Thursday, April 22, 2010

Meredith’s Early Days In Croydon, South London, And How Special She Was To Family And Friends

Posted by Our Main Posters

The photos here are of Meredith’s school - Old Palace School, the private school on two campuses in the Croydon area.

In American terms, this is a kindergarten-to-12th grade (K-12) all-girls school, so it was the only school that Meredith ever attended. It has an outstanding reputation.

Meredith would have worn that same green uniform that you can see in some of the shots.

Meredith was not actually born in the very lively borough of Croydon. She was born about 8 miles north, in Southwark (scroll down here) on the south bank of the Thames - which is if anything even livelier.

Her family moved south to the Coulsdon part of Croydon, and she spent almost all of her first 18 years here, after which, she headed to Leeds.

Meredith’s family’s very strong emphasis on education and excellence in general had already paid off for Meredith in two impressive ways.

  • Meredith was admitted to the very hard-to-get-into Leeds University which is often rated fourth in the UK after Oxford, Cambridge, and London.

  • And she won one of Europe’s much competed-for Erasmus scholarship which assured she was very well-funded in Perugia.

In June of last year, her father, John, said that Meredith’s emerging aim on graduation was to head for the international organizations in Brussels. Brussels of course is where the European Community has its headquarters, and there are probably more international bodies located there than in any other city in the world. (Geneva would probably come second.)

if Meredith made it to Brussels, she could have become a real mover and shaker.. Earthling seems to have had it just right in this post last November.

The UK writers Paul Russell and Johnson had access to Meredith’s family and friends in writing their generally very good book Darkness Descending.

Here below they describe how really special Meredith was to her family and to her friends. 


When Meredith turned seven years old in 1992, Britain was in the grip of a recession. Croydon, however, still remained an unusually busy suburb of London. The town was a hectic meld of mini-skyscrapers, retail parks and giant housing estates, the rumble of the London A roads and M25 motorway never far away in the background.

Meredith was a busy, active child from an early age. She .went to ballet, liked reading, and was generally known for her all-round vitality. When she took up karate, unlike many kids, she stuck to it. By her early teens, she had attained her third belt.

Meredith inherited her father’s flair for the written word. At school she wrote poetry and her fiction compositions were highly thought of. But mostly, Meredith was known for her bubbly personality, and her sense of humour - she had an imaginative sense of the ridiculous, according to her family.

Meredith may have been educated at a £10,000-a-year private school but she wasn’t born with a silver spoon in her mouth. Her mother and father sacrificed almost all of their income and savings to give their youngest daughter, as well as her older siblings, the best education they could get

For all four children the fees climbed into the £100,000s over the years. In effect, John and Arline Kercher gave up the family’s material aspirations - the dream of owning a well-kept, well-appointed house in a smart part of London, nice cars, expensive foreign holidays, a fat pension to look forward to, a comfortable inheritance to pass on ...

Arline put her social life on hold. John chose to work instead of taking annual leave. His haymaking years iri Fleet Street were dedicated solely to putting his kids through school and university. He did well to keep the whole show on the road on a single freelancer’s wage, not only paying his own expenses in Croydon but also contributing to the upkeep of Arline and the kids at the old home a few miles south in Coulsdon.

Arline was too busy being a full-time mum of four to go back to work. Following their divorce, both of them lived in reduced circumstances in order to give Meredith more than they could really afford.

But both teachers and schoolfriends alike say Meredith benefited immensely from the school’s renowned approach of concentrating totally on the individual and supporting pupils to a degree that the state sector educators can only dream of.

A family friend, who knew Meredith when she was in her early teens, said:

    Meredith was the kind of girl who could have coped going to the local comprehensive. She wasn’t a snob at all. She was very much heads down when it came to school and homework, a can-do, resourceful type of person. No moaning or skiving off She wasn’t laid back, by any means. However, I don’t think she would have turned out as wellrounded and confident as she was, if she’d gone off to any old school.

    I think John was very proud that he’d taken the decision to send his girls to a good one. Everything revolved around education in the family. That was pardy down to Arline. She wasn’t pushy but she realized the value of qualifications, especially coming from Pakistan, where families want their kids to do well. I got the impression it was a case of: ‘If we give our kids a good education, that’s the best we can do for them.’

Though the Kerchers didn’t have much money, neighbours remember the house as being full of life. It only had three bedrooms between four kids and one adult, but it was one of those homes where friends always came to play, because it was welcoming and exciting. Family friends said that Meredith and Stephanie were always going to parties when they were kids rather than playing out in the street.

The Old Palace School in Croydon is a rarefied oasis in a gnarl of urban sprawl. Meredith’s creativity was allowed to bloom in an atmosphere of learning, where pupils are encouraged to be independent whilst being somewhat protected from the outside world.

One former pupil, who graduated from university just before Meredith moved to Perugia, said:

    I’m not surprised she chose to study abroad. A lot of girls would be put off, but she was quietly capable all along. You learn to be like that at the OPS [Old Palace School]. The school prides itself on churning out self-contained women who can stand on their own two feet, especially when they move into the outside world. It’s not like Rodean or somewhere totally up there. But Mez was like that in Years Eight and Nine.

The Elizabethan buildings, standing in the shadow of Croydon Parish Church, are home to perfectly manicured gardens, an indoor swimming pool and five state-of-the-art IT suites. The high walls and intercommed security gates cut the school off from the local area, a run-down mix of high-density terraced houses and flats, of closed-down pubs and a High Street dominated by charity shops, pound stores and cheap fast-food restaurants.

Though the school has a strong religious tradition - founded by an archbishop, supported by a Christian foundation and for 600 years the summer residence of the Archbishop of Canterbury - Meredith wasn’t particularly committed. One of the school’s mottos is ‘For the Church and People of God’. But she did help out with fundraising for the Catholic charity Caritas, through the school’s long-established links with international aid programmes.

