Martin Hunt truly had a vision when he, with the help of Old Boys and the Masters, put together 'Elmbridge at Cranleigh." This anthology was lent to me by Jack Jordon on the condition that I guard it with my life. After 28 years of constantly reminiscing about Elmbridge with my two closest friends of those days, Robin Vince and Michael Peacock, I needed no telling.
Although my years between 1953 and 1958 were full I learnt much from Hunt's book of the history before my arrival and subsequent to my departure and happy to see a lot of the "Elmbridge way' continue. Also to learn a lot of our traditions were steeped in history and that we were merely continuing what the boys have been doing since the beginning.
Although I never met Mr. A. E. Clarke it was obvious that his objective, 'training in purposeful activity' was carried on through the years and I feel a great admiration for his pioneering spirit. My headmaster was H.E.A. Day, and it was obvious he continued Mr. Clarke's ideals in his own way until he retired from Elmbridge.
I must take issue however with Martin Hunt's observations, 'the highest number of documented incidents were those days of war and immediately after,' and, 'in those days people seemed far more nostalgic about the 'old days' of 40 years ago than the 'not so olds days' of 20 years ago.'
As Robin and Michael will attest, whenever we get together after many years apart on different continents, we continually talk about Elmbridge as a school, and of the many incidents we had the fortune and misfortune to be a part. Our wives have been most patient and indeed, I feel they probably know far more of those school days than we can remember - and will often remind us of names and places where we have forgotten and now even tend to embellish those old stories more than we do as they are repeated over the years!
I cannot improve on Hunt's excellent compilation of Elmbridge's history, the tributes, appreciations and memories. I can only recall some of the memories between 1953 and 1958 and to quote Hunt's words, "will I hope, strike a nostalgic chord to those old boys, wherever they may be who shared the best days of lives.'
Affectionate memories and with apologies to: The Masters
'NIPPER' JACKSON - that dimunitive powerhouse and great disciplinarian. His words of wrath would devistate me for days but his charm would always return after the damage was done. I remember his cat whose name escapes me. His constant companion, he always fed it on only the best liver, no cat food for him (or her?). My strongest memory of 'Nipper' was that incident when in front of the whole school he told Reg Birmingham - all of six feet, three inches - to "grow up!"
H.E.A. DAY ('GOON') - his weapon was the cane, and not to be used lightly. I remember only twice did he use it, once in class and once in the dining hall. He had a special pocket inside his raincoat to carry it so as not to create mass hysteria throughout the school when on a particular mission to a waiting, trembling boy.
'DOC' ANDERS - he really was a wonderful north country character who had no patience at all for those who did not speak "English the way it should be spoke.' Very academic, he had no time at all for the 'outdoor life.' Vivid in my memory is his tall, academic stature rising above the class and ordering a boy "Oh, go and dig a hole in the Young Farmers' Club, or something!" He had a brother from the monastery who visited us in the dorm in the evenings. He was very popular with the boys with his stories, etc, - usually with a religious touch to them. I remember we were quite upset when he announced his departure so Roding Dorm got together and bought him a record, 'Wake Up Little Suzie,' by the Everly Brothers. It was at the top of the charts then.
'LISPER' DEANE - I have never met anyone since 'Lisper' who had such a distinct writing style. Being left handed forced him to write upside down from the top of the page - very slowly. It took the longest time for him to write anything and then only if he had his tongue in the right place. I think that was the origin of his nickname because I cannot remember him ever having a lisp. Mr. Deanne turned out to be quite the dark horse because he married Matron (can anyone remember her name?) She had quite a following from the boys - and not just because of the daily 'athletes foot' visits to the hospital after tea.
'DANNY' DAWES - tall and lanky, he was quite active in sports, but never really good at it. We used to describe him as "the overgrown school boy' because he always seemed to be in shorts. My strongest memory of Danny was demonstrating to the class with the aid of a yardstick how he mowed down many Japanese in the Burmese jungle during World War II complete with sound effects. And anxious to please, we would fall about the floor in 'James Cagney' style mock death. He always finished the story by telling us how you could fry an egg on the barrel of his Sten gun after just a few rounds.
