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News > Memories > A magical day in May, 1957

A magical day in May, 1957

In the summer of 1957 Oswestry School's complement of approx 190 pupils were looking forward with anticipation to Speech Day and the 550th anniversary of the founding of their ancient school.
24 Nov 2022
Written by David Pickup


1950's OOs

On the morning of Wednesday 29 May, contractors were busy putting the final touches to the backdrop for the day's proceedings, and the quadrangle was buzzing with feverish activity.

Memories come flooding back and I remember, as a fifteen-year-old boarder at School House, standing excitedly under those magnificent horse chestnut trees watching the preparations unfold before me. 


Immediately to my front stood more than one thousand chairs ready to accommodate pupils, staff, parents, friends and members of the press, who were there to report on the event for their newspapers and members of the public. To my extreme left stood the imposing New Memorial Hall and further forward, the Chapel. At the top of the steps leading to the grassy quadrangle, a canopy had been erected on either side of which were colourful banks of beautiful flowers. Four loudspeakers were in position to project the sound of the spoken word to all parts of the audience. This would be the focal point from where the afternoon's proceedings would be conducted.

View from under the conker trees

Further to the right, there was a large marquee on what was then the bottom paddock, where 500 lunches would be served, and in which, later that evening the OO Dinner would be held. On the lower side of the laboratory ( now, I think, the music room ) another large marquee had been erected between it and the Prep Department in case of inclement weather. Thus the scene was set for the celebrations to begin.


A warm and sunny day greeted H.R.H. the Duchess of Kent on her arrival in front of Headmaster R Williamson's house at precisely 12.45pm where a host of dignitaries were awaiting presentation to the Princess. 

This was followed by lunch in The Memorial Hall where she was cordially entertained by Head Boy, John Robbie, who sat on her left. John had been proud to represent the boys and sit alongside the Duchess during lunch, and around that time he found a newspaper article which mentioned the forthcoming anniversary of the school, it's founder, and the visit of H.R.H.. As a reminder of this special day he cut it out and put it in a secure place as a keepsake.

After lunch, Her Royal Highness presented the prizes from under the canopy. My brother Bernard and I both managed to get on the list along with classmates Nigel Birch, Jack Greves, and Brian Tomley. The Princess then made a speech before proceeding to the laboratory accompanied by the Headmaster to view an exhibition of the boys' hobbies.



To commemorate her visit and this very special anniversary, the last act of the day carried out by the Duchess was the planting of an oak tree opposite the School House as pupils and parents looked on. Still bathed in glorious sunshine, and with boys lining the drive, waving and cheering her departure, Her Royal Highness returned to her car and left for Gobowen. We had all been beguiled by this charming lady, the more so because she had requested that Mr Williamson give the school an extra two-days' holiday, and to the delight of everyone the request was duly granted.

Planting the commemorative tree


The day and its momentous events would live long in my memory, and it drew to a close with tea being served on the Headmaster's lawn. By contrast the scene on the playground was one of desolation as the throng of spectators repaired to another more convivial location.

Tea on the lawn


A charming post script brings this story full circle. During the early part of 2022 John Robbie and his wife returned to the UK after a lifetime spent working in the USA. Very recently, whilst rummaging through boxes at the back of his garage, he came across a dusty, long-forgotten, old wallet. Anticipating at the very least the windfall of a lost fifty pound note, John proceeded to open it. As the moths flew out so did a well worn, tattered piece of old newspaper, a photograph of which is below.

Newspaper cutting circa 29 May, 1957

This little gem had been cut from The Daily Telegraph by John way back in 1957 as a memento of the occasion and placed in the back of a wallet for safe-keeping. Over time it had been mislaid and forgotten as he travelled aound the world only to make a dramatic but welcome reappearance when back in Blighty earlier this year.

It makes interesting reading, shedding a little light on the background of David Holbache and the lives of pupils of the day.   

Cockfighting was a popular sport at that time ,but it was banned shortly after this date by the monarch who wanted all able bodied men to concentrate on their archery skills, with emphasis on the English longbow which, it seems, originated in Wales.

It is a surprise to learn that school numbers exceeded 300 boys under the stewardship of Dr. James Donne, and all credit must go to Headmaster R Williamson who took over Oswestry School at a low ebb in its history when he arrived at a critical time in 1920. There were just 40 pupils in the school, and a testament to him and other Headmasters who followed is the fact that numbers at school today exceed 450.

Headmaster Ralph Williamson (1920-1958)

Affectionately known by all of us in my day as 'Woof', Mr Williamson left Oswestry School in 1958, the year following the visit by H.R.H. the Duchess of Kent, and at the pinnacle of his achievements he went into quiet retirement. 

This tall, mild mannered man who wielded an iron fist inside a velvet glove will forever be remembered by his pupils, and he must go down in the annals of the school, in my opinion, alongside David Holbache and The Reverend Dr James Donne as a significant figure in the history of the school.

David Pickup's School cap badge (No. 1334)

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