Excellent reading and great photos, and very many thanks go to Alan for his contribution.
1 - MY ARRIVAL AT SCHOOL HOUSE
By Alan Martin Ives – PSSW 1958 - 1965
Before “School House” in May 1958, most of my life had been spent abroad in Singapore & Malaya. My knowledge of Englandand School was largely formed by film, book or comic stories such as St Trinians’, Tom Brown’s Schooldays and the like.
I held rosy and romantic expectations of tuck boxes, midnight feasts, fun & private study cubicles.
My very first day, which I recall vividly, was a warm and sunny one. It was a Sunday. It was mid afternoon when my brother John met me at Winchester Station. Summer term was about 2 weeks old.
I was excited, and an innocent, naïve,10 year and 10 month lamb about to enter the slaughter house!
The walk from the Station tunnel up …..Sts, past rows of red-bricked terraced houses, with occasional glimpses of the main school building, seemed on that first occasion to be a long one.
On arrival at School House I dropped my bags in the allocated dorm with 9 beds in two rows, and then went to meet the other boys who were playing “tag” in the old school hall, chasing and escaping by jumping onto the wooden climbing frames.
Wow! Just what I had hoped for!
Boys having fun.
And all of this taking place in a high vaulted hall in an imposing red building. A beautiful painting by John Opie hung impressively on the wall, to add to the effect of tradition and culture..
After tag came tea.
All the boys, my new friends, lined up on the concrete floor in the hall that led to the dining room in School House.
Some men, as I perceived them, stood on the steps of the staircase that led up to the dormitory & announced that all were to meet afterwards “in the Common Room!”
A clean hands, fingers and behind the ears inspection then took place.
My next recollection is being herded into this bare square room with a large solid wooden table in the centre.
I now realised the “boys” included some of my size and age, up to and including the men I had seen before lunch, who I was quickly informed in reverential terms were “House Prefects”.
I do not think at that time I was particularly shy or lacking in confidence, but with hindsight I now realise that being asked to stand on the table in front of the assembled throng of 40 battle hardened boys and to both introduce myself and make them laugh, was a tad unreasonable.
In my innocence I recited a poem I had written which my mother had liked and thought funny.
My effort was met with studied silence.
As I stood hoping that somehow I could escape I was told that until I made everyone laugh, nobody was going anywhere!
My memory is now blank from this point until a little later when I settled for my first night in bed.
Already I was beginning to sense that this steel tubular frame with a mattress that sank a good foot in the middle was going to be an important friend and comfort.
But the day was not over yet!
As we waited for “Lights out” the boys told me the story of “Pug”.
Pug was some horrible character, a ghost I think, who often returned to despatch new boys on their first night in School House, but only if they happened to be in this particular dorm, and in my particular bed!.
Of course, this is nonsense I thought.
My failure to be convinced only aroused the boy’s anxiety for me to fever pitch, at which point a senior, Dave Keyzar in fact, entered to check that all were ready for the night.
To my dismay, this man, this figure of revered authority, whom the boys talked of with a mixture of fear and respect, confirmed the story of Pug in every detail.
I slept fearfully that first night, and awoke with relief the next morning.
Little was I to know what Peter Symonds', School House and those “lovely boys” had in store for me in the coming months and years!
2 - My School Years
By Alan Martin Ives – PSSW 1958 - 1965
Main School Building
“The boys lined up quietly outside the closed dining room door in School House, the most junior nearest the door. Prefects stood on the stone staircase steps that led from the hall to the dormitories upstairs, looking down at us. This pre-meal custom was always met with mixed feelings. Was there going to be a “clean hands, clean fingernails, clean behind the ears” inspection? Were the Prefects in humorous or angry mood and about to act out their feelings? The Prefects could be fun, although the humour was often cruel. The words we dreaded were “ All boys or dorm or named individual(s) in the Common Room after breakfast (or supper)” If you were one of the unfortunates to be summoned, your appetite disappeared, and breakfast/supper would be spent speculating on the nature of the supposed misdemeanour, or if known, the scale of the forthcoming punishment.
