War-time Airthrie

Airthrie School: 1940-1945

Following the evacuation of the remaining staff and pupils from Margate to Cheltenham, the first few years at Christchurch Road were difficult ones for the Brownes. Opening their doors with only 4 pupils, they were relatively unknown in a strange Spa town. To top it all there were cockroaches, dirt and damp infesting what is now Rowan classroom and dry rot in the basement floorboards!

With the war ever-present, however, insects were the least of their troubles: bombs fell on Well Place, the Lansdown Road and St Marks. Canadian and American soldiers were billeted in the nearby St Margaret's Hall and the children were issued their own gas-masks.

Support came from staff who had travelled with them - teachers such as Mrs Clarke, a bright lady who taught Maths, and there were happy times too. The children learned to play tennis in Montpellier Park and on Joey's birthday, 1st June, she gave everyone presents and the children ate ice-cream (a real treat in those days). So during the conflict, Airthrie gradually prospered, the Brownes re-established their good name, a caring and homely environment was established for the young boarding pupils and the school progressively became attractive to local day-parents.

At the end of the war, the school continued to develop as its reputation grew. In those days the layout of Airthrie was very different from today. The site did not include the redbrick Hillfield building, the large extension to the Airthrie building which now comprises the Hall, the Nursery classrooms and the Staff Room. Instead Airthrie consisted of the much small facility at 29 Christchurch Road; then a cracked and patched grey stucco building with a green lean-to conservatory to the southern side.

At the front right of the building, where Beech now lives, was Joey's study. At the front left, where Ash is now ensconced, was a classroom a little larger than it is today. It stretched from the front of the building right to the back - encompassing what is now the corridor leading to the Staff Room. If you look at the ceiling of the Staff Room corridor you can still see the original cornice of the this classroom - and the corridor to the Nursery passes through the old school kitchen. Against the staff-room wall sat the school piano. Off Ash, and where the Hall is now, was the conservatory, accessible through a door half-way along Ash's exterior wall. Baking hot in summer and freezing cold in winter, this was a classroom where the older children were taught. Below, under vaulted brick ceilings was a perennially damp 'Apple Room' and a small dark cobweb infested workshop.

At the rear of the building was a narrow strip of paving backed by a high fence, beyond which there was an area of cratered grass, which in winter more resembled the battlefield at Passchendaele than a lawn.

At that time, Airthrie was still a boarding school and the children slept in what is now the Principal's upstairs flat. The Principal's dining room, television room and the sitting room all served as dormitories and in what is now the flat's kitchen was a huge cast iron bath where Joey was reputed to have bathed the boys together on Friday nights! Pupils remember a flagpole with a large Union Jack flag protruding from this bathroom window, flying directly over the front door.

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