Thursday, 12 January 2017

The Nature Club - Wilshere-Dacre School, Hitchin

Does anyone recall The Nature Club, in the quad at Wilshere-Dacre School? I remember it with great fondness. Although I can't quite believe I craddled a Chinese rat on my small knees.   They'd arrived in the mid-sixties, and were a creamy yellow colour, with very long tails.
The story of the club can be traced back to around 1960, when Mr T. Morris, (staff 1948-1987) started the club at Mr Moles' request.  The club was especially for 3rd and 4th year pupils to get them used to handling and caring for animals.  Originally the pets resided in the east quadrangle, the senior end of the school at that time, but when Mr H. Edwards (staff 1952-1967/1972-1977) gave the school some budgies, which subsequently bred, it was time for an aviary to be built.  The aviary was built in 1965 by Mr Morris from the wire frames which had previously covered the school windows during the war.  It was housed in the east quad, while some of the animals were then transferred to the west quad.  The birds remained in the east quad, and, in 1974, a new aviary replaced the hand-built one.  Apart from budgies other birds were kept, including, in the mid 1970s, two zebra finches.  In 1979 the aviary was the residence of some baby chicks, which the club had bred.

During the nature club's run, children had a fair amount of responsibility caring for the pets.  Feeding (the school canteen supplied peelings), cleaning and generally looking after the animals was all part of being a club member.  A rota system was used for children to care for the animals at weekends and during the holidays.  Children often took sick animals to the Grove Road vet.  Lindsay Taylor (pupil 1961-1965) remembers:  'I fed baby guinea pigs with an eye dropper when their mother was dropped and died.  I kept them in my airing  cupboard at home.'  Miranda Summers (pupil 1974-1978) remembers regularly taking home a tortoise named Speedy which ended up becoming a permanent resident at her house.  Such responsibility, however, could be hazardous as the late Pat Hewett recalled:

'My son, who was a pupil at the school in the 1970s, brought home a hamster; the creature was very noisy during the night so I covered the cage with my son's anorak.  The next morning there was nothing left of the inside of the anorak, the hamster had completely devoured it.  I worried the animal had eaten it and feared for its life - but it was fine.'

The Nature Club had some unusual animals over the years.  One pupil recalls some ferrets being kept and, of course, there were the Chinese rats.

Mr Morris ran the nature club for many years, with the assistance of other teachers, including Mr Parker. He handed over the reins to Mrs Maggie Bell  (staff 1974-1983) in 1974, continuing as the club's treasurer until its closure.

 The Nature Club organised its own activities and annual outings to Whipsnade and London Zoo.  

Pet shows took place over the years.  In the sixties children would receive certificates for their pets from the R.S.P.C.A.  The 1975 show was particularly memorable, with over 100 children of the Nature Club taking part and animals great and small were entered for the events.
The Nature Club closed its doors in 1981.  In 1993 the quads were completely re-furbished.

By the late 1990s the quads are quiet areas, quite a contrast to the hustle and bustle of the Nature Club. The west quad had a fountain, a pond with fish and tables and chairs.  And by then the east quad had a small fountain, a statue of  St Christopher and four benches. 

Hats off to the Past, Coats off to the Future by Amanda Brittany.          

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