Greetings from an ex-Chrishallite – Dr. Barbara Smith (May 2002) Back to:
I have fond memories of Chrishall. I spent 5 years there as a child living in the first house on Mill Causeway (from the Elmdon end). At that time the house was a white pebble-dashed bungalow named “Bella Vista” that had no bathroom and only a basic kitchen. I was 9 years old when I moved there from Stansted with my mother (Mary Smith) and one of my three sisters. Mum did a marvellous job of renovating the house and adding a garage. If the garage is still there you’ll find my very own attempt at pargetting on the back wall – ie a very poor pattern scraped into the plaster before it dried.
I attended Chrishall Primary School from 1975 to 1977 where Mrs. Gale was my teacher. I used to cycle to school, and the biggest decision of the day was which way to get there, as I could go either way and cycle about the same distance (only there was quite a long hill one way and I’ve never been one to over-exert myself!). I also used to cycle to my violin lessons in the High St with Pat Birchall. I wonder if she is still there! I never was particularly gifted at playing this instrument but I persevered and looking back I’m thankful that I did as it lead to a lot of orchestral playing during my later school years. From 1977 to 1981 I attended Saffron Walden County High School before moving to Sydney Australia to join my father and step-mother.
My mother used to play the organ at the Church of England and was a Church Warden there for several years. I used to go with her to turn the pages for her, and for the last couple of years I was there I occasionally rang the church bells. A group of us started learning bell-ringing from a lay-reader in Heydon (Vivien Wilson). The group consisted regularly of myself, Barry Flack, of Chrishall Grange, Sue and Bill Fletcher of the High St, and others I can’t remember now. We used to practice on Wednesday nights and on one of these evenings I remember one guy was late. He came in the vestry door and made his way down to us in the belfry and asked who the person was who’d come in before him. It was dark, but he’d seen someone enter the church as he’d approached along the path. No one had entered before him to our knowledge and there were no other people in the church. The rectory was empty and it was doubtful anyone would have been wandering around in the dark!
I remember my mother did a little research into the church history while she was warden. We were intrigued to learn that the reason the church is set aside from the village is that the plague hit the village, I imagine in 1665, and that subsequently the village was burnt to the ground. The church and rectory survived and maybe a few other buildings, but the village was rebuilt up the hill in its present position. I’m sure the locals can correct me or confirm this. My mother made an interesting discovery however, while she was helping to organise the installation of the carpark for the church in about 1978. While the ground was being prepared, the outline of what was thought to be a mass grave was found. This is believed to be the grave of the villagers who were killed by the plague. I’m afraid I know nothing more about this, but was intrigued as a child to learn such things of the local history. Something you can’t do as easily where I now live – in Australia, where there is only 214 years of white settlement history (but over 40,000 years of Aboriginal history!).
My childhood friends from the village were mainly Elaine Cranwell, Jackie Watts, and Rosemarie Davies all of Crawley End. I have only stayed in touch with Jackie who has now moved to Kings Lynn. I was 14 when I moved to Sydney. School in Sydney was a world away from my English experiences but I must have muddled through somehow! I now have a Bachelor of Applied Science and PhD in geology from the University of Technology, Sydney, and am now employed as a glaciologist with the Australian Antarctic Division in Hobart, Tasmania. I get to travel to Antarctica every couple of years to collect ice and work on understanding climate change through ice core analysis. Feel free to ask questions on my email address – Barbara.Smith@utas.edu.au
Chrishall Primary School netball team 1976-77: back left to right- Jennifer Page, Barbara Smith, Jackie Watts, Diane Wiseman, front left to right- Melanie Palmer, Terry McGuirk, Susan Potter, Hilary Taylor.
(Photo top: Barbara Smith aboard the Australian ice breaker “Aurora Australis” near Mawson Station, Antarctica. January 2002.)