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Mary the schoolgirl and athlete

1 June 1932

Around 1928-29 Mary’s family moved from their old house in Birbeck Road, south Ealing, to a new house in Gunnersbury Park Road (now Popes Lane), Ealing. This led to Mary having to change schools, moving from the Little Ealing Infants and Junior School to the new Lionel Road Primary School. Mary writes:

Moved house at the age of 9 or 10 with front fence as parish boundary meant change of school to a new one in a new council housing estate off Lionel Road.

Walked there across Gunnersbury Park which occupied the area between Popes Lane and Brentford High Street. We were at the top of the slope leading down to the Thames at Kew Bridge and my bedroom looked south over the park. Leading up from the other side of the Thames was Kew Gardens, the land rising to Epsom Downs of racing fame….

It was mixed school, like most infants and juniors and the boys were a bit of a bore. We usually tried to flee but their ‘larks’ seldom went further than to pin our arms behind our backs and poke fluffy grass heads up our nostrils to make us struggle and sneeze.…

Then there was the small ornamental pond near the main gate, opposite Barons Pond, where I tested the ice one winter morn too well and went through. I scrambled out and onto my small tricycle to pedal back home along the Popes Lane pavement to dry out. I seem to remember ignoring the park keeper who asked me if I had fallen in – I was alone then – I should have thought it was obvious.


Always an active child, at Lionel Road Mary became a prize-winning athlete. In her later war-time diary, she wrote:

Thursday 21 January 1943

… Rushed through tea and went to gym class. Rather fun tonight and included high jump. I topped 4ft 5ins which shows how much I am out of training. (I have not done any jumping since the age of 11 at Lionel Road when I was school champ and topped the 4ft mark – not bad for a little’un.)

As you can see from this diary entry, Mary continued her athletic interests as she aged. She took gym classes during the Second World War and was active in the swimming and rowing, gym and folk dancing societies during her years at university in Aberystwyth. From her diary:

Thursday 18 October 1945

Lectures. P.M. For long walk inland along River Rheidol foot path to bridge … To gym club in college gym at field. Grand place. Only 7 there and apparatus work all the time. (I CANNOT CLIMB A ROPE! Great stiffness to follow). E. Chemistry swotting in bed.

Thursday 25 October 1945

Zoology practical. PM. Swotting upstairs. E. To gym – coach tells me I am to take half colours in gym this year.


In February 1948 Mary participated in the 40th Annual Gymnastics Display by members of the University College of Wales’s Men’s and Women’s Gymnastic Clubs, and rose to be captain of both gym and folk dance teams, as well as swimming and rowing. And, even later in life, she would still surprise friends, colleagues and onlookers by standing on her head!

Below left, Mary doing a handstand dive into the River Thames at Hurley in 1940 and, right, standing on her head in the Italian Alps, June 1978.