SUMMER AT CROSSWAYS (AUTOBIOGRAPHY 34)

I am sitting one from the left between David Ratcliffe and ‘Pooky’ Woods; fourth from the left was Henry Burrows and last was (I think) Selwyn Harrold. Summer 1961.

I am sitting one from the left between David Ratcliffe and ‘Pooky’ Woods; fourth from the left was Henry Burrows and last was Selwyn Harrold. Summer 1961.

GRESHAM’S JUNIOR SCHOOL 1960 – 1962

Summer was the best time in Crossways. The house supper out in the bike shed was the high point. This sounds rather drab, the bike shed was a long building, open on one side and concealed from the garden by a beech hedge. With a long table and all sorts of delicacies on the table-cloth it was special, as the light drained from the sky in that balmy summer’s evening.

But that was just one day, although a big one in our calendar. Others gave time for games of croquet and tennis and sunbathing on the flat roof of the playroom. This was of lead and it got very hot indeed in the sun; you needed a towel to protect you from the heat. To get out you had to climb out of one of the first floor dormitories. If you were brave enough you could then jump down onto the ground, but there was no way of getting up again except by going indoors and out of the dorm window again. There was a bench outside the quiet room window (see the picture) but no other seating. We did not sit down very much; there was too much else to do.

Like croquet, tennis was not an official sport and Kenwynites had not the facilities for playing either sport; these activities were restricted to Crossways as far as the junior school was concerned. We had just one grass tennis court and some netting to stop balls disappearing into the hedge on two sides. On the two other sides it was open to the lawn. I enjoyed tennis more than cricket, and croquet beat them both for sheer enjoyment. As far as croquet goes we played with it one important difference from current practice; there were two pegs, one at either end of the two central hoops, not one in the middle as is now normal. You hit one on the first circuit and one on to end the game. The first peg to hit was painted in green and black stripes. The other peg was multi-coloured as it still is. I suspect that this was an older version of the game and if I am right I have no idea how old our croquet set was, but it was certainly ancient. There are two shots which involve you opponent’s’ ball, the roquet and the croquet. Particularly delightful is the croquet shot, where your ball and you opponent’s are placed together, and by considering the physics of ballistics you can hit his ball into an uncomfortable position while yours ends up in just the right place; that is if you calculate correctly.

Summer also involved games of cricket and swimming, so when we actually had time to work is problematical, but we also did a full day’s lessons. If it was very hot we could be given permission to remove our blazers, but ties continued to be worn however hot it was. Your shirt sleeves were rolled up, but it had to be done neatly. We didn’t spend much time indoors, but the animals in the Natural History room did and they still had to be fed and cleaned. We would probably have forgotten this but there was the overseeing eye of Dick Bagnell-Oakley to make sure all was well, and the animals survived. They were mostly rats and mice, but also included a grass snake.

The croquet lawn with Peart’s herbaceous border.

The croquet lawn with Peart’s herbaceous border.

One summer we had a Junior School fête, or perhaps is is more accurate to say a Garden Party. It was mainly for parents and my mother and father came along. It was held on the Crossways lawn where the tennis court was. It was for Kenwyn as well as Crossways.  I remember that the housemaster of Kenwyn, Colonel Williams, held an auction of promises.  My father said he did a good job, as auctioneering is quite a skill!

Behind all this summer fun sat “Dow” (Derek H. Addleshaw, 1902-1986) as the presiding genius. Derek was a confirmed bachelor who was an identical twin. His brother John was also a bachelor, but by profession a judge in Manchester. He was frequently mistaken for his brother when in Holt visiting, although not by Dow’s pupils; John was slightly taller and slimmer. Peart the gardener and Miss Tremewan the matron played minor parts in making our lives interesting, but it was Dow who provided all these treats for his boys. He was principally a senior school teacher of German, although I remember him teaching us French in the Junior School. I got scolded by him because I confused a question about my physique (votre physique) with learning physics! It was a silly mistake, but it was in French after all, and it did not warrant quite the scorn I received. Dow stayed very much in the background as far a being a housemaster was concerned, and we were mostly aware of him when he was coughing over his pipe in his private lounge. He quite often went out to Gasché’s, the up-market restaurant in Weybourne. On these occasions he would return with a merry smile on his face; good wine and good company produced this change from his usual grimace of exasperation with his foolish young charges. But despite his apparent grumpiness he must have been devoted to us.

It is now a girls’ boarding house, and I hope today’s young enjoy life in Crossways as much as we did.

[CLICK HERE to see a video of Gresham’s Prep School today; if you look closely you will see a bench in almost exactly the same place as the one we were  sitting on!]

JOSEPH MASON

joemasonspage@gmail.com

THE BLOG FOR MEMORIES OF EAST ANGLIAN LIFE

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