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NEWS > Alumnae News > To School by Flying Scotsman

To School by Flying Scotsman

Being far from home, piano with Miss Bedlington and traditions - Alexandra Hope tells us about school life in the 50s.
Alexandra Hope née Crabbie
Alexandra Hope née Crabbie

We used to travel down to King’s Cross on the Flying Scotsman with a small group of Scots girls. We were met by Miss Currie and escorted in taxis across London to Waterloo and then on to Godalming.

My cousin Jean Finlay was already at PF and I arrived in 1958 aged 12 with Jean’s younger sister, Anne.

I remember being in a room of four on that first night with my cousin, Anne Finlay, Sue Greig and Rosie Boord. There was a power cut and I lay in the dark listening to girls going past our door and someone saying ‘Oh Fish, my candle’s gone out’ and wondering if ‘fish’ was a swear word – it was actually someone’s nickname! *Editor’s note: ‘Fish’ was the nickname of Sally Crosthwaite (OG 1957-1960).

I was very grateful to have arrived with Anne and had thought Jean would look after us but I don’t remember that she did at all and made a mental note to look after my younger sister, Gail, if she joined me in the future. When Gail did come to PF three years later, she had been bullied at her previous school and I vowed nobody would harm her at PF, so I used to climb across the roof to say goodnight to her. It was amusing to see where I’d crossed the roof on a recent visit to PF in 2017 – it didn’t look very dangerous.

When in the Lower Sixth I was rather bolshie and didn’t want to be a prefect so threw the fire bells down the stairs in the middle of the night and my April Fool was to unscrew all the locks on the loos or, if I couldn’t do that, take the doors off their hinges. I was very pleased with my handiwork but it took simply ages to get the doors back on again – I should have left them...

I remember Miss Sumster, our English teacher, who was excellent and Mrs Martin, who taught us Biology.

Musically, I was very fortunate to have wonderful Miss Bedlington to teach me the piano. Within two ticks, she had me teamed up with Nicola Barris to play duets and we were soon winning competitions locally. ‘Bedi’ knew that I would refuse to take piano exams, so she got me to go in for duet exams with Nicky and then sneakily got me to study the pieces for Grade 7 and then Grade 8 until she showed me I could play perfectly well and eventually I actually took the two piano exams and passed! I remember playing the pianos located in small rooms on the ground floor and playing for hours if I could, often from memory. Once, a new matron, Mrs Salt, who had recently been widowed, asked to sit in and listen. I think I made her cry – perhaps I played Chopin, which Bedi didn’t approve of because I was too emotional when playing Chopin!

We used to have the most splendid water fights and how the floors and ceilings below survived, I don’t know. One term I had to live in Miss Lemaitre’s cottage across the playing fields. We were all terrified of her and to spend an entire term living there was purgatory. It was a winter term and we had to run across the frozen field in the mornings. We only had one smelly paraffin stove in our bedroom for about 5 of us. The main school had radiators.

The worst thing about being so far from home was not going out or seeing our parents. I remember sitting in a classroom, which faced the driveway and watching English girls going out with their parents whereas we Scots girls rarely went out. Occasionally English friends took me out.

On the last night of term, there was a tradition of putting our mattresses on the floor or sleeping somewhere very uncomfortable. I remember putting mine into the cupboard, which was large but not large enough. We Scots were always woken early by the matron because we had to get to Waterloo to catch the 10am Flying Scotsman from King’s Cross. We also had a tradition upon finally leaving PF of throwing our berets into the River Tweed as we passed over it on the train.

I’m grateful for being sent away to school although I wish it had been a little nearer home and I wish I’d had a better education with more ambition for my future. From what I saw in November 2017, I think standards are completely different now and how I envy the education the girls at PF receive today.

Alexandra Hope née Crabbie (OG 1958-1963)

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