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News > Articles > A recollection of life as a boy at Saint Ronan's in the 1950s

A recollection of life as a boy at Saint Ronan's in the 1950s

Richard Turner reminisces about the typical daily routine of a 1950s Saint Ronan's boy.
27 Apr 2022
Written by Richard Turner
In the summer term an ice cream van came once a week
In the summer term an ice cream van came once a week

The day began at 7.30am followed by breakfast at 8am in the Dining Room. Cereal and bread & butter. Afterwards, before Chapel, we had to line up in a passage that led to a row of lavatories – to keep us regular! Anyone with a problem was given a dose of malt by Sister, who managed the sick wing. The morning was taken up with lessons until 12.10pm, followed by play outside. Lunch was at 1pm and a Master would sit at each table to keep order. After lunch we sat in the Great Space, quietly reading, in order to let our food digest (‘rest’). Sometimes a master would play classical music - just time for both sides of an LP before we changed for games.  Tuesdays were different – that was ‘Utility’. We changed into dungarees and were put to work collecting logs from the grounds. After games we washed our feet and knees in ‘foot tosh’ -  an enormous concrete L-shaped bath with a few inches of cold water. Then there was more play, followed by lessons and supper. Wednesdays and Saturdays were half holidays. Juniors went to bed at 6.20pm (lights out at 7pm) but older boys had prep and bed at 8pm. Before lights out, Lady Vas used to read to the two junior dormitories, Kennel and Merry Go Round. Sir Richard often read to the senior dorms, mostly ‘improving’ books such as Kipling, Buchan and Sapper. Baths were on a rota, twice a week, and the water was only changed after every second boy! Clothes were changed once a week and hair washed once a fortnight. 

On Sundays we got up an hour later. In the morning we wrote our letters home. After lunch the rest of the day was spent in play, generally in the school grounds: a sandy area called ‘The Drones’ where we could dig holes, tunnels and runways for our toys; or there was an allotment in ‘The Garden’ where we could grow vegetables. Not everyone was allowed in the Rockery, but I forget the rule about that. On Sundays, prefects only were allowed in the rowing boat and of course on the island, whilst everyone could go into Tongswood. It was a wonderful, carefree existence, with incredible freedom, and I suppose the school knew we would all reappear after a few hours when we got hungry. 

There around 80 – 90 boys, no girls, and we were taught by masters. There was a curious custom that, on encountering the Headmaster, you would slap him on the shoulder (‘Harry’ when I came, followed by Sir Richard (‘Srich’). Both of them and Lady Vas (or Lady Dawn) ensured that a family atmosphere made the school a home from home. Sir Richard taught Divinity and Greek mythology. Mr Jevons (‘Jevvy’) arrived in 1912 and taught Latin. Fred Poole (‘Pooley’) taught maths from 1922 and had ill-fitting false teeth. Richard Crofton, ‘(‘Crofty’ or ‘Monsieur’) taught French and was a delightful man. Mark Portal, (‘Bumper’) taught me for a short time and stayed until 1990; he was strict! Other masters included David Duttson (‘Dutty’), who I am still in touch with and has told me that I am his oldest pupil! I was also taught by Johnny Vas and ‘Eggy’ Gilbert (initials EGG). I don’t think any master was qualified as a teacher, but it was very rare for a boy to fail Common Entrance and many Scholarships were awarded. 

Punishments were few and far between. I never once heard of the cane being used. Order was usually maintained simply by a master’s presence. For minor infractions a ‘dot’ was given. For a more serious misdemeanour, a ‘black mark’ was given and the offender had to stay indoors and work on a Sunday afternoon. If one’s schoolwork was bad, one was put on a report card for a week. At the end of each lesson the master would write, ‘Satis’, ‘Vix Satis’ or ‘Non Satis’.   

Some random rules. Any sweets brought into school had to be handed over and went into individual boxes with our names on, kept in a locked room. Twice a week we would queue up and the prefects would give out our rations up to a certain number of units, I think six. E.g. individual sweets were one, a packet of refreshers three etc. Books had to be approved, as did comics (‘The Eagle’ was our favourite.)  

Treats. In the summer term an ice cream van came once a week and we were each allowed to choose one ice cream or lolly. At the end of the Autumn term there was The Feast (everyone banged their knives and forks on the wooden dining tables when the turkey entered ceremoniously) followed by wild and loud games in the Great Space at which the masters also took part. On Guy Fawkes’ night, families were allowed to attend and it was celebrated with a fireworks display let off by Sir Richard, then a bonfire was lit, followed by a general free-for-all in the grounds, as everyone was allowed to set off their own fireworks at will. The Choir treat usually involved a picnic on the beach at Hastings. Parties of boys were often taken to London to see a rugby match or test match. Dinner for the term’s leavers was held at a hotel, complete with party hats and whistles. Sometimes we watched films on a Saturday evening in the Great Space. 

There were two ‘Going Out Weekends’ a term. We were collected by our families at 12.10pm on Saturday, then had to be back to sleep at school; then we were allowed out again on Sunday morning, but had to be back for Chapel in the evening, which parents etc. were allowed to attend. Often the hymn was ‘The Day Thou Gavest Lord has Ended’, which provoked tears in some of the younger boys and their mothers who would not see each other again for several weeks. 

In an age when schools could be cruel and spartan, Saint Ronan’s was an enlightened place. Bullying was not tolerated; boys of all ages mixed; every new boy was given a nickname and a boy of eight, away from home for three months, could hardly have ended up at a better or a happier place. 

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