Memories of Perran Newman

Wansunt Road and Maypole School Memories


Perran Newman

Memories of Perran Newman - History of Maypole, Dartford Heath

January 2008

Now that the Christmas rush with families has passed I thought I’d put ‘pen to paper’ and submit some of my own memories about the Maypole School and growing up in Cold Blow, Bexley. I was born in 1946 and so I left the Maypole in 1957.

One never forgets one’s first day at school and my abiding memories include, never seeing so many children in one room, the kindness of teachers trying to make everyone feel at home and trying to keep close to some of the children one already new.

Later on the smell of milk became a strong memory and the anguish of having to eat everything at school dinner. Various subterfuges were employed like hiding bits of gristle under the knife, dropping things on the floor and waiting until one of the kinder helpers was taking away plates. I so disliked the taste of liver that I didn’t eat it for perhaps the next twenty years. Now of course, with an adult palate it is very acceptable !

I can remember learning to write ‘joined up’ writing. The particular time that I can vividly recall, I was sitting in the canteen (was this an overflow classroom), with a metal knibbed pen and an inkwell, forming long lines of joined up f’s and g’s. This visual memory is so strong that I can feel the sun coming through the window and smell the ink.

Other classroom memories include reciting the ‘times tables’ which hung on the wall and the sheer enjoyment of ‘art’ when the powder paints were handed out.

Learning to read is something I still remember and this was in the main hall, standing beside the teacher at her desk whilst I read to her from a Beacon Reader book as her finger moved along the words. That same hall was where I sat my 11+ exams with all it’s strange questions which included matching shapes with unusual orientations. I’m worried to say that I didn’t pass the exam to the standard necessary for Grammar School entry but was directed towards the Dartford Tech. At this point my parents decided to dig deep and I went into the private system, attending prep school at Merton Court in Knoll Road, Sidcup. Suffice to say that I was somewhat of a ‘late bloomer’ eventually making it to University and an Engineering Honours Degree.

Playtime is never forgotten – we started off in the smaller playground with the seemingly immense wall that formed the end of the shops. Later we graduated to the big playground and I can still see the soft red brick wall with it’s carved names. The pain of falling on one’s knees on the playground surface, playing marbles and winning a beautiful multicoloured red which I kept for years. Dinky toys – the racing car models in particular, Talbot-Lago and Copper-Bristol are names that come to mind being ‘scooted’ across the playground surface.
On one occasion I was sent to see the headmistress, Miss Gaspar, for a silly game, which involved chasing girls with a pretend movie camera. I never repeated that particular trick after a few stern words ("not be so silly") from that formidable lady.

Although I had an elder sister and a younger brother at the school, I have absolutely no recollections of any shared school activities with either of them. I suppose at that age a couple of years difference in age is a vast chasm.
We walked to school from Wansunt Road, Cold Blow, a short distance but this is the activity where the memories survive, presumably because it was both fun and a new learning experience. Fragments include, my first puff on a cigarette, which landed on the pavement in front of me, thrown from a passing lorry window on the slope up from Baldwyns Park shops. The concrete retaining wall and how easy it was to walk along the top leaning onto the fence, only to find that very soon you were a scary distance above the pavement.

The shops near the school were very important and here I once spent the smallest amount ever, a farthing, for a single ‘chew’, probably a ‘black jack’. I also spent the princely sum of 2/6d on a water pistol in bright, almost dayglow yellow. A bubble gum machine stood on the pavement outside the Café and it was in the place that I experienced the dramatic effect of a ‘sherbet saucer’ literally exploding into life inside the mouth.

I know that Kim has an interest in transport – you can tell by browsing the site, so he might like to share a strong memory I have of gazing in awe at a particular car, parked against the kerb close to the entrance to the air-raid shelter, which was outside the school gate. The car was a Mercedes Benz 300 SL, a fabulous vehicle with gull-wing doors. What was it doing there and how did I identify it ??
Moving further afield and sticking with the transport theme, I see myself being lifted up to look over a metal fence at the top corner of the gun club land near the crossing of the Rochester Way. Down below me were parked hundreds (probably dozens) of army lorries.