'LOOPY' LLOYD - our English master who was never known for his control of the class. We looked forward to his English lesson for this very reason. We boarded up a classroom door one April Fool's Day but he came in through the back door which we had completely forgotten about. There was also an incident with 'Warner' (a boy whose favourite expression was "definitely not, sir" when being accused of a misdeed by a master) who was about to be punished along with the rest of us, grabbed Loopy's cane, broke it in two and threw it out the window. I cannot remember the repercussions of that evening.
'SNOOPY' SMITH - our master of Roding dorm and science master. He was a popular master with the boys but was inclined to have favourites. Fortunately I was one of them - until a group of us were caught smoking basketry cane under the Rec room. He stood each of us in the four corners of the Roding for three hours and called us individually to hear our stories. Not one was the same, of course. I still bear the scars of that encounter.
'FRED' PATEMAN - the 'muscleman' of all masters, but I cannot remember ever getting the slipper from him. I do remember, however, he was continually wrapping me over the knuckles with a ruler to every word to the basics of a 'reproductive cell.' I still don't remember those basics. There was a great altercation one afternoon between Pateman and Hughes - a boy in our class. They actually came to blows and I always admired Fred for controlling the boys' anger without inflicting too much pain. He was great at directing us during gardening lessons. He would line us up and would have us dig an allotment in record time. There was always the inevitable injury of a boy shafting his foot with the garden fork. Cleaning the tools with an oily rag ws the worst of these lessons. His favourite expression during personal inspection in the Ablutions was, "engrained muck, boy - go and wash it off!"
'BERT' BLOWERS - the head of the Young Farmers' Club and our woodwork master. Bert had a great knack of knowing of who was not concentrating in his woodwork class. While chalking on the blackboard and with his back to us, he would mentally take aim on this unfortunate child and heave a direct shot with his hammer. His accuracy was uncanny and it hapened every woodwork lesson. His other greatest punishment was 'wheelbarrow loads' - hauling wheelbarrows of ashes to the Young Farmers' Club as a detention. His favourite expression to a scruffy boy was, "you look like you've been dragged through a hedge backwards, boy - go and tidy up!"
LESHIRLEY ('LISHE') - the most vicious of all the corporal punishment masters. When he administered the slipper it was clear that pain more than hurt pride was to be inflicted. He would make one wait outside his door while rearranging his room to accomodate the unnaturally wide swing of his arm. He would even remove furniture and place it outside in front of the terrified boy. Once inside his room one was faced with a single highbacked chair over which one had to bend and grasp the seat for stability as he reigned blows upon one's buttocks with a size 10 slipper from the boot room (usually Allen's). I remember Lishe's inspections being particularly strict.
MISS MONTGOMERY ('MONTY') - she was my class teacher on my arrival in 1953. I think I must have been most unpopular with her, since I remember having more minus housepoints to my name than plus - and once she slapped me three times around the face - I cannot remember why but it must have been serious.
MAJOR PHIPPS ('THE CAMP FAT') - the portly domestic staff manager and very unpopular with the boys, which probably had something to do with food - or lack of it. There was never any lack of bread, however and I can remember most supper times we had baked beans which we would stretch out on as many slices as possible, providing questionable flavour to an otherwise bland lump of bread. Whenever he marched through the dining room the whole building would shake and all the boys would fall silent and stamp their feet in time with his. Such was the unpopularity of 'The Camp Fat.'
ST. ANDREWS CHURCH - I was one of the chosen few (by my parents) to be Confirmed. We took confirmation classes in the library in readiness for the big event, but we didn't take this as seriously as we should. It allowed us, however, to meander slowly down to the early Communion service after the early breakfast (corn flakes on a Sunday) which was a great relief after years of marching in columns down to the village church. There was a time when the senior boys were going through a period of 'loud' colourful socks and being Confirmed Boys we thought that we could get away with wearing them down to the village. Not so. Our route passed directly beneath the staff room and we were instructed to lift our trousers to expose the offending colours and return to the dorm to change into socks more befitting to an Elmbridge Boy. Who was the Vicar who continuously stared at the church ceiling as if for Godly inspiration when delivering his sermon? He was the cause of great mirth when invited to a school assembly and delivered his speech in exactly the same fashion.
The picture in Martin Hunt's book of the old bunk beds in the dorm made me realize how close 54 boys could live together in harmony - encouraged no doubt by masters at both ends. In Roding, 'Snoopy' Smith at one end and 'Lishe' at the other.
