There's Nothing Like Education.
Epilogue - All, all are gone.
"I have had playmates, I have had companions
In my days of childhood, in my joyful schooldays -All, all are gone, the old familiar faces."
If you walk today through our rambling old school with its light and airy rooms, bright paintwork, walls gaily decorated with children's pictures and all the noise and hubbub of eager uninhibited infants, you are hardly likely to be troubled by ghosts. In every classroom is a computer; there are books a-plenty; television and word-processor, copying machine - every modern gadget for children who live in an age of videos computer games, attainment targets and assessment tasks. But yet they are encouraged to be involved in the community, to have care for those who are handicapped and to appreciate that not all people have the same colour skins. Even our distinctive Forest dialect is not necessarily being ironed out. "It is felt that, provided communication is fluent and easily understood, local dialects and accents bring a richness to a language that should not be denied." or at least, so say the powers-that-be.
Parent involvement is actively encouraged, unlike Governess Thorley who kept mothers firmly outside the school gate. We have had our fair share of the vandalism and break-ins which, sadly, seem so much a part of life today and cannot help but reflect on how John Hale and A. .J. Mantle would have dealt with such anti-social actions. But there is always an up side as well as a down side and Bilson is supported by an active Friends' Association who spend much time and energy raising cash for various extra necessities. GHOSTS ?? . It is only when the afternoon bell has gone and the rush home to tea and the "telly" has subsided, that the building settles back once more into the stillness of early evening. Come back again as Autumn dusk falls, and surely you will find "something of the past within those sturdy walls."
John and Emma Hale perhaps, having a last look round the classrooms, making certain that everything is secure for the night. "Stern, but very kind" is how the majority of their old pupils now remember them. Prudence Bailey too taking great pains to "improve the children in punctuality" and ever reluctant to punish them 'for what is their parents' neglect." This kindly soul always, on rainy days, sent the wet children to her School house in relays "to be dried", and at Christmas time, from her meagre salary, gave each girl "an orange, a booklet and some nuts."
Surely the forbidding ghost of Arthur John Mantle strides sternly up and down the
long upper schoolroom, ebony ruler firmly clutched, before taking its place at his high
desk, set upon a platform, there to watch with eagle eye as 200 boys flinch before his
penetrating gaze. And Miss Watts too, (nobody ever dreamed of calling her Ethel) with
her prim spare figure, and her prim spare voice to match admonishing her "little people"
to be quiet/ and NOT fidget; gliding noiselessly around the out-side lavatories, ostensibly
to make sure that no shirkers were lingering there.
And what of those teachers of old, who spent most of their working lives within these stout stone walls ? Beattie Ferley with her sparkling eyes and love of music; greying hair escaping from a wispy bun, and two inches of locknit petticoat dangling from beneath sensible skirt. Miriam Beard with her gentle serene face, "a truly splendid teacher" - and sensible down-to-earth Kate Phelps, controlling a class of forty five with an ease born of years of learning her Job the hard way. Ernie Sale - his stooping gait an eloquent testimony to the lumbago which plagued him in later years, aggravated [10 doubts by forty years of leaning over desks endeavouring to teach his boys their sums, or correcting their exercise books in his lovely copper-plate hand-writing.
And is that Miriam Cooksey hiding in the corner, dressed in her neat grey gown and black buttoned boots ? Weeping into her lace-edged hankie as Governess Thorley consigns yet another of her Object Lessons to the waste paper basket?
Under the back shed a whiff of smoke arises as Admiral 0. Jones surreptitiously puffs away at a Woodbine during morning yard duty.
The poignant ghosts of children are there too, for those who will stop to comprehend. The ghosts of the young Ellens and Emilys torn from the bosoms of their families, homesick and weary, crying themselves to sleep in the attic bedrooms of "posh" Cheltenham houses. There are the sad little ghosts of those Florences and Walters who died of diphtheria and "the consumption" or who "just went into a decline". Sadder too, the mangled spectres or those Alberts and Sidneys who, with their hods of coal were crushed beneath roof fills or drowned in rushing waters deep below the sturdy oaks of the woodlands where they should, by right, have been playing.
The school has stood for a hundred and twenty years. And now, inevitably the day has come when it is to be replaced by a smart new shining building with raw brick walls, plate glass windows, and nice hygienic classrooms where no self-respecting ghost will ever linger.
It is a school of memories, some joyful, but many which are not. Like the Foresters who built it, it is sturdy and unpretentious. And within its walls thousands of our Forest children have received an education which has equipped the majority of them to face an often unkind working world with the tenacity of purpose and stubborn independence which is their strongest characteristic.