David & Beryl Roberts
Norwich House Parents
When my wife and I arrived on the Hill in 1981we experienced both a climatic and a culture shock. The winter of 81-82 was incredibly cold and there was deep snow. Coming as we did from Bermuda, where the temperature seldom fell to single figures (Celcius) we found single figures (Fahrenheit) quite an experience. During our first year we lived at Sarsden Halt and during late December the snow was waist deep, a kind neighbour did our shopping by tractor and we enjoyed free milk from a nearby farm because the milk tanker could not get through. The culture shock was all that was involved in working at a boarding school, I had previously worked in"normal" Monday to Friday establishments! Teaching on a Saturday was a new experience, as was house duty, Monday evenings in Durham and Thursdays in Norwich. It was fascinating to see how different the Craik-White and Essame establishments were. I really enjoyed these evenings as it allowed me to get to know the boys really well in a non-academic environment.
Mr and Mrs Roberts taken from the Norwich House photograph 1984
It was after just one year that we were asked to become Norwich Houseparents, this was a much bigger eye-opener than anything we had experienced before. To start with we did not have Sundays to ourselves although we did, of course, have a "day off". I should reveal a small secret here, one of my jobs was the writing of the school timetable. I always gave myself Monday off so that I did not have to get involved with any of the odd goings on which took place on Monday afternoons. There was a down side to this; John Lewis stores did not open on Mondays and my wife was less than happy!
I thought I might perhaps give a taste of Norwich in the 80s in the form of an ABC
Alton Towers, the whole school went there for a Centenary treat in 1986. I am not the best of travellers, being rather prone to motion sickness. I was persuaded to go on some of the rides and I really enjoyed it. The rain came down all day which meant that we did not have to queue and we were able to go on lots of rides. I ventured onto a device called "The Octopus". One sat on a circular platform with 4 equally space seats around the edge. On starting this platform rotated in a strange epicyclic manner, rather like Ptolemy's model of the Solar System. I knew at once that I had made a big mistake, not only did I feel dreadful but I was accompanied by three Norwich Juniors. It was a great effort of mind over matter (or stomach) which prevented me making a total idiot of myself! I am told that, when I alighted, my face was the colour of a Clyde rugby shirt.
This map shows Alton Towers as it was in 1986.
Click on the map to view a page of old Alton Towers maps.
Bells, unusually KHS did not have bells to start and finish lessons, I do not know how we managed so well since the staff never had "watch synchronising sessions", we did not even have a house bell in Norwich as the Essames had purchased a rather fine gong. The only bell we heard was during the termly fire drill. For more on bells see T.
Cutter, Herr, this was the German barber from Moreton who visited the houses in turn every fortnight during prep. I never found it necessary to use his services.
Duraglit was just about the only way of getting shoe polish off the bootroom floor.
Essame, JG and F were our predecessors as houseparents, amazingly only four couples looked after the house from the mid-fifties until we left in 1992. At the Centenary Staff Dinner it was a delight for Messrs Turner, Woolliams, Essame and Roberts, together with their housematron wives, to share a table. My wife and I felt that we were part of a rather special unrolling tapestry.
Field Day, this was yet another excellent reason for having Monday as our "day off".
Gilmore, DJP was not only our house tutor when we moved in but he had held the post "time out of mind", serving, in turn, our three predecessors. His manner of speaking and his relationship with the boys was such that we frequently left the "connecting door" ajar on Monday evenings to listen in to some of his linguistic gems. One can only describe them as sphenisciform.
House matches were taken far more seriously than inter-school games. In 1984 we lost narrowly to Sheffield in a rugby match, our first loss for over three years. Our captain, a big strapping six-former, was in tears. In retrospect I am convinced that a video-ref would have awarded that last disallowed try. The other side of going to watch one's house perform was a junior basketball match which finished 0-0 after extra time!
Incense was seldom burned in the Chapel. As a fairly middle-of-the-road to highish Anglican I found the Oakhill type of churchmanship not at all to my taste. On Thursdays it was the custom for staff members to take it in turn to lead the chapel service and very occasionally to preach on a Sunday. On one memorable Trinity Sunday I was honoured to be asked to occupy the pulpit. I used various "props" to illustrate my ideas of the Trinity, one of these involved the use of incense. The chaplain's face looked heavenward and I half expected to be struck down by a thunderbolt!
Joachim, G was a remarkable Australian who replaced Mr Gilmore as our tutor. His methods of reacting to his tutees was quite unusual, it was not unknown for him to write not only an academic report but also a social one. I once saw one in which he extolled the virtue of plovers' eggs over quails' eggs. He was also unusual on the Hill in frequently wearing an academic gown and teaching Latin in his spare time. In 1992 he returned downunder to teach in Melbourne Girls' Grammar School. Sadly, at only 50, he passed away.
Kingham is literally unique. And not only the school. Although the two parts of the name King (nothing to do with royalty) and ham (nothing to do with pigmeat) are very common in place names, I have been unable to find another Kingham anywhere in the world. Strangely, a few miles from where we now live in Lincolnshire, there is a village called Threekingham. (Surely one is enough!)
Laundry was the twice-weekly bane of housematrons. During our ten years at Norwich we were served (or not) by three different establishments, none of which seemed able to send back everything that we had sent out. Socks were a special case, for many years there was a "sock lady" in the village and boxes of fairly "high" footware were sent over to the drying room under the canteen for collection. Oh what a joy!
