I lived in Haldon Road, which was about 400 yards from Episcopal School. I first went to Episcopal School infants, which was situated in part of the Episcopal Girls School in Mount Dinham. The entrance was between the school and St Michael's and All Angels Church.
Before the Second War, Mount Dinham was a gated community. You may still be able to see the gate pillars at the top of Dinham Road. The pedestrian gate was opened during the day, and the vehicle gates were open as required. The gates were removed during the war. There is one thing I remember, which I think it was about 1936-1937. We were playing inside, and there was a tremendous crash – a tall chimney had fallen through the roof.
In 1937, I started at St. Mary Arches Infants, Miss Webber was the head teacher and the deputy teacher was called Miss Jordon. The class room was tiered with the teacher sitting on a stool at a high desk. In 1938 we had some siren drills when we had to leave the school and take shelter in the Catacombs in Bartholomew Street.
I had four pennies which I kept dropping on the floor. "If you do that again James I will take them away from you", I did, so she did and put them in her desk. It was normal for the teacher to let you have back what had been confiscated at the end of the lesson. "No you can not have them you have been too naughty, wait until the end of the week, then no, you must wait until the end of term," which was still a few weeks away. At the end of term I was leaving to move up to St David's School.
In May 1942, Mary Arches School was so badly damage it never opened again. A few days after the bombing I looked over the devastated school, and went in my old classroom, and tried to remember the boys and girls I spent time with, only a few months before. (some of them had been killed, or there homes destroyed.) The desk was still there – I brushed the fallen plaster off the top, lifted the lid, and there were my four pennies, still there! I suddenly felt guilty and thought God was looking, so closed the lid and walked away.
There were some outside toilets, with an entrance at both ends. The sit down section was a series of seats placed over a large pipe which flushed periodically, There were no doors. We boys would run in with our hand over our mouths calling "Ah Ah Ah", while the girls sat with there navy nickers around there ankles. We would run out the other end while they screamed! – we were all about 10 at the time.
Once, in 1938, I walked to school across the Iron Bridge on the way to Mary Arches – I was five at the time and I used meet a red headed boy my own age – named Sayer who lived over the YMCA billiard room at 5 Lower North Street – at the corner of Bartholomew Street. The entrance to his house was round the back, down a slope from the coach station in Paul Street. A lady, who I assume was his mother, would walk with him as far as the corner of Paul Street and Lower North Street, and watch him as he went across Lower North Street and the road to the Iron Bridge, when he met up with me – she would wave and go back. We would walk along as far as St. Mary Arches Street, cross the road and go up to the school.
There were some alms houses (Lant's Almshouses - editor) on the right from the corner after Seaton's dairy, just before you get to the malt house. These alms houses had half doors and the old ladies would spend there time sitting looking out over the half door. We got to know them and always had a chat if there was time, and on the way back we were given cake or sweets. There was a high pavement and my friend liked to jump up and down from the pavement to the gutter, some times he would only walk in the gutter because he liked to walk abreast with me as the pavement was narrow. One morning he stepped out right in front of a Devon General Bus which killed him instantly. I did not know what had happened as there was such a commotion, one of the old ladies took me into her house and kept me there while the mess was cleared up and the fire brigade washed the road down. They first thought that there were two of us under the bus, later in the morning a teacher came to collect me and took me to school.
I will never forget the nuns who brought to the school, hot cross buns and other goodies on high days and holidays. I still bless the memories of them.
The boys living in Haldon Road (where I lived), and the boys living in Looe Road, had an on going turf war with each other, which had been going on for years. There were some tremendous fists fights, as well as brick fights. How any of us avoided serous injury I do not know. These fights were continued in the playground, there were three brothers called "Long" from Looe Road – two of them went on to be mayors, and the other became an alderman. They served Exeter well and the City can be justly proud of them.
My Parents had 12 children; father was an auditor, and amongst his interest, he invested in property. I remembering him telling me that during the slump, it was possible to buy a freehold shop in the High Street for a £1000!
In the early 1920s he bought a house next to Bramdean School in Homesfield Road, Heavitree. He started a private school, employing staff to run it. The school was fully equipped. He did a spot check only to find there were more pupils present than what was in the register. The appointed manager, and her colleague were pocking the extra fees! I think the school was called the Little School and had its own uniforms. It was not a success and closed in under two years. Father's business ventures all failed, he was only successful with investment property.
The schools that we seven brothers attended were.
Gilbert – Bramdean, & Exeter School
Ernest – Bramdean & Hele's School.
Frank – Hele School.
Harold – Episcopal School (Head Boy)
Charles – Episcopal School (Head Boy) & Exeter Technical School
James – Episcopal School & Exeter Technical School
Marcus – Episcopal School & Exeter Technical School
My five sisters attended.
Mable – Maynard School.
Marjorie – Maynard School.
Elizabeth – Episcopal Girls School
Edith – Episcopal Girls School
Hilda – Episcopal Girls School.
This memoir was written by James Bell in 2011 as a follow up to his memories of the blitz years.
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