Fiona Toplis

Share your memories and stories from the Hertford Christ's Hospital School, which closed in 1985, when the two schools integrated to the Horsham site....

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Fiona Toplis

Post by Angela Woodford » Sun Aug 01, 2010 10:50 am

I came across some wonderful paintings of the Isle of Sark, by William Toplis, 1857-1952. Absolutely marvellous!

There is a limited edition book of the paintings, commentary by the artist's great-granddaughter, Fiona Toplis.

I gave a shriek of excitement. When I was in the 111rd Form, 1964, we were taught Roman History by Mrs (F?) Toplis, she who did those terrific diagrammatic interpretations of great battles - anyone remember? Romans red, Carthaginians purple?

Mrs Toplis had a daughter, Fiona, who was in 1's with us, a year younger than I. I've never forgotten Fiona - petite, lively beyond description, all-knowing brown eyes, indomitable. Fiona was usually in trouble with the awful Millie. Fiona regarded Millie with a sort of hilarious pitying scorn - how else to put it? Millie complained about Fiona to DR constantly and bitterly, maybe fearful of being exposed as a hideous sadistic old bully of whom Fiona was not in the slightest afraid. And DR? Fiona seemed to regard DR as a funny out-of-date old auntie - rather daft really...

"You've got to report to DR, Fiona! At Break!" Fiona would stroll down to the ante-room without a flicker of anxiety. So what? Probably nothing that really mattered.

Fiona had a particularly fascinating voice; a husky grown-up voice, a voice that sounded as if it had been hanging out in bars indulging a pack-a-day habit. It was not the voice you'd expect of a ten year old. You wanted Fiona to go on talking in that caressing voice tinged with smoke and honey, expressing the sort of outrageously original opinions that, I suppose, drove Millie and DR crazy with frustrated rage. Fiona never set fire to 1's, or ran away, or drank the Communion wine. She just seemed as if she were about to embark on something really stupendously exciting that very day.

I missed Fiona very much when she left suddenly under mysterious circs. We never got to say goodbye. she was just... gone! I don't think anyone asked dear Mrs Toplis where she was - for fear of confidential stuff, I suppose.

So Hertford-ish really. A super lively clever original girl with whom (caring) DR was unable to cope or to acknowlege her unique personality. I sincerely hope the world outside Hertford has appreciated her!
"Baldrick, you wouldn't recognise a cunning plan if it painted itself purple, and danced naked on top of a harpsichord singing "Cunning plans are here again.""

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Re: Fiona Toplis

Post by englishangel » Sun Aug 01, 2010 1:09 pm

I thought Fiona was a non-foundationer and left at the same time as her Mum. She went into 6's with you I thought Munch and left in 1966.
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Re: Fiona Toplis

Post by englishangel » Sun Aug 01, 2010 1:10 pm

"If a man speaks, and there isn't a woman to hear him, is he still wrong?"

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Re: Fiona Toplis

Post by Angela Woodford » Sun Aug 01, 2010 2:57 pm

How lovely!

Definitely our Fiona. No Mary, Fiona definitely didn't come into 6's with me, Jasmin, 'Phine, Janessa and Ally. OMG, that would have been sensationally wonderful. How I wish. She'd have tormented The Hag and The Study beyond all endurance. A junior with no fear! The thought of her casually disregarding the angry roast beef face of Wendy Lee! :D :D :D

The pictures from the link are brilliant. Dr Sally Simmons - a sister? I think I see a likeness with dear Mrs Toplis there.

It's splendid to see her.
"Baldrick, you wouldn't recognise a cunning plan if it painted itself purple, and danced naked on top of a harpsichord singing "Cunning plans are here again.""

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Re: Fiona Toplis

Post by dotsrebel » Mon Oct 11, 2010 4:16 pm

Angela Woodford wrote:I came across some wonderful paintings of the Isle of Sark, by William Toplis, 1857-1952. Absolutely marvellous!


