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Old Westbrookians' Society. CA: Anecdotes

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Photo's of "WESTBROOK HOUSE" 2006

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Submitted by Peter Mellor Jan/20/2007
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1920's photo of Athelstan School which later became "The bombed house" next to Westbrook House Juni

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Peter Mellor

More Westbrook ramblings by Peter Mellor (At Westbrook 1951-58)  (January/20/2007)

I recall a rotund boy called Adams – a boarder I think - who was a model aeroplane buff.  He had these little single-cylinder aero engines and was always flicking the propeller creating a wonderful smell of fuel. I felt sorry for him one day after he had spent weeks constructing a large aeroplane skeleton framework from balsa wood with doped wings etc – I suppose a wing-span of 18 inches or so. He fired up the engine and launched plane up into the air from the playground. The inevitable happened and it crashed to pieces a few yards away – amid roars of laughter from on-looking boys. Very cruel !  

Yes - thanks for reminding me – about Mrs O-Neill. I remember well those singing sessions in the playroom around the piano. She was a large lady with tight mouth who would smack our shins with a hand or ruler if we did not sing properly or paid attention. It hurt too.  

Talking about hands – these had to be washed before lunch and palms and backs shown to a club-captain at the entrance to the dining hall. Lunch menus followed a routine (food rationing did not finish until about 1956 – I remember queuing outside the Town Hall in Hythe for ration books with my mother).

Mondays: Sliced cold mutton, creamy mashed potatoes, and sliced beetroot soaked in vinegar (I found this beetroot absolutely disgusting and was very sick one day in the school hall because of it). Pudding was jam roly-poly and custard.

Tuesdays: Grim meat stew with lumps of gristle, potatoes, cabbage or butter beans. Pudding – rice or semolina with a blob of jam.

Wednesday: cannot remember – can anyone help ??

Thursday: As for Tuesday.

Friday: Fish in batter, peas, and chips. Pudding – tinned fruit and custard. 

I never liked the greasy batter and left it one day on the side of my plate. Big mistake ! Fossie would sometimes get up and walk around the dining hall and on this occasion he spotted my plate. “I have spent much money on a new batter machine and this boy has left it all on the side of his plate” he declared in his usual loud voice to the whole hall. Making an example of a boy in this way was not unusual. 

I recall another incident in the dining hall when Peter Mansfield threw a tumbler full of water in Mr Household’s face. Peter could I recall get in a right bate at times - but Humphrey Household took it aplomb – like the perfect gentleman he was.  

The school did have a very good library masterminded by Humphery Household. It occupied the west turret room on the first floor with bookshelves floor to ceiling. A lot of the books were “Rebound by Chivers of Bath” and many were bound in orange covers. Favourites were Biggles, Just William, etc 

The boy’s entrance to the senior school was via the stone steps on the western elevation (now bricked-up). Once inside there were urinals to the left and a loo to the right. Immediately after the loo door was the entrance into the hall. Straight ahead was a door with steps down to the changing rooms in the cellar.

The smell of the urinals and the loo were all too familiar, as was the stink from the changing rooms from rancid sports gear and boots.

The hall had the original patterned late-Victorian tiled floor and all the wood work including the balustrades were their natural dark-wood colour. Stewart Fincham reminded me that the rails had small wooden knobs on the top of them to prevent boys sliding down ! The walls were magnolia or similar, with boards naming past club-captains etc and old school team photographs. One or two conical-shaped fire extinguishers were mounted on the walls. These were occasionally let-off and the chemical made a dreadful mess. 

The little front room now housing the secretariat was the junior school dining room in the early fifties. The current Headmaster’s study was one of the sixth form classrooms (V1a or V1b). 

The Vth Form was up the stairs to the nearest room facing the north i.e. overlooking the playground as far as I recall. 

The dormitories had traditional black metal bedsteads, wooden floor boards exposed, with some carpets. Quite primitive now - but par for the course then.

The dorm on the second floor had a fire escape by means of a canvas waist strap with a braking mechanism. It hung from the ceiling near a north window. The strap was put around the waist and you lowered yourself away and made a gradual descent onto the playground. Foz allowed us to take it in turns under his supervision. It was a very slow process so lucky there was never a fire. 

Baths were taken under a matron’s supervision about once or twice a week. Body hair developing on us older boys was frequently a talking point. One matron only allowed us a few inches of water in the bath – no doubt a wartime trait ! 

