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    A HISTORY OF THE CHURCH SCHOOL IN PLYMOUTH, DEVON - by Joyce Hill

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    Looking back over fifty years of education in this country is a very encouraging exercise, for who cannot but be surprised and gratified by the differences of then and now? As we have turned the pages of the record books of the church school here in Plymouth, and talked to the pupils of yesteryear, we have found that among the amazing changes one factor has remained constant - that factor has been the desire of the Plymouth Church to give its youth a Christian Education.

    In March 1919 Pastor Campbell (Conference President) and Elder Wakeham (Principal of Stanborough College) visited with the church in Plymouth to discuss the practical issues in opening a church school for the twenty or so children in the church family. Brethren Bunker, Whiting and Downs were the leading influences in pressing for a church school but the church was in full agreement with their ideals, for at this meeting �125 was pledged by the membership in support of the venture.

    There must have been much praying and planning, but by July there was no building and no teacher in sight. Yet what wonderful faith the parents had! At the end of this school year, July 1919, they all informed the state schools that their children would not be returning in September! As always, God honoured such faith, and in August word was received that Miss Middleton had been appointed as the teacher, and a few weeks later accommodation was offered in the Conference Hall, Old Town Street, at a weekly rental of six shillings. (30p)

    Thus Monday, September 15th 1919, became the historic opening for eighteen Adventist pupils in the second church school to be started in the British Isles. We are appalled by the fact that these children had makeshift desks, no books of any kind, no blackboard - no not so much as a stick of chalk for the first week or so of school, for the supplies had been held up on the railway! However, by the end of the term the school had moved to 19 Greenbank Avenue. A private school just across the road from these newly acquired premises closed at this time, so the new church school was able to desks and some other school equipment at reasonable cost.

    Miss Middleton is still remembered with that mixture of affection and awe, which good teachers inspired in their pupils in the early twenties. She was recalled to Stanborough College in September 1921. and Miss L Lewis (now Mrs. Bevan) replaced her. In the Summer Holidays the school moved from Greenbank Avenue to Beaumont Hall House, which was adapted to meet the needs of the church and the school in 1921. It is remembered with a certain amount of glee that the school premises, which were on the first floor, had to be reached by a ladder until the building of the staircase had been completed! One ex-pupil still speaks of himself as having attended Beaumont "High" School - the "High" referring to the fact that the school was higher than the church!

    (Correction. Further research reveals that 19 Greenbank Avenue and Beaumont House were the same building, but with school and church entrances on different streets. The move from "Greenbank Avenue to Beaumont Hall House" were movements within the building over the months as renovations took place. I.J.H. May 2003)

    In 1920 the enrolment was twenty-four, only four of these pupils were non-Adventists. From this time on the non-Adventist enrolment grew, but it seems they did not exceed fifty percent of the total enrolment until the 1930's.

    In 1922 Sister Lewis received moral support and practical help from Miss Firks, a retired principal of a large girl's school in Bloomfontein, South Africa, who had recently become a Seventh-day Adventist. From the records we gather that Sister Firks was a public-spirited person who gave of her time, her talents and her means to the church school and the church, until wearying age bid her live a quieter life. It is recorded in the minutes that her arrival in Plymouth, to retire, appeared like an answer to prayer, and her dedicated, unpaid support of Miss Lewis, and her educational expertise certainly helped to establish this young school on a firm foundation.

    On the weekend of July 29th, the leading brethren of the Conference, Brother Campbell and Brother Read, cut short a visit to Plymouth that they might attend a Teacher's and Evangelist's Convention on July 31st. Was this the first such convention to be held in England? How few teachers there must have been to attend!

