My father was born in Minster, Thanet in 1906, the son of a tailor, and he was to remain in the county of Kent for the next 60 years. During his early years at Minster, he became quite an accomplished organist, and on occasions played at the local church. One of his great joys was organ music.
In preparation for his teaching career, he attended Goldsmiths College in London, where he met my mother, who was also planning a career in education. I have no record of the years exactly, but this must have been during the late 1920’s.
My parents married in Gloucestershire (my mother’s home county) in 1934, but settled in Gillingham, Kent, where my father had taken up a post teaching geography at Gillingham County School.
At some time later in the 1930’s, he and my mother moved to Beckenham, where my father took up a post at Beckenham Grammar School teaching geography, and later progressed to being headmaster at Beckenham Technical school, where he remained through the war years until 1954. During his years at Beckenham, he became very involved with amateur dramatics. It was in late 1953 that he was offered the position of headmaster at what was to become Cray Valley Technical School, which I know was a very attractive and challenging prospect.
He retired in 1966, and my parents then moved to the north Cotswolds in Gloucestershire, attracted very much by a mutual love of the country, and by the fact that many of my mother’s family were in the area. My father was awarded the CBE in 1966 for his services to education, and I well remember how very proud I was to be able to be at Buckingham Palace to see him receive it. Both he and my mother enjoyed a very active and healthy retirement, their great loves being gardening and walking, and also their considerable involvement with local clubs and societies. My father continued to keep in touch with numerous CVTHS staff and pupils, and I know he was extremely proud of what so many had achieved following their years of education at the school.
One of my father’s greatest concerns about old age was the prospect of becoming a burden to others. In the end, however, he enjoyed some 22 healthy and very fulfilling years of retirement. He died suddenly in July 1988, as he would have wished, on a glorious summer’s day, in his garden.
Peter Kingsland is the grandson son of our Headmaster JC (Joe) Kingsland CBE. This is the transcript of a handwritten draft made prior to a tape recording which would have been sent to Peter but only discovered on the 8th December 2009. ‘Joe’ was in the habit of sending such recordings to his young grandson but sadly the original tapes have been long lost. This draft was found on the reverse side of four foolscap sheets of ‘Roneoed’ information about the 'Electricity Syllabus' for years 2 to 5 and to his knowledge Joe’s son Robert Kingsland had never seen the draft before this month. We can all share now what is a fascinating account of life through the eyes of a young schoolboy just before the First World War made even more interesting because that small boy was our headmaster.
I’ve fixed up the microphone and thought I would try to make a recording telling you about my school days. 70 years ago, I was at the Infant’s school in Minster. It was a small school, with two classes in one large room. In the middle, there was a maypole with coloured ribbons and we danced around this, weaving the ribbons into patterns down the pole. We learnt the infant skills, reading, writing, painting, plasticine modelling, weaving with paper strips. We had a model house on a table and we made paper flowers to decorate it. The headmistress had a large tin windmill in a cupboard. It was a sweet tin, and from it she produced a sweet as a reward for good work.
When I was about six or seven, I moved to the “big school” as we called it - Minster Church of England School. Which had 4 classrooms and 5 teachers. Most children stayed there until they were fourteen and then left to start work. We went on learning to read, write, spell, and do arithmetic, and to make sure that we did learn, when four O’clock came we didn’t just go straight home, but had to answer, intern, questions on spelling or tables. If we got the answer wrong, we had to stay till our turn came around again, sometimes several times, so we made a real effort to know the right answers, I can tell you.
We did other subject, too, of course - a bit of history and geography, drawing, modelling, and quite a bit of nature study about plants, animals, and insects. We had an aquarium which contained fish, tadpoles, water beetles, caddis flies and other insects, which we caught in nets in the ponds and streams on the nearby marshes, and carried to school in jam jars.