Curiously, one of the suspects later accused of her murder would seek refuge in a Caritas centre abroad whilst he was on the run.

The financial sacrifices took their toll on John and Arline. The family home, a 1930s-style suburban semi in Fairdene Road, Old Coulsdon, where Arline lived with the kids, fell into disrepair. The gutters hung off the roof and porch and Arline made do with tatty black curtains that covered the front windows, the glass bevelling under the weight of the old lead inlays.

The street was not in the poshest part of Coulsdon. The residents were a mixture of proud homeowners with tidy lawns, commuters who travelled from South Coulsdon station at the end of the street to good jobs in London, and poorer renters.

The situation was exacerbated when Arline fell into ill-health with a kidney condition.

John Kercher moved into a newly built townhouse in a shabby part of West Croydon with a large ethnic population. There is a photographic warehouse at one end of the busy slip road and a large cemetery at the other.

Today neighbours complain of the shootings and violence between gangs in Croydon and nearby Thornton Heath. Amid the weedy gardens, littered with abandoned mattresses and bed frames, John Kercher’s house stands out as being smart. The walls are covered in creepers and high bushes, preserving a quiet space. He often retreats into his small rear garden to write.

But the sacrifices were worth it. The sight of the Kercher sisters sitting on the bus to school, wearing their smart dark-green school jumpers over light-coloured collared cotton dresses, with their hair immaculately groomed, stuck in people’s minds.

So much so that after her death one former pupil called Christina from Eastbourne wrote:

    1 didn’t know Meredith but 1 used to go to OPS and remember seeing her and her older sister on the bus on the way to school when they were very young. 1 just wanted to say to Stephanie that 1 couldn’t get the image of you and your little sister out of my head all day.

The other motto of the school is ‘The End Crowns the Work’. Meredith was good at creative writing. The staff remember her as a model pupil, self-disciplined and focused, even in her formative years. A former staff member said:

    Meredith was never in any trouble whatsoever. She was always smiling, just like you see on the photographs. She was very popular. Meredith favoured the humanities over maths or science. She was an innovative, bright thinker.

    Leadership qualities are encouraged at school and that rubbed off on Meredith. She wasn’t a pushover or a follower. She would have gone far in her chosen profession. We knew she would go far.

Though the school is very competitive - it won Independent School of the Year in 2005/06 - and many pupils take their GCSEs early in Year 10, Meredith took it all in her stride. Pals say she wasn’t competitive but she did enjoy netball and running.

Almost all of Meredith’s friends remember her as ‘the girl who was always smiling’ or ‘the girl with the beautiful smile’. They call her simply Mez. One schoolfriend remembered how Mez pulled her through the stress of coursework and exams at school:

    Mez was warm. I’d say the word is cosy or cuddly; she had that kind of aura. She would give you a hug and she was more interested in you than talking about her. I remember when I was burnt out doing revision and Mez helped me get organized. Mez liked doing coursework in English, English Lit and history. Very even-tempered, I don’t know anyone who ever fell out with her the whole time we were at school. I think because she was youngest in a big family, she was practical, a quick learner, or rather, well organized.

    There were some girls there, proper Surrey girls, who waste their time and get through with extra help. But Mez was hard-working and steady. Her mum and dad weren’t rich - she was there to get on.

One memory of her, from younger days, particularly stood out for her father. Meredith really liked Halloween. She made costumes from bin liners, carved out pumpkin lanterns with her family and played trick-or-treat on the neighbours.

Later John Kercher would describe it as ironic and tragic that she would die so terribly only one day after Halloween.


From pages 129 to 134 of the Pocket Books book Darkness Descending.

Posted by Our Main Posters on 04/22/10 at 09:09 PM in

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Meredith was so fortunate to have a “dream life” in her early years. Be nice to read some of her poems from Old Palace days.

Posted by Hopeful on 04/23/10 at 06:00 PM | #

Excellent extract, I must say. Gives a much clearer picture of the sort of person Meredith was, and how much she would have achieved.

Pro-Knox people accuse us of using “remember Meredith” to obscure debate about the crime. In some cases, they may have a point. IF the wrong people are in prison for a murder, then saying “remember the victim” doesn’t help anyone, or prove anything.

In fact, it is VERY important to understand Meredith, and the sort of person she was, not just to pay tribute to her, but in order to understand why someone like Knox, being the sort of person SHE was (and is), wouldn’t like her.

One was moral, hardworking and honest. One was the exact opposite, and in that clash of personalities is, in my view, the key motive for the murder. Knox didn’t like her. Essentially, it’s as simple, and as sad, as that.

Incidentally, I was VERY impressed with “Darkness Descending” when I read it. Most books that come out so soon after a verdict are pulp fiction nonsense, but the authors did an excellent job indeed.

I’m sure there will be better books on the case, but for one produced so quickly, it is, in its own way, a minor masterpiece.

Posted by Janus on 04/24/10 at 02:25 AM | #

After reading this, It put Meredith as a person not a victim or a just a name and a face but a child who grew up before your eyes. I cried for Meredith for her parents and her brothers,sisters and friends that are left behind.

You wonder how someone so bright and had a lot to offer this world could be gone so soon.

This young lady would of went so far in life you can just tell she would of been one to make it big
Now all thats left is pictures, and memories.

In the meantime you have someone like AK still living spreading destruction every where she turns, and wouldn’t know how to tell the truth if it slapped her in the face full force.

I truly believe Meredith would of forgiven AK for everything she had done to her, if she was here on earth, she just seems that type that would be forgiving those who trespassed against her.

Thank you for making Meredith a real person and not just the victim here.

Posted by jasmine1998 on 04/26/10 at 07:41 AM | #
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