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Archbishop Tenison's

Church of England High School

Archbishop Tenison's CE High School
Selborne Road

Chapter 2 - Tenison's in the Country

Two schools had been assigned to Crowborough. In addition to Tenison’s, there was an infants’ school from Bermondsy. The latter were from a place that in those days, did not enjoy a reputation for being the most salubrious part of Christendom. Nevertheless, the inmates were small and not likely to cause as much mayhem as the bigger guys in blue blazers.

Upon arriving in Crowborough, the first order of things was to find out where I was to be billeted. The billeting officers were mostly older or retired local people who had, in answer to the call and a National Plan, joined forces to scour the neighbourhoods for homes willing to provide accommodation for the evacuees. It had not been an easy task for them but they had persevered and by various means, had assembled a roster of suitable premises. When the initial deluge of displaced children arrived on the scene, they were distributed according to the pre-arranged plans and things went relatively smoothly. By the time I got there, the lumps and the bumps in the system had been largely smoothed out and things were running as well as could be expected. Consequently, the billeting officer to whom I had been directed was not overly pleased to have me arrive several weeks after the others and mess up the plans. As it turned out, for a multitude of reasons, moves amongst the various billets became a fairly common occurrence and one or two of the officers were kept busy resolving the situations.

Although I was accustomed to travelling relatively long distances on my own, my father had decided it would be prudent to accompany me on that particular journey into the wild countryside. Once we had tracked down the billeting officer at our destination, we were bundled with suitcase and gas mask into the gentleman’s small car and delivered to the premises of Mrs. Abigail Adams. If my father had reservations about the suitability of the accommodation at the time he was careful not to show it. In the uncertainty of the times, it had suddenly become necessary for everybody to make substantial adjustments to preconceived notions of what was, and what was not acceptable. With the possible exception of the very few who had relatives living in the area, most of the pupils from our school were obliged to adapt to the rather different lifestyles and standards that country living had to offer.

Mrs. Abigail Adams was in her late seventies or early eighties when I was delivered to her doorstep. She had been a war-area nurse in the 1914 conflict and was as tough as the old boots that she probably wore. She is shown in picture number 1, relaxing at the side of her property in 1940. In picture number 2, taken at the same time, she may be seen with some of the inmates who were then living with her.

Mrs. Adams’ house was a semi-detached residence located at the southwest corner of Queens Road and School Lane. School Lane was so named because it provided access to Whitehills School, which has now been closed and replaced by a new building nearby. The frontal aspect of the house looked toward Blackness Road. There were probably four bedrooms upstairs and the usual country-style layout for the rest. The type of architecture suggested that it could have been built about 1910. Its main floor was comprised of a front room, a living room in which just about everything other than cooking and bathing took place, a kitchen/scullery with attached toilet and then the inevitable outside coalhouse and garden shed.

Prior to my arrival, two other Tenisonians had already settled in with Mrs. Adams. They were Brian Saunders and Leonard Ryall, both in the grade above me. From the Bermondsy school there were initially two small boys, Peter and Tony. Later on, two small girls, Dolly and June were added to the menagerie. Dolly was a very plain little wisp of a thing, while June, the prettier of the two, was as quiet and introverted as Dolly was extroverted. To complete the rather varied collection of humanity in that little country house, Mrs. Cracknell and her 2 year-old daughter Pat, the family of a private with the Royal Fusiliers, managed to squeeze in somewhere. The Fusiliers were stationed locally, and private Cracknell visited frequently during the "phony war" period just prior to the Battle of Britain.

Brian, Len and I shared the front bedroom while Peter and Tony had the box room. The girls must have been in with Mrs. Adams. Where the rest were accommodated I cannot possibly imagine. But it was the war you know. The front room downstairs was rented out to a Mr. Payne as a bed-sitting room. He was a quiet, pleasant, well-dressed young man who kept to himself when he was there. As he was obviously of military age but was not in uniform, I assumed that he was a secret agent, either theirs or ours. Len Ryall did not stay in Crowborough to finish out his time with the school.

When Tenison’s first arrived in the country, attempts were made to integrate it with a local school on a time-sharing basis. As with other similar arrangements elsewhere, the plan was doomed to failure. The split schedules left insufficient time for either group to pursue their respective curricula and as the senior members of our school were working toward the Oxford School Certificate exams in December, the situation became critical. The problem was solved by the acquisition of Craigmore Hall, a building that had seen better times as a private hotel. By what mechanism the premises were taken over I shall never know but it was fait accompli by the time I got there.

© Archbishop Tenison's CE High School