Old West Downs Society – Memories of the Cornes Era, 1954-1988

From Anne Thurley (Kindergarten)

Dear Mr. Hichens,

Enclosed is my view of West Downs, how I saw those four wonderful years. I hope it is what you want. Please feel free to alter it in any way as you see fit. If you would like more I am sure I could search the memory and remember other instances.

As you will see I had only a short time at West Downs as a member of staff, but I regard it a privilege to have been part of such an outstanding institution. Now that I am running my own Kindergarten, new parents ask where I had taught before. At the mention of “West Downs” there is no doubt that their child will join me.

I wish you every success in compiling this history and hope to see it in print in the not too distant future.

Yours sincerely, Anne Thurley.

Memories of West Downs

I opened the Kindergarten at West Downs in September 1984, for children aged from 3-5 years. We opened with just 25 children on roll. I had one non-teaching assistant each morning, Mrs. Burroughes and Mrs. Kilroy sharing that task.

I remember coming to visit before it was finally decided that a Kindergarten was really needed. I was taken over to the old “Sani” which housed Mrs. Laurance’s pre-prep class, the geography room and Mrs. Spears’ form room. Even with a good imagination and years of experience it was hard to visualise these two rooms as a Kindergarten. I could not stay long as Mr. Cornes preferred no one to know at that early stage what was going on.

A week before term started I returned to those rooms. They had been emptied of much of the old equipment and mine had been put in the middle of the geography room. Panic returned – however would I change these cold unloved rooms into a warm friendly Kindergarten in just 7 days.

With much help and understanding from Clare Laurance and Gill and Reg, not to mention endless patience on the part of Bert White (handyman) the rooms took shape and it all began. There were many days when I thought it had all been a dreadful mistake during that first term. Many members of staff were understandably wary of what I was doing with all those small children, but as we grew together they became both interested and helpful in all we did.

During our first summer term the rest of the school had gone on the School Trip (Mrs. Burroughes was helping me that day) – we decided to explore the School. I had little idea of what the rest of the School looked like. It was all a great adventure for the children. We looked into dorms, bathrooms, sitting rooms, etc. It was all like a ‘Dickensian’ story book come to life, nothing had changed in years, and why should it. I have never seen happier children, nor more cared about, by members of staff, giving their time and energy relentlessly. Each of the 4 summers we were at West Downs, Kindergarten too took its trip. We went to Finkley Down Farm at Andover. The first year using cars, the next three coaches. We had three delightful years – hot and dry, one soaking year cold and very, very wet.

We had four happy Christmas Parties, when the children decorated the rooms and the kitchen provided a delicious tea. Mrs. Ribbick made us a wonderfully decorated cake each year. Although our party was happy and exciting, the main school party was something else! I have never heard such a noise of happy carefree children and staff having such a wonderful time. The Scottish dancing, the silly games, the huge tea, all made for a wonderful end of term.

The first “Results” I went to was a real education. I had never experienced anything like it. I do not know how those children ever knew which class to go into the following term, Reg spoke at such a rate!! The last Results was the most dreadful thing – the death of a School. Just four years earlier Shakespeare had been full of children, by the end there were just a few rows, even Reg did not speak so fast that last morning.

Anne Thurley