Serving the communities of Bures St Mary and Bures Hamlet

SmallBridge School:- A year at School

During 1955- 1972 the Hall was a private Girls (Finishing) School
accommodating about 30 pupils

Life at Smallbridge Hall School:- Sept. 1967 – July 1968

I went to school there for one year, which is probably what most girls did.

The English girls, I suspect, were there for the same reason as myself. My parents had decided to move to another area of the Country, the time coincided with the years between O-levels and A-levels, and my father fancied I would do well as a secretary and signed me up for a years shorthand/typing course.
I, on the other hand, was fed up being moved away from my friends. Had no intention whatsoever in being a secretary, and therefore did not gain as much as I might have done, under different circumstances.


The range of girls and background was huge. We were a school of about 25. Some of the foreign students had brothers at a nearby (and similar) boys school. I remember in particular one very lonely girl from a Muslim country who did not join us for any classes and could not eat the same food as us, nor come on the many school trips. She was often praying under a prayer rug that covered her completely, and she spoke no English. Her brother would visit from time to time to interpret her needs. Most of us shared rooms with 2 or 3 others. She had her own room.
Others girls came from Syria, Persia, Armenia, an Italian countess, a wonderfully elegant Greek, a Dane, cousins from South America/the Bahamas (where they went for half term!), together with A girl from Leicester who kept running away and eventually left for good, a jockeys daughter and also the daughter of a race horse owner. Being so few, I remember the girls quite well, although I no longer remember their names. There were some girls with parents in the Armed Forces abroad too.
I shared a room with 2 others, I think. It was right up at the top of the back stairs, and through a secret door you could creep across the rafters to another bedroom on the other side of the house.

I got on well with Mrs Newton the owner (I think) and Headmistress. She treated us like “adults” – sort of. I suppose its all relative!

In addition to the “O” levels – I retook both English Lit & Lang. although had OK pass marks already. I enjoyed particularly Current Affairs & Politics with “Sir Basil”, who was charming. Some of us were in Mrs Newton’s “Cordon Bleu” cookery class (the test for inclusion being able to make a perfect béchamel sauce from memory). We cooked on the days that Sir Basil arrived (in the evening) and he would kindly eat our stuffed mushrooms, plum tipsy cake etc comparing one sample with another. Part of the course was to lay a table formally etc.

I don’t remember anyone playing golf, but I rode at a nearby stables, or perhaps in Colchester. Through woods that were sometimes occupied by soldiers of drill – which caused our horses to bolt on one occasion, and for me a visit to the local A&E!

We had a punt that we could use on the Stour that runs at the bottom of the garden.

We had “sit and beg” manual typewriters and were taught Pitman’s shorthand. I was not an enthusiastic pupil.

The school was “twinned” with various organisations. The local bridge club met there and I used to join them if they needed a 4th. Some of us attended a public speaking course and I can remember on one occasion having to discuss the pro’s and con’s of a brain transplant as part of an English Speaking Union curriculum. (Funnily enough I found myself many years later judging students talking for an ESP competition and the same subject was used!).

I also remember the flower arranging and art classes, although I did neither, but cant remember why not. I have a feeling their was local participation in that too.

The local hunt met at the school and drinks were served outside the front door to the riders, all looking very splendid in their red coats.

We shared dances with the (foreign) boys school. They all seemed to be oil tycoons from the Middle East. We also attended champagne cocktail parties with Officers from Stradishall RAF (I think) base. We were allowed out with the Officers too!

There was a uniform list which included a cocktail and evening dress!

We went to the theatre in London to see Shakespeare and other plays, and read Shakespeare aloud in the garden, when fine.

We had a wonderful cook, who baked bread rolls in the morning for us. Sometimes she made us a batter mix and we were allowed to use the waffle machine! I know I put on weight during the year such was the feasting.

I had done needlework and sewing at my previous school and I continued that too.

When there was a gap in the day we would have to walk up and down the main stairs with a book on our head!

One of the teacher/helpers – a sort of Matron I suppose used to drive the school minibus to take us to events. I remember she seemed able to drive as fast backwards, as forwards. Quite terrifying when we had left the Hall but someone had forgotten something before reaching the end of the drive.

The cookery class kitchen was in a converted farm building. Smallbridge Hall had a “home farm” almost immediately on its door step. I thought Mrs Thompson was the cook, and that the Thompsons ran the farm. I seem to remember they were the last farm in Suffolk still to be using heavy horses to pull the plough etc

We often went to talk to the cows as they awaited milking.

I don’t ever remember going to church, but we were on occasions allowed to walk to the village. I was surprised to find Bures was quite large when I returned there as an adult.

Acknowledgment to Jennifer Chamberlin for kindly donating her memories of the school.


research by Alan Beales