Mass, the. This was one of the highlights of the sporting calendar. For many years this gruelling cross-country race was won by Clyde. When we finally manged to lift the trophy it came with a note from them saying that it was only on loan for a year. They were right. See also under Q.
Nicholson, AG, for many years a Norwich tutor, was not averse to boys thinking that he was in fact the Nicholson, AG who had been a fast bowler for Yorkshire. Indeed this worked to his advantage in the staff-school cricket match as he was fairly rapid himself. He ran up to deliver the first ball of the match and Dr Jenkins, behind the stumps, yelled "owzat", the batsman just could not believe that he had not even see the ball. Of course not, It was in DJ's gloves all the time. AGN was known to be a batchelor (now longer so, we attended his wedding in 1995). On one occasion AGN's brother and sister-in-law visited the house. The boys, ever curious, asked who the strangers were. They were amazed when I answered "Mr Nicholson's brother and Mr Nicholson's wife". (think about it)
Octagon Room, was then unofficial name of the large common room. Prior to Norwich moving from "Old Plymouth" the building had been known as Severn and housed batchelor staff. In the large room was an octagonal table, around which the school debating society met. Certainly until the early nineties this table was to be found in the library.
Petard, hoist by my own, was very much the case one evening in 1984 when I watched the BBC News. It included Michael Buerk's moving report about the dreadful famine in Ethiopia. I went through and switched on the boys' TV, something unheard of before prep. I said, as they watched the report, that if they wanted to organise a collection I would personally double what they raised. Just before prep the Head of House came to tell me that they had collected over £78. Whatever faults Norwich boys had, and I would not deny these existed, they were always generous.
Queues outside the dining room happened every day but the longest queue of the year was that outside the San on the day of The Mass. I found it an amazing coincidence that a whole raft of minor ailments surfaced on the same day each year. Needless to say Sister was never taken in!
Randay, NE and Reed AR were the tutors during our last year in Norwich, it was a Clyde takeover!. In fact, as soon as we left, it was Norwich which took over Clyde, or at least the buildings; sadly with declining numbers Clyde house had ceased to exist and Norwich, which had only 11 years before moved from what is now Plymouth, was on the road again. "New" Norwich reverted to its own name of Severn and was taken over by girls.
Speech Day was one of the really big occasions of the year. Departments put on displays of their activities, music was sung and played, the "course" was "assaulted", speeches were made and prizes awarded. Until the late eighties a particularly pleasant part of the day was "tea in houses"; sadly, in our latter days, this was replaced by a much larger and less personal gathering in a marquee.
Thursdays meant clubs (compulsary enjoyment). For several years I took a group bellringing in Kingham Church under the watchful eye of Miss Slate. I was totally ignorant of matters campanological but was persuaded to learn along with the boys. The first week I failed to let go the sally and was lifted high, banging my head and causing much bleeding and merriment. A little later I managed to get my hand tangled in the rope and broke a finger. Needless to say I received neither compensation nor councilling.
Underwear. We had many strange conversations with boys over the years but one which sticks most in my mind is the boy (nameless, of course) who knocked on our door and said "Mrs R, I have lost my underwear walking down the stairs!"
Voting was the subject of a letter received by each sixthformer on his eighteenth birthday. It was from our MP, Douglas Hurd. They were not being asked to vote for him, but merely to ensure that their took their rightful place in the democratic process.
Douglas Hurd. former Foreign Secretary
Warden Mash appointed me (on a, literally, flying visit from Bermuda) in 1980. I worked for many happy years with Warden Shepherd and took my leave from Warden Payne in 1992. I suppose it was inevitable that as the character of the school changed during the nineties that the name of the top man changed to the more mundane "Headmaster". I think it was sad, and I believe the school took a step further away from its historic roots.
X-Rays were taken, broken limbs were plastered and tender loving care was given in the cottage hospital in Chipping Norton, all by dear Dr Parker, when boys who had been injured on the rugby field, in the gym or even, on one bizarre occasion, whilst changing a pillow case were taken to him. You would not get such dedicated treatment under today's NHS.
Yuletide in Norwich meant the Christmas party. How my wife managed to cook for up to fifty people on an ordinary domestic cooker, I know not. In addition to the three dozen plus boys in the house we always invited tutors, ex-tutors, their wives and Mrs Shorter, our unofficial third tutor. Mrs Gilmore was a tower of strength, bringing with her vast quantities of goodies which she had "knocked up". One special memory concerned Mr Nicholson (again), who, in addition to being a batchelor, was also known to be teetotal. I informed him that the glass of punch he had picked up contained a tiny percentage of alcohol. He asked me "how much" and I said "about 1%", he said "fine, then I shall only drink 99% of it"
Zzzzzzz, yes, we did finally get to bed for a few hours sleep, but even this was not always undisturbed. Any accident or untoward occurance, be it a flood (more than once) or a drive to hospital (such as the pillow case incident mentioned above) needed "Sir" and "Mrs R" to rise from their slumbers. I just hope that reading the above has not caused too many of you to doze off!
The eighties were a time of great change on the Hill. At the start it would have been quite recognisable to the founder. Many of the staff had been in post for a long time, (there were several "Messrs Chips"), the majority had been appointed by Warden Cooper. As the nineties rolled in few, if any, of these were left. The school contained many special needs students as a result of the excellence of the Greens Department. Many overseas students were arriving and, of course (tell it not in Gath, publish it not in the streets of Ashkelon) there were girls.