- Pupil Wellbeing
My nine years at Chafyn Grove began in 1972 when I started out at the Pre-Prep, over the Road at Dunraven, which I think is now a care home. So, with my black & red cap, and new leather satchel, my journey began.
I don’t recall much of my time there between the age of 4 and 8, but I do remember that my teachers were Mrs Finlay, Miss Black, and Miss Gill (who drove a yellow 2CV, and sometimes gave me a lift to school). My best friend was Michael Harding, who cried a lot, also Christopher Jowett, George Smith, Ricky Brown, Timothy Dowling and Jonathon Sheppard.
My most vivid recollections are building dens in the back garden with all the old bricks lying about, racing matchbox cars across the shiny wooden floors and (academically) repeatedly being tested on my 12 times table. Upstairs was used as a boarding dormitory, and after lunch we used to sit on the beds, cross-legged, listening to stories of The Famous Five.
Even at the age of five, I still remember the November day when we all trotted round to Mrs Finlays’s flat and were able to watch, on her little TV, Princess Anne getting married to Captain Mark Philips – all very exciting!
When it was time to cross the road to Big School, I did with many of my friends from Pre-Prep, still as a day-boy, and we took up residence in the Junior Block, a temporary building I think that had become permanent, under the guidance of Miss Woodward and Mrs Harris. From a mere Squire, I had now become a Knight! At lunchtime we would venture out of our safe, contained little unit to the big dining room which would be full of scary-looking older boys and even scarier-looking male teachers. We also had to start asking if we could go ‘across the way’ when we need the toilet – a phrase that was not explained to me for several years.
The food menu never changed in all my years at Chafyn Grove, but the food was generally amazingly good, with everything prepared in the kitchen behind. Highlights were fish fingers and (proper) chips with sweet homemade tomato ketchup, but only once a fortnight. Also, ‘baby’s legs’ (jam roly poly, served to the table in two long pieces). Not a great memory (for me) was the semolina, rice pudding, bakewell tart & custard that we were ‘required’ also to consume, even if we just asked for a ‘small’. Some ‘smalls’ were bigger than others depending how sadistic the teacher felt dishing up.
My next step up was to start boarding at the age of 10, and my first dormitory was a small non-carpeted, nine metal-bedded room called Nadder, located on the top floor, the far end of Wylye, to which I would progress the following year. There were no showers, just lots of baths over which the infamous Mrs Leg would preside, ensuring every three days we would be thoroughly cleaned, even if that involved removing two layers of skin. At night, clothes would have to be contained in ‘bundles’ around our jumpers and neatly placed on our bedside chairs to be inspected.
A boarder would be sent to school with a trunk (for all clothes) and a ‘play box’ (‘tuck’ was not allowed at the time). Home comforts would be limited to a cuddly toy (I took ‘Happy Horrace’, who was regularly tossed out of the dormitory window, and would need to be rescued from the flat roof below) and a ‘home blanket’ which was pretty much the only thing that identified one person from another. Mine (bought from Woolworths) must have been good as my wife still snuggles up in it now, 43 years later! Boarding was a bit of a shock to the system but I was pleased I didn’t cry every single night like Mark Glover.
Any negative aspects of boarding were quickly forgotten with the advent of treehouse building. This was a serious business, and a fundamental first step in my current career as a property developer. With Angus (“Camel”) Lamont, Alastair Houldsworth, Mike Hicks, and Christopher Jowett, we spent most of our time in the 4th and 5th forms creating a two-story (fully watertight) masterpiece of engineering. Half the team would build, half would go ‘scavenging’ for wood, of which there seemed an endless supply, and we would come together to defend our fortress when attacked by conkers from rival groups. My letters home evolved almost entirely into lists of building materials required, including nails, polythene, rope, and sometimes tyres. Our treehouse was our own territory, where we bonded, argued, consumed contraband sweets, looked at page threes of old Sun newspapers, and fought off intruders. On Sunday mornings we would endure the ‘High Church’ of St. Martin’s at 10am to get back an hour earlier than others to start hammering, not always to the amusement of the residents of the old-people’s flats next door. It was a glorious period of the late 1970s when nobody worried about ‘health & safety’ – we fell out of trees, matrons patched us up, and off we went again.
Playing sport was a major part of school life, and my passion was rugby. Even as the smallest in the class (hence my nickname ‘Flee’, then later ‘Fletch’) I was proficient and fearless, from playing for the under-10s, through Colts, and finally for the 1st team, when (still the proudest moment of my life) I was awarded my rugby colours by Mr Gent. I had arrived. This was as good as life could get. In some ways perhaps it really was. I would learn as life went on that you actually needed to be a bit bigger to play rugby competitively but, at the time, I was one of the best. We were a successful team. Nick Fallowfield could kick anything, Blair Radford could outrun anyone and George Smith would unleash his inner ‘Beattie’. The camaraderie was amazing, not least when we visited Mr Singleton’s old school in Chepstow, and beat the Welsh in their own back yard.
Other than playing a lot of snooker with Peter Huxtable on the fantastic 8×4 slate-bed table in the recreation room (I now have an identical one at home), my other great passion was carpentry. Mr (Dennis) Harding was an inspirational teacher. The first time I won the Carpentry Prize with my coffee table & magazine rack (which I still have, in perfect condition) was another memorable moment, narrowly edging out Roger Boulet whose oval table with its perfectly smooth varnish seemed unbeatable. For every child at school, there is usually a teacher who is genuinely ‘inspirational’, even if they don’t know it. My inspiration was Mr Harding, he gave me the confidence to build anything from wood, and I will always be grateful.
My time at Chafyn Grove spanned four headmasters – Mr Galloway, Mr Gibbons (now airbrushed out of history!), Mr Gent and Mr Singleton. I also saw the advent of girls, just the five to start with, including Alex and Katie Brymer. At the time, it just didn’t seem right!
My final few years at Chafyn Grove are so memorable it literally feels like it was yesterday, not 40 years ago, which I know probably sounds ridiculous to most people reading this. But, for me, it was a pivotal part of my life, away from the comfort zone of home, making friends, growing in confidence (from third form ‘Squit’ to sixth form Prefect and eights Captain), and forging forward with a new sense of independence, which has always unpinned my life and career. Whilst I cannot help but look back with rose-coloured spectacles, I also recall the times I struggled – when I was homesick in the early days or when Simon Clement would give me a dead-leg! But for the most part, blissfully ignorant of tougher times ahead, it was a golden period of my life. Possibilities were limitless and life was so simple. I miss being 12.