The gymnasium was a wonderful relic to a pre-war age. It was well equipped with wall-bars, ropes from the ceiling, vaulting horse, spring-board, benches, thick coarse mats, heavy leather medicine balls, and a beam contraption which could be lowered to any height for balancing on etc. Also big heavy iron radiators that never worked. From about 1953/54 onwards Prof Mallard was in charge. I have already extolled his virtues and PT was something to look forward to - and the confidence he instilled in all of us on the ropes, wallbars, vaulting horse etc. How lucky we all were to have him as our PTi. Boxing and Fencing was another bonus – all under his excellent training.

The Prof was a wonderful asset to the school and this cannot be stressed too much.  

The gym today – once the Athelstan School gym from the 1890’s still exists, but sadly stripped of 90% of equipment. A vaulting horse and two benches still survive. 

The interior of Westbrook House Junior School (50 Shorncliffe Road) today is very similar to the 50’s. The big double doors that divided the class rooms have been removed, and the once piano room has been opened up. The “Shell” or “Remove” classroom right at the top looking over the Shorncliffe Road is as tiny as ever – remember the Battle of Hastings soldiers painted by pupils around the walls ? The two staff flats opposite, once occupied by Messrs Paxton and Campbell, have been opened up into a staff rest room. The smart 1950’s bathroom on the first floor is now a locker room. 

I have to say what is sad is the removal of the sweeping front gravel drive, wall, hedging etc to make way for increased car ownership. Similarly with Leigh House next door – which also has a dreadful 1970’s ? extension linking it up with the Junior School. Practical - but architecturally out of keeping. The Senior School has at least retained its front garden, but has plastic windows – shock horror – they look even more dreadful when opened. Also just as sad – the finials from the two turrets and the rest of the roof are missing. 

Having said that the two turrets have been rebuilt – excellent – at great cost I gather – so why not add the finials ?  

Great delight, I have just found my faithful fencing foil, which Prof Mallard delivered new to my home in Hythe in 1956. It served me well in the fencing team until I left Westbrook in 1958. 

I am pleased to read that a Westbrook cap has been found. Was the owner “Flashman” connected with the family of “Flashman & Co” in the Sandgate Road ? Whatever happed to Broadleys – the schools outfitters in the Sandgate Road ? 

Stephen Wassell 1957
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Stephen Wassell
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Date: 12/Nov/2006 14:30

Stephen Wassell  Writes:
 

My happiest memories relate to sport: Other than the soccer team which I was delighted to represent as a rotund goalkeeper, I remember being entered, I suppose at about the age of 11, for a boxing match against the Duke of York's RMS and getting thoroughly beaten up by one of their "boys" (who looked about 20) and Mr Stokes - a really decent master - saying to me "What a plucky boy" just before I fainted from loss of blood!  Another was representing the School in the Kent Junior Fencing Championships in 1959.  We had a terrific, kindly, PE teacher called Mallard.  He was an ex Royal Marine and for some reason he was called "Professor".  His daughter was a fencing champion I believe.  We used to put on fencing displays at the Sport Days and I am sure I have a picture of some of us dressed as Cavaliers at one of these events.  Of the other teachers who come to mind I remember Mr Campbell (Maths?), Mr Household (English, who always seemed pretty strict), Mr Metcalfe (who instilled in me a love of geography and travel that lasts to this day and who had been a Motor Torpedo Boat commander in the War) and Mr Paxton (Latin, who I am sure was not as dopey as he seemed to us then).  The worst thing that ever happened to me was failing the 11+ and having to go to Dover College - I would much rather have gone to the Harvey Grammar School where most of my out of school friends went!

Anyway, enough of this drivel, I will see what I have tucked away which may be of interest to you.  In the meantime, good fortune with the project.

Best wishes

Stephen 

Andrew Heritage writes:

Dear Mr. Dunbar,

Herewith some late night notes sparked off by seeing a notice in the
Old Dovorian Newsletter concerning Westbrook House and your Society.  I
drafted it into the Visitor's Comments page, but was told it was too
long, so have taken the liberty of sending it direct. My mother died
last year, and I still have boxes of "stuff" from her house (she was a
hoarder and diarist) which will inevitably include material relevant to
Westbrook House which, if you are interested, I can begin to sift
through (although my recollection is pretty good too - I overlapped if
only briefly with Angus Foster, and remember Ted's departure under
something of a cloud, and attended KNGF's retirement "do" at the Grand
Hotel on the Leas in 1968). My father was a stalwart of the Radnor
Club, where KNGF used to disappear to every Wednesday evening, for a
game of snooker, the excitement of which would frequently make him
weave across the playground upon his return at Senior's bedtime (what,
8.30 or so?)

