The Saints On Top

School days are supposed to be ‘The Happiest Days of Your Life’, and looking back in the rosy glow of nostalgia, my time at All Saints School, Upper Norwood, certainly provided some pleasant memories, and one or two guiding principles that have helped me through my adult years.

My family came to live in Norwood in 1932, when I was four, and I first attended Salters Hill School for about six months, and then a similar period at Gatestone College. When I was about five or six, my mother sent me to a local dancing class, Miss Dyrden’s Dancing Academy, with lessons every Saturday morning at the Foresters’ Hall in Westow Street. I loved dancing, and made many new friends there, of a similar age, but they all seemed to go to a different school to me, a school they all seemed to like very much. I soon found out where the school was and nagged my mother to send me there.

As All Saints was in the Borough of Croydon then, and we lived just inside the boundary of Lambeth, my mother had to go before a tribunal to plead my case. Commonsense prevailed and I was enrolled in the school forthwith.

The Headmaster, a Mr. Clifford Cartwright, was also the organist and choirmaster at the adjacent church, and on Holy Days we all trooped into our places in the wooden pews, with the organ thundering a wonderful Anthem, and the choir filled with boys from the school. After the service, we all had the rest of the day off, so you can see why the school was popular!

Our day began in the playground just before nine, and a teacher would ring a large handbell. This was the signal for all the pupils to line up in their classes, and in turn quietly enter the building. We then had assembly in the largest of the classrooms, and after a few prayers and homilies from the Head, we would all sing ‘Jerusalem’ at the tops of our voices. The Union Flag was unfurled during the singing and carefully placed in a corner of the room. There was no doubt in our minds that we were British and proud of it. Pictures of King George V and Queen Mary adorned the walls, as did prints of well-known religious paintings, notably ‘The Light of the World’.

Although All Saints was a Church School, I was never conscious of having religion rammed down my throat, as was the case in many establishments, which often had the detrimental effect of putting people off for life. It was much more of a guiding  light and comfort to us all. In the afternoon, just before we broke up for the day at four, one of the boys from the choir would rise and sing, unaccompanied, a little sung prayer. I remember it to this day, it was ‘Lighten our darkness we beseech thee O Lord’, and then we would all go our separate ways home, in the knowledge that especially on dark winter evenings, someone out there was looking after us.

We all walked to school then of course. Our mothers would meet us when we first started, but then eventually we were old enough to go on our own. Mostly in twos or threes calling for friends en route. We played games on our way, marbles, hoops, yo-yos, depending what was ‘in’ at the time. Skipping was always a great favourite for the girls, and one soon learned the complicated footwork and the thymes that went with it. In the summer months we all went swimming in the local baths, and games and ‘P.T.’ were compulsory whatever the weather. ’Rounders’ was very popular, as was tunnel-ball, and we could get quite hysterical yelling for our team to win on Sports Day.

The annual School Concert was the highlight of the year, and held in the Stanley Halls, South Norwood. Every class put on a little play, and all the parents and friends supported our efforts enthusiastically. The teachers worked terribly hard coaching us, and for me at least it was the start of a love affair with the performing arts that continued into adulthood.

One particular piece of advice from the Headmaster I remember to this day, and it has been useful advice too. He would tell us ‘Never be punctual’ and we would reply ‘But Sir, I thought it was good to be punctual’. Mr. Cartwright would answer ‘No, never be punctual, always be early, that way you will have time to compose yourself and be ready for the task ahead’. What good advice! In 1939 I passed a scholarship to go on to a nice new school, but as things turned out, the war intervened and I spent the rest of my school life as an evacuee in Gloucestershire. Before we all left at the end of the summer term in 1939, Mr. Cartwright wished us all well in our new schools, and said whatever happened to us (and we all knew that the war was imminent) we would remember the school motto ‘The Saints on Top’. I think we all did.

Marion Pertwee

Footnote. Marion Macleod, former pupil at All Saints School during the 30’s, went on to her chosen career in the theatre and is married to actor and author Bill Pertwee. They have a son, James, and live in Surrey.  

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