If, having read this, you think I have forgotten anything, then please email me (email@example.com). I wouldn't mind hearing from anyone else who was there at around this time.
I was at this all-boys school from January 1965 to July 1969, first as a dayboy (for 2 terms) then as a boarder.
The headmaster during my time was Lowther Grendon Tippet, whose study was full of old Zulu memorabilia (swords, shields etc) helped by his wife (Beth) (who drove an old white Porsche, and in fact an ex-pupil told me that Mr Tippett drove him to his interview at Stowe in it !), a Matron, a Sister, a junior nurse and about 20 staff as I recall.
On joining the school you were assigned a number (I was 61) and a Clan (North, South, East or West) which engendered a "work for your team" spirit - all sorts of items went towards the Clan Cup (sports, academic success etc). Boys were always known by the surnames and referred to each other by surname unless they were really close friends - Smith1, Smith2 etc. covered same surnames. I think we had a Jones4 during my time.
Dayboy times were from 8.45 in the morning until 6.30pm in the evening, when our parents could pick us up. My first form teacher was Colonel Morris, but when Mrs. Kelsey saw my handwriting she was appalled... I started at St Piran's at a later age than most new boys (I was just 10) and I came straight from a primary school in Shropshire where we had written with biros; she had to teach me to write all over again with pen and ink using dip pens. If your writing was not so good, your were given special exercise books with double lines. The central parts of the lower-case letters were to be made to fit between the two lines with the top and bottom loops being above and below.
I remember the strange uniform - herring bone tweed jacket and shorts (even in Winter) with the pockets sewn up so you were unable to put your hands in them, a grey flannel shirt, navy blue, yellow and sky blue striped tie, matching blazer, grey socks with garters and black shoes. Once you were in the top-form, you could wear long trousers on Sundays and on Speech day. Two pairs of shoes - one for outside and one for inside. The whole uniform specification was very rigid, even down to specifying two wooden hairbrushes.
When I started to board ("All boys will board from the age of 10 onwards") we discovered that all the clothes which had been ordered from Rowes of Bond Street (the school outfitters) were hugely over-size. I remember feeling very strange once my parents had left me at school. It was as bad for them, too, I think. Strange bed, strange pyjamas (far too big, with a tie cord) and dressing gown (also too big, with a tie cord), My flannel smelt of toothpaste and the toothpaste smelt equally of flannel. And it was the first time I had come across a wooden pen with a metal nib, blotting paper and an inkwell in the desk.
We used to get up in the morning (split into two groups, 7.10 and 7.20) after some early riser had woken before us and rung the handbell round all of the dormitories. Then we all trooped downstairs and washed and dressed. Generally we had about 25 mins before breakfast so we would read the paper (Daily Telegraph only, of which a copy was placed in each classroom) or catch up on revision.
I also remember the old ceramic gas wall fires, - The master pulled on a small chain and then used a match to light the gas, which spent the rest of the time making pinging noises as the lesson progressed.
We were weighed and measured at the start and end of each term and these values appeared faithfully in each term's report. I remember the barber who used to come in every 3 or 4 weeks and cut our hair in the dorm (Cordwallis?) where the new boys slept. You would be pulled out of your lesson and sat waiting for the boy in front to be finished...he would go back to class and call the next boy in from the list.
On Monday mornings after breakfast, there was the kick off for the week in Big School, where all the masters sat on the stage and the headmaster gave out praise (Merit Marks - see Recreation later) and called out the names of those for punishment who would be summoned to his study ("xxxx, yyyy, zzzz upstairs afterwards" ).
The teachers I remember? Tippett, obviously, Mr Jonas (Latin and deputy head) , Mr Coombes (Maths), Mr Edgington, Mr Plowden (Geog) who wore a hearing aid, banged on the desk with a snooker cue and took shooting (I wonder if the hearing aid requirement occurred because of shooting because we never wore any kind of ear protection), Mrs. Kelsey(who was retired but taught the youngest) , Colonel Morris who took Latin and used to hit us if we got anything wrong (e.g Latin imperfect tense..."BAM,BAS,BAT is a was or a were with a (st)ING on the end", the stING being a smack on your backside) , J M Gwynne-Hughes (Scripture), Miss Bradshaw (Science), Mr. Beazley (odd job man), Mr Price (English and Music), Mr Owen (History and pipe smoker, even during class - he used to give out humbugs if we did well with our evening prep). He also made us write out incorrect spellings 3 times. If you made a mistake, then you had to do the same 6 times - Once, I managed a record 9 times and a slap !
