The Cedar Road School, Cobham

Cobham Remembers

The Cedar Road School which opened in April 1860 was an important part of the Cobham community during the Great War.

Mr John Rundle was Head Master of the Boy’s school, 1903-1930. He is recorded in the 1911 census as living in Copse Cottage, Freelands Road with his wife Bertha. May Alice White aged 15 was their domestic servant.

Miss Lilla Pridham was the Head Mistress at the Girl’s school, 1911-1927, but had taught there for some years before. The 1911 census shows her living at Roseleigh, Freelands Road, with her father Paul, a retired bootmaker, and her mother Louisa.

The War Years.

Effects of the war on school life were quick to appear with an entry in the School log book for 24 August 1914 – “five boy scouts are absent watching the telegraph wires”.

On September 7, 1914 “Mr Pratt and Mr Smith, both Certified Teachers, are absent today. They have gone to London to offer themselves as candidates for the army.” The entry for the next day says “Mr Pratt and Mr Smith have been accepted as soldiers in the RAMC for three years or as long as the war lasts. They are commanded to be present at Great Scotland Yard at 9 o’clock this morning.” Naturally there was a knock-on effect on the running of the school The Cobham Church Parish Magazine (CPM) of November 1914 reported that “the Head Master and his remaining Assistants, while justifying this patriotic action have been hard pressed to carry on all the work in their absence. A capable Assistant Mistress, Miss Chesney, has been recruited to lighten the load”.

Less successfully one of the Uncertified Teachers, Mr Joe Egbert Whiteley, living in 1911 with wife, Ellen and daughter Florence at 2, Sutton Villas, Hogs Hill Lane, tried to enlist in November 1915 but was considered medically unfit. He and another teacher, Mr Fuller, both tried again in the early days of the Battle of the Somme, but Mr Fuller was found to be “quite unfit”, whilst Mr Whiteley was told that he was “absolutely unfit”. (Curiously, Joe Whiteley had received the 2nd eleven presentation bat at the Cobham Cricket Club Dinner in January 1914!)

A more visible result of the war in Europe was a small influx of Belgian refugees. In October 1914 five Belgian children were admitted to the school. Their families were being accommodated in a number of places around Cobham including Fairfield, a house in Green Lane, and most had been brought here from HRH the Duchess of Vendome’s Hostel at Wimbledon.

The local vicar was highly critical of the effect on the schools of steps taken by the government. In the CPM April 1916 he wrote “Government measures of economy are taking the regrettable form of ruthless reduction of staff in the Primary Schools of the country. And we, of course, in Cobham, have to bear our share of loss in consequence. In the Boy’s Department, especially, there has been an increasing struggle with fresh difficulties ever since the war began, when we lost two of our best assistants to the RAMC who have never been suitably replaced. Mr Rundle has now lost his principal remaining male assistant. Before long the waves of reduction will trouble the Girls’ and Infants’ Schools. Cutting down expenditure on elementary education is, of all short-sighted economics, perhaps the most penny wise and pound foolish in which a nation can indulge. The commercial struggle of the future can only be more intense than in the past. And we might as well expect to win this present war without adequate munitions as expect to beat our rivals in the world without giving the new generation the weapons by which victory can be won.”

Other economies were more basic. In November 1914, as recorded in the School log book, “To decrease the amount of water being used the lavatories will be flushed at 10.45, 1.35 and 4.00”.

As the war drew on, in a preview of social pressures to come, in the CPM March 1918 “Thanks are due to the Misses Thomas and their helpers who have provided a meal at one o’clock for between fifty and sixty children, two days each week, on the school premises. The experiment has proved very successful and may pave the way for something of a more comprehensive kind.”

Downside school experienced similar issues. As reported in the CPM August 1915 “ A fall in the number of girls attending Downside School has meant that we have been required by the Education Committee at Kingston to reduce our staff of teachers by one and so we have been obliged to relinquish the services of Miss Marlowe. To this loss has been added the resignation of Miss Hayter [Headmistress (girls & infants)] who came here more than 14 years ago at the invitation of Mr & Mrs Deacon.”

Health issues were a persistent problem. In April 1914 Mr Rundle wrote in the log book that several cases of scarlet fever were reported but the Medical Officer refused to close the school.

The CPM of May 1914 noted “a few cases of scarlet fever and two or three cases of diphtheria during the past month has caused the Schools to close due to non attendances. It is an absolute necessity to give immediate notice to their Medical Man of suspicious cases, reducing the risk of spread of the epidemic. It is hoped when the schools re-open in a few days, Parental Panic will have ceased”.

