My early memories of Thurlow only go back as far as the early 1970s but even since then I can see that life has changed quite considerably.
I have many fond memories of Thurlow school. As the majority of the pupils lived in Thurlow and the immediate neighbouring villages, quite a few of the pupils were related to me so the school had very much a family feel to it. The staff comprised: Mrs. Pearman, Mrs. Layton, Mr. Ager the head-master, Mrs. Grenville the music teacher, Mr. Salter the relief teacher, and Mrs. Fletcher the secretary.
When first attending the school we were taught in mathematics that number one was the first number, you then progress to two, and so on; so as children we found the class structure confusing since you began at class 3, worked your way up through class 2 and eventually finished up in class 1. I can remember asking Mrs. Pearman why this was so, and she replied, “It’s just the way things are”. I think I learnt a lot about life that day.
The blood flowed freely, I remember. There were many painful accidents in my time at the school such as Hayley Pamplin slicing her foot open on a pair of swimming goggles, Kelly Ward tearing open her lip on the back of one of the wooden chairs, and the classic of all accidents Paul Felton’s dramatic slip and dive head first into the fish tank. The class was awash with pints of water and blood, but the fish suffered the most, losing their home and their lives.
When I moved into class two there were a few changes to the staff. Mrs. Layton had to leave as she started suffering from a strange disease called pregnancy! She was replaced by a Mrs. Bailey. We also saw the introduction of helpers to the school, the first being Mrs. Jill Rodwell whose children also attended the school; she took us for swimming at the newly built pool and for reading.
I remember one incident that happened in November of 1975, when Mrs. Rodwell came bursting into the class, ran up to William and said, “William, your house is on fire and the smoke is all across the street”. Chairs were then swept aside by a mass of excited kids all wanting to get a ghoulish glimpse of their class-mate’s house being consumed by fire, leaving William collapsed in a sobbing heap at the table. In fact it was only a chimney fire, much to the great disgust of the rest of the class.
When I reached class one, we got a relief teacher called Mrs. Coad, who had a bright red face, a bush of wild grey hair, and a personality to match. She radiated enthusiasm and energy and seemed to take us for everything P.E., R.I., English, Reading in fact I think she could have taken the school on single-handed. She would often read to us gruesome accounts from the Bible, and stories such as Blue Beard, and take great delight in giving us the gory details for the class to savour. She was an excellent teacher, and learning was a great pleasure with her.
I had a few run-ins with Mr. Ager. Being dyslexic I was often accused of being a lazy dreamer, and I would often look out of the window for inspiration. Ager would then launch his New English Bible at me from his desk which would send me crashing back to earth with a bang. “Are you with us Mr. Crooks?” he would say. “No, we’re with the Woolwich,” the rest of the class would chant. (This was a catch-phrase in the 70s.)
There were a few children from the school that attended Sunday school, which was run by Mrs. Mattin and Mrs. Hunt. I remember Sally, Debby and Vicki Hunt, Julie, Sharon and Helen Clark, Fred and Ruby Tron, Claire Eley, Christine May, Nick Ainsworth, William Mattin and my brother Jason, besides myself. We used to sit on the pews near the Soames’ tomb and listen to Gladys Mattin teach us the accounts of the Bible. She was very enthusiastic and if you got her questions right she would often do a little dance of joy.
We did a performance of the Nativity in 1978, when I played the part of Joseph and Christine May played Mary. I remember this one more than any other as a few days earlier I had given my brother Jason a black eye, which then forced him to play the part of the black king. There seemed to be more of a community spirit in those days, as the church was packed out with people from the village.
In the 1970s it was the in thing to be in a gang. So, my friends and I had a type of gang which tore around the village getting up to all manner of mischief for seven years. The gang consisted of William Mattin, Nick Ainsworth, Ian Bush, my brother Jason and myself, and towards the later years we also had Simon Eley. After the fire in the chimney at William’s house (which was Corner Cottage) he was inspired to build a chimney in a shed by the old yew tree near the top of his garden, and this became our base from which we launched out to terrorise the village on our bikes.
Rose Queen, the Queen’s Silver Jubilee, 1977
In 1977 it was the Queen’s Silver Jubilee, and the village went to town in celebrating it. There was a competition to decorate the house with as much patriotic bunting as you could find. I think Den Atherton at The Cock got first prize for that.
The night before the big day there was a very large firework display at Great Thurlow Hall; it cost thousands apparently and most of the village was there. I have very vivid memories of this night, as it was the first time I had seen anyone drunk. This was mainly the result of a special strong beer that had been brewed for the event called, unsurprisingly, “Jubilee”.
On the big day we all congregated at Great Thurlow Hall for the procession. My cousin, Sharon Atherton, was chosen as the Rose Queen, and I found it very hard to take her seriously in this role, as I knew what she was like under the mass of ribbons and bows. She had a wicked sense of humour, but there she was, dressed as little Miss Innocent, being chauVeur driven in a Rolls Royce to the event, only then to be stuck up high on a podium of an old farm lorry!
There was a competition for the kids to decorate their bikes in Union flags and red, white and blue ribbons. Old man Vestey (as we called him) had to judge the event. This shaky old figure, whose presence conjured up enormous respect, was moved into position in front of us. He looked us up and down for a few seconds, then very shakily raised his walking stick and said “That one”. It was Julie Clarke. He then leaned over to a man on his right and said “Which one is Mrs. Mattin’s son?”. The man looking very embarrassed then pointed to William, and Mr. Vestey said “Second prize will go to this fine young man”.
There was then a long slow drive from the village hall to Little Thurlow Hall. There was lots of cheering and waving of banners, and Rose Queen Sharon wobbled dangerously about on her throne. When we got to the Hall, we were all presented with a special commemorative mug, which Rose Queen Sharon handed to us. I remember that as she gave me my mug she said “Ere you are,” smiling broadly from ear to ear. I still have the mug and I wonder how many others survived to this point in time?
Thurlow in the 70s was much better cared for than now, and it was always put into the ‘Suffolk Best Kept Village’ competition. We kids would go around and sweep out the bus shelter and clean the pavements. Old man Vestey cared passionately about the villages in those days, both Great and Little. The paint-work on all the houses had the same colour scheme, giving the village a uniform look, which gave me the impression that Thurlow was somewhat unique among villages, almost an empire unto itself.
Now unfortunately it resembles more a racing stadium than a village. Most of the cottage gardens have been handed over to the cult of the car, as driveways snake onto the village street, which is no longer a peaceful place, but a thundering black dusty serpent biting deep into the village’s future.