In March 2006, I had the pleasure to attend the 100th Anniversary Dinner of the founding of Durnford House. While at the College, I made a quick visit to the Junior School (JS) now long since situated where St. Mary’s Hall used to be some fifty years ago. I was profoundly shocked and saddened to realize from what turned out to be a very short visit that the JS that my brother, Brian, and I used to know, had totally ceased to exist.
I say this, not just because of the fact that the old building had long been torn down and replaced with blocks of rather uninteresting flats, but rather that there was nothing of the soul of the JS we knew. Unlike the 100-year history of Durnford, still continuing, it just seemed to Brian and me that the JS had gone forever. Even the old scholarship boards, much cherished in the old days, seemed to have disappeared, too. So much industry, so many memories just gone!
Then it struck me that the BCJS had no voice. The Pelican and its predecessors have all focused primarily, if not exclusively, on the Senior School. Thanks to David Gold, perhaps we can start to change this. With this article, I hope to reawaken the interest of those of us who went to the JS and hopefully get others to add their memories to mine. Maybe there could even be a reunion one of these days to surpass the Durnford dinner!
So to the task, then! What was it like to be at the JS in the early fifties? How did one spend one’s days? What were the high points and low points? How did the experience fit one for life in the Senior School? How did it fit one for life in the real world, back then still so many years away?
I went to the JS in the autumn term of 1950 with Brian. We had been at High Tress School in Horley, Surrey since sometime in 1945. I had my sixth birthday at High Trees, so was just 10 in my first term at Brighton. Because there was not enough room in the JS, one of the masters who taught Maths at the time, Mr. Robb, gave us a bedroom in his house on Walpole Terrace to which we repaired every night for the first term. This looked over the home ground from the North End. The Robbs were very kind to us and I suppose it was a way to ease into life at the JS. My parents, who had been in Nigeria since about 1943, thought the arrangement ideal, as they had heard that life at public school could be a trifle hard! Really? Looking back on this, the “easy start”, turned out to be a mixed blessing, as it proved hard to lose the “outsider” status, though this diminished over time.
In the dim memories of these early days, I can distinctly remember being eternally grateful to Peter Mayle, who didn’t know me at all, playing football in the playground with me on my very first day. Thank you, Peter, wherever you are now. And it is the playground, behind the school, that brings back some of my happiest memories. There was the perfectly placed tree that acted as a wicket for countless games of cricket, played with enormous enthusiasm by teams whenever there was a moment to spare, and a bat and tennis ball to hand. The champion in my day was always Richard Lewis and I can vividly remember his cover drives and my determined efforts to catch him out. I salute you Richard. In fact, Richard went on to become a star in the college first eleven, many years later.
Continuing in the playground, this was where all sorts of games were played – football; hockey on roller skates; ice sliding in the winter when every evening we threw pails of water down the sloping section to the left; fireworks celebrations on November 5th; conventional games of “It”; kick-the-can; and so on. Also, it was here that many of us ate our “Tuck”, purchased across the street on Saturdays. The playground was also the assembly point for the quite frequent fire drills, as the fire escapes all dropped to the ground there. These were very serious events, and woe betides anyone caught talking!
Underneath the playground, stretching across its entire width was a tunnel. I think this was originally an air-raid shelter, long since out of use. To most of us, the fact that this was absolutely “out of bounds” and securely locked with large padlocks and huge wooden doors at either end, gave the tunnel an aura of mystery. Getting into it proved beyond us most of the time, though I did manage it once thanks to some ingenious sole who either picked the lock or took the lock right off. Sad to say though, the expectation was better than the reality, as it was damp, dark, dusty, smelly, and full of old junk, so reentry was of little interest. However, just breaking and entering into it was exciting, as getting caught would have been a major problem certainly warranting “six of the best” from the Headmaster, Mr. S. Bayliss-Smith, or SBS as he was known.
