Miss Read, or Dora Saint, to give her real name, wrote novels about the life of two fictional villages, Thrush Green and Fairacre. They are gentle, well-observed books about village life, and the Fairacre books feature a schoolteacher, Miss Read.Dora Saint moved from London to Chelsfield in March 1921 at the age of seven, and attended the village school until 1924. This period in her life informed much of her writing. There is an evocative account of her years as a child at Chelsfield in her memoir, “Time Remembered”, with attractive line drawings by Derek Crowe. The move to Chelsfield was prompted by her mother’s poor health. Dora too had been ill; she had suffered from Spanish flu during the epidemic that followed the Great War. The rural environment was thought to be more suitable for the family. They lived on Chelsfield Hill, in a house called Bramleigh (demolished in 2014 to make way for a new building), with a garden large enough for her parents to mark out a tennis court. Most traffic was still horse-drawn and a sign opposite their house warned drivers to adjust the skidpan on their carts before attempting the steep descent. The walk to school was a long one, but the time passed quickly when walking with her friends Hilda and Kenneth, and making endless discoveries of plants, birds and insects in the hedgerows. They would sometimes run the gauntlet of the geese at Julian Brimstone; a lively flock that would chase them down the road.They also found time to stop and gaze, intrigued, at the wireless aerial in the garden of the lodge at the gates of Court Lodge. This took the form of a large pole with a wire running to the roof of the lodge – a very novel sight. The memoir provides an excellent account of the life in a village school at the time. Classes were large, and boys and girls were taught in the same room. Although there was a strict routine to the school day, Dora writes how it was much less busy and competitive than her previous London school, and allowed her to develop at her own pace. Half a century later, with an established career as an author, Dora Saint returned to Chelsfield School for a visit. She found the buildings still very recognisable, although the head teacher’s accommodation had been absorbed into the school. Teaching methods and resources had changed dramatically, but it still felt the happy place she remembered. There is an account of this visit here.
Chelsfield A Community Archive
Bramleigh, on Chelsfield Hill in 2013. The garden overgrown, but just how young Dora Saint would have liked it. The house has since been demolished.
Julian Brimstone Farmhouse c1900. The pond was off to the left.
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