Berbice House School – Great Dunmow

When fellow local historian, Austin Reeve, read my post about Great Dunmow’s Through all the changing seasons and the comments about the local boarding school, Berbice House, it prompted him to get in touch with me and send me 6 postcard images of the school. Adding his images to my own collection means that today I can bring you 9 photographs of Berbice House boarding school from the 1950s.

This boarding school was located on Great Dunmow’s Causeway at the place where today’s roundabout to Godfrey Way is located. The school building was demolished during the 1970s or the 1980s – and now, in its place is Godfrey Way (named after one of the heads of Berbice House School), a large winding road to the top of a hill containing hundreds of houses. There is turning off Godfrey Way, called ‘Berbice Lane’ – named after the school. Prior to the school being located in the building shown in the first photograph, during the 1940s, it was located in the Clock House.


Berbice House, Great Dunmow

Berbice House, Great Dunmow

Berbice House, Great Dunmow

Berbice House, Great Dunmow

Berbice House, Great Dunmow

Berbice House, Great Dunmow

Berbice House, Great Dunmow

Berbice House, Great Dunmow

Berbice House, Great Dunmow

Clock House, Great DunmowThe Clockhouse – sometime during the early part of the 19th century.


Berbice Lane, Great Dunmow

Clock House, Great DunmowThe Clockhouse – Summer 2013 – from the same location as the Edwardian postcard.

Clock House, Great Dunmow

Godfrey Way, Great DunmowThe top of the church steeple – visible from the highest point on Godfrey Way. The sun-scorched yellow fields of Stebbing in the distance.

Godfrey Way, Great DunmowGodfrey Way – looking back down the hill to where Berbice House once stood.

Godfrey Way, Great DunmowGodfrey Way and the fields of Stebbing in the distance.


Do you have any photos of your time at Berbice House School?
If so, please do contact me


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You may also be interested in the following

– Great Dunmow – Through all the changing seasons
– Index to each folio in Great Dunmow’s churchwardens’ accounts
– Great Dunmow’s Churchwardens’ accounts: transcripts 1526-1621
– Tudor local history
– Pre-Reformation English church clergy
– Medieval Essex dialect
– Henry VIII’s Lay Subsidy 1523-1524
– The Tudor witches of Essex
– Building a medieval church steeple
– Great Dunmow’s Medieval manors

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50 Responses to Berbice House School – Great Dunmow

  1. In addition to the local interest might I suggest another aspect of social history here? Just who were these postcards produced for? Who would buy and/or send them? Were they used as promotional material by the school, did parents send them to tell their friends where their daughter was studying, or, in the days before picture messaging, were the girls sending them to their friends?
    Actually the questions aren’t just in respect of these cards, take a look at the vast variety of strange subjects appearing on early twentieth century postcards and you really wonder, who would have used them?

  2. the narrator says:

    An interesting point, Andrew. Maybe the girls wrote on the back of them and sent them to their parents as part of their weekly missives home?

  3. prudence lewis says:

    I went to Bernice house school for about 3 or 4 years around 1964 or so, I have photographs and other items which I can scan and send you.

    I was a border and often wondered if anything like this existed.
    Prudence Brown

    • the narrator says:

      Hi Prudence – thanks for your comment. I would love to see any other photos and other items you have – so yes please to any scans you could email me! My email address is thenarrator[at]

    • Margharita Catherine Rose Hughes (Pickup) says:

      Hello Prudence!
      My twin Matthew Pickup & brother William Mildwater attended Berbice House when you were there! Matthew had a BIG crush on you but you were far out of his reach! He was still playing “Action man boots” on the school wall with Simon Luckin & Stephen Brennan! I have a booklet in front of me with a poem you wrote for the school in 1965.
      Noises that annoy me
      There is only one noise that annoys me and it is the noise a motor-bike makes.
      It makes such a lot of noise i cannot get to sleep at night, nor can my mother and father.
      I do not like the the noises because of its screeching sound.
      Prudence Brown, 8 years

      I always thought your surname Green! Green with envy? Haha!

  4. Andrew Briggs says:

    I am currently the owner of The Clockhouse and would be interested in collecting any photographs/postcards or information about the house. I have commissioned a a book on the history of the house and a copy is kept at The Maltings Museum for anyone interested.

