THE LOWTHER YEARS
The next five years were to pass in relative stability. My mother was working in Malvern and I was going to School in North Wales.
Lowther College was in the heart of the country, near a village called Bodelwyddan. There was a church, a village store and a pub. The nearest town was Abergele. It was probably one of the safest places to be in wartime. No bomb was ever dropped there, to my knowledge, no planes flew overhead.
Lowther itself was originally built as a castle in the 15th century by the Williams family. It was restored and rebuilt in the 19th century in mock Tudor style. It was surrounded by 250 acres of ground and woodland. It was set at the top of a hill and reached by a long driveway with fields on both sides. Some of these fields were used as playing fields for hockey and lacrosse. Every Sunday the girls would walk down the drive to go to Church.
The entrance to the college was through a great archway which led into a courtyard round which were the school buildings. A great big oak doorway in the centre of the archway opened into a dark imposing hallway. The headmistress’s rooms were here.
After Blackdown and Trevelyan, Lowther was overwhelming! Both these schools had been small private schools, with about a hundred children. At Lowther there were 250 children. Everything was on a huge scale: the assembly room for morning prayers with a raftered ceiling; the dining room with a moulded ceiling; the large classrooms. There was a Library with books reaching up to the ceiling. There was a sitting room with comfortable leather chairs and sofas where the girls could relax or study. This was also where debates were held.
There was a hall with a stage where concerts and plays were performed, and where the girls would assemble to listen to visiting musicians. There was a swimming pool, one of the first in the country. And a well equipped gym. There were also several tennis courts and, at one time, even a golf course.
Then there were the girls, of every age from eight to eighteen.
Before I arrived at Lowther my mother had had to obtain the school uniform for me, at some expense. Certain items were available secondhand, such as the gym tunics for everyday use, which were grey, finely pleated, falling from a top band and worn with a black girdle. They were worn as short as possible. This was long before the mini-skirt came into fashion! Mine barely covered the tops of my black stockings which, in those days, were attached by suspenders. Voile dresses in green and cream could also be had secondhand. These were worn on Sundays. I hated them, they were shapeless and had no style.
Other items were navy skirts and navy coats, long sleeved white blouses, school ties, Aertex shirts and green shorts for summer, and beige nylon stockings.
Armed with my uniform and a tuck box, I arrived at Lowther in the autumn of 1942. I had just turned fourteen in the summer holidays. I was put into a form where the girls were slightly younger than me, I do not know why. These girls mostly came from the north of England, and their parents had made money either through business or industry. So here it was not ‘class’ but ‘brass’ that counted. They had different and varied accents. There were a few scholarship girls, but no distinction was made for them.
I was not unhappy here. I was not popular, as I was too shy, but neither was I singled out. I did make a few friends amongst the girls who were ‘swots’ like myself. I was good at languages, English in particular, and I could read as much as I wanted. I read all the classics now, the Brontes, George Eliot, Thackeray and Dickens. I remember reading The Pickwick Papers in bed with a torch under the bedclothes, creasing up with laughter.
I entered a Short Story competition soon after I arrived. I laboured over it in the school holidays, when I was in Malvern with my mother. For some reason, I had decided to write a satirical fairy story. To my great surprise, I won the competition. The English teacher read it out in class, much to my embarrassment. What made it worse was that no-one laughed, there was not even a titter. I have it still, written out in my best handwriting. It was called Prince Rupert’s Dilemma. It was about a fat prince, a drunken flying horse, an ugly princess and a bucket of plaster of Paris. It was meant to be funny.
My mother, of course, was delighted at my success, and I think she already saw me as a writer. She sent the story to Argos, a magazine which published short stories; it no longer exists. They kindly wrote back saying they would be pleased to see further work from me when I was older!
I was no good at sport of any kind as I seemed to have no coordination between hand and eye, and I spent most of my time being ‘goalie’, where I could do the least damage. Girls who were good at games were always the heroines, and those who became captains and vice-captains of their teams were able to sport cherry red girdles with their tunics!
It was during my fourteenth year that I decided I did not believe in God. I could not see him, hear him, nor feel him, therefore he didn’t exist. Church services I found dull and uninspiring, and one Sunday I decided to skip Church. I was sleeping in an individual cubicle by then. I was amazed to discover, many years later, that my absence had been noticed, fortunately not by the mistresses! No-one ever mentioned it.
I did, however, read the Bible, as I loved the poetry of the St. James version. Many years later I remembered verses that I had read, which had lodged themselves in my subconscious mind, and I recognized their truth.
It was in this same year that I had a dream which I have never forgotten. I do not dream a lot, or at least I don’t remember them, so this one has always remained with me.
I was in a log cabin high up on a snow covered mountain. I was sitting at a table with several other girls, and there was one man. He was dark, attractive and he was the centre of attention. The girls were laughing and chattering with him, but I was silent, at the end of the table, too shy to take part. One girl from the school I remember in particular. Her name was Belle. She was younger than me, but taller, with long fair hair which she wore in a plait. She had a round face, with blue eyes and rosy cheeks. She was outgoing and friendly, and very popular; everything I would have liked to be.
In my dream I remember feeling small, unworthy, unclean; I had a vivid sense of being like something found under a stone, not fit to be seen. I got up and slipped out of the door into the snowy night. I started to run, then I slipped and found myself tumbling down the mountainside, faster and faster. I was very frightened. Suddenly I was caught up and held. I was safe in the arms of the man in the cabin. A feeling of overwhelming joy and happiness swept over me, a deep, deep feeling of being loved.
One or two friends to whom I have told this dream, have said it was a sexual dream. It may well be, but I have always thought of it as a spiritual dream, telling me that I am loved through and through. It has always stayed with me, and has been a comfort in dark times.
(to be continued)
Copyright Daphne Radenhurst 2012