Susan Wilkinson Janke: memories of Long Dene

Typed up and submitted by Lindis Guinness, August 2014.

My first memory of Long Dene was being in John’s study with my mother for an interview. John’s integrity and quiet manner made an immediate and lasting impression on me. I had a sense of being warmly accepted for who I was – as I was, right there – which put me at my ease.

I remember John’s study was paneled in dark wood and it looked out onto the inner courtyard with the three paths, shaped rather like a triangle, two of which led to the Gateway Hall, and all the many bright flowers in the garden. The whole area was such a beautiful setting for a school I was enchanted with at first sight.

My earliest impressions were of a happy, friendly and safe place. The staff were often a husband and wife team, sometimes both working either in the school or on the farm, and they often had their own children at the school. We children were all treated with kindness and respect. No disrespect was incurred by us pupils calling the staff by first names. On the contrary, I think a good relationship between adults and children was helped by this more intimate and family-like atmosphere.

Long Dene was totally different from my previous school where I was very unhappy and spent most of my time in fear and dread because of my academic failures. I left that school at 11 years old, lacking confidence in myself as well as in my scholastic abilities.

At Long Dene lessons were often based on assignments for each term with reading material to refer to and individual attention from the teacher. We worked at our own pace. I found I worked better this way and gained confidence and satisfaction in my abilities to learn some things by finding out for myself. Needless to say this was helped enormously by the positive and encouraging feedback from the teacher.

There were also many other creative and exciting areas of learning that were new to me: ‘Music and Movement’ with Karis [Guinness], free dancing with Susan [Wormleighton] – both these forms of expression were an inspiration and joy for me. Art with Con Gullick or Gwen Job was wonderful – they encouraged us to be free and spontaneous too. Handcrafts with Muriel Cook I absolutely loved. I did my first weaving in that class and have that early enjoyment and Muriel’s encouragement to thank for making a career in weaving late in my life – and I am still enjoying it!

Sewing with Lois [Pinchbeck] in her room at the top of the main staircase was great, too. I enjoyed it because we made real clothes, not silly things. I’ve been grateful all my life for the skills Lois taught me. We also had fun making clothes for our dancing displays, which I seem to remember were more Muriel Cook’s domain. And I remember helping with the costumes for “The Merchant of Venice,” which the older students performed in the theatre outside, built by the older children mostly, with the help and direction of Bumble. It was a lovely theatre.

I also remember one winter deciding to make my father a pair of socks. I hadn’t done much knitting before and I rather ambitiously embarked on making the socks on four needles. I got in endless muddles through knitting round the wrong way and always turned to Lois for help. One day after more muddles Lois embroidered a large red arrow on top of each sock. All went well after that, much to her relief I’m sure!

I gained an appreciation of the beauty of wood in woodwork class with Arthur [Harrison]. I remember his ecstatic ravings when pointing out the grain of a particularly beautiful piece of wood to us.

Then there was helping ‘Bumble’ Bevan convert the lorry that we later went away in. Some of the boys in my class did a lot of work on it. Lockers were made under the seats that ran along each side of the lorry, which were used as storage space for sleeping bags and whatever. String, sort of fishing net, was attached to the inside ceiling to carry food we bought on the way, like long loaves of bread and fruit and veggies. Canvas tents were attached to both sides of the lorry and were rolled up when travelling, one side for boys, one for girls. About sixteen of us went with two or three staff. It was great fun and we had a wonderful holiday going as far south as Rome in Italy. I still have copies of the newspaper article about it from the Kent and Sussex Courier. In this it says we were going to Spain but we went to Italy.

[This is Lindis adding her bit to this: The first trip with the Lorry was indeed to Spain and I went. As Sue says too, it was a fabulous and wonderful trip and I will remember it probably all my life. There were three staff, for us, Suzanne Fay Baker [she later married Phillip Dore one of our music teachers]. She was one of the cooks at Long Dene and a most important part of our trip since food was number one of our needs. The other lady was Liz Pentney, I adored her, and Bumble – who did most, if not all of the driving.]

