A return to memories of boarding

In earlier ramblings I mentioned that I worked in two boarding schools and looking back from the 21st century, it is hard to believe some of the accepted norms back then.

Before starting at the LV in Slough I had never conceived that there might be such a thing as a mixed boarding school, and indeed, having applied for the post and been offered an interview, I rang the headmaster (from a red telephone box), just to check. He seemed surprised that I should ask! When I arrived for interview I was met by what to all intents and purposed was the headmaster’s manservant, short, white jacket et al. A far cry from my urban grammar school on Tyneside.

As I probably said elsewhere, my time there was probably among the most pleasant I have spent anywhere, with London on the doorstep, a new flat, a swimming pool, tennis courts on site, resident sixth-form babysitters and staff, many of a similar age to myself. There were of course the usual ‘odd bods’ found in schools like this, some of them seemed older than the place itself, but then people seemed older then.

The routine of a boarding school is important as out of lesson time, the boarders are supervised, by perhaps only one member of staff (or two in a mixed school) , hence the need for prefects. Rising times, bed times, meal times, times for prep and sport are all fixed so there is no reason why any boarder should be in a place other than expected. It all seems like a prison, but pupils seldom tried to ‘escape’ to their home, although one enterprising lad managed to get to Plymouth from Slough and was promptly returned by his father the next day. New pupils were sometimes homesick, briefly, but most got over it once the parents left and were not there to play up to.

Boarders were usually kept busy in their free time with sport and clubs, but both schools had a Saturday night film. Television was available, but children’s programmes were limited then, so each Saturday, all the boarders gathered in the main hall to watch a film, hired in by someone (I never found out who was responsible). You can imagine the smell of a room full of boys and girls between the ages of 11 and 18 on a warm summer evening with the curtains and doors closed. It was no wonder that while this was happening the staff chose to have their evening meal. I really have little recollection of meals at Slough, but staff supper in Devon followed immediately after the pupil’s meal. However it was usually preceded by ‘sherry’ in one or other of the senior resident’s flat. The senior, senior resident would ring a bell for the kitchen staff to the small staff dining room and woe betide anyone attempting to serve themselves.

Most of the mischief I was aware of took place in Shebbear, perhaps because I was there longer or more likely because it was originally boys only. From time to time we would find ‘smoking-dens’, strangely not out in the extensive grounds, but in a loft above a dormitory in a wooden building where a fire would have been a disaster. I ran a photographic club with a darkroom in the science block. Two of the senior boys seemed to spend a lot of time there and being suspicious I barged in one evening and was surprised to find that they had quite an extensive home brewery running in the loft above.

The night before Leavers’ Day was a main cause for concern although initially it was usually good humoured. The farmers’ sons who ‘boarded’, on one occasion dismantled a tractor and reassembled it in the quad via very narrow entrances and at another time managed to get an old Austin 7 car on to the roof. That car, used to learn motor skills, was eventually  buried in a ‘tip’ near the house where I lived and will be there still. It was not until staff cars began moving mysteriously during the night, that staff night patrols were found-necessary.



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