Barry Northam's Caldecott memories
My Caldecott Memories
[1950 – 1960]
List of Contents
My Caldecott Memories
One reason for my being at Caldecott was that my mother had suffered what was in those days referred to as a “nervous breakdown” and was unable to look after me, my younger brother and sister. Another reason was the need to deal with my own psychological problems. Although I have of course no conscious memory of this, my twin sister had died at birth, and I was very introverted and, I think, hyperactive [mentally; during my childhood I tried to avoid sports and other physical activity]. My having to leave the family was explained to me as resulting from a need to rest from schoolwork. My parents told me that they and a child psychiatrist had considered sending me to live on a farm for a year or sending me to “boarding school” and had decided on the second alternative. I am sure it was the right decision: I am happy to be writing this for this website rather than the Farmers’ Weekly.
I was at Caldecott between September 1950 and Easter 1960. It was then of course the Caldecott Community, and was based at Mersham-le-Hatch. In 1950 Caldecott had a reception centre down the road into the village at New House [ like Mersham-le Hatch, this was a stately home leased to the Community by Lord Brabourne] and I went there first.
The name “Caldecott” then meant nothing to me. I do not remember even knowing the name of the “boarding school”, and I had no idea that this was to be only my temporary home.
My mother brought me to New House. We travelled up on the Southern Railway, arriving at Waterloo and walking across a sort of covered footbridge to Waterloo Junction. When I came to the Caldecott Reunion at Lambeth Palace in 2005 I noticed that the same structure appeared to be still in place, but the name had now been changed to Waterloo East.
On the platform was one of those machines for stamping out letters [e.g. your name] on a strip of tin. I was keen to try this. As I was doing so the heavy metal handle slipped and flew up, hitting me on the mouth. I still have a little bit missing from one of my front teeth.
From Ashford Station a taxi took us to Mersham. As we drove up the road [Station Road?] towards the traffic lights in the High Street I had the feeling that I had been there before [although this was impossible].
I do not remember much about the two months I spent at New House, save that the staff were [or included] Miss Fretter [in charge], Miss Audrey [Audrey Watson, who now lives in Bournemouth] and Miss Walker, who had a dog named [of course] Johnnie Walker.
I have two specific memories of New House. The first is of playing with a tennis ball on the tennis court and losing it during the early evening, when it was getting dark. After searching for a while I announced that I could not find it, but was told that I should go on looking and could not come in until I had found it. I think that even at that tender age I appreciated that it was my responsibility to find it but that common sense suggested calling off the search until morning, when there would be more light. I did find it, of course.
Now and then we would go up to play on the lawn at “Hatch”[but would not enter the house]. I still had no idea that I was destined to go there. One day when we were playing on the lawn I was asked to take something to the office.
I went up the front steps and into the hall, to find a very large and very majestic lady sitting in a chair in the middle of the room [This was of course Leila Rendel [Miss Leila], Caldecott’s principal]. She was quite friendly, saying something like “Hello, young man”, and asking who I was and where I was going. I then went to the office to carry out my errand.
Miss Leila at 1964 Reunion
Not long ago I discovered that later entrants to Caldecott had attended a formal interview. I think this meeting was my “interview”.
I was apparently not yet ready for Caldecott, as I was then sent to the Mulberry Bush at Standlake in Oxfordshire for ten months [I still had no idea of the overall plan, of course]. Strictly, this was not part of my time at Caldecott, but I am including it as there may be some reading this who also went to the Bush.
The Mulberry Bush
I remember being happy there. Life was very free and easy and my eccentricities, and those of the other children, were readily accepted by staff and children alike. On my first day I was subjected to some aggression [not really bullying] from one of the boys, and the other children promptly chased him around the field. He and I got on well enough after that.
My one disappointment was that academic work was very limited [that was probably the point]. I remember that we had printed booklets with questions and spaces for our answers and would all gather round a large table to work, for no more than about one hour per day. The other children nicknamed me ‘professor’. I see from my file that Mrs D feared that I would find this insulting, but in fact I enjoyed it.
More important, of course, was the time spent one to one with Mrs. Pip Drysdale [Mrs. D], who of course had several qualifications in psychology, and ran the Bush together with her husband [Mr. D]. In late middle age I found it really interesting and informative to read her notes of our conversations in my file.
I have never lived anywhere else as cold as the Bush. As winter approached I announced that I was not going to set foot outside until the weather was warmer. This was accepted without demur, and I did not go out of the house until the spring.
Every evening we took to bed with us a drink of hot milk or cocoa. During the winter some of us would put our drink outside on the windowsill overnight, so that we would have a milk or cocoa ice lolly in the morning.
Most of us liked to help prepare breakfast in the kitchen, mainly in preparing and buttering umpteen rounds of toast. In the winter the butter was rock hard, so it would be put in the oven to soften up. It would come out melted and sickly yellow and very easy to spread.
When the weather became warmer and I began to go outside, I discovered plimsolls. This magical footwear was said [by other children] to be so strong that you could stamp on broken glass and the glass would not penetrate the plimsoll. Of course I had to try this and learned the very important lesson that other people are not always right.
Many hours were spent playing in the pond in the front garden and on the island which took up most of it. Without any formal teaching the pond provided a basic education in nature studies, bringing us into contact with frogs, frogspawn and tadpoles, water boatmen and other water insects, and sticklebacks [I have never seen a stickleback since I left the Bush]. We also became familiar with several species of butterfly, which could be found in the fields at the back during the summer.
After coming to New House I did not see my parents for several months, and when my father came to the Bush to visit me in the summer of 1951 I hardly recognised him. I still have photographs that we took of each other at Witney, Eynsham , and in the lanes around Standlake .
Among the staff at the Bush was Desmond Draper, who much later came to Caldecott. He would tell us shaggy dog stories when we were having our tea. Also Clem Murphy, who sported a moustache and a pipe. In later life I came to wonder whether during the time of the first post-war Labour government he was modelling himself on a rather better known Clem.
Me near the Mulberry Bush [taken by my Father]
I was always a bit of a goody-goody, and did not usually have enough nerve to break the rules. There were few rules at the Bush, but one rule was that, if we woke early in the morning, we were to stay in our room and not wander.
Me at the Mulberry Bush [taken by my Father]
On one occasion, I cannot remember why, I wandered out of my room early one morning while everyone else was still asleep. I felt a sudden thump on my back, and looked up and saw Mr. D, who told me to get back to bed. The blow did not hurt me, but was quite a shock.
Nowadays that might well be considered child abuse, but as far as I was concerned it was a well merited punishment.
In September 1951, almost exactly a year after I had first come to Kent, the time had come to move on to somewhere new. I was told that it was near New House, and was probably told that it was Caldecott [ a name which then meant nothing to me]. I suspected and feared that it was “Hatch”, and I was proved right. I cannot remember why I should have been worried at the prospect of going to Caldecott, but I suspect that, having become used to the smaller communities at New House and the Mulberry Bush, I did not relish becoming part of what my visits to play on the lawn had suggested was a much larger and perhaps more formal establishment.
Mr. and Mrs. D drove me down to Kent. I had recently discovered Horlicks tablets, and I remember that during the journey I stuffed myself with these until I felt sick.
Children at Caldecott were placed in different groups, according to age. Those of 6 years of age or younger were in the Nursery, 7 and 8 year olds in a group named the Junior Study, 9 and 10 year olds in the Senior Study [usually abbreviated to the Study]. These were mixed groups of boys and girls, but from 11 years of age we entered the Seniors, and were segregated.
I was just ten years of age, and therefore spent one year in the [Senior] Study before going up into the Seniors.
We were looked after by Mrs. Hansen, and I remember that she would take us out on walks, often accompanied by one or other of her sons, John and Gary.
