Sheffield House 1975 - 1979
By Simon Bevan SH16
It's nearly thirty years since I left Kingham Hill, then an all boys' school, and some of my memories may be a bit hazy, but I hope that what I've written will give you a flavour of what school life was like at Kingham in the 70s. Younger readers may be appalled at some of the treatment we received, such as caning or slippering, but at the time it was accepted - if you got into trouble you were going to receive some sort of corporal punishment - or worse - the dreaded extra work!
I joined Kingham as a 12 yr old in 1975. I remember my father driving me to the school, depositing me at Sheffield House, and thinking "Where the hell have you brought me!" We were greeted by Mr Williamson, who was the Housemaster at the time, and within an hour of arriving the existing older inmates pulled one over on me. I needed some sheets for the bed and when I asked where I could get them they told me to go and ask Brenda. "Don't I call her Mrs Wiliamson?" I asked, "No, No, No" came the reply She likes to be called Brenda". So off I went. You can imagine the amusement it caused when I got back after a ticking off from her!!!
In those days the boys slept in three dormitories. One for the Juniors, one for Middles and one for the Seniors. There were about 15 of us in the Junior dorm. When I went back some years later I was amazed to see the dorms had all been divided up and there appeared to be no more than two to a room. Even the old Housemaster's living quarters had been turned into bedrooms.
We used to get up at 06:30 and had 20 minutes to get washed and dressed before we embarked on chores. The whole house embarked on a daily cleaning routine which included dusting, sweeping, mopping, washing baths and sinks etc. The baths were huge beasts, which I'm sure would now fetch an absolute fortune. The easiest chore, I seem to remember, was laundry duty which involved getting all the sheets etc., and dirty laundry, into huge wicker baskets, then getting them down the stairs for collection, or unpacking the fresh laundry baskets and putting everything in everyone's pigeon holes - yes we even had individual pigeon holes for our laundry! This was done every morning for half an hour before we all trundled up to breakfast and then on to Chapel for about 20 minutes before starting lessons.
Staff and pupils of Sheffield House 1974
This household work was extended on a Sunday Morning for about an hour - maybe they thought that 35 boys cleaning a house every day just wasn't enough - or possibly it was just a way of instilling discipline and keeping us occupied - I'll never know. But I'm an expert Rollicker (floor polishing with a large heavy weight on the end of a pole). The last time I visited, all the lovely wooden floors had been carpeted and there was an army of cleaners paid to clean. Sunday Chapel was always an extended version too - I think that was about an hour's worth. We had a boy there at that time called Shadbolt - he was Jewish - but even he had to attend in the beginning. After a while I think he successfully argued that, as a Jew, he should not be made to go. Several of us tried to convert to Judaism - unsuccessfully.
Not only was the house spotless through the normal cleaning routine, but this was regularly augmented by boys having to do "extra works". This was a punishment that could be given by House Prefects, or the Housemaster and his wife. Extra works were a half hour of household chores. The chores given were entirely at the whim of the House Prefects and could be anything - right down to cleaning the urinals with a toothbrush or washing all the polish out of the boot brushes! If they weren't done to their satisfaction you worked at it until they were! Unfortunately for me I always seemed to be in trouble and endured many accumulated hours of extra works. Rollicking floors always seemed to be a favourite extra work of the Prefects - it was hard work getting just the right shine!
In addition to all this work in the house itself the houses also had to provide boys to work the kitchen's roster. This entailed being in the dining room kitchens before breakfast, lunch and tea to lay all the tables out, fill all the water jugs and dish out the food. Afterwards we had to clear everything away, get everything washed and put away. We operated huge steam cleaners with no instruction. Health and Safety would have an absolute fit nowadays. The one benefit of kitchen duty though was that you always got your food first and got bigger portions than the rest of the school. Sometimes Mr Ham ("MIND YOUR BACK!") would also knock up something special for the boys on kitchen duty.
Corporal punishment was commonplace, and indeed it was expected, if you got caught doing something you shouldn't - like smoking. It was not uncommon for boys to be given the slipper in front of the whole class for messing about. The slipper was the weapon of choice for Mr Gilmore, who took us for History, whereas a well aimed blackboard eraser could be expected to come hurtling your way from Mr Shepard, who took us for English. Though even a caning held one particularly amusing moment for me. Myself, and think it was Marcus Lemare, had been caught doing something (probably smoking) and had one evening to go to Mr Blakey's office in Durham House where he was the housemaster. Marcus was to receive the cane first and when Blakey whisked his cane up he smashed the light bulb. In the pitch black that ensued, Marcus took the unusual, and brave, opportunity to extract himself from the room under cover of darkness. As I didn't leg it, I only got two whacks instead of four - whereas Marcus received a full six later on!