The Gun Club was a fascinating place and with friends we would creep in to gather used shotgun cartridge cases. We found the big spring loaded traps for firing the clay pidgeons into the air and could hear the firing of the guns close by. I also entered these ground officially with my father on expeditions to collect caterpillars. My father was a lepidopterist and had a most unusual business in Bexley, breeding and selling butterflies.

More on that subject at another time perhaps, but these expeditions involved pushing through the beds of nettles to locate the broods of ‘small tortoiseshell" and "peacock" caterpillars. Getting stung was a real hazard and I seem to remember that short trousers were still worn. There were sheer faces of stratified rubbish and I have since learned that this area was a well known dumpsite for London rubbish, brought in by train on the Dartford Loop line. This also explained the nettle beds as these plants like a high nitrogen content in the soil and are good indicators of hidden rubbish tips. I’ve enjoyed digging on such Victorian tips in later life and can recall the first time I ever dug up any sort of treasure.
In the woods between Cold Blow and Bexley (Churchfield Woods), close to the Rochester Way, were the remains of buildings, which my research tells me were probably part of Wansunt Farm, after which our road was named. For some reason, together with my friends Jason Hails, Karl Newman and brother Brian, we started digging in the soft ground at the edge of the field. Maybe we had seen something sticking out, but soon we were extracting beautiful little brown glazed pots, which we happily carried home and gave as presents to our Mums. With hindsight, this was probably part of the domestic refuse from the old farm.

Up in the same wood were the decaying remains of a steel tower. We called it the watchtower and it probably only stood, twenty or so feet high, but one could tell from the dimensions that it was once very tall. Many years later when I revisited the area with my own three boys, I walked through the woods starting at the junction of the two footpaths that run down from Wansunt Road to Bexley. I suppose I wanted to share my memories of the fun ‘our gang’ had playing in the woods, but the bluebells had gone and everything looked diminished. I managed to locate the four concrete bases of the tower – does anyone know what it was for ? (See Memories of Ed WAINER)

On this same little excursion, a memorable family ‘incident’ occurred that none of us will ever forget. We looped through the wood intending to exit on the edge of the field through which a track ran to ‘Meditation Corner’. From there one could easily get back onto the end of Wansunt Road. As we came through the wood towards the field edge I stepped onto a leaf covered surface and immediately dropped into a pit of cow slurry about 18 inches deep. I turned back to the boys to warn them but my memory cannot tell me what happened next. Sufficient to say that I was the worst effected. I discarded my shoes and we walked, hurried, hobbled back through the wood to the car parked in Wansunt Road. Here I abandoned my sodden socks and also removed my jeans which stunk of the slurry. We were en-route to stay with my parents in Hythe and the journey and it’s accompanying smells and recriminations remain with me to this day !
I have since returned on a number of occasions to the scenes of my childhood. Something keeps drawing me back and a couple of years ago after a long search I found one of my best friends and ex-Maypole student, Karl Newman (no relation) who now lives on the far side of the Heath. We had a reunion, joined by my brother Brian and we cycled all around the area. We all agreed it was a wonderfully nostalgic experience and that the general area of our childhood had changed relatively little in 50 years.

(See 'Wheels' by perran Newman)

Note from Maypoleman - A British team has completed a gruelling trek to the North Pole to discover how quickly the Arctic sea-ice is melting. Renowned Arctic explorer Pen Hadow and two companions were dropped onto the ice by plane some 1,700km (670 miles) north of Canada. During their 1,000km journey they took measurements of the thickness of the ice. It will be the most detailed survey of its kind this season. Perran created / devised / manufactured comms equipment for the team.

See Perrans dad on film and alittle boy who could be Perran himself !

See what Perran says about himself on Friends Reunited