You might remind Robert Winstanley, a contemporary who was regarded
with some awe by us local hayseeds as he got fantastic presents from
his exotically-located parents (model tanks, glamorous platic knights
in armour etc) that we both wrote and produced a dormitory-theatre
production of The Assassination of Hitler (he played the moustachioed
one, I was a Dennis Wheatley/Geoffrey Household-style would-be Jackal).
He of course got the best part.


Anyway, let me know if I can help.

All the best

Andrew

PS: I was at Westbrook 1961-68, leaving the summer Ken Foster retired (and am thus a contemporary of both Robert Winstanley and Roderick Baker). My brother John also attended, suffering the transitioin to the Rottenbury years. I went on to Dover College (as did Roderick Baker). My family were local farmers and (like so many) personal friends of Ken Foster's and I remained in contact with him until his death. In fact our tractor drivers were frequently seconded to gang-mow the playing fields, presumably in return for a fee discount.

I would be happy to share further memories, and try to dig out some materiual if it is of interest (but quite how you scan one of those panoramic school photos is beyond me - I have several). Memories as yet unmentioned include the tiger skin rugs hung in the main stairwell, the very glamnorous fencing trophy foil which was hung over the fireplace near the senior table in the dining room (donated by local maritime salvage tycoon and High Street rock shop owner Jimmy Rowlands), loathsome bread-and-butter pudding, glimpses of Humphrey Household sneaking a pre-tea fag outside KNGF's study, and while we are on the subject, Jim Metcalfe's horrible trick of taking a lighted roll-up into his mouth and reversing it butt-out. I seem to recall I was a Beaver (nothing like as glamorous as the Squirrels), and a leader of Foster's Anti-Maths Gang. My lack of numeracy persists despite his efforts – it was Household who "got" me (I can still remember huge passages of poems by Lewis Carroll and Alfred Noyes that we were forced to memorise weekly), and I ended up in publishing working for The Times, then as a director of Dorling Kindersley, subsequently for Penguin, and now run a Publishing Consultancy with my wife, Ailsa.

I am in regular contact with only one Old Westbrookian, Nick (NMF) Mason, who is based in Hong Kong, but I see him from time to time (and his older brother, John).

Robert Winstanley might like to know that the fetching Assistant Matron who disappeared after the linen cupboard incident was called Miss Withington. She still infests my dreams.  

More from Andrew:

This activity has provoked quite a lot of memory recall, not least the
annual line-up in Y-fronts for Dr. Beaugay's (surely misspelt,
pronounced "Bojay") "jabs" for 'flu and tetanus  which also involved an
inspection of foreskin-loosening and testicle-descendence under the
watchful eye of matron and her assistants. Uggh! And KNGF's "talks" to
the 6th Form leavers concerning strange people who we were bound to
meet at our next school, who would express untoward interest in our
"front parts". All these achieved was to make the idea of leaving
Westbrook for the wider world a prospect full of untold horror.

A number of correspondents on your site have recalled Ted Foster's
sudden departure due to an involvement with an "au pair". Not true, it
was a local married woman of extremely glamorous demeanour, who shall
remain unidentified. In later years I knew her, and her equally
glamorous daughter, well.

And somebody mentioned films. We saw some wonderful classics in the
Games Room on Winter Saturday afternoons (Gunsmoke, The Lavendar Hill
Mob, Them,  The Titchfield Thunderbolt) after football or rugby
matches, and at the end of term some very solid stuff (Henry V, Richard
III, The Dambusters,  The Wizard of Oz), with appropriate breaks while
the reels were changed.

Anyway, I must go to bed.

Once again, let me know if I can help. I have a lot of local knowledge,
despite being now relatively remote.