My greatest pastime if I happened to be located in a bottom bunk was to remove alternate springs from the top bunk. This led to howls of laughter from the rest of the dorm when the occupant of he top bunk would take a flying leap onto his bed only to crash through a half destroyed bedspring amid accompanying sounds of broken springs and wire and land with a thud on the bunk beneath. Vacating the bottom bunk at the precise moment was critical.
One night Roding had heard of a planned raid by Forest. Even Snoopy knew of it but kept quiet. After retiring on the night in question we prepared ourselves with weapons of soap-filled socks and other non-damaging missiles (!) and lay in wait. Three evenings passed before Forest finally arrived and by this time we were anxious to prove to Snoopy what model school boys we were (he was on a 'purge' at the time), so we let them pass like ghosts in the night without encounter. Next morning at inspection Snoopy bawled us out for being 'wimps' and not defending our territory. Sometimes we could never win.
Polishing the dormitory floors was never a task. We would tie rags to our feet and play 'tag' the full length of the building over and under the bunks. Tidying up the resulting mess usually took more time than polishing the floor - especially restoring the perfect 'hospital corners' beautifully done by some. Getting up in the mornings was quite an event. Tea was made by the prefects for the masters (or vice versa, I can't quite remember) ten followed that sadistic order, 'orright, everybody up!' we must have looked a motley crew as we lined up for ablutions clad in various rain coats, dressing gowns and well worn slippers. The walk to the Ablution Block in the summer was quite leisurely but in winter we slid all over the snow in our efforts to get there in the shortest possible time! I was never ready for inspection. 'Stand by your beds' was an order I dreaded - I could never get those damned hospital corners right. Who was the master who would continuously made you undress, get into bed and out again, dress, tidy up your locker, make your bed (complete with hospital corners) at least a dozen times until you got it right?
They were a little easier on you in the junior dorm. I always wondered whose decision it was to divide the boys up into the senior dorms from Abbey and Fairlop. I was Abbey and Roding and happy to see those friends I made be allocated the same senior dorm as I. Those who went to the other dorm seemed to be alienated.
I remember the absolute luxury of television and record player in the Day Room of Roding and the great privilege of retiring at the late, late hour of 9 p.m.
During one term, there was a great fuss regarding the misuse of the tin lockers. Each boy was allocated one for food stuffs etc supplied by parents on visiting day, but they were perfect for keeping snakes, frogs and toads by some of the more 'naturalist' boys. Mr. Day had apparently discovered this by accident one day when opening one up for H.M. Inspector to demonstrate how 'clean and orderly' the boys were....
I can remember a few of us smuggling grass snakes in the lining of our school blazers into junior class. Mine would slide quite harmlessly into the desk and kept me company through many a boring lesson. It remained unnoticed for many days until my inkwell was discovered to move for no apparent reason!
THE DINING ROOM
This was a discipline all its own. Many a time we were way down the fields - usually out of bounds - when we heard the school bell which gave us exactly 15 minutes to sprint back to the dorm, change our of grubby clothes into something less smelly, and fall into our dining room bench seats only to be sent to 'stand out' at the wall for being late.
The dining room was presided over by the duty master at the head table who watched the proceedings closely. It never ceased to amaze me at precisely 4:30 p.m. the whole school would notice the 'compulsory silence' tradition. Whatever great stories one had to relate, they had to be told at this 'bewitching hour,' and like an invisible wave passing over the dining hall, silence reigned until it was time to leave. Bert Blowers was a past master at this tradition. If by just a few seconds it was not observed all he did was to raise his authorative head and by some telepathic magic the whole school would fall silent. (If my memory serves me correctly there was one day of the week this was not observed - which led to much confusion with hilarious results). Nipper's efforts were a little more energetic - he had to walk around the dining room to be noticed but the result was just as effective.
Sometimes during the few precious minutes we were left unattended great fun was had by all. Our tables' trick was to pull out the screws of the top table layer and raise it to just the right height and slide a salt and pepper pot to land in either someone's soup or a table leader's head. The recipient's accusing gaze usually revealed nothing more than angelic boys wolfing down their meal.
Martin Hunt's related incident of the 'revolt' of the boys against three offerings of scrambled eggs in two days struck a chord with me. We tried to do that some years before but it didn't get off the ground. Such was the continuing tradition of Elmbridge.
