People Profile – Life’s Lessons

Rosemary Bridge, retired schoolteacher

I was born in 1941 when my parents were living in Colwyn Bay, in Wales.  My family moved there because my father was in charge of canning food for the troops during World War 2 and had been seconded to Colwyn Bay for safety reasons.  Once he completed the role, we moved back to Claygate, in Surrey then moved and settled in New Malden, in 1945.

My parents met one another while they were skating on an ice rink  in Streatham.  At the time my father didn’t share my mother’s Christian faith but she encouraged him to attend church where he found faith for himself.  My father was truly in love with my mother and my memories of our family life are absolutely brilliant. 

My father (left) and Sir Jack Drummond working together on designs for food canning

Compared to my sister though, my Christmas and birthday gifts were pretty unremarkable. One golden memory was receiving a microscope as a present, though at the time, I had no idea what it was.  My father was a scientist and I believe he thought his first child would be a boy and then I came along!  He brought me up to love science for which I’m very grateful. My younger sister was given beautiful little dolls with frilly dresses while I was given things like a chemistry set and the microscope.

My sister (left) and I in the garden at New Malden
My parents just off to see the Queen in 1951

When I was 10 years old, I accompanied my parents to Buckingham Palace to watch my father being given the OBE by the Queen, for his services to feeding the troops.  My sister wasn’t able to come because there were limited places.  It’s a very precious memory – I saw the late Queen for 2 hours that day.  

I grew up in New Malden where my first school was a tiny prep school called The Study, run by 3 maiden ladies and I stayed there until I was 8.  However, when I went onto Wimbledon High school, I actually started to enjoy science, when it was taught as three separate subjects, and I was encouraged to work much harder, though I never enjoyed biology!

Me, circled, in my final year at Wimbledon High School

My parents insisted I learned to play the piano and I had to do 20 minutes practice a day. If my mother found me reading a book instead of playing the piano, I would be in trouble. My other interests were skiing and walking so many of our holidays were around those activities. I remember visits to Switzerland in the summer where we skied on a glacier which was marvellous, but I got the worst sunburn ever while skiing in a sun top that year, on top of the glacier surrounded by snow.

I loved skiing and our family holidays in Switzerland

I finished my years at Wimbledon High by taking my A’ levels which I found hard.  One person in my year went onto be a lecturer at Cambridge University and another became a professor at one of the London universities and then there was me! My father really wanted me to pursue science so I did a General Science degree at Leicester University, which meant studying Chemistry for 3 years, Physics and Maths for 2 years and logic (I never was very logical!), for 1 year.  I ended up getting a 2:2 degree which was considered quite good in those days but nowadays the only degree that seems to be considered good is a 1st.  

When I graduated I consulted the Career Guidance people who enquired “What do you want to do with your science degree?”  I said I wanted to take up medical research and was promptly told I wasn’t bright enough for that and I’d better take up teaching!

I wasn’t certain that was possible as I’d only done a degree and theoretically you weren’t supposed to teach unless you’d done an extra Dip-Ed certificate in those days.  I didn’t want to do any further studying at university so I went to Surbiton High school, where my sister had attended until the previous year.  They were desperate for someone to teach A’ level physics and maths.  I don’t remember having a proper interview but they took me on.  I was given free rein to purchase anything I liked for the laboratory. I started teaching there immediately after I graduated when I was just 21.

I had no experience of teaching whatsoever so I was grateful for the support of the older teachers who ‘coached’ me along.  They would often listen outside my lab and if there was too much noise they would comment on it later in the staff room. The staff room was another experience altogether with an unwritten hierarchy of who sits where, who can do what etc, starting with the older teachers and filtering down to the younger ones. 

I stayed there until l got married in 1967 when I moved to a school in Croydon. It wasn’t plain sailing there as the Headmistress identified the fact that I wasn’t a qualified teacher, in the eyes of the State.  However, after observing me teach a lesson on magnets for just 10 minutes, it seems I passed the test and the job of head of physics was mine.  The magnets did the trick and I was awarded a DFE as a qualified teacher.

Branse Burbridge – My husband Graham’s cousin and famous fighter pilot

As I mentioned I moved to the school in Croydon after I got married.  I met my husband Graham at a Christian Union school training conference, 2 years before.  I wasn’t keen to attend the conference but my mother insisted that if I didn’t go to something like that, I’d never meet a man!  So off I went and Graham and I found ourselves leading a group together.  My father already knew of Graham through links with an organisation called Scripture Union (SU). I’d heard of Graham’s cousin Branse Burbridge, (inset) who was a famous pilot.  He shot down the biggest number of war planes during the night in the 2nd World War. I’d vaguely met Graham before but thought he was a bit old at the time.  He’s nearly 9 years older than me.  