The Study had the good fortune to have its playroom in the most beautiful room in the house. It has always amazed me that the Adam fireplaces in this and all the other main rooms survived without being vandalised. The beautiful ceiling in this room was in any event well out of reach.
In our playroom we had several pet mice, whose numbers were always changing thanks to births and deaths. Some were “owned” by individual children, to the envy of some of the other children. Fortunately, nobody who wanted a mouse was without one for long, as even at that tender age some of us knew that we had only to put a male and a female in together, and a new supply of mice would be available shortly afterwards.
There was also a collection of good quality wooden building bricks of different shapes and sizes, which we would use to build all sorts of structures, including a maze of sloping tunnels. It was very satisfying to put a marble in at the top so that it would negotiate several corners and emerge at the bottom. The same trick was also performed with mice.
Up to the age of 11, we were educated at Caldecott. The schoolroom was in a former stable block in what was still known as the Stable Yard. The Nursery was above the schoolroom, and other buildings around the yard included the chapel and a prep room for older children.
The house at Mersham-le-Hatch was in three parts, a large central ‘main house’ and two smaller wings, East and West, each connected to the main house by a narrower structure. The Senior and Junior Studies and the Senior Girls all lived and slept in the main house, while the accommodation for the Senior Boys, apart from a playroom in the main house, was entirely in the West Wing].
Mersham-le-Hatch, Front facing South
We slept in dormitories, usually with about five beds to a dormitory . We showered [both hot and cold, about which more later] in the West Wing, and spent most of our leisure time in the adjoining playroom, but visited the main house for meals and certain activities.
The most significant change was that we were now of secondary school age, and went out of the community for our education, to Grammar and Secondary Modern Schools in Ashford.
Mersham-le-Hatch, Rear facing North
Although at this time we continued to live and play together, the Seniors were divided between those of 11 to 13 years on the one hand and those of 14 years or more on the other. The latter were known as “Uniforms” because during evenings and weekends they wore a uniform consisting of light blue Aertex shirts, grey flannel short trousers and long grey socks held up with garters [the girls wore blouses and skirts of the same colours]. The uniform trousers were not popular among boys who, at the age of 14, were provided with their first long trousers to wear to school but found that they were expected to revert to short trousers in the evening.
Me at 'Hatch age about 11
[Long trousers were of course a rite of passage. I remember that one boy, Maurice Ottaway, was so anxious not to crease his new trousers that he would stand on a locker about two feet above the floor to put them on].
Most of us left Caldecott at about 15 or 16, but Barry Callaghan and I stayed on until we reached 18, and even then the uniform still included short trousers.
Throughout my time at Caldecott Miss Travers [nicknamed ‘Aggie’] was in charge of the senior boys, assisted by one or more male member of staff. For most of this time that was Simon Rodway, but there were a number of others, mostly temporary. Some of these were students on what we would now call work experience. I remember in particular a German named Peter Schussler, who was very pleasant. Sadly, he died in a road accident after returning to Germany.
After a few years news of my Mulberry Bush nickname leaked out, and it was revived [ I think I have Douglas Rankin to thank for this]. Soon afterwards it was shortened to ‘prof’.
Boys and girls over fourteen who showed a degree of responsibility were rewarded by being created “Privileged Uniforms”, a status akin to that of school prefects. As the name suggests, this status carried certain privileges [e.g. a later bedtime]. They were distinguished from other Uniforms by wearing dark blue Aertex shirts – otherwise the uniform was the same.
This status was at first temporary, but could, when sufficient responsibility was shown, be made permanent [we became Permanently Privileged Uniforms, or ‘PPUs’]. Older Caldecott people will probably remember an earlier incarnationn known as 'Pathfinders'.
PPUs at 200th Meeting [back: Pauline, June, Lynne, Doug, Michael; front: me, Barry, Robert]
At about the time that I was sixteen, the Colt House arrived in the Brewery Yard. Named after the Colt company that built it, it was a wooden structure consisting of a large room used as a playroom, and two smaller rooms. From then on, boys of fourteen years and older occupied the Colt House under the supervision of Simon Rodway, leaving the West Wing playroom to the younger boys and Miss Travers, although all the boys continued to sleep in the West Wing. One of the smaller rooms became Simon’s bedroom, and the other was for the use of PPUs.
Miss Leila was a friend of Kurt Hahn, the founder of Gordonstoun, and a great admirer of his regime at Gordonstoun, which placed great emphasis inter alia on physical fitness. Among elements of the Gordonstoun regime that she adopted were runs and showers and an assault course [later given the more pacifist name of obstacle course].
The senior boys were woken at 7.00 a.m. every day from Monday to Friday by Miss Travers calling “Time – Runs and Showers”. There followed a run of approximately half a mile along part of the track which traversed the back of the house. The ‘run-track’ led westward to the start of the nearby hornbeam wood, where runners would turn round and head for home. The run was followed by a cold shower, in theory of 10 seconds duration.
The Run Track
Runs and showers were of course supervised, usually by Miss Travers, Simon Rodway or a PPU. The last few yards of the track were hidden by a tree, and it was not unknown for boys to turn round once they were out of sight, and reappear a minute or so later to make the return run. If spotted, they would be sent back to run half the course again.
We had to stand under the cold shower while the person supervising counted to ten. The speed of the count could depend on their mood, and anyone getting out from under the shower before the call of ‘out’ would be recalled.
On Saturdays there was a shower but no run. This was in fact worse, as the body heat built up from the run to some extent mitigated the cold of the shower. It became worse in the depths of winter; on the [mercifully rare] occasions that the pipes to the showers froze we had to have a cold bath instead. The rule was that you lay down in the bath and turn over three times, which in my case was longer than the shower.
I suppose the justification for cold showers was that they encouraged us to acquire a self-discipline that would stand us in good stead in later life. In my own case I am sure that I have the morning runs to thank for the fact that I am reasonably fit, as I was not inclined towards physical exercise or sports.
As I grew older, I found myself supervising runs and showers, which involved getting up earlier to have my own [unsupervised] run and shower. By this time I quite enjoyed the morning run, and only rarely gave in to the temptation to skip it.
From time to time, Miss Leila chose a boy from Caldecott to continue his education at Gordonstoun. One of these was my contemporary Matthew Potts, who went there at about the age of fourteen.
Before she announced that he would be going, Miss Leila asked me what I would say if she were to invite me to go to Gordonstoun. I was disinclined to any physical activity, and would have been a quite unsuitable candidate for Gordonstoun, and I do not suppose that she had any intention of offering me a place there. I believe that she just wanted to see my reaction, and she was probably not at all surprised that I was horrified at the prospect.
My particular bugbear was the obstacle course. I first became aware of this when in the Study, by hearing Miss Travers, after calling runs and showers, announcing what sounded like e.g. “Simon Rodway on the salt course”. After a while I realised that she was saying “assault course”.I did not of course discover what exactly was involved until I went up into the Seniors.
I understand that this was modelled on an Army assault course, although almost certainly less strenuous. I am glad to say that I never had the opportunity to find out, as boys of my age missed National Service by the skin of our teeth. After a while Miss Leila must have become anxious to avoid the military association, as the name was changed to obstacle course.
Once a week we would have to go on the obstacle course instead of a run, supervised by Simon Rodway and/or a PPU. The first obstacle was a jump off the top of a retaining wall over a man-made water pit onto the ground about three feet below; if you did not jump far enough you got your feet wet. No great problem in itself, but since the far side of the pit had been shored up by a plank of wood you could easily strike your foot painfully against the plank. In my case this was an incentive to jump short deliberately and put up with wet feet.
