Princess Diana: Teacher and chaplain’s fond memories of a popular and caring young girl during her time at Riddlesworth Hall School
- Credit: Archant Library
Our Norfolk Princess: How Diana is fondly remembered by a former teacher and chaplain and current pupils of Riddlesworth Hall School.
Diana spent some of her happiest days in an idyllic South Norfolk setting surrounded by open fields and woods.
Her home for four years Riddlesworth Hall School, near Thetford, was a place she often said she adored.
The independent school, which was for girls during the time she attended between 1971 and 1975, still carries on many of the traditions of when she was there.
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Outside the former country house a cedar tree dominates the landscape which generations of children have climbed and played under.
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Services at St Peter's Church, next to the school, are attended by pupils and until recently a favourite of Diana's, pets' corner, was still a big part of school life.
Emily Bell, who attended Riddlesworth and is currently a gap student and assistant matron at the school, said there are a few 'ghost' stories surrounding the late Princess. The 19-year-old said it is believed she used to sign her name in her dorm room's wardrobe.
'One of the ghost stories is if you hear a harp playing at night, it is her,' She said. 'But I don't know if she even played the harp.
'Everyone here loves Diana. It is a big thing and I think everyone is really proud she came here.'
When Diana arrived at the school as a 10-year-old she was still dealing with the aftermath of her parents' divorce.
The Rev Reginald Sweet, who was a Latin teacher and chaplain at the school at the time, said she was a 'very popular girl'.
He said: 'When she came initially she was, I suppose, very sad. Very quickly she settled into the school and became very popular not only with the staff but with the other girls.
'The great thing about her was she was always taking care of the little ones, or any girl who was down or upset.
'The new ones who came in and were homesick she would take care of them. She was always very popular in that way.'
The 81-year-old taught Diana and said although academia was not her forte she shone in other areas.
She won the Legatt Cup, which is still awarded to helpful pupils, on a number of occasions.
And she helped to look after Pets' Corner - pupils were encouraged to bring their pets from home, and Diana brought her guinea pig Peanut.
'Diana used to help in the chapel laying up things,' he said. 'She was just a good all-round little girl who was anxious to please and help.
'Almost every term she would win the 'most helpful girl' cup. Everything she did, she was always on hand offering to help – with staff or other girls – especially at pet's corner. She was always around pets' corner helping other girls with their pets. She ran pets' corner because she loved that side of things.'
Mr Sweet, who is now master at the Hospital of St Cross in Winchester, said the charity work she carried out later in her life was no surprise to him.
'That seemed very natural that it was the way she would be,' he said. 'Her personality was such that she did care for others.
'And I think in a way it probably came out of her own experiences with her own situation in early life and she understood what it was to be either lonely or upset and needing support and that carried on through her life.'
As the only male member of staff at the school at that time, Mr Sweet said the girls believed he was a soft touch, including Diana.
'The girls were allowed one letter on the Sunday after church,' he said.
'The duty member of staff read them to make sure there was nothing scurrilous in them and they were sent.
I supposed being that I was the only male on the staff and a soft touch, the girls would bring their letters to me during whatever period I was taking them for and ask me to post them. I used to slip them under my jacket and take them out.
'And she [Diana] was amongst the prominent ones doing this. I was forever getting letters to post for her which the staff weren't to know about.
'Later on when she got engaged I wrote congratulating her, saying I was sorry she hadn't asked me to do the wedding, as a joke, but I was glad she was marrying a noble chap.
'And she wrote a lovely letter back saying something to the effect that the thing she always remembered about Riddlesworth was me posting her letters to her boyfriend without the staff knowing.'
On remembering a 'superb mother' he was 'proud' to have known, Mr Sweet said: 'I think she was a lovely person with a lovely nature.
'She could sulk, as she did at school sometimes, but always her real personality came out and she overcame all the difficulties she had. I was just so sad when it all collapsed.'