I was very fortunate with both schools I attended in Cambridge – fortunate because of the friends I made and things I learned, but fortunate too for the teachers at the school. Some were very elderly, some very young, some very eccentric, some inspiring, all very knowledgeable about their subjects – and mostly passionate about them too.
I have always loved reading and writing, and this was fostered at my primary school, but it was when I went to the Cambridgeshire County High School for Girls, shortened to ‘the County’, that everything stepped up a gear.
- Mrs Johnson, Miss Matthews, Miss Smith, Miss Rothery, Miss Eminton, Mrs Spencer, Miss Dolan, Miss Davidson, Mrs Burbidge, Miss Turner, unk, unk, unk, unk, Mlle Forgeront, Mrs Salinger, Miss Newbery
- Miss Alsop, Miss Heyward, Miss Leigh, unk, Mlle Walker, Miss Brooks, Miss Nash, unk, Mrs Dee
- unk, unk, Mrs Slade, Mrs Saltern, Mrs Griffiths, Miss Thorburn, Miss Guyatt, Miss Palmer, unk, unk,
The teacher on the back row on the far left was Mrs Johnson; she taught me English for a couple of years, and I have so often thought about her since then. She was quiet, authoritative, lovely, inspiring, approachable, and when I was a teacher I often thought about her. She taught us when the Beatles were popular, and we were all trying to copy their Liverpool accents, and use the slang they used which we had never heard before. Mrs Johnson used the word ‘gear’ meaning equipment and we all burst into uncontrollable laughter as it was a Beatle word and meant ‘great’ or ‘fantastic’ or ‘fab’! She was completely bewildered by a class of giggling girls, and none of us could explain because we were just rocked by laughter that she had said ‘gear’! I don’t suppose these days kids would laugh at a teacher saying one of ‘their’ words, sneer more likely! I just remember Mrs Johnson repeating ‘But why is it funny? What’s funny about the word ‘gear’?‘ and us laughing even more!
The other English teacher I had was Miss Palmer; she is sitting on the floor in the front row, third from the right. I remember her classes when we were doing debates; I’m afraid I do remember us being very silly, but she managed to get us to discus things properly and to listen to each other ( a great skill learnt – to listen to others!) to speak confidently, to discuss things independently of her organising us and the dialogues and dramas we performed in the classroom. In one we had to work in pairs – I was probably with my friend Maaike and I can’t remember what we did. Jennifer and Marion gave a performance I have never forgotten; one sat on a desk, the other sat under it. Jennifer sitting on the desk was the Queen in a car, driving through a crowd, giving the Queen’s famous egg-whisk wave. Marion crouching under the desk voiced the Queen’s thoughts – I can’t remember what they were now, but they were very funny, all about the corgies and Prince Philip no doubt!
I have always loved history; Miss Guyatt was a fearsome teacher – utterly terrifying, but she was brilliant. I loved her lessons, my mind seemed open and buzzing with all the things she told us – she was so knowledgeable, so clever, so engaging. I could never be as good a teacher as she was. Miss Guyatt is sitting on Miss Palmer’s right; I remember one weekend we were on the river in our canoe, and we paddled past a punt – and there was Miss Guyatt, sitting in the punt! I was amazed – somehow I never thought of teachers having a life outside school!
There are two other amazing teachers I particularly remember, and I don’t think either of them are in this picture. Mme Parry taught me French for the last couple of years I was at school. It’s thanks to her that I not only passed but did quite well. I think, though, she would be amazed that I went on to do French for A-level and for my degree, and I still go to French conversation lessons. Mme Parry was young and dynamic and another great teacher.
Mrs Stanton, who came from New Zealand took over as my Latin teacher about a year before I took the exam. My previous teacher was a dear old thing but really not very good – she had taught my aunty when she was at school, so she seemed and probably was, ancient; I missed nearly two months of Latin in the first term as i was off school with glandular fever, and never caught up. I used to get 8% or 11% in exams… I was hopeless although I worked so hard at it… then the dear old soul left and Mrs Stanton arrived… suddenly all was clear, I grasped what it was all about! My results improved, and in the end, in the mock exams I got my all time highest result, 56%… and then the headmistress wouldn’t enter me for the exam… I could write volumes about that head mistress, but I will restrain myself. Needless to say she was not popular with anyone.
As someone commented when this photo was shared “These incredible women obviously had an impact on so many of us ‘old girls’”
Here is a link to a post I wrote about dear Miss Eddy, my elderly Latin teacher, and another old dear, Miss Gurry: