Shastonian: A Boarding School Memoir
Published by Contentcan Ltd.
Printed in the United Kingdom
1st Printing 2001
PDF version 1.0
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© Copyright 2001, Stewart McKie
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without the prior written permission of the author.
This book is dedicated to the pupils and staff at Shaftesbury Grammar School during 1968-75.
The cover shows the school badge and an excerpt from the school photograph, taken in June 1969, with the author bottom and centre. The photograph is credited to Buchanan & Company Limited, Portslade, Sussex whom I have been unable to trace to get reproduction permission. If you are or know the copyright owner please contact the author.
Nothing in this book should be taken in any way as a reflection on current or past staff, governors or students of Shaftesbury School (now an Academy). This is a memoir reflecting my personal experience as a boarder at the former Shaftesbury Grammar School during the period 1968-75.
Finally I feel comforted by the knowledge that the current student body at Shaftesbury School will be totally unfamiliar with many of the events and activities I describe in my book. Or at least I sincerely hope so.
This is a memoir about my time as a boarder at Shaftesbury Grammar School (SGS) during the period 1968-75. SGS, now known simply as Shaftesbury School, is located in Dorset, England. As an old boy, or alumnus, of the school I am one of many, many “Old Shastonians” dotted around the world.
The book is not an autobiography. After all, I’m neither famous nor an otherwise especially noteworthy individual. Instead the book aims to capture certain aspects of the social history, the anthropology almost, of a particular set of people in a particular place and time.
I have tried not to be judgemental, to embarrass anyone or to replace fact with fiction. But obviously my views and memories and the views and memories of other contributors to the book may be tinted or tainted in some places. I can’t say with certainty that everything I describe actually happened in the way I describe it. But I’m probably close and if there any glaring errors they are, of course, my responsibility.
Some other Shastonians contributed their memories to this book, and these individual contributors are individually listed in the “Thanks To…” page at the end of the book.
My special thanks go to P.J.Rolfe, my former English master at the school, for his help with proof-reading, toning down the language and providing various corrections and additions to the content of the book. For me it was nothing less than “imperative” that I used my “learned pedagogue” for this purpose.
Even people with no experience of boarding school have some image of what it must be like to be educated away from home.
Perhaps this image is based on the rather austere regimes of the Victorian English public school, as represented in Thomas Hughes’ Tom Brown’s Schooldays; or the “best days of their lives” atmosphere of James Hilton’s Goodbye Mr. Chips; or the magical world of Harry Potter’s Hogwarts, the more recent creation of bestselling author J.K. Rowling.
However, the closest fictional representation of my own experience is probably Michael Palin’s “Ripping Yarn” called Tomkinson’s Schooldays. Like Tomkinson, my experience as a boarder was a bizarre mixture: sometimes happy and comical and at other times sad and cruel.
I could have tried to communicate my own Ripping Yarn using a chronological approach. But instead I decided to organize my story thematically. I apologize if this organization disrupts the narrative thread.
Because this book is my memoir, it primarily deals with “my generation” at SGS – that is the boys and staff at the school between 1968 and 1975. In particular, the book focuses on a small group of boarders who entered the school in or around September 1968 and the staff who taught them.
The boys and staff, and the school at the time I entered it in 1968, are introduced in the first section of the book, entitled New Boy, New World. Readers who want to know more ￼￼about Shaftesbury and the history of Shaftesbury School should refer to Appendix A at the back of the book.
The second section of the book, How We Lived, focuses on the school and the boarding house in particular as a social organism, covering its institutional regimes and routines.
The third section of the book uses the nautical theme Rum, Sodomy and the Lash to discuss some of our extra- curricular activities including drinking, sex and punishment.
The book finishes with a short section summarizing what I learned from my experience. By the end of this book, you’ll have some idea of what life was like at a minor English boarding school in the late nineteen sixties and early seventies.
Our school was not Eton or Harrow, or even anywhere close in cachet to other local Dorset public schools such as Bryanston and Sherborne, so don’t expect to learn about the early life of famous business people, celebrities or royalty. But our experience was unique in its own way and certainly unrepeatable, so it’s worth preserving for that reason alone.
My parents made the decision to send me to boarding school and in my particular case I think they made the right decision. Roughly thirty years later, I remember my days at Shaftesbury with some fondness and a number of my former classmates remain best friends today.
I hope you will enjoy reading this memoir as much as I did writing it.
If you ever went to boarding school you’ll either never forget, or never want to remember your first night at your new school.
For me it was chilly night in early September 1968 when my parents took me to Shaftesbury Grammar School (SGS) to begin what turned out to be my seven year boarding school “career”.
Many children who go to preparatory schools in the United Kingdom (UK) start boarding at eight. But even at eleven I felt and looked like a child - being small and thin for my age, and wearing a set of glasses only recently prescribed to help me read the board from the back of a classroom. Today I would be called a “geek”.
My Dad tried to give me some manly advice such as “have a go at everything”, while my Mum was probably steeling herself for leaving me behind. It must have been harder for my parents emotionally than for me – on that first night anyway – as I had an overwhelming feeling of excitement more than anything else.
Then the moment came and my parents drove away waving and glancing back until they disappeared on the road out of town and I was left standing by myself in “the quad” – our fancy name for the school car park. Next to me was my school trunk packed with clothes stamped with my new school identity in the form of a white name tape reading: No.16, McKie S. I was truly a new boy in a new world.
The Grammar School in 1968
When I went to SGS in 1968 it was a single-sex institution. Girls went to the County High School for Girls (known to us as the “the High School” or SHS for short) located in the town or to the more exclusive St. Mary’s School (a Catholic convent) on the outskirts of town. These two schools also took both boarders and day pupils. In addition, Shaftesbury had a secondary modern school, Christy’s School, which was mixed and took day pupils only.
In those days SGS was part of a two-tier education system and educated boys from ages eleven to eighteen. You started in the first form and finished in the upper sixth form. By going to a Grammar school you had already been “streamed” by the education system – because it meant that you had passed your first major examination, known as the Eleven-Plus (11+).
Kids who failed their 11+ generally went to secondary modern schools which many people then regarded, rightly or wrongly, as providing a second class education. So in class-conscious Britain, there was a touch of elitism about Grammar schools which some regarded as politically incorrect and others regarded as a good excuse to thump you (if they could catch you).
In addition to this formal “streaming” of brighter children, the first, second, third, fourth and fifth forms at SGS were also streamed in that there was an “A” set and a “B” set. Each set might study a slightly different curriculum, take different exams and be taught by different masters. Quite unfairly, members of the B set were generally regarded as being “thick” by the A set (despite the fact that some went on to outshine their A set colleagues).
Many boys left school at the end of the fifth form (when their average age was sixteen), after their ordinary level (O-level) examinations. These boys went into work or to a different school or college to pursue post O-level studies. Some stayed on into the sixth form to take their advanced level (A-level) examinations at the school. The sixth “year” in fact lasted two years and the forms were known as the lower- and upper-sixth. Of course, a few boys left in an untimely manner by getting expelled from the school.
In those days, SGS was quite a small school. The school roll typically averaged around 140 day boys and 80 boarders – around a third of today’s school roll. Certainly every boarder knew the name of every other boarder and the names of many day boys too. Including boarders and day boys, our form in September 1968 comprised 32 boys. The day boys came from the local Dorset/Wiltshire catchment areas and were collectively and affectionately known by the boarders as “day bugs”.
By contrast, boarders came from all over the world, mainly because many came from military families. We had boys from most of the bases then used by British Forces in places such as Cyprus, Germany, Hong Kong and Singapore. But we also had boarders from non-military families located in the Falkland Islands, North America, the Middle East and elsewhere.
During my time at the school very few boys of different ethnic backgrounds or skin colour passed through. The school was voluntary aided by the Church of England (Protestant) but we always had a few Catholics on the roll, although I don’t remember any boys of the Jewish faith and certainly no Hindus or Muslims. Ours was hardly a modern British school with its multi-cultural experience.
I remember one American, Greg Morse from Montana, a black Asian from Kenya, Kelvin Edwards, and even a Nepalese boy called Mott. But in spite of these exceptions, the demographic of the boarders at SGS was fairly consistent. They were white, middle-class and many had fathers who were senior non-commissioned officers (NCOs) or junior/middle ranking officers in the British Army, Royal Air Force (RAF) or Royal Navy. Not surprisingly there was a similar demographic for the girls boarding at the High School, where many also came from service families, particularly the Navy.
Mike Webber (see The Staff below) reminded me that this demographic was partly due to the fact that sometime in the 1960’s, the Ministry of Defence (MOD) began to offer grants to NCO’s to enable them to send their children to non-service boarding schools. SGS, as a relatively inexpensive option (as were a number of other boarding schools in Dorset), was one of many boarding schools that benefited from this ministerial largesse previously reserved exclusively for officers’ children.
It wasn’t clear to me then, but a few boarders were also placed in the school by the local education authority (LEA) on behalf of the social services – these were kids who might otherwise have been put into care or who were in need of “reform”. Sometimes these boys responded positively to the structure of life as a boarder at SGS. Sometimes they did not fit in, running away or breaking rules that caused them to be transferred somewhere else.
A handful of boys only actually went home once a year, for the long summer holidays, and many boarders only saw their parents during the three main school holiday periods around Christmas, Easter and high summer. The winter (September to December), spring (January to April) and summer (April to July) terms were also punctuated by half term breaks and usually an “Exeat” - a weekend break - in the middle of each term half.
Boys and Staff
According to The Shastonian (being the Shaftesbury Grammar School magazine) the Term III, September 1968 new boy intake included just eleven boarders in the first form. Those marked with an asterisk in the tables below stayed at the school for the full stretch, to use prison terminology, which is from age eleven to eighteen.
Some of these old lags remain good friends of mine today. Growing up with people in a closely knit boarding environment tends to cement the kind of lifelong friendships that for many other people only begin at a later stage, such as during military service or at college and university. The original eleven changed over the years as some left and others joined but oddly enough there were still exactly eleven of us in my year when we left in July 1975.
The staff and older boys addressed you by your last name. Your peers and even some of the staff addressed you exclusively by your nickname and the use of first names was unusual. I can’t remember a single occasion when I was addressed by my first name in seven years at school. Even when I left school and spent some months at an army basic training depot, I was seldom addressed by my name. There I had to get used to another nickname- namely “Binos” that referred to my wearing spectacles.
The First Form Boarders 1968
Brewin P. Pete or “Killer”
Edgley C.* Chris or “Coco”
Heckford S. See early leavers below
Hopkins J John or “Hoppie”
McKie S.* Stewart or “Plug”
Offord K. See early leavers below
Perry D.* Dave or “Crave”
Shrubsole P Pete or “Bushfoot”
Thurlow D.* Dave
Spencer M. See early leavers below
Wilkinson C.* Chris or “Clicky”
Early Leavers and Later Additions
Offord and Heckford did not stay with us for long and Spencer later converted to a day boy. Subsequent additions to our year included
1969 Hollingshead A.* Andy
1969 Escott A. Tony or “Nesp”
1970 Apedaile S. Steve or “Wacky”
1970 Burgess T.H. Tim or “Stan”
1970 Gillen T.D. Tim or “Gillie”
1971 Attwood R.L. Dick
1971 Grattan T.J. Tim
1971 Hayward M. Malcolm or “Wacky”
* = at the school from 1968/69-1975.
Brian Crowther, known to us as “Cran” was the school headmaster during the whole of my time at the school. Mr. Crowther is no longer with us and I hope those who knew him will not mind my referring to him by his nickname, “Cran”. This is how all boys referred to him and how I remember him personally in my own mind.
In those days there was a surprisingly low turnover of staff at the school. “Supply” teachers were virtually unknown and apart from the odd student teacher – I remember one Marxist in particular - or French “mademoiselle” (the teaching kind that is) for a term, the only teaching staff who changed regularly were the art and music teachers.
Most of the other staff at the school in 1968 taught me and my generation for our entire school career and included:
Name-Main Subject-Known To Us As
Bates B.S. Latin “George” or “Baz”
Brooks B.G. Maths “Dai”
Hopton F.C. History “Frank”
Hough G. Maths “Hough”
Strawbridge D.J. Physics “Doc”
Rolfe P.J. English “Rolfe”
Webber M. J. Geography “Webber”
Long-term staff members G. Scalbert (French), L.P.V.Veale (Science) retired soon after I got to the school and were replaced by A.J. Simmonds and Mrs. S. Strawbridge – known to us as “Chopper” and “Ma Doc” respectively.
We had a number of Art and Music teachers during my time at SGS and numerous other part-time or temporary teachers, the most memorable were B.A. Cooper - known to us as “Loopy” - and T.P. Jones, known to us as “Ducky”. I won’t comment on what was actually meant by “Chopper”, “Loopy” or “Ducky” but none of these nicknames was especially flattering. Other unflattering nicknames such as “Chimpy” were also used to name both boys and staff but I won’t embarrass anyone by revealing who was lumped in with our simian ancestors.
During my time at the school, the boarding masters were principally “George” Bates and Mike Webber, later joined by Andy Nunn and Phil Jacques. All boarding masters lived in the school and were an intrinsic part of our everyday life. Whether the boarding masters are remembered by Old Shastonians fondly or not, there’s no doubt that they put a significant part of their lives into the school and into the care of a succession of boys who passed through the school. Today, Mike Webber still lives near Shaftesbury. Unfortunately George Bates died just a few years after he left the school. Phil Jacques still teaches at the school and is an active committee member of the Old Shastonian Club.