    It was sadly recorded on September 22nd 1922 that the church school was in debt to the sum of �4, and the Conference Brethren's written report adds, "sadly lacking in equipment". This indebtedness was a constant factor until 1924 when for the first time the school had a balance in hand of �1.12.6! (�1.62). This was a good record upon which to leave, for now Sister Lewis was called to the West London Church and Sister Ruth Raitt took her place, with Sister Gladys Youlden as her assistant. By now the school had 36 pupils, five of whom were approaching leaving age. From its inception, Plymouth Church School was a full range school, with a leaving age of thirteen, and later fourteen years.

    1925 saw the arrival of Miss Winifred Willis to join Miss Raitt. The following year Miss Eva Hyde joined the school, replacing Sister Raitt who accepted a call to South Africa. Sisters Hyde and Willis worked together for several years, until Sister Hyde married Ronald Bonney, one of the charter pupils of the school, and at the time of his marriage, a young ministerial graduate of Stanborough College. Sister Eva Raitt then became the Head Teacher, with Miss Willis still remaining as assistant.

    In 1929 Plymouth Church and School moved once again into a large house, this time Fletewood House in North Road, which was adapted to meet the needs of both communities. The church has the ground floor, and to this day both school and church function happily side-by-side. The school now became known as Fletewood School, and as such is still known today.

    During the ten years from 1931 - 1941 Eva Raitt, Ruth Raitt, and Winifred Willis were the consecutive head teachers, assisted by Lucy Clarke (Mrs Cythna Ponder, Literature Evangelist), Grace Thomas (Mrs Rowe, Teacher in Wales), Mrs Eileen Bunker (Widow of Glen Bunker, Church Elder) and Vera Lauderdale, (Missionary Teacher, Kamagambo training School, East Africa; Newbold Preceptress,) now married to Dennis Porter of the Bodleian Library, Oxford).

    Then came the blitz, and readers will recall that Plymouth shared with Coventry the distinction of being the worst blitzed cities of our nation. The school closed, and its problems as well as its successes ceased to be.

    After the war ended, and before Plymouth began to rise like a phoenix from the ashes, the members of the church were agitating for the re-opening of Fletewood School. By the mercies of God the building was undamaged. Brother Glen Bunker and his wife, with his brothers Eric and Ken, and Pastor Gordon Hyde were among the chief enthusiasts for the church school at this time, although once again the church family took their share of interest and responsibility. Pastor H T Johnson was the Conference Officer who encouraged and supported the re-opening.

    In 1948 Miss I J Hulbert and Miss M Stendall uncovered the well packed school books and supplies from their store room in the cellars, scrubbed desks, and opened school on January 8tth. with just nine children, one of whom was the granddaughter of the church elder who first worked for the opening of a church school in 1919. It is interesting to recall that the first term's expense budget was whittled down to the sum of �6.6. 6! (�6.32) Within three years the enrolment had risen to fifty-three and there was a long waiting list of future pupils. The school came as close as it has ever come to being self-supporting within the Conference Church School financial policy, during those years.

    Miss Stendall, a graduate from Newbold College, married an ex-pupil of the church school, David Whiting, in 1951, and as she and her husband, with the baby, emigrated to California a few years later, Miss Nan Tucker replaced her. Meanwhile, Miss Dorothy Hearne replaced Miss Hulbert in 1951, the latter teacher going on to the church school in Wimbledon. (Miss Grace Thomas was the head teacher there.)

    Miss Hearne accepted a call to Ethiopia in 1957 and at this time Plymouth had its first Headmaster, Mr. Norman Wright. Miss Tucker and Mr. Wright worked well in the school for many years, until Miss Tucker was called to teach at Stanborough Park, and Fletewood called for two teachers to replace her, extending the lower junior class into Infant and Junior groups. This was an important step forward. Miss Violet Woodhead came to care for the new Infants' Class, and Miss Hulbert returned to teach the lower juniors. In 1966 Mr. Wright was called to head our school at Walthamstow, upon the retirement of Miss Trott. Miss Woodhead went to Stanborough School and Miss Hulbert, by now Mrs. Hill, accepted the responsibilities of leadership until such time as a replacement could be found for Mr. Wright.

