Strangers at the Farm School by Josephine Elder

Strangers at the Farm School cover

Strangers at the Farm School by Josephine Elder was first published in 1940 but the setting is September 1938, the new academic year for The Farm School. There are a lot of changes, the school has become very popular and has almost doubled the amount of pupils that they had. The original pupils aren’t too happy about that, and the new people aren’t terribly impressed with the place at all. Most of them are locals but there are also two Jewish refugees from Germany, a brother and sister.

Johanna and Hans have had to leave their parents in Germany, and in recent years they had had a horrible time because of Hitler’s attitude to Jews, people they had formerly thought of as friends had turned against them, and their father is now in a concentration camp. Their mother had managed to get them on a Kindertransport train to England. But Hans in particular isn’t happy about being at the Farm School and he struggles with the lack of rules after the rigidity of what he has been used to in Germany.

Annis is voted head of the school, and Arthur is not happy about it, he thinks the head should be a boy – him.

“I rather think he’ll want watching,” Kitty said. “He’s the sort of person who thinks it’s all wrong for a girl to be in authority over boys. Kicked up a fuss at first because he had to have lessons from mistresses as well as masters, and in his family the girls have to make the boys’ beds for them, and the boys don’t do anything at all in return. There would be some sense in it if they cleaned the girls’ shoes for them, but they don’t, they loll about in a lordly sort of way.”

I think this is my favourite of the three books in this series. Josephine Elder was so forward thinking for the time the book was written in. Thirty years later my mother still thought that education was wasted on daughters because they “ended up pushing a pram anyway”. My brothers were treated like little household gods while I did all the housework! Can you tell I am still bitter about it?!

Anyway, I suppose the subtext of this book is that people shouldn’t be judged too quickly as often they have talents that are unexpected, particularly the teachers.

I was slightly disappointed that at the beginning of the book young Kenneth’s death (in the previous book) is written as being almost a blessing, because he was mentally handicapped. That attitude was rife in Germany at the time with such people being killed in hospitals as they weren’t deemed to be useful in a country which was fashioning itself as the ‘master race’. But I don’t think most people in Britain would have thought like that.

Cherry Tree Perch by Josephine Elder

Cherry Tree Perch by Josephine Elder is the second book in the author’s ‘Farm school’ series, it was first published in 1939.

In this one Annis is back at the Farm school in April for the new term. The Farm School is run by her friend Kitty’s family and the place is a bit of a misnomer as the school is very far from being all about animals. Some children are there to concentrate on the sciences, music or art, and the easy-going atmosphere seems to make them blossom. Annis learns to ride and gets her own horse and takes part in a gymkhana at the Agricultural Show.

Annis is thrilled to be with her best friend Kitty again but things have changed as Miss de Vipon, a rather eccentric person is now living in one of the cottages and Kitty is spending a lot of time with her. Annis is frankly jealous of that relationship, but there’s more to worry about when haystacks begin to be deliberately set alight. Who would put the farm in such danger?

There’s just one more book in this series and I’ll get around to reading that one – sometime.

The idea for the Farm School might have been inspired by the Summerhill School which was founded in the early 1920s, it has a similar ethos anyway.

Exile for Annis by Josephine Elder

With the Hogmanay celebrations being cancelled in Scotland and meeting up with people being discouraged, I needed a trip into a different world via a book, and Exile for Annis by Josephine Elder hit the spot. It was first published in 1938 and it’s the first book in the author’s Farm School series.

Annis is 14 years old and has been quite ill, her mother thinks it isn’t a good idea for her to go back to her school which is an ordinary High School that concentrates on a lot of sports. Annis loves her school, in fact she’s quite disdainful of any others, she thinks the way her school is run is perfect, but when it’s described it’s evident to the reader that the school and its pupils have fostered a rather elitist attitude as they all believe that any other schools are inferior. So when her parents decide that Annis will be sent to a school in the country Annis is horrified, she thinks it sounds awful, but she can’t wriggle out of it as her parents are going to be away from home for some time.

