The village had two schools, the infant school in Eagles Lane, now demolished and "top school", now the village centre, where one finally graduated at the tender age of fourteen years of age to be launched on to the world employment market. A fortunate few passed the eleven plus examination and were seconded to Ely High School for Girls or to Soham Grammar School.
I remember my first day at school. My first teacher was Miss Hall, now Mrs MH Hull of Cannon Street. We were each given a slate and some chalk and were taught how to write our names. In the same room but divided by a curtain sat the second year pupils under the guidance of Miss Knights the headmistress. We could hear the wails of those who chose to misdemean, for Miss Knights wielded a ruler on the outstretched hand with considerable force. If you didn't know your seven times table by the age of seven when you went to top school it wasn't Miss Knight's fault. At the very least you knew what a ruler was.
I seem to thank that I could read then as well as I can now, probably better; I didn't need glasses then. In September 1940 I became a member of the top school. The Battle of Britain was at its height, but I suppose it meant little to us seven year olds. The headmaster was Mr Henry Crabbe, able assisted by his wife and two more teachers. The first year pupils were in the capable hands of Miss Ethel Pate, a kindly woman with infinite patience and I think it was with her that I mastered the intricacies of the nine times table. Armed with this knowledge and the ability to recite Hiawatha, both backwards and forewards promotion to the second class was inevitable.
The custodian of this class was Miss Beryl Treasure who lodged with Mr and Mrs Len Hull who lived where David Chambers lives now. Miss Treasure's clas was where general education really began. With the ability to read, new avenues of learning were open to us. We learned a little history aobut primitive people who lived in caves and shacks and chased pigs with clubs in order to obtain a joint for the weekend. In those days I couldn't see that things had changed a lot. The only difference I could see was that I had a bike. We did a bit of geography as well; we learned about London and that the King lived there and all about the pink bits of the map which were the empire.
The school was heated by "tortoise" stoves. These were slow combustion stoves which burned coke and held about half a hundredweight of it. They glowed red when hot and were normally situated near the teacher's desk-for obvious reasons. The school caretaker was responsible for lighting these fires -four every morning and sometimes they smoked horribly until about 10 am. The school care-taker or cleaner was often a widow was prepared to rise at an early hour to earn a few shillings a week to augment a meagre widow's pension. These people were the salt of the earth-they complained bitterly but they still appeared each morning.