Nicholas told me that you’re concerned about not hearing from me in relation to my piece on West Downs. I hand wrote it during my holiday at the beginning of April; it’s quite long, and typing has had to take priority but behind other things during a very busy period. It is now half complete, but I have attempted to deal with the most important issue which is the transition between Tindall and Cornes.
It should be with you next week.
Looking forward to seeing you before too long.
Yours sincerely, Daniel Hodson
I never knew a time when I wasn’t going to go to West Downs – both my elder brothers had been there, and much of the lore I already knew. KT seemed like a distant, austere man, quite frightening to a small boy, and I had little to do with him, except in Chapel. There the most terrifying ordeal was “Scripture Verses”, 4 NT verses which had to be learned by heart over Sunday, and then a few people tested in Chapel on Monday by KT himself. Woe betide he who failed to satisfy KT.
Also in Chapel on Fridays, came the ritual reading of the “Unholy Gospel”, KT’s masterpiece of “faction” to use the modern expression. I wonder what happened to the original? It was quite compelling, and much more interesting than the real thing (at least at that age).
He “slippered” me on one occasion, although I can’t remember why. It was after lights out, and I was “sent down”. Punishment was immediate, but hurt quite a lot.
He was nicknamed “Guzzer”, rumour having it that this was a corruption of “Geyser” because of the spittle which flew in all directions when he spoke.
Jerry was a totally different kettle of fish. We felt somehow that, when he arrived, we were very modern and up-to-date. Perhaps it was the simultaneous construction of the new cricket pavilion, a marvel after the drab old thing of previous years. Perhaps it was the end of the magic lantern slide shows, and the introduction of movies (still a fantastic treat in those pre-universal TV’ days) on occasional Saturday nights.
He had an amazing car – immediately nicknamed the “cornucopia” by my father – which was a very old, and huge station wagon, which ferried us around. This was a new, and human departure. Also Ray was very motherly to us all, although quite frightening.
Jerry himself was a great mixture. He usually got up in a great wrath, and top table breakfast was quite an ordeal. He’d be late, his hair slicked down after the shower, not at all communicative. We assumed this was the liberal application of gin the previous evening. His rages would come and go during the day, although he could be sweetness and light. He once sent me out of the dining room for giggling as he rose to make an announcement. I remember thinking how unreasonable that was. (Announcements concerning scholarships, sports colours half holidays, and outings were always made at meals).
One celebrated explosion occurred during rehearsals for a school concert when he so taunted Miss Primrose Cobb, the piano and singing teacher, that she burst into tears in front of us all, and was shortly thereafter never seen again. Miss Cobb had a voluptuous figure, fascinating to sub-teenagers, and we all imagined she was having an affair with a lavishly moustachioed horn player called Morris, who came and gave concerts to us. Unaccountably, he was called “Lord Porridge’.
Outings were a major part of the Cornes regime. If you were a scholarship candidate, you’d go on weekday visits to Winchester Cathedral and St. Cross. I remember being struck by the fact that Jerry carried no money when we went on a one-to-one trip to the Cathedral to look at tombs and architecture.
My brother Nick later explained that “gentlemen don’t carry money”, a tenet that I have failed comprehensively to grasp. Sometimes the whole school went, often to celebrate a scholarship. We went to Hayling Island for mine, and it rained steadily throughout.
As a teacher, Jerry was not the best (see below) but good, although pedantic. He taught history, and always drew on the blackboard in capital letters.
I think that, certainly at the beginning of his tenure, the boys were quite frightened of him, although from all accounts he softened later. But it was a caring school, much more than in KT’s day, so much so that the constant round of temperature taking (morning and night), and attention to bowel movements (SP and syrup of figs) earned the epithet Wet Downs from rival prep schools.
Although I knew that I irritated him at times, he was still very kind to me, and very concerned at my academic progress. Undoubtedly the school improved academically under him, 3 – 4 scholarships a year becoming a norm, from one or so in KT’s day.
Was it happier, and better for it? Yes, it was. For instance, one of JFC’s introductions was the Ledgard Society, in piam memoriam Leggy, which met on Sundays before evening Chapel. Senior boys made lectures, with or without slides, to their contemporaries, on extra curricular subjects. I did Benjamin Franklin, and also read a presentation made up by brother Nick. Of course my contemporaries had all been “put down” under KT, so that the LH/KT “sort” of boy still went there – predominantly bound for Eton and Winchester. It changed later, and others can perhaps tell of that better than I.
I’m not sure that we were in reality state of the art, however it might have seemed, for JFC changed very few of the KT traditions and notions at least not immediately. Chapel Services were the same, classes the same, the curriculum the same. But there were subtle differences; TV was allowed on a very limited basis at certain times. Rugby and athletics matches were introduced (the athletics matches were against co-ed Bedales, and lanky young ladies humiliated us chaps in several events).
He lost a few staff; P.Cobb, as detailed above, dear Arthur Turner, beloved although bad-tempered (I can still hear the two pianos in Shakespeare resounding to his improvisation with Peter John Ingrams (Richard’s elder brother) on a summer Saturday evening after lights out), and others less remarkable.
