I always giggled as we filed up the stairs for morning assembly in the Hall as we passed poor old Offspring Blackall en route! I got caught 'running in the corridors'. I nearly collided with Miss Ragg on one occasion and it was a 'carpet' job! I remember the secretary too - she was an 'old girl' and always looked to me, as if she were about to burst into tears.
Being artistic, I loved Miss Barnes and the Art Room. I can't say that I learnt a lot from her though. It was Miss Dinwoody from whom we learned Domestic Science. Miss Smith was the tweedy woman - Miss Lomax was a very good mistress. I was mesmerised when she recited poems which she particularly liked ... she would really throw herself into it. They were a good bunch! I cannot recall the names of the two gym mistresses which were there in my time. In fact, I cannot even visualise the first one, but the second one was a really beefy woman - quite nice-looking with fair wavy hair, but so solid in build. She should have been a wrestler.
All the top-notch schools of Exeter, boys and girls, went to the Cathedral for a special ceremony. Probably it was a Founders day thing, as most of the fee-paying schools evolved from Charity Schools founded by clergy. Well, whatever the occasion, it was in May and we had already changed into our summer gear. Navy blue dresses with white detachable collars and cuffs, blazers, white socks and panama straw hats? Of course, the Exeter School boys had straw boaters and blazers as the only difference from their winter garb. My own boy-friend Peter, was in the queue alongside our own, so we bantered a little as quietly as possible, and then went into the cathedral, but on our return to the outer world, it was snowing hard! Our panamas were very nice when dry, but 'orrid when wet - poking in the middle in a very ungainly way. The boaters suffered far worse and when one boy reached out to pull the brim of another boy's hat down on his face, it split completely leaving a fez on his head and a straw collar on his shoulders. We girls thought this screamingly funny. Goodness knows what his parent's thought. Those boaters didn't come from Woolworths!
I remember Speech Days at the School, when someone posh came to talk to us from the stage in the Assembly Hall and invariably ended by giving us a 'day off' which we all knew would happen, but had to clap. We all had to wear white dresses. I always felt that the school uniform could have done with a new designer, but this white dress idea was very idiotic, as what on earth can anyone do with the thing after it was worn just the once?
On the 'last day of term' relaxation, the gymn mistress would allow us to play 'pirates'. I was very athletic and really enjoyed getting to the top of those ropes with my head close to the elaborate ceiling of the Hall. Later, when the new extension was finished and we had a rather nice gymn there, the very first thing to get smashed were the smart electric lights in the long metal holders, because the ceiling was so much lower than previously and we girls had to get used to this.
When I first started my education at Bishop Blackall School, I used my sister's old bike to get there. This was an outdated 'sit up and beg' sort of item, but it got me there and that was fine. The bicycle shed was always full and my bike was so old that nothing could harm it. I often remember riding down Pennsylvania Road at breakneck speed, because I was late and diving into the front gates, which was forbidden, and nipping speedily up the side of the building to deposit my bike in the shed. I was hauled onto the carpet once for this, but mostly I managed to get by. At our church (Baptist Church, South Street) there was an annual scripture examination. My Mum encouraged (bribed!) me to enter this by saying that if I won a prize, she would get me a new bike. The very first time, after this suggestion, I won a book prize. It wasn't exactly what my Mum had in mind, but agreed that 'a prize was a prize' and we went to the shops to choose a bike. I chose a Raleigh 3-speed model, with a saddle bag to match. I was never late getting to the bike shed again, as I wanted to have a good place for my beautiful new model!
My bicycle ride each day took me up Sweetbier Lane, down Hamlin Lane into Pinhoe Road, thence to the top and turning right into the road before the Mount Pleasant Inn on the corner and thence along that long road to Pennsylvania Road, where I could free-wheel down to the school. Sometimes I would take a slightly different route and ride into the London Inn Square and down Longbrook Street. Again, instead of riding all the way along Hamlin Lane to Pinhoe Road, I sometimes used to ride up Wykes Road instead, until one Saturday, I was walking across a fenced grass patch, just alongside the railway embankment, picking some lovely long-stemmed daisies for my mother, when some kids from Wykes Road - a girl my age then and three smaller scruffy boys, accosted me with the snide remark 'Ya, High School Girl - let's get her!' I could see that it was a four-to-one contest and I didn't rate my chances, so I turned to run, but they caught up with me and pushed me down into a rather inconveniently placed cow-pat! As I was not in my school uniform, I can only presume that they recognised me when I'd cycled through Wykes Road (at that time, a rather poor council house area) and decided to pay me out for it! I never cut through that road again - 'Cowardly custard!'
I remember the bushes behind the two tennis courts - one of which had little white 'snowballs' on it. And the water fountains in the corridors ... many a time I have had my head pushed into it when I was enjoying a cold drink! Not good for the teeth!
Some of the school rules were terrible. Indoor shoes had to have a buttoned fastening and outdoor shoes, laces ... what a lot of rubbish. My parents never had a lot of money to throw around, so I had to be sensible about my school garments, so I made a lot of them myself. I recall those horrible domestic science garments, edged with bias-binding in the colour of our own house ... mine was yellow for St. Monica. The material was called'Government Linen'. The gymn blouses were awful too! Shantung silk of all materials, with cross-stitch edging, again in our individual house colour. To complete this charming attire, madam would wear her black knickers! One thing I did have which I liked, was a pair of soft leather black gymn shoes, rather than the normal rather hideous canvas and rubber ones.
I remember the gardener. He had a kind face grey hair and quite a stoop - and wore pale blue dungarees. And the cook, a Mrs Something, a real farmer's wife type of lady with a big smile and red cheeked and large frame. I recall that something rather tragic happened to this lady, sometime about the time I left - sudden death or illness. I took sandwiches to eat at break-time and sat at the long tables and drank water out of heavy mugs. Rather dreary, wasn't it? There was a posh table of course, costing one shilling for a cooked meal.
© 2006 Olive Johnson- David Cornforth
Olive Johnson nee Nibbs was born and brought up in Exeter. Her father was employed at Standfield and White, in Sidwell Street. The family lived in Weirfield Road in 1920. She married in 1942 and moved away from the city. In these extracts from her emails, she remembers her time at school.
Olive Nibbs in her Bishop Blackall uniform - 1932
Bishop Blackall School Magazine
Olive Nibbs - Awarded a Needlework Certificate in Theoretical & Practical Work
Olive Nibbs - Royal Life Saving Society Award
Olive left Midsummer 1938
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