I remember going to Genoa, Pisa and seeing the Leaning Tower, then Florence where I bought a leather wallet for my mother who had it in her handbag until she died. I remember being impressed with Assisi too because I’d read Paul Gallico’s “Small Miracle,” and awestruck by Rome. I can’t imagine we would have had time to go to Spain as well in only three weeks – but maybe we did, I just don’t remember it.

Another lesson I always looked forward to immensely was Philosophy with J.L. [John Liebenrood.] I found his lessons fascinating and learnt a lot of important things including a bit about other world religions. I think it was in my last year, a sort of service was started – optional. I say sort of because I don’t remember it being religious in the church sense – just spiritual. What I do remember, and it left an unforgettable impression on me, is J.L. teaching meditation – or starting us on it. He led us in a beautiful visual journey that was very calming and centering and because of this lovely early introduction I have continued meditation throughout my life. I feel blessed that J.L. started encouraging a questioning and open mind in spiritual matters early in my life.

After a few years, when Susan and Norman Wormleighton had left Long Dene, ballet lessons were started once a week with Muriel Whiting/Dowding and I loved it. I enjoyed joining in the dancing displays we did. Later on I went with one of two others [Lindis: I was one] for an extra class in Tunbridge Wells once a week. [Miss Conibear was the teacher’s name!] We biked to Bough Beech and then caught a bus. It was freezing biking back in the dark in the winter. I remember Lois suggested we took our pajamas to her room before we left so that we could warm up in front of her fire when we got back. She made us cocoa and I remember warming my hands on the glass to uncurl them from the handle shape they had frozen in!

The only lesson I did not enjoy was mixed hockey. I was no good at it. The team was made up of Eagles, Hawks and Falcons, and being only a Kestrel when I started I feared for my safety and spent my time jumping out of the way of very hard, fast moving balls and generally letting my side down badly! I loved swimming in that warm sheltered walled garden where the pool was.

I also learnt cello with Mary [Davies] and later with Gaffie [Anna Garfield Howe] and played in the Junior Orchestra. My musical talent was minimal but I enjoyed knowing and hearing the instruments in the orchestra. That, and listening to Karis playing the piano and also Bill Burton when he came back [from university] stimulated my love of music.

John Janke, whom I met at an Old Denizen reunion and later married, has always been grateful for the encouragement of his musical talent. After leaving Long Dene in 1947, he studied full time with Gaffie and later at Kneller Hall. Although in the end he did not follow a career in music, it has been a great love all his life.

I remember being impressed by the very effective and democratic approach to discipline at Long Dene. It was based more on peer pressure than pressure from above. Rules were discussed and agreed on by the older children at School Meetings [approx. 11 years and up] and the staff to see that fair play was adhered to. If found flaunting these rules, students and staff alike could be “Sanctioned” by one another. To be sanctioned meant being heard by a committee made up of the seniors [Hawks and Eagles] and given the punishment they decided was fitting. The punishment was usually a practical job in the school grounds. I remember washing up in ‘Greasy Alley’, the kitchen scullery where all the cooking trays and pots were cleaned. And I was sanctioned with a few others for going into the “Private Woods” which were out of bounds. I felt pretty philosophical because it was not the first time we had trespassed there!

I remember telling my cousin, who was the same age as I, all about discipline at Long Dene – and he reckoned that all schools should have the same system. He couldn’t believe how well the staff and students worked together. We used to have long discussions about it.

