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

From Robin Cleminson, 1953-58

Thank you for your letter. Forgive the little delay in replying.

I don’t recall your brother. We must have just missed each other. A.J. is my brother Andrew. Yes, he lives in Canada, in Vancouver. F.A. was my grandfather, bless him, long since gone to the great skies. He was an eminent E.N.T. surgeon at the Middlesex. I believe he set up a library there which may bear his name. I will check. J.A.S. is my father, and does indeed still live at Willingale. There is another J.A.S. who is a son of F.A.’s brother – or a 1st cousin to my father; it is this one, James, who was Chairman of Reckitt and Colman, then President of the CBI, and now in charge of the British Overseas Trade Board – shortly to retire I believe.

I would be happy to write a few lines about one or other of the said subjects. I’ll need to be in the right frame of mind!

We’ll be in touch.

Maybe I’m too late but one or two memories linger which you may wish to dress for use in your book on WD. I was there from 1953 to 1958.

Boney – I think that’s how he spells his name – played the piano for us on the last day of term before we were herded down to the station. A jovial and talented fellow – since become a barrister I believe – who strummed out ... He’ll tak’ the high road and I’ll tak’ the low road ... She’ll be eating bad bananas when she comes ... D’ye ken John Peel with his coat so grey ... Speed bonnie boat like a bird on the wing ... Predominantly Scottish. Perhaps the influence of Blair Atholl was still strong.

A sad time I remember of course vividly was the death of a boy on the 2nd game cricket field (the one nearest to the Romsey Road) from a cricket ball on the temple. I believe it happened in my first year as I was playing at the time on the fourth square. I don’t remember his name but the “incident” has remained imprinted on my mind. [Pip Hordern]

Nick Hodson (was I there with a younger brother or a cousin?) reminds us of Horris Hill. I remember a football match, I was 13 and appointed linesman. It was a sop because I had just come off the operating table with strict instructions not to play. One of our team came off during the game complaining of two broken legs or arms or something (no gentlemen the H. Hillians) and I couldn’t, or was forbidden to replace him. So thanks to some absentee doctor we lost, rather than, of course, recording a rare victory.

There were the Sunday afternoons with Reg and DHG, trying to light a fire with half a matchstick, across the road in the wood – and no paper. (A piece of expanded polystyrene is perfect for starting a fire in damp conditions, as was often the case, but of course the era of mass plastics was only on the horizon; so it was dead nettles and a piece of exercise book smuggled down in one’s pocket).

There was the carpentry master – bless him, I believe he contracted TB and didn’t recover; the pre-fab was sealed with sticky tape when he left – who, just when the ply-wood tray was about to have its last nail hammered home, instructed with an air of gay abandon ‘Take-it-to-bits-and-do-it-again.’

And there was RSM who taught me and many others to box when initially I was petrified by the whole idea. He handed out doses of discipline and encouragement in equal and effective measure.

I won’t talk of DHG, an influence for me hard to beat, as I am sure his career will have been fully documented by others better qualified than me. Remember the used matches dropped into his trouser turn-ups, and his impeccable handwriting on the blackboard? And the grin when he knew his next ball would be round your legs with the centre stump as victim.

Miss Richardson, somehow always around. And the salt in her porridge. And the powdered eggs for scrambled eggs. And butter for Friday supper. And cribbing the verses from the bible held by the fellow on the seat in front, in chapel on Monday mornings. And so,

Yours most sincerely, and wishing you well.

PS. I see you hail from the northern slopes of the Cherwell Valley. Near neighbours.

Robin Cleminson