These Common Room occasions always had an element of theatre, both comic and tragic . On punishment days, the large rectangular gnarled oak table would be noisily manhandled from the centre of the room to the window, and wooden classroom chairs lined up for practise strikes with the largest available gym shoe (size 13 in my day), the preferred instrument for administering punishment. Chairs were occasionally smashed to pieces by these practise swings and gave the chastened a foretaste of what was to come! The code of honour was to not show hurt or pain but to walk quickly to the nearest toilet (“bog”) and privately take stock of wounded feelings and sore buttocks.
Although in my first years the threat of corporal punishment was always there, by care and cunning, I managed to restrict my personal painful experiences to two occasions, both searingly memorable. I thus have mixed views about corporal punishment. It hurts, but is effective! Compared to my friend, Peter Hamilton, I really got off lightly. Remarkably Peter kept a diary record of key events from his School days, including his corporal punishment tally. (See “Discipline” below)
Boarding School society was a hierarchy with seniority determined by school year. This generally mirrored boys physical size, strength and, sometimes, knowledge and wisdom. During your first year or so, you learned to ‘fit in”.
My Housemasters’ first end of term report
Fitting in involved accepting and taking on board all sorts of prescriptions and rules. School uniform in those days was obligatory and keeping it smart and clean was a must for boarders in School House. Jackets could be buttoned only at the middle, and woe betides the “naffness” of wearing a train-spotters badge or sticking a pen or pencil in the top pocket. Such offences would attract derision at the very least.
One exception was the boater, when all the above rules were reversed. New boys arrived with their recently purchased and pristine boater (straw hat) only to find it used as a missile by older boys, who invariably would trip over and into them thereby flattening or ripping the lid and sides. After a moment of repressed tears, it dawned that this was part of the transition from new boy-new boater, to sad, wiser but surviving boy and boater.
Smart, proud & pristine before the fall
Hierarchy was confirmed by the categorisation of boys as Juniors, Colts, Intermediates and Seniors. There was a strong correlation between these categories and the wearing of short or long trousers, certainly for boarders. Short trousers were a must for Juniors and Colts, but long trousers were gradually adopted by Intermediates. Dayboys didn’t seem to be as aware of this unwritten code, and dayboy Juniors were (horror of horrors) sometimes seen to be wearing long trousers from time to time! This was definitely “out of order” in much the same way as a senior wearing shorts would have been. Only at Embley ParkSchool, near Romsey, on School sports trips did we witness such absurdity.
With all hierarchies there is always some one or some group deemed to be lesser in some way, and from early on Dayboys or “day-bugs” fell into this category. The most junior boarder really felt Peter Symonds’ School was “our school”. After all we lived there! Dayboys were visitors. The boarders even had their own toilet block, and in those days didn’t mix much with dayboys outside the classroom.
School House June 1962
It was expected that Simonds House, which was exclusively boarders, would win School House Competitions and supply substantial numbers to every School team, and to this end, School House boarders were subject to a regular exercise regime that raised their fitness levels. It was also expected by the prefects that School House would be the leading boarding house. In the winter and spring terms, 3 timed and recorded cross country runs had to be completed every week between the end of the normal school day and “Prep”, with the cross country course varying in length according to junior, colt, intermediate and senior status. If I recall there were time limits for these.
School House 1959/1960
In the summer, time was spent training on the outer field, or knocking a tennis ball against the Memorial Hall-Library Building. The continuous thump of ball against wall was a background refrain that many library users grew used to.
Library wall and 'The Spot'
Playing sport was at the heart of boarding life. As we lived on the School premises, we had access to the facilities of the School all the time. The squash and five courts were there to be used 24-7 (as we say today), as were the tennis courts. As boarders in School House there was a 3-line whip requiring us to watch and support Simonds House in School competitions.