The other area that we pupils were involved and took responsibility in was the daily cleaning of the school – well, a big portion of it anyway. Early morning before breakfast we did the housework. We were divided up into housework groups with ‘Leaders.’ Each group did an area for about a week, I think, and then changed to another area, within our “group area.” I never achieved the status of housework group leader, though John, my husband, did. One sure way he can wind me up is to run a finger along a high shelf. I’m glad I was never in his housework group! At the end of term we did a big clean up that took nearly all morning. We were treated with ‘elevenses’ mid-morning. I’ll never forget how delicious those thick slices of freshly baked wholemeal bread and peanut butter were. [This is Lindis: and Dripping which I adored, not to mention the dark brown jelly that was part of the dripping – and I was, and still am, a vegetarian!]

Food was another unforgettable and wholesome part of Long Dene, with the choice of being a vegetarian or a meat eater, as they were called, at the beginning of term. In my time food was still rationed throughout the country. We were given our weekly small ration of butter and margarine, which we kept in our individual tins on the butter trolley. My old butter tin is in our garage to this day with nuts and bolts in it! Some of us eked their butter out through the week, and others finished it in a couple of days. [It was four ounces I think, or could it possibly be only two ounces? I could go through 2oz in one meal these days! Though I definitely do not! Lindis]

Apart from this, though, I don’t think we were aware of rationing. There always seemed to be plenty of delicious nourishing food – all homegrown organic fruits and vegetables; freshly made bread from the wheat grown on the farm, milled and baked by a local baker. Fresh milk from the farm too, delivered in HUGE milk cans and put outside the marble hall where they were hauled into the kitchen. I remember especially the yummy muesli we had for dessert – the oats of course with added freshly grated apples and whatever fruit was in season, plus dried raisins, sometimes even lumps of dates, pineapple juice and milk to moisten the mixture. [Lindis: In England throughout the war and after, dates seemed to come in big oblong slabs. We always had muesli the evening of the day everyone came back to school, and in the summer muesli always had blackberries and perhaps mulberries in it which turned the mixture a deep purple. Those who were new at school looked askance at this “stuff,” and we who knew always asked if we could have theirs, which was gladly handed over. That only happened the first night. After that they kept it themselves!] Later in life I was very grateful for the idea of raw porridge oats, milk and brown sugar for breakfast in the summer as an alternative to hot porridge, both of which we had at Long Dene. My own children were brought up on that when we were living in isolated parts of the Solomon Islands.

In so many ways Long Dene was ahead of the times. A natural follow-on from the organic food was the buckets for ‘compost’ or the pigs, in our pantry where we scraped off the scraps of food before washing, rinsing and draining our own plates and cutlery after each meal. There was always one person at each sink [there were two huge double sinks in the pantry], who ran the water, and when we had washed the plates and put them in the rinse sink, picked them out and put them in the drying racks above the sinks. We dried our own cutlery. [Lindis: I remember the unbreakable Picardie glasses so well and actually bought some out here because I love them so.]

The other area of wonder was in health issues. The matron when I was at Long Dene was ‘Van’ [Myfanwy Gutmanis after she married Charles Gutmanis, one of the gardeners], such a sweet matron, who would be in her surgery each morning and if we felt unwell could go and see her. Often she would pop a small round homeopathic pill under our tongue, something I’ve also continued all my life whenever possible if unwell. If we were sick in bed or in the sick bay, there was always a big plate of a variety of fresh fruit given for a meal. [LCG: Before Van, there was kind and caring Kim and her daughter Rosemary, who got a pony called Vic that caused an absolute sensation at school. That anyone could own a pony, unheard of except in books!]

I have so many vivid memories of Long Dene. Every year on the evening of Halloween the older children had a party and were allowed to stay up later than usual. We ended up all sitting round the fire in the big hall, listening to John [Guinness] tell ghost stories. I’ll never forget those evenings. John told the stories so beautifully with his wonderful voice, and the hall with its dark panels and the gallery above all dark except for a small light just above John’s head that shone on the book pages, it was the perfect setting. [LCG: I remember being scared half to death by the “Telltale Heart,” Edgar Allen Poe. He read those stories so well!]

