patriotic play on the lawn, when we were told that His Majesty King George VI was visiting the R.A.F. at Harwell aerodrome; he had arrived there by ‘plane, but suddenly a kind policeman looked over our gate and told us that His Majesty would be coming through the village in about half an hour’s time. I ran down the lane to tell Mr Smith, and he brought his whole school up, and we took all our children outside; they were all in patriotic dress representing the Forces, the Dominions, the Allies, and so on. We placed three small boys in front – a sailor, a soldier and a tiny airman. When we saw the car coming it slowed down and three small boys stood rigidly at the salute. His Majesty leaned forward, and smilingly saluted them back, much to their joy, and that of all the children. It was a wonderful occasion.
In 1946 Pillar House had to be sold and my sister retired. I moved with my Matron and seven boarders, to Osterley, Wellshead. After the war it was almost impossible to obtain a wooden building, so with the help of Dr and Mrs Beazeley, I had my class in a room in their house, and my Kindergarten, in the charge of the Infant teacher, was accommodated in a room at Mrs Hazel’s house. At last I managed to obtain an American building, and Miss Rice allowed me to rent her orchard, so the two buildings were erected in Wells head Lane, and we began a new chapter of our school. There was lovely space for the children for recreation. In 1950, the Ministry of Education Inspector visited us. We spent a successful morning, and he stayed to school dinner with the children and made friends with them.
In 1954, we celebrated our twenty-fifth anniversary, and many former staff and pupils from all over the country came back. I limited my numbers to forty-five until, in 1962 the land was required for building purposes (Chilbrook). I gradually reduced my numbers and we moved up to Osterley, where for the last three years we continued with smaller numbers until in the spring of 1966 I finally closed my school and regretfully retired.
- Fond memories of Miss Clarke’s school at Pillar House, Harwell
Chris Tyrrell –
3 Feb 2014
My Mother, nee Jean Ramsbotham (b 1927)remembers Pillar House school and the Miss Clarke’s fondly. Although both ladies were “Miss Clarke”, Irene was know as Miss Clarke; and Rachael, Miss Mousey.
She attended their school from the age of 5 to 10, living at the Milton Rectory. Her father (my Grandfather) was the Rector at Milton (Edward FS Ramsbotham with his wife Evelyn).
- Happy and grateful memories
Robin Wedderburn –
25 May 2014
I think I started at Miss Clarke’s in 1953, when I was five. There were breaks in my attendance there since all of us in our family spent periods abroad when my father, a soldier, was stationed in one place or another.I have lovely memories of the school – odd things – the wooden huts, the rocking horse in the kindergarten hut, the orchard beyond the senior hut – kind Mrs Beeson (beautiful fair hair) who taught me some Latin on my own – dignified yet non-intimidating Miss Clarke. For me above all, perhaps, there was Miss Oakhill, who started me off so sympathetically on the piano and put me on the path towards a life in music.
It was a loving place – maybe founded not only on Christian principles but also, I guess, on real faith which generates confidence and delight in young hearts. I am so grateful for all that. Dear Miss Clarke.