Skip to main content

From the Archives... A fire at the Nursery

This post is the first in an occasional series of blog posts from our Archives.  Much of the information kept in our archives (dating back to 1911) relates to individuals who may still be alive and as such we cannot share it without permission.  This story however was told in 1986 with the intention that it was to be shared, and it is worth a revisit.

This note was written by Gracie (Nossels), who was a child with us, then worked as a nursery maid.  We have reproduced the text below, and the snippets below are in her handwriting.  Nossels was Leila’s nickname for Gracie – she recounted this tale in January 1986 on a return to Caldecott as an older lady.

An incident in the Caldecott –  1913 to 1918

Towards the beginning of 1914 I was living at 25-26 Cartwright Gardens, St. Pancras (the early days of the Caldecott Community).  It was a day nursery or Creche and a kindergarten school for working Men’s children founded in 1911.  I went there in 1912.  By 1914, before the First World War started, I was a nursery maid and had been cared for, helped and educated by Miss Leila Rendel and Miss Phyllis Potter.   I was actually wearing my first “grown up” uniform –  a blue gingham dress with white collar and cuffs of soft white linen and a big white apron, sensible black shoes and my long brown hair braided, neatly back and tied with narrow black ribbon bows –  all of which I felt very proud to wear.

I cannot recall the actual day or date,  but I know it was around springtime because I recall noticing daffodils in the gardens opposite the nursery where we used to take the children to play,  also there were flowers in the nursery.

We had bathed and fed the children and changed them into the nursery and school overalls and taken the five- and six-year-olds into the nursery school next door through the communicating door.  Then I usually stayed in the nursery and babies creche – suddenly we smelt smoke coming from the upper floor of the nursery school –  in very quick time all the children were safely out of the home with staff, the babies and nurses being taken to hotels in the gardens.  Then miss Potter called loudly to me and said “Gracie run as fast as you can to meet Miss Leila, you know her usual route from her  home in Russell Square, tell her of the fire and to hurry”.

I ran just as I was and I met Miss Leila in Great Marsham St calmly admiring beautiful hats in the window of a Milliner’s Shop.   I was so very excited I just clutched her coat sleeve and said “oh come quickly Miss Leila, the upper part of the school is on fire and burning down”.

She held my hands tightly and I even remember what she was wearing, what to me were lovely dark blue soft kid gloves with a lovely light fur at the wrists which matched the fur on her coat colour she then said so calmly “has anyone been hurt and are all the children safe”.

I replied all were safe and all out of the school and nursery she then so very calmly led me to the shop window and said “isn’t that just the most beautiful hat you have ever seen Gracie”.

I replied “yes it was a lovely dark red velvet and beautiful hat but please, hurry Miss Leila or the school would all be burned down”.   She then put her hands on my head and looking at me with that well-known lovely smile she quietly and calmly said “Well Gracie, my child should that happen we all must work hard and build it up again mustn’t we”  At last she came along home with me the firemen had prevented the school and nursery from being destroyed but the two upper floors were completely gutted.  Although I was only a youngster at the time, I do remember even the fire officer smiling at me when Miss Leila said “oh, Gracie would you be a dear child and bring us all a tray of nice hot tea and some biscuits”

Miss Leila Rendels remark of “building up the school again” has remained with me through many upheavals in my life.

Pictured, Miss Leila Rendel, founder of Caldecott,  ca 1912.

Back to News
Make a Referral