"Teachers and Taught: A Monthly Magazine", 1921, p. 168
(Gift of Dennis Wainwright, November 2020)
AN EDUCATIONAL PILGRIMAGE.
The desire of Lewisham Congregational Sunday Schools to break new ground upon the occasion of their 124th Anniversary, led to the visit of Miss Phyllis M. Potter to speak to the scholars at the Sunday afternoon service, and on the Saturday evening to meet the staff and friends “at home” in the School Hall and tell them something of the work of the “Caldecott Community.” The result was not merely an account of a unique educational experiment, but provided the occasion of an address of considerable interest and significance to Sunday School workers; particularly to that ever widening circle which, striving for a reforming and deepening of school life, recalls with affection the names, G. H. Archibald and “Westhill.” Miss Potter was the first student registered at Westhill, and her address at Lewisham was, in effect, the story of an educational pilgrimage, the origins of which lie deep in the Sunday School.
Miss Potter spoke frankly of her first Sunday School class—taken for a reason scarcely more than that the fates seemed to decree that it should be so. This class was in a mission school; the conditions were those prevailing almost universally seventeen years ago, and they seemed then to be the natural and inevitable state of affairs. At this period the speaker came under the inspiration of Mr. Archibald’s early lectures in this country, and together with Miss M.O. Pelton registered as a student at Westhill. Here was a great hope, and upon the completion of the course Miss Potter and Miss Pelton had the joy of a “Primary Department” of their own. Later Miss Potter formed Primary Departments in the schools of more than one of the large Central London Missions, and joy and inspiration in the wonderful work grew. But the joy was tempered by disappointment which the speaker, in looking back, put down to impatience —that form of discouragement felt so keenly by youth. The “new hope” of course found itself looked at with considerable suspicion by large sections in schools and Church. This was hard to bear, and not easier when understood because more or less inevitable. Then there was the obvious disadvantage that one had the children for but one hour in the week. Religion being defined as “Man’s total reaction upon life” all education has a religious significance, and the desire to attempt the study and provision of education in this spirit led to a great venture. The great hope, hard work, and some help from friends brought into being the “Caldecott Nursery School”— a free nursery school in Cartwright Gardens, St. Pancras; the Westhill spirit had broken bounds and gone out into the world.
Miss Potter and Miss L. M. Rendel started this work in 1911; a group of children, in no sense picked, but of the typical artisan class of the district, attending the school. If it is true that “The days that make us happy make us wise” some wisdom at least may be looked for from those early days. From the first the importance of close touch with the homes was recognised, and the establishment of well attended parents’ evenings, together with the widening scope of the school was marked by a change in the name—to that of the “ Caldecott Community.” On the whole the parents shewed themselves very ready to take a new point of view with regard to education, this shewing itself ultimately in the very practical way that on the decision to move into the country, the parents of thirty children asked that these children might go, and offered to contribute all that was possible to their maintenance. The housing problem alone was sufficient to prevent the carrying out at home of many of the ideals appreciated not only by the school, but by the parents.
It was in 1917 that the community moved to East Sutton, near Maidstone, and became a “boarding school for working-men’s children.” True, education is not merely preparation for life but life itself, and the Community life is education in this fundamental sense. Some forty children and about ten adults live a common life, growing, working and building together. In this environment each child can find an individualised reaction to his own powers which will help develop them and enable him to “find himself” in that work which can be his life, his love, his contribution to the whole.
This “hallowing of work” provides an atmosphere in which both the instinct for the beautiful and the religious instincts and needs can develop and be met healthily.
“It is recognised that in dealing with what is generally regarded as man’s distinctively religious side we are on holy ground, and that the truest service here is to provide an atmosphere which may help the individual to respond to the touch of the Spiritual itself. This response has found one expression in the adaptation and beautifying of an old coach-house to form the Community Chapel, the work being largely carried out by the children themselves.
Attendance at the little service each evening is quite optional. For the younger children a service is held on Sunday mornings, for the older there is one in the afternoon, and in the evening that for the adult members of the Community is held.
It was Miss Potter’s closing note that has special significance for the Sunday School worker. The Caldecott has vindicated and emphasised the function of the Sunday School—or should we now say the Graded Church ? While making all things minister to a living realisation of the spirituality of life, the Caldecott “staff” has found, as parents find, that the very intimacy of the relationship established leaves with the adolescent the need of that touch which probably only the Church can supply—if it will, with an understanding attitude.
For ourselves what inspiration is here and what high demand when the need is in young lives nurtured to the keen responsiveness and strength to which these Caldecott children are coming!
And what of the Caldecott itself ? As a child of the Sunday School has it no claims upon us?
It is entering upon its own adolescence as some of its members are entering upon theirs. The period is one of stress and strain. The life cannot remain where it is, its future is full of uncertainty, but also of burning hope. It has dreams of developing to wider usefulness. It has the true reticence of the adolescent as to its development, but is it not a living appeal for that confidence and encouragement which are always the outcome of real desire to “understand ” ?
H. W. W.