Life at Heathcote in the Late 1950's
by Jack Crewe.
The House and Grounds
Heathcote House was a large three storey house in Icen Way, situated in fairly extensive grounds. To its eastern side was a formal garden with flower borders, but this area was grassed over to become a large football area. At the end, through an archway, was another walled garden which had been converted into a tennis court.
To the south of the tennis court was a wooden shack, which was used at one time as a radio hut. Next to the hut was usually a large pit of compost and grass cuttings, to which I was introduced on at least one occasion!!
On conversion into a boarding house in 1950, a flat-roofed extension had been built along most of the eastern and southern sides of the house, and to the north, approached by a temporary covered way, was a prefabricated building comprising a kitchen, dining room and a small suite. The suite was at one time the residence of the house tutor, but had also been used as a sixth form study.
To the west of the house was a large wooden games hut, equipped with a table tennis table and an antiquated bagatelle board. At one time a proscenium arch was constructed and a small theatre built. The hut was also used by the Hardye’s School Scout Troop. However, the troop was disbanded in 1956 due to scoutmaster problems.
Boys entered and left the house by a gate on the western side which led to an entrance between the house and the dining room. Inside there was a smallish common room, heated by two coal boilers which supplied partial central heating to the house. These were replaced by a large coke-fired “Janitor” at some point.
The downstairs comprised a coat room, toilets, washroom, boot room and personal open cubbyholes for the boys’ personal belongings in the corridor. There was a large dormitory comprising three rooms which we named “Nursery”, “Prairie 1” and “Prairie 2”. A narrow staircase led from the corridor to the first floor landing and off this staircase was a small suite used firstly by Matron and later on by the House Tutor.
There was a large dormitory on the first floor, named “The Zoo” and a smaller one with barred windows, known as “Dartmoor.” Matron also had a dispensary on this floor. On the top floor was the senior dormitory known as “Crows’ Nest” built in the eaves with a dormer window. There was also a metal fire escape. The key to this was kept in a red box hanging on the wall, with instructions as to how to break the glass. However, it was much easier to simply slide out the glass and get to the key when we used the fire escape to go and buy fish and chips after “lights out”.
At the end of the corridor was the Prefects’ Room, and at the top of the stairs a Dark Room for the keen photographers.
At 7:15am, the duty prefect would tour the dormitories ringing a large bell, this being rung again at 7:55am, five minutes before we all had to go for breakfast. At 8:00, commencing with grace, breakfast would be served to the boys who were seated at tables with a prefect at the head. Mr. and Mrs. Roberts had a separate table, which they shared with their children, the Assistant Housemaster & Matron.
In the winter, we nearly always had porridge followed by a small savory course, bread and marmalade.
At 8:30am, breakfast would finish with grace and we would get ready for school. Fifteen minutes later, Matron would stand at the entrance and inspect the junior boys to see that they were tidy, with caps straight and ties properly knotted before they made their way on the ten minute walk to Wollaston House.
Boys wore grey flannel suits with short trousers. On graduation to the senior school in the third year, long trousers were worn. We also had navy gabardine raincoats. Some had blazers.
In the upper forms we had to wrestle with collar studs, separate collars being very much the thing to wear. This seems rather quaint nowadays!
After 4:00pm, we returned from school and would be free to our own devices. At 5:25pm, the five minute bell would be rung for dinner. This was served by the cook, Mrs. Feek. There was a tuck box cupboard in the dining room so that we could supplement the monotony of school meals with our own extras.
At 6:15pm, the bell would be rung for prep which was done under supervision in either the common room or the dining room. At 7:45pm, we all assembled in the dining room for prayers and the dreaded cocoa, except for Sundays when we were treated to coffee!
From 8:00pm onwards we made our way in stages (according to our age group) to bed. After washing, the junior boys paraded before Matron who would examine hands, feet, faces and ears to see that they were clean! Mr. Roberts or the Assistant Housemaster would tour dormitories with the duty prefect in order to put the lights out. Every boy was allocated a bath time twice a week.
On Saturdays, we had school in the mornings, and in the afternoon, compulsory sport. The evening was free.
On Sunday morning we arose an hour later and then walked into Dorchester for Morning Service at St Peter’s Church. I well remember the elderly Canon Markby droning on week after week at rows of bored boarders, apparently without any idea how to interest his young congregation. He was eventually superseded by Rev. Heaton, a relative of Neville Shute. Mr. Lancashire of Southfield House would read the lesson. Our weekly pocket money of one shilling was supplemented by one penny for the church collection, this being handed to us as we left to go to church.
About half of the Heathcote boarders went to “Crusaders”, an afternoon Sunday school run by a Mr. Hansford, the others being escorted for a country walk. A Christian upbringing was taken for granted and several boys opted for Confirmation as they became older.
