Photographs submitted by Alan Leigh , Stoke on Trent . 2015
additional research material – Peter Kent. (1952-1957)
photographs from Peter
article from Peter
Inﬂuence of the war.
Most of our entertainment, other than sport, seemed in one way or another to be inﬂuenced by the recent war. In the winter term, when darkness came early, we would break out of bounds and make our way up the main road to the local sweet shop. This was a big deal and a serious offence but we all thought we were commandos. If a car came along the road we would throw ourselves into the ditch to avoid detection. In the meantime, prefects would be scouring the ﬁelds at the back of the school with Aldis signalling lamps, which were de rigueur for seniors and obtained, mail order, from Pride & Clarke, the purveyors of ex-WD equipment. Getting back into the school grounds was a challenging business and, for a youngster doing it for the ﬁrst time, quite an adrenalin rush. Occasionally, in the summer, we would break out of bounds and travel up over Pabo to the sweet shop on the other side. I remember standing on one of the crags, looking down on the school to see Mr. Drake scanning Pabo with binoculars. Some boys had obviously given the game away. Kitchen raids after lights out were common, and exciting. We would make dummies in our beds so that, when Matron did her rounds with her torch, we wouldn’t be missed. A trick we had learned from the war ﬁlms of the day. The extraordinary thing is – it worked. And we were only ten to twelve years old! Further inﬂuenced by prisoner of war escape ﬁlms, we were attracted to the idea of tunnels. Senior boys started to build underground huts in an area next to what were known as the ‘clay mines’. The huts were open holes, dug out, and covered with any rooﬁng material they could ﬁnd and covered over with earth sods. Some became inter-connected by what, effectively, became tunnels. Candles were made from the school ‘butter’ and burnt in Oxo tins to provide lighting – rather ineffectively. The path to the huts was booby-trapped with holes, covered over and placed in a zig-zag pattern. Most of the construction had gone unnoticed by the staff. One day Brookie came to investigate. He went straight down into the ﬁrst hole, recovered, and went down into the next one too. A real coup we thought. The staff, worried about the risk of a tunnel collapse, got a local civil engineer to come and inspect them. They passed with commendation! After the underground hut phase, tree huts were built. Not as glamorous as underground huts but requiring no less initiative and, it has to be said that, notwithstanding the adventurous exploits of the pupils, I don’t remember anyone suffering a serious accident the whole time I was there. In fact, the only serious injury was sustained by the woodwork master. A kind parent had donated a powered circular saw and Willie Dewdrop (so called for his dripping nose) took the end of his ﬁnger off the ﬁrst time he used it. He thereafter loved showing the stump to new boys to frighten them. The clay mines were simply an area of very clay soil and suitable for making miniature roads for dinkey toys or similar. Occasionally there would be a minor skirmish with local village lads who would encroach on the boundary of the property and challenge us. War was declared and we feared they would attack – so we prepared. We made what seemed like hundreds of clay balls with stones hidden inside as our ammunition and dried them out in the sun. Of course, the attack involved a few lads shouting and a Woodlands staff member getting rid of them. But we were prepared!
As stated, Col Sinker tended to use a slipper or strap but Brookie (Rev A.D.R.Brooke) used a riding crop.
If you happened to be in the third form, Brookie would walk straight through to the Hobbies Room, which was next door. He’d summon you to the room and he would extract the riding crop from down his trouser leg to administer the beating. Boys used to try and spot the crop in his trousers as he walked through the school buildings and give out the appropriate warning. Captain Howard (Wearie Willy) would get a boy out in front of the class, bend him over and whack him until, occasionally, his deaf aid would fall out. Miss Popple, the matron, was apt to use the ﬂat of her hand on your bare back if she caught you, undisciplined, in the dormitory area. It was extremely effective, especially when she caught boys queuing at the bathroom door to watch the assistant matron bathing through the keyhole, or if anyone was unfortunate to be caught standing on the wash basins at Eton dormitory in order to spy over the partitions on the bathing Spanish maids.
The Hobbies Room was a wonderful outlet for the boys skilled in such matters. Aeroplanes were made from balsa wood. Beautiful models covered with tissue paper and dope and ﬁtted with ‘diesel’ engines. These engines varied in size and were regularly run-in and tested on the work benches. If you caught your ﬁnger in the propeller of one of these engines you could sustain a bloody cut. The aircraft were ﬂown on control lines and, of course, crashed. Gliders were also built and launched with elastic stretched out over the ﬁeld in front of the school. Some got to Pabo, never to be seen again. Some boys built hydrofoils on skis, powered by the same engines. When snow was on the groundI these things would shoot down the drive at hight speed. I’ll always remember the smell of dope, engine fuel and glue. It takes me straight there, back to the hobbies room.
