Old West Downs Society – Memories of the Cornes Era, 1954-1988

From Freddie Browning, 1973-78

Dear Mark,

Apologies for taking an age to reply. Please forgive me. I’ve enclosed a few comments on Valentine Guinness’ notes, from which it would appear that little changed in 10 years on the hygiene & health front. However, just how exceptional W.D. was in that respect is debatable. Still, in retrospect, things do tend to look somewhat like Stalag 17, and it is perhaps understandable that many parents (who themselves hadn’t been through “The System”) may have taken objection to the rather elementary conditions. Ah! The curse of Day Pupils! Somewhat akin to the Christians undermining Rome!!!

It’s ironic though that in certain quarters there still exists a preconceived notion that boys from boarding school are “soft” or “less adjusted” than their compatriots in the state system. I don’t see many of them lasting long in W.D. without the luxury of all their mod. cons and television sets. However ... on a similar theme I must say that nothing at Public School ever came close to the rites of passage undergone at W.D. So the anxious boy brought up with Tom Brown and Flashman’s atrocities actually found the Etons, Harrows and Charterhouses somewhat tame. Well; that is a personal observation. And as we all now know, it is all character building.

Should anything more come to light through the mist and cobwebs in my head I will most certainly attempt to jot them down and send them on to you. In that respect it was marvellous to talk to you with Robbie, and we both enjoyed it very much. I have asked Ned to try and send you something from the Andrew “Hippo” Morrison era – The Fall of the House of Cornes!

Best of luck with the research and the hard part of piecing it all together into some semblance of being. I look forward to it immensely.

Yours aye,

Freddie Browning


Unfortunately I can’t remember his first name – however he had a bizarre habit of climbing to the top of the steeple (between St. Cross and Top dorms) and peeling the lead off the roof, which he would then eat. Anyway, one day Captain Austen caught him, and he was beaten. (I think he was Ukrainian!)

Sour Milk:

This was always a common feature during the summer terms. Funnily enough, no one else seemed to expect anything else! When the “continental breakfast” was introduced, circa ’75, a usual feature was that the orange juice was so old that it would begin to ferment and fizz. But again, it was such a normal occurrence that we’d all simply drink it, thinking of it as sparkling orange juice!


This was probably an extension of the “Pater” system. Probably!


Illnesses were very rife. I remember being sent home for mumps quarantine for almost ½ a term. Impetigo was prevalent, although cases were far rarer by the time I left. In the early days many boys with great purple iodine (!) blotches could be seen wandering around. Re: “The Great Sick” – on occasions dorms would be sectioned off for such outbreaks. I don’t remember being among them, though I do remember Red Flu etc. The Sister at the time being nicknamed “Savage” for her purported habit of beating miscreants with a hairbrush. Again, how far legend embellished her reputation is hard to fathom! Dead rats beneath the floors were common, but in fairness could be expected in such an old building.


Certain dorms had a reputation of playing unfairly – ie putting nailbrushes in the end of sockballs etc. I remember a particular term a concerted effort to try and coordinate a “play fair” campaign. But there would always be the hard cases. I would imagine these to be the type who’d use dum-dum bullets in a revolver in later life!!!

Stand Ins:

I do remember several of these held in Shakespeare. One in particular over which Commander Eddis held sway, and screamed at some boy for moving “In the Navy, if a wasp stung you in the nose, it did not give you permission to move! Stand up straight Boy!!!” This would’ve been the result of one of the “riots” we talked about; as it was normally the case that the ringleaders would never own up – hence the whole school being punished.


If someone had “grassed” somebody up to a master or Jerry over some misdemeanour, when he appeared on parade great hisses of “sssssneak, sssssneak” would greet him. This would infuriate Jerry if he happened to notice it; but the message was clear – the lowest form of life was to betray your companions.


It was very bad form for the patrol if one of its members failed their standard test. This happened once in the Owls. A friend of mine from home had failed and was given a severe beating with the infamous sockball, and maybe a belt or two, after being tied to his bed, and administered by the Patrol Leader and cohorts.

Freddie Browning