On one afternoon a week after school (latterly two afternoons) we were allowed to go into the town.
After dinner on Sundays, we had a half hour for letter writing to our parents, our mail being inspected afterwards!! The letters were then posted to make sure that our parents received our “censored” letters! We never had the use of the telephone except in emergencies.
On approximately every third weekend, those living nearby were allowed to go home for a “Boarders' Weekend” from after Saturday school until Sunday evening. The boys who lived farther afield either stayed with friends or remained in the house.
At end of term, our trunks were loaded on to the Scout trek cart and taken to the railway station.
House Duties and Punishments
At the beginning of term a list was posted on the notice board, detailing the duties to be performed, namely: cleaning prefects’ shoes, fetching coal or coke or laying tables at mealtimes.
In the early days, prefects were allowed to slipper the boys, the most common misdemeanors being failing to clean shoes properly or talking after lights out. This was phased out in the late 1950's and replaced by lines. We were required to laboriously copy out editorials from the daily newspapers. Whilst beatings by the prefects were by no means a sensible form of discipline, people knew where they were and I think the house was happier in my early days than in my final years. Only Jo Roberts and the House Tutor used the cane, each usage being recorded by Jo in a little black notebook.
Jo Roberts, our Housemaster, was a great raconteur and when on duty, he would linger at the serving hatch with the older boys, entertaining them with his dry humour. He was always very fair and was reluctant to punish boys on information provided by improper methods. On one occasion, his daughter asked him if the weekend just past was a “Boarders' Weekend.” On asking why, she said that she had seen one of the boys at a club in Weymouth on the Saturday night. Realizing her mistake, she went bright red. Now Jo could not act on that information as it had been obtained privately, but the trap was set for a future occasion. Apparently, a car would be available immediately after “lights out” on the Saturday and the boy would be returned in time for breakfast on the Sunday!
One evening, when touring the dormitories, he saw a boy playing with a gun, presumed to be a toy. He asked for it to be handed to him and he then started pointing it around the room. On pointing it at the boy (Charlie Rees?) he was met with the remark: “Don’t point it at me, sir! It’s loaded!!”
When I was in the Crows’ Nest, we hid under a loose floorboard a small electric immersion heater and our kit for brewing Oxo late at night. Jo never seemed to find out until on the first evening of term he came in to the dormitory, his usual affable self. “Did a few repairs during the holidays! Nailed that loose floorboard down. It might have been dangerous!” Never have I seen so many nails in one floorboard and with it our precious kit!
Jo Roberts’ wife Gwen, known as “Ma Jo”, was a lovely homely lady (quite unlike the matrons!) and together they also had two children, Stephen and Gillian.
Assistant Housemasters, who were probably enjoying their first teaching appointment, came and went. We referred to them as House Tutors. Two who were much liked were Bill Berry and Spike Richards.
The first matron when I arrived was a neat little Welsh lady who always had a blue rinse. She was known as “Chink”. Her replacement, a larger more rotund lady with long hair in a huge bun, was less popular with boys and staff. We called her “Bun”!
Partly because of the extra compulsory sport and partly because of the competitiveness brought on by living together, the boarders tended to monopolize the school teams. Although boarders comprised only 25% of the school, well over half of the school’s main teams were composed of boarders. This also had its negative aspects in that those boarders who were not good at sport were more prone to bullying. A certain amount of bullying was inevitable as boarders, unlike dayboys, were always in each other’s company with no time for privacy.
In 1957, John Eades took the leading role in Macbeth and in 1959, Roger Gale (later to become an M.P) was a very effective St Joan. At that time, the house had two excellent pianists. Frank Southerington played the first movement of Greig’s Piano Concerto at a public concert, whilst George Stansfield, with an entirely different approach, proved to be excellent at improvising tunes as he went along.
There was a radio but no television. At 5:00 pm on a Saturday, boys would be crowded round the radio in the Common Room to hear the football results. On one occasion, I can remember hearing the devastating news of the Manchester United air crash. There was always plenty to occupy us including card and board games, table tennis, “stump cricket” and several of us gained enormous enjoyment by being members of the excellent school choir.
Tuesday for the senior boys was CCF day. Most of us wore Army, Navy or RAF uniform and Jo Robert himself was the Flight Lieutenant in charge of the RAF Section. It was this fact that made so many Heathcote boys join the RAF Section, and I became one of many to be awarded my wings at both gliding and powered flying. Some boys graduated to Cranwell. Sadly one boy, Robin Tomes, three years older than me was killed in an air crash whilst training there.
