Sunday, November 04, 2007

St Ronan's 1953-58

Herry went to St Ronan's from 1953 until 1958. Fuff (known there as 'Lux') preceded him and Piers (known then as 'Scurry'), came in 1955. St Ronan's was a marvellously happy prep school in huge grounds outside Hawkhurst. Founded in 1883 in Worthing, it moved in 1946 to Tongswood House, which had been owned by the Gunther family (the makers of Oxo cubes; hence the oxo motif in the stonework). It was owned and run by WB 'Dick' Harris who was succeeded in 1957 by the Vassar-Smiths (Sir Richard and Lady Dawn), who were friends of his parents, Sir Richard having been at Lancing with Fuff's father Arthur Luxmoore. Dick Harris, the retiring headmaster, used to amuse the boys by allowing them to put sweet papers in his enormously bushy eyebrows.

In addition to huge playing fields, the school had a magnificent wood - 'Tongswood' - which contained a stream where we constructed clay water-slides and built 'hides', a sinister and enormously deep 'hammer' pond which we weren't allowed to go near, a lake on which we could boat or skate, kitchen gardens where we could grow things, a huge rockery complete with caves and grottos and a marvelous 'pinetum' full of rare trees in which we could play 'he' for ever. An old rabbit warren was the scene of the 'dromes' where we played with our 'Dinky' cars in the summer - models which Piers still has today...

The Vassar-Smiths were a wonderful couple; Sir Richard was a powerful man who's father had been chairman of Lloyd's Bank (and who's ancestors founded Vassar College in the United States). He was a Cambridge football blue and had played for the Corinthian Casuals. He ran the school with great humour, following Dick Harris's tradition of giving every boy (there was only one girl, his daughter Julie - who was a rugger colour!) a nickname. Herry was known as 'Hurry' as he always ran everywhere. Sir Richard could usually be seen carrying a mashie niblick and practicing his approach shots on the dasies. Lady Dawn was universally loved for her no-nonsense kindness. Delightfully, she used to read aloud to the youngest boys in her drawing room in the evenings.

The school also served good food, though the bread and dripping (or bread and hot sweetened milk) that one had after games might not be approved of today. Sweets were sensibly rationed and however much 'grub' one brought to school at the beginning of term, only 16 pieces were allowed to be eaten each week, beginning in a ritual which began with a cry of 'grub now or never' when the pantry in which the boys' sweets were stored was unlocked for an hour.

Herry particuarly rembembers 'Crofty' - Richard Crofton, the kind French master, who - in order to practice his French - he used to meet in the mornings walking up from his rooms below the school, and who taught him a number of useful 'idioms' which he uses to this day. Others included David Urch and Mr Hood who taught history, Mark Portal, 'Jevvy' - Mr Jevons (who taught him Latin sufficiently well for him to get into Winchester), Guy Clark who taught geometry ('An axiom is a self-evident fact which can't be proved') and 'Pooley', who put him off maths for the rest of his school years. There is a photograph of most of them in the school magazine of August 1958 here.

Like all at St Ronan's, he did acquire a good degree of general knowledge though, by means of a simple and enormously effective annual exam for the whole school in which 100 general knowledge questions were asked and the results published. To come top of that exam was regarded as one of the most prestigious school achievements of all and accounts for the fact that all St Ronan's boys know which is the highest capital city in the world, how to address a bishop and whether they would be prouder of their father if he was awarded an OBE or a CBE. The other memorable skill which we acquired was to be able to sing Handel's Messiah and recite poetry, including Abu Ben Ahdem, which used to be read to us in chapel.

Herry was a reasonable footballer and rugger player and was also in the cricket side. He was not as good as Fuff at football and rugger and not as good as Piers at cricket, despite playing endless games with him on the lawn at Stocks. But he could run, even then, and used to win the annual steeplechase.

Herry in his St Ronan's jersey 1957

Click here for a fascinating excerpt from 'The View From King Street' by Christopher Hurst who describes life at St Ronan's in the pre-war days

Click here for extracts from the St Ronan's Magazine Sept 1953 when Dick Harris was still headmaster. Fuff was at the school and Herry is named as a new boy for the next term (Autumn 1953).

Click here for some surviving entries from Herry's diary c1956/7 including a rare entry by WB Harris and one by David Urch

Click here for some more photos of St Ronan's from those days and here for photos taken at the Centenary in 1993.

The school has an excellent website which also contains much history and a searchable database of old boys
St Ronan's
Finally here for some more recent ones.

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