One day while waiting for tea by the quadrangle we were all entertained by 'Skip' and a very large Dalmation dog that had followed a group down from Hascombe Hill, attemting to fornicate right in the centre of the quadrangle grass. Due to the extreme size difference of these dogs, the whole spectacle was very comical. Mrs. Day did her best from a distance to seperate the two while juniors and seniors offered as much encouragement as possible.
Let me finish this chapter by remembering that character who was always serving us vegetables. 'Heaving' with large spoon in hand, he would level us with his rasping voice, "greens?" He was affectionately known as 'Joe Heaver.'
THE GREAT OUTDOORS
Probably the most vivid of my recollections of Elmbridge was the time spent down the fields with friends. The swing over the canal was the Mecca for those who wanted to act like Tarzan and show off. Our favourite game was 'Taski' which was designed to eliminate those who could not perform the prestated 'task.' My record for 'spins' was 14 but i was the record holder - I think Ennis had that distinction. After a while, our games developed into a little fun at the juniors' expense who seemed to be spending too much time on 'our' swing. We would wait until they were happily playing, creep up and with the aid of a long pole to keep them from reaching shore. The only way back was a very wet one - usually five minutes before the tea bell (to give them a sporting chance). Mr. Day had heard of this discrimination and during an assembly one day asked the head boy - a certain Michael Peacock - for a solution. Peacock delegated yours truly to construct a separate swing for the juniors which was promptly erected over the pig swamp.
The concrete bridge at the end of the canal marked out of bounds for us and we spent as much time on the other side of this bridge as school side. One of our favourite day trips was to an old derelict manor we called the 'haunted house' where we could play out our fantasies.
One day when Dawes - our history master at the time was in a playful mood, he asked us what we would like to do for our history lesson and anxious to teach him something for a change we all spoke of this 'historical manor' which would prove to be of great educational value. Poor Danny did not realize the implications. The owners had been after us 'vagrants' for some time and pounced upon us on our arrival. Nobody ever mentioned that historical lesson again, at least not with Danny Dawes.
The canal in winter was a playground itself. It froze just enough for us to bounce up and down in defiance until somoene disappeared through the ice only to be hauled out by willing hands amid howls of laughter - usually five minutes before the bell for tea. Our favourite game was curling - it consisted of chucking huge rocks of ice towards unsuspecting juniors. When the ice melted we couldn't wait to locate the canal log - that old tree trunk that provided years of entertainment and support for many of us the length and breadth of that old canal. The canal was also the venue for the initiation ceremony upon a junior's arrival. To be thrown in the canal was considered quite an honour - but after the sixth time in the first time (five minutes before the tea bell) it became a bit of a nusciance. It was also the punishment for those caught 'squealing' to masters on other boys. This practice was considered very low among the boys' code and hence the harsh treatment.
A favourite haunt of ours was the 'Seven Sisters' - a group of trees in the middle hedge before this was destroyed. The popular game was to time each other from ground to ground, climbing, jumping and swinging through the branches until you landed in a heap beneath the seventh one. Many a boy landed in a heap before completing this ritual.
One of my funniest memories occured during sports day. Sx or so boys had just left the start line for the hundred yard dash. After 20 yards or so one of us farted and continued to do so until the whole race was totally abandoned in utter confusion with the boys rolling around the track with laughter. I never did discover if the parents realized the reason for the dilemma.
ORGANIZED (AND OTHER) GAMES
Saturday mornings I dreaded. Whatever the weather we huddled at the top of the driveway faced with either the small triangle, the large triangle, or the aerodrome run. The former was the most popular - not only for its short distance (three miles or so) but because it gave us stragglers an opportunity to wait at the top of Elmbridge Road for the leaders to return so we could join them for the last leg. A whole bunch of us were caught riding on a tractor which resulted in us all having to run around the quadrangle 20 times or so.
Organized Games (OG) were sometimes fun. Usually football or hockey and sometimes a rather disorganized game called Old Fashioned Football played on the rough grass behind the tennis courts. As far as I can remember the only rule this game ever had was to get the ball behind the opponents' imaginary line. The 50 boys on each side had no strategy at all other than to inflict as much pain as possible to the other side which resulted in may visits to Matron and the hospital afterwards.
