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

From Mervyn Horder, 1919-23

Boys: I chiefly remember Peter Scott, always in nothing but white Aertex shirt (half sleeves) and grey flannel shorts – a pullover was allowed when he went out in a car. Frogs and a slow-worm in his pockets which he showed you not in any boastful spirit but just as if he happened to be carrying them from place to place. We found it hard to believe he had stood naked in front of his mother to model for the “Here am I” statue, but were too shy to ask him direct.

Staff: No one could forget Benny Benson who taught geography and took the scouts, and was subject to ungovernable rages in class – which we all thought quite natural, the way schoolmasters did behave – until (I think) D. Allhusen almost had his head shaken right off and wrote home to complain so that his mother interested herself in the matter. I was sorry for Benson — apart from his rages I thought he was an excellent teacher and I like geography — and wrote to him after he left to “say goodbye.” He wrote back a long and dignified letter in his exquisite handwriting from Lymington where he continued as local scout master, saying how much he would miss us all.

N.A. Perry-Gore, black-haired, who taught classics I knew again at the end of his life when he was vicar of St Johns Wood where I sing in the choir. Everyone thought him a saintly man doing a lot of good by stealth.

His predecessor, F. Laming, I hero-worshipped a bit as he was a wonderful (but entirely modest) pianist, who did the music for Dancing Class in Shakespeare and could be persuaded to go on playing in the intervals – mainly Percy Grainger, Shepherds Hey and Country Gardens, for which I have never since lost my taste. He played the most difficult versions available without trouble – I wish I could. He came to lunch at home in London during the holidays once, but I have no idea what became of him.

Music staff was mainly Miss Garland and Miss Playsted – the latter my teacher, though the former once examined me for my Musician’s scout badge (“Golden Slumbers kiss thine Eyes” was the sight-reading piece). Miss Playsted — sole support of a widowed mother in Stanmore — never spared herself on our behalf she never used any printed course of tutorship, always wrote out ta-fa-tefe-tefe endlessly in pencil in a penny notebook for each one of her pupils. How any musician can bear to listen day after day to children playing their first exercises beats me but I know how much I owe to her patience with me. She later got bad arthritis in both hands and became more or less bed-ridden, living in the house of a postman in Hayling Island where I went several times to see her.

I remember well “Mr. Smith” – which is what he was always called, though he was said to be a Czech refugee after World War One – who was Steward in Hall, in charge of all the girl staff and the dishing up of every meal. He was always there, never took a holiday, his “time and motion study” must have been a miracle. A round black-hair-fringed face and always a black suit, kindly and gentle, and a miracle of devotion to the school.

K.T. had occasion to slipper me three times – always with my own slipper in dormitory which I thought unjustifiable. Once for taking time off to sit watching a quartet of the staff playing exceedingly good tennis; once because I was seen begging a sugar-cake form the cook through the kitchen window; and once after I had put a pair of nail scissors into the electric plug behind my bed in a spirit of scientific curiosity — of course the lights all fused at once.

I remember a phrase from his farewell talk to me, that if ever I wanted to talk over anything with him in after life, I should not hesitate to ask — “It is your right and my privilege.”

I took rather dim parts in Shakespeare plays in Melbury: Corin in “As You Like It” and Peter Quince in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” but was both times astonished to see from the stage the rather remote and unapproachable K.T. actually laughing at my performance. I thought much better of him after that.

I remember the Brymer interregnum principally for a remark of his while taking a party of us up to London by train for some reason. Having advised us always to travel with a stick when alone, he asked us whereabouts we would hit anyone who tried to molest us. We had no idea. “Across the face, boy, across the face.” I have not so far had occasion to do this.

Mervyn Horder