In the winter evenings there was often ballroom dancing in the “Burnt Room,” organized and run by the Eagles. Most of us younger ones learned to dance just by joining in and doing it with the more experienced dancers. Old 78 records were used for the music.

In Spring all around the castle below the ‘HaHa’ towards the lake, was a golden mass of daffodils, Narcissus too, and a few delicate patches of Snow Drops. I remember also the beautiful herbaceous border by the wall opposite the Robins’, Beavers’ and Tigers’ classrooms. It had fruit trees espaliered along the wall. Con was often seen head down in this part of the garden.

I remember exploring the caves across the lake, and the lake edge where we roasted chestnuts in the autumn when the reeds and undergrowth were being burnt off. And the year the lake froze so solidly that we all took the stacking green metal chairs and learnt to skate hanging onto the chair, or gave each other rides in them which balanced us on the skates and made it all easier. (John Janke remembers skating at night by torchlight when he was an Eagle.) And walking down to the lake, through the field and wire fence, and walking the path through the woods to the village shop in Chiddingstone Village to spend our precious sweet ration. Four ounces only. Oh the pain of having to choose what to buy.

I remember too how wonderful it was to have the freedom to explore the countryside near the school. At weekends after signing up on a list we could go out in small groups with our own handmade picnics and walk miles. John Janke remembers making a tandem with Paul Newman and taking off on a bike ride somewhere near the school. All went well till they met a sharp corner on a downward slope and the back part didn’t turn with the front part. He reckons he still has gravel in his knee from that! He also remembers biking for miles [on single bikes] and biking to Tunbridge Wells on Saturdays to see the film showing. [Double feature in those days. Lindis]

They were halcyon days, especially for me after spending the first eleven years of my life in wartorn Liverpool, sleeping in the cellar every night of the war, surrounded by bomb shelters and living in constant fear as we did. I think I regained my trust in humanity at Long Dene.

Undoubtedly the original inspiration and on-going dedication to Long Dene came from John and Karis Guinness, who in turn enthused the other members of the staff to devote themselves in their individual ways to the school, the farm and the children. John and Karis were lovely people. I knew them well, and through my friendship with Lindis I spent an unforgettable summer holiday in the South of France with the Guinness family.

John was a man of great integrity. He had a gentle and perceptive nature and I would always trust his judgement. Looking back I think John’s unique gift was his awareness of the potential wholeness in every person. It was obviously a continuing pleasure for him to watch the growth and unfolding talent of each and every pupil. Together with Karis they created a wonderfully nurturing environment. [Lindis again: They loved every single student who came to the school! Karis used to laugh and say how she had always wanted ten children and now look how many she had.]

Long Dene was more than a school; it was a caring community and a way of life. The values it espoused have continued to influence both my own and John’s life. I think it is a great sadness that such an inspired example of progressive education had to come to an end. However, through the staff who moved on to take other positions at other schools, I’m sure that Long Dene lives on and continues to influence for the good.

I left Long Dene a year before it closed down. Financial worries had begun in my time with the death of one of the school’s main benefactors [Lindis again. Believe me, the financial worries were always there. Any profit that could have been made was eaten up by the incredible food and the amount of it. JCG always said he’d rather feed the children well than make a scrap of money…] and the stress it brought on combined with other financial factors [I believe it was a testing time for many other independent schools too – LG] eventually caused John and Karis in 1954 to see that in the best interests of everyone it had to close down.

The on-going Old Denizen Society testifies to the immense loyalty of both staff and children to Long Dene as they knew it. John and I left to live overseas so although unable to attend most of the Old Denizen functions, we have kept in touch over the years with friends, both staff and pupils.

Susan [Sue Janke]

[Lindis: This was written quite a few years ago and I’m sure that all the staff have passed on. As I said to Humphrey (Bill) Burton in an email, I am sure there is one fantastic welcome home party going on in heaven as person by person Long Dene is slowly becoming again.]

 

 

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