...offered in celebration of the life and gifts of James King
James King died peacefully at home on March 8th, 2017. He became Director of the Caldecott Community for children following the death of the Community's founder, Leila Rendel, in 1969, having arrived at the Community with his family in 1961; and was Director until retiring in 1992. James King's written reflections of three decades at the Community are available on the Caldecott Community Association's website, entitled "Father to the Fatherless".
In February 2012 PETT's oral historian, Gemma Geldart, visited James King and his wife Tess at their home in Kent. In this very brief selection from the interview she recorded, James King begins by speaking of the magic of the Matron, Miss E - Miss Easton - ; of what he learned from her, and how he applied it. He also mentions how he thought of the girls and boys who found themselves at the Caldecott Community, using words such as "courageous" and "inspiration".
We are grateful to James King for the interview, and for his permission afterwards to use it; and we are grateful to Caldecottian Jean "Moley" Costello for her transcription during Caldecott Archive Weekends.
"That was Miss E, Miss Easton, and I learnt a lot from her because I could see that what she, her way onto managing these children was absolutely brilliant. I remember her going into, there was a little dormitory of five boys. Now boys are much easier to deal with I should say, than five girls at the same age. These were 11yr olds and they had been rioting and throwing pillows at each other, and turning things upside down and she went in and I sat and watched and she said now “lets sit down and talk about this and how it started and where we are with all this”. And the boys just sat down and talked, and I thought this was absolutely brilliant.So, a short time after that I was told by Miss Dave, when we were just about to go into a staff meeting. She said, “James there is a riot on the top floor of girls”.
"This was all the girls over the age of 11 slept in the attics. So there were about 30 of them, I suppose, and I went up the stairs to this area and I tried to open the door to get in and I could only open it about that much, and I could see that there were beds, iron beds that had been taken to bits and been piled on top of each other. Fire extinguishers had been let off. You know, there was a jolly old riot going on (laughs) and I just applied Miss E's tactics, I said, I said through the door “I'd like all this put back, and I'll come back in 20 minutes and we will sort things out a bit, shall we”. And the person who came to the door said “alright”, and I came back 20 minutes later and all the beds were back. The trouble was that, the fire extinguishers had been squirted all over the mattresses, bedlinen (laughs). I wasn't going to sort that out, I was leaving that to Miss Ethel Davis, but I was just taken by the fact that these children were rather an exceptional lot very brave, very courageous.
"The mere fact that they had come to Caldecott was because they had made such a nuisance of themselves wherever they were, that the only thing that anybody could think of was that they should go away to a place like Caldecott. So they were an inspiration in a way. When you felt very tired going back at the beginning of a new term, the children were all buoyed up, inspirationally happy and cheerful and wanting to get on with the term and (laughs) and there you were feeling slightly down in the dumps. And of course, in those days too, you only had one day off in the week, which would start after breakfast and finish at bedtime (laughs). So you had a day when you could, you know, as long as it wasn't early closing, you had a day when you could get away but not much of a day (laughs)."