    In September 1966, Mr J Catt came to Fletewood, and besides his reaching duties, ran a Pathfinder Class for the three years he remained in Plymouth, before emigrating to Canada with his family, to become self-supporting missionaries to the Canadian Indians. At this time, September 1966, for the first time in its history, the school employed a non-Adventist teacher in the Infant class, Mrs. Judy Taylor, who gave very good service to the school for one year.

    In September 1966 Mr John Catt came to Fletewood, and besides his teaching duties, ran a Pathfinder Class for the three years he remained in Plymouth, before emigrating to Canada with his family, to become self-supporting missionaries to the Canadian Indians. At this time, September 1966, for the first time in its history, the school employed a non-Adventist teacher in the infant class, Mrs. Judy Taylor, who gave very good service to the school for one year.

    Miss Barbara Brook came to us as a graduate from the Bible course at Newbold, but after one term was called to Laurieston School in Leeds to care for the nursery class there. Miss Mary Wark, graduate teacher from Avondale, Australia, and missionary to New Guinea, came to Fletewood in January 1968, and has given loyal service until the time of writing. Miss Wark is due to return to her home base in Australia in 1971.

    Miss Nita Girling, granddaughter of one of the stalwarts of our faith in England, replaced Brother Catt in September 1969, coming to us straight from Training College. She will be leaving us in July 1971 in order to have her teacher's certificate endorsed by service in a state school. At the time of writing Brother A J Seymour's appointment as headmaster is awaiting confirmation, and the appointment of a second assistant teacher is expected in the near future.

    Thus far our brief history has noted the establishment of the school in a permanent home, and the record of teacher movements through the years. It is of interest to note that before the war none of the teachers except Sister Firks were qualified teacher. (i.e. they had not received teacher training from recognised colleges.) But we must never let this colour our opinion of the work they did so conscientiously and so well. These were all women of God, whose one aim was to serve Him to the best of their abilities, and excellent teachers they were. In the lives of their pupils is reflected some of the consecration that was, and is, to be found in the hearts of those teachers who laid much of the foundation for Christian Education in this country. To their self-sacrifice and devotion, we who follow them owe much, and we thank God for their example.

    Since the war it has been possible and more necessary to employ teachers who have state qualifications. These are expected more and more. But State certificates are not enough. Our schools need teachers who are not only skilled in their profession, but who are skilled in the arts of presenting a loving and living Saviour to their pupils, that they in turn may become His willing followers. As long as such teachers can be found who are willing to make personal sacrifices for the higher standards of a Christian education, then our church schools, and our churches have nothing to fear for the future. We have seen God's guiding hand in the past, and we are confident of His leading in the future.

