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Field Studies Council: Bringing Environmental Understanding to All

1970 - 1974 Rebecca O'Meara, Yorkshire - first Deputy Warden FSC Epping Forest

In 1970 I was appointed as the first Deputy Warden of the new Epping Forest Field Centre. Each Christmas I wrote a letter to my friends - the extracts which follow give an insight into the early days of FSC's first day Centre.

Epping Forest Conservation Centre, High Beach, Loughton, Essex.

Dec. 1st 1970

Dear Friends

I have decided to send you a letter this Christmas, rather than writing a short note on a card.  The above address ismy new one.  We shall be occupying it from Dec.4th.  As you probably know I have been interested in teaching field studies.  I saw the advertisement for the job in January and couldn’t resist applying for it.  I waited for six weeks without hearing any news and then in mid March was called for interview.  It was conducted by a panel of five.  I was asked a great variety of questions and eventually was asked to ‘phone later in the day.  I then ‘phoned and was told I had been appointed Deputy Warden.  I was very thrilled.

The Centre is in the middle of the forest to the west of the A 11.  It is an entirely new building.  It has been paid for by the Corporation of the City of London who control Epping Forest.  It is a day centre for school children mainly in the 9 - 13 year age group.  We will have classes up to and including ‘A’ level and also adults. We will have school classes during term time and will, I expect, have more adults during holidays.  As well as teaching we will run an information desk on all aspects of the forest.  This is for the general public and will be open all the year round. 

I took up my new employment on Sept. 1st.  As the building wasn’t ready it had been arranged that we should spend our time visiting other centres.  A word about our staff:  Paul Moxey is Warden.  He is a geographer with a good deal of teaching experience at Forest Hill Comprehensive School.  His married and has a young boy of five.  Kathleen is a botanist who has just graduated from Westfield College; Andrew, a zoologist has just finished an M.Sc. at Durham and Martyn has done a B.Ed. specialising in Biology/Geography.  I think we will make a good team and I’m looking forward to beginning working with them in Epping.

Since the beginning of Sept. I’ve been visiting 3 other centres.  These centres run courses for VI Formers, College of Ed. and University students and adults.  The courses are residential and last one week.  Each centre can accommodate about 60 students a week.  For the first two weeks I was at Slapton Ley Field Centre.  This is in South Devon about 9 miles from Dartmouth.  It is about 5 minutes walk from the sea.  This centre is the only one that is in a village.  The village itself is very picturesque with thatched cottage and narrow streets.  I enjoyed myself there.  I was able to attend the various courses which were on.  I learnt about life on the seashore.  I never realised before that there were so many creatures living on the shore and that they

could be so interesting.  I also helped with a geography course.  I then drove to Rhyd-y-Creuau which is nr. Betws-y-Coed in North Wales.  There were independent courses on and I was able to go out with them.  I also attended a weekend course on environmental education.  The centre is situated on the east side of the Conway Valley and from there I was able to visit Snowdonia. 

At the beginning of October I went to Malham Tarn Field Centre. Originally I was to spend 2 weeks there but it turned out to be 6 weeks.  The centre is situated on the northern side of Malham Tarn in an area of very striking scenery.  I did quite a bit of teaching while I was there, ‘filling-in’ for staff who were away.  When the teaching season ended on Nov.4th I helped with a variety of jobs but was mainly concerned with making a Staff Laboratory in the Main House.  From Malham we went back to North Wales for the Staff Conference.  It was an opportunity to meet all the staff of the other 9 centres.  It was also the first time all the Epping staff met together.  At all the centres the staff were very friendly and welcoming to us whom Paul called  “the wandering vagrants”.  They really made me feel at home.

After the Staff Conference I went home to Tullamore (in Ireland) for a few days.  I’m spending the week before I go to Epping at Slapton and have had this letter duplicated there.  I imagine when we arrive in High Beach we will be very busy, so I shall keep my news of the new centre for another time.

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January 1971  Staff signatures in my visitors book

Paul A Moxey   Martyn Overton   Andrew J L Fraser   Kathleen Adamiecka
Added later – no date   Vivienne Hyam   Judy Corlett

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Dec. 1st 1971 

 Dear Friends

I am continuing my scheme of last year because, from your replies, I gather you enjoyed having news, rather than a note written on a card.  We have been here just one year, and it has gone very quickly indeed.  I arrived here on Dec. 4th last year in the early afternoon, after a long drive from South Devon.  I was met by Paul, the Warden, his wife,Tricia and little boy and by Andrew.  We had just a bed in our rooms and nothing else – there were curtains.  Later Paul’s furniture arrived and thanks to him we had seven chairs and one table – the Centre’s dining table arrived in mid January!  Gradually we settled in.  Nearly every day we took delivery of a wide variety of goods, until at last the hostel, called Ravensmead, became more like home.