SBS, who incidentally was a published ornithologist, had his study in the main entrance, and this was the focal point of the school. Here, hanging on the wall, was the large clock that governed the whole day from waking to sleeping, and class changes throughout the day. The ringing of a hand-bell regulated these and I wonder where this is now. Here, too, the school timetable looked out on us all. And here was where the staff pinned up their lists. There were lots and lots of these, all critical to the life of a young boy. There were the lists of new prefects, the school teams, the lists of who had been awarded colors, the lists of who was not allowed to swim or who were off-games, and all sorts of announcements. And, of course, here were the lists put up by the various teachers to regulate their classes, or forms, as they were known then. The lists of exam results, with markings out of 100, remain fresh in my eye to this day.
In retrospect, the school building itself was extremely Spartan and in poor shape, but to us it was as it was. We knew no other. It accommodated 40-50 boarders, I think, and a sizeable number of “day bugs”. To us boarders, the latter were second-class citizens and the subject of some unfortunate derision and periodic pitched battles. There were a series of dorms and one progressed through them. Each had painful initiation rites, as did the two common rooms for juniors and seniors. The mindless brutality of it all still depresses me. Quite why the academic staff, who knew perfectly well what was going on at the start of each year, allowed this to continue remains a disgraceful mystery.
Continuing with the academics, I started in Form 2, where the form mistress was a Ms. Allen and there was never any doubt that she was in charge. Her colleague, Ms. Chesterton, ran Form 1 and she was another formidable lady. One progressed up the scale to Form 6, each the responsibility of a different master, as there were no female teachers beyond Form 2. Others masters I recall include the second master, Mr. Burstow, who sparked my lifelong interest in history and philately, while providing endless encouragement and coaching to hundreds of budding cricketers and archaeologists; “Spooks” Hardy who taught French and just disappeared from the JS faculty one day; “Kipper Keeling” who also taught French and was a soft touch for a swim in the summer; Mr. Smyth who taught English with a heavy focus on grammar that I promptly forgot; and Mr. Thornburgh who taught geography (I think) and who led a memorable project to build a model of Mount Everest to coincide with its first ascent in 1953, giving me my life long interest in this mountain.
There were, of course, countless others all charged with the same mission to “educate” us boys. In practical terms, this seemed to be making sure we all passed the Common Entrance exam to the Senior School, an anxious few weeks every summer for those at that point, and that some of the sixth formers won scholarships. These required additional exams, interviews with the Headmaster of the College, Mr. Stewart or “The Duke”, as he was known, and also the Second Master Mr. Lester. No question, classes were a serious business with much rote learning, reinforced with regular evening prep times, strictly overseen by a member of the teaching staff. Instilled were disciplined work habits that remained for life. In my case, I would have to say that the staff accomplished their mission, as I did learn enough to be awarded a Gill Exhibition. I should also have to say that I must have received a thorough grounding for the work ahead at the College, as I went on to do well enough academically.
Part of the reason for any Gill Exhibition was a reasonable athletic ability. And here, the JS was a perfect place for any would be sportsman. This was very much a focal point of the school, games being compulsory, of course. I enjoyed every moment of these and my team photos with their color caps, awarded sparingly, still grace our walls at home. In them are the legends of my days – Stephen Grose, who seemed to be able to play anything, along with David Marshall a future squash wizard and Tom Kingham another, are the three that immediately come to mind. Unfortunately, I lost touch with everyone at the JS, and not just the athletes. In particular, I regret losing touch with Stephen Bradley who showed me great kindness and generosity over many years. Wherever you are, Stephen, thank you!
Quite how we managed to indulge our passion for sports with such enthusiasm remains something of a mystery, as the food was underwhelming, to put it politely. True, food rationing was still in force – I vividly remember the day sweet rationing ended about 1952 - and rationing led to a rather complicated allocation system of such staples as butter and cheese. We each had our own allocations, all stored on plates in a couple of cupboards in the dining room. Suffice to say, the mice had an absolute field day and I remain amazed how we all just got on with breakfast, just flicking off their droppings! Another peculiarity of meals at the JS fifty years ago was that they were brought down from the main college kitchens, a couple of hundred yards away across Eastern Road. The boys were responsible for some of these shipments! And what a fiasco that turned often turned out to be. Frequently, the chore would be forgotten until the last moment, with the result that the whole operation had to be conducted at high speed, frequently in the pouring rain, with gravy and potatoes sloshing over the cart, the road, and us. Ugh!
