Colchester County High School – memories and photos

Malcolm has kindly donated this photograph, found in the Castle Bookshop’s closing-down sale. It shows CCHS pupils posed in front of the northern wall of the Grey Friars garden. In the background is the once-magnificent orangery, which by the time of many current alumnae attended, was out-of-bounds due to dangerous dilapidation.




Can you identify a family member – or even yourself?

For a higher-resolution copy click on the title>  CCHS 1927 PHOTO

Courtesy of Robert Putt, we now also have a 1920 school photo. Click this link for a copy> CCHS Lower School 1920 at Grey Friars

And here are some CCHS memories …


I was at CCHS from 1938 (aged 7) to 1947 (leaving after School Certificate when my parents moved to Birmingham).  I did love the school, and missed Colchester dreadfully after we moved away.  Thankfully I still keep in contact with my old school friend Margaret Collin (nee Cock), who told me about the Centenary celebrations. It was so interesting to read Ruth Pearce’s account on the School website, bringing back so many memories.  I was extremely quiet and shy, some people may remember my older sister Rosemary better, she was much more of an extrovert and a rebel, attracting battalions of order marks! During my first day at school (Grey Friars) Miss Cook had the class making a collage of crocuses cut out of brightly coloured paper glued onto a roll of brown paper, and I remember thinking “This is all very well, but it isn’t a proper lesson with facts, so won’t help me get to College”!  “Proper” lessons soon followed, very formal and stuffed with facts, only occasionally enlivened by the magic of a Lantern Slide Show.

My sister Rosemary was good at sports, while I just dreaded having to participate in any kind of ball game (being unable to catch a ball or throw it in the right direction, and tripping over my own feet), and being expected to vault over a horse during gym classes was a nightmare;  perhaps for that reason I was a frightful swat and usually did well in exams.

Two wartime memories of Miss King: during the first Air Raid in the new Air Raid Shelters at Grey Friars Miss King produced a large jar of Barley Sugars, which were passed around “in case anyone felt sick”, but she was dismayed to find the jar empty when it got back to her!  One day in morning assembly Miss King said she had a note from a parent asking if her daughter could take a day off to attend a family picnic, she thundered that no such permission would ever be given for such a triviality unless the father was on a brief embarkation leave.

September 10th 1940 was an especially memorable day, as soon as we got to Grey Friars that morning, each child was sent home again with a letter for our parents urging all families to leave Colchester within 48 hours, offering free railway tickets or a tankful of petrol.  Why we should do so was not explained, but presumably it was because the German invasion was thought to be imminent, and this part of the Essex coast was an obvious target.  For some reason we were not to be regarded as evacuees, as the situation was deemed to be “a temporary transfer of population”.  Both the Girls High School and the boys Colchester Royal  Grammar School went to Kettering in the Midlands, but we were all home again by Christmas 1940, as people drifted back when invasion fears eased off.

School activities were very limited during the war, I don’t remember any out of school hours activities beyond the occasional hockey or netball match – no outings, no theatre, no field work. But having little experience to judge normality by, we took wartime conditions to be “normal”. Though we missed pre-war treats (no ice-cream, bananas, or sea-side visits), and were frequently hungry as food got very short, we ate healthily (thanks to rationing) and were a long way from starvation.  Some cakes were obtainable, but made of dried eggs and “National” flour they tasted more and more like sawdust, I remember my mother saying “You can have another slice of bread if you’ll eat a piece of this cake first”! At Grey Friars we got a third of a pint of milk a day, and a hot meal at lunchtime (e.g.spam,  macaroni cheese, or offal, with boiled vegetables, followed by stewed apples or prunes and custard) which saved our working mothers from having to find food for a hot evening meal for us. With total blackout (no street lamps, no chink of light from houses) the night was full of stars – the Milky Way was a wonderful sight.

Hats were a compulsory part of school uniform whenever out of school, navy blue felt for winter, straw for summer.  And of course while in school uniform one was not to be seen speaking to any boy who was not a close relation, at any time!

Apart from the staff who Ruth mentioned, I remember particularly Miss Crichton, Miss Dearden (Geography), a very young Miss Barnes (Gym), and Miss Herriott (maths, and Assistant Head).  Teaching the large Fifth form classes (35 plus students) must have been difficult under the very restricted wartime conditions, we do owe them a great deal.  As well as those school friends that Ruth mentioned, and Margaret,  I remember especially Daphne Fielden, Honor Browning, Jean Woodward, and Jean Theobald.  I would love to hear news of them, or any other classmates.

Pat Denne.

Further memories especially of Grey Friars.

There was a wonderful garden, with a huge holm oak in the main lawn, some large eucalypts,  and perennial borders behind the asphalt play ground with huge red peonies, and lemon balm.  On one side of the playground was a large scots pine, with flaky multi-coloured bark, which I used to lean against when too shy to join in the games of tag.

And this from Wendy Sparrow …

I was interested to read the December article in the Evening Gazette about your researches and also enjoyed the talk at Lion Walk Church in October.

I was a CCHS pupil from 1955 until 1960, leaving Greyfriars midway to go to Norman Way.  How I hated leaving that wonderful building!  I have loved it all my life, remembering every little corner and have never missed an opportunity to return.  Can you imagine my delight, therefore, a few years later when I was working as secretary to the Vice-Principal of the then NE Essex Technical College, that I was able to accompany my boss when the college took it over as an annexe.  Mr Alan Hutchinson was responsible for organizing the takeover of Greyfriars (and also, incidentally, the old Endsleigh School at Lexden and another annexe at St John’s) and I was thrilled to explore some of the areas which had not been accessible to us pupils.   I particularly remember Miss Vashon Baker’s wonderful blue and white toilet!

However, I was disappointed that the tiny staircase which the staff used to reach the second floor was boarded over – it had always been my ambition to go down it.

I don’t remember the piano incident but I knew and remember very well the inimitable Dr Swinburne, who was Head of Music at the college, being based there.  I remember the various meetings which my boss attended when the Adult Evening Institute was set up and the college vacated the building.  I was rather sad but then later I did attend one or two courses there.   When it finally closed I was concerned about what would happen to it but quite pleased to think that it will be a hotel and that there will still be public access.

I have followed your progress on tracing the history of Greyfriars with great interest and have a copy of the 2005 book [about the work and people of the Adult Community College].

Another reason I am very interested is because of the Liveing Fenn family connection.  l live in Nayland and am the Parish Local History Recorder.  Some years ago I came across the connection with Greyfriars and the Fenns and in fact did meet the current Edward Liveing Fenn on his visits from New Zealand in 1999 and 2000 when he was researching his family history.  I was able to give him some information from my files about his family’s long connection with Nayland.  I don’t know if this would be of interest to you but I attach a copy of a recent article I wrote for our village newsletter which includes information about the Liveing Fenns and their connection with two of Nayland’s important houses, the former Stourbank in Bear Street and Alston Court, our Grade I house.

I wish you both the very best of luck with your book and am very much looking forward to its publication.

Yours sincerely, Mrs Wendy Sparrow, Nayland.

Click the title below for Wendy’s Nayland article … …

Wendy Sparrow – NCT – Stourbank History

**We’d be grateful for any additional material, including stories, anecdotes and documents**