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

Extracts from Edward Ford’s letter, West Downs, 1920-24

Feb 6, 1920, aged 9

Last night there were two Masters’ plays; one was called “Waterloo” and the other “Ici on parle français.” “Waterloo” was serious, but “Ici on parle français was very funny and I roared unceasingly with laughter.

Feb 14

When Mr. Kirby was ill, Mr. Brymer took IIa, but now Mr. Kirby is back. Yesterday Mr. Benson gave us a lecture on America (North and South). He had some very nice slides. He had one of a huge tree and this tree stood in the middle of a road, so they cut a hole in it and in the slide you could see some horses and carts going through it.

Feb 22

Through Lent, if you get 80% on any written work you get threepence. I have got one threepenny bit so far.

Feb 29

Yesterday we had a lecture on “Flying Reptiles” by a man called Mr. Hooly. On the 13th Mr. Ranger is giving a lecture on “Kashmir.” I have got four 80%s so far.

Mar 21

Yesterday Horder’s pater came down and gave a lovely lecture on a trip with Mr. Helbert to Constantinople and then into the Black Sea. Sir Thomas talked to us a lot about Captain Henley, the Captain of “The Emperor of India” (that was the ship which Sir Thomas Horder and Mr. Helbert were in). On Wednesday General Dawnay gave a lecture about his experiences in Palestine. That lecture was extremely good.

May 16, 1920

Horder and I have got a garden and we have got such nice plans about it. Last night we dug it all up and got all the bad away from the good, taking away all the bad and it filled a wheel barrow, and then we raked it over till it looked as beautiful as ever. We have got a splendid idea about the seeds. These are the seeds that we are going to use — Snapdragon, Hugh Dickson and Rock Rose.

June 6

The garden is getting on well and the plants are looking quite splendid.

Mrs. Wentworth (the mater of the boy here) has very kindly taken the text on which Mr. Kaye (the pater of both the boys here) preached a sermon in Chapel and she has had it illuminated and printed for us to keep in our bibles, as the text was what Mr. Helbert’s everyday life was.

[Note: The text was as under

“I expect to pass through this world but once. Any good therefore that I can do or any kindness that I can show to any fellow creature, let me do it now. Let me not defer or neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again.”

I kept it for many years in my Bible, and it is now on my desk — E.F.]

June 12

Today is Mr. Helbert’s birthday, — at least his birthday is on the 13th (Sunday), but we keep it today.

June 13

Today is Mr. Helbert’s birthday. We had a sing-song and in it Mr. Benson told a ghost story.

June 20

Lady Goodrich was so nice. Norman’s pater is still here.

June 27.

In Chapel last Sunday Mr. Brymer read us the story of the Giant and the Children. It is out of a white book. We have got it at home.

On St. John the Baptist’s day Mr. Brymer read us the story of St. John out of “God’s Lantern Bearers.”

In Chapel this morning Mr. Phipps talked to us. He said the Swedes were very much attracted by the ways and manners of the English people. He also said that, as we grow older and go to public school we will find that the speaking or manner is rash, but we must keep our heads about it and not worry too much about it or not to worry at all about it but just to keep our heads. We will probably find that the things we have got to be careful about are these: “Honour, Cleanness and Kindness.” He said he had been helping two Swedish men to find out decent public schools and to find out the way they teach and the way they make Englishmen out of manners. I will not say more about it.

July 18

I looked at the gardens yesterday and I saw a lovely larkspur growing up ever so tall. It will soon be as big as Horder.

July 25

The other day Form IIa (his form) gave some flowers for Mr. Kirby’s funeral out of their own gardens.

Sep 26

We had our harvest festival service today. Mr. Tindall gave us a 5-minute talk in chapel abut the harvest. He said the two greatest things were generosity and thanksgiving.

Oct 10

Mr. Tindall is reading Prester John.

Nov 21

Mr. Tindall is away. He has gone to see his boy: so Mr. Brymer is carrying on as Head of the school: he read us the story of St. Martin.

Nov 14

Yesterday a man called Mr. Stuart Wilson came down to sing to us; he is a very well-known tenor; he sang most beautifully. He began by singing Elizabethan songs, then modern songs, then carols, then folk songs. I liked the second carol best, so did most people. It was a Dutch Easter Carol; it was geniously clapped by the audience, in fact so geniusly that he sung 3/4 of it again.

Nov 28

Last night Mr. Brymer gave a lecture on pictures of West Downs.

