Old West Downs Society – Memories of the Helbert/Brymer Era, 1897-1922

From Charles W. Crawley, 1909-1912

Written by his son on C.W.C.’s behalf

My father, who is now 90, lost his reading and writing sight a few years ago, and I am writing on his behalf, having discussed Mr Hodson’s letter with him. (He is now living with me and my family, having left Cambridge last year after some 65 years as a fellow of Trinity Hall, and University lecturer in History).

He was born in 1899, and was at West Downs from Sept. 1909 to April 1912 (having been privately educated in the country up to the age of 10). He tells me that the headmaster then (relatively early days for the school) was Lionel Helbert, whom he remembers as a headmaster well liked and respected by the boys, who had been a prominent actor at Oxford, and had moved to schoolmastering after 2 or 3 years as a House of Commons clerk: he ran the school well, with financial help from a friend. The second master was Mr Kirby: other names of staff recollected are Mr Rose (who taught French); Mr Hayward, who trained what he called his “horny handed” league in the art of catching cricket balls off a slatted cricket stand; Mr Leach (Latin with Greek coaching for a select few); a friendly Irish matron (name forgotten); and a Mr Ledgard. In 1912 my father and another boy both got scholarships to Winchester: my father thinks there was not at that stage any established WD/Winchester link, and that he and the other were the first to go to Winchester with scholarships (? or perhaps without). My father attributes his success in part to Mr Leach’s ‘second sight’ in having taken him a few weeks earlier through the very passage that was set as a Greek unseen in the exam.

His most vivid personal recollection is being sent to WD in his first term by train with a playbox which his 2 aunts (who brought him up in Monmouthshire after he was orphaned in his first year) filled with sports clothes wrapped round a large jar of malt (medicinal). During the journey the lid of the malt came off, and the matron was faced with the task of unpacking and clearing up a box full of clothes soused in sticky malt. A good start!

His memories of his 2½ years at WD seem to be happy ones, apart from a slightly bumpy start when he says that, having despite his years been started at the bottom of the school, he attracted some ‘envy’ when he was promoted up some classes within his first 3 weeks.

The house and grounds stood above the City Prison on the hill. My father feels there ought to have been occasions when he saw the black flag flying: but cannot recall this at WD, though a few years later, after reading the last chapter of Tess of the D’Urbervilles at Winchester, he walked up the hill to see the flag flying above the prison where the President of the Immortals finished his sport with Tess.

I hope some of this from one of the older ‘old boys’ may be of some interest. There could be one or two WD school photos among a large pile of papers moved from Cambridge (and a house where my father had lived for 58 years) last year. I cannot instantly put my hands on them, but in sorting I will look out for them. You may of course in any event be well stocked with standard school photos, even from this period.

John Crawley