Memories of Caldicott in the 1950s

By James Findlay. Article was written in 2002.


I came to Caldicott in 1951. Mr J Shewell Cooper was the Headmaster at that time. I started as a day boy but soon found that I was missing out on a lot of activities at the weekends and so I became a boarder even though I only lived about 5 or 6 miles away from the school.


On Saturday it was Scouts in the afternoon and in the evenings, Mr Cooper got out the Bell and Howell 16mm projector and we had a film show in the Gymnasium. Over the years, I can't remember how many times I saw San Demetrio, London, a war film about a torpedoed tanker that didn't sink and her crew, who had abandoned ship, re-boarded her and sailed her back to Britain. The tuck shop was also set up in the gym on Saturdays when we could spend up to 3d on sweets. A farthing would buy a small bag of coloured, flavoured sweets about the size of sugar crystals, so you got a lot for your ounce. There were lemon sherbets and my favourite, pineapple cubes, and quite a lot of other things. But the quantities were very restricted early in the 50s but 3d or 6d went a long way then.

At the start of the 50s, there was still some wartime food rationing in place. Once a week we could enjoy a boiled egg at tea-time as long as we brought the eggs in ourselves. Each half term we would arrive back with a box containing six precious eggs, which we had to name, and then they were placed on a shelf in the kitchen. My enjoyment of my eggs was rather marred at the end of one half term when, on opening my tea-time egg, I found a boiled, fully developed chick inside it.

Caldicott activities revolved around the Scouts, the Annual Bicycle Trial and other outdoor activities.

Who can possibly forget Mr Anderson teaching us to calculate the value of Pi by rolling the cricket pitch with the heavy roller. Funny how we always had that Maths class just before a cricket match.

In the summer terms we had to trek along the edge of The Beeches to the local swimming pool. On our return, the area in front of the wall of the kitchen garden was festooned with towels and swimming costumes hanging out to dry.

In 1952, King George VI died and Princess Elizabeth succeeded to the throne. We saw a great deal of the preparations for the Coronation, as a huge flypast was organised involving hundreds of aircraft. Extensive practice went on for several weeks beforehand to get all the planes, flying at very different speeds, to arrive at their scheduled times over the Mall in London. I found out later that the reason that we had such a good view was that Caldicott was a very easy landmark to spot from the air, perched as it is on the edge of the escarpment of the Thames Valley, and so it was used as a positioning fix for the incoming planes, which is why they passed directly overhead. From Caldicott, the route took them to Slough Trading Estate, again easily recognisable, and there they turned eastwards and followed the Great Western Railway main line into London.

I remember spending many hours on the bank above the playing field watching all the planes coming over in their formations. At our point the flypast was spread out over several hours. By the time they all reached London the flypast only lasted about 20 minutes. It was interesting for the plane spotter, because there were planes in the flypast that I had never seen before and many I have never seen since.

The Bristol Brabazon made several appearances but it suffered many mechanical problems and I don't think it actually made it to the flypast on the day. There were a lot of American aircraft there as well. I particularly remember the squadron of Lockheed Lightnings, strange twin-fuselage aircraft with the cockpit on one fuselage.
Many of the World War II aircraft were there of course, Spitfires, Hurricanes, Lancasters, Mustangs as well as civil aircraft of the period De Havilland Rapides and many others. The more modern jets were represented in the form of the Gloster Meteor, Vampire and Hawker Hunter and the new V- Bombers, Vickers Valiant, Avro Vulcan and, my favourite, the Handley Page Victor.

On the day of the Coronation, I was fortunate enough to see most of it on our new television, a 12" Ultra black and white set that my father had managed to get installed in time. The BBC mounted a huge outside broadcast to cover the route and the Abbey, I believe the largest outside broadcast ever undertaken at that time.

When the new Queen returned from London to Windsor, the school got passes for a group of senior boys to go to Windsor Castle to see the Queen. I was fortunate enough to go as well as my father who was asked to take some of the boys. As a doctor, he was one of the few who had cars in post-war Britain. We drove from the school to Windsor, where we parked in Windsor Great Park and then had a walk to the Long Walk where we found a suitable spot near the castle. The Royal procession travelled up the Long Walk and into the castle. One of my memories of that day was finding a Wasp's nest in the ground at the base of the tree where we were standing to watch the procession. Luckily it was uninhabited when I dug it up.

At school, we all received Coronation mugs, very nice ones. I kept mine for a long time but it disappeared some years ago, lost or broken in one of the moves.

Scouting was always a major activity at Caldicott. It is something that I regret seeing passing in today's modern schools as it did teach a great deal of self-reliance. I am sure that a lot of today's problems are due to boredom and not having any interests outside computer games, TV, etc. The lessons learned stood me in good stead. On a camping holiday in Cornwall some years later, we had a severe gale and when the morning dawned, bright and sunny, ours was the only tent still standing or not flooded.


Thank you, Mr Cooper, for your training in camping.

There are so many memories of that time. Mr Rice, the groundsman, taking delivery of the new John Deer tractor, a strange looking American machine in green with yellow stripes, which replaced the old Fordson which had seen better days.

I don't know how many pupils appreciated the grounds at Caldicott. There were many species of plants there, which were very rare and unusual, many collected by Mr Cooper's brother, the gardening author WE Shewell-Cooper. I remember looking out of the sick-room window and seeing the huge green leaves of the Indian Bean tree there with its long pods of seeds, the many azaleas and rhododendrons, the huge cedar trees, the long yew hedges that flanked the main driveway with their archways and other secret ways through.

There were other things as well, the bamboo thickets below the main lawns, the wood and lake, which was out of bounds, at the bottom of the long playing field, and the scene normally for the really muddy sections of the bicycle trail.

Caldicott also gave me a love of cars. In later life, I went on to do a bit of rallying and marshalling on international rallies, but Caldicott was the foundation of my interest. Mr Cooper originally drove MGs for the Works team in various trials and his study had many photographs and trophies. He had a green MG TC, I think it was, before he traded it in for a more practical MG Magnette. Mr Anderson had a black MG TA with the high ratio rear axle. I believe it had competed before the war at Brooklands and was geared for speed rather than acceleration. Mrs Reddington had her Austin 7 saloon, a car that was as small as she was large. It used to take on a decided list to starboard when she got in and drove home.

I only went back to Caldicott once after I left. My good friend, Ross Barnes, was still there, having not managed to get into Charterhouse in the Common Entrance - at least I think it was Charterhouse he was down for.

After that I lost the desire to go back as so many of my memories would have been shredded. Perhaps I will go back just to see how much has changed. I wonder if the air-raid shelter, the carpentry shop, and the huddle of sheds that were Forms 1, 2 and 6 are still there. Then there was the corrugated iron shed that housed the model railway, the little brick store room against the brick wall that separated the kitchen garden from the gardens by the archway, in which many hours were spent developing films and printing them. Alas, very few of mine have survived apart from one film of the scout camp at Aber, probably in 1956 or 1957.

I was told the Yew hedges were gone to provide more playing field space - don't know why, you can't make a pitch any bigger. Were the scouts and the Summer Camp at Aber disbanded and consigned to history? So many questions and I don't know if I want to know the answers.