Chapter 10. The Happiest School in Britain?

In 1935 a legacy was received from Lord Woolavington amounting to £15,000. Since no reasonable offers had been received for the site in Slough it was decided to compromise and stay in the town, but to put the money towards the cost of building a new school-house. A fund was launched throughout the brewing and retail branches of the trade to raise the rest of the cost of the building.

15Schoolchildren, parents and friends at High Beech, Epping Forest on Sports Day (Date unknown)

The foundation stone of the new building, which is now (in 1969) the main building, was laid in 1936, the same year that George VI became Patron of the School.

The opening ceremony was performed in July 1938 by HRH the Duke of Kent.

The post of Headmaster was taken by Mr OSJ Dowell in 1936 at the tender age of 30. Within three months, according to the staff at the time, he had transformed the school from a real institution, in the worst sense of the word, to “the happiest school in Britain”.

The above quotation clashes slightly with the description given by an old boy of the time, of his being caned every morning at assembly on suspicion of his stealing. The prefects administered their own form of punishment with a cricket stump.

There were four teachers on the staff at this time:
Mr ‘Dan’ or ‘Tot’ Thomas, who taught at the school from 1929 until 1968 when he retired. (He was a great hero of the boys both on and off the sports field.)
Mr ‘Pep’ Sparks, another colourful character, who is reputed to have walked the dormitories in nightgown and cap, carrying a candle.
Mr Davies, the third and last master, was the youngest of the men and the fourth member of staff was a lady, Miss Powell, whose responsibilities included the welfare of the junior children.

Although the classes were “mixed”, the girls and boys were separated by a wide aisle. They were not allowed to mix out of class. When boys entered the school they were taken to the rear corridor by Mr Thomas, who told them “That is a girl and that is all you need to know. If I ever see you near one, you’ll never know what hit you!”

The houses at this time were Watney, Woolavington and Barclay.

The first annual reports were issued on the children after the move to the new building in 1938. The school band had deteriorated, and in 1939 it was dissolved and the instruments sold.

When war broke out, temporary air-raid shelters were built in the grounds. These were later replaced by underground reinforced concrete shelters, each holding fifty persons. Trenches were dug at the rear of the school both for the children and for a local regiment. Soldiers drilled daily on the playground and the domestic science room was taken over for their refreshments.

Staff took turns on night duty and were rewarded with the next day off. During the holidays the children were kept in the school for safety and the staff took staggered holidays.

Extra children, distressed by the war, were admitted to the school. In 1941 a Dornier III aeroplane strafed the school in broad daylight and the children watched it shot down by a gun battery at the nearby gasworks. The next day Mr Sparks took the boys to see the wreckage.

The dormitory discipline, which was very rigid, was relaxed on the night that the Bismark was finally sunk. Feasts were held in the dormitories with ‘blitz-damaged’ food which could be bought very cheaply without coupons. One such ‘feast’ consisted solely of sardines, and the smell lasted for days.

It was as far back as 1946 that married quarters were first thought of for teaching and domestic staff, but it was to be twenty years before the finance could be raised and the planning permission obtained. The teaching staff had also put forward the idea of separate boarding houses for the children, but up until the present day these have not materialised. The idea has been toyed with at least once in recent years, but no action has been taken.

In 1946 the Duchess of Kent visited the School on President’s Day and presented the prizes to the children. Local council workmen were sent to repair the potholes in the drive before the Royal party arrived. No sooner had the departing royal car turned the corner after the ceremony than the workmen returned and removed the surfacing they had earlier laid. Unfortunately for them, the local press were on hand to observe, and the next week the papers ridiculed the offenders.

The Most Honourable the Marquess of Carisbrook GCB, GCVO, (a grandson of Queen Victoria) accepted the Presidency this same year.

Fee-paying children were suggested as a way of supplementing the finances of the school, but this still did not happen for a number of years.

Mr and Mrs Harris, who had replaced Mr Dowell and Mrs Coleman in 194l, were themselves replaced in 1945 by Mr and Mrs Webb.

When His Majesty’s Inspectors of Schools visited the school in 1948, they found 76 boys and 61 girls in residence. As a result of their visit many improvements were made in school facilities and staffing: a woodwork master was employed, pictures were allowed on the walls for the first time, and a senior mistress was appointed in charge of the junior section which it was decided to separate from the main school at the earliest possible time.

At about this time, the building over the swimming pool was demolished by a falling tree and has never been replaced. The heating system had not been in existence since the water supply had been damaged during the construction of the main drive. The marble tiles which covered, the sides of the pool quickly became cracked by frost and were replaced by rough-cast concrete.

The inspection resulted in the recognition of the school as ‘efficient’ by the Ministry of Education for the first time.

Mr and Mrs Webb left the school in the summer of 1949.

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