We had a big school garden divided into smaller plots which we shared - two boys to a plot. By the time I was 10 I had learned to trench the plot and plant it, how to graft fruit trees, how to take cuttings, how to mix sprays to kill pests and prevent diseases. I can still remember a lot of this still. We were able to take the vegetables and fruit home, and to visit our plots in holidays. We kept a gardening diary, had to keep all our tools in good order, clean and oiled.
We did quite a bit of painting and drawing and I remember being proud to find some of Uncle Vic’s paintings still hanging up on the wall, when I first went to that school. He was older than I was - so was several classes ahead.
We had no school meals in those days. We all went home at midday. I had a mile to go home and a mile back. Sometimes we ran, bowling our iron hoops. Sometimes, using rope as harness we pretended to be horses and had a driver, so that we ran all the way home and back. At different seasons, we played games on the way home at the end of the day - marbles - whip-tops where our chief toys. There were no school games, or P.E., no school clubs, no Parent’s Association, no uniform.
While I was at that school, when I was eight the first great war started against Germany. Men began to disappear from the village into the Army, and food started to get very scarce. The aeroplane was only in it’s infancy then and I can remember how we were all allowed to rush out of school to see the first aeroplane that we had ever seen, as it flew over our village, a very simple machine, with open cockpit - made of wood and canvas. Soon, the air ministry started to build one of the first aerodromes in England at Manston, not far from Minster. Train loads of materials began to come our station then taken by lorry to build the hangars and runways. All sorts of new kinds of aircraft started to arrive at Manston, and pilots arrived to learn how to fly them. Many of these planes came down in fields with engine trouble, and some crashed. We had a collection of bits of propellers in our garden shed. As time went by we felt the effects of the war more and more. German submarines sunk many of the ships bringing meat, wheat, and fruits from foreign countries and our food supplies became short. We were glad of the vegetables from our allotment from the school garden.
The field at the end of our garden was taken over by the army. They put up posts and rails and tethered rows of horses to them. The guns and gun carriages were parked around the outside, some along our garden fence. Some of the troops lived in tents on the field. Others were billeted in houses in the village. Wounded soldiers, coming back from France and all dressed in pale blue uniforms, were in the Hill House Hospital above our village. They came down the village a lot, one used to come to tea with us and built me a toy theatre. We didn’t have a soldier billeted with us, but we had a hospital nurse who took over one of our three bedrooms, although our house wasn’t very big.
German airships called Zeppelins and shaped like silver cigars, used to pass over our village on the way to London, where they dropped bombs. I remember seeing one come down in flames on it’s way back, not far from Minster. German ships and submarines occasionally bombarded the coastal towns of Kent with shells too. We had instructions about where to go and what to do if the Government decided to send us farther inland into Kent if the danger got worse.
The war ended in 1918. In that year when I was eleven, I took what was called a scholarship examination. By passing it, I gained a place at the Grammar School at Ramsgate. So in September 1918 while the war was still on I travelled by train from Minster station, a mile from my house, five miles to Ramsgate. There, I walked a further mile or so to my new school, a very much larger one. For me, a village boy, it was a rather daunting experience. I remember the school caretaker, dressed in a smart navy blue uniform, with peaked cap, receiving us at the school entrance. He said to me “ where are you from then?” “Minster”, I said. “Oh”, he replied “we used to send missionaries to Minster, but the natives ate them”. He kept a straight face. I was shattered.
I’ll tell you about life at the Grammar School next time.
On a separate sheet:-
You may be interested to know that my weekly pocket money was a half penny, each Wednesday. I used to buy twenty aniseed balls. At that time there was no radio or television, but there were silent films at small cinemas. Toys were fairly cheap. We used to have as Christmas presents, German toys made of tin, which were driven by a clockwork spring that we wound up. Recently, some of these toys in their original boxes fetched huge prices at auction. I remember that we had a large tin ladybird that ran about on the table, but wouldn’t fall off because a little wheel turned the toy at right-angles when the insects feelers dropped on encountering the table edge, there were dozens of different of tin toys of that kind including trains. Many are now treasured in museums.