We next climbed onto a large wooden tripod and swung back, Tarzan style, onto the same retaining wall, being caught if necessary by someone standing on the wall. This was followed by what I regarded as the easiest part of the course, the Board. We could just reach the top of this board, which we would climb with the aid of a ‘leg-up’ from somebody else, go over the top and jump down the other side.
Then followed the net; made of rope and probably about twelve feet high; we had to climb up one side, go over the top and climb down the other side. Even for someone as unathletic as myself, climbing up and down presented no difficulty, but I was never able to vault over as easily as most people seemed to do, and would wobble precariously before at last being able to get a leg over the top.
Me on the 'Net', assisted by Ken
Finally, we would use our hands and feet to pull ourselves along a rope some feet above the ground. This was mostly easy enough, the only real difficulty being the task of negotiating our way around the outside of the branch of a tree some two-thirds of the way along, where the rope passed through the narrow gap between the branch and the tree.
The main meals were eaten in the communal Dining Room, under the watchful gaze of Miss Leila, the assistant principal, Ethel Davies [ known to everyone as Miss Dave], various Knatchbull ancestors [Knatchbull was Lord Brabourne’s family name] looking down on us from the walls, and a statue of Christopher Columbus. At one end of the room was a large Canaletto, which was commonly understood by the children to be a representation of the Bridge of Sighs, but later turned out to be the Rialto.
Miss Dave (Davies)
Life at Caldecott was largely regulated by bells. We were summoned to meals, as to other occasions, e.g. Chapel, by the sound of a large bell which was rung about five or ten minutes before meals [the ‘First Bell’] and again [the “Second Bell’] at the appointed time. Many of us regarded it a privilege to be asked to ring the bell.
Cleanliness and tidiness were sacrosanct at mealtimes, and before we could be allowed to go up to the Dining Room we had to be inspected to ensure that we had cleaned our shoes, combed our hair and washed our hands; and sent back to do it again if necessary.
We sat eight to a table, and each table was presided over by a member of staff; the top table by both Miss Leila and Miss Dave. Food was served under the Canaletto, and we would go up, one table at a time, to be served. Mealtimes were again regulated by a bell, this time by a small ornamental handbell rung by Miss Leila to signify the different stages of the meal. In particular, when the time came to clear away between courses, and at the end of the meal, the bell was rung for ‘Silence’, during which we were expected not to speak, to avoid the combined noise of conversation and the clatter of dishes being stacked up.
Considering the privations of postwar Britain, Caldecott fed us well. Lunch and Supper usually consisted of meat and two veg, and there was always pudding [and often seconds]. Probably several other people were, like me, discovering food they had not previously come across; in my case coffee and bananas [lovely] and our staple Saturday breakfasts of kippers and smoked haddock [ rather dried up by the time they were served; of course, cooking for nearly 100 people at a time presented problems, but I have only recently been able to bring myself to eat smoked haddock, and am still put off by the smell of kippers].
One of my favourite breakfasts was what passed for muesli. It was a sort of cold porridge with tinned grapefruit, but I loved it. It is probably the reason why I now always eat muesli for breakfast, although the muesli that I eat now bears little resemblance to it.
Apart from the standard fare, some members of staff would bring to the table favourite foods of their own, which they would also offer to us. I always enjoyed sitting at Elizabeth Lloyd’s breakfast table, where she would usually provide Frank Cooper’s Oxford marmalade, and Miss Leila invariably had [inappropriately?] some Gentleman’s Relish, which she would occasionally offer to us.
Children did not always sit at the same table as their close friends [in many cases they were probably kept apart deliberately to avoid trouble] and would welcome any excuse to get up and wander around, inevitably passing a table where there was a friend with whom they could chat. The usual excuse was to go and fetch a ‘swabber’, to wipe up water which had been spilt on the table.
Wandering was not confined to the children. Miss Travers would seize the opportunity to have a brief discussion with Simon Rodway or one of her other assistants while they were at the serving table getting themselves a second cup of tea or coffee. I well remember one occasion when Ken Arber, who assisted her with the boys for a year or two, had just sat down after refilling his teacup, when Miss Travers came up behind his chair, leaned over and said “Would you like another cup of tea?”, much to his annoyance, which he made no attempt to disguise.
Douglas Rankin once decided to try to make himself faint during Supper, by grabbing the lower rungs of his chair with his hands and pulling on them as hard as possible, while holding his breath. He was successful, and Mike Clover had to carry him out.
The one meal that was informal was afternoon tea. When we arrived home from school, a large urn of tea would be waiting for us in the boys’ playroom, together with thick cut ‘slabs’ of bread with whatever was that day’s spread and a bun or cake. The most frequent combination was lemon curd slabs and doughnuts. Peanut butter was another favourite.
Miss Travers was well aware of her nickname [which was not, as far as I recall, used to her face]. Every member of staff had one day off per week [in fact, less than one day, as it usually began only after breakfast]. Hers was Wednesday, and was enjoyed by the boys as much as by her. On Wednesday mornings some of the boys would attempt to wind her up by asking,apparently in all innocence, “ Is it Wednesday today, Miss Travers?” She well knew their reason for asking, and did not rise to the bait, invariably replying “Yes, Wednesday all day”.
One Wednesday I had come home on an early bus, and was already in the playroom with her and Peter Schussler, Miss Travers having decided to take a different day off that week. I could hear the noise of the boys coming in from the bus stop, and as they got nearer I heard Marshall Adams shout quite clearly “Hooray! Wednesday! Aggie out all day!” She didn’t bat an eyelid.
On Sunday afternoons the senior boys had to take part in organised sport; cricket in the Summer term and football in the Spring and Autumn terms. I had no aptitude or liking for either, and on most Saturday evenings I hoped for a bout of flu or some other illness so that I might be excused football the next day.
Only in later life did I appreciate one reason for this. My left eye has always been very shortsighted, and without this being corrected I could not focus, and could not for instance judge the exact distance of an approaching football or cricket ball. This is no longer a problem, as I wear a contact lens in that eye.
At that time I had glasses, but was not of course allowed to wear them for football, in case they were broken.
However, this was not the main reason for my aversion to sport. I did not like the rough and tumble of games, and feared getting hurt. When you are eleven years old it is rather daunting to face another player perhaps four years older and twice your size approaching you with the ball, knowing that you are expected to tackle him. We were sometimes joined on the football field by a grown-up named George Cuthbert. He was very pleasant, but at the age of eleven the presence on the opposing team of somebody about two or three times my size made football an even more daunting prospect.
Football was of course no longer daunting when I was eighteen, and most of the other players were smaller, but my greater size was not accompanied by any skill.
Some of the boys were more skilful than others, and this could cause a problem when a good junior player was able to run rings around an older and much larger player, who might then seek to punish the youngster for his cheek. On the way back from the football field we passed the stinky pond, and one such ‘punishment’ was for the older boy to throw the ball into the pond and tell the younger boy to wade in and fetch it [which he would do, on pain of being beaten up].
I remember one occasion when one of the older boys, a rather oafish bully, apparently felt humiliated as a result of skilful tackling by a younger opponent, threw the ball into the pond and ordered the younger boy to retrieve it. At that moment another boy of about the same age and size came around the corner and said “No, you go and get it”. Most bullies are cowards, so we had the pleasure of seeing him obey this command rather than risk a beating-up.
The team captains appeared to favour placing their best players in the central attacking positions, so I mostly found myself on the wing, chatting with Cyril Ives, my opposing wing, and making a show of trying to get involved when the ball occasionally came towards us. At other times I would be one of the backs. If our team was attacking strongly, my fellow back and I would spend most of the time chatting to the goalkeeper [almost invariably Alan Simmonds], and trying to look busy on the odd occasion when the ball approached the penalty area.