The bells for lessons were automatically controlled by a big old brass clock in the main hallway with a mercury switch and solenoid, which would be worth money as an antique now. Lessons (40 mins each with 5 min break between) went from 9.00 to mid morning (3 lessons) when there was a break (1/3 pint bottles of milk, orange quarters, vitamins, cod liver oil tablets) then back for 2 more lessons before lunch. Afternoon/evening lessons, depending on the season, consisted of another 3 lessons. Most lessons were in the main school buildings. but Remove A and Remove B (pre-Common Entrance year) were sat in the small building just off the bottom of the driveway.
Academic studies included Latin (from the age of 9 with Kennedy's Latin Primer), French, English (the Dragon Book of Verse), History, Mathematics, Geography, Science (in the "brand new" science building, with Mrs Bradshaw, the only one of 2 female staff) ) and Scripture. We always stayed in the same classroom and the masters came to us - and we always had to stand up when they entered and left the classroom. If you needed stationery of any kind (always new nibs, mine never lasted more than a day) then you had to fill out a cheque from your own chequebook and present it to the master in charge of stationery supplies.
After dinner was prep (evening work) which usually consisted of two sessions - this started at 7.00 and ended at 8.30, then it was bedtime. This consisted of another wash (or a bath - two per week) then Matron asking if you had been to the toilet (3 no's and you got a dose of cod liver oil). Before lights out the HeadMaster and Matron would come to each dormitory, the HeadMaster would say a prayer and then Matron would turn the lights out. Anyone caught messing around after this usually received a severe telling off, or 4 whacks with the hairbrush.
Foot inspections were held twice per term. Head examinations were once per 2 weeks.
Who could forget the ancient 1940's UV machine in the shoe locker room which we all had to stand around in the Winter for our radiation top-up: It had two 10 inch UV lamps held within a large metal frame which you could raise and lower from the ceiling. The smell of ionised air has stayed with me to this day. We stood around in underpants, wearing goggles and started with 1 minute facing it, then turned round and another minute on the back. By the end of the Michaelmas term we were up to 5 minutes each side. Under this section of the floor were the boot rooms which, if I close my eyes, I can still recall the odour today.
All boarders slept in the school buildings where the dorms held anything from 2 to 12 boys and bedclothes consisted of 2 sheets and a counterpain. No duvets! Winter heating was provided by a solitary 2 inch pipe running round the edge of the room. All boys had to make their beds in the morning and they all had to look as precise as the photo in the gallery, hospital corners included, otherwise you had to remake it.
We had our hands checked by a prefect at the entrance to the dining hall before every meal - any dirt or ink and you would have to go back and wash them again - it took some boys 3 or 4 goes to get into the dining room. Meals were always prepared by Mrs. Ryan and Mrs. Darke, there must have been other members of catering staff because the kitchens were huge, but I never remember seeing anyone else.
Breakfast would be tea (no coffee at St P) and either porridge or kedgeree, bread, butter and usually boiled eggs. Lunch consisted of a main course and a hot pudding. The main course would be stew, or curry and always fish on Fridays. Desserts were always hot - jam roly-poly, spotted disk and the best thing they ever cooked - chocolate crumble.
I remember we had no pepper on the tables, just a glass salt cellar and a small spoon. The staff used to eat with us. If you didn't finish your meal, you were told to sit there until you had eaten it, even if it meant being late for a lesson or games, which put you further into trouble. As a prefect, you sometimes sat on TopTable with the Headmaster and the other fortunate staff who didn't have to sit at the same tables as the pupils. However this had its drawbacks in that you had to cut bread from a fresh loaf for the masters. They were looking for Victorian slices, I always produced ragged door-stops.
After lunch, the younger pupils (children really, they were only 7, 8 yrs old) went off for a sleep, while the rest of us read in the library (full of books and stuffed birds in glass cases which the headmaster and his forefathers had shot), or outdoors in Summer lying on the grass if we were lucky.