I did Riding, Piano and Dancing as extras. For riding we were taken by taxi to a local riding stable. Appropriately clad in jodhpurs and hacking jacket we were shown basic horsemanship and rode out on the local roads on benign ponies, beginners on a leading rein. Occasionally we would have a canter but it was mainly walking, always ﬁnishing down a steep hill where the horse would keep slipping and terrifying me. Eventually the screeching brakes of a van bolted my pony. I fell off and my head bounced along the tarmac. There was a lot of blood and my riding ﬁnished. Ballroom dancing lessons were given by one or two ladies who visited the school with a piano accompanist. We shufﬂed round the library ﬂoor absorbing the elements of the waltz, quickstep and foxtrot and occasionally we even braved some Cha-Cha. The ladies seemed rather old and rather tall and the pianist even older. But she played nice tunes and those lessons were to prove useful in later life. Piano lessons were given in the Music Room. An assortment of teachers came and went. One particular homosexual music master was apt to run his hand up your shorts and/or rub his face against yours while he was teaching you. He also invited boys to his room at night for cream cakes. I don’t think he was ever guilty of serious abuse but he was, nevertheless, sacked. Interestingly, the boys of the school were up in arms and wanted him back. I don’t think we really understood adult homosexuality and we perceived him as friendly, harmless and a source of good food.
Wills and legacy
When boys left the school they left behind a ‘will’ to be read out by the head boy the following term. Everybody assembled in the library to hear the will read, which was basically a criticism of everyone in the school, good or bad- with no punches pulled.
It was also a tradition to bury some treasure. The usual treasure being farthings in a matchbox or something similar. I witnessed more than one box of farthings being buried behind the chapel and some years later the Daily Telegraph ran an advert that claimed 1951 farthings would fetch a lot of money. I have recently learned they are fairly worthless!
Odds and Ends
During morning lessons the assistant matron would come to the junior form rooms and take a roll call for everyone’s bowel movements which she marked in a book with a tick or cross against each person’s name according to whether they had ‘performed’ that morning. One term we connived to make patterns in her book by calling yes or no inappropriately. It took her half the term to discover the ticks and crosses were writing her initials on the page. On bonﬁre night parents would contribute to the ﬁreworks and the bonﬁre would be built on the ﬁeld in front of the school. We’d all watch with parents – usually, it seemed, in the rain, but waterproof rubber torches had become available with red and green ﬁlters to slide over the bulb – so rain was of secondary importance. The gymnasium was built and presented to the school by Dowsetts, who were well known civil engineers at the time. They used to run pictorial advertisements in the printed media, the photograph seemingly in a gilt frame, always with a bunch of cornﬂowers in the corner. Dowsett was a contemporary of mine at that time. Tuck was kept in a cupboard and locked only to be rationed out once per week. We managed to make skeleton keys which would give us access to the tuck ad lib. At the end of term it was traditional for boys to smuggle in extra food for a ‘feast’. This event usually took place after lights out in the dormitories. Ingenious hiding places for the food, again, inﬂuenced by the war ﬁlms of the day, included the lavatory (know as ‘the dubbs’) cisterns, and the various little garden plots we were allowed to cultivate. One year the prize-winning plot, unknown to the staff, contained a hidden stash of food buried under the ornamental centrepiece, hastily prepared in time for the judging. These were the days when boys were encouraged to show initiative and be adventurous so the underground huts were given the blessing of the staff. There was a Boy Scout attitude to life – Col Sinker saw himself as a Baden Powell and when he occasionally led us off into Snowdonia for a walk in the snow, unless the snow was practically waist high he didn’t think we had been exercised. Most senior boys wore a sheath knife as part of their uniform. Ravenscroft Major (John Peel – or his brother) wore a sheath with two knives. I was envious. One chap, Knight I think, had a tame bird – a jackdaw, or some such, which he kept in the Hobbies Room. The more senior boys were encouraged to shoot on the riﬂe range with .22 riﬂes. I managed to win the cup jointly. I even had a starting pistol at school which ﬁred .22 blanks. I may not have advertised the fact, but It was never queried. It was a different world.
additional file 15 Jan 2018
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