Old West Downs Society – Memories of the Cornes Era, 1954-1988

From R.C. Savege, 1955-60

It is interesting how one memory sparks off another. The Shakespeare plays in Melbury were often spectacular. My mother has a splendid photograph of the production of “Midsummer Night’s Dream” with my third eldest brother, Tim, as Titania in the middle of the assembled cast. I was a member of the winning team in the Baker Wilbraham Competition one summer.

I thoroughly agree that Harry Riz was an old softie with a stern exterior. I had great respect and affection for him.

Two further memories: The gigantic Mr. Turner, who had a fierce temper – tall and slim, and not to be crossed.

I was taught leg spins in the nets by the bald Mr. Severn – a kind man with the unfortunate nickname of ‘Sage and Bunions’.

And, of course, old ‘Melly’ (Mr. Tremellen) who used to teach us French. He used to say, “When they took my heart out, they put in a lump of coal instead.” He had a built-up shoe and stick, and never fooled anyone that he was a hard man.

West Downs was rich with characters, especially in the staff. Not the least was the headmaster of my time, J.F.Cornes, who was always threatening to throw me and my desk out of the window.

I was at West Downs from 1955-60 and have many happy memories. Every time I hear the cuckoo in spring, I am taken straight back to Melbury where the Buffaloes were billeted in the summer term of 1960. Having been in the ‘Buffs’ since my arrival, I was elected a ‘second’ in the Stags. When I became a Patrol Leader, there was a problem as there were two of us who wanted to lead the Stags. Mr. Cornes, the headmaster, negotiated with me and I agreed to return to the Buffs if we could have Melbury (somewhat out of sequence). This would mean that I would have slept in this lodge in the woods twice during my stay at W.D., which I regarded as a great privilege and pleasure.

Sadly, I was just too young to experience the Tindalls’ reign. By all accounts, they were an extraordinary couple, who were held in great respect and love by the boys and their parents.

I was the fifth of six Savege boys all to go to W.D. (Their initials were A.C.B., R.G., T.M., R.C., M.Q. & G.M.)

The legend in our time was ‘D.H.G.’ Mr. Howell Griffith commanded great respect and affection too. One always wanted to prove one’s worth in his eyes. I remember that his room was across the drive from the headmaster’s. Above the desk on the side wall, was a splendid photograph of Winston Churchill. There were alike both physically and in manner – perhaps he subconsciously modelled himself on Sir Winston.

The other larger than life character on the staff was Gerald Potts, who came to us from Fettes. He too was bald and had a magnificent rage. His face and head would turn bright red and he would put his hands on his hips lean forward with one foot forward and roar ‘Take three all-rounders!’ at the offender. He was a delight to imitate.

Mr. Brown, the music master, piano teacher and organist, was a weird looking man with frizzy hair and little round glasses. He gave us much pleasure with his operettas, which we performed at the end of term.

The lasting memories are legion, of course, but the strongest are the feeling of excitement before Founder’s Day and Parents’ Weekend, and – naturally – at the end of term, when the cases would line the corridor beside the classrooms waiting to be sent on ahead by rail.

The pleasure the boys’ individual gardens gave us, down by the shooting range, reminds me of ‘Harry Riz’ – Mr. Risbridger – the ex. army sergeant-major – who taught gym, shooting and handicrafts. I was successful at all of these and participated in many gym displays. Those gifted teachers who commanded the boys’ respect knew how to draw the best out of a boy, and we were grateful to them – without knowing exactly why at the time.

R.C. Savege