I'm new to this -first time I have ever been on a forum at all, so I am practising, and came across this forum quite by chance after finding a diary of my school days, 1968. We have six delightful watercolours by William Toplis, all of the Channel Islands, 1891. And Fiona, w ho must have been my vintage, was always known as Flea by her friends. I think she had been in the 2',s and even in the 1's, one of the very last ones, but by the time I arrived the bottom form was the 3's. 1965. And Mrs Toplis - a wonderfully eccentric teacher. I suppose, since she's Fiona's mother, she could well still be alive - I like to think so, and wonder about their whereabouts... anyway, that's enough practising for me.
There is a limited edition book of the paintings, commentary by the artist's great-granddaughter, Fiona Toplis.

I gave a shriek of excitement. When I was in the 111rd Form, 1964, we were taught Roman History by Mrs (F?) Toplis, she who did those terrific diagrammatic interpretations of great battles - anyone remember? Romans red, Carthaginians purple?

Mrs Toplis had a daughter, Fiona, who was in 1's with us, a year younger than I. I've never forgotten Fiona - petite, lively beyond description, all-knowing brown eyes, indomitable. Fiona was usually in trouble with the awful Millie. Fiona regarded Millie with a sort of hilarious pitying scorn - how else to put it? Millie complained about Fiona to DR constantly and bitterly, maybe fearful of being exposed as a hideous sadistic old bully of whom Fiona was not in the slightest afraid. And DR? Fiona seemed to regard DR as a funny out-of-date old auntie - rather daft really...

"You've got to report to DR, Fiona! At Break!" Fiona would stroll down to the ante-room without a flicker of anxiety. So what? Probably nothing that really mattered.

Fiona had a particularly fascinating voice; a husky grown-up voice, a voice that sounded as if it had been hanging out in bars indulging a pack-a-day habit. It was not the voice you'd expect of a ten year old. You wanted Fiona to go on talking in that caressing voice tinged with smoke and honey, expressing the sort of outrageously original opinions that, I suppose, drove Millie and DR crazy with frustrated rage. Fiona never set fire to 1's, or ran away, or drank the Communion wine. She just seemed as if she were about to embark on something really stupendously exciting that very day.

I missed Fiona very much when she left suddenly under mysterious circs. We never got to say goodbye. she was just... gone! I don't think anyone asked dear Mrs Toplis where she was - for fear of confidential stuff, I suppose.

So Hertford-ish really. A super lively clever original girl with whom (caring) DR was unable to cope or to acknowlege her unique personality. I sincerely hope the world outside Hertford has appreciated her!

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Re: Fiona Toplis

Post by Flea 1963 » Tue Nov 30, 2010 7:12 pm

Thank you all for your kind interest in my previous life at Christ's Hospital. After all these years, it is great to have discovered you all again.

Firstly, my mother, Mrs Toplis:

Mrs Toplis (of the Roman pin-figure illustrations) regarded her days teaching at CH as the highlight of her teaching career and I believe she remembered every one of her pupils with admiration, affection and joy. She died in 2004 after a short spell of immobility due to general decay at the latter end of her natural lifespan. You will not be surprised to hear that she had prepared her own address for her funeral ('no one else would say exactly the things that I want people to hear').

She had a fabulous life because her requirements were very small - she once described herself as 'the richest person on Sark' (an island splattered with seriously wealthy folk as well as the more modest people) simply because she had everything she wanted/needed: life, a fine mind, peace and tranquility, some staunch and loyal friends and some marvellous memories. As a former pupil, I regarded her as a pretty jolly good teacher! However, as a daughter, her dedication to her pupils sometimes left me a bit miffed.

Secondly, ME!

I truly loved the school when I was there (first in 1s for two years and then in 8s for half a year before my mother removed me). I had such fun and the education was terrific. I never achieved as much elsewhere. I think Carola Curwen said that the academic life was a glorious escape from the house regime of hardship!