    • Margharita Catherine Rose Hughes (Pickup) says:

      Hello Andrew
      I attended Berbice House School with two of my brothers.1965 – ? Scandal that one of us had a different surname! When William was ill & was to be picked up, my mother may as well collect us (myself & Matthew Pickup) i remember confusion that we were of thr same family!
      We would walk around the corner & look up over the wall to the clock & say ” when the clock striked 13 O’clock the stone would jump over the wall & back again!
      I had to think about that!! The big? stone… smooth…dark polished was on the foot path next to your wall.
      I have no other memories of your home but many of the school next door! The brain is an amazing storage unit…memory lane

  5. Maureen North (Morgan) says:

    I attended Berbice House from 1953 to 1960, as a boarder. I enjoyed reading the comments and seeing the photographs. I have these same postcards which I understood to be promotional material for the school. I certainly didn’t send them to anyone!
    I moved to Australia in 1967 but return to see my family regularly.
    I would be interested in any other material you have about the old school.

  6. Tom Ridge says:

    I was a pupil at berbice house in early 1940 and the school was evacuated to farm house I think near banbury.can you give me any information on this.
    I was one of ten boys.
    Many thanks. Tom.

  7. Anthony(Tony) Martin says:

    I was a pupil at Berbice house at the end of the 2nd world war. My parents and I lived in Rayne. My grandfather owned Old Hall Farm. after the war we moved to a house near the railway station. Used to ride to the school with the daughter of the owner of the bus company. We used to get the front seat upstairs as they knew she was the owner’s daughter. After this I attended Forest School in Snaresbrook as we moved to Ilford where my parents owned a house. Then we moved to Chigwell.
    I remember my years at Berbice with fond memories, especially the desks which had ink wells in them.

    • Susan Smith nee Miller says:

      Hi Tony, I read with interest your story of attending Berbice House School at the end of WW2. I also went to Berbice House, as a day girl. I went there in 1954 when I was 9 years old. I left in 1960. I came from Felsted where my father had a newsagents and general stores. It was called Bird’s after my father’s uncle who used to own the store. I used to catch the bus to Dunmow as you also would have done. The bus had been owned by my father’s uncle, the late Ernest Hicks of the Hicks Omnibus Company, and passed to his son Maxwell Hicks. It would have been one of his daughter’s who sat next to you on the bus, either Janet or more likely the younger daughter Christine, my second cousin. As you were older than me, we wouldn’t have been on the same bus, and the bus company was sold and became Eastern National. In 1954 when I started going to Berbice House, we used to get off the bus in Dunmow High Street and get on the Viceroy Coach which took us to the school about a couple of miles away. My memories of the school were that it was rather old fashioned. I think it might have been a farm at some time, because many of the classrooms were like converted cowsheds. I do remember the desks, all in neat lines with the inkwells. What about the uniform? Green velour hats in winter and Panama hats in the summer. I burnt mine when I left school. As girls, you had to wear a Robert Hirst raincoat in green or a green and gold blazer. Green pleated skirts which had to be long enough for the hem to touch the ground when you knelt down. Woe betide anyone whose skirt wasn’t the required length. Cream shirts with green cardigans and green ties. In summer you has green and white gingham dresses. The sportswear was a bit strange. There were 3 Houses, Dickens was green, Kingsley was yellow and mine, Shaftesbury was orange. These garments were an all-in-one shorts and blouse, not really very practical. I do remember many of the teachers. Obviously, Mrs. Marjorie T. Godfrey, the headmistress, a giant of a woman to a small girl. She seemed to be about 6ft.6ins. tall and had a severe haircut in white and a voice like a foghorn. You didn’t mess with her dressed in her black gown. Her husband was about half her size! Then there was Mrs. Spurgeon, who was the sister of Mrs. Godfrey. She taught poetry, literature and scripture.She used to sit with her eyes closed most of the time. Miss Booth I remember taught botany and was very strict. Miss Nora Wright was the history teacher. Mrs Gypps taught geography. There was Miss Turner and Mrs Clarke and Mrs Stainer who was the sports teacher. There was a Mrs Moss and Mrs Ruffell, they were sisters and they taught the little children and were also the aunts of my friend Carole Andrews. The hall was used for assembly, for music and singing, and also became the dinner hall each day. The meals were not the best. You could have either small, medium or large portions, but whatever you had you were expected to clear your plate. I remember when I became a dinner monitor, trying to persuade the younger ones to eat their food, when I didn’t like it either. We used to smuggle out the leftover food between the plates and the stacked mugs and take them to the kitchen for washing up. I don’t know what they thought in the kitchen The sports field was a large field behind the school and had bushes all around the back of it. We used to hide in amongst the bushes at playtime. The field sloped down towards the school buildings. I do remember the courtyard which was in the centre with buildings all around it. This is where we had our PT lesson every day, and was also the playground where we had skipping ropes etc. I left when I was 15 and because of a lot of ill health, I hadn’t done as well as I should, so I was sent to the Braintree College of Further Education to do a 2 year secretarial course which I thoroughly enjoyed and I did very well there. It’s quite strange that you don’t think about your school days for years and then when you do, the memories come flooding back.