For those of you who haven’t seen the Centre, I will describe it briefly.  The buildings are one three sides of a square consisting on one side of the caretaker’s bungalow and the Warden’s bungalow, across the bottom the hostel block, and on the third side the teaching block.  In Ravensmead we have a kitchen, dining-room, sitting-room, utility room, 2 bathrooms and we each have a bed-sitting room and there are two guest rooms.  The teaching block has three laboratories, cloakrooms and an exhibition area, lecture theatre, a general office, Warden’s office, a research lab., library and utility room.  We didn’t get possession of the teaching block until mid-Feb., and in the interim period we set up an office in the caretaker’s bungalow.  All the buildings are functional in design and have modern fittings and furnishings. 

In April we began taking classes.  We have had a great variety of pupils and personally I have taught everything from 7 yr. olds up to adults.  The greater part of the teaching is done out of doors and the pupils enjoy it, especially when the weather is good.  During term-time we take classes from schools and in the holidays we have groups such as brownies, cub-scouts, girl guides and adults.  This winter we have run evening classes and we are having a series of public lectures and Sunday morning walks.  These are proving popular.  Besides teaching I do quite a bit of administration and I am in charge of the library.  We have now got quite a collection of books on a wide range of topics covering most of the subjects we teach.  It has been quite a job ordering them, and then classifying them.  I enjoy choosing the books and it is nice to see the shelves getting fuller- sometime I hope to find the time to read them all.

The Centre’s big day this year was the Official Opening on June 23rd.  The opening was arranged by the City of London, the gentleman who organises such occasions is the Remembrancer.  We had a couple of visits from City officials looking round the building, pacing up and down outside, debating where it should be this way or that.  We cleaned, polished and put out exhibits for the big day.  Tricia, Kath and I had long debates about clothes, and the pros and cons of wearing or not wearing hats.  After a lengthy search I found a pale blue woollen suit and a cream floppy hat.  A few days before the event, the tent people arrived.  They seemed to spend ages doing very little. 

It was only the morning of the 22nd when the whole marquee and the minor tents were erected.  That morning was quite something!  At one time there was a large lorry blocking the drive, from which the golden chairs from the Guildhall were being unloaded and the following vans arrived:  the milk man, the laundry and the dustmen – there was something of a traffic jam when the police arrived who wanted to check on security for the following day!  In the afternoon when the man from the Ordnance Survey arrived, we assured him there wasn’t usually a huge marquee almost blocking out any view of the building.  The day dawned and fortunately it was fine. After a few last minute jobs, we all put on our “glad rags” and took up our positions. The Lord Mayor of London and other dignitaries arrived and *Prince William arrived at 12.15 pm. After the usual speeches, he unveiled the plaque and was shown round the building.  When the guests had seen the building we were entertained to a sit-down lunch in the huge marquee.  It was a super lunch.  The Prince left at 2 p.m.  It had all been very quick. Everyone was gone by 3 p.m. and we all felt a little “flat”.  We had been working up to the event for days and it was all over in a couple of hours. It was enjoyable while it lasted.  Afterwards life returned to its normal self.

 (*Prince William was the elder son of the Duke of Gloucester and later he was killed in an air crash.)

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Dec. 2nd 1972

Dear Friends

We have had lots of classes at the Centre and were almost fully booked throughout the Summer and Autumn terms.  There are now three Education Authorities who are paying block grants and this guarantees us some income.  The aim of the Centre is that it should be a financially viable unit.  In January the fee will go up to £1.00 per pupil per day.  Even so it is estimated that we will have a £3,000 deficit at the end of the financial year.  I teach a wide variety of pupils, usually from the age of 9 years.  Many of you would have been amused to see me recently participating in the song ‘The Farmer takes a Wife’.  This was when we had one of our few classes of infants.  They really were tiny tots and were taught by their own teacher but I had to lead them through the Forest.  In the afternoon we sat under the trees and had a concert.  One of the songs had a very catchy tune and I only recognised it a couple of weeks later when

I went to see ‘Godspell’. One of the most interesting groups I took during the summer was about 12 deaf pupils.  They came for a walk.  They were aged 14 – 15 years and were quite fascinating.  At first I had some difficulty in understanding them, but by the end of the morning I could make out most of what they were asking.  They were very observant and learnt a good deal in a short time. 

The pupils we have, come from a great range of schools – private preparatory schools, state primary schools, public schools and all types of state secondary school.  I’m sure that working here we get a wide cross-section of pupils, from all kinds of backgrounds.  Some of the young children who visit us, have never been in a forest before and I have had some who are frightened to walk in woodland.  For these children the day is a real experience.  We have our difficult pupils too.  They are ‘bored’, ‘couldn’t care less’ and often apathetic and nothing interests them.  These are very much in the minority but there must be something wrong with the system that produces such teenagers.  VI Form students are usually very interested and work well, and are rewarding to teach.

