Nostalgia: Central Girls’ School memories

E Barber, from Spitalfield Lane, Chichester, writes about her memories of school life in the city...

How nice it was to read about the dear old Central Girls’ School in Chapel Street, which was attended more than 100 years ago by my grandmother Annie Kitchell and her many sisters, and more recently by myself.

I well remember the outside toilets. There were two rows of cubicles, one side with little toilets for the first and second years, the other with normal-size ones for the older girls.

One cubicle was hotly disputed, being on the junior side but having a senior-size toilet; I think it was probably for staff use before they acquired the luxury of an indoor one.

It was larger than the other cubicles and had the dubious advantage of a small window beside the door, looking out on (or in from) the centre aisle!

We had our own toilet ghost long before Harry Potter. Disappointingly it was always seen by the friend of a friend in another class and no-one could give a clear description, but at least one little girl (not me) wet her knickers rather than venture there alone on a gloomy winter’s afternoon.

I also remember not two but three staircases, one to a classroom and two to different ends of the school hall, very useful for the Christmas tableau when the audience used the stone staircase while the cast came and went unseen on the wooden ones behind the temporary stage.

The rest of the year the hall housed two pianos and a television and was mostly used for music lessons and watching schools’ broadcasts, the daily assembly taking place in the adjacent Coronation Hall, another rainy-day dash, through a gate in the playground.

Our uniform was a navy skirt and an emerald tie, with a cardigan or jumper of either colour.

I longed passionately for a green one, but unfortunately my mother hated the colour and always bought navy. Rather oddly, though the uniform was strictly enforced in the Christmas and Easter terms, in the summer term we could wear our own skirts and dresses (but never trousers!) in any colour we pleased.

I wonder if today’s pupils, in their nice emerald sweatshirts, still play our old games of Peep Behind The Curtain (elsewhere called Grandmother’s Footsteps), Ally Bally Boo Bar, and He with its variant of Drain He, chasing between the playground’s several drains? You couldn’t play that in wet weather as the drains could be submerged in deep puddles.

A child wanting a break from play would call it ‘scribs’, which I’ve since learnt is, or was, traditional to Sussex children. In Pinch Punch, a chain of girls with linked hands would surround a victim with the demand, ‘Pinch, punch, join the ring, or tell us your boyfriend’s name?’

The pinches and punches weren’t all that hard, but it’s probably banned now.

All pupils from those days will remember being sent to the head, Mrs Taylor, for the reward of a jelly baby when you earned ten stars; and the unpleasant bottle-top duty, fishing elbow deep in a bucket of cold greasy water for the foil milk bottle tops – surely not very clean? – to save for the Guide Dog Association; and the scary top-class thrill of ringing the handbell for the start of playtime, clanging along the silent corridor.

And oh, the excitement of the arrival of the school’s first black pupil!

It sounds unbelievable these days, but most of us had never met a black person before, so every playtime the bewildered eight-year-old would find herself surrounded by the whole school of some 250 new best friends.

Did she speak English? Did she miss the jungle? Had she ever been to school before? We meant to welcome her, but we must have scared the poor little girl, because after a few days of these ridiculous questions, which she never answered anyway, we all got a telling off and only her classmates were allowed to talk to her after that.

Very unfair, we thought. I think her name was Foojy (my phonetic spelling) and i often wonder where she is today and if she remembers her extraordinary reception at our little school.

Mine was the last year to move up from the old building, starting secondary school in the term the younger girls amalgamated with the boys in the present building, but I think the date 1973 given in Sue Millard’s article must be a printing error (as were two of the photo captions) because it was definitely 1968!