Afternoon tea was optional and consisted of large mugs of milky tea served in pale blue metal cups and bread spread thickly with Marmite from huge jars. In Summer, we were free after tea: In Winter we had to go back in for the final 2 lessons. There were no lessons on Saturday afternoons. Dinner (ham salad or something similar in Summer, Winter menus escape me for the time being) started around 6.30pm and that's when the Dayboys could go home. If it was your birthday your parents could bring in a cake.
There were no facilities for making your own tea or coffee. If you were thirsty between meals you had to drink water and if you were hungry, well tough! In fact we only had two different things to drink, tea in the mornings and at teatime, or water.
There was a tuck shop, a cupboard located under the stairs on the way up to chapel, open twice per week only for 1/2 hour after lunch - where we were allowed to spend 1s 8d per week (about 7p by today's standards) which would buy you a Mars bar (a rare treat) and a couple of packets of Refreshers. No fizzy drinks were allowed and it was also forbidden for parents to send you in with any food. A couple of us got round that by having false bottoms in the tuck boxes (which were supposed to be used for books) and then levering up the floorboards in the dorms and hiding crisps and sweets. All went well until I was ill once and the floorboards were nailed down while I was in the sanitorium (which was fitted with "Vita glass" - what was that?).
Several pupils have mentioned making toast in front of the gas fires - emails tell me a few were caught over the years and given the cane.
On the walls of the dining room were details of the 1st teams from previous years... I suppose my name must be up there somewhere.
As with other boarding schools, in Winter we did games after lunch (rugby, hockey or soccer for the little ones) followed by another 2 lessons. In Summer this was reversed. Games in Winter were often accompanied by the awful smell from the nearby Brillo factory. I remember the first time I had to wear garters to hold up my socks and shorts which were held up with a sash, which was incredibly difficult to untie in wet weather. For Summer cricket, we had to wear white including white canvas cricket shoes with metal spikes. There was a pavilion and scoreboard at the Gringer Hill top-end of the cricket pitches and a small wooden building for whitening cricket shoes, which also had a cobbler's "last" for replacing studs.
The grounds were huge. As you came down the drive from Gringer Hill, there were 2 hockey pitches/cricket pitches to the left adjacent to the drive and on the right there were another 3 full size rugby pitches, 2 cricket nets, boys gardens and a lone football pitch at the far end near Cordwallis Road. This was all surrounded by woodland in which we used to play during Summer weekends. I think there were 3 full time ground staff and I remember the sound and smell of ancient Atcos mowing the cricket wickets in the Summer. At the back of Private Side were gardens with a croquet lawn (where Speech Day was always held) and a solitary tennis court.
Once you were 11 yrs old you could take up shooting with 0.22 rimfire small-bore rifles (live ammunition) at the indoor range. This was good fun - the school did well in competitions and sometimes this meant you had to leave a lesson early to go and shoot a competition card. There were four Martini action rifles ( called Appleby, Grierson, Newman and one other) and we shot 5 bull inner and 10 bull outer targets, plus the occasional bit of Snap-shooting at speed. It held me in good stead...I am still able to enter the Chas R E Bell competition each year at Bisley if I so wish. My 99/100 target is proudly hanging in my garden shed - and Tippet gave me a Mars bar for achieving that score.
Gym consisted of jumping over ancient wooden horses and some calisthenics. This was always taken by Mr Coombe. Funny how you never learned their Christian names and to this day I would probably still call him "sir". The gym was wooden and fell down soon after I left, I think. In the Summer there was a gymnastic display put on for the parents - we went through gallons of shoe whitener as the headmaster insisted everything was pristine for this show.
The "tubs" bring back less welcome memories - leg baths full of cold water (at the far end of the photo in the gallery), which were all we had to wash in after playing rugby or hockey (no football at St. Piran's) - and we had to use large wooden scrubbing brushes to clean ourselves.
I also remember the toilet paper which was similarly uncomfortable - hard, non-absorbant and had "MOD Property" or something similar stamped over it.
Who could forget the indoor, unheated swimming pool that was freezing cold, whatever the weather outside. 2ft 6 to 5ft 6 with a diving board.
Speech Day was always the same - same speeches, generally the same boys winning each year. The parents made an effort, my Mum usually bought a new hat. Mr Tippett's speech which always mentioned that "every boy should be able to read and understand the Daily Telegraph by the age of 11" - indeed that was our only contact with the outside world, so we had to read it. No radios allowed, no TV (except when the first men landed on the moon and the occasional cricket or rugby match).