Counselling and shoulders to cry on were not part of our lives or culture. One was expected to get over home-sickness, and learn to handle the ups and downs of school boy relationships, both acceptance and rejection. In my early days School House employed a kindly Granny as Matron. I remember her telling us that she had previously worked at Gresham’s School in Norfolk, and that the boys there were much nicer! When Mr Cooksey became Housemaster, Mrs Cooksey took over Matrons duties. Once I was sick and confined to the Sick Room that overlooked Owens Road. I recall being made to feel that I was a nuisance for being poorly! Mrs Renton at Wyke Lodge was a very caring House Mistress and interested in all the boys, and her kindly ministrations were extended to any boarder who sought her out.
It is with difficulty that I recall the details of hygiene rules and arrangements. Was it one or two baths per week? Sheets were changed once a week, but clothes, including pants and vests…?
Fags were expected to make their Prefect’s bed and clean his shoes, as well as to run errands, look after their CCF uniform which involved blanco-ing belts and gaiters, brasso-ing brass fittings and buckles and “bulling” the toecaps and heels of leather parade boots into a shine so deep that it was possible to see clear reflections in them. This proved to be good training for when we ourselves joined the CCF.
Practise makes perfect
We also took responsibility in turn for ringing the heavy brass hand bell 5 minutes before the door opened for breakfast or dinner, and to rush up stairs to make special wake-up calls in the morning for the prefects at 10 to 8, and 5 to 8.
There was a duties roster with each boy taking his turn with various duties. Monday Rations, Tuesday Milk Crates, Wednesday Boot shed, Thursday Crockery, Friday Common Room. Common Room duty was to keep it tidy throughout the day, and to dispose of old newspapers, magazines etc. New boys doing this duty for the first time usually fell for the shock trick. At morning break the concrete floor was still wet from the cleaner. When told to turn on the radio with its uninsulated on-off knob , the unsuspecting new boy received a mild electric shock! And we all fell for the invite to play “52 card pick-up” from a senior boy who would promptly throw the card pack across the common room. At any time a Prefect might call out “Fag!”, and the last to arrive would be sent on an errand. (Only now as I write this, does it occur to me that one strategy could have been to just lie low!) The first to arrive on the other hand after the shout “Quiz!” with the response “Ego” would usually get some form of treat. Wising up and being alert to all possibilities soon became part of your school-life DNA!
Punishable offences were numerous and included breach of rules or expectations about behaviour inside and outside the School premises. For example, being seen eating or drinking in the street or not wearing a cap or boater in town were deemed serious offences, more keenly policed by House Prefects, than School Prefects. Corporal punishment and other forms of sanction such as extra homework or detention were a fact of life but it was generally not an oppressive regime. Peter Hamilton however does seem to have “copped” it a bit as this record shows!
“My cosh record is as follows; 1960; 28/1 J.Law, 2, (For what?) 2/2, Taylor 2, 14/3, Keyzar 3, 19/5, Vokes 1, 28/5, Keyzar 6*, 15/6, Watts 1, 20/9, Evans 2, 26/9, Tye 3, 16./10, Tye 3. * Entry for 28/5/60 “Hot. Had swim. Town. Got cosh, Keyzar 6!” All is factual, no emotion, and that I may add was for going to see “Carry on Constable” on the Friday night!”
1961; 7/2, Evans 4, 19/2, a.m. Tye 4, p.m. Tye 4. Diary entry for 18/2 (the preceding day) “Phone home, went down town. got back 11.05. Did art. In, after went train spotting. Tye wants to see us after breakfast on Sunday for that. Also played fights”. 22/2, Evans 3, 2/6, Skinner 3, 21/6, Tye 4, 28/6 got cosh.. Also listed but without dates, Evans 4 on two occasions, Tye 3, Skinner 2.