The JS had its own Scout Troop run by Mr. Holder with commendable enthusiasm. The occasional weekend camping exhibitions on the nearby Downs were a much enjoyed feature. However, these were tinged with elements of extreme danger, as were other “pranks” we got up to.
On the camping expeditions, a group of five or six of us would set out in the very early morning and spend time jumping over the third rail on the nearby train tracks. The height of stupidity but, fortunately, nobody was ever injured. Then, back at the JS, and led by I know not whom we found a way up into the attic of the school and from there out onto the roof. This was an occasional late-evening activity. The school roof not only proved a great vantage point to observe proceedings along Eastern Road, but also gave us a perfect view down into the large dormitory on the first floor. Frequently, we could watch Mr. Burstow or Mr. Holder reading an exciting good night chapter from one of the Ryder Haggard epics. These tales about the Zulus and Umslopagas with his mighty spear and seemingly magic shield were always looked forward to and much enjoyed. Following pleadings for “just one more page, please Sir”, we could frequently extend lights out for more than half an hour. It just never crossed our minds, though, that in scrambling up and down the sloping roofs, we could all tumble to certain death, right in front of the main entrance. Why we were never caught at this crazy prank defeats me!
Bedtime stories remain my only memory of anything resembling Pastoral Care. Matron, Sister Bullen, complete with blue uniform and the white hat of an SRN, never displayed any interest in the softer side of her charges, though I doubt whether any of us expected it back then. Even so, I can vividly remember being excruciatingly homesick and feeling very down for quite extended periods. There was a sick room and here one did receive a modicum of pampering. If the Doctor were needed, Matron would put a board with a Red Cross on it in her window, and Dr. Windle on his way by every day would come up to the surgery with his rather formidable brown bag. At exam time, many attempts were made to escape the impending miseries with “Matron: I feel sick” stories. None ever succeeded!
Inside the school, pastimes were more conventional and, at worst, only resulted in cuts and bruises, the more serious of which might warrant a trip to the Royal Sussex Hospital, just up the road. There were truly memorable games of British Bulldogs in the assembly room, leading up to the dining hall; “cops and robbers” all over the school; and “chain-he” in the basement, a game made basically impossible by the presence of three linked huge cupboards with holes at the top, making it possible to hold hands and remain free for ever! Along the narrow passage leading away from the hall there were fierce battles to break periodic barricades formed by the backs of just a couple of the biggest seniors. There would be a huge crowd trying desperately to break through, kicking, punching, shoving but generally all to no avail. Harmless fun this time, though hard on the school uniform!
To conclude then, and to reflect back on my time in the Junior School after a gap of 50 years, I have somewhat mixed emotions. I received an education that has undoubtedly served me in good stead and I had the privilege to be taught by many dedicated, well qualified, and competent professionals interested in their pupils. At the same time, I was able to develop my passion for sports to the full and have many happy memories of exciting cricket, soccer, and rugby matches. I made some very good friends, unfortunately now lost in the mists of the past, and the camaraderie was a fine antidote to someone whose parents were in far off lands and seen every couple of years or so. On the other hand, the JS had a dark side. The JS often had a menacing air, heavy with the threat of random violence typical of public schools of that era. The physical plant was grim and forbidding. And the strict hierarchy tended to stifle creativity, while leaving the legacy of an undue respect for authority, as dissent was discouraged. Hopefully, these darker elements have now gone and all pupils in today’s JS enjoy the totality of the educational experience that is their due. I hope so!
If anyone has a picture of the Junior School I would be delighted to have a copy.