Newells Preparatory School

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Morning run, sports day and fun in the woods

Posted by Andrew Miller on June 27, 2012 at 5:15 PM

Good to see that Chris Matthews and Edward Trewhella have now been added to the members. I have little memory of buying my school uniform but do remember going to Harrods for it. My tuck box served me well for many years but eventually gave up the ghost. I do, however, still have my tuck tin, cream with a pillar box red lid and my Miller Ma 23 label glued to the corner.

Early morning runs in heavy winter frosts remain a vivid memory. The worst bit was standing outside shivering as one’s legs turned blue before setting off. There were several fixed routes all of which had long forgotten names but a number of which took us in to St Leonards forest and alongside firebreak tracks or over huge dead trees. For little boys one of the great things was not having to bath or shower afterwards but simply to get dressed again – horrid thought now I am an adult.

I think everyone did this four days a week except for the choir who went into the lovely blue, white and yellow chapel with it’s old church pews and plasterwork panels. This sat in the South West corner and had views over the tennis courts, woods and putting green. On Wednesday mornings we all escaped the run as we had hymn practice in the chapel.

I too did a little shooting and can even remember Chris Matthews being left handed although the names of the guns escapes me. I also continued shooting at Hurst but only made the Reserve VIII for Bisley.

I remember the sports days very well – with a lovely big wide cup for the Victor Ludorum ( wonderful latin title ) which always seemed to be won by an obvious all round sportsman such as Murray Lewis, Simon LeVaillant or J Richford.

I was very friendly with Robert Utting and one year his father Bernard, who drove a smart Jaguar, offered me a dish of strawberries and cream which I accepted gratefully. Later that evening I was given a severe ticking off by matron Maud Madigan for this and the following year on Sports day she made a point of telling me that I was not to go near Uttings dad or eat their strawberries again ! Talk about elephantine memory.

However, Uttings dad again offered me strawberries so I had decline citing MM that morning. He was blessed with a roundish physique and determined that I should have them regardless of her instructions so just told me to stand close behind him and tuck in while his ample girth hid me from her sight as I enjoyed them. She never did find out.

Wednesday afternoon activities centred around the woodlands and certainly two bands of boys were specifically named as Forest Rangers and Sweepers. Sweeping was a pretty tedious job especially if one was given one of the problem brooms. These were every inch a witches broom to look at, I thought them to be made of hazel although it could have been birch, but some of them did not seem as securely fastened to the handle as they should and so would keep coming apart as one tried to sweep the paths.

Even then I used to wonder why so many little boys were dispatched into the woods, East, West or Central ( the latter otherwise being the sole preserve of the HM and Mrs Hope Lang ) charged with sweeping clear of all leaves all the footpaths in a forest full of trees knowing full well that the wind would put them right back the next day.

I never did make it to be a ranger which involved more exciting work such as chopping or sawing up dead trees. But I do remember the time I was sweeping and we all heard a piercing shriek of pain from Central Wood where a boy called Adams had nearly severed his thumb with an axe or machete. It was hanging on by the skin and he was quickly whisked away for treatment, reappearing with his arm in a sling.

On most Wednesdays and Saturdays ( probably Sunday as well but I cannot remember clearly ) the late afternoon was free time and after tea there would be a stream of boys in blue boiler suits heading towards the woods. These were a wonderful place to explore, climb trees, build camps and tree houses with broken branches and rhododendron leaves ( to keep the rain out ) and some of the corrugated iron sheets that seem to have found their way into the bushes there. Some camps had several rooms where we could sit and eat tuck or else had to defend ourselves other boys looking for corrugated sheets to add to their own sites.

Sensibly the headmaster used to allocate all of the junior boys to, for example, East Wood, while the seniors took command of West Wood and then the following time this would be reversed. This meant that every trip into the woods would begin with a frenzy of ripping down someone else’s camp from the previous visit and starting again in a new location with a new design.

Another favourite past-time, and a particularly muddy one, was building dams along the length of the stream which flowed downhill in West wood. There would usually be half a dozen under construction with one or perhaps two boys at the higher point building a small dam of wet clay and then as one progressed down the length there would be bigger dams and more boys using wet clay, branches, twigs and bricks which had also conveniently found their way into the woods. Once ready the uppermost dam would be breeched so the water flowed into a second larger dam and this would be repeated until all the water had flowed to the last and biggest dam where boys would be struggling to plug leaks and hold it all in until it was ready to be smashed at which point we would all run alongside what seemed to us a raging torrent.

Gangs of cowboys and Indians or mediaeval foot soldiers ( I had forgotten about the Spartans ) used to roam the woods too, using sticks as swords and bracken, shorn of it’s upper leaves, as spears. Occasionally even makeshift bows and arrows would find their way into the armoury and many lively pitched battles would take place in the swathes of bracken or amongst the rhododendrons as we ambushed each other or crept up on makeshift forts.

As for climbing trees, well I was never one to go much above about 15 feet but I can clearly remember Kenneth Oag climbing to the very top of the oak or chestnut which faced the south side of the school and waving to us all from the top. I never knew how he managed to do this. All of these activities would come to an end when the big bell on the south side of the house would toll and first juniors, then a little later seniors would return and try to clean themselves up a bit – unless one’s name was John Ramsden in which case the timing was usually late and the mud less inclined to come off.

Looking back at all these activities and thinking of modern children and their parents and the preoccupation with Health & Safety I can’t imagine what they would make of our activities.

More anon.

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