Christopher Howell recalls the several staff, all having the formal name of Miss Watson, that he knew during his 10 years at Caldecott 1961 - 1971. This account is of Audrey Watson..
The Autumn 2014 Newsletter reported the recent death of Audrey Watson. Since information seems a little vague, I think I can add something regarding her “second” Caldecott career. As recalled, she had been “an early Miss Hill” in the 30s or 40s. To those of us who came to the Community in the 1960s – 1961 in my case – it was difficult to imagine that it had ever been without Miss Hill. But it had, and sooner or later even the Miss Hills of this world move on. So, for my memories, Miss Audrey was the first “post-Miss Hill”.
This would have been around 1969 or 1970 – my last year was 1971. It was a difficult period for the Community. Apart from Miss Leila’s own semi-withdrawal and her death not long after, a whole host of long-standing staff members – Miss E., Miss Travers, Miss Elizabeth, Miss Ruhl, Mr. Gladstone and Miss Hill herself – all felt the time had come to retire. Not all at once, but over a period of about three years the shape of the Community had profoundly changed. By the time I left, only Miss Diana and Major Clark, and of course Miss Dave, of those with roots going back to the war years, were still soldiering on. Indeed, apart from these, I am fairly sure that only Betty Rayment, Desmond Draper and maybe some of the kitchen and garden staff, were left of those who had been there when I came. Even James King had arrived half-way through my first term. To this list could be added Miss Dave’s irascible golden retriever Lady. That must make something like a 90% turnover during my ten years in the Community.
Most of the long-standing members I’ve mentioned belonged to that category of person of whom it is darkly said, “the place will fall to pieces without them”. In some areas of the House, all hell was indeed let loose, but Miss Audrey saw to it that the transition to the post-Miss Hill era went smoothly. I think I am right in saying that she had been running a hotel in the meantime, though she had never entirely lost touch with the Caldecott. It would be nice to relate some specific, even spicy, anecdote: in truth she was not a “personality” like Miss Hill. Her voice does not still ring in my ears fifty years later as Miss Hill’s tends to, though I do remember her kindly but firm tones. She was extremely efficient, however, and in some ways she brought about a few quiet improvements. You could no longer tell which day of the week it was just by looking at what was on the breakfast table, and Camp Coffee was finally laid to rest.
In one way, the transition from Miss Hill to Miss Audrey was symptomatic of the times. Her description as the “domestic bursar” tells us quite a lot. Quite possibly there were various new laws and trade union regulations about job descriptions of which the Community’s young charges were blissfully unaware. The older guard were all true to the opening salvo of the Caldecott Charter, read out by Miss Leila once (or twice?) a term at Meeting. “This household is a community”. They may have stuck principally to their particular areas, but they were everywhere and knew everything about everyone. Miss Hill, for example, took surgery and looked after the sickrooms on Miss E’s day off. Sometimes she deputized in the dormitories. In saying that Miss Audrey stuck to her job description I don’t mean to belittle her. Rather, Miss Leila’s concept of a community was increasingly at odds with labour relations as they were conceived in the era of Harold Wilson.