Occasionally we would have organized snow fights in the winter term - the juniors against the seniors. In the summer we would play 'towel ball' on the grass by the pool. We would twist our towels into a hard instrument that would send a tennis ball with great velocity. Crocquet was also played by the more gentlemanly of the boys (the least played game of all). And when the school allowed bicycles, the fortnightly exodus to Winkworth was a real treat. Although the sight of dozens of school boys tearing down those narrow country roads must have given some of the locals a real scare. During one term, Robin Vince and Michael Peacock decided to cycle home to Essex in those few hours available between breakfast and tea. They successfully completed the whole trip, spending only a few minutes at home and I remember them cycling up the driveway with just 10 minutes to spare before the bell for tea. Mr. Day heard of this expedition but rather admired them both and punishment was minimal, if at all.
I rose to the dizzy heights of Prefect. One of my duties was to ring the bell between lessons - a job I enjoyed to begin with until it finally turned me into a nervous wreck. At the sound of the bell the four school dogs owned by the domestic staff and masters, all led by Skip, would tear across the grass and attack me before I could reach the sanctuary of my classroom. Eventually I would ring the bell just two or three times to allow more time to race back to class before the ensuing pack had a chance to reach me. Sometimes most of the school did not realize the bell had been rung at all.
The Young Farmers' Club. Although I was not a member many a fun time was had within that institution. Apart from mucking out the pig sty and mucking about generally we did learn a lot about the upkeep of animals. Castrating the pigs was always a lot of fun that Bert Blowers would try to introduce a little bit of seriousness to. Sometimes we would take the rabbits out of the hutch and put them together just to watch them 'breed'. The fun was over for all of us (and the rabbits) within just a few seconds.
Bert Blowers arranged one day for our sow to be serviced by a very large boar from the village. The animal arrived in a trailer one afternoon and Bert asked a few of us to be around when it was unloaded. The boar must have known why he ws there and took off at a great rate dragging five boys plus Bert hanging on various appendages to slow him down. He made a bee line for the sty, crashing through anything in his way and lept upon the sow who didn't really know what actually hit her! We all kept a safe distance and watched that encounter with amazement.
Great fun was had by all in the dutch barn, swinging and somersaulting onto the soft hay until it was banned to us for that purpose.
Who can remember that trip to Blankenberg in Belgium? What a week of disorganized fun that was - and how the masters controlled us I'll never know. We met another school party from England on the promenade and in true rivalry would line up facing each other on rented three-wheeled bikes and race toward each other in medievel fashion to opposite sides until most of us were eliminated. We were the scourge of the quiet promenade strollers. One unfortunate boy had cycled his bike over the harbour wall - they recovered him but not the bike as I recall. The masters would occasionally visit our hotel rooms and I remember well the panic and the ensuing scuffle in tidying up and forcing cigarettes and tobacco down the sink. The Benedictine was easily hidden in soft drink bottles.
Firewords night must have resembled World War II in some instances. Bert Blowers insisted every boy had a paraffin-soaked torch for the lighted procession along the driveway and down to the bonfire, after which the boys would light their fireworks and point them in any direction imaginable. Tommy Thorne, my friend of the day, got a horizontal rocket in the chest one year which sent him to the hospital. Nothing serious fortunately but subsequent Guy Fawkes nights produced further accidents which required the school to abandon that festivity.
And where is everyone now ... Carey (who knew knew everything about football heroes), Cater, Carter, Cook, Cottis, 'Suds' Persil, Hughes, Warner, Bishop-Lagett, Bendall, 'Digits' Allen, Dicker, Geerts (he was the one who wanted to 'see if a candle takes longer to burn in the dark as it does during the day'), Judge, Knell, Wilkinson, Warren, Paulin, Little, Fox, Barklam (I'm sure he would be a lawyer by now, since he was an argumentative fellow), Whitelaw, and countless others - all who shared in the best days of our lives.
. . . .
I hope those Old Boys out there who were at Elmbridge during my time enjoy reading this as much as I have enjoyed writing it, and those who weren't I am sure would recognize the traditions and enjoyment that school provided and will forgive my tendency towards nostalgia. As the memories flooded back it was almost as if I were back at Elmbridge hearing those familiar voices and seeing those familiar faces. I hope to see them all again at the next Old Boys dinner.
With grateful appreciation to Garth for allowing me to reprint reminisces on my site.