Matron, and her assistant matron, also lived in and were responsible for the health and well-being of the school. Looking back, the matrons must have done a reasonable job as I can remember very few sick people and very few serious injuries. This healthy environment must also have been partly due to our unintentional non-fat diet and the bracing air that whistled through the school most days of the week – generally emanating from somewhere around the Arctic Circle.
Some have suggested that in fact few boys got sick because of some reluctance to suffer the various “treatments” on offer. Certainly nobody wanted to spend anymore time in sick-bay - the schools only penthouse suite - than they had to, cut of as you were from the important things in life – namely wine, women and song.
Nancy Barnish was the matron during my first few years at school and although she could dispense tender loving care when needed she was also a strict disciplinarian. She once caught me stuffing myself before lunch with some cake I had hidden in my personal “tuck box”. The box was tipped over and emptied of food and I was taken by the ear to lunch and forced to eat a full helping of the day’s delights to cure me of my naughty “snacking” habit. Later on I remember Miss Wilcox came from much the same mould.
Day staff members were also roped in to help with the management of the boarding house, often doing evening duties and taking the junior boys for muscular countryside walks on Sunday afternoons. Other staff who were a fixture during my time at SGS included Ernie, the groundsman, and Austin and Stan, the school caretakers. Stan Barter had in fact been Cran’s batman when he was a serving officer in the British Army.
Overall, the small number of boarders and staff and the relatively low level of staff turnover meant that ours was a particularly close-knit boarding school. This made it hard for anyone to feel left out or get excessively picked-on. Bullying, as far as I remember, was rare and when it happened usually got stopped pretty smartly. And it’s fair to say that while the staff generally tolerated no nonsense in or out of class, discipline out of school hours was actually primarily enforced by the prefects – see Rum, Sodomy and the Lash below.
On my first night at school, after my parents had driven off, I stood alone in the quad chafing in my new uniform, which was rather uninspiring in terms of sartorial elegance. We wore a black blazer with a royal blue braid trim. Underneath was a grey shirt and black tie above black shorts, knee length grey socks and black shoes. On Sundays the blazer and shorts or trousers were switched for a dark grey wool suit. We even wore caps in those days. That night mine was quickly knocked off. Caps – in today’s jargon – were distinctly “uncool”.
I subsequently discovered that I was one of the few boys in the school who actually wore shorts. But like all new boys I quickly realized that whether we wore shorts or trousers, our uniforms failed in their most basic of tasks – to keep a body warm. So I quickly adopted the hunched posture characteristic of so many boys at the school, who withdrew their hands up into their coat sleeves to gain a little extra warmth.
We wore black shoes, supposedly shined daily with our new shoe polishing kits, for as our history master Frank Hopton once famously said, “Brown shoes don’t make it”. Many of us nailed numerous “Blakeys” (metal studs) to the heels of our shoes. Not to make the heels last longer you understand, but in order to make the maximum noise possible as we ran, illegally, up and down the wooden floors of the school corridors.
After my trunk disappeared into the control of the school matron, as it was she who was the caretaker of our personal wardrobe, there was little left to do but have some supper, get washed up and go to bed. All three activities sound humdrum but were in fact far removed from the way any of us new boys were used to doing things at home.
As you might expect, supper took place in a communal dining hall. We sat at separate tables that served around a dozen boys - generally from the same “form” (class or year), - and were headed by a prefect (a senior boy). Supper was taken by a master (teacher), who sat at the head table in the dining hall. Boys on the kitchen duty rota helped serve and clear up the food.
I doubt if any of us new boys ate much at all if anything that night – in contrast to typical mealtimes later. After supper as I rushed upstairs to examine my new dormitory I bumped into David Perry, another new boy, who formally reintroduced himself to me by shaking my hand and saying, “Hullo. I’m David Perry.” David and I had met before, at a get-to-know-you type gathering held for new boys and their parents during the summer preceding the autumn term.
At the same event I also met another boy, Chris Edgley, who later became one of my best friends. My father was a signaller in the Army, David’s flew with Vulcans in the RAF. We both came from local bases, at Blandford and Boscombe Down (near Salisbury) respectively. By contrast, Chris was over from Hong Kong where his father worked in forensics with the Royal Hong Kong Police. Chris, or “Coco” as he came to be known, was memorable immediately because he was a big lad and had a distinctly tanned complexion compared to us.
By coincidence, at the end of my first year at the school I participated in the next intake’s get-to-know-you day as one the boys selected to show round the new boys and their parents. I escorted Steve Palmer and his parents around the school. This task was made all the more palatable as Steve had an older sister with him who soon attracted the attention of a number of boarders hanging out of windows or around the school buildings. A great deal of nudge-nudge, wink-wink type foolery later ensued. Steve’s sister must have been around eighteen so I doubt if she paid much attention to her eleven year old escort with his knobbly knees and high-pitched voice.
I might have been the runt of the litter in my boarding year, but Andy Hollingshead told me that I was the primary reason for his conversion from a day-boy to a boarder in 1969. Apparently while a master was called away during a lesson I went to the front of the class and started mucking about in a carefree way that Andy obviously found deeply impressive. He became a boarder the following term and was initially known as “Yank” because he had recently moved from North America and still had a trace of the local accent.
Naturally it could be difficult at first for any boy to join an established form as a boarder because the group identity and certain friendships had typically been solidified by the time they joined the school. Andy is a good friend of mine today and will not mind me recounting one way in which he attempted to ingratiate his way into our group.
Andy tried to make me feel special by showing me some secret plans of a new US aircraft that he claimed his Dad was involved with. Unfortunately I was a keen aircraft spotter and knew these plans to be drawings of a well-known high-altitude spy plane. Andy failed in his attempt to impress but soon became an integral member of our form.
My first dormitory was dormitory four (“dormy 4”), and like all those occupied by junior boys (from the first to third years) was the personal fiefdom of the two dormitory prefects. Ours were unusual in that they were only fifth form boys – “Corks” Waddell and Mike Summers. These two were definitely a good cop/bad cop double act. Corks was an academic type who later went to Cambridge. Mike Summers was one of our Falkland Island boys and had a reputation as something of a hard man. Mike now resides in the far-off Falklands but even so his reputation prevents me telling you his nickname and its precise anatomical derivation.
The nickname “Corks” had a similar derivation to my own “Plug”. Both referred to famous bouts of constipation that often afflicted new boys with sensitive stomachs. My bout was finally ended by some mysterious orange substance that cleared a few weeks of blockage with the efficiency of an explosive charge projecting a round from a rifle barrel. I was never constipated again but was known as Plug for the remainder of my school years.
Dormy 4 slept around a dozen boys with a prefect at either end. There was silence after “lights out” - unless of course the prefects wanted to chat with each other or insult us, their precious charges. That night we also took our first wash in the communal washrooms. Here washing often took second place to organized mayhem, largely consisting of being flicked by the wet end of someone’s carefully rolled-up wash towel. Luckily, part of our school wardrobe included a dressing gown, which certainly helped to lessen the sting - unless one was unceremoniously stripped of pyjama bottoms to receive a real lashing.
A First Class Education
We quickly learned three things after our first night in the school: our place, a new vocabulary and a lot of dirty jokes.
We soon realized that we were at the absolute bottom of a relatively rigid social hierarchy. Much the same as new recruits at an Army depot, we were the butt of jokes, dogsbodies who could be ordered to run just about any errand and the objects of continuous verbal and occasional physical abuse.
We picked up a whole new vocabulary of choice curse words and other terms of abuse. In this vocabulary the “F” and “C” words were used liberally as verbs or nouns, as well as adverbially and adjectivally. Apparently all of us new boys were promiscuous illegitimates or looked like a specific part of the female anatomy - according to many older boys anyway. We also had a lot of our own school slang and I’m ashamed to say that two popular terms of minor abuse were “spastic” and its SGS derivative “spode” – hardly politically correct after the then recent Thalidomide drug scandal.
We were also exposed to a vast range of humour that was undoubtedly racist, sexist and blasphemous - unfortunately the hallmark of many of the best schoolboy jokes. In fact the first joke I can remember being told involved two nuns in the bath and the unusual use of a bar of soap. I think I was told that one within an hour of arriving at school. I’m happy to admit that it took me a while to figure it out. It’s certainly not the kind of joke to tell at cocktails with Mother Superior.
Many of us also experienced something else that we had probably never experienced before, namely homesickness. I was very homesick during much of my first year at school and especially in the first term. And I wasn’t the only one. David Perry told me that he recently saw an old letter he had written to his parents during his first year at school that started something like this, “Things are getting better. I haven’t cried for over two weeks.” I doubt if that was uncommon.
My homesickness was a surprise to me. But it shouldn’t have been as I had probably only spent a handful of nights away from home in the whole of my eleven years. It was also made worse because as the “runt” of the year I was particularly prone to being “disciplined” by prefects. Even later, when many of us looked forward to returning to school, the first night back at the start of term never felt entirely comfortable.
It didn’t help that I occupied the “ghost of Cann” bed in dormitory 4. Cann church was next to the school (it was used as the school chapel) and older boys insisted that a ghost walked the churchyard and that (bizarrely!) on the night of the annual Shaftesbury carnival festivities the ghost walked abroad and did nasty things to whoever occupied the bed I happened to sleep in.
Of course this was nonsense. But as a sensitive kid beset by homesickness and with a stomach that was unable to get used to school food, the legend caught me at rather a psychological low. I remember John Brewin, among many others, taunting me about it. But to be fair to John he looked a little ashamed of himself when I promptly burst into tears.
John is the older brother of Pete Brewin, who was a boarder in my year. The Brewins became famous for a fraternal fight that left John prostrate on the ground in the face of a furious onslaught by his younger brother. They were henceforth known as “foamer” and “killer” in honour of this auspicious occasion.
Anyway, I don’t remember if I slept well or not on my first night. But I do know that if I had realized what was in store for me in my first few years of school I would probably have spent a sleepless night.
In this section of the book, I’ll attempt to give a flavour of everyday life in the SGS boarding house. While every school is a form of institution, a boarding school has a vibrant life of its own that is probably not much different in many ways from that of an army barracks or a prison. Certainly during my brief army career my infantry barracks seemed quite luxurious compared to school. However, I’m unable to contrast school to prison as, to date, I have not been detained at Her Majesty’s Pleasure.
You are perhaps thinking of our boarding house as a place of tuck boxes, midnight feasts, pillow fights and toasting muffins over an open fire? Well, banish that thought.
Some of us had tuck boxes when we first arrived but they quickly lost their purpose as the food in them disappeared and never got replenished. Midnight feasts were uncommon as most of us would be unable to stomach the leftovers from the day’s gourmet excesses in the dining room. There was the occasional pillow fight, but normally pillows were just another object for prefects to whack you with. Finally, we had no open fires and if we did we would have been toasting ourselves on them, not muffins. Bedknobs and Broomsticks
SGS was not an elegant school, despite pleasant views to the south and west. The buildings were a mixture of red-brick, grey pebbledash, portakabins (temporary pre-fabricated outbuildings) and old wooden sheds. We were not housed in some grand old country house, like many of the upper-crust of British boarding schools. But nor were we located in a modern, purpose built eyesore.
At least the grounds were reasonable. In front of the school a pleasant green field stretched out roughly south east. At the western end of the school, close to the staff common room and administrative offices, was a tranquil croquet lawn shaded by a beech tree. Next to the lawn were a couple of tennis courts, which saw little action until the summer term.
The classrooms were filled with individual wooden desks with an inkwell and a lifting desktop. You stored all your books in your desk along with a few other personal things; surprisingly, very little ever got stolen. Pride of place in every classroom was the radiator, usually at the back, on which boarders would sit for many happy hours after school. We were warned, but to my knowledge nobody ever got piles - despite toasting their nether regions at every opportunity.
There were toilets upstairs around the dormitories and even a “ladies” for visiting High School girls – rumoured by the boys to be specially fitted with a coin-operated tampon machine. But the main toilets were in a block outside the school by the bike sheds, universally known as “the bogs”. The bogs were not just the main toilet block; they were also the hang-out of the school smokers, who hung-out in the cubicles to have a fag (American readers should be careful to translate this as “to light up a cigarette”).
A famous incident was the day the bogs burned down. This occurred when a day-boy in our year – coincidently the son of the Governor of a local young offenders’ institution – flicked his lighted dog-end into the rafters of the bogs. Unknown to him, the roof was filled with straw and various other highly-flammable materials, probably including numerous pornographic magazines, and it didn’t take long before the roof went up in flames. The fire was eventually controlled but I have no recollection of where we relieved ourselves after that or where the smokers re-congregated.
Boarders lived in and above the school classrooms and in an annexe to the headmaster’s house we called “outhouse”, which was a short walk from the school itself towards the town. Outhouse contained some smaller dormitories reserved for fifth and sixth form boys who had no prefectorial duties. The rest of the school slept in four large dormitories located above the regular school classrooms, roughly a dozen boys and two prefects to each dormitory. As noted above, the youngest boys slept in dormy 4 and progressively older boys in “dormies 1, 2 and 3”.
