The Boarding School
King Edward VI School, Stratford-upon-Avon 1914-1945


Lilian Bowen recalls her time as maid and cook at School House in the 1930s


I went to Long Marston school and Mrs Bennett from Stratford was a teacher there and she said there was this job going, I wasn't quite 14 then, and I put my hand up. My mother nearly went mad when I went home and told her I was going to work at the grammar school. I just went.

When I first got there they gave you a foolscap piece of paper, I was fourteen, and it had got: "Six-thirty - rise, wash, dress, etc. Quarter-to-seven - cup of tea in the kitchen". Then I had to sweep, mop and dust the master's sitting-room, the pupils' study, matron's sitting room, boiler room, changing room and boot room, landing and steps. Then I had to go and ring a bell outside the boys' dormitory. I cracked two bells whilst I was there, they used to throw slippers and all sorts at us.

I ran away twice. Once when cook was there, she wasn't very good and, I don't know, she was strict and she didn't give us much to eat and we went out and got fish and chips this night. She went and told Mrs Knight and Mrs Knight had us all in and gave us a good talking to. So we got on our bicycles and went home. They fetched me back, they sent the car out the next day and my mother said "oh you've got to go back, you've got to give your notice in properly, you can't leave like that". Anyway they came and I stayed on.

And I went on another . . . well I was cook the next time I ran away. It was a big day, I don't know if it was Benefactors' Day or Speech Day or something, and I was making fruit salad and the girls kept coming in and pinching a bit and the matron was watching from the window that you could see into the kitchen. She was looking and she could see what was happening and she came up and she told me off, she said "You should keep these girls out of the kitchen". I said "Well here you are if you can keep them out you do it" 'cos I couldn't, they kept coming back and pinching the bits of bananas and oranges and things. I went again after that and was there another few years.

There was the matron, secretary, parlour maid, house maid, cook, between-maid, kitchen maid, chauffeur and gardener. There was quite a few of us there. We had lots of fun, I can tell you. Especially . . . we had no end of different ones, they used to be there perhaps a few months and then go, or they'd be there a year or two. There were changes all the time really.


Related articles

History of the boarding side of the School 1876-1938

Joe Stephens - Memories of a boarder 1925-1934

Brian Walker -
Memories of a boarder 1931-1938


Dining Room in School House, 1930s Dining Room in School House, 1930s

That's a different plant [looking at the photograph of the dining room]. I can only remember aspidistras in those pots. You can see this is raised up just one step, where the headmaster sat at that side and Mrs Knight sat there and the prefect sat there. One Christmas I was taking something in and I slipped down and I spilt all the stuff down Mr Fairweather. I must have been about 15 then I expect.

I think there was only one [other master] at a time, Mr Whitfield or Mr Fairweather was there when I was. We used to have day boys in for lunch. We used to have to polish all these tables and I've been up on this beam and polished that when we were spring cleaning, when the boys were away.

I think the boys seemed to like the food . . . oh, the soup! I tell you they didn't care sometimes for the soup. We used to have aspidistras all down the dining-hall table and if they didn't like it, after a time you'd have a horrible smell. You'd go in and you'd find out they'd put their soup all in the aspidistras.


Of course it was always porridge first but they didn't have cereals like they have now. That was cooking over night, a great big steamer sort of thing which we had. Of course I was 18 when I went cook: I was doing all the other work before then. Then the cook died and Mrs Knight said "I'learn you to cook" she said "you'll make a good cook". So I took it on.

On Monday it was cold meat, after the hot roast on the Sunday, then probably stew or something on Tuesday, shepherd's pies, and fish on a Friday. Big steam puddings with the jam at the bottom. Rice pudding. We used to do a sweet where they used to cut up Swiss-rolls and put tins of peaches on, cover it with custard. Boys liked that . . . Made all the marmalade there, and the pickles.