The staff at the Centre remains the same.  Although as I write this letter, we are advertising for replacements.  Martyn is leaving for a job in Dorset where he will be Deputy Warden at a local authority field centre.  I will miss him as a colleague and as a ‘handyman’ who does jobs on my car.  Judy, our cook is also going, and we hope to find another one, as I don’t fancy doing too much catering.  Paul and Tricia are expecting an addition to their family in March, which mean that we will have a new full-time secretary in the office.  Kath and Andrew are still with us, although Andrew is job hunting as he feels it is time to move. 

With regard to domestic matters, it has been agreed that I should be given another room.  This will mean that I will have 2 rooms, one a study-bedroom and a sitting room with a mini-kitchen hidden in a cupboard.  They will be inter-communicating.  This will mean that I will have, in effect, a small flatlet and I hope to be able to entertain you royally when you come.    I am now visiting furniture departments in shops to get ideas of what to put in my sitting room.  The conversions will be done early in the New Year. 

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January 1973  Staff signatures in my visitors book

Robert Laycock   Sheena Moffat

On the following page with no date
Arthur N Watson   Lyndsay G Warn

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Dec. 12th 1973

Dear Friends

Classes continue to come to us, in what seems to be ever increasing numbers.  Certainly our “teaching season” has extended since last year, and I taught my last class before Christmas on Dec. 7th.  I have just finished writing a lecture called ‘Ireland and Conservation – a personal view’.  This I will give tomorrow here at the Centre.  We run a series of lectures over the winter months and this is one of them.  It has been most interesting preparing it. As it has involved me in a considerable amount of research and I have found out quite a lot of facts I didn’t know before.  Our Big Day at the Centre this year was an informal visit by *Prince and Princess Richard of Gloucester.  They came in the afternoon and they wanted to see us teaching.  I was in charge of a junior class that day.  We did pond dipping in the morning and then came indoors to do painting in the afternoon.  The children were all happily settled and painting quite well when the visitors arrived.  I was introduced to the Royal couple and answered questions about the class.  The Princess seemed especially interested and was very charming.  She talked a good deal to the children and the whole visit went off very smoothly.

 (*Prince and Princess Richard of Gloucester are now the Duke and Duchess of Gloucester)

We have had a number of staff changes at the Centre since last Christmas.  Martyn went to Dorset in January and likes his job there.  I went to stay with him for a weekend during the summer and I was very taken with Dorset, especially the coast.  At present he has a very comfortable flat, but it is due to have some alteration done to it and he will then have a little less space.  I enjoyed the short stay very much and I was very well looked after.  Martyn’s  replacement Robert came in January and left us in August and he has been replaced by Arthur who came in October.  This meant that we were one teacher short from mid-August to mid-October and this put a considerable strain on everyone, as we had almost a full quota of classes.  In the kitchen we have been without a cook since mid-September.  Sheena stayed from Jan.- July and we had a temporary cook for August and September.  As a result we all help with the cooking and washing up.  To ease the chores, we have now ordered a dishwasher – so much for domestic details.  Andrew is leaving us in February to take up the post of  Conservation Officer for the Worcestershire County Naturalists’ Trust.

He has, at last found the kind of job he really wants to do.  I shall miss him, as a colleague who patiently answers my questions on natural history and as a friend.  As yet we do not know who will replace him.  We have also had some additions.  The Moxeys had a baby daughter, Jacqueline, last March and she is growing fast.  Marion, our full-time secretary, has been with us almost a year and she runs the office most efficiently.  She lives locally and comes in to work every day.  Kath is still here though she feels that the time has come to move.  I, too have been job hunting, and recently went to Perth (Scotland) for an interview.  I wasn’t successful – so I shall have to wait and see what the future brings.

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Post Script  February 2013    

Martyn and Kath married and are now living in Cornwall.

Andrew remained for the rest of his career in his post with the Worcestershire Naturalists Trust.  He died on 28th May 2003.

Paul Moxey died 12th August 2007.  His wife, Tricia, lives in Essex and still helps at Epping Forest Field Centre.

Lyndsay G Warn married Keith Chell.  She has also served on the Executive Committee of the Field Studies Council.

I have no information about other former members of staff.

I moved to Kindrogan Field Centre as Assistant Warden in May 1974 and I remained there until December 1979.  I did not write annual Christmas letters from there.  From January 1980 – July 1991 I worked in boarding schools, first in Denbigh, North Wales and afterwards in Richmond, North Yorkshire where I still live.