Even reincarnated Spartans would probably have found our dormitories lacking a certain warmth. The wooden carpet-free floors and large, curtain-less sash windows gave these open, high-ceilinged rooms a rather chilly feel. Water frequently froze in the dormitory. Our iron bedsteads had a thin, hard mattress topped with two sheets, a thin blanket and counterpane and something pretending to be a pillow. Next to the bed was a small wooden locker for storing pyjamas and other nocturnal accessories plus some hooks on which to hang a dressing gown and wash towel. Even in the Army I got a metal wardrobe and a carpet - bedside for the use of – alongside my bed.
You might have expected the dormitories to be full of snoring and other activities claimed to have detrimental optical consequences. But in fact it could be pretty silent after lights out. That is when there wasn’t a belching competition, a fart-combustion session or some other riotous activity going on. Basically it all depended on the prefects. Lax or “soft” prefects permitted mayhem after lights out. Strict prefects simply terrorized their charges. In one of my dormitories there were nightly beatings inflicted on selected boys by one dormitory prefect. This same prefect was also infamous for shining a torch on his genitalia to project them onto the dormitory wall and for offering unsuspecting victims samples of his own urine as a substitute for the promised sip of coffee.
Any bedtime reading was done covertly using a torch under the covers. Or at least I think that’s what was going on. Many of us also had small transistor radios with earphones so we could listen to some late night pop show or even the news. The outside world was literally another world as far as we were concerned. In fact the only time I was conscious of the outside world impacting our routine was during the three-day week imposed by the Heath government. At this time, to conserve energy, electricity was shut off during selected periods of the day and I remember us having supper and even doing prep (homework) by candlelight.
Generally we slept like logs. A few boys sleepwalked. Mike Wilkinson walked out of a dormitory window and broke a few bones. Some say he wasn’t sleepwalking but on some other kind of trip. David Perry walked abroad on the roof of the Memorial Hall when he was up in sick-bay with a fever. Less active boys talked in their sleep, yielding up secrets that could be used to taunt them the day after. Oddly, many boys were supposedly heard sleep-talking their desire to commit deviant sexual acts with specifically named High School girls.
Chris Brough remembered how opinions about various girls, their anatomy and what he would like to do with them were coaxed out of him one night in a dormitory chat-session. However, unknown to him, this conversation was being captured on a tape recorder. The recording was edited so it seemed like a continuous “stream of consciousness” on the subject of girls. The tape could then be replayed - say to the girl herself or to the brother of a girl mentioned in the tape. Needless to say this could be rather embarrassing for the narrator and a source of endless amusement for others.
We folded back our bedclothes when we got up and then came back up to the dormitory to make our beds after breakfast. Beds not folded back or displaying sharp “hospital-corner” creases when made were frequently stripped or simply turned over by the dormitory prefects. The prefects benefited from what we “plebs” thought were luxurious foam mattresses and pillows. Making the prefect’s bed was such a common dormitory punishment that most prefects forgot how to make their bed after a month or two in their dormitory.
A major step up from the dormitories were the five “studies” occupied by the head boarder (or head boy if he was a boarder) and the senior prefects. A study was a tiny room with a bed, a window, a little space for shelves and maybe a small chair. There were no fireplaces or comfy armchairs – these could only be found (and rightfully so!) in the boarding staffs’ own living quarters, which were situated on the second and third floor of the main school buildings.
As I was head boarder at the school during my final year, I lived in a study and felt very privileged to do so. I had some privacy, my posters on the wall, my record player on the floor and a shelf for my books. I could do my prep in private and had access to a special washroom for prefects only. Life was good. But prior to my last year, like every other boy, I migrated through four dormitories and outhouse as I rose up the school hierarchy.
The only other privacy one got at school was by hanging out in the classrooms or common rooms after 4pm when day school finished. A common room was basically some shed, somewhere on the school grounds. Our first common room was the former Cadet Corps indoor rifle range which was subsequently furnished with some moth-eaten old armchairs and a snooker table. Later, in the sixth form, we had a pretty decent common room with a kitchen, a storage area and our own television. We had a lot of fun in that common room both amongst ourselves and with our girlfriends. We kept our common room pretty clean – or to be more accurate the junior boys on clean-up punishment made sure the place was spick and span.
We could also make use of the library after school. Personally I loved the library and became a voracious reader as a result. However there were few risqué books to be found on the shelves. But the library did subscribe to a number of magazines including the foreign language Paris Match and Der Spiegel. These latter could usually be relied on to occasionally feature some nudity, which quickly resulted in the magazines themselves being denuded of specific pages. Requests for a subscription to Playboy or Penthouse by the library were regularly turned down.
Now and then a new reference book would be added to the library and then withdrawn when it became clear that it was not being used for its intended educational purpose. One book of synonyms was soon missing the pages that dealt with synonyms for parts of the female and male anatomy. I distinctly remember our range of alternative terms for “homosexual” being significantly expanded before this book was withdrawn.
God, how we must have smelled! Even with lashings of Brut, Old Spice or whatever other cheap cologne we managed to order on our “bill” (sundries ordered from Matron that were billed at the end of term to our parents). The bill was supposed to be used to order necessities such as toothpaste and shampoo; however frequent attempts were made to put in orders for various unsuitable items from time to time. How tedious it must have been for Matron to deal with all those anonymous requests for Durex (rubbers), tampons or penis enhancement devices.
Although we took plenty of showers after sport, I can’t remember many people actually using soap. We just liked to hang out under the shower for as long as the hot water lasted, which was seldom very long. The boarders shared a handful of baths that we used on a rota. The idea was that we all had a bathing appointment, usually between 4pm to 6pm, at least twice a week. The reality was that some people had no idea where the baths were located.
We got clean underwear and socks in a “bundle” twice a week, including a clean shirt once a week. A bundle was a fresh bath towel wrapped around various clean garments and secured with a safety pin, issued to us at bedtime on specific days of the week. Luckily the ambient temperature of the school meant that few people were fortunate enough to sweat, other than when they played games.
Surprisingly few people actually smelled bad and those that did were constantly reminded of the fact, probably a case of lots of pots calling the kettle black. In fact the smelliest place in the school was not the cesspit where Ernie dumped the grass cuttings but our changing rooms where there lay a permanent pile of wet towels, soggy socks and muddy shorts bubbling away in a corner. We suspected this pile was regularly wrung out by the kitchen staff and the steaming residue put in our tea.
The school was run by a series of bells marking the division of the day into various events. Originally the bell was a hand-bell and the boy acting as the official bell ringer was actually paid an honorarium (i.e. money) by the school. Later the hand bell was supplemented by an electric bell used to mark the start and end of each school lesson.
Lessons were usually 40 minutes long and prep was a supervised homework session managed by prefects – often in complete silence. There was no television in the evening and certainly no mobile phones chirping away. The boys had access to one phone in the whole school, located in the secretary’s office. A phone call in usually meant that someone had died; a phone call out that you had run out of pocket-money.
This is the typical day and evening routine of the school when I attended it:
AM 7.25 Wake-up
9.00 Assembly (hymns and prayers)
9.10 First lesson
9.50 Second lesson
10.30 Morning break
10.45 Third lesson
11.25 Fourth lesson
12.05 Fifth lesson
12.45 End of morning lessons
1.30 Lunch break
2.00 Sixth lesson
2.40 Seventh lesson
3.20 Eighth lesson
4.00 End of day school
4.15 Tea and free time
6.00 Early prep
6.45 End of early prep
7.30 Start of second prep
8.30 Younger boys to bed
9.00 Older boys to bed; start of late prep
9.30 Lights out in dormitories
We were full-time boarders, who did not go home at the end of the week, so we also had a weekend routine. As younger boys, the highlight of the weekend was on Saturday, when we could go up into the town for about an hour and spend our pocket money. We withdrew the cash from our personal “account” by lining up patiently in front of a boarding master who dispensed and accounted for our drawings. We then hit the town to buy sweets and comics, later books and LP records or bottles of booze and cigarettes.
A typical Saturday was as follows:
9.00 Assembly (hymns and prayers)
9.10 First lesson
9.50 Second lesson
10.30 Morning break
10.45 Third lesson
11.25 Fourth lesson
12.05 End of morning lessons and town privilege
1.30 Lunch break
2.00 Start of afternoon sport or inter-school matches
4.00 End of day school
4.15 Tea and free time
6.00 Early prep
6.45 End of early prep
7.30 Start of second prep
8.30 Younger boys to bed
9.00 Older boys to bed; start of late prep
9.30 Lights out in dormitories
As you can see, regular school continued for half a day on Saturdays and then there was sport in the afternoon. First to third year boys were only officially allowed into the town for about an hour early Saturday afternoon. Otherwise the only other times we went into town were with special permission, say to go to the opticians, or when we were on our way to church or some other formal gathering.
We had prep in the evening so Saturday night at SGS was something of an anti-climax. On some Saturday afternoons we might get the opportunity to watch a little sport on television in one of the boarding masters’ studies. But ours was essentially a TV-free existence. I have no idea what the hit shows were on TV during my time at school. Luckily we did have a “film club” that showed films on Saturday evenings during the winter term – a popular diversion from the regular routine of prep and punishment.
I remember one film called The War Lord starring Charlton Heston as a Norman knight in Saxon England. This historical drama included the routine scenes of maiden ravishing and offerings of sacrificial virgins to pagan Gods. Later, when I asked my parents what the word “virgin” meant they came up with a suitably demure definition, namely “an unmarried woman”. It has to be said that this was slightly different from the definitions offered by older boys that were variations on the theme of “fresh meat” or simply “what you couldn’t find at the High School”.
The highlight of the week for boarders in the fourth form upwards was Sunday afternoon, when we were allowed out of school for four to five hours’ unsupervised freedom in casual clothes. It was only a year or two before I arrived at the school that even fourth and fifth form boys could go out of school without caps and school uniforms. So the privilege of wearing “civvies” on a Sunday was relatively recent.
This Sunday freedom was originally supposed to be a “cycling” privilege but by the time I was at the school few boys were interested in cycling on a Sunday. In fact older boys used this free time, or wished they used it, for “bouncing” - as our teenage sexual experiences were known at the time. Many bouncing sessions began on Shaftesbury’s picturesque Park Walk and ended up in some nearby field or if you were lucky enough to be going out with a day-girl, her house.
A typical Sunday routine looked like this:
8.25 Late wake-up
1.30 Lunch break
2.00 Organized walk (younger boys)
Town privilege (older boys)
4.15 Tea and free time
6.30 Evensong at church
8.30 Younger boys to bed
9.00 Older boys to bed
9.30 Lights out in dormitories
The whole boarding house, students and staff, went to church twice on Sundays for morning service and evensong. The whole boarding house (minus a few Catholics) trooped up to Holy Trinity church at the other end of town for morning service once a month and used the nearby school chapel (formerly the Cann Parish Church of St. Rumbold’s) for regular morning services and evensong. I enjoyed church, but probably only because it brought us into contact with the girls from the High School who attended morning services with us.
Chris Brough reminded me that a popular “skive” was to become a church bell-ringer or server. You then went to Holy Trinity church before the rest of the boarders, meaning you could get away with not wearing your school cap. Smokers also had the opportunity of having a fag before the service and after the service there was even the possibility of a very quick rendezvous with a High School girl.
There was little opportunity for “bouncing” for first to third year boys. Unlike the fourth form upwards, the younger boys went on organized Sunday walks into the surrounding countryside. With hindsight these walks were pleasant and healthy and got us out into the local scenery. But at the time, most boys hated them, and although walks were meant to last for a couple of hours they frequently lasted longer. It was certainly a good way of keeping us busy on a Sunday.
We spent many Sunday afternoons toiling up nearby Melbury Beacon hill or circumnavigating the local Borstal (Young Offenders Institution) at Guys Marsh. Mike Webber’s walks normally included other activities that pitted boys against each other, usually ending up in someone getting a bloody nose and a long walk back for all of us, given that we ended up straying some distance from the school. Today it’s hard to imagine one staff member (with a prefect to help) being allowed or able, to control 30-40 boys on an afternoon walk. It never fails to amaze me how no-one got lost, run over or molested in some other way.
In the summer term we moved to a summer routine whereby early evening prep was moved to early morning prep (i.e. before breakfast) and we got up earlier. Another part of our daily routine in the summer was early morning roller duty, when we were required to roll the cricket square on the main school field. Imagine a gaggle of small boys pushing and pulling the roller as found on the front of a road-building steam roller and you’ll get the picture.
It’s beyond me how someone was not crushed as we raced the roller back to its rest position near “the dung heap”, as we called Ernie the groundsman’s huge compost heap. Boys were always trying to set alight to the foul gases that emanated from the pit. And come to think of it, didn’t the roller end up in the dung once or twice, along with a boy or two?
Our Sporting Life
We certainly did a lot of sport, which probably helped give us a robust constitution as Shaftesbury was nothing if not cold, windy and wet for much of the year. I do remember a boy from Queen Elizabeth School, Wimborne being carried off at half time during a school football match suffering from suspected hypothermia. The weather was frequently cold enough to cause a brass monkey some concern, that’s for sure.