      • Tony Martin says:

        Susan, You have a great memory and lovely to read your comments brings back so much. Yes the Bus Company was called Hicks but I don’t know which of your two relatives it was that we sat together on the top deck. Think we were in love at a very young age, too young by far.
        Anyway thank you for stirring all the memories, truly nostalgic!


      • Alec Hopkins says:

        Wow Susan tat brought so many memories back,
        I was there as a day boy from 1948 to 54 ish !!
        I am still in contact with your friend Carol Nee Andrews ( The friend I have had for 70 odd years).
        All those teachers and the pictures of the classrooms, PE in the courtyard and the bottom and top field.
        I cannot remember the name of the maintenance / handyman a tall guy that seemed to do anything around the school. Mrs Gypps lived in a bungelow next to us in Oakroyd Avenue.

        I liked Miss Turner as she kept her hanky in a pocket in her pants, and that milk in small bottles hot or cold horrid !!!
        Mrs Godfree had her husband there but I do not remember his name or what he did.

        That is all at the mo but brill memories.

        Alec Hopkins.

      • Margharita Catherine Rose Hughes (Pickup) says:

        Hello Susan
        I have hung onto every word you wrote in the hope i might be on the same page of time! Miss Turner used to read us stories with always beads around her neck…for some reason i only remember her reading “The water babies” over days weeks months ? The kitchen had this black metal chunk of a machine that peeled potatoes on a mammoth scale for lunch
        Yes good old ink wells..blotting paper
        Miss Wright was our Head Mistress, in her long black gown…standing by the bay window with the bright light behind her…may as well be in the Harry Potter series/ Adams family!
        If you read my reply to Andrew there is more of a snippet.
        A list of some students & staff when i attended from a booklet/programme i still have & my memory i still have! (Thanks mum!) See where it goes?
        Ps I wish i still had my Panama & green Valour hat’s tye Blazer etc hang on…. knicker bockers in green!! 🤔
        Ok i used to hang upside down on the monkey bars by my feet flashing the ‘witches britches’!!
        My very first suspenders i wore was going to this school i still have! Hell…. what a hoarder!
        The wooden see saw? Im sure i have injuries from that to this day😂
        Miss Turner
        Mr Lukies J.P
        Miss Booth
        *did you become part of the Berbician Association?
        Annual evening..subscription? Wait for it 2/6d or 1 guinea for life membership!
        Miss Elliott…she was my favourite..making xmas paper chains…i can still smell the aroma in the class room
        Mrs Robinson…a gentle lady who taught my brother in pre kindy?
        Vivianna le Carpentier 12yrs
        Hilary Molyneaux 13yrs
        Sharon Jones 13yrs
        Janet Pickard 13yrs
        Janice Halfhide ?
        Mary-Ellen & Christine Simpson
        Kathryn Bonner 8yrs
        Susan Newis 7yrs
        Vivienne Wallace
        Jane Dickie
        Gillian Steele
        Sarah Thomas
        Ruth Howard 7yrs
        Leon Hassan 8yrs
        Simon Luckin 8yrs
        Phyllis McDonald 9yrs
        Joanna Freeman 12yrs
        Maria Lindblom 12yrs Sweden
        Nicola Herbert 11yrs
        Prudence Brown 8yrs
        Persephone French 12yrs

        Keep in touch?

