The school was right on Lowestoft seafront and its premises stretched from the Victoria Hotel to the north side to Kensington Gardens, the public park, to the south. From north to south, there was the school itself, with the playground in front of it, separated from the road by a high wall, then the convent, then a side road and the tennis courts and playing fields were the other side. The school also owned a large house on the other side of the road – I think boarders slept there and, on the ground floor, there was the business school.
As an aside, the convent itself had previously been my grandmother’s family home. It was then called Alpington House. And Kensington Gardens (I’ve no idea why it was so named) was officially opened by my grandfather and we still have the gold key somewhere.
The playing fields were known as St Luke’s because there used to be a hospital there. I believe it specialised in TB patients as the pure east coast air, with generally no extremes of temperature, was considered beneficial. It closed in 1955 and its disposal was being considered as late as 1957 – it must have been pulled down soon after that, I don’t remember it as anything but tennis courts and grass by the time I started school in 1958 and, though I hardly think it can have vanished without trace by then, it had by the time I used the playing fields. Ah – a memory is coming back – several years later, by which time I was in the Senior School, it was decided to build a new Primary School on the further part of the playing fields. The RC Church paid for the building and then it became a Voluntary Aided Roman Catholic Primary School. I’ve just remembered that my mother was quite indignant, because there had been an appeal for parents to fund the purchase of the hospital site and she thought it was very sneaky to then use it for a different purpose.
The part that was built on had been the hockey pitch, and a damn cold site it was. I mostly felt resentment, and I wasn’t the only one, that we had to wear little short navy skirts whilst the games mistress wore a tracksuit. The next section of the field, later the whole of it, was for athletics, with the long jump pit (is that the word?) between the tennis courts and the road, which had a wire fence and a tamarisk hedge. I was good at the long jump, the only sort of athletics I was any good at. The run-up was about my length – I was always a poor runner. Interesting (to me, that is) that it turned out I’d got a hip abnormality, I suspect a connection.
The tennis courts were also used for netball. Now, in those days, games mistresses were the teachers with the most blatant use of favouritism. Many of you must have been in the same situation – the two best players of a sport were made team captains and took it in turns to pick players, to the increasing humiliation of the remaining few. Would the slow girl or the fat girl or the one with thick glasses be the last picked? I was the useless one, being short with a poor aim and no interest at all in team games, nor winning. I wasn’t usually chosen last, but it was a close thing. And I’ve got a reasonable aim now, yet I never remember once the teacher taking those who were not good at it aside and making us practise. Only the stars got encouragement.
It isn’t quite right to say I was useless at all athletics – I was also quite reasonable at throwing, epecially the javelin. Hopeless at hurdles, because I had short legs and it was really difficult to manage the required number of strides and have reached the next hurdle. I could neither run far nor fast – yet I was agile and had quick reactions, it was a pity that I was so discouraged.
Hockey, I really didn’t like, largely because of my smallness and the cold. I only once remember making much effort, and it didn’t end well. Bending forward and running towards the ball, I came up against an opposing girl, who raised her stick only slightly higher than she should have (smallest girl in the class against the biggest) and smacked me in the mouth with it – completely accidentally of course, though she never came and apologised, probably from embarrassment. Thank goodness, though I still bear the scar, my lip protected my teeth. I was led off to be patched up and went out as usual at the end of the day. My mother picked me up from school and I remember keeping my hair over that side of my face so that she wouldn’t see my split lip before I was in the car and had a chance to break the news gently. I really hated upsetting people. I didn’t cry, of course – I never cried away from home. Far too proud.
I did like tennis, very much and it was about the only game I played out of school. If it rained, we sometimes played badminton in the school hall and that was ok. Table tennis too, which I was good at, but it wasn’t played very often.
The hall was well equipped for PE with wall bars and climbing ropes. We also had a horse and a box and so on – I don’t think I’m making these terms up, am I? I didn’t mind it when we did relay races in the hall, it was the sort of distance I could run fast and not acquit myself badly – though my total lack of an urge to win meant that it was best if I was not the last runner. That’s probably why I liked long jump, discus and javelin – I was trying to better my own distance, not compete with anyone else. And that’s a thought that hadn’t occurred to me before.