We interacted together in the group at the conference and I suggested, “We’ve got to split this group into 2 at some stage. I’ll stay in this nice room with one half and you go with the other half of the group to the hair dryer room.”  This he did and always reminded me of the fact for years later.

A few weeks after the conference, Graham invited me to a school dinner at the Houses of Parliament to celebrate Wilson’s Grammar Schools 350th anniversary. I hesitated but eventually accepted the invitation.  However, just beforehand, Graham phoned me to highlight that Winston Churchill was seriously ill and probably about to die, and if he did so before Saturday evening, the dinner would be cancelled. Well Winston Churchill was an absolute star and died the following morning around about 8 o’clock. If he’d died 24 hours before, Graham may have never invited me out again!

We got on really well right from the beginning and our subsequent date was a walk on the Devil’s Punchbowl, following which he took me to a delightful afternoon tea in Haslemere.  

Our wedding day, we were very happy together

He was a ‘very proper’ young man! About 26 months later we were married in 1967.  Our first House was in South Norwood, just round the corner from Crystal Palace football ground.  We were blessed with 4 children in as many years; 3 sons and 1 daughter.

Graham and I with our four young children

Graham worked as a school councillor and had years of teaching and then a year’s training to work in this role. When he later changed jobs to take up a job at Broadwater School, in Godalming, we moved house to live in Cranleigh.  The children were very young at the time.  I knew Cranleigh well because I knew the Nightingale family through the SU Beach mission at Perranporth, in Cornwall.  I phoned Gillian Nightingale who tipped folk off at Cranleigh Baptist church to welcome this new young family into the church and that’s where we settled.

My opportunity to get a new teaching post came quite by accident 2 years later.  I’d made friends with Enid Howland (who everyone in the village knew). She was a science teacher at Glebelands school and would cycle to work.  One day I bumped into her cycling to school at the wrong time of day.  I asked, “Why are you going to school now Enid?”  She replied, “Because they’re short of science teachers”.  I quickly responded, “If they need any odd days filled with science teaching, I’ll help”. I received a phone call from the school a couple of hours later! By then, 3 of our children were at school and I was called in occasionally, to do supply teaching and then part time teaching.  By the time our 4th child was in year 10, I took on a full-time job at Glebelands.

Of course, as our own children attended the local village schools, it meant they went onto attend Glebelands and on a few occasions I taught my own children. Our daughter Pippa still remembers the day when I made a few of her science class hold hands at the front of the class, to teach how negative and positive atoms join together. 

I was subsequently put in charge of Health and Safety and would do inspections with local councillors to improve facilities and make the school safer.  I also helped Miss Dale, a formidable lady, run the Christian Union where pupils met regularly to discuss biblical issues and principles.  One day Pippa asked if we could change the name of the group. As we were driving up the A3 a while later and approached a large junction she had a ‘light bulb’ moment “Let’s call it Interchange!” which we did. The group thrived and we would take the Interchange group on weekends away.  We would take anyone who wanted to get involved and we had a great time.

Pupils loved doing outdoor, fun experiments

I thoroughly enjoyed my years at Glebelands – it was absolutely wonderful and I taught there until I retired in 2002. I loved my job and before changes were introduced by the Government, which made teaching so much more complicated, a teacher could do whatever they liked in any order from the teaching syllabus within reason.  I remember at the time of the Chernobyl Disaster I stopped my ordinary teaching that week and got the pupils to think through how the disaster happened, why it had happened and things like that. At other times if we had a particularly snowy day, we went out and learned about how to make snowballs using presssure. I remember we made snowballs that were about a metre high by rolling them around the playing fields. 

Monkeying around together
A trip to the Magna Carta memorial at Runnymede

I was put in charge of organising trips and would get really good deals from the coach drivers. I made sure I was in charge of any trips to the Science Museum or Marwell Zoo.  In those days we didn’t have to do H&S risk assessments that are required now.  

I opted to teach low ability groups because they were good fun and I remember taking one group on a trip to the Isle of Wight with another helper. 

We travelled by train and boat. We had half an hour of science when we arrived walking on the beach, looking at shells and beach combing. Afterwards they were allowed to look around the local town  (they were a top year group, aged 15-16 years). I said “We will sit here and I want you all back at 3 o’clock”. They all duly returned at 3 o’clock and when I asked one young man what he’d got up to, he said “Ma’am I spent all day on the beach.” I said “Oh that’s wonderful, so you did lots of science then.” He just smiled and said “There were all these foreign birds and they didn’t have nothing on top!”. Quite an education but do you know,  not one child ever got into trouble, they all would come back on time and that would happen even when we went to the London museums by train. I trusted them, that’s the word and they knew I organised the trips because I wanted them to enjoy themselves and make learning fun.