        • Susan Smith says:

          Hi Margie,
          I looked at your list of pupils and I don’t think I knew any of them. I guess you went to Berbice after I left in 1960. I do remember an Elizabeth Dickie who might have been an older sister of Jane Dickie. I notice you made a mention of suspenders. I think only knee high socks or woolly grey tights were allowed when I was there. I do remember the large wooden see-saw which was a railway sleeper I think. I had 2 accidents with that. One when someone got off the other end, and I fell off backwards and knocked myself out. I had to spend the rest of the day in Mrs. Godfrey room where she was teaching french. I had such a headache and still the bump on the back of my head some 65 years’ later. The other accident again on the see-saw was when I was hanging on the side and when someone got off, it came down on the top of my left knee, which has never been the same since. No, I didn’t get to join the Berbice Society, I didn’t know one existed. I did go to the memorial service at New Street Church, Dunmow for Mrs. Godfrey . It was nice to meet up with a few of my old friends there.

          • Jenny adams says:

            I vaguely remember someone falling off seesaw and knocking themselves out so that must have been you. I too remember Miss Turner reading the Waterbabies. It seems such a long time ago. My name was Jennifer jostling. In 1960 I was 7 going 8 years old

          • Margharita Hughes (Pickup) says:

            Hello Jenny
            Yes it was such along time ago! I thought of a few other names i don’t think i listed…Richard Yelding Belinda Wilson (her father ran the Wilsons Bakery in the main street next to the pond) i used to stay there often. Richard had a sister twins girls i think one had died very young & was buried in the local cemetery he took me there once. Very sad really.

          • Jenny adams says:

            Hi Margharita yes it was a long time ago. I remember Belinda Wilson. My friends were Persephone French Joanna Freeman Helen Taylor Rose Hodkins some of these I kept in contact with for many years in particular Persephone but she has moved and I don’t know her address

  8. TOM RIDGE says:

    I was only at Berbice for a very short period and evacuated to a farm near Banbury. 30 girls 10 boys.I left and went to Brentwood. I can remember getting on a train with gas mask box. This was about 1941/2.but don’t have any pictures. Can anybody recollect this. .

    • Tony Martin says:

      The main thing I remember about Berbice is the Ink Wells in the individual desks.
      We moved to a house near Rayne station for the years following the war when my father returned and then to the family house in Ilford. Used to get from Rayne to Dunmow on the bus, which was owned by a female class mates father. We used to sit upstairs in the front row.

  9. Jennifer adams says:

    Hi I attended Berbice House from age of 5 1957 until it closed when I was fifteen I think the school closed in 1967. My name was Jennifer jostling. My two sisters attended for a shor while Rosemary Jostling now deceased and Christine Jostling whosee married name is Cohen. The pictures are just as I remembered. The headmistress!!was Mrs Godfrey and some of the tearchers were miss Wright deputy head. Mrs ruffle her daughter Mrs elliot miss Turner Mrs Robinson Mrs Aves Mrs stainer and lovely miss goodwill who lived next door to the school.

    • Tony Martin says:

      Hi there. I attended Berbice House from approx. 1946 till 1948 so for about 3 years. Had been evacuated to my grandfather’s farm in Rayne at Old Hall during the war.
      My little girl friends father owned the bus company, so we got to sit upstairs in the front seat going to and fro. Loved the school especially the Ink Wells in the desks.

  10. Jennifer adams says:

    It was also a day school as well as a boarding school . My sisters and I were day pupils

  11. Jennifer adams says:

    It was also a day school as well as a boarding school . My sisters and I were day pupils . I forgot to mention that is my blog

  12. Alex Bielecki says:

    Lovely to read all the comments. I am researching my family history and Mrs (Marjorie) Godfrey was my Great Aunt. The Godfreys also owned the tent and ropeworks in Chelmsford and had shops in a few local towns.

    Does anyone know why the school was called Berbice House – which, if googled – clearly has a link to Guyana?

    Any more photos of the school? Would be great to see some more! Thanks

    • Frances Flynn, nee Trafford says:

      Hi: I remember being told that the school was named after a river that was a tributary of the Amazon and had been visited by Mr. Godfrey.

      • Alex Bielecki says:

        I think Mrs Godfrey’s sisters (Mrs Elsie Spurgeon) parents were missionaries and had worked in Berbice (Guyana).

