Miss Arnold lived on Brockwsood Lane in a house with a long garden backing on to the railway line. She came from a well-to-do family I think and was a long-term resident of the Garden City and had played her violin in the orchestra accompanying the performances of A Midsummer Night’s Dream in the Dell in the woods in the 1920s. She had worked with young children, possibly as a teacher, and continued to do so in her retirement.
In the years around 1960 she walked around the Reddings/Roundwood Drive area twice a week collecting a half dozen or so pre-school children from specific homes. We were then all taken for a walk together in the woods during which Miss Arnold would teach us about the animals, plants, and seasons we encountered. I particularly recall her pointing out pinecones that were closed, opened, or eaten by squirrels and teaching us about which mushrooms were good to eat (ceps) and which to leave well alone! We had to be well behaved, and while we were allowed to brandish sticks they had to be carried point downwards and we were not allowed to run with them. We could run on ahead, but we had set routes through the woods and Miss Arnold had established places we were not allowed to go past and where we had to wait for the rest of the party to catch up. Another very clear memory is her taking us to the back of Templewood School to watch the children in the junior playground before I started at the school as an infant in 1961; I recall being very intimidated by all the noisy big kids running around!
Miss Arnold had particular names for special places in the woods. One path that I sometimes use when I am back in the area she called “The Robin Path” because when she first found it she had encountered a dog named Robin on it. A favorite landmark on her walks was the big beech tree on the parish boundary just inside the woods from the middle entrance on Reddings. She liked to refer to it as Piglet’s tree because there was a growth up on the trunk that she thought looked like Piglet calling for help during the flood!
After each walk we went to Miss Arnold’s house for an hour or so of playing on the floor with the jigsaw puzzles, building blocks, and other simple toys she had kept. There may have been stories and snacks too. Playtime over, we all set out together to tour the Reddings/Roundwood Drive area again, this time returning the children to their various homes in time for lunch. Miss Arnold took no payment for her services. Her only requirement was to have lunch at the home of the last child returned—she made sure to end up at each house in turn. It was not that she needed the meal, rather it was an opportunity for her to socialize with the mothers and to talk about how their children were doing.
Eventually all this became too much for Miss Arnold, and she had to end her childcare activities. She later left the Garden City to live in a cottage on her niece’s farm on the estate of Whitbourne Hall in Herefordshire, where my family paid her a visit there in 1971.