Memoirs of Ida Medd (née Sheppard)
Ida Sheppard was born in 1912. Her sister, Mavis, was Elton Matthews’ first wife. At David’s request, she spent a number of months jotting down, over seventy pages, everything she could remember about her childhood in Dunkirk, Kent, as the daughter of a country school-master. These memoirs provided much of the domestic detail for the historical setting of ‘That They Might Lovely Be’.
When Father and Mother were appointed to Lower Hardres in 1908 their salaries were £60 and £40 a year. To make ends meet they bought only ½ pint of milk a day and made custard with half-water. He kept a pig or two and their litters, hens, two donkeys, bees, a cat and dog, and grew all his veg. The School House was only a tiny cottage so they applied for and were offered the joint headship of Dunkirk in 1919. In the Country Districts, wives, though often uncertificated, were almost always expected to be responsible for the infant classes. At Lower Hardres, in spite of college training, Mother was paid only the uncertificated rate.
Dunkirk was only a scattered community, no real village centre. At the top of Boughton Hill, long and steep, the church had been built about 1880 because the place was godless, a refuge for fugitives from the law, footpads. Almost the only occupations were forestry, and farming in the clearings of the Forest of Blean. The last armed riot in England, The Courtenay Riots, took place there in the 19th century and, as a result, it was decided a church must be built. To save expense of new materials, part of Canterbury city wall was knocked down and pulled by horses and wagons five miles west. Mainly flint, with stone from Normandy for quoins and doorways. Enough left to build a twenty-roomed barn of a vicarage, a four-bedroomed school house and the façade of the school. The rest was red brick.
The school had four classrooms. The two largest, with glass sliding screen, a lobby where coats were hung, with one sink. The lavatories – usually called privies or WCs – were at the far end of the playground. They had flush toilets and were regularly white-washed.
Each room was well-lighted with high windows and had heavy dual desks – a top which lifted up to become a reading desk, and a shelf beneath for books. There were oil lamps for the very rare occasions when darkness fell early and Father lighted the lamps with some ceremony and romance. The heating was by open fires at the front of each room. On very cold days, the children at the back were allowed to come to the fireguard and stand around till they were warm. The caretaker, Mr Austen, was expected to light the fires at 6.30am but very often father did ti earlier because he was usually at his desk and always doing an hour’s paperwork before breakfast at 7.30am. there was no clerical assistance and he was in charge of the Top Class, standards V, VI and VII, aged 10-14. In long summer days, he would sometimes spend that hour in the garden.
Water for the sink and the house had to be pumped up from a storage well under the school lobby floor to a tank below the ceiling. This was because there was no force of water which came from a small covered reservoir a quarter of a mile along the road, which in turn was pumped up from the next village, Boughton-under-Blean. The Top Class took it in turns, in Scripture lessons, to fill the tank. The older boys could usually do it in 20 minutes. When, in 1924, it was my turn, my friend Mollie was sent with me but in in 20 minutes the tell-tale had not moved an inch. The pump handle swung up well above our heads. Even Father took pity on us and sent a boy to finish the job.
There was also a well, with a small pump handle, in the yard for rain-water, all collected from the roofs and used in the house for the tap water was very hard and the soft rain water infinitely nicer for washing and household tasks. Three large copper kettles always stood on the kitchener and had to be kept filled from the can under the table.
To be continued…