They had a tea in the afternoon, and I think they provided their own jam and things like that if they wanted them and I can't really remember much about the teas. But I know at supper time they had soup in the winter, and then I think they had sandwiches and lemonade and we always had to make the lemonade with lemons and citric acid and that. They went to prep first, then they'd come back . . . it would be about 8 o'clock, half-past eight. And then straight to bed afterwards and always one, either the headmaster or one of the masters went up to each dormitory for prayers.

I'm not sure when their lights had to be out by - I know our lights had to be out at ten.


Well yes, we used to have three 14-pound joints of beef. There was a great big, black old kitchen range, with coal, the gardener used to have to bring in the coal and that. And if we had legs of lamb, was four legs of lamb, or two or three legs of pork. It was always the best meat and it was always from Henson's or Lea's. I think they took it in turns. I think they must have 'phoned and said what they wanted . . . or someone would go and give the order in. But if you wanted anything I think they 'phoned and they'd even bring two lamb chops, sort of thing. Sawyer's was the fish man. We used to have blocks of ice, we used to send some flannel. Wrapped this in ice, there was no plastic or anything in those days to wrap up. Then the gardener or someone would go to the market and buy perhaps a pot of sprouts or cabbage or all different things. Peas, there was all those to shell, everything had to be . . . All the vegetables had to be . . . the potatoes pealed. They were all done the night before ready for the next day. Always on a Sunday we had sausage-rolls, I remember making those. Dozens of sausage-rolls. That was Sunday breakfast. Of course it was only the boarders there on Sunday.


Dormitory in School House, 1930s Dormitory in School House, 1930s

That's the east facing dormitory [looking at the photograph]. They were all on the top floor. My goodness, I had all those beds to make. Those were the washbasins and they had their mirrors above. 'A' dormitory, there were 10 in. And that's a gaslight on the wall.

I remember these were quilts with tassels on when I was there. The towels hung down like that. We had to put clean towels once a week.

There were three dormitories. There was 10 in this one, . . . and 6 and 5 I think it was. This was the oldest room of all.

I remember the sergeant used to ring the curfew at night and morning. I can't remember his name. He used to take the boys for cadets. Always on a Monday.

I don't know where the boys kept their personal possessions because there was only a chair at the side of each bed. I suppose they had to keep it down in the playroom in their trunks. They didn't have much.

And then there was a room for their suits and all their clothes, that was in the wardrobe room. The boys had just two sets of clothing, day wear and then Sunday. And I expect there were three or four shirts and these stiff collars they used to have.

On a Wednesday we used to have to have a big clothes basket and used to put them clean collars, socks and handkerchiefs, every Wednesday. And on a Saturday you always had to take their Sunday suits, clean collars, socks and handkerchiefs and put them on the chair each side of their beds. Then on a Monday I used to have to collect all these suits up, brush them and then fold them up again. They were all folded and put in their cupboards, they called them wardrobes but they were sort of big cupboards you know and all their things were in. And then there was a boot-room next to that with all their boots and shoes. The chauffeur or the gardener had to clean those.


School House, 1930s School House, 1930s

This was part of the private garden, there was a big greenhouse down here. They used to keep a few hens, down lower . . . it was a very big, long garden, well they used to provide a lot of vegetables.

There was a mulberry tree, used to be by . . . on that picture you can just see a bit of it. It was between the Old Vicarage and the School House, and we used to have . . . that's the one, there's the mulberry tree, you can just see it. I thought it such a pity that that's gone. I made literally hundreds of pounds of jam, mulberry and apple jam. One year I made a thousand pounds of jam. That was all through the season, all kinds of jam. In seven-pound jars we used to make it. That was all eaten in School House. Jam tarts and different puddings and that, they used to make for them. Used to make 12 big jam tarts at a time.

That was the fruit store, they used to store apples and pears and all sorts of things in there. I think the prefects study was at the top of the house. Mr Whitfield or Mr Fairweather's bedroom, I'm not sure what that one was. And that was the matron's sitting room. Mrs Knight's work room. There was the bedroom and changing room somewhere there but, I don't know, I think probably some of the windows face the other way. And then there was the stoke . . . where they used to have the central-heating done, the gas, the coke place where the big fire was. The boiler room down there, through a door.