Apart from regular physical education (PE) lessons twice a week, we played sport during the fifth lesson on Mondays and Thursdays, all Wednesday afternoon and all Saturday afternoon - if no school matches were being played at home at the weekend. We played rugby in the winter term, football (soccer) in the spring term and cricket in the summer term. We also played table tennis in the evenings, tennis and croquet in the summer and squash all year round.
Mike Webber used the school Memorial Hall to run his “Pirates” sessions after school. Modeled on the aerial assault courses used by the military, Pirates required a captain to “get” the pirates by chasing them across a wide range of PE beams and boxes, vertical ropes, balconies and stages. As each pirate was caught, he became part of the crew who helped the captain capture the remaining pirates. Needless to say the last remaining pirates had to be pretty fit and agile to stay at liberty.
Pirates was not for the faint-hearted and so we all loved it, especially when someone failed to connect with a swinging rope, land securely on a narrow beam or connect with the balcony they were leaping onto. The selection of flimsy PE mats on the floor did little to prevent thumping falls to the ground and even the odd broken arm or leg – as suffered by “Bob” Jenner one year according to Mike Webber.
Dave Lever reminded me of a favourite “Pirates” trick, practised by Chris Wilkinson among others, to evade capture. We had thick climbing ropes that hung some thirty feet or so from the ceiling of the Memorial Hall. Chris would climb up the middle rope of a group of three until he reached the ceiling and then draw up the two ropes on either side of him. A pirate was virtually impossible to catch if they could pull this one off. Malcolm Hayward was also an ace on the trampette (a mini trampoline not an under-age prostitute) managing to evade capture by remaining largely airborne most of the time.
SGS played competitive matches with a wide range of schools in the area. However, we were such a small school that it was hard for us to compete with what were often much bigger schools especially as the core of our teams was usually drawn primarily from the boarding house. I’m proud to say that our year’s under 15 rugby team in 1971 had one of the best records ever, losing only 2 of 12 matches – both against the much bigger Bournemouth School – and amassing 408 points for and 128 against. Coco was the star player, kicking and scoring many of these points himself.
Staff also participated in matches as referees and coaches. Luckily it was not one of our staff who was standing legs akimbo in front of Stan Burgess when he booted a rugby ball upfield during our under 15 rugby match against Portchester School. The ball caught the ref in the testicles and he had to be carried off. Naturally we all had a good laugh at this as the prospect of irreversible infertility was far from our minds at the time. I was knocked out temporarily during this same match – something that happened to me again against a Sherborne School side a few years later.
Like Coco, Stan was another big lad for his age and frequently played havoc with opposing sides, especially in the scrum. At one under 15 rugby match, a certain front row forward from Milton Abbey School was proving troublesome and a shout went up from inside the scrum: “Get him, Stan!” Moments later a howl went up from the opposing forward and he shouted in a rather refined accent, “Take your hands off my balls, you bastard!”
But Stan himself also attracted his fair share of retaliation. For it was in a Romans vs. Corinthians inter-house rugby match that my fellow Romans Andy Brice and “Chopper” Gatehouse demonstrated why Rome once ruled the world by double tackling Stan, cracking a couple of his ribs in the process and allowing us to go on and win the match. The other “houses” were Trojans and Spartans, but as far as I’m concerned Romans ruled.
The summer term at Shaftesbury was a lot more pleasant than the winter term. Instead of a cold wind blasting up your shorts, rendering your tackle temporarily inoperative, there was warmth, the smell of mown grass and the lazy buzz of aircraft circling nearby Compton Abbas airfield.
We had a very pleasant cricket square located right in front of the main school building on the playing field. I spent many happy hours on the square and captained the school 1st XI in my last year, my only major sporting achievement. Unfortunately my team lost most of its matches but I do remember hitting a fun 57 against Canford School, taking 7 wickets for 19 runs against Foster’s School and quickly dispatching my cricket master, Graham Hough, with a nonchalant catch at gulley, when we played the local Shaftesbury Cricket Club.
Every summer we had the school sports day, and speech day, which was sometimes combined with an evening barbecue. Whereas in the winter we had a gut-wrenching cross country race through muddy, dung-strewn fields, usually won in our year by Chris Wilkinson, even after he became a twenty-a-day man. Anyone who has seen Tom Courtney in the film The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner will get the picture. In my time the cross-country race was only compulsory for junior boys. Some years before a spirited protest by some senior boys had persuaded the staff that the cross country race should be compulsory only for masochists in the senior forms.
Also in the summer we had the swimming sports. Swimming was practised either at the outdoor unheated Shaftesbury pool or a similar pool located in Tisbury. The emblem of both these pools should have included the apocryphal brass monkey - that water was cold. The only thing that could make you forget the cold was the odd recreational swimming session we had at the same time as the High School girls. I certainly remember forgetting the cold in the company of Chris and Sue, two fourth form High School girls.
Then there was the Duke of Edinburgh’s (DofE) Award scheme, of which one award element was success at outdoor pursuits in the form of wilderness hikes. Some of us were fortunate that Mike Webber gave us the opportunity to participate in DofE hikes across Dartmoor, Dorset, Exmoor, the Brecon Beacons and other wilderness areas. We learned to walk under load, route plan and navigate, and camp and cook for ourselves. The rest of the DofE award syllabus seemed rather tedious but the hikes at least got us out of school and into the countryside.
Today’s Shaftesbury School is designated a Sports College and boasts floodlit soccer and tennis areas as well as a fully equipped gymnasium. In our day we often practised our rugby spot-kicking in the dark and our gym equipment was limited to vaulting horses and climbing ropes. I’m not sure if we were that much fitter that today’s generation but I don’t remember many overweight boys.
Food, Glorious Food
I’m not sure which subject was foremost in our minds as boarders – food or sex. But probably it was food for our first couple of years and sex thereafter. Or maybe it was food during the day and sex at night, whatever.
We ate formal meals at least four times a day – more if we could manage it. Breakfast was cereals and a cooked meal - like a fried egg on fried bread. There was always lots of toast and plenty of tea. We kept our own personal jams and spreads in cupboards located at one end of the dining room, available at breakfast, tea and supper. A boarding master oversaw breakfast and said grace.
Breakfast was when “first post” (generally letters only) was distributed. Most of us wrote regularly to our parents and looked forward to getting mail at breakfast. “Second post” was at lunchtime and generally consisted of the odd packet or parcel. These always meant something special, such as a food parcel, LP or book and were the subject of intense speculation during the meal, especially among younger boys. We always suspected that our mail was routinely censored, especially after staff discovered that someone was subscribing to the banned Oz magazine and someone else had received some unusual female underwear by post.
Lunch was a two-course meal: usually “meat and two veg” plus a pudding with water to drink. The headmaster had lunch with us and said grace seated at the head table with the senior prefects and the head boarder. Day boys had to walk crocodile fashion to nearby Christy’s school for their lunch – occasionally a tense, even violent daily event as they were exposed to a large number of local lads who had little respect for the sanctity of grammar school boys.
Many boarders depended on regular helpings of “stodge” – a steamed, suet-like pudding – for that extra belt of calories. We had jam stodge, syrup stodge, chocolate stodge and the famous “spotted dick” (recently renamed “spotted Richard” by the Tesco supermarket chain apparently in deference to sensitive female shoppers). Stodge was smothered in a putty-like custard and we devoured it with relish. I believe piles of school stodges were also used to create harbour breakwaters, but that could be just my imagination running away with me.
There were seldom many leftovers at any meal. As an adult I still eat my first course fast, because at school this was one way to get early in line for seconds. When there were leftovers at the end of a meal they became fodder for solo eating binges. For example, there were often prunes left over when prunes and custard were served for pudding. I believe it was Nick Burd who once ate over 100 at a sitting, and the mind boggles at what the eventual outcome of this marathon session might have been.
Tea was tea and bread and jam, an optional meal that many people avoided. Supper was a light meal like tinned spaghetti or beans on toast plus bread and tea (or coffee or cocoa now and then). A boarding or prep-duty day master oversaw supper and said grace.
The food, despite being relatively plentiful and probably highly nourishing for Ethiopians, was something we all grumbled about. The milk was watered down, the bread never seemed to be quite fresh and it niggled us that staff got butter with their meals whereas we got margarine. The breakfast cereal was almost always cornflakes and we suspected that bromide was added to our tea in an attempt to control our lustful urges. But we could never prove it as the lustful urges never seemed to diminish.
Some boys maintained a personal stash of food in a locked “tuck-box”. But it was a waste of time as the food disappeared so quickly. I was one of a number of boys who discovered that the local bakery, Ansty’s, sold off “stale” cakes at the end of the day for a pittance. So I would sneak up to town or get official permission on some pretext to purchase a bag full of “stales”. Once I had stuffed as many as I could into my belly I sold the remainder to my lazier friends – usually turning a small profit as a result. No wonder I got spotty in my adolescence.
Steve Apedaile, who lived somewhere near Wolverhampton when he first came to school, was credited as introducing our year to the calorific treat known as the “chip buttie”. Despite the simplicity of this concept, none of us had considered putting the fat, greasy potato chips (fries) we occasionally got served at supper between two slices of thickly margarined bread. But once we got the idea we couldn’t get enough. Chip butties became a dietary staple.
Surprisingly our diet totally excluded many simple, filling foods like rice and pastas for example. Also I never saw a pizza or a burger while I was at school and we were seldom served fresh fruit other than the occasional orange – presumably served to prevent outbreaks of scurvy.
The culinary event of the year was the annual boarders’ Christmas “feast”, held in the evening and followed by a specially selected “blockbuster” film. In 1968 this film was “The French Mistress” – the mind boggles. The staff and their wives attended and there were crackers, speeches and general merriment all around. Messages were passed between the tables that began as innocent tidings of good cheer and ended up as bizarre suggestions for sexual positions unknown even to the author of the Karma Sutra.
We had the traditional English Christmas menu of turkey and Christmas pudding. There was a sixpence cooked into the pudding and someone usually lost a filling biting on it. The pudding was lit for effect and gave off a jolly blue glow as the lighter fluid, or something very close to it, burned.
All joking aside, I think most boys enjoyed and looked forward to the special Christmas meal and appreciated the gesture. It was one event, along with the school carol service, that came to symbolize Christmas for many boarders – a few of whom would not get to go home to celebrate it.
Grammar school boys, boarders in particular, were a target for the local youth or “yobs” as we called them. It’s not surprising really. We were usually easy to spot in our uniforms and we came from all over the world. We did understand their frustration. After all, we at least could get away from Shaftesbury in the school holidays. The local kids were not as fortunate.
Although we led a fairly sheltered life in and around the school grounds, as soon as we went into the town we were on the locals’ turf and that often meant trouble. They could catch us going to church, going to the doctor, going to the local Boy Scout hut, coming back from a sports field and especially when we were out in small groups at a disco or dance or at the annual funfair that hit the town in late September as part of the local Shaftesbury carnival festivities.
One of my earliest memories is of four of us going up to a choir practice one dark November night in my first term at school and Coco being pushed around in the dark alleyway that runs between the High Street and Holy Trinity churchyard. He was eleven and the boys pushing him around were probably around fifteen but Coco was so big for his age that they probably thought he was a senior boy escorting us. It didn’t bother Coco but it worried me as I was little, weak and prone to imagining that everyone was after me. It took me some years to get past this personal paranoia. I think it may one reason why I chewed my knuckles raw for the first year or two at school in bursts of nervous energy.
Even before this incident we had witnessed a local man running around the streets during the busy and noisy annual carnival night, begging bystanders for help as he was being chased by the Gillingham “grease”. The locals who bothered us were usually sub-classified as either “greasers” (leather jacket and motorcycle types) or “skins” and “boot boys” (the shaven headed yobs who were a social phenomenon of the seventies). Of course they, like us, were a mixture of ordinary kids, minor bullies and their hangers-on and the odd hard nut (or “hard bastard” to use the correct technical term). The uniform of many local lads in our day was black shoes, red socks, ankle length jeans, Ben Sherman shirts, braces and a Crombie topcoat.
Every generation at the school can probably tell you a story of their own hard man. Mike Webber told me one of Reg Middlemas, of the Middlemas brothers, who dealt with a few bothersome locals in the doorway of a shop one Sunday morning as he led the boarders crocodile-style up to Sunday morning service. I wouldn’t say my year had any real hard nuts but we certainly had boys who were not intimidated by the locals. Coco was one and the other was Tim Gillen.
Tim will forgive me for saying he was neither an intellectual giant nor a particularly good sportsman but he was one of the few people I have met who appeared to be bordering on fearless. Tim joined us in our second year, his father was an RAF NCO stationed in Germany at the time. For some reason, Tim was immediately subject to some bullying from older boys, one of the few real episodes of bullying I can remember at school. Perhaps it was because he was red haired, had a tall rangy build and a slightly nervous body language. But Tim was not scared of taking a punch or throwing one and he certainly participated in a number of fights with the locals on both an ad-hoc and arranged basis.
Tim also had his share of fights in school, not just with minor bullies, but also with a day boy in our year - Jim Dobbs. Jim is a local boy, his father taught at Christy’s School, and was considered a bit of a cool guy and ladies’ man by the rest of us. Tim and Jim had a series of punch-ups in the fourth year that represented some of the few serious fights I ever saw that took place within the school. I see Jim now and then at reunions but he has no memory of this fighting so maybe it made a bigger impression on me than on the actual participants.
