Q&A With Our Reception Teacher and OCGA, Helen Morgan

Our very own Helen Morgan reminiscing about her time as a pupil at Chafyn Grove, giving us a fabulous insight on how the school has changed over the years.

What years were you a pupil at Chafyn Grove?

April 1983 – July 1986. Mr Singleton was headmaster.

Do you have fond memories of life as a boarder at Chafyn and how do you think life in the boarding house differs now?

When I was at Chafyn it was very much a boarding school so there were lots more of us in the boarding house. Having said that, the school had only been co-ed for a year or so when I started so there were hardly any girls – I think about 12 in total from Year 3 to Year 7 and seven of us were boarders. We had two dorms at the top of the building where Mr Browning-Stamp lives and a third room as a sitting room. This was also where the fire exit was located and involved climbing out of a window onto the flat roof, walking across it (there was a wooden slatted path) and then climbing through another window at the other end into one of the boys’ dorms, to then access the metal staircase down to outside the Milk Bar door. Most of us were full boarders and were only allowed home two weekends a term, plus half term. Communication with our parents was by letter (we had Sunday morning letter writing in the dining room), although I do remember making the occasional phone call home on a pay phone. Other memories include film nights and watching Top of the Pops in the big boarders’ sitting room. We had the odd day out at weekends to places like Pepperbox Hill or Grovely woods, but certainly not the boarding activities programme they have now. I used to love going to the New Forest, playing in the streams and building dams. We also discovered that if we ran really fast we could make it to a garage and back to buy sweets and sneak them back to school. We had tuck shop twice a week (Wednesdays and Saturdays) popping penny sweets into a paper bag, 15/20p per visit but an extra 5p allowed if you had a packet of crisps!

How has the aesthetic look of the school changed over the years?

Hugely! Really, the only bit that’s the same is the main building, but there have been changes there too, for example extending the dining room. The little music block was built during my time at Chafyn, but everything else is new – the Performance Hall, Grovely and the library, the Science block, Sports Hall, current squash and tennis/netball courts, the whole of the Pre-Prep building, the Adventure Playground and car parks. Several of these replaced other buildings. The Pre-Prep Hall and Year 1 & 2 classrooms replaced the ‘Junior Block’ and Maths block, and a squash court and woodwork room were demolished to build the Performance Hall. We had a small gym with a stage at one end for school plays, with classrooms and a library behind and the Chapel above, where the new Grovely building is and these could be accessed internally from the Milk Bar. Down where the Bursary and laundry are there was second hand uniform, tuck shop and the pottery room, amongst other things, and the Headmaster and his wife lived where Mr Head now has his study and sitting room – these were their sitting room and kitchen, they had a dining room where the Headmaster’s kitchen now is and bedrooms on the floor above. Boys dorms extended all the way along the top floor. Above the dining room (now dorms) was the Scripture room and Science lab, and matron & Sick Bay were on the top floor. There was an orchard where the Sports Hall is and also a veg garden I think…rhubarb springs to mind for some reason! Also, a single tennis/netball court. And we had the swimming pool, but also three diving boards of differing heights – the highest one felt a very long way up and you could hit the bottom of the deep end jumping off it!

As a teacher here at Chafyn, how has the school day altered since you were a pupil?

There are lots of similarities between the Chafyn day now and how it was then, but there are also some differences. Like now, we had two forms per year group and were taught in much the same way, mostly by a form teacher when in the younger years, and then by subject teachers as we got older, moving round their various form rooms as necessary. However, Pre-Prep were nowhere to be seen as they were housed separately in Dunraven, the house across the road on Bourne Avenue. The Prep School all had meals at the same time in the dining room, with a member of staff seated on each table dishing out the food and I seem to recall us sitting in year groups and on the same table for the year. There was a staff table in the middle of the dining room and, it may be a figment of my imagination, but I am sure they had different food to us at times. There was no choice of food (although a salad option was brought in just before I left, but only a couple of children from each table were allowed it) and we sometimes ate very little, especially if it was liver for main course or semolina, rice pudding or tapioca for pudding. You had to hope there was someone on your table who liked them and that you could sneak bits to as you were expected to have a clean plate. Before we went into lunch we had a ‘hands and hair’ inspection – we had to hold out our hands to check they were clean and hair needed to have been brushed before mealtimes. After lunch there was quiet reading every day for about half an hour. There was lots of sport, maybe every day, although I can’t really remember. Assemblies/notices happened in the gym – we sat in four vertical rows in our Eights – and we had Chapel several times a week, plus a service on Sundays.

What did you used to play at breaktime?

We did lots of running around like all children do. We had milk in little third of a pint bottles (warm when left out in the sunshine!) and bread & margarine for a snack in the morning, which was popped out on the wall outside the back of the dining room. There was a huge sandpit under the beech tree where we played marbles and conkers (when they were in season). The boys played snob (cricket with a tennis ball) on the playground and you can still see the stumps painted on the wall to the left of the boys’ changing room door. And then there was ‘down the grounds’, now known as Dingley Dell, climbing trees and sitting in the old derelict tree house chatting to friends. There were the usual crazes that still happen with yo-yos being the one I remember, learning all the tricks like ‘round the world’. In the evenings I remember roller skating on the playground in the dark with the floodlights turned on. We also enjoyed listening to music in our form rooms, everyone’s stereos lined up along a back wall, Duran Duran, Wham, Feargal Sharkey!

Our Year 8 is lucky to enjoy a jam-packed programme of events before leaving, did you have leavers camp before you left and what school did you go onto after Chafyn?

No, there was no Leavers’ Camp. I remember a handful of girls being taken for a trip to Bath for the day and there was a Leavers’ event one Sunday, but I couldn’t go on it as I had broken my arm so instead had lunch and the afternoon at Mrs Dickens’s house (she was the music teacher). There were only boys in Year 8 as all the girls left earlier, either sitting 11+ or 12+ Common Entrance exams and the boys did 13+. I went on to Sherborne School for Girls.

What sports were played at Chafyn and did you play matches against other schools?

The girls played netball in the autumn and spring terms and rounders in the summer. Our rounders pitch was where the car park now is and was on a slope so if you hit the ball hard enough it rolled all the way down to the bottom of the hill! I remember learning the basics of hockey (on a grass pitch), but don’t think we played more than a handful of times. We certainly played matches and were very successful, which is even more remarkable given that our teams were made up of at least three different age groups. Durlstan Court, Northaw (which became Norman Court), The Manor and Sherborne Prep are some of the schools I remember playing against, as well as us travelling up to London for the IAPS netball competitions. Match teas were in the dining room and were always sausages, chips and beans which we loved. One very fond memory is of chatting to a group of Sherborne Prep girls at match tea in the summer before I left and discovering that four of us were all going to be in the same boarding house in the September & we went on to be great friends.

Are you still in contact with anyone from your year group?

Sadly, no, although in July a friend from the year above made contact out of the blue taking me completely by surprise. We have since exchanged numerous messages and met up & it has been wonderful. Sharing our times at school after 37 years has brought the memories flooding back with nothing but smiles and laughter (and the odd horrifying moment when we remember something we’d rather have forgotten!) and we are hoping that we can find a few more people to share in our excitement reliving our younger days.

As a member of the OCGA, what would you like to see more of for the Chafyn Grove Alumni, going forward?

Working at Chafyn (and having been a parent here) it is very easy for me to still live my school days every day. For Alumni to have the opportunity to come back to the school, have a look around, meet and share memories with other past friends and pupils would, I think, be a huge hit.