Record of the Month

West Preston Manor School, Rustington – South Africa scrapbooks (WPM 1/5/2-5)

West Preston Manor School in Rustington was opened in September 1933 by Miss Dorothy Boykett, who remained as headmistress until the school closed in July 1979. There were 15 pupils to start with, aged from about 6 to 12 and including four small boys, all of whom were boarders. There were two teachers (Miss Hillbrook and Miss Williams) and a matron. Miss Stromwall joined the staff in the early days, while she was still at Worthing Art School, and became Miss Boykett’s business partner in 1958.

Playing snakes and ladders on the journey to South Africa (WPM/1/5/2)

In 1940, parents of some pupils were concerned that the school was too close to the coast, and evacuation was considered. In late July 1940 Miss Stromwall and Miss Williams accompanied a group to Cape Town in South Africa. (The school continued to operate in Rustington throughout the war.) There were seven girls aged 6 to 12, two boys aged 6 and 8, a young woman aged 21 with a learning disability, and the grandmother of one of the girls.

Crane flower – an example of the exotic flora and fauna encountered by the group (WPM 1/5/5)

Miss Stromwall compiled four ‘scrapbooks’ of the time in South Africa. She made pencil drawings and watercolours of the children, and took photographs of them. There is an extensive typescript account, which appears to have been taken from letters she sent back to England. There are also programmes of events on board ship and on land, newspaper cuttings, a plan of ‘West Preston Manor, Rondebosch’, and pressed flowers.

Lessons outside (WPM 1/5/3)

A house was rented and furniture was bought. Day pupils started to arrive – by the end of 1944 there were 50 pupils. The children had lessons outside when weather permitted, sat exams, learnt to swim, joined Brownies and Guides, and entered the Dancing section of the Cape Town Eisteddfod. The two teachers, who had 24 hour responsibility for the children, had their first holiday in May 1943.

1st West Preston Brownies – note the traditional Brownie toadstool at the centre of the group (WPM 1/5/3)

Three of the original group of pupils had already left, but the remainder returned to England in March 1945. They travelled from Liverpool, where the ship had docked, to London and were met by all the parents and Miss Boykett. It must have been very strange for the children to be back in Britain with its bomb damage and rationing, after the sunshine and unrationed food of South Africa. Settling back into family life must have been difficult for both parents and children, after a separation of four and a half years.

Katherine Slay, Archives Assistant

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