An English-language training course in Devon in 1952
In 1952, my wife’s parents, Jean and Adrienne Ropert, were both primary school teachers in the Oise department. They lived in official accommodation provided within the village school at Gilocourt where Adrienne was in charge of the infant class. Jean taught English in post-primary school classes (1) at Crépy-en-Valois. Every day he would ride to work on a "mobylette" (2). When not teaching, he was studying for a bachelor’s degree in English and had already obtained two certificates.
That year, he was selected for an English-language training course to be held in England, in Devon (3), during the summer holidays. The course was to last 2 or 3 weeks, and was reserved for teachers of English in the Oise department. Although Adrienne had accompanied Jean to Devon, she was unable, six decades later, to recall the name of the town where the course took place. All she remembered was that the trainees (and their spouses) were accommodated "in a university residence", a detail which pointed to the university town of Exeter (4).
A surviving group photograph of the event was to provide me with clues to solve the mystery. The front showed outside monumental stairs in the shape of an inverted V and the corner angle of a mansion with a toothing of salient cut stones (5). On the back was the photographer’s stamp with his full name and the name of his studio.
He was Bertram Authers, owner of the High Street Studio at Crediton, a small town located about 10 kms to the north-west of Exeter. It only remained for me to put a name on the edifice whose corner angle with its unique salient stones could be seen behind and above the stairs. Using Google Images search function, it did not take me long to find out. This was Reed Hall, a former mansion which at the time was owned by the University College of the South West of England (later to become the University of Exeter in 1955) (6).
In the picture, taken on a bright sunny day, the trainees are sitting on the steps of the wide stairway, making it look like a human pyramid. They grin broadly at the photographer as he utters the usual phrase, "Say cheese!" Jean is sitting on the parapet in the left part of the picture, on the same level as the seventh rank starting from the bottom up. His wife, not being a trainee, is not in the picture.
Three years later, in 1955, Jean gave up any hope of becoming a teacher of English and went back to being a primary school teacher at Ormoy-Villers. He also took up the post of town clerk to make both ends meet. The same year, Adrienne Ropert gave birth to a little girl, Catherine, who was to marry an English teacher a few decades later…
(1) "Cours complémentaires" was another designation for "higher primary education". Teaching there (from first form to third form) was entrusted to "instituteurs". These classes were replaced by "collèges d’enseignement général" (general secondary education schools) in 1959.
(2) "Mobylette" was the name of a very popular moped designed in 1949 and produced by motorcycle maker Motobécane.
(3) Devon is a county in South West England, bounded by Cornwall to the west, Somerset to the north east, and Dorset to the east. Exeter is the administrative capital of Devon.
(4) About the university of Exeter and its history, see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/University_of_Exeter.
(5) These corner stones protrude from the wall faces in brick masonry.
(6) Reed Hall is a grade 2 listed building and is used today as a meeting and conference centre. About its history, see David Cornforth, Reed Hall. Formerly Streatham Hall, Duryard Lodge and Mount Stamp, Exeter Memories website, october 21, 2017.
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© Christian Lassure - EFT
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