Tim was also a famous drinker. Sure, he could down a pint of bitter in less than a handful of seconds. But he was the only person I had ever seen who at about age 15 could down a Watneys Party Seven (a seven pint can of beer) as if he was finishing off a single pint. Tim also had a few tasty girlfriends including the delicious Fiona. The last I heard of Tim was soon after we left school when he was reported as having hair down to his waist and about to set off to walk-across Africa “just for a laugh”. Apparently he was deported from a “dry-state” he passed through on his way for trying to sell whisky to a policeman. He must have been desperate.
Talking of fighting in school, only one other incident of a violent nature sticks in my mind. This was an arranged fight between an older boy, Albert “Alby” Whitley, and a younger boy known as “Baz” Jarvis. An arranged fight was unusual. I think Baz was a third year boy and Alby in the lower sixth when the fight took place in dormitory 1. Baz was big for his age and our only self-professed “Bournemouth boot-boy”. Baz found it a little hard to take being pushed around by prefects and made the mistake of challenging Alby to fight him, which was not a wise choice. (Still at least he didn’t pick Mike Summers, which might have been fatal!) The fight did not last long, if I remember rightly. Baz later left the school after punching a master, a feat also achieved by one of my year.
Anyway, fighting was not that common at school but there were a few significant fracas in my time out of school. One occurred early in my fourth year when we were first allowed out into the town on a Sunday afternoon. According to Chris Brough, one of the Johnstone brothers (Ian – now a headmaster) was pushed around by some locals during the annual carnival night celebrations in the town. A decision was taken for boarders and some day boys to congregate on Park Walk the following Sunday, and word was put out that it was payback time.
Unfortunately on the day, a major force of locals, both greasers and skins and from all over the Blackmore Vale suddenly turned up intent on “doing” the grammar school (i.e. the boarders). Most of us decamped when faced with these overwhelming odds but I remember this occasion for two particular incidents. One was when Martin Armitage, a boarder in the year above me, calmly walked right the way through this threatening crowd of locals, smiling his memorable Cheshire-cat grin. The other was me and a couple of friends, Steve Apedaile and Dave Thurlow I think, being chased all the way back to school through St. James by what looked like an adult greaser wielding something like a tire iron or small crow bar. We outran him of course - a diet of Dorset lardy cake and cider seldom breeds quality sprinters.
There had obviously been some 999 calls to the police because as we entered the school by a back gate we ran straight into Cran, our headmaster, on his way to figure out what was going on. At the time I was dressed in a t-shirt, blue tie-die jeans and army boots, a get-up which prompted Cran to utter these memorable words: “McKie, laddie, why are you wearing your pyjamas? Get back inside and get dressed.” I followed his advice. Another major incident occurred in the middle of Shaftesbury High Street as we returned from a disco one evening held at the girls’ High School at the other end of town. As we straggled down the street we were literally set upon by groups of locals who had obviously been looking forward to this opportunity to get stuck into a few grammar school boys. In fact I think they were really looking for Tim Gillen, who apparently found a few of them later and gave someone a good thumping, judging by the state of his own face the next day.
This fracas really started when Julian Macey, a younger boy, broke ranks and crossed the street to avoid the locals who were walking aggressively through us, pushing and shoving everyone out of the way. Julian was singled out and I believe evaded a kicking when he was rescued by Andy Hollingshead, displaying early signs of his respect for law and order. Coco was jumped by three or four locals and I’m ashamed to say I stood and watched as my then best friend staggered around with one guy on his back and another two punching his body.
Jerry Cole, from the year above us, made his own ill-fated attempt to rescue Coco but all he got was a few punches himself for his trouble. A couple of other more enterprising boys had armed themselves with some lumps of lead in order to add weight to their right-hook. In front of the Shaftesbury Post Office at least one of the locals was given a good whacking with what, unbeknown to him, was literally a “mailed” fist.
The final incident occurred in the last weeks of my school career when a sixth form leaving dance was held in a room adjacent to the King’s Arms pub in Shaftesbury. Everything was fine until a contingent of locals from Shaftesbury and Gillingham arrived to gatecrash the party and someone, probably one of the Escott brothers (was it you Les?), punched someone and the fighting started. Dave Lever remembers a number of tearful girls trapped among the fighting and the broken glass. As usual I was not involved. I had retired earlier, stinking drunk, to the sixth form common room back at school with my then girlfriend Caroline. I have no idea what we did while the fighting was going on, honestly.
But back at the Kings Arms a significant amount of glass got smashed, the local police station got a number of 999 calls and it was reported that one of the Brewin brothers had to resort to using an air rifle to prevent their house, across the road from the pub, being stormed by locals who wanted to get at some boarders who had retreated there.
The next morning was like the quiet after the storm at school. I missed breakfast – which as head boarder was almost unheard of – recovering from an extended vomiting session the night before. The school staff seemed very tense and George Bates came to my study and gave me a good shaking and talking to. No doubt that night also went down in local folklore in its own small way.
Chalk, Talk and Culture
Lessons were generally well-disciplined affairs and could involve a lot of “chalk-and-talk”. We still took subjects like Latin and learned it almost by rote. Like every Latin learner I do remember my “amo, amas, amat” but that’s about all. Getting out my Latin book gave me as much excitement as preparing myself for a flogging.
As a Grammar school we did no practical subjects like wood or metal work and of course in those days we had no exposure to modern subjects like business studies or information technology. We could at least learn a smattering of schoolboy French and German, pick up a musical instrument or understand a little of the mysteries of Christianity. But few of us did.
In general, only music or science lessons could get out of hand. Boys often disrupted music lessons and we had a habit of not paying much attention in chemistry lessons. There used to be an awful lot of chewed up paper stuck to the ceiling of the chemistry lab, fired by various rubber bands in one of many idle moments.
But Physics lessons were generally disrupted by “Doc” Strawbridge himself. Not paying attention during a Physics lesson could be dangerous. Doc had a habit of picking up whatever was near to hand and hurling it at the culprit, accompanied by some choice Dorset language. He had a good aim but you had to watch out if you were sat behind the target, as when he ducked it might be you in the path of what could be a significant and potentially painful unidentified flying object.
There was not much in the way of extra curricular learning either. We were not really prepared at all for the world of business and commerce and job experience or careers advice was virtually non-existent. Sex education was also rather lamentable and far from the practical standards of today.
I can remember discussing my career aspirations with anyone only once. After a chat and filling in a questionnaire I was sent a packet of information on becoming a naval architect. I’m sure it’s an interesting profession but not one I had ever contemplated nor had any aptitude for as far as I could tell. University, the professions and as a last resort the forces, seemed to be the extent of the school’s career expectations for us.
I can also only remember one sex-education “lesson”; I think we were in the third form. The school Doctor was our advisor and we probably could have been better served by simply reading the readers letter page in She magazine. Our Doctor invited us to consider the difference between our anatomy and that of the opposite sex by imagining a female sitting astride a gymnastic pommel “horse” – interesting only because it was a position most of us would never have thought of without his help. We got a limited anatomy lesson but not much to help us with sex education. Nowadays you probably get more help from an episode of the kids TV show “Blue Peter”.
Thanks to Peter Rolfe and “Dai” Brooks we did have the opportunity to experience a little culture while we were at school. Peter organized many trips to see plays at local theatres including the annual trip to the Shakespeare Theatre at Stratford-Upon-Avon. One particularly memorable production was “Black Macbeth” at Swindon, also notable because one of our party fell asleep and snored through much of the production. A year or two after I left school I went to see King Lear at Stratford with Helen, who went to the High School. During the part of the play where Gloucester’s eyes are put out Helen fainted, and for the first time I had the opportunity to carry a swooning damsel in my arms. Just like on the cover of a Mills and Boon romance.
Helen and my girlfriend Caroline had also been in the chorus of Gilbert & Sullivan’s Pirates of Penzance - one of the many musical productions and plays directed by Dai Brooks while I was at school. In my first term at school I was in the chorus of HMS Pinafore as a sister or a cousin or an aunt and looked quite fetching in my gingham dress and little bo-peep hat. The musicals and plays were great fun and very popular with the local community.
I don’t think I was a favourite of Mr. Brooks while I was at school, but I’d like him to know that we appreciated the effort he put into these productions and that everyone involved, on stage or as crew, enjoyed them enormously.
This section borrows its theme from N.A.M. Rodger’s excellent book about the Georgian Navy entitled The Wooden World. My chapter title is of course a little fanciful. Generally, we preferred vodka to rum. Sodomy was not popular among our – as far as I know – exclusively heterosexual boarding house. And the lash (in the form of rubber tubing) had just been abolished a year or two before I got to the school, after a boy called Mike Lee had got a bad whipping from someone who’ll remain nameless. But we did what we could to emulate the old Royal Navy traditions.
The Demon Drink
I’m sorry to say that in the past, just as today, under-age drinking was a popular activity. The legal drinking age in the UK then was 18 but most boarders began drinking at around 14. Certainly from the fourth year on, boarders could frequently be found in one or other of the local pubs having sneaked out without permission from prep, the dormitory or some other official school event. The staff were aware of these nocturnal ramblings but also knew there was little they could do about them especially as they seldom caught anyone in-situ with a pint in his hand.
Like every other schoolboy generation our favourite tipples had to be cheap and potent. Scrumpy, a flat cider, and Stingo, a barley wine, were popular as they met both criteria. We also drank a lot of sherry, generally out of the bottle and by the bottle. Sherry seemed to be easier to buy from off-licences (liquor stores) and supermarkets probably because the shopkeeper assumed we were buying a bottle for our granny rather than to drink in a few minutes to get pleasantly smashed. British sherry was also very cheap and none of us spent much time worrying about where our booze came from.
Chris Brough remembers racing back to the sixth form common room after Sunday lunch, changing quickly into civvies to the sound of Deep Purple’s Smoke on the Water, then sprinting down to a local pub and downing a few pints before closing time at around 2.30 pm. Those were the days when you could buy a pint of bitter and a packet of No 6 cigarettes for 21p. How we got past the vigilant publicans I’ll never know but we did. Apart from the ubiquitous “pint” we also liked “schooners” of sherry and, when we had the money, double “shorts”.
The first serious drinking session I remember in our year was early in the fourth form when most of us decided to go on a pre-planned Sunday afternoon drinking binge. Somehow we stockpiled some beer and cider and many of us lined up and bought our own personal bottle of sherry from what was then the Key Market supermarket in Shaftesbury High Street. The manager asked each uniformed boy in turn “Are You Eighteen?” and received the “Yes I am” reply across a surprisingly wide range of voice octaves. We stuffed our bottles under our school coats to get the booze back to school and then hid it in our desks until the designated moment around 2pm the following Sunday afternoon.
At this time, probably to a background of Wishbone Ash Pilgrimage or Argus, and after the odd pint or two of beer and cider, we all downed our bottles of sherry. I can’t have drunk all of mine as I remember being only pleasantly drunk and escorting a rather more inebriated Chris Wilkinson around the town and up to Barton Hill, one of the girls’ boarding houses. Here he proceeded to slur sweet nothings to whoever was at the fence chatting with us. Malcolm Hayward never made it to the town. If I remember rightly he passed out on the classroom floor and was still flat out when we returned to school for tea a couple of hours later.
Naturally someone or other disgraced themselves at various discos, dances and parties. Even out-of-school charity walks across the downs of the Cranborne Chase towards Salisbury were used as a means to visit country pubs. But I’m ashamed to say that we also used Duke of Edinburgh’s Award Scheme hikes as another opportunity for carefully planned illicit drinking. Part of the preparation for these hikes was route planning and we quickly learned to spot those magic letters PH (public house) on an Ordnance Survey map. Strangely, many of our routes seemed to meander past a PH at lunch time and end up near another PH as the location for our overnight campsite.
I remember a number of nights stumbling back to my tent rather the worse for drink. Some people never got back to their tents and instead spent the night under the stars in some nearby hedge or ditch as they slept off a skinful of Scrumpy or Watney’s Red. On one Dartmoor hike, we stopped at the pub at Two Bridges for a lunchtime drink and when we continued walking after a few pints each I suddenly felt ill and had to stop. My fellow hikers decided to treat me as a potential case of hypothermia and pitched tent so we could all sleep it off. When our supervisor caught up with us, he was impressed by our rescue techniques but far from fooled. The smell of rotten apples permeated our tents and there wasn’t an orchard in sight on that part of the desolate moor.
As I’ve mentioned before, our year’s star drinker was Tim Gillen. One of his party tricks was to drink a pint while the barman turned to the till to ring it up and then ask for another when the barman turned back to hand him his change. Tim seemed to be able to drink anything, fast - but I have to admit that a bottle of vodka was about my limit. So many boys used to be spotted apparently on their way to a nearby local pub that one master called it the “astronomy club” – a reference to this particular pub’s lunar name.
Drinking was also a popular pastime on the train down from and up to London at the start and end of term. Like many boarders I lived abroad for much of my time at school and frequently made this journey between Gillingham and Waterloo stations. The first and only time I did a train trip with my Mother escorting me, I remember Martin Armitage offering us both a belt from his can of cider as he passed us in the train corridor. He was 13 and I was 12.
