School Days Remembered
Social Activities At Town Thorns School
Contributed by Lavinia Ellison
We first went to live at Town Thorns School in October 1971. My husband had been teaching there since April, but we put off going residential for a few months.
Prior to our move in October 1971 we had spent some wonderful days during the summer, going there for various events, the Summer Fair, the leaving parties and the Staff end-of-term do. We were also allowed to use the swimming pool during the holidays and this was most enjoyable.
Town Thorns was an ideal place to live. Set in lovely countryside, the grounds themselves were appreciated by everyone who lived there. Bus services were few and far between so the school became its own entertainment establishment. This was achieved by having shows, sporting events and socials. The local people often attended, even taking part if need be. The shows were very popular, both Staff and children took part. Two of the most successful were our own interpretations of Snow White and the Thirteen Dwarfs and the Wizard of Oz. We would invite prominent locals and together with the parents, the Hall was at full capacity.
A skittles competition held in a private room at a local inn was a popular event. Teams were made up of schoolchildren, staff and their spouses. We made several of these visits over a few years, so most senior pupils had taken part.
During the evenings, staff worked on a rota basis and it was their responsibility to organise recreational activities. Events ranged from snooker competitions, dancing classes, sewing and both indoor and outdoor sports. A few cookery sessions involving parents, making an ethnic meal, were held. All participants enjoyed the food.
Sometimes children were taken out to the village. They were made very welcome and were encouraged to join in the football teams and attend the Scouts and Guides.
One of the highlights of the year was Christmas time. Staff and family, and anyone with connections to the school sat down with the children to a traditional meal. It always ended with a wonderful party afterwards in the Hall. During that final week, a regular feature was the singing of carols by the Brinklow Church Choir.
The daffodils appeared every spring. Everyone helped, picking, bunching and selling the flowers. Half of the proceeds went into school funds and the other half to Save the Children. If the daffodils bloomed in the Easter holiday, staff turned out to do it all. It was good fun either way.
Another regular feature was the visit to the Lake District. Initially in early June, 12 or 14 senior boys were taken to a centre for a few days. It was an active holiday, walking, sailing, climbing and seeing places of interest. Over the years it became more and more popular that eventually girls went, too.
An annual Summer Fair was held in June. This was the biggest fundraiser and was always well attended. Preparations began months before. There were sideshows, craft and cake stalls, a fortune teller etc. Strawberry teas sold out quickly. We were usually lucky with the weather and it was lovely taking full advantage of the spacious grounds. One of our most successful fetes was the year Brian Cant from Play School came to open it for us. That year there was a great response to his visit.
Outside school hours, staff found a good social spirit. We held dinner parties, barbecues, games evenings, and informal gatherings. It was convenient not having to venture too far for company and entertainment. One winter we held our own version of evening classes, sharing each other’s various skills.
It was a wonderful place to live and work. I spent many happy years living at the school. I was able to help out some members of staff by child minding. Sadly we had to leave when the school closed down in 1986.
Town Thorns School - The Daffodil School
1967 - 1974
I was 9 years of age with a troubled past, and already from the age of 6 years had had Child Guidance psychiatric treatment for the three years before I went to Town Thorns School.
When a Social Worker to do with my family told me I was going to this Home, I was quite frightened, but also quite happy. I was told there was loads of room to run around and plenty of things to do there. I was really surprised when I got to the school, it seemed the journey from Coventry to Easenhall took such a long time; it was like going on holiday.
When the car drove through the big gates saying ‘Town Thorns Residential School’ I was speechless and I went very quiet. In front of me all I could see was this big house, so very big and imposing with fields as far as I could see all around it. We, that is the Social Worker and I drove up and parked near the big house.
Children of different ages, some smaller than me it seemed, passed us by to go onto their playground. I walked along with the Social Worker, through a lovely courtyard into a smaller building but so spread out it reminded me of a huge space ship.