Dec 5th

Today in Chapel Mr. Tindall read a story about our Irish self sacrifice. Last night Mr. Wyatt played to us on the piano; he played a duet with Mr. Rawson, who has not played for the last 6 years

1921 Jan 29

I am enjoying work with Mr. Tindall very much. We don’t have easy work, but it is very nice and Mr. Tindall is very nice as a teacher.

Feb 27

Colonel Allhusen, a pater, took us out yesterday; talking about us, I mean myself, Horder and a few other boys. We had an awfully good tea. He tip me 1/-.

In the evening a very funny conjuror called Mr. Douglas Beaufort gave us an entertainment, it was awfully nice. He did a ventriloquism.

Mar 13

Mrs. Tindall told us three little stories on the three kinds of love, illustrating the three kinds of Love that one could do.

Mar 20

On last Wednesday, Thursday, Friday Mr. Tindall gave lantern services and he is going to give us another one tonight.

Apr 3

Today Rawstorne’s pater (Rawstorne is head of the school) a bishop preached to us.

2 Jul 1921 (aet 10)

In the Shakespeare play (The Merchant of Venice) I was made up like Sir Francis Drake: I had a goldy coloured wig and the same coloured moustache and a very small pointed beard of the same colour. Then I had a black velvet hat with a smart band, some light blue skin tights, a very smart dress, mostly blue but with some other colours put in, to make it smart; then I had a cloak of the same colour, a red sword-belt, and some red shoes with three blue diamonds put on to make it look swanky. My face was painted a little and my eyebrows were darkened. The play came off awfully well.

{Note — EF only had a small part, Salarino}

11 Oct 1921

I must just explain to you about our waif. We have been keeping a waif here. He used to be a very nice boy but he has now become fourteen, we are keeping another. He only gets our own money, which is collected and sent off. No one, not even Mr. Tindall or any masters give anything. Well we have to keep him up and the collection is today. We also keep 5 Austrian children and every boy pays 2d. a week.

Mr. Laming, the new master, is very musical, and is excessively clean. He will play to us sometimes on the piano and is very nice to talk to. He is rather shy and wears glasses. He was top of Cambridge in Classics, I think. Anyhow he was top in Latin. He lives at Eastbourne.

20 Nov 1921

On Thursday morning there was the Peacock cup, which was judged by one of the most famous tenors in England, Mr. Stuart Wilson, who gave some very nice criticisms at the end. Hughie (Vivian) Smith and Nowell-Smith won the cup with 90 points out of 100. I, with Cleaver, got 58. His criticism of us was “Bad start. Diction fair; words clipped. Pianist made a few mistakes” ... In the evening, Mr. Wilson gave a most charming concert ... I liked best of all a most beautiful Amsterdam Easter carol, a lovely thing. That night he was certainly the cynosure of all beholders.

29 Jan 1922

Mr. Tindall’s lantern is said to be one of the best in England. It has three light things, so he can make visions appear and all that. In the Christmas Carol it was perfectly wonderful, because when old Scrooge came to the door, they made the locker turn into Marley’s face and Scrooge to put up his hands and stagger back.

Feb 4

Yesterday there was a very good lecture by Messrs Tindall and Benson on “Twenty Thousand Leagues Under The Sea.”

Mar 12

Yesterday there was a very interesting lecture on “Pilgrim’s Progress” with awfully good slides.

June 11

Splendid success! Joe (Stephenson) has got 7th Scholarship at Winchester. 13 scholarships were given. He did very well, for it was only a first shot at it, and he was not expected to get [it.]

June 18 (LH’s Birthday)

Mr. and Mrs. Tindall took us for a picnic in the New Forest.

July 2

On Thursday we (ie the Senior Division) went to the Greek Play (Antigone) at Bradfield.

July 23

The Dean of Bristol preached a very interesting sermon. He is a very pleasant man and makes friends with you very quickly. His sermon was how the the boys of today were going to develop into the men of the future generation; and that as the present state of crisis, revolution, war and trouble in this world now is due to the insufficiency or carelessness of the present, a new generation is wanted to spring up and put affairs right. He then told us that we are that generation of boy needed, and quoted and explained the 6th chapter of Judges, showing that we ought to be like Gideon and to do the things that he did and to leave what we cannot do to God.

Oct 1st

Yesterday there was a Sing Song in which I sang “Green Grow The Rushes-Ho” with a boy named Phipps. It was quite a success.

Oct 8

Lady Goodrich, Mr. Helbert’s sister, is here.

Nov 5

Today I went out with Lady Phipps. She is awfully nice, and By Jove we did have good food. The Phipps’s are both very nice.