Annis soon learns that her prejudices were misplaced as she blossoms in the more relaxed atmosphere of the farm school and finds new friends. It’s a surprise to her that although the pupils don’t seem to be studying anything like as hard as they would if they had been at the High School they still all pass their important exams, and they also learn how to care for animals and do farm work. Despite some difficulties the experience has been a positive one as Annis has met people she would not have encountered at her old school and it has all contributed to enriching experiences for her, and for most of the people she encounters.

It was an enjoyable read. I had never come across the name Annis before but it’s explained in the book that it is a Scottish name for a girl, but I’ve certainly never heard of it before.

New Books

I’ve had to resort to buying books online so here are my recent acquisitions.

Books Again

Escape from Loch Leven by Mollie Hunter is obviously about Mary, Queen of Scots. Loch Leven Castle, which is close to where I live is one of the several places she managed to escape from. This one is aimed at those aged over 11 – I come into the category!

Evelyn Finds Herself by Josephine Elder is a girls’ school book, one of the best of the genre apparently. I certainly enjoyed reading it recently, it’s unusual that it’s set in a fairly ordinary day school, rather than a posh boarding school.

Val Forest in the Fifth by Evelyn Smith is another school story, I have hope that this one will be good, the author taught at Glasgow High School until 1923.

The remaining three are all by Elizabeth Goudge.

Smoky House
The Valley of Song
Henrietta’s House

I’ve never read any of her books for young people so it’ll be interesting to see what they’re like anyway

The last book I bought for all of £1 and it was bought in an actual shop when the lockdown was lifted briefly last summer. I bought Every Woman’s Doctor Book just for the charm of the cover. It has no publication date on it but going by the woman’s hat and hair I think it must have been around the 1920s. It says in this book that women in labour should be lying on their side, that is obviously where I went wrong!

I think that bookshops will be opening again on April 26th, so not long now.

Evelyn Finds Herself by Josephine Elder

Evelyn Finds Herself by Josephine Elder was first published in 1929 but my copy is a modern paperback which has been reprinted by Girls Gone By, actually although it’s a paperback (I prefer hardbacks) it’s still a lovely book and there are 46 pages of very interesting information at the beginning. There’s some history of education in England and Scotland which had/have very different systems. Scotland’s system was way ahead of the English one which only really got into gear for ordinary children in the 1930s. It was the 1920s before commissions recommended that secondary education should be available free to all children in England. In contrast in Scotland education was sponsored by the state from the 18th century. There are also some interesting photographs of the original book covers, and some old schools and teachers.

Unusually this book is set in an ordinary girls’ secondary day school rather than a boarding school so the reader sees the girls at home as they visit each other to do homework together and also as they enjoy each other’s company outside school and socialise with their families.

Evelyn’s best friend is Elizabeth but when they meet up at school after the summer holidays they haven’t seen each other for eight weeks. It’s evident from the beginning that although they’re great friends they’re quite different characters. Elizabeth is always thinking ahead, such as planning to get what she thinks will be the most interesting seat locations in their new classrooms. Evelyn is altogether more serious about her studies.

When Elizabeth seems to be more interested in being friends with another girl Evelyn is surprised, she can’t see the attraction and the girls grow apart somewhat. There’s no animosity, just a coolness but Evelyn is hurt. It’s all character forming though, and all so familiar to anyone looking back on their own schooldays. I particularly enjoyed the way the girls were disdainful of the ‘Home Life’ department and the girls who were too stupid to do anything else – it felt so true to life. I just remember being astonished that anyone would need lessons on such things as washing clothes! I had been doing all the housework in my family home since I was ten years old.

This book is so well written and observed with the teachers also coming across as human beings with a life outside their workplace. This is a really enjoyable read so I’ll definitely be looking for more books by the author.