    Adventist Pupils of the Plymouth Church School from 1919 to 1971

    Dorothy Down       Daughter of Curch Elder. Married Pastor Harry Smith.
    Roy Coombe Nurses Training, Stanborough Hydro. Church member, Plymouth
    Wilfred Bunker Killed in accident while a student at Stanborough College.
    Eric Bunker Stanborough College, Church elder in Plymouth for many years. Fletewood School treasurer.
    Phyllis Crocker Missionary nurse, West Africa. Church treasurer. Married Eric Bunker
    Ronald Bonney V.O.P.Director, England and India. Division Secretary, South Asia. Minister at Elmshaven Church, California.
    Herbert Crocker Farm manager, Newbold College. Married Eileen Stacey.
    Dora Whiting Married Pastor Keough, President, Middle East Division. Now in Bible Department Columbia Union College.
    Glen Bunker Church Elder for many years. Now deceased.
    Ronald Coombe King's Herald Quartet, Watford. Travels for Loma Linda Foods.
    Arthur Mills Builder. Emigrated to Australia. Spent some time building for missions in Fiji.
    Cyril Youlden King's Heralds, Watford. Elder, Brighton Church Adelaide.
    Edwin Foster Newbold Preceptor and Bible teacher, Studied in USA, Department Secretary, then President of NEC, Lay Activities and Sabbath School Sec. North European Division, President SEC, President BUC.
    Ken Bunker Church Organist, Plymouth church.
    Iris McCrow Emigrated to Australia with family.
    Fred Pearse Successful evangelist in Britain and now Pastor -Evangelist in Canada.
    David Whiting Nursery Business, California.
    W G Baldry Stanborough Press.
    Dr John Hyde Missionary Doctor - West Africa, Medical Director N.E.D. Now deceased.
    Leonard Lane Pastor in Swansea.
    Rosemary Lane Married an Adventist (George Sisson) in Dublin. Active church worker there.
    Irene Holland Married Pastor George Roper.
    Enid Gilbert Married Arthur Mills.
    Tony Jackson Doctor, Missionary to Ethiopia. Now Medical Officer of Health in Surrey.
    Roy Musgrave Minister, Missionary to Sarawak, Bible Teacher in an Academy in U. S. A.
    Leta Bishop Married Ken Bunker.
    Margaret Palmer Nurse in Canada.
    Barbara Palmer Married Clive Murray (from Ireland ) Nurse. They ran a Nursing Home in Eastbourne.
    Brian Lemin Nurse, Missionary to West Africa. Organising Superintendent (Hospital Administration) NHS.
    Elaine Bunker Nurse. Married Dr. Ron Emmerson.
    Elizabeth Bunker Married Pastor Dennis Uffindell.
    Linda Bunker Student, Newbold and Pacific Union College.
    Norman Bunker Student, Newbold College.
    John Bunker Assistant Lay Activities Secretary, Plymouth.

    Still at non-Adventist schools, having left Fletewood at eleven years of age:

    Edgar Drew
    Otto Drew
    Carol Hall
    Graham Hall
    Raymond Hall
    Ann Dalton
    Rosemary Dalton

    Plymouth Church School Buildings

    It is difficult to write about buildings that have disappeared with the blasts of war, or to recall those that have been developed in the rise of a new city. We are told that the first premises, rented , you may remember, for six shillings a week, were rather like a shop front, and were hardly suitable for a school. Beaumont Hall seems to have been a much more suitable place, and was more carefully adapted to the needs of the pupils and staff.

    It is Fletewood School that I know best, having come here in 1948. Then the school consisted of two rooms, not overly large, on the first floor. There was a great deal of 'making do' in the city and also in the school, but each year saw improvements to the fabric of the building. The dark, drab colours of pre-war days have given place to the bright, cheery colours of the modern generation. In the first years of re-opening the toilets were altered and adapted to the needs of a growing school. Within the last five years all the floors have been covered with a vinyl floor covering over a hard board base. The Infant's Room, now a third classroom, has been adapted from the church welfare room. It has been completely redesigned, and is now the most attractive, though still the smallest, room in the school.

    So few words, and yet so much effort and thoughtful care has gone into the use and maintainance of our school building. We are gratified by the compliments of many visitors who have appreciated the bright, cheery cleanliness of the school, and by its happy atmosphere.

    Talking of cleanliness, it would not be a complete picture of our school if we did not include a word about the cleaning of the school over the years. This task was accomplished by the teachers prior to the war. Since 1948, only four caretaker-cleaners have been employed. Mrs Caggett, our present cleaner and helper, has been with the school for seventeen years, which is the longest term of service at Fletewood for any of the school personnel!

    Now our reminiscing ends, and with our eyes fixed on the heavenly school which we believe will soon be with us, we continue to make history in the classroom from day to day. We hope and pray that one day there will be one grand re-union of many teachers and pupils of Fletewood, with the friends they have prepared for the kingdom, around the throne of God.

    Joyce Hill, 1971

     

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    Acknowledgement of ownership of photographs: Mrs Eric Bunker, Mrs G Andrews, Mr C Dalton
    Colour slide reproductions: Mrs I J Hill.

     

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