My experience of cricket was similar, but exacerbated by the need to try to focus on a much smaller ball travelling at a much greater speed. I was of no use at all, although on a half term holiday at Harwich in 1956 I was part of a Caldecott team playing against the boys of HMS Ganges. You’ve guessed it – there were only eleven of us on that holiday.
One boy about a year or two older than myself was Richard Middleton. He was very small and wiry, suffered from asthma and had a collapsed lung. He was not a great football player, but had a reputation for being able to foul an opponent so skilfully that nobody else noticed. He also taught me to ride a bike [of which more later].
Very rarely, the weather [e.g. snow] prevented us from playing football, and on these occasions a makeshift boxing ring was set up in the playroom, and we all had to take part. After a bout against David Sandercock [‘Sandy’], in which neither of us distinguished himself, it was judged that I had won on points, of which I was quite proud when, several years later, Sandy went on to become welterweight champion of Kent.
There was one sport that was voluntary, and which I did enjoy. There was a table tennis table in the senior boys’ playroom, and most of us enjoyed playing table tennis and came to play it fairly well. I continued to play until a few years ago, and would still enjoy it, given the opportunity.
The subject of sport reminds me of Ken Arber, who introduced some of us to badminton. We had no court, but he set up a net on the lawn, and taught us the basics, without the benefit of any marked-out boundaries. As a better player, he had of necessity to go easy on his opponent, but I could not help noticing that his play improved remarkably whenever a teenage girl or a female member of staff appeared on the scene.
There were a number of ponies at Caldecott, and we were encouraged to learn to ride. The ponies were cared for by Miss Travers and Miss Diana [Howarth], with the assistance of the keenest of the boys and girls, who were designated grooms.
The ponies that I remember included Sheila, a comparatively large grey, and a number of bays: Mary, Bramble, and Puff. Tessa was lighter in colour and had a reputation for being temperamental, and was ridden by only the more experienced riders.
For me, riding began in the Study, and at first I quite enjoyed it, although I always found it a bit alarming to sit astride a fairly wide pony, only to notice what a thin neck stood between me and disaster should I begin to fall forward.
Once a week, we would follow the same route down though the Hornbeam wood and back. We would walk most of the way, and take it in turns to ride. After all this time I cannot remember whether Puff was the only pony to come out with the Study, or whether there were two or three. At any rate, I invariably rode Puff.
Puff was the gentlest and most docile of ponies. She [?] was very old, and very slow. She would walk most of the way, but could with difficulty be persuaded to break into a gentle trot. She knew the way, and knew where to stop, and could therefore be trusted with the least experienced riders. Once I had been put in the saddle, I could ride unaided, as I did not have to exercise any sort of control.
At the end of my first year at Hatch, we all left for the Summer holidays. When I returned in September as a member of the Senior Boys, I found that Puff had died. This was a great shock.
In the Seniors, riding took place, except in the depths of winter, every Saturday afternoon. Miss Travers would take four or five ponies, with a group of boys and girls, around the country lanes, usually accompanied by Diana Howarth’s little Dachshund, Hansel, who would struggle to keep up. Once again, there were more riders than ponies, and we would take it in turn to ride for a mile or so before dismounting and walking again. Ponies could do no more than walk and trot on metalled roads, but sometimes we would go through the Deer Park, where they could canter and gallop.
I had learned to sit properly [if we slouched, Miss Travers invariably came out with “sack of potatoes”] and to rise with the trot, but, along with some others, was not yet able to control the pony. While most riders were left to their own devices between changeovers, our ponies would be led by Miss Travers or one of the other walkers.
I never did reach the stage of exercising any control while riding, and gave it up altogether after a rather frightening incident.
When Miss Travers later spoke about this, she would confuse two separate incidents and run them together to create a more dramatic story than what actually happened.
The first incident occurred when we had been riding along a country lane with a wood to our right and emerged from the wood into a clearer area, when we heard shots, presumably from some of Lord Brabourne’s men. We halted until they had moved away, and Miss Travers made some very scathing comments about people who were so careless as to shoot in the vicinity of horses.
The other occasion took place a few months later. I was riding Bramble, who was being led by one of the girls, when we stopped for a changeover, and the ponies all began to graze at the side of the road. Not all the riders were changed at the same time, and on this occasion I was to continue to ride Bramble after other riders had been changed.
As usual, the girl who had been leading Bramble had left him free while he was grazing, and when the other ponies began to trot off she neglected to hold his reins again. Bramble saw his friends departing, and, with me on his back and hanging on for dear life, shot off in pursuit. On reaching the other ponies he was not content to join them, but burst straight through the middle of the group and left them well behind.
We were on a metalled road, and he could do no more than trot, but was trotting at a speed far greater than any trot I had experienced before, probably fast enough for a gallop. I was quite well used to rising with the trot, but he was travelling so fast that I could not keep up with him, and I was bouncing up and down in the saddle completely out of control.
With the benefit of hindsight, this should have been an excellent opportunity for me to pull gently on the reins and find out, for the first time, whether I was able to bring him under control. I was, however, afraid to take a step which might have resulted in my being catapulted over his head, and in any case I had to concentrate so hard on holding on to the pommel of the saddle in order to avoid falling off that I could do nothing else.
This seemed to go on for ages, but lasted probably only two or three minutes. Every few yards we would pass what appeared to be a soft grass verge, and I would wonder whether I could summon up the courage to throw myself off in the hope of securing a soft landing [I couldn’t]. Bramble showed no sign of wanting to slow down, but eventually somebody else, riding Sheila, caught up with us and grabbed his bridle and brought him to a halt.
That was the end of my riding career. I decided that bikes, having no mind of their own, were much easier to control.
If you had asked Miss Travers about this, she would have told you that Lord Brabourne and his men had fired their guns in front of our noses, frightening Bramble and causing him to run away with me.
When I was in the Study, we would go on walks with Mrs. Hansen, usually accompanied by one of her adult sons, Gary and John. On Saturdays our walk would take us to Baxters, a sweet shop, I think in Brabourne [or was it Smeeth?], where we could spend our pocket money on sweets.
Sugar was [and therefore sweets were] still rationed, and we were limited to a quarter pound of sweets per week. I usually bought Keiller chocolate fingers. The end of rationing coincided with my going up to the seniors the following year, and for the next few years I would get permission to visit the local sweet shop in Ashford during the school lunch hour. The master on duty would always say “ you’ll ruin your teeth”, but would always grant permission.
He was right about my teeth, and I had numerous fillings during the next few years. Our dentist in Canterbury Road would use the drill without benefit of any kind of anaesthetic, and I have ever since wondered whether it was not the practice for dentists to use anaesthetics at that time, or whether they were simply regarded as wasted on children.
The senior boys would usually divide into two or three groups on Saturday afternoons, one of which, together with some of the girls, would go riding. One group would go cycling. Several boys had their own bike, and there were always one or two school bikes, in different states of repair. I remember one occasion when I went cycling with Sandy on a Saturday afternoon. We made a round trip via Folkestone, Dover, Deal and back via Canterbury and Ashford. I was riding a school bike with no brakes [no Health and Safety then] and, being a rather nervous cyclist, dismounted and walked whenever we had to go down a steep hill.
I left it fairly late to learn to ride a bike; I think I was about twelve or thirteen. I had no choice in the matter. One evening I was grabbed by Richard Middleton and told that I was going to learn to ride a bike there and then. I was not in the habit of arguing with my seniors, but I was concerned that it was bedtime. He said that he had already cleared it with either Simon or Miss Travers.
