Newells Preparatory School

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John Ramsden

Posted by newells on November 2, 2010 at 6:09 AM

Every two or three years I search for Newells and "Peter Hope-Lang", and
have now found this excellent site. Many thanks for setting it up, and long
may it continue and grow.

I started at Newells in Sept 1964, before my 7th birthday, and was there and
at Handcross Park until the end of 1970.

My first memory there was walking down to the bathroom in a crocodile, and
being sent to Mr Lang for exclaiming "Cor blimey!". Anyone remember the Rec
room, where we would line up in houses, with the prefects running their feet
down a crack between two strips of the polished wood to indicate where we
should align our toes? Or scooting about on our backs there, propelling
ourselves with our feet? Or two formations of boys on each others shoulders
each forming an "elephant" singing "Ba ba barang" and competing to dislodge
the other formation?

I recall spending a few days in the sanitorium with Nigel Aveline in 1965.
I forget what ailment I had contracted, or his; but the warts on my hand
vanished practically overnight!

I also recall Kilpatrick returning to visit the school in about 1965.
A group of us went for a walk in West Wood, and when I had trouble with
the stile on the way back, or was playing the fool, I recall him saying
something like "come on Ramsden, stop messing around!".

I vividly remember the staff, such as Mr & Mrs Dancy. We called Michael
Dancy "Brother Michael", due to his bald monk-like head. But it seemed
he had a slight complex about his brother, who was headmaster of a public
school (Marlborough I think), and he became apoplectic on overhearing his
nickname one day, thinking it was a slighting reference to this.

Mrs Vellacott was another, who I fear some of us slightly teased for her
fundamentalist beliefs. Then there was Captain Bill Stokes, puffing on
his pipe, and Nigel Coombes, and Captain Peter Gamon, and Colonel
Reford. (I don't recall his name being spelled Wreford BTW), and
the French master, who was French but could complete the Times
crossword in a few minutes!

I have a vivid memory of Reford in his carpentry shop in the basement,
planing away, standing in a mound of shavings. I sometimes wonder if
the terrible fire in 1968 was caused by a spark from his pipe. But the
official explanation, of a defective electrical cable, sounds far more
likely, and is consistent with the fire happening on the first night
of term when the electricity load of course suddenly rose.

I seemed to spend forever in the junior dormitory, Clive, but had
advanced, via Nelson, to Drake by 1968. On the night of the fire
I was in the bed next to Nigel Levaillant (the actor), and I recall
meaning to ask him the next morning if I could borrow his Look and
Learn magazines which I gathered he had acquired, to catch up on
the latest goings on in the Trigan Empire!

Then there were the woods, East, Middle, and West wood, trudging
along as part of a sweeping party, climbing Big Beech in Middle
Wood - Watching with awe a boy called Carter walking along a
branch about 100 feet up.

On my first day my "substance" (to whom I was the "shadow" - or
was it the other way round?), Bentham, lost me for a couple of
hours in East Wood.

There are so many more memories, and if I get time I'll post again.
Meanwhile, it will be fascinating to read others' recollections.
Some things are vivid; but it's amazing what one forgets.

Also, does anyone know more details of Captain Hope-Lang's earlier
life? I gather he, and perhaps Gamon and Reford, were in the Indian
army at some point. They were all true gentlemen though. Not a bad
word to say about any of them, or the female staff.                                           


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Reply John Hanger
6:18 PM on March 6, 2011 
Hi John.I don't know if you remember me but i was at Newells the same time as you and remember you well.How are you ? After i left in '69 my parents emmigrated to South Africa and i lived there until 1983.I have been living in Australia ever since.Have you any knowledge of where Robin Kweon (spelling) is now living.
I managed to get back to the old school in October last year for the first time since leaving in '69.What a great visit,so many memories came flooding back.If you or anyone else would like to contact me please feel free to do so at [email protected]
Reply Robert Carter
7:15 AM on January 7, 2012 
Dear John, I read your blog with great interest: your memory is amazing. I remember the woods (and you clearly remember me) as I was the mad one prancing about in that wonderful beech tree: Mr Lang quietly took me to one side and asked me to refrain from climbing it as I would encourage others. I also remember climbing about on the outside of the school at night and running across the field for illegal swims. Shortly after arriving at the school, Mr Lang, with cigar, told us off for larking about in the dormitory and said that he would see Carter (minor) in the morning if there was any more racket: I went to sleep and was told that he returned later to quell the dormitory later. I got "six of the best" in the morning. At the age of 10'ish, Mr Wreford taught me to do carpentry and this remained a lifelong interest. Having had a career as an academic and a pharmaceutical research scientist, I have now given up sitting on airplanes and make furniture at the bottom of the garden in London. I'll try to find some photos. Kind regards, Rob Carter.
Reply Edward Trewhella
11:10 AM on May 13, 2012 
HI John - I remember you well - you were a legend! Is it true that you had a caning every day for your first - or second term - it was always said so but I cannot believe it? Your memory is great and it has elicited a whole stream of consciousness with me which I thought I would never see again. Thank you so much. Edward
Reply Chris Matthews
4:30 PM on May 15, 2012 
Dear John,
I think your view on life at Newells is commendable, especially as you were beaten so often, for mostly nabulus reasons. I remember clearly asking you how you coped with it and you replied that "You thought of Walt Disney characters!" I share most of your views on the teaching staff expect for Major Gammon! He was affable enough, but in my opinion was somewhat of a sadist, as whenever he acted as head and you were "sent up with a stripe" he always favoured beating you! Thankfully he did not follow us to Handcross Park.