William R. Gillies Esq.
Twice Mayor of Doncaster
I arrived at Kingham Hill in the late autumn of 1932.
The house I was allocated to was Durham. There I was met by Miss Caldwell and Miss Medlock, and it was a rather hectic first day; bath, haircut, and fitted out with a blue serge suit, socks, shoes and two Eton collars. I had no vests or underpants given, in fact I never had them as an issue the whole eight years on The Hill.
The Eton collars were worn on Sundays, horrible to one's neck. I recall they only issued these in our first year, and then we reverted to ordinary soft collar shirts and a senior house tie.
I found living with some twenty other boys a little different to my early life. The time in Durham was good; we were well looked after, well fed and really cared for. The academic side was sketchy, if that is the correct description, mostly the Three R's, nothing more serious than that. We were left to our own devices on Saturdays, and on Sundays we went to chapel. The two years spent at Durham was so character building with not too much discipline.
An Eton Collar
Following these two years I was transferred to Norwich; what a difference.
There were senior boys and juniors mixed in one house. The housemaster was Mr Lockey, who used to wear plus-fours (see photo left). He was also a chain smoker and a strict disciplinarian.
Everything in my life on The Hill changed dramatically. We rose at 7.00am and had house work chores to do before we had our breakfast, at this time we had our meals in our house after breakfast up to school until 4.00pm.
In summer bedtime was 8.30pm and in winter 7.30pm.
After a few years I joined the Norwich prep room where the house work chores were changed every few months and these were inspected on a regular basis, as were our boots/shoes/sports shoes etc, by the housemaster. The common room had lockers, but the keys were lost so no valuables could be kept in them. Some boys went home during the summer and Christmas holidays. The first two years I was able to go home, but after that for four years I never left The Hill. Saturdays were always looked forward to; football / cricket / cross country runs.
On Sundays we attended chapel in the morning, after lunch it was a Sunday stroll around the countryside with Mr Lockey in attendance, then tea, and chapel again.
I was often given the chapel organ to pump; to avoid this I joined the music lessons and the music master must have thought I had a singing talent as he sent me and a boy named Thompson for lessons to a lady at Bourton On The Water.
From this we were sent to Cheltenham Music Festival where we won several awards. We then went on to Tewkesbury Abbey and the warden's sister, Miss Horsfield, sang alto with me in the choir.
The PE instructor was an ex PTI, Mr Stares, and he took gym and swimming lessons. The baths in those days were situated some way from the school campus, down through the farm which in those days was owned by school, then through a couple of fields to the walled baths. The water was from a small stream and went through old coke ashes. The stream I recall was always full of crayfish and I saw my first kingfisher there. When you could swim a length you were classed as competent.
Mr Stares had a habit of giving us a rest from the rigours of exercises by having a game of tip and run and inter-house handball in the evening, and he also organised sports days which were always very competitive.
Mr F Ball was the woodwork and metalwork teacher and he sent me for two months to The Hill blacksmith who had me making staples by hammering only. Mr Ball also took cricket and selected the school's teams. He once gave me a punishment for a slight misdemeanour, of digging two hundred plantain plants out of the cricket field, and he counted them.
Mr G Bond taught us Nature Study and often took the form out into the countryside. He was an avid egg collector. His right hand had stumps on and he often used them on one's head if he thought one was not paying attention.
Mr & Mrs Durant, the houseparents of Bradford House, as shown in this photo from 1946 organised the Cubs and Scouts and also put plays on in the school hall.
Mr and Mrs Durrant 1946
They went with several senior scouts to a seaside resort, Weston Super Mare, and gained a medal in the rescue of some holiday makers. Whilst in Bradford during the summer holidays, Mrs Durant taught me how to darn my socks correctly, of course using the wooden mushroom.
In summer when most boys went various ways for holidays, those of us unfortunates left were taken in to other houses collectively, giving other staff a well earned break.
I recall Mr Ayres of Clyde House for his vociferous shouting when the Clyde House juniors or seniors played any inter-house sports; it was an amusing time. There was on The Hill a Rev. S. Hughes who taught in school and it was believed by us that he played football for Banbury Town FC. Most teachers resided in Stratford at that time, with one solitary housekeeper.
Over the years there were many visits by outside persons and organisations, who gave specialist lectures etc.
I recall Buster Crabbe , the famous diver, giving several lectures in the senior hall ; this was just after the HMS Thetis disaster in Liverpool Bay.
The Bishop of the Arctic came and was presented with a carved chair which was carved by Mr Ball and several senior boys. He also took confirmation. We had a professional footballer giving coaching.
The famous diver
The Manchester Regiment came, perhaps looking for recruits!
Many more over the years came and gave lectures.
I left The Hill to work on a local estate, but after nine months I left, which was due to the part owner being killed in the early part of the war.
On leaving The Hill I was given a bible by The Rev. Horsfield. I still have that bible. I went to live in Yorkshire and was appalled at the living conditions of the community there; it made me very forcibly aware how fortunate I had been in living on The Hill for eight years; during this time I was joined by my two brothers Ronald and Cyril.
Badge of the Manchester Regiment
The care and education given to me was far above that which I found in the community I had come to live among, and I have been and always shall be most grateful for all those years on The Hill.
I joined a political party to endeavour to change the welfare of this mining community - but that's another story!
William R. Gillies, March 2009