Drinking was also a favourite activity on our few cultural escapes from school such as the annual trip to Stratford-Upon-Avon to see a Shakespeare play. The staff was wise to this and usually caught a few people on their lunchtime pub-patrol. Andy Hollingshead, David Perry and I thought we were very clever by going upmarket, avoiding the pubs and drinking at the bar of the Stratford Hilton hotel. We weren’t caught but we quickly ran out of money as unlike most of the hotel residents we were not on a business expense account. Dave Lever and friends patronised “The Salmon” where they first experienced the delights of Stella Artios, a king among lagers. Basically any school theatre outing was fair game for a drinking session, either before after or during the intermission.
Oh There’s Nothing Like a Dame
Despite being a single-sex school we were not exactly cut off from female society. The girls’ High School was located in the town and their boarding houses – Barton Hill for junior girls and Sunridge for senior girls - were just a few minutes run away from us. Then for those with catholic tastes there is St. Mary’s School, an all-girl convent located just outside the town on the road to Salisbury. St. Mary’s was pretty much off limits to boarders and a cut above our school so only a few day boys ever had much luck there. But we had close ties with the High School, sharing some lessons and attending church and other events together.
I had a girlfriend in my first year at school. Her home was on Ascension Island in the middle of the Atlantic so she was probably so desperate for a boyfriend that even I was eligible. In reality, apart from one or two occasions, we hardly ever talked to each other let alone got involved in anything more interesting. And like most romances involving younger boarders our communication was almost entirely by letter.
These letters were conveyed via the older girls and boys who either came to our school or went to the High School for lessons. They were very carefully folded up and usually sealed with a loving kiss or some such nonsense. It was a major event to get a letter from your girlfriend and made you the subject of intense interest among your classmates. To this day I don’t understand why we did not just send letters by the Royal Mail. I’m sure it would have been a more secure and reliable service than the risky hand–delivery method we used.
Letters also got passed around during church services. I can’t remember how they managed to cross from the girls’ pews on one side of the church across the central aisle to the boys’ pews on the other side, but they did. Must have been divine intervention. We only saw the girls that were contemporary with us at church or church related events, which is why so many of us were keen on being confirmed as it involved a course of half a dozen lessons with the girls on a Sunday afternoon. You got to avoid the school walk, get closer to the girls and eventually drink wine in church. What could be more enticing?
Girls came to our school for a wide range of lessons but mainly for science. They walked down from the High School and their arrival in the Quad was generally a time for some serious ogling. I can still remember the names of some of the sixth form girls who came to our school when I was in the first form; they made such an impression on me. Boys also went to the High School for certain lessons, such as German, which I took from the fourth year onwards.
We had some strapping, tall and gorgeous girls in our year at the High School like Jophy, Debbie and Anna and it was hard to pay attention to the declension of a German verb in their company. Some German lessons were held in a classroom that overlooked the girls’ netball court and I remember many happy afternoons staring out the window studying blue gym knickers during some netball practice or other.
But I was not the only one whose attention wandered in class. Again in German lessons, the female back-of-class set were all passing around notes, reading letters from older boys or studying those “fifteen ways to have a better orgasm” type magazine articles. I still have a copy of a note, written on the back of a prescription note for a female contraceptive pill, which discusses the respective merits of two boys’ teeth and hair.
Our German mistress was initiated into the ways of the boarders when she took one of her few boys-only lessons at our school. We left a “men’s” magazine open at the centrefold on the desk before she came in to see how she would respond. Sensibly she ignored this provocation and carried on regardless. We tried a similar trick with one of our masters by hiding the blackboard rubber – carefully wrapped with a dead snake - in a drawer of the front desk. When he inquired as to the whereabouts of this item, he was invited to find it in the drawer. His reaction when he reached into the drawer was a little more explosive than that of our German mistress.
And talking of explosions, one of our collections of home-brew beer bottles blew their tops once during a lesson, which gave us all rather a surprise. Another kind of explosion occurred one Exeat weekend when Martin Armitage, a keen fisherman at the time, left a tub of maggots in his desk. When he retuned to school on Sunday evening he had a desk full of flies - much energetic swatting ensued.
So how did anyone have any sexual encounters? Well, in fact there were many opportunities. On Sunday afternoons “courting couples” paired off and hit the lanes, common ground and fields that surrounded the town to engage in some serious “bouncing”. One Sunday Coco picked up his then girlfriend Sue on Park Walk and walked her down towards the fields to the south of the town. A great cheer went up from those of us left behind on the heights of Park Walk as we watched them meander through the lanes and finally select a secluded spot.
The shelters on Park Walk were another location for general horseplay and the occasional serious “snogging” session. Girls were smuggled into the school common rooms and even a prefect’s study on occasions. This didn’t happen too often as it was quite risky but I can think of at least a couple of girls who saw the inside of a prefect’s study.
However, it was more common for boys to take the risks for a sexual encounter. The junior girls’ boarding house at Barton Hill had a large back garden including an area of fairly dense shrubbery, conveniently located next to the wall between the garden and the Shaftesbury cattle market next-door. We frequently scaled this wall for furtive assignations in the shrubbery that generally resulted in little more than a kiss and a grope.
Occasionally larger expeditions were mounted in search of female company. In my very first term a whole bunch of us broke into Barton Hill and were subsequently “arrested” by the local police and taken back to school. I can’t remember what we intended to do when we got into Barton Hill or why we weren’t all expelled but I do remember being petrified at what the consequences of this fit of youthful exuberance might be.
Boys also made occasional forays down to the convent and were usually chased off either by nuns or the arrival of the police. I remember one group being brought back to school who had claimed to be studying ecclesiastical architecture – catholic anatomy more like - as a legitimate part of their Duke of Edinburgh’s Award scheme activities. Naturally many of us speculated wildly about how exciting it would be to be trapped in the convent and many years later I happened to go out with a St.Mary’s girl in London. I found out that the reality fell a little short of our wild imaginings.
Getting into the senior girls’ boarding house at Sunridge was a much more difficult proposition as there was no shrubbery and the building fronted a main road. But boys certainly did get in, including some in the year above me. This usually involved leaving school at night or in the early morning, a climb up a fire escape and a lot of sneaking around corridors. “Midnight creeping” as Malcolm Hayward so evocatively called it. Of course you had to make sure you were back for breakfast otherwise all hell would have broken loose. Sunridge is now a hotel but unfortunately the girls are gone.
Naturally it was at private parties, school discos and dances that much of the real action took place. I had my first real kiss with the luscious Shirley during a disco at the High School. Unfortunately Shirley later fell into the clutches of Jim Dobbs and was never the same again. There were also various epic parties at nearby farms and hotels and some boarders in my generation had the opportunity to experience more serious hedonism at the famous “Rolls” parties with bed-hopping, skinny dipping and other naughty goings-on. Or at least that’s what they told me and I wanted to believe them.
Coco and I once did a spot of midnight creeping at the house of Shaftesbury’s then town mayor when we stayed there after a party held out at a local farm. But it was all very innocent stuff. This was one area where some of our day-boy friends like Andy Brice, the Don Juan of the Blackmore Vale, were way ahead of the boarders – but Andy was basically an honorary boarder anyway. Despite a general atmosphere of sexual frustration, I remember very few “men’s” magazines floating around the school. Or maybe I just wasn’t on the circulation list. Of course there were some and occasionally someone would be caught in the bogs or even in bed with a torch checking out the centrefold. Mayfair was popular as was the nudist magazine Health and Efficiency, which certainly kept us healthy and proved to be very efficient.
I remember a near miss in outhouse when I was reading a copy of Mayfair that was doing the rounds and Cran suddenly popped into the dormitory for a pre-lights out chat with us boys. In those days Mayfair always had some daft section on vintage cars, steam trains or jet aircraft - presumably to provide some respite for their dedicated readers. So as Cran bore down on me I quickly flicked to the vintage car section and managed a short conversation about Bentleys, persuading him that I was really a closet vintage car buff. As he turned to the next bed to continue chatting, I turned to Miss November, whose lines struck me as much more interesting than those of any Bentley.
I think that was also the occasion when Tony Escott (RIP) was plastered after some marathon drinking session. He had a bucket by his bed to deal with the aftermath and when Cran walked past his bed, almost kicking the bucket on the way, he failed to notice anything suspicious about the motionless body of Tony, face down on his bed, head overhanging the bucket. Tony subsequently became famous for this “playing-dead” behaviour. Soon after we left school a number of us returned to Tony’s parents’ house in Salisbury one Saturday lunchtime to find Tony face down on the living room carpet, completely smashed. This was when “Chopper” Gatehouse added to our lexicon of famous phrases with, “Hullo, Tony - don’t get up.” Needless to say, Tony didn’t.
As is always the way, the girls in the same year as us at the High School all seemed more mature than us boys and the unwritten rule was that boys always “went out” with girls in the year below their year. Up until the upper sixth form we followed this rule too, but then broke ranks when we discovered the “Fab Fourth”. Girls in the fourth year of the High School were 14 or 15 years old and we were 17 or 18 years old. Going out with a fourth year girl was known then as “cradle snatching” and most us subsequently became serial cradle-snatchers in our last year at school. However, some of us paid dearly for our infatuations, suffering dismal A-Level results and a couple of unfortunate end-of-term expulsions.
In our defence, we were forced to go out with fourth year girls because at that time few girls had stayed on as boarders into the sixth form at the High School. Yeah, right - as they say today. It was really because Caroline, Charlie, Chris, Claire, Jenny and Sue were irresistible to us at the time. We still socialize with some of them today, along with their spouses and children, at annual reunions.
Holidays and the end of term are a special time in every boarding school. As well as the main school holidays we had both half-term and Exeat holidays. Half term could be up to a week in length and Exeat started at the end of school on Saturday morning and lasted until the following Sunday evening. I spent many happy Exeat weekends and half terms with school friends, staying at the Brewins’ house in Shaftesbury, with Coco and David Perry, and with Andy Holllingshead and his brothers Mark and Simon at their Marnhull home “Treskelly”.
If you could not get home or stay with a friend for Exeat, you stayed at school. This was not as bad as it sounds. With the relaxation of various regulations the school became almost like a hotel. There was no prep, we got to watch some TV, we could lie- in later on a Sunday morning and church was optional. So Exeats could be a lot of fun. One year in the early seventies a harsh winter caused Shaftesbury to get snowed in and we had endless fun one Exeat with snowball fights, building snowmen and jumping up and down on the roofs of cars submerged in snowdrifts in the lane at the back of the school.
I think, over time, most us looked forward to coming back to school. After all this was where most of our friends were as we seldom knew that many kids of our age at home, especially those of us with parents in the forces who moved every couple of years. Yet even so the first night or two back at school always seemed a little sad, particularly when you were younger, and the odd sniffle in the dormitory could often be heard.
In contrast, end of term was always approached with a growing sense of excitement at the prospect of escape. On the day, the quad filled with the cars of parents picking up their kids and those of us travelling further afield were crammed into a Croxford’s taxi and speedily taken to Gillingham station to get one of the “up-trains” to London.
Most boarders travelled alone to get to and from school. First as what airlines classify as “unaccompanied minors” and later as young adults. Generally this journey involved taking the train from nearby Gillingham station to London’s Waterloo terminus and then going onward by rail or air to other parts of the UK or the world. During much of my time at school, my father was stationed in Germany so I did many flights on Britannia Airways “lollipop specials” – planeloads of schoolchildren - and once by train and boat using the Harwich to Hook-of-Holland route.
In my last year at school we lived in the Outer Hebrides so I took the “road to the Isles” via the sleeper up to Glasgow and then either flew to Benbecula or took the train to Oban and crossed over on a Caledonian-McBrayne ferry. Other boys flew to Hong Kong, Singapore and as far-off as the Falkland Islands, among the more exotic destinations.
As you might expect, these journeys up to London and beyond were great fun. For one thing we got extra travel money from our parents to make sure we travelled in comfort. This was supposed to be spent on things like cabs to get us across London from rail station to airline terminal for example. But frequently much of this money was blown as soon as we got to Gillingham station on cigarettes, cigars, sweets or pornographic magazines from the local newsagent. Most of the rest went at the bar on the train.
And if we had any money left, we had enough time to catch a film in the West End on our way to the airport. I saw many of my first X films, such as A Clockwork Orange, Straw Dogs and Last Tango in Paris, at vastly expensive West End cinemas using my travel money.
I loved everything about flying when I was a teenager: hanging out in Gatwick and Luton airports pretending to be a jet-setter, eating cheesy aircraft food, and trying to determine if British Caledonian stewardesses wore anything under their fetching, short kilts. Later, when I lived in West Sussex, a BCal stewardess lived in the flat below me and I subsequently found out that, alas, they did.
Then there was always the tantalizing prospect of some sort of romantic encounter on the trip. On one occasion we were on the train down from London when some young ladies from Bruton School for Girls were on board; their normal service from Paddington to Bruton having been cancelled. I recall they wore green sweaters and kilted skirts that seemed very erotic to us at the time. We had a lot of fun in our compartment on the way down and so did some of the Bruton girls. For once Tim Gillen was too preoccupied even to drink.
