Evacuees, children from abroad and a cockerel called Percy are just some of the memories that will be shared at a celebration to mark a village school’s 80th birthday.
Steephill Independent School in Fawkham started life in 1935 when governess Eileen Bignold was asked to teach a neighbour’s two children.
She had been caring for her ill father after returning from teaching children in France and Spain.
Their home off Castle Hill soon became the village school as other families began to send their children, aged between five and seven, to be taught by Miss Bignold.
With the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939 evacuees also joined the roll, sleeping in the room which is now the school library. Children from France and Spain would also board during the holidays while learning English.
Lessons took place both in the main house and various huts and by 1960 Steephill had 90 pupils. As well as her love of teaching, Miss Bignold enjoyed cooking lunch for the children every day, with sausages her speciality.
She also loved animals and dogs, cats, rabbits, guinea pigs, chickens, pigs and a cockerel all roamed freely around the school grounds. One dog in particular, a long-haired dachshund called Henry, was known for wandering into classrooms.
It is memories such as these that head teacher Caroline Birtwell hopes people will share at the school’s 80th birthday party on Saturday, June 20.
She said: “The team here at Steephill are really looking forward to celebrating our wonderful history. Everyone is welcome and we are hoping to see many past and present pupils and staff.
“Those who knew Eileen Bignold remember her as being somebody who always put others before herself and who put her heart and soul into creating a nurturing and stimulating environment for the children at Steephill.” Miss Bignold died in 1989 and for a short period the school’s future was uncertain.
Then a group of parents clubbed together to buy Steephill and set it up as a non-profit making charitable educational trust.
Mrs Birtwell joined in September 2000 and there are now 120 pupils aged three to 11.
The building has been developed to include four new classrooms, an ICT suite and netball court but, despite the modern updates, Steephill retains the ethos it had in its formative years under Miss Bignold’s leadership.
Mrs Birtwell said: “The beautiful rural setting and small class sizes give the school a caring, family atmosphere, as well as offering a high standard of education.”
Steephill’s 80th birthday party will be held from 2pm to 6pm, with music, entertainment, face painting, balloon modelling and refreshments.