David Greig (OC 1957-61) | Memories of my time at Caldicott

17 March 2021

 

David Greig is an Old Caldicotian (1957-1961) from a time where Caldicott, and the world, were very different places. From using latrines in Wales, to sitting Common Entrance Exams, David’s insight into life at Caldicott 60 years ago shows that much has changed, but the essence of the school has persisted throughout. Read on to see what memories he cherishes from his time at the school, and which teachers he can recall…

 

I entered Caldicott, aged 7, in 1957.  I have to say looking back it was a very happy time.

John (Jack) Shewell-Cooper was headmaster and, if I recall correctly, taught me Latin and History. His study was to the right as one entered the main front door, with a staff room opposite. I can still picture an oar on the wall signed by fellow crew members from his rowing days at Cambridge and a handsome cylinder barometer upon his desk.

JSC Oops as he was known at Scout Camp, was a keen Scout Master.  Scouting was something we all took very seriously, and our traditional outfits had changed little from the days of Baden-Powell: khaki shorts, a scarf with a toggle and wide-brimmed hats.  The Scout Wood in front of the main school building contained individual huts for each Patrol and we spent very happy afternoons one day a week learning bush craft skills armed with our well-thumbed copies of Scouting for Boys.  I can still recall being taught the correct way to fly the Union Flag to the words of Oops ‘the broad white stripe uppermost nearest the hoist’. We made occasional forays onto Burnham Beeches pulling a ‘Trek Cart’, behind which I recall being dragged badly gashing my knee and being triumphantly carried beck to School.

Once a year we went on Camp (Aber in Wales being the traditional venue).  In pride of place at Camp was a magnificent Tepee which was some sort of gift from a North American Indian tribe if I recall, but I cannot now remember what their connection was with the School.  This was a meeting place as well as JSC’s sleeping quarters.  Meals were cooked on open campfires and deep latrines were dug prior to our visit, over which we perched somewhat precariously!  We each had a blanket bearing felt motifs supposedly embellished by our own hands, but some bore the unmistakable markings of maternal assistance, I fear.

Matron, or ‘Sister’ as she was known, looked after us boarders.  She administered medications as required and I can picture queues of boys awaiting draughts of a foul-tasting cough mixture called ‘Liqui Fruita’. It was black, viscous and bore no resemblance to any fruit I had come across then or since.  I do not recall the spoon ever being washed between patients but I’m sure this witches brew would kill any bug known to man.  A more pleasant malt extract was given as a winter boost to more willing recipients.

Mr Anderson taught us Mathematics; boasting a magnificent moustache, he would theatrically wipe it with a napkin at mealtimes.  He enjoyed a bottle of beer with his Sunday lunch, and it was suspected at other times as well.  Mr Anderson was in charge of cricket and I recall led regular searches for lost cricket balls.  He carried a bag of toffees from which he rewarded any lucky finder, as sweets had only recently come off war time rationing these were a great treat indeed.

Eric Dunsterville was an English teacher, and I recall being given the part of a Centurion in a production of Androcles and the Lion which he put on.  I suspect my part was minor!

Miss Elgar was the Housekeeper.  I remember her as rather large lady whose rooms were off the main hall.  She was thought to have been a distant relation to the composer and I believe she was Norland trained.

Food was simple but sustaining.  We ate in the dining room at long tables, sitting in chairs bearing the names and dates of previous pupils.  Upon leaving it was the custom for our parents to buy a chair in our memory.  Grace was said before each meal, mainly traditional but I remember the wartime classic ‘For what we are about to eat, thank God and the British Fleet’. We took turns sitting next to the Headmaster and he always made the point of leaving one slice of toast, at breakfast, for a deserving boy at his table. I now suspect it wasn’t because he had eaten his fill but rather a demonstration of his generous nature. On Sunday evenings, groups of senior boys attended the Headmasters study where he read a story before bed.

Sports were taken very seriously, especially Rugby.  For matches we were kitted out in sparkling white shorts, socks held aloft with white laundered fabric garters and our boots cleaned of every speck of mud and grime.  A large tin of dubbin produced the requisite shine.  During my time aluminium studs were introduced.  These were nailed to the soles of our boots and were lost with alarming regularity.  I can still smell the embrocation which we liberally applied to aching muscles in the changing rooms.  Wet clothes were placed in the Drying Room along the passage leading to the changing rooms. Several red-painted, sand-filled fire buckets were positioned in the passageway.  Quite how effective they would have been had a fire occurred I am not sure but the sand was often used to cover the unwelcome ‘presents’ left by the ancient and incontinent school cat!

An occasional great treat was the weekend showing of a film on an antique and rather temperamental projector.  The cinema for the evening was the Sports Hall and a steady procession of boys carried chairs to the venue from the dining room. This was a lively event with often considerable audience participation.

The sports hall had basic vaulting equipment, climbing bars affixed to the walls and, donated during my time at Caldicott, a handsome trampoline.  I recall it had exposed elastic cords and must have posed a considerable health and safety risk notwithstanding its use under supervision.

Below the playing fields was a wooded area with a large pond.  We seem to have been allowed to play there and during my time we built some most unseaworthy rafts buoyed with plastic containers.  How we didn’t drown is beyond me and I still remember taking an involuntary dip and returning to school  dripping wet.  Our activities must have been condoned as a junior mistress was invited to come for a ‘sail’ one day, emerging, I’m pleased to say, unscathed!

A highlight of the year was the annual Bicycle Trials on a path marked out in the woods adjacent to the school.  Points were deducted for failure to navigate various obstacles on the route, and I recall it ended with extremely muddy, tired (but contented) boys.

At the end of the winter half term, we returned for fireworks.  There must have been set piece displays but my memory is of pockets filled with bangers thrown with abandon left and right.  How we didn’t suffer serious injury I do not know but a good time was had by all.  I was given once the task of recovering the detritus the next day and despite prior warnings we set light unexploded ordinance to considerable effect.

The school groundsman was a Mr Rice who lived in a cottage behind the chapel with his wife and teenage daughter. Rice, as we all called him, looked after our boots and shoes and kept our rugby boots studded.  A boot room contained our footwear which consisted of slip-on ‘house shoes’ as well as laced outdoor shoes.  Rugby boots we cleaned ourselves, but Rice maintained the others.

Short trousers were worn by all boys throughout the year.  We had caps for special events and summer sun hats, affectionally called ‘jelly bags’! On Sundays those entitled were allowed to wear kilts.

In October 1959, a partial eclipse of the sun occurred and we were permitted to view the phenomenon.  Pieces of smoked glass and photographic negatives were our only form of protection, but I was not aware of any serious injury arising from these rather primitive devices.

I recall sitting the Common Entrance at the end of my time at Caldicott in a wooden building in the grounds. I can, after so many years, admit that the passing thereof and my admission to Aldenham School was greatly assisted by the fact that another prep school had provided the papers sat earlier that day.  I remember the French Dictation was written on a black board for us to learn by heart and the Headmaster pointedly remarking that he hoped we had studied such and such an event in history!

Some very happy memories.

 

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