In my last three years, bicycles were allowed and after completing our “O-Levels” a number of us cycled to Weymouth on a glorious day. Whilst returning, I suffered a gear failure on the Ridgeway. Harold Mann, the senior geography master gave me a lift back with my cycle strapped to the back of his Austin 10.
A famous hitchhiking race took place in the 1960 autumn half-term and involved a race to Gretna Green and back. This was won by Peter Holmes in an incredible 15 hours, with Roger Gale and Chris Sharpe runners up in 19½ hours.
At the house at that time was Simon Winchester who later became a famous journalist, and Roger Lean-Vercoe who became a well-known yachting photographer and journalist.
There was little connection between Heathcote boys and the other boarders, though in the summer, some of us would go to South Walks House for a swim in their pool.
I think my earlier days were happier for the house generally. As time went on pressures of the world outside caused frustrations and the boys became more demanding of freedom than hitherto. Times were changing and would never be the same again.
Jack Crewe 4/8/07
Jack Crewe mentions that in the late 1950's prefects stopped slippering boys as a form of punishment (apparently Jack preferred this to the alternatives that followed). One might suppose that this was a change imposed by authority, but not so. Slippering stopped because the prefects at the time - Frank Southerington was the head prefect at the time, I think - decided that they did not feel comfortable doing it.
JA Eades April 2010
from Chris Higson.
I was at Hardye's, 1972-79, as a boarder: originally in South Walks House under Peter Lewendon (1972-75), and Neville Lord (1975-78), and then in Heathcote House (Spring 1978-Summer 1979) after closure of S. Walks.
The merger of the two houses was remarkably "pain free" - the transition was aided, I think, because Nev Lord continued as Housemaster of the amalgamated houses (indeed, he remained at Heathcote until its closure in 1991), and the two groups of Sixth Formers were already very well integrated because between us we pretty well constituted most of the School's rugby team, and a large part of the CCF senior NCOs cadre!
I recognise Alan White's photo of the "Prefects' Room", circa 1958/59, because that room (up in the attic) was my study during my time at Heathcote. I shared it with Mark Kley (who now farms near Sturminster Newton) and Steve Blonstein (who now lives in Palo Alto, California, and who was a "Big Cheese" in Texas Instruments; now "retired", and working as Chief Instructor/ MD of the PA Flying Club).
I'm a teacher myself, and regularly find in my dealings with pupils (especially the "Awkward Squad"!) that I think back to my time at Hardye's & the boarding houses as a reference point: what would Bonehead Lewendon or Nev Lord have said/done?
We certainly had some laughs in that room. Beer was brewed in the roof void accessed via the boarded-up fireplace visible in the photo (Mr Pitkins eat your heart out!), and I well recall the general panic when some bottles exploded (too much sugar in an ill-advised attempt to strengthen the brew - Steve Blonstein, A-Level chemist, really should've known better!) causing disgusting brown gunk to stain the ceiling of the room below - Mr and Mrs Lord's bedroom! We got away with it by damaging an already rusted & leaky water pipe which was then assumed to have caused the problem.
The room was also the scene of the Great Ex-Lax Conspiracy of early '79, when the decision was taken to feed laxative dosed biscuits to Nev Lord's highly vexatious Old English Sheepdog whose constant food begging, groin snuffling, and rear end emissions were making mealtimes a misery. Suffice to say, the plan did work, but not exactly as intended... no explosive "Number 2s", but it did produce an alarmingly blue turd, engendering considerable alarm in the Lord family!
Various and sundry crimes aside (all confessed to, years later, to great amusement all round!), the room was the scene of many intense arguments about politics, life, the universe and everything, and endless discussions of "house matters" - all, upon reflection, good preparation for university.
At week-ends we were even allowed to entertain female friends from the Green School, and looking back, all considered, we were remarkably civilised when so doing.
Sadly, Peter Lewendon and Nev Lord are now deceased: Peter "Bonehead" Lewendon, in 2008, of natural causes, aged 87. Nev "Cyril" Lord died tragically in 2006, only in his early 60s, by drowning following a minor (very survivable) heart attack whilst swimming alone in the pool at his house in France. Each in his own way a great man - Bonehead, WW2 Parachute Regt veteran (D-Day, Battle of the Bulge, Rhine Crossing etc) who became an inspiring teacher and mentor, and Nev the Polymath - PE teacher, comedian, "Corinthian", and considerably talented amateur sculptor/artist. Remarkable men - I miss them both.
It saddens me that boarding at Hardye's was ended in the early 1990s - ironically at just the time that boarding schooling started a renaissance in the independent sector! But there you go - and the Powers That Be must know best, mustn't they?!
Chris Higson (Hardye's School 1972-79)