On another occasion, our aircraft was unable to fly and the whole flight of Germany-bound schoolkids was put up in the impressive-sounding Gatwick Piccadilly Hotel for a night. Suddenly a number of girlfriend/boyfriend couples who happened to be on the flight became brother and sister or reunited cousins when it turned out we all had to share double rooms. I got Tim Finding as my share, or rather he got me, as he was in the year above me and was probably mortified to have to spend the night in my company just because he happened to be on the same flight as me.
That evening there was a knock at our door. We opened the door to two girls, who couldn’t have been much older than twelve, wrapped only in bath towels. The younger one said, “We’re having an orgy in our room, do you want to come?” I’m sorry to report that I declined, mainly because Tim said he wasn’t into “cradle snatching”, which of course was a lie.
Sometimes we had to stay overnight in London to catch an early flight and as unaccompanied minors might require the services of a “Universal Aunt”. These surrogate parents met you at the station and put you up in their homes overnight then delivered you to the air terminal or airport in the morning. I remember staying with a Universal Aunt in her flat in Clapham and being served powdered eggs for dinner - no doubt a luxury during Second World War rationing but unknown to me at the time. Here I should make clear that Universal Aunts provided a valuable and caring service, which many of us took advantage of in those days.
…And Drugs and Rock and Roll
Unlike my wife’s art high-school located in midtown Manhattan in early seventies New York, SGS was hardly a hotbed of drug taking and artsy hippy types. In fact I was not aware of any serious dopeheads, although a number of boys were expelled for drug-taking during my time. Towards the end of my time at school, boys in my year were experimenting with drugs but it was not until later that any of them suffered any serious consequences. Personally, I know a number of boys whose early dabbling with cannabis led to hard drugs later – contrary to the claims of many pro-drug activists. I never knew anyone who sniffed solvents – although undoubtedly someone did.
But boys certainly experimented with other chemical substances. We had some serious bomb making that went on in our year which culminated in samples of nitro glycerine being produced. A feature of summer Sunday afternoons was the odd explosion from the allotments behind the school as some bomb was set off in the undergrowth by our proto-anarchists. The bomb makers were a thorn in the side of the caretaking staff, who had to clear up the remains of the exploded gas canisters that were found strewn around the school grounds.
Of course cigarette smoking, although banned, was common. We started by smoking “Old Man’s Beard” a kind of creeper that also grew in the bomb-testing undergrowth behind the school. Some boys also smoked George Bates’ home-grown tobacco that he hung up to dry in the attic where we kept our school trunks. Most boys then moved onto cheap fags like Players No.6 or Embassy. Some preferred cigarillos for that extra dash of sophistication. Smokers’ uniforms stank so it couldn’t have been hard for the staff to pick them out, but it was never considered an especially serious misdemeanour, as it apparently had been in the past.
Our main leisure pastime at school was listening to music, first singles (45s) and then albums (LPs) and cassettes. I can still remember how excited I was when I was given my first cassette recorder as a birthday gift. My Sanyo radio cassette recorder let me copy other peoples’ LPs as well as listen to my own. Wonderful. It also meant I could order albums by post from a new cut-price, mail order record store called Virgin, record them and then sell the albums on to my friends. Any profit funded a reasonable drinking session.
Among the first albums I ever bought were Santana Abraxas and Jethro Tull’s Aqualung. Our heavy metal was Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple and Black Sabbath. More intellectual rock included Pink Floyd, Yes and Genesis. And of course Bowie, the Stones and Roxy Music were also popular. We played our albums until they wore out and today listening to my favourite teenage music is the easiest way to take me straight back to how I felt hanging around after school. Jim Dobbs was one of many of us with an eclectic taste in music and I have him to thank for introducing me to Wishbone Ash (hardly eclectic but I liked them) – Argus got quite a hammering when we were in the fifth form.
In my second year the school acquired an excellent new high wattage hi-fi system for use in music teaching. Our then music master, “Loopy” Cooper, once devoted a whole lesson to listening to my recently acquired Emerson Lake and Palmer album in the heavenly acoustics of the school chapel. This made a change from the normal music lesson that occasionally saw chairs being flung around, excessive bouts of flatulence and ink splattering on the chapel walls.
Many of us also had the opportunity to see headlining bands that came to play Bournemouth’s Winter Gardens theatre or nearby rock festivals including Glastonbury and the Isle of Wight, which in 1969 was played by rock-legend Jimi Hendrix.
Girls from the High School were occasionally spirited out their boarding houses by day boys with their own wheels to illegally attend local rock concerts, such as Stonehenge. But few of us boarders had wheels, even in the sixth form; although scooters and later motorcycles were popular. I rode pillion on Brins Hansford’s scooter when I was in the first year. And I did the same thing on the back of Tim Grattan’s Triumph Tiger Cub in the sixth form. One reason for having a bike was to visit pubs a little further away from school. It was quite a thrill to skip prep and hammer down to “The Plough” in Manston for a beer and a sandwich. These foolish things gave us pleasure.
Tim must have figured me for a sucker as he sold me his Tiger Cub soon after for the princely sum of £80, which I had earned over the previous summer cleaning toilets in a barrack block at my Dad’s Army base. However, I was not destined to be Barry Sheen as most of the time I ended up pushing my bike back to the school after a breakdown. I also crashed it into Shaftesbury fire station wall one evening when trying to show off to some fourth form girls hanging out of their dormitory windows at the Barton Hill boarding house.
In fact my motorcycling career only lasted a few months as my Cub ended up its life as a disassembled wreck in the front garden of Tim’s mother’s home. Later, Tim owned a series of cars and being a passenger with him, or practically any other boarder with or without a driving licence, was as close to a near-death experience as I want to get. Meanwhile Steve Apedaile and Dave Thurlow kept up appearances by burning around the town on a single cylinder Honda 125 and a Kawasaki 250 triple respectively.
Crime and Punishment
Unlike Tomkinson in Michael Palin’s Ripping Yarn I was never nailed to the school wall or chased by the school leopard but I (and many other boarders) had my share of punishments, especially in my first two years at school.
Although the headmaster still caned boys in those days, it was an exceptional event and probably nothing like the whackings administered to the boys in one of my favourite films about boarding school life, the Australian movie Flirting. Canings were generally for serious “public” infractions of discipline usually involving bad behaviour in the town or towards members of staff.
But at SGS discipline was largely enforced by the prefects through a wide range of devious means. The most basic non-physical punishments were chores like “sides”, shoe-cleaning and bed-making. Sides were simply filling sides of paper with some rubbish or other just to while away a few precious hours of time. Shoe cleaning and bed making were activities that took place between breakfast and the start of school. Some unfortunate boys had to clean multiple pairs of shoes and make up numerous beds before they started their regular school lessons.
Physical punishments could be categorized by location and were known simply as “flogging”. There were floggings administered during prep, another set reserved for the dormitory and another – usually the worst kind – heralded by the words “See me afterwards in Sixth Arts”. This was code for “come to the sixth form classroom where you can expect to be humiliated by a group of older boys”. I went to Sixth Arts a lot and cried alone somewhere a lot afterwards.
Prep punishments were almost always meted out for simply making some kind of noise during our supervised homework sessions. A particularly fiendish one was where you laid you palm flat on a desk and splayed your fingers. The prefect then took a set of maths compasses and using the arm with a sharp metal point on the end he would proceed to jab the desk between your fingers. As he speeded up the jabs inevitably a finger got stabbed – never seriously but the anticipation was the thing.
Worse was simply being wrapped across your fingers, not with the flat of a ruler, but with the edge. We grew to hate those rulers with a metal insert running along the edge as they opened up nasty cuts on your knuckles along with the regular bruising. Another popular trick was to hit you over the head with a heavy book or press down on your hand with the edges of the covers of a hardback book.
Even if you survived prep, the dormitory offered more opportunities for prefects to discipline you. Here the normal punishment was whacking with a slipper. Like the metal rulers, we tried not to offend those prefects who wore leather slippers that possessed a much sturdier sole. It wasn’t a case of six of the best, but how ever many the prefects felt like giving you – a “run-up” was also popular. Other punishments included a general beating through the bedclothes, holding out pillows on either arm and receiving a punch when you dropped one or the administering of a “dead arm” or “dead leg” - basically a blow to the soft tissue of the upper arm or thigh which numbed the limb for a while afterwards.
Anything could happen in sixth arts. You could be stood on a chair or desk and knocked off it, have your head banged against a door or just given a general kicking. Most prefects were circumspect in meting out genuine physical punishments but there was always a sadist or two in every year and these you quickly learned to avoid if you possibly could.
The staff seldom punished anyone physically but it was not unknown for boys to be given a good “shaking” by a master. David Perry was once kicked around the floor of our classroom and I distinctly remember another boy, Chris Rand, being flung headlong from a classroom by the same master. Alternatively you could be belted with whatever instrument came to hand like a book, a board rubber or even the large compasses used for board work in maths.
Our maths master favoured mathematical “twisters”. One was to have a pencil twirled in your hair and then yanked out – a simple but effective way to focus your mind on your algebra – while others involved twisting your ears or picking you up by your visible “short-and-curlies” – your sideburns that is.
However it was definitely not the done thing to tell anyone, especially your parents, about the punishments you received. At least one boy who did this, and whose parents naturally complained to the headmaster, was shunned and became a virtual outcast, even within his own form. Crying after you were punished was acceptable but whistle-blowing definitely was not. Although a few brave souls did report serious incidents from time to time and these were followed up quickly by the staff.
I have to admit I flogged many boys myself as a prefect and to my discredit I also flogged at least one boy sent to the school specifically to get him away from an abusive home life (of course I did not know that at the time). But in my defence, since I left school I have met many of the boys I had flogged and many of those who had flogged me and I can honestly say that neither they nor I bear any grudges. It’s just the way it was. But that’s not to say it was altogether a good thing.
I can only personally ever remember one case of a flogging that went too far and that was a slippering suffered by “Shakey” Hewison, a boy in the year below me, nicknamed for his uncoordinated body movements. That was the first time I had seen someone’s buttocks literally beaten black and blue. Shakey had difficulty sitting for some time after that but nevertheless he bore it with his usual good humour. Shakey’s younger brother was nicknamed “Alfred what me worry” Hewison, so-called because of his uncanny resemblance to MAD magazine’s poster boy, Alfred E Neuman.
Some “crimes” merited expulsion from the school – an action now known euphemistically as “permanent exclusion”. Actual violence against a member of staff got you expelled and this happened to one of our year. Entertaining girls on the school premises and with no staff supervision was another reason for expulsion and two of our year were expelled for this reason. Nobody in our year got expelled for drug-related offences but some boys in other years did. Shoplifting or “nicking” in the town would probably have been another expulsion offence. But as far as I know few people were ever caught, despite what must have been the regular disappearance of large numbers of Mars bars from newsagents and garage forecourts on Saturday and Sunday afternoons.
Academically, I and many of my year did not do all that well at Shaftesbury. Some of us failed crucial A-Level examinations or left school with poor grades that either meant we could not go to University or had to downgrade our aspirations.
Of course we could have worked harder, many of us were lazy, but some selective teaching of the A-level syllabus left a number of us fatally exposed when what we had been taught did not come up in the examination papers. Not a great deal of writing was actually done in our A-level History exam, I seem to remember. I can still recall the hollow feeling in my stomach as I turned over the examination paper and found only one question I could answer. I think a number of people doodled their way through their History A-Level exam.
Personally I must have displayed some academic aptitude. I passed the Cambridge entrance examination when I was seventeen and was subsequently offered a place at Fitzwilliam College, which I later declined to take up. This was one indication that I probably wasn’t very smart and another was my naivety at interview.
My Cambridge interviewer asked me what I thought of Jane Austen’s Emma – a novel I had not even studied. So with all the worldly wisdom of a 17 year old, I informed him that Emma had no relevance whatever to “today’s youth” given that its social themes were way out of touch with contemporary life. That was some twenty years before the release of Amy Heckerling’s excellent Clueless, a movie that relocated Emma to a Los Angeles High School, and convincingly proves just how clueless I was myself at that time.
The school was not an academic front-runner in my day but most boys of my generation at the school would single out the same members of the teaching staff as memorable for their academic ability. Many remember Graham Hough and Peter Rolfe in this respect. While Mike Webber is often remembered by boarders for devoting a great deal of his personal time to helping boys with rugby and soccer, after-school “Pirates”, and outdoor pursuits such as orienteering and hill-walking.
So what exactly did I learn from my experience of boarding life at Shaftesbury Grammar School?
Well I certainly learned nothing about the world of business and commerce. And despite taking part in lots of sport I had little idea of the real tactics and strategy of specific games – I was a hopeless cricket captain for example. We also learned nothing about the importance of teamwork and did very little in the way of analytical thinking. All of these are now crucial activities, to me at least, in my career and daily life.
I learned that I can live quite happily without television, or a mobile phone, or many of the material “luxuries” I now take for granted. I also learned that having fun is not about money and comfortable surroundings but about whom you are with and the social bonding you enjoy with your group.
Some parents reading this book might use the content as yet more persuasive backup for a decision not to send their child to boarding school. I hope not. There were undoubtedly some unhappy boys, myself included for a year or two, but I really believe that overall the good times far outweighed the bad.
However, it is true that parents’ miss seeing their children grow up when they are away for so long at school. They are always aware that their child has another life and may feel that they are interacting with some kind of alter-ego of the real person during the school holidays. So I think what I’ve really learned about boarding school is that it’s probably harder on the parent than the child.