Pavilion, Manor Road Playing Fields, 1930s Pavilion, 1930s

We used to have to go to this pavilion. We used to have to push a truck from School House with the tea things on. And we used to make the tea in there and there used to be the matron and one of us, or sometimes two of the staff used to go. We used to make sandwiches and iced-buns and these iced-buns were cut in half. Sometimes it was Chelsea buns. That was the tea. This truck we used to have to push all the way from the grammar school.

There used to be two of us, well the matron and one more. With all the tea things on. That was on Saturday afternoons and any special do's they had up there.

I used to have to go to the Old Vicarage too sometimes. They had another matron there. Of course there was boarders at the Old Vicarage.

They had their own laundry. Miss Moseley was an old Victorian person. They used to have these great old big hampers and we used to put the laundry in and we used to have to count the handkerchiefs in tens. And the collars, tied in tens, and fill these laundry baskets. Then the chauffeur or the gardener would take them down to the laundry. And they had a sick dormitory.

At the end of the almshouses, there's an archway. It was a very big place, and the sick-dormitory was there. We'd got a sick dormitory at School House, but it was only if they had the measles or things like that. But if there was anything more infectious they were sent off to the . . . the "sanitorium", they called it. I remember some boys had diphtheria, one day boy died and one boarder at the grammar school, Geoff Allen was his name . . . 1932 I think it was, it was terrible. His parents came and stayed at the grammar school. He'd got his brother there, Jack Allen, they were Devon people. It was very sad.

When there was anybody ill we had to fumigate the sick room. They used to seal all the windows round, and then put these candles, sulphur lamps or something they were. When you had to go in you had to hold your breath to go in to break the seals . . . the doors were all sealed. It used to be horrible.


There were other boarding houses. Jolyffe House up Warwick Road, Trinity House at the corner of Chestnut Walk. We had quite a few boarders there.

Some boys came from quite far away, there was two boys from France, John and Paul Fox, they were quite young lads. The young one when I used to go and light the matron's fire and he used to be there I think he must have been only, what are the very young ones . . . Miss Bell's . . . Miss Lupton's ones . . . the preparatory school. He always wanted the match to put to the fire if he could.

They used to bring their own things in for their tea. We used to make cakes I remember.

Of course, when you were only a servant like I was you wouldn't knowed all these things really. But I know when anyone came to the front door, we had a silver tray and a card was put on it and you had to take it in on the silver tray to them. And you always had to clean the front-door brass before . . . the first thing in the morning. They wouldn't have the servants outside cleaning the brass later on in the day.


They had long holidays, I remember. I don't know whether it was a month or more, in the summer. I've got a feeling it was about a fortnight at Christmas.

We only had a fortnight's holiday. We used to have to do all the cleaning, spring-clean everything out. And as I say, when I was cook I used to be making jams and pickles and things during the holidays.

Just before the boys came back again it was a hive of activity, getting everything all ready.

A lot came by car. I don't know, I'm not sure how the trunks and that all came. I suppose so many came by train. But I always remember the trunks passing on the back of these big cars that used to come.

When I first went there my half day was from 1 o'clock to half-past six, on a Friday and every other Sunday, from two 'til six. And then as you got older you went from two o'clock 'til nine, and then from two 'til ten, as you got older, you know. But at first they . .. . We used to have our bicycles and I used to bike over to Long Marston for my time off. Oh, one day a month we had a long day off. I had five shillings - I had a pound a month when I went there first, and me keep. And gradually went up but I don't know how much I had when I left. Don't think it was a lot!


Lilian Bowen, maid and cook at School House in the 1930s
talking in 1992


  Return to Boarding School contents page

copyright © the Guild School Association 2003 - Jun 2003