There were 5 lessons on Saturday morning, one of which was singing practice for the service on Sunday and the whole school had to attend unless you were lucky enough to be selected to go around every classroom refilling the inkwells. After lunch there was always sport, either a home or away match. If you weren't in a team and there was a home match, your parents could visit.
Chapel on Sundays was prefaced by boys ringing handbells down the main staircase (you held one bell while learning, then two when you were more proficient). . Then we all trooped up to the chapel for a service taken by Mr Tippett with Mr Price on the organ. The ashes of Mr Tippet's father were in an urn under the altar. Sunday afternoons were generally free, but some weekends there were films shown on the Bell & Howell 16mm projector, or someone came in to give a talk. Rainy Sunday afternoons were taken up with the model club (building plastic aircraft) or playing table tennis in the gym. If it was fine, we would be allowed out to walk around the grounds, read, fly model planes etc. One classroom room had a full size snooker table (by the oil fired boiler for central heating) which was well used.
I remember, one Sunday Autumn afternoon, being "volunteered" to cut logs with what seemed like a 2-man 4-foot logging saw for a couple of hours - which ended up on the Private Side fire, I am sure. Other former pupils have emailed me with some other memories - notably fly-fishing training on the Tippet's lawn.
We were allowed home for 2 Sundays each term, plus half-term. Visits from parents were strictly controlled - they could only visit 3 times per term on Saturday afternoons when we sat in the car after games. usually drinking very sweet cocoa and eating cakes. We used to write letters home twice per week, one of which was compulsory on Sundays. They used to be read and censored by the headmaster. It was a dreadful thing to be at school with no stamps, I can tell you. It meant you had no means of contacting the outside world at all. If you wrote home more often than twice per week, the chances were that it wouldn't be posted. Telephoning home was not permitted.
About the only way to get out (other than half-term and the two weekends allowed home) was to take dancing lessons on Thursday afternoons. This involved getting into a coach and being driven to Doris Urquart's dancing school where we were paired up with a similar number of girls from another local school and taught to waltz, cha-cha-cha and quickstep.
I remember being sent to the bench by the staircase having committed some minor misdemeanour (running in the corridor for example). You were told to sit here for 10 or 20 minutes. Another master always came past (if you were unlucky it was the Head) and asked you what you had done. Otherwise it was the hairbrush (before bedtime) which I received twice - once for being caught outside after dark and once for playing outside in the fog in winter. There was also a cane, but it was used very rarely.
For poor academic work, one was given a Satis Card which had to be signed by every master after every lesson. Three non-Satis marks meant you were beaten with the hairbrush.
The rule was Silence in the Changing Rooms at all times...if you were caught talking you could end up in ‘cap’ for a day, wearing a coloured armband. You were not allowed to talk at mealtimes and during breaks, you either had to stand in the hall or walk around the flower beds at the front of the school.
I remember once when someone bent a spoon in the dining room. This was a really serious crime - no-one owned up so we were all forced to stay in on a Saturday afternoon, dayboys included and learn the Beatitudes and part of the Catechism by heart. Every boy had to recite it to a master and you couldn't leave until you had succeeded. If you managed to learn all of this before 4.00pm, they gave us poems to learn to take us through to 6.00pm.
Senior boys were appointed as Prefects or Deputy Prefects - this meant you could wear long trousers at weekends and were responsible for administering minor punishments (such as the bench). The headmaster pinned a heavy metal badge to your blazer whilst announcing loudly : "Do your duty without fear or favour".
Whilst at St. Piran's Merit Marks were introduced. You were awarded one merit mark per week for general behaviour and you could pick up extra ones for being a good citizen. They could also be taken away if you weren't. If you earned 21 points during the term, there was a Merit Mark outing at the end of term. I don't remember many of these - but I do remember going to see the musical version of Oliver! in London. It was memorable because the coach broke down near Regent Street and we had to walk to Leicester Square from there. That must have been a nightmare for the staff, trying to keep 30 adventurous boys in tow in London.
I passed CE (It never seemed to be in doubt, for anyone, just which school your marks would get you into next) and went on to Shrewsbury School, which seemed rule-free after St Piran's. Now, of course, everything is much more civilised - to see the changes check out the official St Piran's Web Site https://www.stpirans.co.uk/our-school
Click the tabs at the top of the page to see the Gallery pages and the original booklet.
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