Old West Downs Society – Memories of the Tindall Era, 1922-1954

From David McClintock, 1922-26

What happens to Chapel and its fitments, including the organ, which I played for a year, or to the boards with all our names on in our years, or the various cups, or the pavilion, or indeed Shakespeare itself, and the swimming bath? After all, it was built as a school, and so it should have remained.

I hope that you may manage to go through Who’s Who (!) where are to be found a goodly lot of old boys. Among my contemporaries (1922-6) those I specially remember were Peter Scott, Christopher and Edward Ford, Arthur Hazlerigg, John Amery and (just) Michael Carver.

Peter’s main hobby by then was lepidoptera. KBT let him have a greenhouse to raise his caterpillars. He was four years ahead of me, but I made my mark by showing him a poplar hawk moth caterpillar on the trees by the pavilion, which was news to him. We kept up thereafter, he once introducing me as the naturalist he had known longer than any other. I got him to give a lecture when our sons were there. His mother had, of course, sculpted “Here am I, Send Me” for the War Memorial. What is happening to that? The fame of his father was very much alive then, and he was, I think, educated at the nation’s expense. But his mother insisted that he always wore shorts, which was a misery to him at Oundle.

The Ford twins and their parents, one had various connection with. In my first water sports Christopher swam breast stroke, and always came in third. Edward was my patrol leader in the Lions, and I have kept up with him since, rather remotely now. I particularly recollect his swinging above the bath, unwilling to immerse himself in the cold baths we all had to have when we got up.

I had several cousins at WD. Nigel Buxton captained the cricket XI, and Arthur Hazlerigg was second – Nigel bowled fast left arm, and Arthur, with very much his own action, slower right arm. But Arthur went on to captain Eton, Cambridge, and, like his father, Leicestershire, while Nigel never made it at all.

John Amery was THE extrovert showman, smoking on the platform at Waterloo until the last minute, and ostentatiously throwing away his stub. But for all his eccentricity one had a certain regard for him, and, above all, at his end. When his father, LCMS, came down to visit it was the first time I knew that cabinet ministers had detectives following them – he was, I think, Colonial Secretary then.

There were other sons of famous fathers, eg Cyril Costley-White, Alfred Baker, RP Blow. I think now of other contemporaries – Terence O’Neill, whom I still see, Ronald Harris and his cousin Bill, Tom Dorrien-Smith and Jock Colville, with all of whom I kept in touch. Jock and I were deputed to play in the Peacock Cup, he on the cello and I on the piano, and a more horrible sound you never heard.

How I came to play the organ is a story. I am no musician and had persuaded my parents to let me give up the piano (my instructress was a Miss Playsted, proud of having been taught by a pupil of Schumann). On returning for my last year, there on the notice board was the usual roster of Chapel officials, including DMcC as organist. I rushed off to KBT saying I was giving up music. His reply was that he thought it a pity and had arranged for Mr Broadhurst to teach me the organ: go up at once and meet him there, and practice a hymn for tonight’s service. “Thy Kingdom Come” (dead easy) was duly played, after which Broadhurst (of Tootal Lee Broadhurst) told me to practice another for next morning.

After a while he said it wasn’t good enough and I must repeat “Thy Kingdom Come.” As I left that Chapel, GM Warre asked me what I had against him that I had played twice “When comes the time that war shall be no more.” (Wasn’t he a son of an HM of Eton?). Thereafter it was cushy job, for I chose to play only what I liked and could do, but I can’t play at all now. At the time I didn’t realise how well known an illustrator Miss Tempest was; she tried to teach us drawing. One time she reprimanded me for putting seven coats of paint onto the duck I had done, but I have happy memories of her, as indeed I have of all the staff. I remember our regret when CA Ranger left for Pinewood, and Mr Brymer to be squire of Puddletown. KT I respected too, and his wife, but was embarrassed when she told me to call her Theodora, after I left. I remember KBT announcing in Chapel, slightly embarrassedly, the birth of his youngest, who married a Winchester master. She looked after the new boys for the first half of term in her dining room, but pride came in not staying there for the full time. KBT’s nightly round of the dormitories was a good thing, sometimes accompanied by a guest. Even I went round with him soon after I left, when my brother-in-law (as he became) was there. It was the only time I went back, other than for a brief look-in, until our sons were there. I went with Ronald Harris. It was quite a family school for us paralleled by our sisters, sorors, at Downe House.