  13. Peter Verley says:

    I remember the school well and the pupils wore a green uniform.
    We locals referred to them as cabbages.
    A guy, Tony Morgan, used to go there and he ended up my lifetime best friend.

    • Tony Martin says:

      Think cabbages is a bit rough, gives the impression that we were fat and round.
      Well done to Susan for remembering so much detail, admire your memory.
      The school obviously made a big impression on you.
      In my mid twenties I emigrated to California and stayed there for twenty years.
      A wonderful time both personally and career wise. Ended up working in Beverly Hills assisting to finance the entertainment industry, films, record companies etc. A lot of famous people and quite a challenge. Anyway never forgot my time at Berbice house, it not only stated to give you an education but also taught you a way of life and a structure going forward. So very grateful to have been part of it.

      Tony Martin

  14. Jenny adams says:

    Hi Susan your blog brought back so many more memories. One thing I didn’t know was that Mrs Ruffle and Mrs Moss were sisters. That would make sense as I remember them always chatting in each others class rooms. I was thought they were friends. . Actually I thought the meals were OK. My favourites were cheese and tomato tart and chocolate pudding with chocolate sauce yummy

    • Susan Smith nee Miller says:

      Hi Jenny, I made the comment about the meals because some of them left a lifelong impression on me. I must admit that the chocolate sponge pudding and sauce wad pretty good, but do you remember custard being either as thick and lumpy or extremely runny and watery. This usually accompanied stewed apple which had a pastry crust which was so hard that when you tried to break it into spoon-sized pieces, the two pieces would usually fly off in different directions, landing in your lap or on the floor. Tapioca pudding or frogspawn is something I have never managed to stomach to this day, also processed peas. Large tins of these peas were tipped into a cauldron of mince, turning it a rather peculiar shade of green. Not very appetising. I think my least favourite meal was Friday’s fish. This was boiled cod, served with lumpy mashed potatoes and a cheese sauce poured over it. I won’t describe what it looked like. I don’t remember cheese and tomato tart, but you were at the school some years later than me, so perhaps meals had improved. I went on to bring a packed lunch most days, as did many others. Was Mrs. Seethwright still the cook when you were there? I may have spent her name wrong, but she was a nice lady.
      I still have all my reports from school. Makes pretty interesting reading – could do better, or tries hard, and must improve her handwriting. The handwriting comment, I would agree with, but as I went on to learn Pitman’s
      shorthand, where you have to speedily get to the end of the line and begin the next one, well that completely destroyed any neat handwriting I might have ever done, that’s my excuse anyway.
      Whilst I didn’t particularly enjoy my school years, I must say that Berbice House did instill certain standards. I left school with good manners, politeness, consideration for others’ feelings and a social conscience. I also didn’t have an accent, which as an Essex girl was a benefit in my future work life. Such a long time ago now, it’s strange that I seem to remember so much about that time, when I hadn’t thought about it for years.

    • Margharita Catherine Rose Hughes (Pickup) says:

      Those names ring a bell!

  15. Lizzie Squire says:

    hello there,
    I loved being a weekly boarder there but only for a few years, except I was bullied by a Mary Markham and got fed up being made to be at the back of the queue for baths !!! ( imagine that these days ! ) I loved the food though , much better than my mum’s ! I think the little girl on the swing with long plaits and brown hair is me so I wondered if we could have a blow up ? I would really love to share with my family. My big sister was Gillian Witts . My name was Celia . I did meet some lovely girls there and I would love to know how they are doing … All the best , Lizzie

  16. Frances Flynn, nee Trafford says:

    My husband, Shields Flynn, found this website when researching for illustrations for my memoirs and I was delighted when he passed it along to me.

    I was at Berbice House from 1948 until 1954 and still remember it fondly. The teachers I remember were, in addition to Mrs. Godfrey, Mrs. Spurgeon, Miss Wright, Mrs. Steiner, and, of course, the silent Mr. Godfrey. The friends I remember most were Carol Gladstone, Cherry Parish, Helen Hunt, Francis and Penelope Plowden, the Goodwill triplets Helena, Despina, and Paulina, and a boy I had a crush on when I was about ten, Quentin Cox, who went on to Felstead. My cousin Pam Trafford (married name Stone) was also a student there. Sadly, Pam died just a couple of months ago.