Nov 19

Yesterday there was a concert here which was very nice. It consisted entirely of the works of Beethoven.

Dec 12th

The French Play is being rehearsed, and is going to be a great success, I think. I am the Maitre de Philosophie, and have a very interesting part. The play is the Bourgeois Gentilhomme and is

4 Feb

Yesterday Mr. Tindall gave an awfully good lecture on the Pilgrim’s Progress. All the slides were first rate and the lecture was in Bunyan’s own words.

Mr. Tindall is reading an awfully good Tolstoy story in Chapel about two peasants, Yefim and Yelisai, and after Chapel he is reading out loud “The Man with the Club Foot.”

18 Feb

The first ten people of the XV went on Thursday to Portsmouth to see a first class Rugger Match. I was luckily one of the ten. The match was a jolly exciting one. It was Leicester against the United Services. We had very good food, but unfortunately Phipps and I were bilious coming back.

Mr. Tindall has finished the story of the two pilgrims by Tolstoy in Chapel. We are having a collection for the Waif today.

4 March

Yesterday Mr. Heriz-Smith, The Rector of Holy Trinity Winchester gave a most lovely lantern lecture on the Passion Play at Oberamergau. The slides made me yearn to see the play, which I hope to do some day when I am old.

28 March

There is great despondency in general at Mr. Brymer’s departure.

24 June

This morning the Rev E.H. Sinclair preached an awfully good sermon about Honesty, Bravery, Purity being the stumps, ourselves the batsmen, and Temptation the bowler.

22 July

Mr. Tindall gave a very nice address in Chapel this morning about the feeding of the Five thousand — how that we can all offer our little bit, and it can be turned into so much.

Oct 14th

Mr. Tindall has just got very angry with me for disobeying a rule, ie. I went out on a walk with Horder and Phipps (two OWDs who had just gone to Winchester). He was furious.

Oct 21st

Today being Trafalgar Day, we had the account of Nelson’s death read to us in Chapel, and saluted the Colours afterwards in Shakespeare.

Oct 28th

Yesterday there was a lantern lecture on Charles Dickens and his works, which was very good.

Dec 2nd

Do you know the story of Parsifal? For Mr. Tindall read it to us in Chapel: and today, when as he always does on Advent Sunday, he spoke to us in Chapel absolutely by ourselves (the boys and him) for nearly an hour. He compared West Downs to the Temple of The Grail, Mr. Helbert being Titurel and the boys the knights. He told us the past history of the school and what he thought the school to be at present., of its failings and triumphs, and told us to aim at Honesty Bravery, Purity, Kindness, courtesy, obedience and unselfishness, and that we were failing especially in obedience and honesty.

Nov 18th

Yesterday Mr. Tindall took me and various other boys down to the Guildhall to a most wonderful string quartet called the Lener Quartet, from Budapest. The players were really marvellous and they played pieces from Borodin, Ravel and Haydn , of which I thought Haydn by far the nicest.

Nov 25th

Yesterday Cleaver’s patrol acted “Macbeth” and they did it very well ... We have the French Play, which is one of Molière’s. “Les Fauberus de Scapin.” Cleaver is Scapin and I am Gironte, who is tricked.


3 Feb

Last night a man called Mr. Onslow lectured on “Some Sea Birds.” It was a very good lecture, very interesting and he was very witty.

17 Feb

Last night there was a lecture on “Fixing the Yukon Boundary” given by a certain Mr. Mansfield. It was very interesting, and was about that northern part of America up by Alaska. He told us a lot of stories about bears.

25 Feb

Last night, Mr. Tindall gave a comic lecture with funny stories, etc. It was very amusing and I liked it frightfully.

18 May

Yesterday Mr. and Mrs. Tindall with Mr. Stanton kindly took 8 of us don to Southampton to see a County Cricket Match, Hampshire v. Somerset. It was an awfully good match.

15 June

The first thing I heard about the Scholarship was from a telegram from Harold Friese ... This morning I have had one from Lady Goodrich, Mr. Helbert’s sister, who takes an enormous interest in the school. It was so nice ... Holland Martin did very well and he was eventually 23rd. Quite good! It has been a great success for Mr. Tindall and the West Downs Teaching.

{E.F. had got 2nd Scholarship at Eton]

Note. I fear neither Christopher’s nor my juvenile descriptive powers go much further than describing any lecture, play, talk, sermon, recital etc as “awfully nice” or “very good.” The meaning in each instance is clearly “highly enjoyable” and is equivalent to present day teenagers’ use of the word “brilliant” or, more commonly, “brill.”

Edward Ford