Where Did We Go From There?
The boarders who were part of my generation at the school went on to a variety of careers broadly reflective of any other slice of the general population who benefited from a half-way decent education.
We became accountants, businessmen, policemen, sales and marketing people, pilots, social workers, teachers or writers. We worked in Australia, Europe, Hong Kong, the Middle East, the UK and USA among other places.
Some of us were unlucky. One died young, others succumbed to drugs and suffered the consequences. Many never realized their considerable promise. A few ended up in occupations or places that they probably did not anticipate.
We wouldn’t all like each other if we met up at one big reunion. And there are undoubtedly some of us who have no desire either to remember their schooldays or have anything to do with the people they spent their formative years with.
But I can confirm that some of us still like each other today and feel particularly comfortable in each other’s company. We can meet each other and some of our old girlfriends and have no difficulty socializing even after more than two decades.
Our boarding life was neither a privileged public-school romp nor dismal and depressing in the Dickensian sense. But overall I think it did many of us some good and few any harm, and for that we should be thankful.
In the past, if you approached Shaftesbury by road you would see the town sign welcoming you to “Shaftesbury – An Ancient Saxon Hilltop Town.” But if you have never heard of Shaftesbury, don’t worry – you’re not alone. When I was sent to school there in 1968, I had never heard of it either. And my parents lived just a few miles away at Blandford Camp, headquarters of the British Army’s Royal Signals Corp.
An Ancient Saxon Hilltop Town
Located along the ridge of a low hill in North Dorset (England), the town of Shaftesbury offers some excellent views on all sides, especially north and south from the promenades of Castle Hill and Park Walk. Established in the 1700’s, Park Walk runs alongside the site of the ancient Abbey, which used to be the hub of the town.
To the North you can see Alfred’s Tower, at the location where King Alfred the Great was reputed to have raised his standard to rally the ancient kingdom of Wessex against Viking invaders. To the south are Melbury Beacon and the ditched Hod Hill, originally a Roman fortress. And to the West and South West is the Blackmore Vale, encompassing Sturminster Newton and Marnhull, birthplace of Hardy’s Tess of the D’Urbervilles.
Shaftesbury did get the odd mention in the novels of Dorset’s most famous man of letters, Thomas Hardy, who referred to it as “Shaston” – hence “Shastonian” as a term describing someone from or of the town. Shaston featured in Jude The Obscure - Jude visits the town because it is where the husband of his love interest, Sue, works as a local schoolmaster. In recent years the town’s claim to fame is Gold Hill, a steep cobbled street of attached cottages, which became nationally known through its use in a television advertisement for Hovis bread and inclusion in John Schlesinger’s wonderful movie, Far From the Madding Crowd.
But the town’s heyday was really in the centuries prior to and around William the Conqueror’s successful invasion of England in 1066. At that time, Shaftesbury was a town of regional and perhaps national significance as a religious centre and mint, based on the wealth and influence of the local Abbey. The town owed this position largely to King Alfred the Great who established an Abbey at Shaftesbury in 880 AD on behalf of this daughter Ethelgiva. And it was Alfred’s grandson Athelstan who authorized the establishment of a mint in the town.
Two famous persons were also connected with the Abbey. King Edward, reputedly murdered at Corfe castle in Dorset, was subsequently buried in the Abbey in 979. He was later canonized “St. Edward King and Martyr” and his grave became the destination of pilgrims. King Canute, an English monarch of Danish descent, died at the Abbey in 1035 and was later buried at Winchester. For more historical background on Shaftesbury in Saxon times I recommend A Millennium Tale of Monarchs, Murder, Mystery and Mayhem by Jennifer McDonald.
Shaftesbury was mentioned in William the Conqueror’s Domesday Book, when it was known as Sceapterbyrg. At this time the town was owned jointly by the Abbess and the King. The Abbey continued to dominate the town until 1539 in the reign of King Henry VIII, when like many other religious sites it suffered from Henry’s dissolution of the monasteries. Following the demolition of the Abbey the town declined, despite becoming an important hub in the eighteenth century for the turnpike roads used by horse-drawn coaches carrying passengers and freight to various destinations in the West Country.
The ownership of much of the town had passed to Sir Thomas Arundel of Wardour in 1540. Then it passed through various hands until it came into the ownership of Earl Grosvenor (an ancestor of the current Duke of Westminster) in 1820. He wanted the town as a means to acquire political influence in the days when the borough returned two members of Parliament. Soon after, ownership passed to Lord Stalbridge who had a role in another major event in Shaftesbury’s history.
This occurred in 1919 when much of the town was sold at a three day public auction by three local businessmen, who themselves had recently purchased these assets for £80,000 from Lord Stalbridge. You can see a copy of the notice for this unusual event, and many other wonderful old photographs of the town and its environs, in Old Shastonian Eric Olsen’s excellent pictorial book, Images of England: Shaftesbury.
Today Shaftesbury seems much as I left it over twenty-five years ago. Sure, some of the shops in the High Street have changed, Holy Trinity church is occupied by business offices and there are a lot of new houses dotted about the place. But the many town pubs are still here and so is King Alfred’s kitchen at the top of the high street where we would while away Sunday afternoons feasting on sugar lumps. In fact many Old Shastonians are convinced that Shaftesbury is stuck in some kind of time warp, which is kind of comforting in a way.
The Blue Coat School
The history of Shaftesbury School goes back almost three centuries when, according to A Short History of Shaftesbury School by William Farley Rutter, “…William Lush by his Will dated 27th February 1718, and proved in the Prorogative Court, made provision for the setting up of a school in Shaftesbury to be carried on by Trustees.”
This school became known as “The Blue Coat School” which in its early days educated and even clothed some 20 boys selected from the residents of the town.
Rutter refers to a report by the Charity Commissioners from about 1837 indicating that the school trustees had an annual income of some £222 10s and 0d (222 pounds 10 shillings and no pence, when there were twenty shillings to the pound and twelve pennies to the shilling) to work with. According to the same report, the annual expenditure of the School was £251 1s and 9d of which £40 was the schoolmaster’s salary and £1 10s for bibles and prayer books.
In 1878 the school was renamed “Shaftesbury Grammar School” and relocated to where it stands today. The school also began to charge fees for attendance – an entrance fee of £1 and a school fee of £1 13s 4d per term, according to Rutter. There were originally 10 day-boy pupils only at the new school, rising to 38 in 1880. The first boarders, six of them, apparently joined the school in 1880.
In the 1920’s, during the headmastership of C.H. Tovey (1907-32), two buildings were added that were in use when I attended the school. One was the Memorial Hall, opened in 1923 and built in memory of those Old Boys who had lost their lives in the First World War of 1914-18. The other was the Fives Court, opened in 1928. When I first attended the school in 1968, we held our daily assembly (hymns and prayers) in the Memorial Hall and still played fives. But soon after I started at school, the Fives Court was converted into a squash court and the leather glove and hard ball of fives replaced by the racket and soft rubber ball of squash.
Towards the end of the headmastership of R.B. Minchin (1932-54), the school changed to Voluntary Aided Status, in essence a sort of middle-way between being a fully private fee-paying school and a fully state-maintained institution. At this time the school governors also decided to try to maintain boarding levels at around 70 pupils with at least 8 places in each year reserved for use by the Dorset and Wiltshire Local Education Authorities (LEAs) respectively.
J.A. Brett was headmaster for a short time between 1954 and 1958. But there were two significant events during his tenure. First there was the acquisition of Cann (church) rectory in 1954, as a house for the headmaster and an extension to the boarding accommodation. The other was the agreement in 1956, that one girl from the County High School for girls might attend the Grammar School classes in Advanced Physics. A Trojan horse if ever there was one.
Brian Crowther, the headmaster of the school when I began boarding there in 1968, took up his appointment in 1958 during a time of educational turmoil and the exact nature and future of SGS remained insecure for most of his tenure.
Nevertheless, many improvements were made to the school during his headmastership’ including those to the school science teaching laboratories, the kitchens and the boarding accommodation, plus the addition of a library. When I left the school in 1975, Mr. Crowther was in poor health and the school was beginning to feel like it was a little rudderless and losing its self-confidence.
Shaftesbury Grammar School is now plain “Shaftesbury School”, a co-ed institution, Sports College and part of the local three-tier education “pyramid”. The school roll is up around 650, compared to around 250 when I was at the school and there is still a thriving boarding house but it's now mixed and the kids are older (13) when they begin boarding. The new school was built into the best feature of the old school, the long south-facing playing field, and unfortunately looks to me a little like a toad in the grass. The old SGS croquet lawn and tennis courts have disappeared beneath a new town medical centre and much of the old school buildings – now called School House – have little to indicate that they once housed a thriving community. Still, that’s progress for you.
In this appendix I summarize some events of personal and school significance, culled from the pages of The Shastonian (the school magazine) published from January 1969 to January 1976. You can find many of the Shastonian magazines in the online archive at Shastonian.org.
Old Shastonian tie costs 10s. 6d from A T Squire in Shaftesbury High Street.
Old Shastonian A.K. Rodgers awarded school’s first Rugby Blue at Cambridge.
The school debating society motion “This House Deplores Euthanasia” defeated by 18 votes to 15. New catch phrase, “shake it granny”, becomes part of school lexicon.
My boarding year entered school, term III 1968.
Old Shastonian tie costs 13s. 6d from A T Squire in Shaftesbury High Street. Inflation blamed.
The chapel of ease of St. Rumbold (Cann) to become school chapel. Ghost of Cann departs for quieter surroundings.
School badger-watching club formed for nocturnal vigils in wilderness areas.
I was a sister or a cousin or an aunt in the school play: HMS Pinafore.
Old Shastonian tie costs 70p from A T Squire in Shaftesbury High Street. Decimalization hides modest rise in price to 14s in old money.
Fives courts converted to squash courts under leadership of “Chopper” Simmonds.
Biology introduced to the school with the hope that “future pupils of the school will obtain this basic knowledge of living matter”.
I’m credited with an “exquisitely artistic top part” when singing the Brahms’ Requiem at the school summer concert and a “robust innings” in cricket against Foster’s School.
Old Shastonian tie from A T Squire in Shaftesbury High Street holds firm at 70p. New advertisement in The Shastonian claims “Barclays – a good bank to get behind you”.
The school table tennis club restarts. I am in charge of biscuits. Also, the camera club secretary claims, “It is known that most of the club members have some very good colour slide collections hidden away in their bottom drawers”.
Our year’s under 15 rugby XV “won all the matches they played against teams of their age group, and scored more points in a term than any other side has done at school.”
I took ten wickets in the three matches played by the under 14 cricket XI.
Old Shastonian tie from A T Squire in Shaftesbury High Street up slightly at 75p. Barclays is out and National Westminster Bank is in encouraging new applicants to apply to them with their innovative “They talked my language” campaign.
“Quickie”, the resident master’s maid, retires after many years of devoted service.
School trips to Mont Dore, Andorra, Switzerland, and Paris undertaken. Amazingly all the staff survives.
I “read the game well as sweeper”, in my role as an under 15 XI football team player.
The end of an era, the Old Shastonian tie is no longer advertised in The Shastonian.
The badger watchers now have to lure the reluctant animals with sultanas and sugar puffs and “Mrs. Hann and Mrs. Wild, from the High School, were introduced to our local badgers”.
My first year as a member of the First XV rugby team – we lost a lot of matches
Disaster for the Aquarium Club when terrapins are introduced into the fish tank by N. Johnstone and “S. Apedaile suffered the loss of his marine fish”.
The Grenovic footpath is cleared, making it easier to find prime “bouncing” spots in the fields south of the school.
I won a cricket cap and the squash cup, became the school’s Head Boarder and secured a place at Fitzwilliam College Cambridge. So where did it all go wrong?
My lot was “not an ‘appy one” as a policeman in the school play Pirates of Penzance.
The school Film Club shows “Carry On Girls”, “Some Girls Do” and “The Lost Valley” - none of which lived up to our expectations.
The Gardening Club is undone by drought and meets with very little success other than from “the odd carrot with unusual determination to grow bigger”.
I captained the school First XI cricket team and we won only one match. I left the school at the end of term II 1975 with just one A’ level. Could these be linked?
The Shastonian magazines used as sources for this appendix offer far more data than is included in this highly selective extract.
If you are interested in more information about the school or its former students, the Old Shastonians Club maintains a Web site at www.shastonian.org where you can contact Old Shastonians and view photographs of the school, its students and staff in the online photo albums.
I would like to thank the following Shastonians who helped clarify or correct many of the events I describe in this book:
• Steve Apedaile
• Andy Brice
• Chris Brough
• Frank Hopton
• Dave Lever
• David Perry
• Peter Rolfe
• Mike Webber
The following books were also helpful in collating some of the historical background outlined in Appendix A:
• Hinton, David A, Discover Dorset: Saxons and Vikings, Wimborne, 1998.
• MacDonald, Jennifer, A Millennium Tale of Monarchs, Murder, Mystery and Mayhem, Trowbridge, 2000.
• Olsen, Eric, Images of England: Shaftesbury, Stroud, 1998.
• Rutter, William Farley, A Short History of Shaftesbury Grammar School, Gillingham (date unknown).