Kenwyn is the name given to one of the two junior houses at Gresham’s School. Crossways was the other one and that is now a girls’ house. When the school was single sex back in the 60s it held 26 boy boarders and about 20 day boys. From 1959 to 1963 one of the Crossways boarders was yours truly. But back to Kenwyn; my memories of life in the junior school have stirred several Kenwynites to email me with their own recollections of life there in the 50s and 60s. They have reminded me of a few things from my own past which I will share with you. Some of these I may have alluded to already in the last thee years.
Why is it called Kenwyn? I do not know but something tells me that before the Second World War it was called Bengal Lodge. Kenwyn is a parish in Cornwall, the old part of Truro, and the name of a river that runs through it. Kenwyn church is the mother church of the city, and Truro railway station is in the parish. Was the nane brought back from Cornwall where Gresham’s was exiled during the war?
The house master of Kenwyn throughout my school career was John Williams. I have mentioned a couple of his nick-names in a previous post, but he was also called Codger. He wasn’t an eccentric, which is one part of the meaning of the word Codger; he wasn’t really old either, although to us young upstarts he would have seemed ancient. In 1959 he would have been in his early fifties. There was yearly event when all the boarders from both Crossways and Kenwyn gathered on the ‘beach’ behind Old Kenwyn to celebrate. I need not explain what the ‘beach’ was to any junior school old boy, but in case anyone else is reading this I will say that this had nothing to do with sand and the seaside. ‘Beach’ was our term for the grassy paddock which we used as a play area. I contend that this word ‘beach’ is a corruption of ‘bleach,’ the word used in the past for a grassy paddock used to bleach linen in the sun. Whatever the truth of this, the great occasion was Guy Fawkes night. For several weeks before the 5th November the bonfire gradually grew as we foraged for sticks in the school woods.
All around the main bonfire we scratched little pits in the rough turf where three or four of us would build a smaller fire on which sausages would be grilled. Wire toasting forks were made during handicraft lessons on which sausages would be waved over the embers. The making and naming of a suitable Guy was a necessary part of the preparations.
There was no hint of Hallowe’en in those days, nor of pumpkin lanterns; these American imports were years in the future. Turnip lanterns were the English version but I don’t remember any on the beach. There would not have been anywhere to hang them for a start. I need hardly say that the opportunities for disaster from the toppling bonfire to food poisoning were huge but nobody came to any harm as far as I am aware. Guy Fawkes was not celebrated in the senior school; the opportunities for drinking and smoking were too great.
There was no official headmaster of the junior school until after I had left, we all came under Logie Bruce Lockhart who was head of the whole school. ‘New’ Kenwyn was opened in 1958 when Codger Williams took on the house. Before that the boys had lived across the road in ‘Old’ Kenwyn and the house master was Major Day. He had left to become the headmaster of Elizabeth College on Guernsey before I arrived at the Holt school. However my sister went there in 1963 to teach in their junior school and became a good friend of Major Day. One of his wife’s favourite memories of Kenwyn was the ‘sausage sizzles’ on November the fifth!
Old Kenwy became the place for our form rooms once New Kenwyn was built. One room was reserve for the CNHS -the Crossways Natural History Society where the members of that house only kept various mice and lizards in vivaria, under the watchful eye of Dick Bagnall Oakeley. A grass snake escaped one day and disappeared under the floorboards, much to the dismay of our female member of staff. This was ‘Ma Dilly’ – officially Mrs Dyson – who taught us French. Her son was called Dilly Dyson. As James Dyson he has since become quite well-known for making vacuum cleaners. He was in Kenwyn before moving on to Old School House.
The gardener cum odd job man at Kenwyn was a tall thin man with white hair called Cecil. In the case of Peart who did a similar job at Crossways we never knew his Christian name while with Cecil we never knew his surname. Their duties were rather different; at Crossways there was a large herbaceous border to tend and a temperamental coke fired boiler to manage (for hot water) – there were also our shoes to clean every morning. At Kenwyn there was no flower garden, the heating was electric and boiler oil-fired, all more or less automatic. Also Kenwynites had to clean their own shoes; but Kenwyn had a large kitchen garden which Crossways did not possess, and this took up most of Cecil’s time. It was across the road at Old Kenwyn next to the beach.
Another old Kenwynite was a boy of my own age called Ewart. His time at Gresham’s was later cut short by an episode in which another former Kenwynite was involved. The other boy (a friend of mine) survived but not Ewart. His abrupt departure from Holt does not appear to have harmed Tim Ewart’s subsequent career in the least and he is now the Royal Correspondent on ITN.
Today is 1st of October. Such calendar days were celebrated by the more stupid of my school-mates by reciting the following couplet: “A pinch and a punch/For the first of the month.” This was accompanied by the appropriate actions. This was something I never participated in except as an unwilling recipient. It wasn’t the minor assaults that worried me so much as the fact that “punch” and “month” don’t rhyme; they don’t even come close.
FOR MEMORIES OF EAST ANGLIAN LIFE