The Visit – Chapter three – 1983

This story is from the point of view of a teacher in the early eighties————————————————————————-

Karen Armitage loved working at Old Palace School for girls. She’d been there three years now, going straight from teacher training.  She mainly taught the younger girls History, which could be hard work when they really weren’t that interested.

She also taught sixth form R.E. One of the things she loved about the ancient building was all the little rooms – not much more than storerooms tacked onto classrooms and at the top of creaky staircases, perfect for tutor groups. Many were the afternoons she’d sat with a small group discussing important theological questions such as ‘Who do you think was the better kisser, King David or Samson? Long hair and muscles win it for me every time,’ thought Karen though she realised she was in the minority here with a gang of teenage girls who worshipped pop-stars that wore more make-up than they did.

It always fascinated her that sixth-formers who no longer had to wear uniform chose to still dress identically! All seven of them sat there with hair back-combed and held back with two combs; an assortment of lacy gloves and leg-warmers tucked in to boots – even in the middle of summer, such was their slavish devotion to Madonna!

Karen specially liked Fridays: she only taught five lessons and tended to stay late to try and get all her marking done. Matt didn’t get home ‘til later, and it was his job to pick up a take-away, so she didn’t need to get anything in for tea. She glanced out of the staff room window which overlooked the main gate. It might be a school for young ladies but the noise and chaos as a sea of dark brown uniforms carrying huge bags and lacrosse sticks swarmed out of the gates in search of buses and trains home reminded her more of a cattle drive. Maybe it was no coincidence that there was a ‘Drover’s Road’ in the vicinity.

Having marked most of her books during the afternoon, the only ones she had left were the essays from her group of 4A’s who were meant to be imagining the royal progress in 1573. She grimaced. On the top sat the exercise book belonging to Catherine Mayhew. Privileged. Spoiled. Bored.

She would probably work for daddy’s firm until she married some rich city stock-broker, so they didn’t care if she tried or not. Consequently she was a complete nightmare. ‘Knowing her she won’t have troubled herself with research at all; she’ll have the royal party arriving at East Croydon Station and jumping on a bus.’ she thought as she picked up the exercise book. Out slid a magazine article entitled “Coping with Hemorrhoids” – the precious little dear must have left in there – accidentally. ‘Oh you’re so funny, you foul little madam,’ she thought. Opening the book she got out her red pen. Last week it had been a magazine quiz: “Are you too old to fall in love?”

‘Why does the younger generation always think that they’ve invented sex?’ She thought, I was young once as well you know!  She knew they called her ‘Boobie’ behind her back which creased her up.  ‘I’ve been called worse!’ she chuckled.

Quickly she worked through the rest of the unpromising bunch, making the odd comment in the margin. ‘No, Beth Jones, Queen Elizabeth would not have swept majestically up those stairs, they hadn’t been built yet, – it’s not difficult, do a bit of research!’

‘Must remember to suggest Joanna Harrington thinks about history when she chooses her options.’ She noted. ‘She’s one of the few who’s made an effort, and seems able to explain historical events without getting herself in a muddle.’ It made her sad to see most of the girls putting in so little effort.   She loved the Tudor period. It was one of the things that made her apply for the job at a private girls’ school – the chance to work in such wonderful buildings and immerse herself daily in rooms where history was actually made.

She was lost in her thoughts when her digital watch beeped. Tempting though it was to stay in the staff room with the kettle and the biscuit tin, she had promised herself half an hour in the library before she left and it was already five o’clock. ‘Have a nice weekend’ she called to the couple of teachers still working in the staff-room and made her way down the small flight of stairs and into the library.

‘It’s funny’ she thought to herself as she walked along the polished wooden floor, ‘when you try and walk quietly you just end up making more noise.’ The library was practically deserted save for the figure of Elizabeth Miller the librarian hunched over her table in the corner; and a couple of girls at the other end giggling over a magazine and waiting for their friends to finish in the orchestra. Liz looked up and smiled, well-used to seeing Karen in the reference section.

‘Let me know if you need anything.’ She called, and then her eyebrows furrowed crossly. ‘Oh and by the way, remind me never to get talked into allowing groups of 5A’s to do library duty instead of detention ever again. I mean, what kind of idiot tries to tacky-back a leather book!’ She said this between clenched teeth, holding up the offending article.

‘Looks like a two person job Liz, if we work together we should be able to peel most of it off.’ Karen offered. The two women worked carefully for several minutes, teeth gritted in concentration.   It was a good job the girls at the other end of the library couldn’t hear the hissed stream of curses that escalated as bits of it tore and stuck onto everything. Finally they had got all the offending plastic off.