The boarding school day was structured from the early morning wake-up call at 7.20 am. to “lights out” at night. Before breakfast teeth and face had to be washed, shoes cleaned, bed made with hospital corners, and locker tidied. There were regular dorm inspections to keep everyone on their toes.
7.30 Get up, clean as above.
8.20 Make own bed
8.25 Make Prefect’s bed
9.00 School Assembly.
9.20 First lesson
4.00 – 5.00 Free time
5.00 – 6.00 Prep
6.00 – 6.20 Tea
6.25 – 7.00 Prep
7.00 – 7.55 Free time
7.55 – 8.00 Prayers in the Dining Room, led by Housemaster.
8.00 In bed
8.30 Lights out
9.30 Stop all talking…or else
Pocket Money was handed out on Fridays. When I first started in 1958 I used to receive a generous 6d (2.5p) a week. What I didn’t spend in the Brassey Road Post Office and shop, I paid into my Savings Book!
I do not remember now if the visit of the barber to cut hair in the Common Room of School House continued for many years but this certainly was the practise in 1959-60.
Prep was held everyday with the exception of Sundays. All prep sessions were supervised by a Prefect or a senior boy, and were normally quiet and disciplined. One advantage of this arrangement was that it was possible to ask for and get help. Even Prep held its dangers. The preferred punishment for misdemeanours such as whispering to a friend, eating a sweet etc was to bash the back of a boys’ fingers spread flat on the desk with the hard edges of the cover of a heavy book. Or, if the Prefect was bored there might be some diversion. A favourite was to invite two boys to the front of the room ‘to make intelligent conversation”. Relief that you were not the victim, combined with the humour at some-one else’s discomfort often made these extremely funny occasions. Prep ended promptly when the Prefect announced, “Last one back to house, gets “the cosh!”
Going into town on Saturday mornings to shop for toothpaste and other sundries was not closely regulated. One could go alone, and destinations did not have to be disclosed. In practise most of us followed the same tracks to the record shop (Whitwams?) to listen to the latest hits in the sound cubicles (Paul Green famously asked the young female Assistant if she had “The Urge”, a recently released single record or 45 as we called it), to WH Smith’s, to the old book shop with its many rooms on several floors on the left just through the passage from the Buttercross, and to various Coffee Bars. It was necessary to get back in time for “Hobby” hour before lunch which was served in the School Canteen. In the afternoon, if one wasn’t participating in a School team, there was an expectation that you stood on the touchline in support of the School team. In the evening Prep was at the same time, 5 pm to 6 for juniors.
As with other days, Sunday had its own structure and dynamics. After breakfast, letters would be written to parents or guardians , and then boys would assemble in pairs for the “crocodile” walk to Church.'
Spike McGhie and the Sunday Crocodile
The service at St Bartholomew Hyde followed the pattern of traditional high Church of England, with many psalms, chanted responses and hymns, as well as the 40-minute sermon. (or did it just feel like 40 minutes?).
St. Bartholomew's Hyde
It was a punishable offence to not kneel during prayers, meanwhile some boys carved their names on the pews, while others ogled at the unmarried mothers who came from a local hostel for “fallen women” as they were described in those days. Most of us joined Confirmation Classes at the first opportunity as it was known that this got you out of Morning Service. Of course it was expected that you attended Communion but who was about at that time to check?
Lunch, eaten in School House’s dining room, followed Church and then we were free for the afternoon to do as we wished, even to leave the School premises for a walk. Boys could only go out in pairs or larger groups and had to sign in a book designated for this. Your proposed destination was also required. My favoured walks included to St Catherine’s Hill via The Water Meadows; St Giles Hill via the town, the Cathedral and College; Winnal water meadows; and the Royal Winchester Golf Course.
