Miss Snowdon-Smith, still scary after all those years

Moving down from Bishop’s Sqaure is the lovely thoroughfare Watts Avenue.

The retired solicitor Mr Brien Stigant, of Maidstone Road , Chatham, wrote: “My maternal grandmother, Mrs Hunt, a refugee from the Irish Troubles, lived in Watts Avenue in the 1920s and as a small boy I often stayed with her. I remember the Italian organ grinder who used to go up and down Watts Avenue, complete with monkey.

“Granny took me to tea with her GP, Dr Dartnell (or was it Dutnell?) whose residence and surgery was at what is now the Fontenay nursing home, Incidentally my mother died there years later and my son was born there. The good doctor was an avid collector of antique firearms and he showed me an early multi-barrelled pistol that he had obtained from the dockyard.

“At the back of the garden was unearthed part of an Anglo-Saxon graveyard, the warriors being interred with their swords. Perhaps they had been involved in fighting off the Danes, some of whose skins, it is alleged, were nailed to the main door of the cathedral.

“In the 1920s I attended the Chestnuts school in Watts Avenue, run by the formidable Miss Snowdon-Smith. She was a severe disciplinarian and handy with a ruler! In later life, and from one of my children’s books, I could not help thinking of her as Dame Slap. She could still be seen leading her charges in crocodile, just after the Second World War.

“I have a copy of the school play on December, 1929, sent to me by the late John Hoby, the Rochester accountant. He sang; I was an Elf. Other names included M Hordern, G Clarabut, R Douglas, M Wallace, Randall, J Wragge and many others.

“Years after in the early 1970s, visiting my mother in Fontenay, the senior nurse said to me, ‘Miss Snowdon wants to see you.’ In some trepidation, I was ushered into a large ground-floor room and there sat Miss Snowdon-Smith, in a large throne-like chair, wearing a mob cap. That was the last I saw of her.”

Mr Stigant attached the inscription (see below) of a memorial to one of his forebears in the north gallery of St Margaret’s Church.

Near this place lies the body of Paul Stigant. He served ye Crown in quantity of Mas Carpenter of Several Ships and Builder’s Assistant of His Maj Yard at Chatham and His Maj Builder at Port Mahon Harwich and Sheerness In which last he died 15th October 1717 aet 58

Universally lamented by his Superiors as a useful officer by his equals as a worthy neighbour by ye Poor as a bountiful housekeeper by his own family as a tender husband and an indulgent father.

He married Mary daughter of Elexa Hammond in the County of Kent gentleman by whom he had issue one son and two daughters John Elijah and Anne. His afflicted widow raised this monument to his memory.

Also the body of Captain John Stigant his son who died 5th March 1719 aged 31 years.

Notes: I am intrigued to note that one of Mr Stigant’s fellow pupils was a G Clarabut. I wonder if that is the late Commander Guy Clarabut, submarine hero and possibly the best-dressed man I’ve ever met. He was also a formidable magistrate before whom, I’m sure, Mr Stigant must have appeared as a solicitor…
Dame Slap was a character in Enid Blyton’s Faraway Tree.
 Aet (in the inscription) is short for aetatis suae, Latin for at the age of.
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5 Responses to Miss Snowdon-Smith, still scary after all those years

  1. Roger Rivenell says:

    I attended ‘The Chestnuts’ from 1945 till December 1948 and often think of Miss Snowdon and the other teachers I had there. She certainly was a stern lady, but she was also very kind too and she ran a happy school.

    I often think of the other pupils, too, and wonder what happened to them and how many are still alive. I still have my school photos of course, but can’t remember too many of the names any more.

    • John Thyne says:

      I was also at Chestnuts School from (probably) 1941 until 1944. My brother Patrick, two years younger than me, was also there until 1946. The school was also known as the “Blue Cap School” as it was part of the uniform, and it was often referred to as “Miss Snowdon-Smith’s school” such was her reputation.

      A happy time there, we used to walk up to school from 157 Maidstone Road, the grocery store on the corner which my mother owned. I remember Susan Greenwood, our doctor’s daughter, who taught me to bicycle and helped me with sums!

      You say you have photos, any chance you could email any to me of those years? I see the school is now much larger and called St Andrew’s.

      • Roger Rivenell says:

        I went there in 1944 as a five-year-old and left at the end of 1948, when we came to Australia. I can’t say I really remember you or your brother, but I do have other names in my head like the Moodie (Moody?) sisters Mary and Carol. You possibly remember my elder brother Malcolm, who died prematurely and of acute myeloid leukæmia a few years ago. My daughter, the family archivist, has all the old photos and I’ll ask her to sort whatever Chestnuts ones she has. There should be a few and there’s definitely at least one whole-school photo with Miss Snowdon, Miss White and Miss Cornish, who turned out to be a friend of mum’s paternal aunt. I did put that photo on Facebook a few years ago, so you could look there under my name.

  2. Roger Rivenell says:

    A couple of other names come to me like Wendy Coatalen and Guy Gross, the doctor’s son. We used to go to the practice on the corner of Maidstone Road and Watts Avenue. We usually saw Dr Anne, a very sweet lady. Of course in those days they dispensed their own prescriptions and I used to love Dr Anne’s medicine in a bottle with a cork and bright red in colour. Goodness knows what was in it!

  3. Roger Rivenell says:

    It would be nice to hear from others who went to school there in the mid-40s, but I suppose we’re a dying breed nowadays! I’m reluctant to put my e-mail on display for fear of being bombarded with spam and other rubbish. It’s a pity that this excellent page doesn’t have facilities for contact. I’d be absolutely delighted to hear from anyone I attended school with so long ago. They can’t all be dead!

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