‘Right I think I’ll be okay with this now. Cotton wool and solvent should get the rest of the sticky off … In fact I think I’ll probably finish it at home with a soothing glass of wine within easy reach. And then I’ll start compiling a list of suitable punishments for the man who invented this despicable stuff… starting with disemboweling!’ She was glaring at the ball of tacky-back now innocently residing in the bin.

‘I don’t want to be late tonight either,’ grinned Karen. ‘Matt said he’ll get chips on his way in so I want to be home by seven. Just need to check out the marriages for 1575 in the parish records. I’ve got a hunch that I might have worked out who this new girl – E. Goodridge might be. Remember the household servants I’ve been researching? Well I knew one of them moved to France – there was a comment about her leaving Lady Anne’s service to get married, and I thought her sister must have gone with her, but joining up the dots, it turns out she carried on working here. If it’s the one I’m thinking of, she’s even got a gravestone in the churchyard next door I saw it in the corner – first one you see.

‘Happy searching. The only chance I get to do any reading these days is to check the labels on the kids’ clothes so I don’t shrink them in the new washing machine we’ve got. I haven’t quite got the hang of it yet. Have a good weekend – doing anything special?’

‘We’ve been invited to my sister’s for Sunday lunch but that’s about it – how about you?’

‘Shopping, taking the boys to football, cleaning, just one long merry-go-round!’

‘You love it really.’ She laughed as she said goodbye to her friend. Karen didn’t have any children. It was the eighties, and Old Palace preferred its teachers to either be married or elderly spinsters; so co-habiting didn’t quite fit the bill. She and Matt would probably get married one day, but until then children wasn’t really a good career move.

Karen had made a list of the servants connected with the royal progress of 1573. The numbers of people who’d attended the Queen was staggering, and she didn’t envy the officer of the black rod (wonderful job title!) who’d had the mind-blowing job of trying to billet everyone. The whole of the Privy Council were there as well as all their attendants and their servants. She’d looked for some of the grooms, chamberers, cooks and seamstresses in the diaries and letters of those who had worked at the Palace. She found it so interesting to find out their stories and realise they had just the same worries – finding the right man, getting fat, rows with relatives and coping with difficult bosses as she did four hundred years later. She wondered about trying to get them published – maybe the people who did the Parent’s Association tours would be interested in some detail, to pad out the talks that they gave.

She knew it was silly being so attached to people that lived so long ago, but being in the same buildings she felt such a connection. She had felt quite sorry for one poor girl. Listed among the women working as servants were ‘K. Fettiman’ and ‘E. Fettiman’ she had assumed they were sisters. The second name had a comment scrawled next to it in the margin – “afflicted”.  A bit of detective work had helped her discover that this woman must have liked the palace because, afflicted or not, she’d carried on working there after she had left the court.

‘Yes! That proves it!’ she whooped triumphantly five minutes later – much to the amusement of the girls at the other end of the library. Ellen Fettiman had married a soldier called Edward Goodridge in the Parish Church next door, two years after the Progress. She had found a marriage certificate amongst the parish records.

Perching on the comfy window seat, she ticked that name off on the list then checked what she had left to do. Next week she could start working on the old plans, to try and discover where the little orchard might have been. She’d found an amusing story about a scandal where a group of servants had tried to make their own cider with the glut of apples one Autumn – and some of them got so drunk that some “unseemly behaviour” ensued!

That would be some light relief before she tried to track down a mysterious ‘M. Parker’ who disappeared without a trace after the summer of 1575. The last entry she could find for her anywhere was in July, her name listed along with all the women working for Lady Anne Russell. But then next to it a smudged note in the margin, something about “ungodly conduct”. What on earth had she been up to? There were comments about her in some of the letters and diaries and everyone commented on what a kind-natured person she was. It was all very mysterious!

Swinging her bag up onto her shoulder, she scooped up the pile of books, then walked briskly out of the library and deposited the books in her pigeon hole. She pulled the door shut behind her and crossed the courtyard, her footsteps echoing on the flagstones.

She wasn’t sure what it was that made her glance up at the window next to the chapel. ‘Funny’ she thought pulling her cardigan tightly round her shoulders, ‘it isn’t usually chilly in May, but something definitely just sent a shiver down my spine.’

Then she began the short walk to her bus stop. ‘Hmm, I’m getting hungry,’ she thought, ‘I hope Matt remembers to get extra chips. Maybe I’ll pick up a bottle of cider on the way home.’

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