It transpired that he had arranged to have a competition with Ken Gentil; Cyril Ives had also not yet learnt to ride a bike, and they would compete to see whether he could teach me to ride before Ken could teach Cyril.
We started behind the West Wing. I sat on the bike and pedalled while Richard held the saddle. Every now and then he would reassure me that he was still holding the saddle. When he said “I’m still holding the saddle”, at the same time walking ahead of me, I realised that I could ride a bike.
They then took us on our bikes along the drive in front of the house, another cause for concern for me, since this was out of bounds. However, they had apparently also cleared this with the authorities.
Before school on the following day, quite a number of the boys turned out to watch me ride a bike. The plan was to ride down the fairly steep incline below the Brewery Yard and do a sharp right turn to go uphill behind the main house. I set off down the hill and straight into the fence, fortunately with no harm to anything except my dignity.
At half terms, a group of the boys would often go camping or youth hostelling, supervised by Simon and/or some of the other men who from time to time assisted Miss Travers in the West Wing. Most of us came to love a life under canvas, helping to cook the group’s meals on a campfire and erecting and dismantling the tents [no sewn-in groundsheets, nylon tents or formal campsites then].
My first camp was near Penshurst in the summer of 1953. This coincided with the Queen’s coronation, and provided also my first experience of television. Two television sets had been set up in the village hall, and we joined the locals to watch the coronation live [in those days, most homes did not yet have a television]. We sat in rows of chairs separated by a central aisle, with the television sets in front on either side of the aisle.
I suppose because not everyone would have been able to get a good view from a single television in the centre. They were very small sets by today’s standards, and of course black and white. The picture on one set had a pink tinge, and it was quite odd to switch my eyes now and then from the black and white picture to the same picture in a grey-pink monochrome.
My first Camp [June 1953] At Camp [Alan S, Me, Matthew P, Robert L,
and Simon Rodway]
A few days later, we were taken to London to see the route of the coronation procession, now almost deserted but with the roads lined with the empty stands which had been erected to enable Londoners to view the procession.
Camping from Hatch involved one fixed location, but when we visited youth hostels we travelled quite some distance, through Kent and also into Surrey and Sussex, staying at a different hostel each night. Favourite hostels included Blackboys, Goudhurst and Alfriston, and shortly before I left Caldecott we travelled even farther afield, visiting Winchester and the Isle of Wight. We usually travelled in three separate groups, sometimes cycling and at other times hitch-hiking [at a time before the invention of seat belts and the Media’s obsession with paedophiles, nobody considered this to be at all dangerous].
Sometimes we cheated. It was a firm rule that youth hostels were open only to people who arrived under their own power, whether by walking or cycling; arriving by car was strictly taboo. I remember one occasion when we were divided into three groups, each taking its turn to cycle, to hitch-hike [this was acceptable, probably because it was likely to involve some walking, and perhaps also because it involved the exercise of our initiative] and to be driven in ‘the van’, which would be parked out of sight of the youth hostel, and which we were of course forbidden to mention while we were there.
Alfriston Youth Hostel Winchester Youth Hostel
Youth hostels provided a communal experience to which Caldecott people were no strangers. We would all have to muck in and help with the chores, whether cooking, washing up or cleaning. We soon realised that the term ‘youth hostel’ was a misnomer; hostels were open to people of all ages. I remember a quite elderly man at one hostel whom we nicknamed Charlie, who tried to allocate duties to us until Simon had a word with him.
Since leaving Caldecott, I have enjoyed camping many times, including with my own children. I have never since visited an English youth hostel, but twice joined the SYHA when rained temporarily out of a camping trip in Scotland, and for several years collected individual youth hostel badges which I sewed onto a rucksack which sadly is no more. Communal and segregated dormitories tend to put off couples and families [although I believe that the YHA has moved with the times, and now sometimes provides double or family rooms and even [sacrilege!] allows travel by car].
Camping has also developed, and erecting a tent on open land, or with the permission of a farmer, has given way to formal campsites with toilets and showers and even a camp shop. I am reminded of a time in the early seventies when, approaching Portree on the Isle of Skye in the dark, I pitched my tent on a level stretch of ground in a field beside the road. On waking in the morning I discovered that it was the local golf course, and took down the tent and departed speedily.
While I recall with nostalgia pitching a tent, cooking in the open air and the snug feeling of lying in a [waterproof] tent and listening to the sound of the rain, I am now in my seventieth year, and notwithstanding toilets and showers I believe my camping days are over.
On Saturday mornings after breakfast the senior boys and girls were required to do about an hour’s housework [ we also did a smaller amount of housework in the Study]. We might help in the kitchen, clearing up and washing up in the dining room/pantry, cleaning the floors, etc. Polishing the hall floor was a heavy task, involving a weighty implement known as a ‘dumper’, with which we applied Ronuk to the floor, and then put a cloth under the dumper to shine the floor.
Miss Hill was in charge in the pantry, and did the washing up in very hot water without rubber gloves. She always said that she had ‘asbestos hands’.
I think I spent more time doing housework in the kitchen than anywhere else. I enjoyed the work and the company. Diana Dee, the cook [who was Miss Leila’s adopted daughter], had a great sense of humour, which rubbed off on anyone else who worked there. Even Mrs Goodban, a rather dour older lady who came in from outside to work in the kitchen, was easy enough to get on with if you worked and behaved yourself.
One example of kitchen humour was a poem written in the style of Hiawatha [by one of the many students who would help out at Caldecott for a year or so at a time; I cannot remember his name]. It began “Then Diana, tall and stately, She the dropper of the sponge cakes”, and can be found in one of the Caldecott Heralds of the late 1950s. I remember also the time when, unusually, I confessed to ignorance about something, saying “I don’t know everything”. Diana immediately said “Can we have that in writing?”
Peeling potatoes was an interesting new experience, as Caldecott had an electric potato peeler. This was a floor-standing machine that looked rather like a large spin drier. The inside had an abrasive surface, which would peel the potatoes as they were spinning in the machine. I doubt that Lord Woolton would have approved. [Lord Woolton was the wartime Minister for Food, who encouraged people to eat potatoes with their skins, to help feed the country when food was scarce; I later heard about a Government campaign involving a jingle to the effect that “ the sight of peelings hurts Lord Woolton’s feelings”].
When I was about seventeen, I became interested in making wine, and Diana allowed me to do so in the kitchen. I often had two or three demijohns bubbling away at the same time, and I suppose we all drank the finished product. Recalling this recently, I felt sure that my memory was playing tricks on me, and that I must surely have imagined it, but it is clear from something I wrote in the Herald at the time that it actually happened.
At the end of each term we would be given a housework report, read out by Miss Davies at Meeting. More often than not, mine was “thorough but slow”. However, I felt very proud on one occasion when a favourable report from the kitchen ended with a ‘special mention from Mrs Goodban’.
Woodwork, under the supervision of Mr Gladstone on Saturday mornings, was, I think, compulsory, but the boys all enjoyed it. [It was called carpentry at school and woodwork at Caldecott, or was it the other way round?] I understood the principles of woodwork, but putting them into practice was another matter; I could drastically reduce the size of a piece of wood while desperately trying to plane a straight edge. We all made objects to take home to our parents, and I still have in my possession a rather rough wooden box that I made for my parents, which reverted to me on my mother’s death.
The woodwork room contained a number of tea chests [I am not sure what purpose they served for woodwork]. Mr Gladstone would explain that they had travelled to this country from India containing loose tea, and would show us the tea dust that remained in them after the good tea had been taken out. To this day I am reluctant to buy teabags, as I suspect that the contents may be dust similar to that in the chests.
Towards the end of each term there was a Meeting. This was a formal meeting of the whole Community with the exception of the Nursery; staff, Junior and Senior Studies and the senior boys and girls, presided over of course by Miss Leila and Miss Dave.