St. Catherine's Hill from the Water Meadows
Happy memories of lying in the sun in one of the old barrows or tumulae, on the golf course listening to Alan “Fluff” Freeman and “The top twenty”, or on the sloping meadow in front of St Swithun’s School with beautiful brown skirted girls are etched deeply
On Sunday evenings in Lent term all boarders assembled in the new Northbrook Hall to watch a film. Classics such as “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers”, Margaret Rutherford as Miss Marple, The Marx Brothers, and Westerns (“The man who shot LibertyValence?”) were the staple diet. Sometimes the film did not arrive or the projector broke down, which caused real disappointment.
Boarding life had many lighter moments, and perhaps the most memorable was the Skiffle group formed by older boys. Bolt on tea chest and broomstick, Baldwin on Spanish guitar and Tye on washboard, created an enjoyable sound that we all sang along to. In those days Lonnie Donegan’s “Cumberland Gap” was a favourite.
At this time Rock and Pop music was starting to capture hearts and minds, with early Everly Bros, Buddy Holly, Cliff Richard, and Elvis’ (“That’s alright Mama” was played continuously on the Dansette!) enjoyed by all.
Settling down in bed at night to sleep usually involved tuning into Radio Luxembourg on a “tranny” radio hidden under the pillow. On winter evenings, boys would sometimes take turns to tell stories. Peter Cooper was renowned for his ghost stories which would have us all sheltering deep down under our blankets with hair standing up on the back of our necks!
There was the occasional mid-night feast. For weeks before the chosen night we would buy and smuggle in sweets such as Clarnico peppermint creams and other goodies which were deposited in empty spaces between the joists under the few moveable floorboards. The anticipation of the event was usually more exciting than the event itself! Peter Hamilton noted in his diary on 26/3/61 (Sun) “Dorm feast at 1.30 a.m. Baz fell asleep on watch”.
Scrumping on misty evenings in the autumn term in the gardens adjoining the long and sloping school playing field was both a source of adventure but also extra rations. Night-time forays down to the kitchen to steal bread and anything else going stopped only when the Housemaster, Mr Cooksey admonished us that stealing the cat’s food was a step too far!
As we got older for most boys there was a progression to experimentation with cigarettes, usually cheap Woodbines at first, giving way in time to sophisticated Balkan Sobranies. Likewise scrumpy cider gave way to beer and for a few boys, spirits. In our time drugs were unheard of. It was impossible in those days to buy alcohol in shops or off-licences, so we depended upon an obliging senior boy or landlord for early access to alcohol. Some Pubs and Taverns that could be relied on included the Hyde Tavern, where I tried to enjoy my first pint, The Eagle, The Green Man, & The Railway to name a few.
Round the table knockout table tennis in the Common Room which all joined in either just before or after supper was also hugely enjoyed. Books were used as bats!
Towards the end of Xmas Term each Dorm was required to put on a Dorm Play. This was performed in The Memorial Library in 1959 when our Dorm took on the ambitious challenge of presenting “A Journey’s End”. Another year we modified “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” with “Heigh Ho! Heigh Ho! It’s off to School we go, we hear the bell and run like hell!, Heigh Ho! Heigh Ho!”and other memorable writing.
Although rare these were memorable. One trip took us to Oxford to walk around the Colleges and town. There was singing and joke telling during the journey and the Coach driver would tune the radio into current hits such as “An English CountryGarden”. At Swindon, on another excursion, we were taken around the locomotive works where new Castle Class locomotives were still being assembled. We visited all the wonderful Victorian red brick workshops which are now preserved & listed buildings that align the London- West Country main line.
There is a myth that boys thrown together away from home look to each other for comfort and that this often leads to homosexual experimentation. My experience at PSS was that the culture was positively “girl” focused. Many of the boys had sisters at the County High School for Girls, and securing introductions to said sister and her cohort of friends was very much encouraged from the beginning. Any suspicion of homosexual behaviour was acted on promptly by Prefects or older boys and there were warning stories of “expulsions” of boys from the recent past. When I was in the Upper Vth I was seen by Mr Cooksey walking hand in hand with a girlfriend along the Andover Road with “evil intent”. My status soared for having a girl friend called “Evelyn Tent”! Boys started early in their fascination for the opposite sex, and any girl or woman who moved in our midst became the object of fantasy and lurid speculation, particularly the attractive, blonde and slim Housemasters’ daughter. Even the girls from the home for the “learning impaired” who cleaned the dormitories were not without their charms despite their institutional haircuts. Stories of contact and conquest, usually imagined, gripped us. In the days before the ending of censorship Parade Magazine and Health & Efficiency were the most revealing pictures that could be acquired.
