HAZEL POWELL [HP]
Interviewed by Craig Fees [CF]
25th September, 1997
[Please note. The interviewer had an intrusive and then-undiagnosed asthmatic cough, whose failure to disrupt the interview underlines the interviewee's generosity, patience, and capacity to focus.]
HP Now, you want me to start with where I come into everything?
CF Yes. And where were you born, and things like that.
HP Well, I had a very interesting set of parents. My father, Eric Charles Knight, was actually known to us as Beaver for a long time. But he was in a seed company at the - towards the end of the war, the Great War, and at seventeen was sent abroad to buy the seed for the firm because all the older men were in the war. And so he was sort of very independent very early, and he disliked his parents' strong religious background, and he went off and lived as a hermit on Pine - sorry, I can't think of the name. It's Epping Forest, anyway. And he was - the other person who lived there was Lawrence of Arabia. And Lawrence of Arabia had a workshop for sort of unemployed people in which he taught them carpentry. And so my father made some items of furniture in those days at Pole Hill before he was married. And then he met my mother through camping. She was camping with the Guides at - there's a site, I think, not at Epping, but the other woodland. Never mind. And they got married at a little church in Epping Forest, something like the Beeches. I need to look up these names. And they lived first in a caravan, a gypsy caravan, at this Pine Hill - Pole Hill, that's better. And then after a while my father - my grandfather had given them I think it was £50 as a wedding present. I don't think it was £500, but it was enough to buy seven acres of land at Chinner, and so they went to live there. And at that stage my father was working on a farm as a farm hand. And they built, at Chinner - they first lived in little wooden huts and dug the garden, and they got a lot of flint out of the garden, and so they decided that they could build a bungalow with this flint, and so save on buying the bricks. And so they built a flint bungalow with brick corners and bricks around the windows, and lived in it. And they didn't really mean to be builders, they merely built their own house because that was the cheapest way. But a friend of theirs liked it very much and asked them to build him a house at Kings Langley, which they did. And then two or three years later he wrote there was some more land available at Kings Langley, "Come and buy this bit of felled woodland and try building some more of your bungalows." And my father was tempted into doing this. And this led - I think in the interval he'd built some bungalows at Chinner. That must have been when they were built, because there are - oh, five or six there. And then he went to Kings Langley and built flint bungalows for the rest of his life. And there's a lovely lot of them together up Rutler’s Lane. And so I was born in this period when we had a bit of a house to live in, more like a garage, at Kings Langley. But we had the house at Sunley Bank, Chinner, and I was actually born there.
So I was born at home to this couple who already belonged to the Kibbo Kift, and probably already belonged to nudist colonies, which were another thing that interested them, and were rather unusual people. And I had two older brothers. Well, come the time for school - oh, they did a lot of work for Rolfe Gardner about this - when I was about two. They were asked by Rolfe Gardner to go and stay on his farm down in Dorset, near Shaftesbury, the name eludes me. But he was a man who was possibly a member of the Kibbo Kift. He was certainly very interested in youth work, and a lot of young Germans used to come and stay there. And there were a lot of songs written at this period which he was involved with. And his son is a famous musician now. And so we'll have to follow him up some time. But anyway, by the time I was coming up to school, my two brothers had been first to a school in Hemel Hempstead, which was a straightforward boys' prep school, quite formal, fee paying I think, and my oldest brother, Keith, had not been very happy there. So he had then gone to Jordans and had boarded with a couple, and had attended the Quaker School at Jordans. And then it was suggested that he might go to Forest School, which he did for a year. So then when I became five, I was sent to join him at Forest School. And I've got a hilarious account in the other room, my school report from the first term, which doesn't sound as though I did anything much except grizzle. I don't think it was as bad as that really, but I'll show it to you later. So there we were, Keith and I, at Forest School, which was a boarding school, which quite suited my parents' way of life, because they were both doing the building all the time, so they were quite glad to have us sort of safely somewhere. And so after a year they decided that really the middle brother ought to be with us. But in reality he was probably much happier at the day school he went to, and might have benefitted from being left there. But we were all at Forest School in the New Forest, and I have not very many memories of it, which I think means that it was happy. Cuthbert Rutter was the head. But the interesting thing about Forest School that isn't widely proclaimed is that when the Order of Woodcraft Chivalry decided to have a school, at first it was Paul Abbott who was to be the headmaster, and his wife, Marjory Abbott, was the sister of Arthur Cobb. And they started the school. But people - some of the pupils caught - I think it was scarlet fever, it was something rather nasty, and so all the pupils were sent home and the school was closed down for that term. And then it was re- started with Cuthbert Rutter, possibly just one term later. But Paul and Marjory Abbott went on to found a wonderful shop in London that sold wooden toys for children, and very good play materials, rather in the style of Galt now. So Cuthbert Rutter was running Forest School, and we were all there, and it moved to Whitwell. And I don't know whether I should say this on the recording, but Cuthbert Rutter married a nurse at this late stage, and she was a sort of hospital matron, very strict on hygiene. And her influence on the school was rather disastrous. It altered it tremendously, because I'm told that when we left about half the pupils left the same term. And it was this change of attitude of the school. But since Helen is still alive, you can cut this bit out. So we left after a year at Whitwell and went to Summerhill, all three of us. And we were - I was there for all the rest of my education, about nine years. And the boys left before me, because of course they got to sixteen before me. But I left at sixteen, having enjoyed Summerhill very much, and I still have plenty of friends from that period. And I went to Battersea Polytechnic, would you believe. I lived in Hertfordshire, but two of my Summerhill friends were going to Battersea, so I wanted to go there too. And Hertfordshire, more affluent in those days, paid my fares to travel to Battersea daily. And I sometimes stayed overnight with Frances Green, and I usually came home very late, and walked up - you had the choice of climbing the railway bridge, which wasn't very - which got you - sort of it had a six foot wall at one end out on to the fields, and that would get you over the railway line - or walking the proper way and through the churchyard, or walking a slightly longer way round. So I often went through the churchyard and sometimes the porter bunked me over the end of the bridge and I had the short cut. But I did this for a year, I think, and then - then I went to Birkbeck College for another year, and there I was studying Physics and Maths, in evening classes. My brother was at Birkbeck and got me this job, and I was the Lecture Room Assistant, which meant I made photographs and cleaned the blackboard, or sort of re-photographed all the slide collection and mounted them again. Just jobs like that. I was there for a year, and then I - I had sort of applied for a teacher training course, not very reasonably, but just because somebody had suggested it, and I got my - I got through a letter saying I had been offered a place at Gypsy Hill. And doing the Physics by evening class was very hard, particularly the Applied Maths, so that I moved and did the teacher training course, which my mother told me afterwards was completely silly, because I could have got into a day college to do the course, having completed the first year. Anyway, that's what I did. My mother and father were separated at this time, so my mother didn't have as much influence at that period as she might have done. So I went to Gypsy Hill, which was a two year course in those days, and for the middle vacation you had to do three weeks residential care of children. And just before the summer came, two of my college friends, Margaret Brown was one, and Brenda, I think, went to a staff training course run by Forest School Camps, and came back and announced that this was something we could all do for our residential period, and had somehow mentioned my name to Beefy, and so knew that I was a former pupil. And so that was it. Four of us went and did our residential week at Forest School in 1970. That was Stella Hedger and Susie Palsland, as she is now, and Margaret and myself. And I think Brenda and another girl from New Zealand. And so that was sort of why I got drawn back into Forest School again. Do you want to pause now?