Meetings were always held in the Library, and the formality began with our entry into the room. The staff would already be there, sitting on chairs at the back, with Miss Leila and Miss Dave sitting at a table at the front, facing the Meeting. We would form up in order in the hall, waiting for the signal to enter, which was the music of Souza’s march Washington Post [referring to the newspaper of that name, it had been chosen by Miss Leila because it was not a military march]. As the music began, we would march on the spot, to ensure that we were in step when we entered the room, each of us taking his cue from the person marching ahead of him. I remember Barry Callaghan’s trick of marching in step with those in front, and then changing from ‘left, right’ to ‘right, left’ just as he entered the room, confusing the people behind him. We then sat on the floor, the smaller ones at the front.
“This household is a Community.” These were the opening words of the Caldecott Charter, read out by Miss Leila at the beginning of each Meeting. The reading was in four sections, the first and last read by Miss Leila, between which shorter sections were read by ‘heralds’, one a girl and the other a boy. I read this part of the Charter many times, and I think I can still recall it word for word. The girls had what we all probably thought was the more onerous task, as their reading was rather longer than that of the boys.
To most of us at the time, the words of the Charter were probably a formal mumbo jumbo, but on reading them again as an adult they provide an excellent prescription for the way to conduct ourselves not only in the community but also out in the world.
Miss Dave would give out news of what was happening in the Community, and also news of past members of the Community, both children and staff. She would read out our housework reports, and announce any forthcoming activities, e.g. parties. We would then march out, again to Washington Post.
Apart from the routine of daily life, there were a number of activities, weekly or less frequent, to which we mostly looked forward with varying degrees of enthusiasm. I remember enjoying our introduction to music, which took the form of a session in the library after Sunday dinner [the evening meal; for a reason never known to me, the evening meal was supper from Monday to Saturday, but became dinner on Sunday. The only distinction as far as I can remember was that we ate cold meat on Sunday, probably out of consideration for the kitchen staff].
We would lie on rugs on the floor, reading our books and listening to whatever ‘classical’ record Miss Elizabeth [Elizabeth Lloyd] put on the gramophone, and in this way were introduced to the easier musical works [I don’t recall any Beethoven, which might have struggled to retain our interest at that age]. After a few years, we were forbidden to read at the same time, which upset me at the time, but did of course force me to concentrate on the music.
On a more lowbrow level, there was a gramophone in the Colt House, on which we were able to play what I think was just beginning to be called pop music. This was mainly, as far as I remember, rock and roll and Elvis, and I became thoroughly sick of hearing ‘Hound Dog’ played over and over again.
We were also encouraged to play the recorder. I learnt the basics of fingering etc. and how to read the simplest of musical scores, but came to the conclusion that the descant recorder made the most horrible sound, especially in the wrong hands, and did not make much progress.
Once a week we had reading. We would go to Miss Leila’s room, where she would read to us from whatever book she had chosen. I am not sure, but I think one or two other staff members read to other groups.
I was already an avid reader, and had made good use of our well stocked but rather elderly library; I remember reading works by D.K.Broster and Henry Seton Merriman, and also making the acquaintance of the Scarlet Pimpernel. However, listening to somebody else read was an interesting departure. Two of my favourites among the books that Miss Leila read were ‘How Green was my Valley’ and ‘Cry, the Beloved Country’.
Miss Leila was a good reader, but her readings sometimes provided a measure of amusement. I remember that some of the boys made fun of her several different pronunciations of the name ‘Griffiths’.
Another activity was Eurhythmics, in which a large lady called Mrs Martin encouraged us to do a kind of dance/exercise to music. My favourite memory of this is not of our Eurhythmics, but of a sketch performed by some of the staff at one of our skits, where, wearing the same type of costume, they solemnly performed ‘Fairies crawling under a Toadstool’ to music.
Every now and then, the senior boys would put on a skit, usually choreographed by Simon. There would be comedy items, usually featuring boys posing as members of staff, and singing [ I remember in particular ‘There’s no business like show business’ and ‘We said we wouldn’t look back’]. I was usually cast as Miss Travers, and she was very co-operative, lending me her trademark thick woollen cardigan and thick tweed skirt, as well as a hairnet.
One sketch that I remember in particular showed some of the boys, as Army Cadets, at a camp. The obligatory tin of baked beans having been opened, it fell to David Middleton to say grace, which went “ For what we are about to receive – let’s have it”.
As well as the skits, we would sometimes put on a play. I remember taking part in a performance of Toad of Toad Hall, in which I was [presciently] cast as the Judge. In a play which had no dialogue except a voice-over, I was cast as a burglar named Whippet Quick. As I entered the stage [the front lawn] the voice-over went “With a quick look to the right, to the left, and behind him…” and, in addition to exaggerated glances to right and left, Mike Clover, who was directing, suggested that it would be funnier if I were to bend over backwards to look behind me, which I attempted, but without much success.
'Whippet Quick' in action
On one occasion, somebody had a cine camera, so we made a film. I was asked to write the script, which involved the abduction of a young maiden [Frances Fletcher] by the villain [Alan Simmonds] and her rescue by the hero [Robert Lawton], much of it done on horseback. Sheila was the hero’s horse, and I think Alan rode Tessa.
At the end of the film the villain was chased by the Bow Street Runners [played very enthusiastically by boys from either the Study or the Junior Study] and was finally cornered by them and fell backwards into the pond. The idea was that Alan would bend over backwards as if falling but would not actually fall in, and the film would then cut to the splash created by a log being thrown into the pond. Whoever was editing the film forgot to cut it, and when it was shown we saw Alan falling backwards, apparently in distress, and then straightening up with a huge grin.
I do hope that someone, somewhere, [Mike Clover, perhaps] still has that film.
Every October there would be a party to celebrate Miss Leila’s birthday, and we would also have a Christmas party shortly before the end of term. From time to time there would also be a Fancy Dress party.
The Christmas party took place in the Study playroom. There was always a very tall Christmas tree, full of candles [ Health and Safety would put paid to that now]. Mr Gladstone was charged with snuffing them all out at the end of the party.
Every child had a present, which we would go up to collect from under the tree when our names were called.
Other parties were held in the library. I always enjoyed the Fancy Dress parties. We were encouraged to make our own fancy dress, and there were of course prizes for the best efforts.
Fancy Dress Party
When I was about twelve, I entered as a French Revolutionary. I wore a hat with a red, white and blue cockade, and pulled a makeshift guillotine on wheels, which I had made in woodwork. It was customary for us to enter the library in turn, being introduced by one of the older children who was on the door. She introduced me by saying “Liberty, equality, fraternity – where’s my cake?”
Me as French Revolutionary
Caldecott was founded by Miss Leila and Phyllis Potter, but they later parted company because, while Phyllis Potter wanted the Community to adhere to the Church of England, Miss Leila [who was a Quaker] believed that it should be more broadly based. The chapel at Caldecott was accordingly non-denominational.
Miss Leila would always ‘take’ Chapel. She would lead us in prayer, and we would sing a few hymns from the Caldecott hymn book, sometimes a source of amusement, as it contained several typing errors which nobody had seen fit to correct. I shall never come across a particular hymn without calling to mind “and in my heart for evermore thy dwellingplace shall me”.
There would be a reading from the Bible by one of the children. My sister Elizabeth was one of Miss Leila’s favourite readers, and I also did a reading from time to time. In those days it was assumed that we needed to cultivate received pronunciation, and I shall always remember Miss Leila saying to me after one reading “You’ve still got your Cornish vowels, old man”.
At one stage one of the girls would come forward and light the candles while a few of the girls [better singers than the congregation at large] sang “Let all mortal flesh keep silent”.
