John Merryfield

Ullenhall School – Memories of John Merryfield

Ullenhall School was run at the start of World War 2, much as it had been, for many years, by Mary Friend and Dora Barratt. Mrs Friend and Dudley, together with son Martin, lived in the School House, and Mrs Barratt and Alfred, lived at their, then, new bungalow, on the Forde Hall lane side of Heath Farm.

Mrs Sam Scragg, from Church Hill, was the caretaker, who also lit and tended the two open fires, which were the sole source of heating.

The arrival of rather a lot of evacuees, early in the war, mainly from Birmingham, with a few from Coventry, gave the Ullenhall education system a very severe shock, by tripling the number of pupils, overnight.

The Village Hall, then very new, and smaller than it is today, was filled with desks, and pressed into service, to be ably run by a young teacher of very ample proportions, and ability, from Coventry, named Miss Hargarden.

Mrs Barratt ran the infants department with a rod of iron, in what we called, the little room, whilst Mrs Friend coped in a much more leisurely way, but none the less, very efficiently, with streamed classes, in the big room, with 7 to 11 year olds.

Miss Hargarden taught a similar age group in the village hall. Inevitably, there was a lot of toing and froing between the two establishments.

The school library was a long shelf above the piano at one end of the big room, and must have contained, fully, 120 books! But modern help was on the way, when we were issued with a utility model radio set, on which we were able to receive the BBC Schools Broadcasts.

The teaching of the full junior age range, by one teacher in, admittedly, small streams, in one room, sounds like a recipe for chaos, but this was far from the case, I can assure you.

There was no provision for school dinners, so everyone went home. Mrs Friend went to lunch at Crowleys Farm, and Mrs Barratt cycled to Heath Farm.

Toilets were a very primitive arrangement at the far end of the playground.

Gardening lessons consisted of cultivating the school house garden, which was, in those days, quite large, whilst instruction in farming, animal husbandry, dairy practice, (Devon fashion), was given, on visits to Crowleys Farm, where Mr Dudley Friend looked after the cows and milking side, and Jack ran the arable side, looked after a large flock of sheep, did all the corn grinding, wood sawing, cattle yards, tractor work, general maintenance, fencing and tree lopping. – Quite a plateful.

The two shire horses, which shared the heavy work with the old standard ford tractor, were cared for, in every sense, by Jim Cowley, who lived in one of the two charity cottages, next to the village hall. Those two horses were Jimmy’s life. He could work them all day, singly or paired, without ever touching, then, just a quiet word and they did whatever he ordered. King was his favourite, and years later, when King died, Jimmy was heartbroken, and joined him fairly soon afterwards.

Ullenhall never had a Senior school, so, at the age of 11, you were presented with a school bike, which thereafter, became your responsibility, and on which you rode to Mr Pearce’s establishment, at Henley, which was altogether a different kettle of fish, otherwise, if you passed the 11+ exam, you had other choices.

Ullenhall, during the war, was a fabulous place to grow up in, but that is another, and much longer story.