I began teaching in Sidmouth around 1977, doing peripatetic work before being appointed to Sidmouth Infants. At this time Gryff Ford was Head at St Nicholas C.of E. School. I remember seeing him hard at work in his office making a beautiful fishing rod.
June Lock was Head at Manstone and when a visiting advisor suggested we bring sand into our stock cupboards for wet day play, June’s acute sense of tidiness won the day. The sand was soon back outside.
Much time after school was spent putting things in order – crayons, pencils, counting blocks, etc. I’m afraid my stock cupboard caused her much distress. My time at Manstone, as it was known then, was very happy. As a staff we got on well and made friends for life – Chris Roberts, Anne Eagles and Wendy Toms chief among them.
In the eighties, Gryff Ford retired and Ian became Head. Unlike Gryff, Ian was a guest at all our Christmas shows. I have a vivid picture of him perched on a very small infant chair obviously enjoying the unintentional humour of small children.
June Lock then also retired and I wanted to develop my music so I applied for and got a post at St Nick’s. The facilities for staff and pupils were basic. The children’s toilets were outside and in the upper block, the staff had none at all. This meant that in emergencies another teacher had to babysit while the unfortunate staff member ran to the bottom block where there was one loo for all female staff, including visitors!
Water was not laid on in the comparatively new block and had to be carried from an outside tap. One member of the school Governors reckoned it was all character building for us and refused to support any changes. He spent his time in the over-heated council offices at the Knowle. We also had a system of heating which was very unreliable. Ian came in early one morning to hear a disembodied voice from the loft above his office. Bert Trivett, our caretaker, was up there trying to stop a leak in the Dutch tradition by stopping the water with his finger.
Bert was a joy to have around. One day he decided I needed feeding so he went to the bakery and brought me back a doughnut. When the children in my class asked him where he got it, he told them it was from the doughnut tree behind the top block. When they asked him to get them one, he said he couldn’t as they weren’t ripe. Apparently they were ready to eat when they had sugar on them! He also convinced them that he was a pilot based at Exeter Airport and flew to Majorca every day after school. If he was late his co-pilot swooped down and picked him up at a post-box in Ashley Crescent.
One memorable day, he decided to trim a tree outside the staffroom. We looked out a few minutes later to see Bert sitting on the branch while sawing it off near the trunk!
We had many personalities on the staff, one of whom was Larry Pimblett. He was left in charge one lunchtime and some of us were in the staffroom having our lunch when Larry came hurtling in to tell us that a boy called Andrew had run home after a fight in the playground. No-one moved to help so Larry took off in his car towards the Bowd. Andrew’s family had a farm near there. The runaway scaled a gate and ran off up a field. Larry spotted him, screeched to a halt and vaulted the gate to follow him. Unfortunately a lady in the car behind thought this tall stranger was a molester and called the police! Within minutes, Larry was apprehended and since he had gone out in shirt-sleeves and had no identification, was removed to the police station. Minutes later we got a call to ask if we could verify who he was and Nick Kitchen promptly said that we’d never heard of him!
Eventually, after many years of fighting, we got our school hall and indoor toilets. My favourite part of the school is still the old Main Block. It seems full of so many years of history.