Miss Leila or one of the staff would give a talk [not really a sermon] or another reading. It was always interesting to hear Elizabeth Lloyd give a reading, and I enjoyed a reading that she gave more than once of a story about Judgement Day by H.G.Wells.
I am not religious, but I remember the Caldecott chapel as a place of peace where part of the Community [the juniors had their own separate ceremony] could come together and rest from the daily routine.
There came a time [I think when I was fifteen or sixteen] when I was encouraged, along with a few others of my age, to visit the vicar at Brabourne or Smeeth for confirmation classes. In retrospect I wonder that Miss Leila, given her own views, sent us to the Church of England. I had been christened a Methodist, and had until then accepted the Christian religion without question, but I had reached the age when I was beginning to think for myself, and I had a lot of questions to put to the vicar. He, poor man, had no answers, and eventually said “ I don’t think you are quite ready for confirmation yet, are you?’, to which I agreed.
For a year or so after coming to Caldecott, my mother was too ill for me to go home for the holidays. When I began to do so, I did not want to return to Hatch, and was very homesick after my return. It was not entirely homesickness; I was very timid when it came to physical activities, and was also nervous about the prospect of returning to the obstacle course, Sunday football, etc.
Everything changes, of course, and by the time I was fourteen or fifteen and was one of the bigger boys I positively looked forward to returning to Caldecott at the start of a new term.
Until my mother was well enough to have me home during the holidays, I spent two or three holidays with Simon Rodway and his mother at her home at Ewhurst Green, near Oxted. One of these was a Christmas holiday, and I was very impressed by Simon’s brother Anthony taking the part of Father Christmas, wearing not a red cloak and a false beard but evening dress and a top hat.
As a boy, I spent a lot of time making models with plasticine. One of Mrs Rodway’s neighbours was a potter, and allowed me to make some clay models, which she then fired and glazed for me. I took home to my parents an elephant and a crocodile, which they kept for many years, but which were eventually lost.
I have never forgotten a piece of advice that Simon’s mother gave me towards the end of a holiday, when I was not looking forward to my return to Caldecott. I said that I wished it were already the end of next term, and she replied “Don’t wish your life away”. The context now is likely to be rather different; I am more likely to be looking forward with anticipation to something in the future than dreading the immediate future, but those words are a useful reminder to make the most of the intervening time.
The journey home from Caldecott was quite exciting. The first leg of the journey was a trip to London by coach. We became familiar with the route, and came to recognise Crittall’s Corner as a landmark that indicated that we were nearing London. The more sporty boys would cheer as we passed the Oval shortly before reaching Victoria coach station; especially Barry Callaghan, who came from Surrey.
I would be collected from Victoria by a Cornwall County Council social worker [were they called social workers then?], and taken by taxi to Paddington, where we would take the train to Plymouth, to be met by my parents for the short railway journey to Saltash. After a while, other Caldecott children would accompany me; Tony Cox lived in Torquay and when I was fourteen my brother Randall and my sister Elizabeth also came to Caldecott. I remember Tony injuring his finger when it got caught in the door of a London taxi.
When I was thirteen my parents moved from Saltash to Plymouth, and I was no longer Cornwall’s responsibility. Plymouth apparently having decided that we were old enough to do so, from then on we travelled unaccompanied on the train, being escorted across London by a Universal Aunt. Towards the end of the 1950s we were joined on the journey by a younger boy named Stephen Phelan, who lived in Plymouth. I remember asking him on one occasion whether there was any of our food left, to which he replied “Only some second-hand biscuits”. When I said that I thought we had eaten all the biscuits, he said “Yes, that’s why they’re second-hand”.
There came a time when Simon left Caldecott for a year or two, and his place was taken by Mike Clover, who was a retiredRoyal Navy LieutenantCommander, and had among other things captained a minesweeper. He was able to arrange for eleven of the boys to spend the summer half term of 1956 with him at Harwich, staying on a minesweeper depot ship named Mull of Galloway.
To a large extent we mucked in with the crew. We drank tea with condensed milk and slept in hammocks, which we slung ourselves. They were quite comfortable. After we had settled in a member of the crew pointed out that I had slung my hammock with my feet slightly higher than my head, with the result that I would wet the bed [ I didn’t].
We were given the use of a motor fishing vessel, in which we sailed one day up the river Orwell to Ipswich and back. I remember that there was an island in the river, around which we sailed to head back downriver.
On another day, we went out to sea, and were all given a turn at steering the vessel. When we reached an abandoned flak tower [was it, I wonder, the one that later became Radio Caroline?] we sailed around it and returned to Harwich. I was very proud to be entrusted with the steering as we sailed round it.
We went rowing in a cutter; a crew of eight, each with one oar. I found the oar very large, heavy and difficult to handle, so I don’t think I contributed much to our progress.
This was also the time that we played cricket against HMS Ganges, a ‘ship’ that was actually a training centre on land. I cannot remember who won [but I suspect that it was not us].
We were taken out one day on a coastal minesweeper and entertained by some gunnery practice. On the way back I began to feel seasick.
The holiday came to an end all too soon, and we returned to Kent on an inshore minesweeper [smaller than the coastal version]. It was described as ‘crossing the Thames estuary’, which was strictly correct, but nevertheless involved a journey of about sixty miles in the open sea. It was exciting, but I again felt seasick [although neither then or since have I actually been sick at sea]. I was advised to sit in a central position near to and facing the stern, with my knees drawn up to my chest, which I did, although I half suspected this might be an old wives’ tale. It was certainly not a complete cure, though it may have helped.
I had assumed that the Mull of Galloway was more or less a fixture at Harwich, but I later heard that it had been sunk at Suez the following year.
This was introduced about two or three years before I left, and we were encouraged to take part. We did so at the bronze level; I don’t know whether anyone from my generation at Caldecott went on to take the silver or gold.
There were four categories, all of which we had to pass in order to qualify. One was Rescue and Public Service training; mine was training in first aid. I am sorry to say that I have forgotten most of what I learnt, but what I do remember is that one way to relieve the patient’s suffering in almost any situation was apparently to give him a cup of warm, sweet tea.
There was also a pursuit, defined as a creative or purposeful leisure activity different from those in other sections of the scheme. After all this time I have no memory of this at all, but my D of E record book tells me that I took part in the Ashford Association Drama Group.
By far the easiest and most enjoyable category was the expedition. This involved camping out overnight, including walking to the site [not of course an official campsite], erecting the tents and cooking our meals. It was of course something we had all done several times for pleasure. I went on the expedition with my brother Randall, Robert Clark and David Grugeon, and we thoroughly enjoyed it D of E Expedition. Me reading map.
David, Randall; Robert at camp
Sadly, I did not receive the bronze award, and this was because I failed the physical fitness section. We had to pass in three out of five categories, and the fact that I could not swim ruled out swimming from the start. Running was no problem. Another, named ‘physical efficiency tests’, required us to pass three out of five tests, namely stamina, strength, skills, speed and spring. I passed three of these, two of which I cannot remember; the third was to run in a given time around the outer perimeter of a rectangle, and I soon twigged that the trick was to follow a notional oval track rather than slow myself down by turning a right angle at the corners.
That left jumping and throwing. Throughout the summer term I practised the high jump, the long jump, the shot, discus and javelin, but was never able to jump or throw far enough.
When I was seventeen someone suggested creating a magazine, which I would edit. In the 1930s there had been a Caldecott magazine called the Herald. There were still some covers for the Herald which had not been used, so we decided to use them and give the new magazine the same name.
