|Just in case people are getting frustrated and are beginning
to think our book about Risinghill is just a myth, we thought it was time
to let everyone know how we are getting on with the research and writing.
What started out as a fairly straightforward book about the school and
what the pupils have done since they left has turned into a much bigger
and really fascinating project.
We managed to make contact with Leila Berg and Margaret Duane and have been to visit them both, this was great. They have both been very supportive and provided us with a wealth of memories about the Risinghill days. We have also been in contact with Simon Duane, Michael’s youngest son, who remembers visiting the school as a child and being allowed to climb the ropes in the gym and bounce on the trampolines!
Fortunately, Michael Duane’s personal papers were donated to the Institute of Education (IOE) by his wife, Margaret. We have spent a great deal of time ploughing through the numerous boxes reading reports, letters and official documents in a bid to discover more about Michael and his teaching methods. We have also made quite a few visits to the London Metropolitan Archive and Islington’s Local History Library to track down historical information about the birth and life of the school, along with the reasons for its closure. If anyone is interested, these institutions are worth a visit.
The Risinghill pupils are spread across the world and thanks to the internet and email we have been in contact with over 300 former pupils. We have had mixed success with getting responses. Some people got in touch immediately and others needed quite a few reminders to return their questionnaires. We have now received over 60 completed questionnaires, and a lot of other pupils have sent us photographs, school reports and funny anecdotes albeit that they might not have completed a questionnaire. We have also carried out quite a lot of individual and group interviews and it is remarkable how much some people remember and how memories are jogged when everyone is talking to one another. In the early days, this helped us to compile a list of teachers but we eventually found a full list at the IOE. Some teachers’ names come up constantly with the pupils, especially those who were particularly liked or loathed. Boys and girls remember the teachers they fancied!!
Making contact with the teachers was more difficult. This was because they are all now retired and can’t be contacted through the teaching profession. Bob Dixon (Head of English) has been very helpful by providing us with all of his papers; these included some registers and details of the English syllabus we were studying. We have had questionnaires and emails from several other teachers. Sadly, Margot Coates (Head of Defoe House) died recently. Before she became ill, she completed her questionnaire which has given us a useful perspective on the relationships within the school.
So where are we now? We haven’t approached a publisher yet but will be doing this in the near future. A couple of people have already contacted us, much to our surprise, after stumbling upon our website. They have expressed interest in the book, so hopefully we should not have too many problems when it comes to finding an agent.
We have written several chapters of the book. This has been time consuming because sometimes when we are writing we realise that there are gaps in our knowledge and consequently we have had to go back down the research trail to check out dates and facts. This has often been difficult because so many of the official Risinghill papers are missing. It’s not clear what has been lost or what has been deliberately destroyed.
Our progress has also been slow because of events in our own lives; we are both still working (part-time) and have family responsibilities that often have to come first.
Please keep your questionnaires and other information coming in. We are building up a considerable body of research material that is unique. At a later date, the IOE has expressed interest in having an archive on the Risinghill pupils, but this will only be done with permission from those who have provided us with information. Names and addresses can be anonymised, but all this can be discussed nearer the time.
May we take this opportunity to thank everyone for their interest in this project and especially those who have taken the time to complete questionnaires and/or provided us with other information about the school. Special thanks are extended to John Bailey and Alan Foxall for their continued support. We are particularly indebted to John, who not only designed and developed our website, but is managing it single-handed so that we can concentrate on the book.
Lynn and Isabel