(Incidentally my father can probably help you with the financial details of the management. He was involved in a parents advisory committee for some time).
Ledgard, a legend in his lifetime, and a stickler for accuracy on the accursed money books. How inky mine got, and how miserable he made me. Incidentally Jerry introduced cheque books which were much more modern. Leggy was only around for about a year with me.
DHG: the incomparable, always able to get even the slowest witted through Common Entrance, and much beloved. Always fair, very even tempered and painstaking. Each member of his class had a special notebook, full of useful hints and tips and “Useless phrases”, and usually painstakingly bound in sellotape, with the same motto on each: Dum spiro, spero. He was marvellous in break in the winter in puntabout and in the rugby season could convert the odd American footballs left behind by the Canadians with his polished and pointed brogue shoes. In the summer, he took a senior net at break, and taught us beautiful forward defensives, cover drives, square cuts, and how to deal with loose balls on the leg side. Truly, he taught me all the batting I know.
Melly: Mr. Tremellen, or “Peg-leg’. How he lost said leg (on the assumption he had lost it at all) is a mystery, and a source of all sorts of fanciful rumours. It was generally supposed that he was a WW One air ace, and it had somehow happened in a Sopwith Camel, probably in company with Biggles. He had a very powerful motorbike, which very occasionally he would drive round the field at top speed, taking the bank at a run, and never falling off – at least not in my time, but rumour had it that it had happened. He was a brilliant teacher, probably the most brilliant I’ve ever been taught by. Others would, I believe, share this view, and any serious French I know is his doing. He devised and made special visual aids, using magnetised letters and words and at least two of the chants he used still come back to me “AOUT” (where the hat goes on the French for August), and “some, any, of it, of them” (the meaning of the french word “en”). He also had his own books of useless phrases, many of which were lovingly lifted from decades of CE papers. He retired during my time.
HF Rawson: the archetypal martinet, an excellent maths teacher, and one of the schools original pupils under LH. His wife taught LSII, a quiet gentle lady, who made a happy introduction to prep school life for so many small boys. He was a hard man, who gave all rounders at the drop of the hat, and the school was a subdued place when he was on duty.
Instructor – Harry Risbridger: another legend. Boasted that he had been called “Butler” after the Boer war general, when he was a boy, because he was such a strong, bulldog-type chap, which he was. Always jogged everywhere in his track suit, and was an excellent gym teacher. The swimming pool was, however, his speciality. Every boy, he boasted, could swim by the end of his first year, and as we learned, we progressed up his wall chart on the side of the pool. One level was a “crab” but I forget the rest. During JFC’s early years, indoor shooting with air guns came to the school, and he also taught basketwork and painting plaster casts. Also full of tales about his own adventures. One of his great dicta was that if any boy had a score with another, he’d give them boxing gloves to deal with it. Nobody took him up, but the ferocity of some of the boxing matches he organised probably told a tale.
CP Broom: P Cobb’s successor at the piano and a great innovator. His “Duke of Plazatoro” in the Winchester Opera Society production of Gondoliers was the springiest and most nimble footed I’ve ever seen, and this characterised his approach to teaching. Composed an operetta for the school, and even a concert piece for all school instrumentalists (including a mouth organ), which replaced the more traditional Haydn Symphony at the School Concert.
Always a very competent, kindly figure. Liked and respected, but shy, as it later turned out.
Miss Jewson was the matron in my day, formidable and not well-liked – always on the look out for talking after lights out. Called “It”, as in “look out, It’s coming”. She had a number of assistants, including the well-loved “Payno”, Miss Payne, to whom a plaque is dedicated in Chapel. She was kindly, and motherly, which made “It” stand out in even greater contrast. “It” was helped by a number of under matrons who seemed quite pretty, including a Miss Jones, and Heather Bulick, only recently out of St. Swithun’s, who had the awful task of checking our “numbers” with a stick, during SP.
A nervous man. Very cynical, with a drawly voice and known as “Sarcastic Jacques”. Taught geography, not very well, and wore an amazing, tropical suit, the trousers of which were up to his armpits – a relic, I think, of India, where the notion was that keeping the stomach warm held off upsets.
You’ve probably seen her. Another well loved figure. Best known for dishing out malt to those whose parents thought that it boosted their boy’s health, and for going around in the evenings administering syrup of figs to those boys who hadn’t “taken a number” that day.
I don’t suppose much changed here from your day. Horris Hill were the old enemy, and were very occasionally vanquished. I was in a cricket team which beat them away and it was a memorable occasion. We didn’t make many runs, but then skittled them out. Jerry, who was umpiring, got so excited that on one occasion he forgot the umpire’s signal for “out”, and shouted “out” at the top of his voice, which dislodged his false teeth, to the amusement of all. The Horris Hill captain cried afterwards, I remember – as low a moment for him, as it was a high for us.
We also introduced hockey and rugby matches in ’55, in the Lent term. Marsh Court were the great rugby rivals, and I think we beat them once but we were more enthusiastic than skilful. Hockey, played with pre Great War sticks, I rather think, was never a long suit, and we were usually comprehensively beaten by Westbury House, our main rivals.