I was assisted by Elspeth Aitken, the Caldecott Secretary, and we printed the magazine on an ancient Gestetner machine. As I type this on the keyboard of my Apple Mac, it all seems almost as remote as Caxton’s printing press.
We had stories, poems and articles from several of the staff and children, and I wrote some of the contents myself. Some stories were contributed by Carolyn Vines, who later hosted several Caldecott parties at her home in Enfield, and will be remembered by many of us for the immortal line “ I stiffly stood and stumbled on.” Sadly, Carolyn died of cancer a few years ago. I think the contributions with the greatest claim to artistic merit came from Elizabeth Lloyd; who could forget her poem Tess or her ode to a swabber? She was also Auntie Peg, the agony aunt who purported to answer questions from anxious readers, while gently poking fun at the foibles mainly of the girls in her care, but also at some of the boys [no individual was identified, of course].
Tess was Miss Leila’s golden retriever, the daughter of another golden retriever named Silver, who belonged to Miss Dave. She was a beautiful dog, good-natured, placid and considerably overweight, whose retrieving days [if any] were obviously long over. She was often to be seen on the front steps, and at mealtimes would take her place on the floor beside Miss Leila’s chair. In the late 1950s she was so overweight that she would struggle to get up from lying down; raising herself into a sitting position, she would rest her weight on her front paws, only to have her legs slide forward on the polished floor, and would repeat this manoeuvre two or three times before she succeeded. She was popular among children and staff; as Elizabeth Lloyd wrote in a eulogy to Tess after her death, ‘she was loved, and in return gave love. There was none she harmed, and no harm to her was ever done’.
As the memory of my time at Caldecott recedes into the remote past, and I wonder occasionally whether I really do remember this or that, there are small, unconnected, incidents that are never forgotten. For instance;
Miss Hill, wanting some milk at the breakfast table, asking someone to pass ‘the cow’.
Ian Uden, at a meal including salad, asking someone to pass the ‘lettuce with a gladsome mind’.
Vivian Benjafield [‘Benjy’], in the dormitory after lights out, having a barking contest with Tess, who was on the front steps [I think it was a draw]. He left us soon after this, for an unconnected reason.
My ambition, aged about twelve, to be a little gentleman when I saw an older girl, Pam Hervey, apparently struggling to carry a suitcase down the main stairs; it was heavy, and I struggled more than she had.
Rodney Redgrave, a boy who was accustomed to throwing his weight around among the other boys, very bravely freeing a sheep which had got caught up in some barbed wire in the field behind the West Wing, and sustaining many grazes on his legs in the process.
Barry Callaghan, who had an eccentric sense of humour not unlike that of Spike Milligan [he was a fan of the Goon Show], explaining that he was carrying an umbrella on a sunny day because it kept the elephants away. When his questioner pointed out that there were no elephants there, he replied “No; effective, isn’t it?”
Every few weeks, we went into Ashford after school for a haircut. When he had finished, he would always show us the result in a mirror and ask if there was anything else we wanted done. On one occasion Barry replied “A little bit longer at the back, please.”
Marion Kidd, who looked after some of the girls, had a great sense of humour. She once told me about her holiday in Bavaria with Barbara Watt. In most of Germany the phrase for ‘Good Day’ is ‘Guten Tag’ but in the South the usual greeting is ‘Gruss Gott’. When greeted in this way, she and Barbara would reply “Great Scott”.
On one occasion, I think after I had left Caldecott but had returned for a weekend, I went to Hythe with Marion and some of her girls. As I was bending over to get something out of the car, Marion shouted from the other side of the road [behind me] “Where have I seen that face before?” My reply of course included the word ‘mirror’.
Members of the senior girls would often go shopping on a Saturday afternoon, and there was sometimes a spate of shoplifting. I remember Elizabeth Lloyd once remarking wearily in November “Only thirty more stealing days to Christmas.”
The meat that we ate contained quite a bit of fat, and Miss Dave had a running battle with me to encourage me to eat my fat, saying that it was good for me. She would eventually say that if I ate some of it I could leave the rest [and I did]. Years later, I was pleased to discover that I had been right all along.
Miss Leila once commented to me that George Orwell ‘had a diseased mind’. I said nothing, but I could not have disagreed more; I found his works very inspiring.
After completing my A levels, I returned to school to study for a further year and take S [scholarship] levels, as it was assumed that my A levels would not entitle me to a university grant, but S levels would do so. In the event, it was discovered that A levels would do. Caldecott always kitted its children out in suitable clothing for the beginning of their adult life, so Miss E took me into Ashford to buy my first suit, and I left Caldecott at Easter 1960.
All good things come to an end, and when the time came to leave Caldecott my earlier homesickness had given way to enjoyment of my life there, to the extent that Caldecott was definitely a good thing, and I did not look forward to going out into the wider world.
After leaving Caldecott, I worked as a waiter in a rather run down hotel until the time came to go to university [Southampton], where I studied Law. I went on to train as a solicitor and qualified in 1967, practising in Maidenhead, Exeter and, since 1969, in Totnes. In 1993 I left the firm in which I had been a partner and went freelance [and part-time]. I have enjoyed the work so much that I have not yet been able to bring myself to retire, but I expect to do so when I reach the age of seventy later this year.
From 1984 I also sat as a Deputy Registrar [later Deputy District Judge] in the County Court. This was also very fulfilling, but I decided that twenty-five years was enough, and retired from this in 2009.
I have also married [twice] and have two children and four grandchildren.
It is very difficult to estimate the effect on our development of any particular influence during our childhood. I did not come from an abusive home, and my parents and extended family continued to play a part in my upbringing notwithstanding my absence from home for most of the year. Would I have become a different person if I had lived at home in Saltash and Plymouth and attended local schools? I would probably still have attended university and gone into the law. I would have been surrounded by a different set of friends, acquaintances, teachers and role models. Who knows how I would have turned out?
On the other hand, it is only on reading my Caldecott file that I realise what psychological problems I had before going to Caldecott, and what an important part Caldecott played in turning me into a relatively outgoing and sociable member of society.
I think one undoubted effect of attending Caldecott was a broadening of my horizons. Thanks to Miss Leila’s determination that the children in her care would live in spacious and attractive homes, I exchanged a provincial working class background for life in a large house built by Robert Adam, surrounded by beautiful ceilings, fireplaces and paintings, amid spacious grounds, cared for by people who were nearly all from a more privileged background, and where class did not seem to play a part. Looking back, I can remember the odd child with a double-barrelled surname, but this made no impact at the time. Caldecott turned me from a working class boy into an adult who, while proud of his working class roots, considers himself to be classless. The downside of moving from a working class background to university and a professional life is a feeling that you belong neither in one class or the other, but Caldecott served to mitigate that to some extent, as the experience of living among the artefacts usually enjoyed by the upper classes provided to an extent a sense of entitlement to that lifestyle, which I would not otherwise have enjoyed.
It would be wrong to downplay the actual physical and emotional care provided by Miss Leila and her staff. To be fed and sheltered, to be introduced to sports and other activities, and to know that there were adults with whom we could discuss any problems was invaluable. One of the things that I appreciated about Miss Leila was that, on my return from holiday, she would ask not only about my welfare, but also that of my parents. In adult life, I have read so many times of care homes where children were used and abused by adults preoccupied with their own problems, and found it impossible to imagine this happening among the Caldecott staff who were [although I believe most of us did not even think of this consciously at the time] dedicated to the welfare of the children in their care.
One effect of life at Caldecott was, I think, to install in all of us an ability to think for ourselves and a feeling of independence, at the same time as a strong sense of community. After so many years I still feel part of Caldecott, and I am sure that this has also helped me to find my place in the world at large and to engage in a fulfilling career which has depended to a large extent on understanding the people with whom it has brought me into contact.