We were politely asked to come into this office where a man got up from his desk to greet us. He looked old, but seemed nice and friendly and said ‘Hello, Michael, welcome to Town Thorns School’, as he shook my hand. He told me his name was Mr Brittain and that he was the Headmaster there. He asked me some questions and things like, what did I like and what I thought I was good at. He told me I would have a house-parent to look after me and named who would be my new teacher. I felt strange.
The first month went by and I had settled down into my new class, a lady teacher, also a lady house-parent, I can’t remember their names. I was settling down and working hard in the classroom. We studied different topics and the class was only about 18 children in the whole class. I liked this very much as I got more help with my reading and writing skills. I was taught how to write a letter home to my mother, which I did quite often in the early days at school.
The school was brilliant, so much room to play, so many places to explore. The teachers were brilliant and my house-parent. One thing I really liked was my own bed, especially after sharing with 6 others at home in one bed top to tail. The sheets were brilliant white, two blankets and a coverlet with an extra blanket at the bottom of the bed. It was explained to me that if there was a fire, you put it around your shoulders when you left the building. I had my own drawer and wardrobe and was shown how to keep my clothes folded and tidy. I was put in a dormitory room with 2 other boys: one was Tony, the other one Peter and we became buddies. We were all shown the boot-room where all shoes and boots were cleaned. We were shown how to clean them so that we could see our faces in them.
I enjoyed school very much and learnt a lot. We were given confidence, we were trusted and we were allowed to express ourselves. The teachers, to me, were very kind, patient, courteous and above all tried their very best to instil in you the confidence to do well in whatever task you tried to do.
I remember in the woodwork shop all the wood turning I did and a lovely book cabinet with dove tail joints and a door knob I made on the lathe under Mr Ellison, the woodwork teacher’s watchful eye. He was great and still is a man I am honoured to have crossed paths with. I had another teacher, Mr Whitaker who was a class teacher and a PE teacher. He took us for football, trampoline, cricket, rounders and swimming. He was always encouraging me to do well and sometimes I would wish that he was my big brother. I liked gymnastics. We had a small team and were quite good. I remember putting on a display for the Lord Mayor of Coventry. You could see he was quite touched.
One thing I enjoyed as captain of the football team was going to Leicester every year to play in a tournament against other residential schools, Maplewell Hall, Hopewell Hall, Brookside and others I can’t think of the names. We did very well winning some years and some not, but great fun and a time to raise the flag for Town Thorns.
Another aspect I loved at school was going to Monks Kirby Catholic Church. It was so small it only held about 50 people. Also sometimes the main hall in the Big House that once belonged to Alfred Herbert doubled up as a Catholic chapel. Everybody used to come for the service. The priest came over from Monks Kirby to take Mass. Mr Brittain and his wife and Deputy Head were Catholic and would attend Mass. Martin or Peter and I would do the altar boy things ringing of the bells and taking Communion.
Sometimes in the morning when you opened your bedroom curtains you were greeted by foxes, badgers, rabbits, hares and squirrels running here and there. Not to mention Marmaduke our friendly goat running free as he had chewed his rope which was tied to a tree. Flocks of white doves from the dovecote wheeled round and round in the sky.
Each year in December, the Coventry Market Traders sent 100lb of grapes to the school. The senior children weighed them and bagged them up so that every child took home one pound of grapes.
I remember one year it was Olympic Year and at Christmas we had hanging over the school hall all the rings which made up the Olympic symbol. Christmas decorations were great fun. Christmas was a great time at Town Thorns. We had a big Carol Service, followed by the choir of Brinklow with their hand made lanterns (a candle in a jam jar). I always remember them because they were so nice and sang in harmony very well.
We had a big fancy dress party plus play, sometimes biblical, superb. The big Companies like the GEC, Massey Ferguson, Dunlop, Courtaulds sent us lovely presents. Often it was the only present I received. When I look back I miss the bubble of love and affection and security I was lucky to have been in.
Town Thorns was the making of me. I shall be 52 years old on 20 September 2009 and I can honestly tell anyone who cares to listen, that the school was an inspiration to me.
Michael Patrick Lenihen
Angela Nugent, Pupil at Town Thorns in the 70’s