Chivvy was a great favourite on wet snowy days, and on really impossible days, DHG organised games in Shakespeare for the whole school, with great effect and enjoyment.
The shooting shield was competed for, under Harry Risbridger, and, as I mention somewhere else, the pool was used for our rifle shooting in the winter. We even competed in school air rifle competitions to no great effect.
Here again not much probably changed. The patrols were Buffaloes, Curlews, Stags, Hounds and Owls, and patrol leaders were elected. Much energy was devoted to badges, and the School term was ended with “Pow Wow” which reviewed the term, and at which prizes were handed out. Melbury was very much in use, and we used to do Scouting activities there on Sunday afternoons: two matches only, and no paper allowed for the fire. Jerry’s only major change was the introduction of brown boiler suits for recruits, which was probably sensible in the circumstances.
The Baker Wilbraham Competition for local Scout troops was held in the Summer, and we started to compete in Jerry’s day. The 6th Winchester was split into two teams, and we never quite won, usually with a team coming second or third.
Much of what follows probably didn’t change for generations: daily parades, the London Mush, taking temperatures [abolished by JFC soon after he arrived at West Downs – editor], all rounder and nuisance points, no running in the passages, being “sent down”, slippering, late marks.
In my day, a key activity was “escaping”, meaning getting out of the school especially at night, and escape committees, based on The Wooden Horse, The Colditz Story and other then topical war books, were formed. Usually this resulted only in people “going round the field” at night, for a dare – one Rupert Stobart was always doing this, and always getting caught and being beaten as a result – but on one celebrated occasion, the Stevenson brothers, Willy and Hugh, decided enough was enough, and set off down the hill to the station. There they calmly bought tickets for London and were finally intercepted boarding the train by Reg, of all people, who happened to espy them across the platform. Ask him for the definitive version.
Stories after lights out were another recreation. These, as told by experts, kept us awake for hours, punctuated by the occasional “cave”. The Scottish boys were best, particularly Harvie-Watt minor, and Monro minor. The former had two characters, “Harry and Smelly” whose adventures kept us going night after night. I rather think that David Howard, whose nickname for some reason, was “Karachi” was good, too.
Model aeroplanes were the main craze. They were powered by motor or elastic, and vast sums of parental money were poured into them, with very varying results. But Jeremy Delmar Morgan and the aforesaid Monro minor were the two stars, producing wonderful machines, which flew, and replicas of Spitfires and Hurricanes which were exactly like the real things.
In my time, Harry Risbridger, “Instructor” introduced other therapies: basket weaving, which soon caught on, resulting in an epidemic of wastepaper baskets, and plasterwork, which consisted of plaster of Paris casts, which were then, usually hideously, daubed.
There was also woodwork, first of all by a man called Adams who succumbed to TB, and then by a Channel Islander called Le Sueur, who was much better. Adams didn’t get us much farther than pointers, and very crude toastracks.
Another activity were French walks with the lovely Mlle V. Carrere, who looks today just as she did thirty five years ago. We had to converse only in French, and it was a great strain for young Anglo-Saxons. We must have looked very odd to outsiders, wandering about Winchester, jabbering in Franglais, at each other. Finally, I have strong memories of those hours spent in the library under The Gallery in Shakespeare, principally after tea and before Sunday evening chapel, poring over very ancient encyclopaedias, and pre-war adventure stories. There was a full collection of Rider Haggard, and Henty, of which I read quite a lot, and Walter Scott, which was quite indigestible. There were some wonderful books. There was also a rather fleabitten collection of butterflies which had been extensively ransacked, and in which nobody was particularly interested.
I saw two KT Shakespeare plays in Melbury, but JFC discontinued these. Plays were more ephemeral later: two abridged plays were produced in Shakespeare (the room), which the Cornes’ had had fitted for lighting, and with staging at the gallery end. These were Macbeth (produced by AT Turner), and Henry V (produced by John Chesney), in which respectively I played Banquo and Prince Hal himself. The old tradition was lost, however, and I think that those plays were in the winter term.
Again very strong memories of this, and particularly of KT there. He had a terrifying black swagger stick about an inch thick with which he would conduct choir practices, and threaten those who were failing in their Scripture Verse requirements. The services themselves I am sure you will remember. It would be worth repeating The Founder’s prayer in total, for it is a moving testament of one man’s faith and perception of human values. Incidentally, as you probably know, I have the “Well Done, WD” memento, clearly written on the back of a cheque. At what point in his decline did LH write that, I wonder?
The Carol Services, which were painstakingly rehearsed by KT were particularly memorable, as was ATT’s amazing organ playing. I also remember the Communion Services, with KT’s friend Canon Hood, who couldn’t pronounce his “r"s, in charge – he made them very reverential.
What a lovely special place it was, responsible for the strong Christian faith of many OWDs, I am sure. Did you inspect the plaques? There was a particularly poignant one erected in my time to Pip Hordern. He died as a result of a blow from a cricket ball on the field at WD, and had been a great sporting hopeful. It cast a pall over KT’s last summer, and was a great shock. I had slept in the next bed to him.