I never fully understood why my mother took the incredibly hard decision to remove me but I believe it was a combination of circumstances. I think the main catalyst was the fact that we (the girls' school) had just gone onto a 4-term year which left my two brothers (at the boys' school) completely separated from us and left alone for weeks on end - remember DR's allergy to having males on the premises if there was any possibility of corrupting the minds and attention of the innocent gals in her vicious. The situation for the Toplii was clearly unmanageable and the only resolution was to change schools, me first and mother at the end of the year. Secondly, the beloved DR had chosen to place me in the B stream form so I was bored to tears and became bone idle. She was trying to mould me into a placid child. Thirdly, my mother had walked past me in the grounds and failed to recognise me. Miss Mercer (history guru) , who was with her at the time, challenged her, saying 'Mrs Toplis! Do you not recognise your own daughter? That was Fiona!' I think my mother realised then that she had lost her daughter to the cloned image of a CH schoolchild. Finally, I was being seriously punished for being rude (unforgiveably) to that rather superior Miss Haughton (or however, she spelt herself). My punishments were severe - stuff that would reach the courts in today's caring society: I was locked in the box room from after tea until 7 the following morning with no facilities, no heating and, worst of all, no company at all as the other children in the house were forbidden to talk to me. I can't help wondering what the house staff would make of the modern child?

Anyway, that sorts out the queries.

I am as happy as can be and still mightily naughty! I loved my pals at CH and wished that life could have been different in that third year but ...

Oh, just to clarify an earlier query: I arrived underage in 1963 - DR was enormously supportive and helpful to my mother and worked wonders to swing the rules to fit me in. I must have been a grave disappointment to her, poor old bat.

What happened to Millie? Did someone murder her or did she just disintegrate the same way that the rest of the house staff did? It was always difficult to tell which ones were human anyway. Halloween must have been a real treat in Hertford - home grown entertainment.

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Re: Fiona Toplis

Post by englishangel » Wed Dec 01, 2010 8:29 am

Fiona, welcome to the Forum. "Everything I know about Rome and the Romans I learned from Mrs Toplis".

I went to Hertford in 1965 and really knew you only by reputation, mainly via Judy Furnival rather than DR! At CH I was the complete antithesis of you and Judy, kept my mouth shut and never got caught, well, once but by then I was 16 and could cope with it.
I know many on here have found it wonderfully cathartic as they now realise they were not the only one who suffered (not too strong a word). Angela has made many comments elsewhere about Millie.
I know you and Judy were quite close and she occasionally pops in here, she was also at a reunion in Hertford in April 2008 (chronicled elsewhere on here) and sat between JUlie Howlett and me at dinner. She went into social work with adolescents (if you google her a lot of stuff comes up), as did Julia Sibary, a 'friend' on Facebook (and also a social worker for adolescents)though not in regular contact.
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Re: Fiona Toplis

Post by MaryB » Wed Dec 01, 2010 11:22 pm

We used to re-enact the battles of the Punic War on the Meads under the direction of Mrs Toplis - the Battle of Cannae occupied a particular meander of the Lea and we did Trasimene too. And we drew them out in our history books with Roman movements in red and Hannibal's in blue.
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Re: Fiona Toplis

Post by judy » Thu Dec 02, 2010 10:01 pm

I absolutely adored having history with Mrs Toplis and am still amazed at how she managed to enthrall eleven year old girls with the detailed battle strategies of Roman and Carthaginian leaders. Moreover she was just a lovely person- one of my nicest outings at CH was when I went home with Fiona one Long Sat as my parents could not get up to the school. Fiona felt very much like a soul mate and I feel proud that I continued her anarchic, rebellious and maverick tradition even after she had left. I have very positive warm memories of both of them as Fiona knows!

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Re: Fiona Toplis

Post by Angela Woodford » Tue Dec 07, 2010 2:53 pm

Fiona, it's so wonderful to hear from you!

It must have been the best thing for you, that you left. The dreadful DR... putting you in the 'B' set and attempting to correct and re-mould your personality! Nobody, not even DR (that blunt practical woman) or Millie or Miss Haughton managed to break your spirit and make you a placid child.... Do you remember the Sylvester Twins?