Sometimes as a punishment one would be “gated” whereby rights of exit from the School and its grounds on Saturday morning and Sunday afternoon were withdrawn. Only if a Prefect sent you on a shopping errand, could you, surprise surprise, escape this constraint. But escape we did! We broke bounds to train spot at The Gap, or in later years to visit Loco Sheds at Eastleigh. There is no way today that youths in their 13 or 14 years would be able to access working locomotive sheds with all those pits and moving machines. As we got older, these secret evening excursions would often involve meeting up with girl friends,
Arriving at or leaving Winchester by car or train was always a time of great emotion. Leaving for a weekend, half term or full holiday was a time of excitement, combining the fond anticipation of home and all its comforts with relief at leaving the worries and tensions of school life behind. I fell in love with the sound, sight and smell of the Southern Region’s steam locomotives in those “last days of steam” as a School’s class, or Battle of Britain, or Merchant Navy locomotive would hurry me away from Winchester City. In the dormitory at night I would listen to the roar and scream of a fast through train and dream of jumping on board to travel to far off places.
One particular exeat weekend stays with me and provokes powerful and evocative recollections of “how things used to be”. I had been invited to stay at Ilchester with my friend Peter Cooper whose father was Flag officer of RNAS Yeovilton. The train journey involved changing to a country line at Eastleigh which then meandered all the way through the somnolent countryside to Sherborne. The steam locomotive stopped at every station en route to offload or pick up trunks, milk churns, parcels, wicker baskets of doves and such like. Most stations were deserted except for the porter and Stationmaster. It was one of those idyllic summer days with blue sky, warm air and soft breeze, sounds seemingly muffled, and the hum and buzz of insects.
Returning to School after a break, always with an active flight of butterflies swarming in the pit of my stomach, involved a mix of thoughts and feelings, from regret at having to leave home comforts to worries about which dorm you had been allocated to and with whom. Once you knew to which dorm you were allocated, your priority became to “bag” the best bed (location and quality of bed) and pillow. To arrive late always meant getting Hobson’s choice! As quickly as possible any “tuck” (cakes, sweets, soft drinks) brought from home would be secreted away in your tuck box in the box room, a sturdy wooden structure situated just below the steps up to School House. Occasionally older boys would insist on a “tithe inspection” and take/confiscate their share!
There really was only one place that house custom respected as private and that was the top drawer in your bedside cupboard. All personal and valuable items would be kept there.
Often at the start of term there would be a House Medical, which involved stripping to the waist and parading in front of Matron and House Doctor. Pants had to be dropped and a “cough” was required while the doctor inspected more private parts. Checking that one was in good health was probably wise as life in the boarding house, especially during the winter, was quite challenging. Often dorm windows were cracked and would freeze on the inside as heated radiators were very few. Stone floors are very cold in the winter. Did we have slippers to wear? Possibly.
Although our boaters must have made us stand out I recall very few incidents with local youths.
I believe this to be a fair account of life as a Boarder in School House in the years 1959-63. Inevitably feelings about life in School House expressed here are personal to me, but I am sure it will read as a faithful account by my old School mates, several now sadly dead. (See below).
Occupants of the 'Ice-box' dorm 1962
Main School building early 1960's
Main School building 2010
The old fives courts - now the photographic studio
2010 version of a School House dormitory - note bare walls
The old dining room - now a cosy lounge and billiards room
Another view of the lounge room