My interest in plants must have been there, for I remember on a summer outing to the New Forest, Ranger telling the names of plants I came across, but it then lapsed until I had left Cambridge. So the keen interest the Tindalls had in gardening, etc, notably roses, meant nothing to me, nor the proximity of Hillier’s. I learnt only long after that Theodora was a keen member of the Wild Flower Society, which I had joined in 1933, and still am a member of.

I don’t remember temperatures being taken every day, but we went into Puffing Billy on arrival, and occasionally thereafter, although KBT owned it did no good. I don’t know how long that was kept up. Nor did I ever know why we celebrated Trafalgar Day each year. But “bread and water,” the same joke term after term, or was it year after year, yes.

It was a totally admirable idea grouping us into scout troops, and relatively soon after the movement was founded. I never could understand why other schools didn’t follow. The efforts to get the starman’s badge in the Winter Term, before the constellations move to their spring term places; and cooking meat and potatoes at Melbury – at my first attempt my meat was cooked to a cinder and I did not pass. The plays there, in that perfect natural theatre, reached a high standard, notable with KBT as Caliban. The winter Shakespeare patrol plays were useful too. I was Desdemona once, and was rebuked for getting up before the curtain was drawn, when I was supposed to be dead. The Green room was behind, and on the wall in front the cuttings from the papers. There were some trick slides we never tired of: one showed a man eating sausages, by turning a handle. The fun was to turn the handle backwards to watch the sausages coming back out of his mouth.

Lady Goodrich’s watch “quid se optime gessit” was an embarrassment to KBT, as he later told me. It had to go to the Head Boy of the school, however bad, or the slight would be too obvious. I think it was discontinued eventually. I forget what the connection was of Lady G with the school.

No doubt we all remember “Cave KT” (“KV KT”), but I don’t think he was a terror in any way. There is a hotch-potch as it came into my head. For sure I shall remember more when this goes off, but this should be (more than?) enough. Oh yes, the Masters’ Play one year was “The Bishop’s Scheming Phoebe,” being in fact three short plays with a bit of each in the title.

David McClintock

Some more random notes

1. Running down the passages, not allowed.

2. The dark room under the stairs nearest the hall. We also printed photos by sunlight, brown.

3. The Sergeant who taught us gym and boxing, and his Douglas motorcycle.

4. Being “corrupted” (told the facts of life) by KBT, shortly before we left.

5. Playboxes used only to pack our sports stuff, and then stacked in rows in the gym.

6. The narrow range of public schools we went on to. How many went to other than Eton, Winchester or Dartmouth?

7. Being sent up in relays to have our hair cut near the sickroom.

8. Mr Rose singing each Christmas “Good King Wenceslas.”

9. The efforts of the masters in the two back rows in chapel to counter our massed trebles – a few were said to be altos.

I wonder what the total is of boys who attended West Downs?

How many sent their sons there, as we did. A pleasure of that was seeing contemporaries with their sons, whom one had lost touch with, their faces still instantly recognisable.

The Puss Moth caterpillars by the rifle range (I am no lepidopterist).

The Petite Larousse Madame gave (most of) us on leaving.

Broadhurst carrying away the Baker Wilbraham cup, ostentatiously, telling us that we hadn’t deserved to win it that year.

The mile, at Scout’s Pace, round the triangular roads near by.

Hats, coats and boots (?) and up the road when it was too wet for games.

I never set foot in the Masters’ Lodge, ever.

The Sanny I was lucky enough never to be in. “Pink eye” used to be one of our afflictions. I haven’t heard of it since.

No doubt you have all the school groups available. That for 1926 hangs in my dressing room, all but one named.

I was in Billings and Edmonds a day or two ago, who have always made my suits, and surprised the woman (yes) there by saying they had made my first suit in 1922. B and E came down regularly to WD to measure us etc.

Currently I recollect nothing about toys, books, pastimes, crazes – oh yes. At one time someone found that if you wrote to the big steamship companies, you would get loads of pictures etc. It reached such proportions that KBT wrote to them apologising. In return they sent a vast parcel for distribution, to end the matter.

One of the outings with our parents used to be to Southampton to see these ships; another was to Stonehenge. I well remember going there with the Costley Whites, Cyril and his sister Tink. I may even have a photo of that.

Wasn’t there some game we played when we had tapes tucked into the back of our trousers or shorts and we had to avoid having them snatched?

D McClintock