|13 Jan 2022|
My son Ian has never visited my old school and when he expressed an interest in being a guest on Founder's Day I was delighted at the prospect of spending some quality time with him.
Storm Arwen's untimely arrival brought severe weather conditions across the UK overnight on Friday 26 November, and we set off in a blizzard to cover the 90 miles to Oswestry not knowing what to expect on our arrival. Fortunately, the weather improved as we left the Pennines in our wake, and by the time we arrived for lunch at The Wynnstay it was fine but bitterly cold.
Walking into Wilson's Bar we immediately bumped into two of my contemporaries with whom we would later share a table at Founder's Dinner. After exchanging pleasantries and a quick lunch it was time to wander over to the Maes-y-Llan to watch the football. An icy blast greeted us as we stepped out of the car and I did not envy the protagonists taking centre stage that day, but reflected that in former long gone times I always relished the prospect of Wednesday and Saturday afternoon football, whatever the weather threw at us.
Towards the end of the matches, the Maes-y-Llan beer tent began drawing us inexorably towards a warmer retreat and we found ourselves inside chatting to Vicky Evans, Ian Campbell (President of The OO Society), and several of my contemporaries. Fortified by a couple of pints of the amber nectar we watched the presentation of trophies and in the photo above a smiling but shivering, Anna Holbrook can be seen collecting one of the trophies won by the ladies.
At the end of proceedings, Ian and I made our way over to the quadrangle where memories of my school days came flooding back in abundance and I did not quite know where to start in relating some of them to my son.
The old lab - stumps painted in white
The current view
The matter was decided for me when my eyes were drawn to a set of white stumps chalked on the wall of a building between what used to be the laboratory and the former Prep Department. I looked in vain for remnants of white paint to the left of the entrance to the old lab, as seen faintly in the above photo, which was the backdrop to quad cricket in the fifties, but time has removed any trace of cricket from the wall. Matches used to take place in all kinds of weather, winter, and summer, as did quad football which was also played with a tennis ball, and occasionally a craze for hockey would break out and those of us without proper hockey sticks used improvised sticks fashioned from wood taken from the Dingle.
Conker trees - the backdrop to Speech Day,1959
Where there once stood a row of ancient magnificent horse chestnut trees in all their glory, which afforded a degree of natural protection to 'Bagwash's' greenhouse and vegetable patch just beyond the playground wall, there is now a drab length of high netting which no doubt achieves the same objective. I am sure that 'Bagwash' (origin of this name unknown), who must have been tired of returning stray balls and replacing broken glass, would have been delighted with this protective shield!
Boys who now play quad cricket against the re-positioned set of wall stumps will never experience the feeling of anticipation and joy that we had when trying to catch a ball that had been hooked high up into those wonderful conker trees. It was not easy to follow the progress of the ball as it bounced from branch to branch on its way down towards the playground; like a ball in a pinball machine its trajectory was unpredictable and the trick was to be able to position yourself in the right place in order to intercept the ball before it hit the ground.
View of the tennis courts, Prep Department, and laboratory in 1957, looking down from the top paddock
An added bonus from the horse chestnut trees came in autumn with the arrival of the conker season and the daily post-breakfast ritual of dashing onto the quadrangle to seek out the biggest conkers now lying on the ground from the overnight bounty. Not content with this we would spend hours hurling sticks at the upper branches in attempts to bring down the more resistant dark brown nuts before their natural release; a distant memory of a pastime that is still enjoyed by pupils at Oswestry School who ransack the horse chestnut trees at the top of the hill.
'New Bugs' (me, left, and my brother Bernard) seeking shelter under the trees on arrival at school in 1952
Emerging from my reverie I spotted a solitary battle-scarred tennis ball lying abandoned after a recent game and could not resist the temptation to pick it up and bowl it at the stumps on the wall. To my delight, and my son's amusement, I hit the middle stump. Grinning from ear to ear after dismissing my imaginary opponent for a first-ball duck, I fist-pumped the air in triumph... alas I must confess that it was a somewhat hollow victory as the dismissal was from just a few yards and off a very short run-up!
School, viewed from the lower paddock
Basically, the School as I knew it for most of the 1950s consisted of just six main buildings; The Memorial Hall, Chapel, School House, Fives Court, the Laboratory, and Prep Department, which were all within the school grounds, and Holbache House which was acquired in 1947 and situated in the middle of town. The end of the decade saw the start of a period of building and renovation at the School and more classrooms were added behind the lab on the lower paddock. A new era began with the arrival of Headmaster Dick Sale in 1961 and, my goodness, how the school has now expanded to its current unrecognisable campus.
During a short tour of my old stomping ground, I revisited several places of interest to me and sought to amuse Ian with a few of the many memories I still have from my eight years as a boarder in School House. The afternoon seemed to fly by and it would soon be time to meet up with other Old Oswestrians who were gathering for pre-dinner drinks at 6pm in The Old School House.
The Old School House
Just as we were driving past LAST DAY I had an urge to go for a run around the Triangle, just for old times' sake, but on this occasion in the comfort of a warm car. The course itself seemed strangely further than I had remembered although we covered it in a matter of minutes (perhaps I used to take the shortcut after all!), and, nostalgia satisfied, we set off on the short journey to join a number of OOs in the original school building behind the Parish Church.
In the closing part of my recollections of Founder's Day, 2021, I will recall some of the events of the evening which began with a gathering of Old Oswestrians on the original 1407 site of the school.
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Geraint Griffiths and I have never met, and we were like ships that passed in the night. As I left Oswestry School in the summer of 1960, he arrived i… More...
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