All the best

Andrew

Comment from Peter Mellor:
 
Interesting memories from Andrew Heritage -  although after my time.
I recall Dr Beaugie from Radnor Park West very well, but forget the "equipment" inspections.
"I am now going to talk about your private parts" I recall Fossie saying in his study when the six of us or so were summoned before leaving in March 1958. I do recall his acute embarrassment talking about this and that borders in particular at their future school had to be very careful when befriended by an older boy. In fact where I went the 3 "B's"- beating, bullying, and buggery were all too common and part of the public school boarding scene until certainly the mid sixties when it started to gradually die out. By the way - foreskins in fact were a rarity. I recall only one boy in a House of 40 having one - all the rest of us having been circumcised when babies in the 1940's.
The comment on Ted Foster is interesting - hopefully a name (for the record) will be forthcoming in due course.
Yes - the films in the playroom were mostly fun - but in the 50's some were a bit dull. As I have said before as soon as a scantily attired female appeared on the film - Fossie stopped it ! Good films were frustrating when this happened or the projector broke down !
I also attended the retirement of Fossie at The Grand Hotel in '68 - I wish I had taken photographs.
All the best for 2007 to you all.
Peter

Stephen Wassell writes ( 12/31/06) :
 
Good Morning David-Michael and all,
 
Another few pieces of the jigsaw puzzle that I call my memory filled in.  I don't remember the medical inspection (only for boarders??) but I do recall Fozzie's "facts of life" lecture very well and, most of all, the relief on his face when it was over!  I don't think it taught me anything new and it was difficult to keep a straight face through it but, for some reason, it has stayed in mind ever since.  I think it might have been on the last day and before we were given our leaving book presents.  I loved those film shows as, being a devotee of the cinema then and ever since, I got myself immersed in the action and re-enacted some of the scenes in my mind on the way home to Westbourne Gardens (are they still there; the houses were some of the highest i had ever seen, at least 5 storeys high).  The films themselves were inevitably good and clean without a hint of anything "untoward".  How I miss those days given the state of the cinema today, especially as my younger son, who is a graduate student at the London Film School, spends his time involved with film noir and the darker side of cinematic life!
Sorry, mustn't waffle on.  I was pleased to hear that Ted hadn't run off with the au pair but merely a married woman!!
Best wishes and a happy New Year!
Stephen

Peter Mellor to David Lyne-Gordon ( 11/21/06 ) :
 
Hello David,
 
I much enjoyed reading the latest Property Matters.
Alfred Pain was my dentist, but I am not sure whether he was the school one. The waiting room was austere. I recall with certainty a photograph of Folkestone pier on fire (at the end of WW2). There might have been one or two empty shell cases - but I cannot be certain. The outside paintwork on his house fronting Earls Avenue was dark green.
My grand parents owned "Oaklea" from 1914 to 1924 in Bouverie Road West on the west side of the Pleasure Gardens Theatre. This fine late-Victorian family house was later pulled down. I will try and find a photo of The Princes . 
Miss Roberts must have been a secretary to Fozzie from early on - certainly in 1951.
Must go now.
Best wishes to you both
Peter

Submitted by RODNEY PITTAM. 20/Nov/2006 19:53
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Thats Tim, Geoff Weymouth and Nick Fry

From: RODNEY PITTAM  Date: 21-Nov-2006 18:58

 

Hello David.

Yes that’s Tim, Geoff Weymouth and Nick Fry. Its an interesting and quite poignant picture as it predates by a few months the appalling accident which changed their lives forever, when Eric Large (Westbrook 60's) wrapped his mini van around a tree out in the country and Richard Ivor-Jones (Westbrook 60s) was killed.Tims jaw was broken in 3 places and he lost some teeth which is why his speech is a bit impaired. Nicks leg was, after surgery, foreshortened by a few inches, and Geoff escaped with cuts and bruises. There but for the grace of God etc...

I will look forward to receiving correspondence from WJ himself. I must make an effort to pay a visit to Westbrook soon to inspect the changes made. In the meantime I continue to plough a lonely furrow in the name of aesthetics as opposed to profit, restoring buildings in my home town.Im sure I shall expire in penury, although I have been given (in exchange for a bad debt) a Luton Transit van,so,if all else fails, I may become a rival to Valley Removals and seriously upset Rick (probably not wise given his dimensions),Rods Removals mmmm possibly not quite what my parents had in mind when they left me in KNGF's office aged 6.

Look forward to hearing from you soon, we have finished Mill House and are busy elsewhere in Folkestone at the moment. I was hoping perhaps that Roger De Haan might have been interested in the Mill and established it as an environmentally self sufficient building, as penance for the glass and metal monstrosity housing his former Company, perhaps he doesn’t know about it.

All the best, and see you soon.  ....Rod