It is somewhat surprising to read in June 1914 that “The Vicar raises the subject of social purity in relation to a movement set in foot for the introduction of Sexual Subjects in Senior classes in Elementary Schools and feels that parents should not shrink from giving the protection of knowledge to their offspring, in view of the natural and unnatural temptations which occur in every walk of life.”

The end of the war was not the end of their problems. Cobham did not entirely escape the influenza pandemic. From the CPM January 1919 “The influenza epidemic has not affected Cobham to the same extent as many other places, however there has been a great deal of illness during the past two months among the younger children and schools have been closed under medical order for several weeks.” Added to this “Both boilers at the Church and the School have broken down at a time of cold weather and trade dislocation. The one at the church can be repaired for the time being but the one at the school has to be renewed and hopefully can be supplied and fitted without having to close the School.” That wish was evidently in vain as the February update noted “Many parents and possibly some scholars will be glad to hear that the new boiler for the schools has “left the works” and we can only hope the Railway Company will be as anxious to deliver as we are to receive it. The first week in February ought to see the re-opening of the Boy’s and Girl’s Departments.”

Throughout the war the children were expected to do their bit. From the CPM Aug 1915 “The children of the school and our energetic work party under Miss Mount’s supervision have made and despatched about 200 sandbags for which Captain Mount appealed from the trenches and of which our soldiers are badly in need.”

In November 1917 the Downside Girls School gathered 23 bushels of Horse Chestnuts for the Government, and the Girls of Cobham Schools harvested 1420 lbs of potatoes from a piece of waste ground behind the Infants School, averaging about 95lbs each plot. “Each girl took several pounds of her produce to the kitchen of the Cottage Hospital”. So important was this venture that they were all named in the article as follows “They are E. Beech, F. Brooks, F. Faulkner, J. Hamilton, J. Harding, F. James, E. Johnson, D. Jones, M. Overton, J. Pearson, M. Phillips, K. Pullen, H. Radley, A. Searle and J. Tupper.” Apparently a Government Department offered 12 shillings per cwt for dandelion roots but there is no report that Cobham contributed to this particular war effort.

The Girls were kept busy as in the CPM May 1918 “Energetic Landwork is in full swing by the Girls of Cobham Schools under Miss Pridham. Mr & Mrs Nevinson have helped in measuring plots and assisting the campaign. Mr Cawston has paid for seed potatoes and Mr Beddome and Mr White of the Post Office have made presents of seed. Nearly forty plots have been arranged”. Girls were obviously a lot hardier in those days.

The adults appear to have tried to maintain some normality for the children. “Mrs Deacon’s Annual Treat for the schoolchildren just after the Christmas [1914] holidays was especially appreciated this year when there has been so much to depress and sadden us. For the first time both schoolrooms were used, tea being laid out at the Infant School and the entertainment taking place at the Girl’s School. Each child was given crackers, a box of chocolates and a present of a more lasting character. The entertainment consisted of some kinema pictures, very kindly given by Mr Cecil Hines, and some songs in character. The new arrangement made it possible for the parents to see their children enjoying the party”. (CPM February 1915)

In the absence of television and playstations the children were able to entertain themselves and their parents with their homegrown efforts.and evidently there were some musical talents. On February 9 and 10, 1915, “a grand entertainment”, a comic opera ‘Columbus’, was put on by the boys school, concluding with a display of physical exercises, “highly delighted the crowded audience who enthusiastically closed the evening with the National Anthem of the Allies. The sum raised totalled £25 10s. and benefited the National Relief Fund £15 and the Belgian Soldiers’ Fund £10.10.-.” And in April 1917 “the Boys Dept of the Cobham schools put on an outstandingly successful entertainment which included the operetta, “Caractacus” as well as Swedish Drill and part songs, over three evenings. Although all the Soldiers attended as ‘invited guests’ the sum of £33 was raised to be divided between Lord Roberts Memorial Fund and the Fund for Blinded .Soldiers.”

The end of the war was greeted with great relief. (CPM December 1918 Hatchford & Downside notes) “The manner in which we manifested our rejoicing in the Great Deliverance on St Martinmas Day will always be a happy memory for all who took part in it. At 12 o’clock the good news was brought to the schools and the Union Jack was run up, while the children gathered around it sang the National Anthem and cheered to their heart’s content.”

On the day of the Peace Celebrations, 19th July 1919, the boys, girls and their teachers, headed by a band, marched from the school through the village. When they reached the Village Hall where the demobbed men and their wives were being entertained to lunch, they halted and gave three cheers for the soldiers. They then continued on to Pyports for sports and a tea party. Prizes were presented by Mrs Kitching, the Doctor’s wife.”

Sources:

The Cedar Road School Cobham 1860-1985 by David J Harrison

Cobham Church Parish magazines 1914-1919

St Andrews C of E Middle and Secondary schools log books 1873-1980

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