Memories of Crouch End High School: Part Two

The headmistress and founder of the Crouch End school was Miss Charlotte Jane Howarth Cowdroy. She was born on January 5, 1864 and died on September 22, 1932.

I only saw her once when she was brought into the classroom in her wheelchair by Miss Marguerite Bennell who later succeeded her as headmistress.

Miss Charlotte Jane Howarth Cowdroy, Founder and Headmistress of Crouch End School, 1900-29
Miss Charlotte Jane Howarth Cowdroy, Founder and Headmistress of Crouch End School, 1900-29

Miss Cowdroy presented a dramatic picture, although in failing health. She had poor eyesight and had to wear thick-lensed glasses. A cloud of hair like a halo stood up from her broad, intelligent forehead. She was extremely patriotic and had been awarded the M.B.E. for her work in organising the Hornsey Prisoners of War Fund which supported the families of prisoners during the First World War. On Empire Day we all had to assemble round the flagpole in the front of the house and salute the Union Jack and to celebrate we had a half holiday.

Great attention was given to good handwriting and cursive writing was taught right from the very beginning, I never did learn printing. Thanks to that early training my handwriting frequently gained favourable comments. As we moved on up the school we were trusted to keep our own record books showing punctuality and marks earned.

Miss Cowdroy was a great advocate of the benefits of fresh air. The left hand side of the grounds had a row of specially built open sided wooden classrooms; here we had our lessons weather permitting. Two trees come to mind, one a large magnolia which was a glory when in blossom and the other a vast willow tree whose hanging branches made a complete curtain and in its shade we laboured on hemming lurid pink dusters. We also learnt knitting and once we had mastered garter stitch we were given leather soles to make into slippers, these had holes punched round the edge for attaching the knitted tops. I proudly took mine home, alas they were well named ‘slippers’ I put mine on and promptly slipped down the stairs due to their shiny soles.

The school had a workroom and here one day we were all given wooden plywood cutouts in the shape of parrots and a little stand for them to perch on. Quantities of brightly coloured paper were to hand and the idea was that we should cut out pieces to resemble feathers and stick them on the wood. Pieces of glue for the purpose were being melted down in pots over heat. Little did I know that I could claim to be amongst the first of the glue sniffers. By the time I had inhaled the fumes throughout the lesson I was beginning to feel ill and was violently sick for the next two days. The parrot however was a great success and for a long time afterwards one could spot where a pupil from the school lived because a parrot on its perch would be proudly displayed in their window.

Sports Days were great events. A maypole in preparation would be erected and we would have rehearsed the various weaving patterns. I lived in mortal terror that I would go the wrong way and ruin the final successful unravelling of the long ribbons. There were relay races, how we fell about laughing at the mishaps as parents took part in the three-legged races. The highlight was the sudden appearance of two men, they had little bags of dolly mixture attached to their suits. As soon as they started running round the grounds we were all in hot pursuit trying to snatch a bag. When we came out after school the ‘stop me and buy one’ Walls ice cream man would arrive on his bicycle with its blue ice box. We would crowd round with our pennies to buy the coloured water ices in their blue triangular cardboard tubes, or later on when the ice cream versions came in. They were so much nicer we felt the extra halfpenny they cost was well worth it.

Annual displays were held in the Northern Polytechnic Hall. My mother complained bitterly about the number of costumes she had to make. I started off as a gnome, progressed to a Kate Greenaway child and finished as a Russian Cossack resplendent in red and yellow silk. Later a fine hall was built by the side of the house, The Charlotte Cowdroy Memorial Hall, here girls performed Greek dancing looking graceful in their long white robes. We played netball and tennis and Miss Cowdroy introduced fencing. I longed to be big enough to take lessons and also to be able to bowl along the sports field in one of the ayro wheels. Alas I never achieved these ambitions as I left and went on to Hornsey High School and finally finished my schooling in 1939.

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