Another story of being locked in the box/"maid"'s room!

Millie! Oh, dreadful! I have my own theory; that she was sacked, going even beyond DR's standards of strictness.

We really did love Mrs Toplis. An inspired and inspiring schoolmistress!
"Baldrick, you wouldn't recognise a cunning plan if it painted itself purple, and danced naked on top of a harpsichord singing "Cunning plans are here again.""

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Re: Fiona Toplis

Post by Flea 1963 » Mon Dec 13, 2010 4:03 pm

Well, how jolly good to hear from you all! I knew you would remember the old dragon (mother) because she was really vibrant as a teacher and held a philosophy that it was the job of the teacher to find a way to captivate the child and devise different plans for different children.

Absolutely great to hear from Judy - she was my true soul-mate: better brain than me but I didn't mind! There were some terrific characters around at that time. Pauline Tanner from 1s turned up in Sark this year which is fabulous. I didn't meet her because I was out and about but if anyone else plans a trip to the Island, I am always around in the school holidays.

I went back to Christ's Hospital, Hertford, about 13 years' ago. The avenue remains unchanged really - all the houses still have the wide doors and door knobs fitted lower than normal to cater for the little girls. All the other buildings were demolished. I wonder how many girls have polished those wretched door knobs!

Ah, the Sylvester twins! I remember them loving horses and Helen used to ride bareback at Ashborne instead of playing cricket. I never understood why twins were separated into different houses. Another bizarre mechanism to mould and strengthen our characters, I suppose.

I have a pencil, found in mother's house, with Claire Painter's name on it. If anyone knows where she is, I would be happy to return it!

I wonder if anyone has offspring who have been through the school - we threaten our daughter with boarding school but she tells us that she has a allergy to such things!

Well, battle on ... I need to re-read some Enid Blyton 'The Naughtiest Girl ..' books to get in the mood for more correspondence.

F

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Re: Fiona Toplis

Post by annabelle » Sat Feb 26, 2011 8:31 am

Fascinated to read this string of posts - who is the Judy in it is it Judy Jones?
For those of you who have not picked this up elsewhere sorry to say Carola died over 10 years ago suddenly, having led
as extraordinary a life as you would expect, she lefy three children Karina Tabitha and Matthew, the girls are like their Mum mathew a lovely boy married to a girl from the Basque country, she has 4 grandchildren in total. Sadly also after 40 years absence Gill Poland, who met with Phine and I last year, also died two weeks ago from cancer. I am in touch with Jacky Smith (who lives in France) Eli Clarke(who lives in Barcelona) , Jeannertte Relf(who lives in Harrogate)and a few others including Glynis Knight who with her husband was given an MBE this year for her work with children (whaaat I hear DR roaring from the grave!) there is a fab picture of her to post but not sure how to do that.
Anyway as far as Mrs Toplis is concerned, the only human being who taught us is how I remember her, in the 2nd form on one very memorable occassion she was teaching us about being buried alive in Egypt as one of the dead Pharoahs staff etc when the entire board and desk somehow collapsed on top of her much to our horror !. Many years later I went to visit her on Sark she was so pleased we taked a lot about CH much was revealed, but she had also seen some things in life we would not wish to remember especially as a young woman in the navy out east at the end of the war. She loved Sark and I recall her telling us she had once seen a ghost on the island which was also fascinating to us as schoolgirls but not sure DR would have approved.

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Re: Fiona Toplis

Post by jhopgood » Sat Feb 26, 2011 9:44 am

Just noticed this.
Is it your brother, Paul, who is living in island of Guimaras, west central Philippines, and wrote on the Philippines Founder's Day in the Old Blue?
Barnes B 25 (59 - 66)

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Re: Fiona Toplis

Post by icomefromalanddownunder » Sat Feb 26, 2011 11:53 am

annabelle wrote:Fascinated to read this string of posts - who is the Judy in it is it Judy Jones?
.
Hi Annabelle

Judy reveals her 'real' name beneath her login :)

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