THE OPEN AIR THEATRE [AUTOBIOGRAPHY 41]

The open air theatre is in the school woods at Gresham’s in Holt. For parents attending the speeches, prize-giving or school play (always Shakespeare) in July it was a summer’s day experience, and a lovely one, as the sun streamed down through the trees. For the school pupils among those present the theatre had a rather larger part to play in our daily lives, and it was not so magical. I am not referring here to the rehearsals for the school play, which involved the acting community for a few weeks in the summer prior to the performances on the big day. I was one of the actors for several years, acquiring bigger and longer parts as time went by. No, I am talking about the School Works parties which toiled through the rest of the year in the school woods.

Scruffy Burroughs, aka Jumbo.

Scruffy Burroughs, aka Jumbo.

School Works were superintended by Scruffy Burroughs, the teacher in charge of the workshops. These works took place when the rest of the school were playing rugby or hockey, so as you may imagine the workers were an odd assortment teenagers who were appallingly bad a sport. I wasn’t too hot at sport myself but I wasn’t abysmally bad and so I was only an occasional participant in School Works. The theatre must have been started before the war but my time at the school coincided with a period of expansion. This was manly due to the creation of another boarding house, Tallis, which opened in 1963. Besides calling for extra seats to be squeezed into the Chapel this also meant expanding the auditorium of the open air theatre, and this is where the School Works came in. Typically there were 5 or 6 workers in the party. We were dressed in old clothes, because the work was physical and could be dirty. We gathered outside the Scruff Shacks (the school workshops) where we collected the wooden truck. This had two pneumatic tyres on the wheels amidships, and two smaller wheels fore and aft, in the centre. In this way the truck would  always be mobile, either balanced on the two main wheels, or tipped backwards or forwards on three, but never on four. We took the truck down to the woods empty apart from our spades and shovels. The object of our expedition was the school gravel pit, deep in the woods and quite near the railway line. At the tim I am talking about this was abandoned with the track torn up. It is now the site of Holt Station on the preserved line, and is a hive of activity. On School Works our task was to fill the truck with sand and drag it back to the school theatre. It was very heavy once it was full of sand and had to be pulled by three or four boys on ropes at the front and another two pushing up the rear. The need for all this sand was to build up the seating area at the back of the sloping auditorium. There was also a certain amount of masonry and concrete laying to be done, but these were skilled jobs, deemed to be beyond the working party, who were restricted to donkey work. School Works only took up about an hour and a half of the day, and there was only time for one round trip. It was a slow and laborious process, but eventually the work was complete. CORIOLANUS PIC JOSEPH MASON joemasonspage@gmail.com

FOR MEMORIES OF EAST ANGLIA

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