The Christchurch Schools

'I started school at Christ Church Infants in Cosway Street near Marylebone Road nearly opposite Queen Charlotte's Lying in Hospital. I can remember being cold in school and pulling my woollen petticoat over my knees to keep them warm. Petticoat and drawers had white cotton embroidery gathered round the hems and were starched and how they scratched. I hated clean clothes day. A bath Saturday night in front of the fire which was lovely and clean clothes on Sunday morning which was a penance.

When I first started school in the infants, we sat on hard stage-type tiers one above the other, with no back rest. No pictures on the wall and windows high up so one could not see out of them, but we had a very kind and loveable teacher, Mrs King.

The school was renovated and modernised when I went into the big girls' school. The boys' school was on the other side of the school, back to back with ours, so we never saw them or had any roughness from them. Desks seated two together and the chairs had backs to them. A lovely picture hung on the wall of the little goose girl. Very large classes but a happy atmosphere.

It was a church school so we had religious instruction to start off given by the curate and sometimes by the rector of Christchurch. It was called The Black Church as it was built of white stone but by my time it was jet black through smoke and soot. Our playground had not been modernised and was in the basement lit with flaming gas jets as it was too dark to see. It was bitterly cold summer and winter and had death-trap stone stairs to go down, as they had quite worn away in the centre.

I can remember about four girls at different times dying, I do not know what of, but it made a great impression as we had to say prayers for them and took halfpennies and pennies for flowers. In my class there were only about twelve who came from caring houses with (to us) secure backgrounds. It was a very poor area with many children in a family and casual employment and drunkenness abounding. There were a lot of courts leading from the main streets that looked very evil and dirty, with fights between women in them. We were warned not to go into them on any account and to pass them quickly.

Fogs were so thick one could hardly see across the kitchen even with the very yellow lights on. The fog was brown and scratchy to one's throat, but I loved going to school in them for the sounds were muffled and it seemed exciting to run along and suddenly bump into someone or something. There was an element of adventure since we really could not see our hand before our face - getting to school and trying to think out where one was. My sister used to have very bad bouts of bronchitis.

Our street was cobbled at the top and there was a slight rise. Horses pulling had sacks put under their feet to help them get a grip on the road.

In 1912 or 1913 the family broke its ties with Ranston Street and moved to Bromley, where Umberto Rabuffi opened an Italian restaurant in the High Street. In 1915, when Italy came into the War on the side of the Allies, he was called up to serve in the Italian army. The restaurant had to be sold. The girls were separated, Vera going to live with relatives in Wolverhampton, while Margherita stayed with her mother in London, where she remembered little but being hungry.

I am extremely grateful to Mrs Phillipa Taylor, grand-daughter to Mrs Rabuffi, who kindly gave me prior access to her memoir and permission to quote from it.

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Updated August 8, 2011