Miss Helen M Naish – Headmistress of Leigh School 1946-ca 1968
THE FOLLOWING ARTICLES WERE WRITTEN BY HELEN NAISH FOR THE LEIGH PARISH MAGAZINE ABOUT HER TIME AS THE SCHOOL’S HEADMISTRESS.
My Memories of Leigh School in the Winter of 1946/47 by Miss Helen Naish
I came to Leigh School in March 1946, soon after it had been reorganized as a primary school with a roll of just over fifty children aged 5-11 years.
There were two of us on the staff, Mrs Tapsfield and myself. Because the School House was not available, I travelled to and from Pembury daily by public transport.
The school building was very different from today and had been badly neglected during the War. It appeared to be a very dismal place: the rooms were lofty and the windows high so that only the sky was visible. To see the life of the village was tough to upset concentration. What an extraordinary idea!
There was a bare wooden floor and the rooms were dimly lit by gas lamps set so high up that I had to stand on a desk with a taper to light them. Very inadequate heating was provided by “Tortoise” stoves which had to be lighted early each morning and when the wind was in the east they wouldn’t draw properly so that the rooms remained cold. The lavatories were very primitive indeed: there were no flush facilities for several years after I came to the School, and in very cold weather everything outside was frozen solid – all water had to be obtained from the School House.
Yet, in spite of these hardships, it was a happy school with a lovely family atmosphere. The older children looked after the younger ones. Some who came from outlying areas were very shy at first, but were soon encouraged to join in games with the others. Sometimes the whole school would join in one of the old singing games.
The winter of 1946/47 was very hard, with fuel shortages and heavy falls of snow which covered the ground for over six weeks. Many children lived in the village and managed to get to school each day. Desks were arranged around the stoves and heavy mats were set against the doors in an inadequate attempt to keep out some of the draught. Having made the children as comfortable as possible, we all settled down to work, although Mrs Tapsfield often had to hold the fort when my transport was late.
Our dedicated caretaker, Mrs Horan, helped by her husband, managed to keep the stoves going and the unspeakable toilets cleaned.
We managed to keep going through that winter without losing a day’s schooling. But we certainly welcomed the spring when it eventually arrived.
(Parish Magazine Article: March 1991)
Improvements come slowly to Leigh School
There was little money to spend on schools for several years after World War II. The first was a small but important one – a gas “copper” for Mrs Horan, our dedicated caretaker. Previously, her only means of heating the water for scrubbing the floors each holiday was a kettle on a gas ring.
A second improvement came with the installation of electric lighting – yes, as recently as that! On a dreary, wet October day in 1954, the door opened and in walked Miss Gilbert, Her Majesty’s Inspector. What a dreadful day for an inspection, I thought, but it turned out to be one of the best things that could have happened to us. Miss Gilbert stayed all day and she was horrified at the totally inadequate light provided by the gas lamps. I’m sure she must have gone straight back to the Education Office after her visit because electric lights were installed during the following Christmas holiday.
It was one of the best jobs ever done at Leigh School. It made the world of difference: we were able to do written work and various crafts all afternoon, whatever the weather.
Flush lavatories had been installed in 1950. These were a welcome improvement although they continued to give us many problems and the plumber was a frequent visitor.
We had some very hard winters in the 1950s and 1960s and the water at the school froze so that we suffered many burst pipes. When that happened, all our water had to be obtained from the School House.
Gradually, the rough wooden floors were planed and sealed, and new slower combustion stoves were installed giving a steady heat throughout the day. The school had become a much warmer place.
But the most wonderful improvement of all was the installation of false ceilings in all classrooms. This got rid of the lofty rooms and that too made things far cosier.
The existing windows were enlarged and lowered and new windows were made. The change in all the rooms was unbelievable, especially in the middle class, which had been overshadowed by the high walls and so dreary. The rooms were flooded with light and we could look out across the village green where, on its eastern edge, there were elm trees* which were beautiful throughout the year. I’m sure the children’s concentration didn’t suffer – in fact, being able to see our pleasant surroundings lifted all our spirits. The children continued to work hard and to achieve good results.
(*With the outbreak of Dutch Elm Disease in the 1960s, there are no longer any elm trees on the village green. Joyce Field, Editor)
(Parish Magazine Article May 1991 by Helen Naish)
More Happy Memories of Leigh School
In 1951, the School House became available, and I came to live in Leigh. This made the world of difference to me. I became part of this friendly village: I was invited to join the Leigh Chapel Society which met in the school. I also became a member of the Women’s Institute.
For many years we entered the Best Kept Village competition. The children joined in tidying up with great enthusiasm: groups of them came throughout the long summer holiday to do their bit since the competition did not finish until the end of August.
We won many litter bins and were very thrilled when Leigh was judged the best Kept Village in Kent in 1971. A plaque commemorating this achievement was placed below the village sign on the Green and can still be seen there today.
Living in a village where cricket is so popular, it was not surprising to find that the children were good ball players. Rounders was a popular game during the summer term and we played matches against Penshurst and Chiddingstone schools – we nearly always won.
Each year, we had our own sports day with the parents coming to watch their children, followed by the District Sports which were held at Cage Green School. Besides the individual races there were team games such as Tunnel Ball and Corner Spry. This meant that nearly every child in the junior school could take part. Although we were up against much larger schools, Leigh children always did very well and there was great excitement in the coach as we returned to Leigh with the many certificates which the children had won.
We enjoyed country dancing and we had a display at Open Evenings at the end of summer term. On summer evenings, we took part in Country Dance Festivals at Capel and Hildenborough Schools.
Besides working hard at their lessons, the children enjoyed these many outside activities very much indeed and entered them with great enthusiasm.
(Parish Magazine Article September 1991 by Helen Naish)
IN PRAISE OF MISS NAISH : Miss H M Naish, died 1 May 1994 aged 84
Standing on the Green, summer 1946, Leigh schoolchildren waiting for two bicycles to appear, one from Pembury would bring the new Headmistress – what would she be like, for them and their successors? And nearly fifty years later, New Year’s Day 1994 “pass the biscuits please Colin” – “Yes, Miss Naish”. Always Miss Naish, not just to all the children over the years, but to the whole village, Parish Council, Best Kept Village, W.I., and as a good neighbour, firm and fair, determined and dedicated.
Her school discipline was not as rumbustious nor as humorous as her formidable predecessor, Mr W T Gibbons, but no less effective, and over her 22 year term as headmistress she rightly earned the respect of children, parents and teachers alike. Leigh school was a stable place with steadily good results and improving facilities.
From 1960 to 1976 she served on the Parish Council, including three years as Chairman 1970-72; she also chaired the Best Kept Village committee when Leigh won the award for Kent in 1971. She was a long-serving committee member and President for three years of the evening W.I., joining the afternoon version when they merged recently and enjoyed many outings and activities even when quite severely disabled. Earlier she had enjoyed walking in the countryside, always fond of wild flowers and birds. She loved cats too, and cared for various long-lived felines at her home in Lealands Avenue where she had moved from the School House shortly before her retirement.
Over the last nine years she fought to overcome illness and accidents with uncomplaining bravery and fortitude. The last month in hospital has been a hard struggle, yet she recognized and acknowledged her visitors and all the cards almost to the end.
We shall miss her, yet will remember her dauntless spirit. And an oak tree, the “Naish Oak” planted on the eastern end of the Green to mark her retirement will be a tribute to her memory.
John Knock (Parish Magazine: June 1994)