My final year science students on their last day of term

Another thing I enjoyed was baking cakes and biscuits for the staff.  I always made sure I had some for staff meetings because the more food I cooked, the less time we had to spend talking!

It has been a steep learning curve for me though.  I remember in my early days at Glebelands, my classroom was on the ground floor. I’d never taught in a comprehensive school before. During my first lesson I thought I would teach the class about the house fly and drew a beautiful diagram of the fly in chalk, on the blackboard.  When I turned around there was nobody there, they’d all crept out of the window. I think they thought I was a soft touch but I soon got them all back indoors.  I never ever lost a pupil and tried to make science fun. I did one experiment using milk powder blown across a Bunsen burner which produced a flame about a metre long. I warned the students to get out of the way because a huge flame was about to appear. They didn’t believe me until they saw the flame coming towards them and then would quickly shift sideways.

I taught at Glebelands school from 1976 until 2002.  I began my teaching life in an independent girls grammar school and ended up in a state comprehensive school which was so much more fun.  There was such a wide variety of children who attended Glebelands.  I remember one girl I taught, who was in the bottom science group got double A, in her final exams.  When relating this to a teaching colleague, instead of praising my teaching abilities, he commented she was probably in the wrong science group! So many of the children in the lower groups thought they could only get the lowest exam grades but this girl worked her socks off. 

End of year official photograph, 1995-1996

Every year I taught at Glebelands, August was a special month – exam results were out. Top groups I taught physics to obtained excellent results through their ability and hard work. My lower groups results were always a real credit to their interest in science and their desire to do their very best. I am still so proud of the success of my Glebelands students then and since they left school

Reflecting on my teaching years, I think my father inspired me because he made science fun right from when I was young. I think whatever subject I’d have taught I’d have enjoyed it because I enjoy interacting with children. Most children need help and understanding, a listening ear especially if they’ve experienced broken relationships. I once had a pupil who was going through a tough time and was in tears in my class. I took him out of the room and gave him a hug which you weren’t supposed to do. I thought if they ever stop me hugging I’ll give up teaching altogether. 

I think teaching is a wonderful job, especially if you have children because you have the same school holidays. You don’t have to find someone to look after your children when you’re working. I’ve only recently given up teaching altogether. After I retired from Glebelands, I taught for Access to Education, a Surrey organisation  for children out of school until the beginning of Covid Lockdown, in 2020.

My Christian faith has been a lifeline throughout, it gives me hope no matter what difficult circumstances arise.  In one recent year my step mother, my husband and my sister all died.  Each of them had a Christian faith and believing there’s life after death reassures me I will see them again one day.

SU holiday, Rougemont, Switzerland, 1994

Graham and I always did things together.  We ran the Hobbies Club at Cranleigh Baptist church for years.  For 25 years we ran a SU holiday in Switzerland in SU’s Swiss chalet.  The holiday was for families with teenage children and we met many families who I still keep in contact with today.  It helped the teenagers to meet other children their age and realise the Christian life wasn’t a soft option and that it could actually be fun and exciting.  While we were there we took the service each week, in the English speaking church.  They said it was the highlight of their church year to have us with them. 

Enjoying the view. Graham in Rougemont, Switzerland, 1994

It’s been great to have a husband who I could work and do exciting things with.  I miss him very much but before he died he was able to pray with each of our children and at his funeral we were able to rejoice that he’s gone to be with God.

Nowadays I’m a trustee at Rowley’s and a Parish Councillor. Both of these roles are quite challenging but the joyful thing is I know so many people in Cranleigh. People either phone or come to talk to me (especially on dog walks) and I can answer queries and life is still very full. I attend Ewhurst Baptist church, which is a small, growing church and that’s really exciting. I regularly play the piano for the services which I enjoy.

The challenges I face living alone are the same as other friends who have lost their partners.  The winter evenings are hard, but I get through them knowing spring is on its way.  My grandchildren are all grown up now so I’m free in that respect but I’ve got a very well known, large dog – Bruno.  I find dog walking is a wonderful way of getting to know people.

Bruno and I

For anyone embarking on a teaching career my advice would be to make sure you’re really organised. I think teaching is very hard these days because it’s so prescribed. When I taught, I could plan a lesson on magnets for example, and if the students looked bored I could change tack in the middle of the lesson and teach another part of the syllabus and return to magnets later. I had far more freedom in how I taught. It didn’t mean to say I wasn’t teaching towards exams, I never had a failure at A-Level all the time I taught physics at that level. But we had fun and I think that’s important. You’ve got to make teaching fun.

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