Every evening, after tea, we had prep. The house had two rooms downstairs for the boys - a common room and a sitting room. All the juniors had an individual, partitioned desk space with a locker above in the common room and we had to do three quarter's of an hour homework in absolute silence supervised by a House Prefect. If you talked you were assumed not to have anything to do and were then given an essay to write - usually a couple of hundred lines on something totally unusual like the inside of ping pong ball. My essay on this subject likened the inside of a ping pong ball to the inside of the prefects head - this earned me an extra work! We also had a full-sized snooker table in the middle of the common room, with a table tennis table that could be erected on top of it. Ping pong balls almost became a currency in their own right and if you had one you could barter for all sorts of things for a loan of it.
The middle dorm boys enjoyed the comparative luxury of the sitting room (TV was strictly rationed) where they also had their own partitioned space, while the senior boys had their own individual room in a portacabin attached at the back of the house. These rooms were closely guarded by their occupants and it was a very rare occurrence that saw a junior in a senior's room. They were their sanctuary and were allowed to decorate and furnish them as they liked with all sorts of old armchairs, posters etc. When I eventually inherited one, it was wonderful!
I expect the most used room in the house was the "coal hole". This was an old coal cellar that had been converted into a music room. It had a couple of old sofas and a bed converted into a sofa and was painted entirely black. The house stereo was in there with a couple of very loud speakers. When the weather was good we used to open up the hatch that gave out on to the road and music was constantly blaring out.
School itself was fine. The majority of lessons were conducted in the main school with all the science based ones in the science block and art, engineering drawing and music in the main block by the dining hall. Two of my favourite teachers were Mr Nicholson who took us for maths - he was a wonderfully considerate and kind man who I believe always had the boys best interests in mind - and David Carpinini, the art teacher. I only had him for a year before he left but I always remember the enthusiasm he instilled in me for art. He is a gifted artist and if you ever get a chance to see some of his work depicting Welsh miners, and the like, do so.
We had sport two times a week and cadets or scouts one afternoon a week. I recall I was ejected from scouts by Reverend Service who considered me to be a disruptive influence. Because you had to be in one or the other I then had no choice but to join the combined cadet force - I eventually rose to the dizzy heights of Corporal. Saturday morning was taken up with lessons, with sport in the afternoon. I seem to remember the horrendous cross-country runs, which we all tried to cheat at. The only person I recall who really relished these, and in fact was particularly good at them, was Andrew Adonis - now Lord Adonis. At the time he was very slight but he had amazing stamina and usually came in first with a time far better that his nearest rival. These usually went all the way through the plantation woods and as far as I can remember only took place in the winter when it was cold, wet and muddy!
Looking back at it now it all sounds terribly tough, and it was, but you just got on with it. However, there were lots of things that brightened the day or week up. Every afternoon the bread arrived and we had a small kitchen with a toaster and every boy also had a lockable wire cage in there with their luxury items in - like jam, biscuits etc. There was a mad scramble to make toast every day. Getting mail was always fantastic - it's amazing how much you looked forward to mail and keeping in touch with the outside world, and I made some tremendous friends while I was there who I will never forget. Sunday afternoons were usually spent in the woods making a campfire and toasting bread or walking to Kingham or Chipping Norton to visit the shop. The school also had a tuck shop with a fantastic array of sweets where you could spend your strictly regulated pocket money (you had to draw your money and justify what you wanted it for from the Housemaster, who kept it all for you).
I am certain of one thing though: the discipline instilled in me at Kingham has lived with me ever since. It taught me that you take the rough with the smooth and nothing is insurmountable - sometimes it just takes longer to achieve what you want, but it taught me not to give up. If you gave up in an environment like that, you'd had it. Makers of Men!!!
Article received: June 2007.
Final question (added by our Historian):
Simon, like many others from earlier generations, asks whether we would have as many children and young people with ASBOs if today's young people where exposed to the same discipline we had. No doubt some bright spark will argue with this point of view. Certainly in the 60s & 70s our courts and prisons where not bursting at the seams as they are today!
(Any answers? Please make contact with us).