    I emigrated to New York in 1963 and have lived in America ever since, but my husband is very tolerant and, since marrying in 1965, we have been able to visit the UK almost every year since that time. We have two married daughters, Andrea and Jocelyn who also came on our yearly visits to England for many years, and a granddaughter, Katie, who has yet to make her first visit.

    When I was at Berbice House we lived in Duton Hill and Bishop’s Stortford.

    In the US I have lived in New York, Philadelphia, Massachusetts (just south of Boston) and am now retired and living in Tryon, North Carolina.

    One memory I have is that the Dunmow locals called us “cabbages” because of our green uniforms, and I’d love to hear from any of you old cabbages out there. (By the way, it took about me 20 years before I could wear bottle green again.)

    • Alec Hopkins says:

      Hi Francis,

      Although I cannot recall you I have been facinated by the comments on here.

      The Tripplets lived at the end of our road,

      From one cabbage to another !!!


      • Susan Smith nee Miller says:

        Hi Alec I do remember you and your brother. I don’t know if you remember me but my best friend at school was Carole Andrews. When we left school, me to Braintree College of Further Education to do a secretarial course, and I think Carole went to work in Chelmsford at the Council Offices. I lost touch with her for a number of years, until she married Clive. I did see her a few times then in the 1960/70’s but after they split up, I think she worked for Dunmow Council and moved to live in Duton Hill. I never had an address for her after that, but if you are still in touch with her, pass on my best wishes. I live in Glemsford, Suffolk now. Do you remember Janice Hall too. We used to travel on the bus together, both of us coming from Felsted. Hope you are keeping well also.
        Susan Smith

    • Margharita Catherine Rose Hughes (Pickup) says:

      Cabbages! Well we sprouted because i live in Australia since 1970 & your in New York?

    • Margharita Catherine Rose Hughes (Pickup) says:

      Im loving this!

  17. Matthew Mildwater (Pickup) says:

    I attended Berbice House during the mid 60’s along with my twin Margarita and my late younger brother William, we all have fond memories, along with with myself there were only a few boys if I may mention Steve Brennan, (his brother Tim?) Simon Luckin as for the girls Kathrin Bonner Anne Pembleton ?. And yes going along with the ink wells, being left handed, a permanent ink stain on my left cuff of my blazer from smudging ! Winters mornings on arrival were straight to the toilets .. run the hot water to immerse our hands due to the cold

    • Margharita Catherine Rose Hughes (Pickup) says:

      You never mentioned this to me? I was so busy keeping the “bullies” of you because you were sooooo much smaller than me!

  18. Dianne E Felstein (nee Summerside) says:

    I am reading a travel book by Evelyn Waugh “When the going was good” and he mentioned Bernice in Guiana. I wondered whether the name of my first school had any connection with it and it didn’t take long to get the answer from Frances Flynn and Alex Bielecki’s entries!

    I attended Bernice House School from 16th September 1947 (two months before my 5th birthday) and Mrs Godfrey’s letter outlining my two years there is dated 30th October 1949. My father owned the pharmacy in Thaxted and my parents were friends with the Manager of Barclays Bank whose son, Christopher Cooper, was already at Berbice and who used to take me on the bus to school. Sadly, Christopher was killed in a road accident in early adulthood. At the end of the first term I became a full-time border. My letters home (which I still have) mention the names of several friends: Vicky Dunlop, Ann, Janet, Jane, Gillian, Julie, Mary, Venetia, Judy and Sylvia. The only two I remember are Vicky and Ann (no surname.). I can remember Mrs Godfrey but not in a black cloak, my memory of her is standing in the house entrance with Mr Godfrey; I seem to remember him in plus fours!

    According to my letters, the big girls had netball matches with the Convent. Letter writing was obviously done on Sunday (with supervision) but, unfortunately, not one of my letters has a date on it! We went to church every Sunday and the boarders had green velvet dresses for Sunday wear.

    I cannot remember the names of any of the teachers but I do remember the nurse, Mrs Reid and her young daughter Jane. Perhaps I remember her because I had both mumps and measles while at Berbice. During these times I remember a very pleasant room with a warm fire. My memory of the see-saw is burning my legs on it because the wood was so hot! Nobody has mentioned the clinker in the areas outside some of the huts on to which I fell regularly and still bear the scars on my knees!

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