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OM Memories

Read through a selection of stories and memories, shared by OMs from across yesteryear...

If you would like to share anything please email us at the Club Office and if you have photos to accompany the memory, please also send them in.

Coal Mines and Currant Buns

by Tony Kenber (B2 1961-65)



John Dancy was headmaster throughout my time at MC and I remember him as a pioneering liberal educationalist who made a big contribution to the College's development. He was instrumental in starting the moves towards co-education and was a key member of the Public Schools Commission which I seem to remember was set up by Harold Wilson's Labour Government.

My father, Ernest Kember (CR 1936-73) was appointed a physics master at MC in 1936 and, apart from the war when he ran a tank training school in Rhyl, stayed at the College until he retired in 1973 when he was 63. I grew up in Marlborough. Dad was housemaster of B1 from 1953 to 1956 and then Cotton House until I believe about 1965 when he became 2nd Master. His final job was Registrar. His house tutor at Cotton House was John Isaacson who became a close family friend. I was in the Priory from 1961 for one year when Pat Barber was the housemaster and then transferred to B2 under Jack Halliday who was very upset one day when we had literally no silver left on the mantelpiece. The last cup we lost was the Chess cup! Both Pat Barber and Jack Halliday were very caring individuals and I knew their families well.

Mid morning, at B2, we used to be served hot chocolate in thick china mugs and could help ourselves to currant buns which were served from large laundry baskets located in the open basement area of B house. There were two housemen who used to help named Giddings and Rossiter. I can picture them both now and their precise appearances. They kept us all in order.

The first girl who came to MC was Caroline Wheeler who was allowed to attend chemistry classes in my last term - summer 1965. She was the elder daughter of one of the local doctors - Bob Wheeler and his wife, Jean. They lived in the middle of the high street on the higher level, Swindon side. It was the very start of co-education at MC and a prelude to the arrival of the first 30 girls who studied there and resided with various housemasters and their families.

Every summer a number of College boys used to go up north and stay with coal mining families to experience the life of a pit village and going down a mine. In return, coal miners and their wives used to visit MC for a week to learn more about a public school. In the very late 1950s, I remember a couple coming to stay with us called Mr and Mrs Bradshaw with a grown up family. He was still working as a miner and gave me a set of small books published by the NCB (National Coal Board) all about coal mining. When Dad took him round MC he could not believe the spartan conditions - loos without doors, cold showers and large dormitories with horse hair mattresses etc.

Dad was the first schoolmaster ever to be appointed to MC from a state school background. He had a good degree in physics from University College, London. In the 1960s he was Acting Master for one term when John Dancy had a sabbatical. Dad had a key role in persuading the Swindon education authority to fund 20 state school boys, as boarders at MC for 2 years, to undertake their A levels - an unprecedented event in those days.

During his time in charge of the CCF, Dad managed to persuade General Bernard Montgomery to come and inspect the corps. Indeed, after Dad died I found a short letter addressed to Dad, from Monty, amongst his papers.

50 Years of Girls Celebrations -  A Recent Reminiscence
by Checkie Hamilton (MO 2013-18)

It seems odd being asked to reminisce about my time at Marlborough having only left the College a mere few months ago. It seems perfectly natural to be back at the beginning of September and I have even been mistaken for a student giving a house tour this morning! 


Arriving at Marlborough in 2013 was certainly a shock from my small all-girls prep school in Dorset. We arrived in trepidation having heard the rumours of the boys rating the girls in an X-factor manner when walking through Norwood. Fortunately this proved to be merely an outdated rumour and after a few days the boys seemed far less intimidating. 


In my first year I was aware of an imbalance of girls and boys, particularly in my form class of 4 girls and 10 boys, but the girls have always punched above their weight, and with the creation and growth of two new girls houses, Ivy and Dancy, during my time here, we now have a much more equal balance. 


Today, it is certainly true to say that Marlborough could not be Marlborough without the girls. They provide a normal social dynamic akin to the real world outside the so called "Marlborough bubble" as well as rivalling the boys in all disciplines, including expanding into traditional boys sports such as cricket and football. 


I was fortunate to be given the opportunity to play in a boys cricket team whilst at Marlborough and perhaps one of my proudest moments was getting a wicket against Eton who seemed almost unaware of what a girl was, let alone that they could play cricket.


So 50 years on, it’s true to say that girls are thriving at Marlborough, just as Marlborough is thriving with girls.  


Memories of 50 years of girls at Marlborough and Sheila Elliott
by Caroline Christiansen (PR 1975-77)

I have just showed the most recent publication I have received (“Marlborough Together”, Autumn 2018) to my mother, Sheila Elliott, and she was thrilled to see pictures of the place in which she spent about 20 years of her early married life. She was especially interested in the celebrations of 50 years of girls at Marlborough, because she was there when it all began. She refers to these years as the happiest in her life.

Mum was “dame” of Cotton House, married to Housemaster and Classics teacher Alan Elliott (CR 1954-74), when the first girls arrived to occupy the converted maids’ rooms at the top of this Victorian edifice. She oversaw the decorations, bedspreads, curtains etc. I still remember those soft blues and greens. (She may not have been aware that a way was soon found to bypass the locked fire-door between these rooms and the boys’ dormitory next door!).

Before the girls’ arrival, Mum had to be the female stand-in for several House and School plays, treading the boards of both the Bradlian and the Mem Hall. On the stage of the latter, she acted in a Staff play paying tribute to John Dancy and his wife, who were depicted in a replica of the Gainsborough – the original of which was still in Adderley at the time – hung as a backdrop to her scene as one of the cleaners with, I think, Mary Roberts. (A photo exists somewhere of this scene, though I cannot locate it.) So, Mum was fascinated by the idea of the original Penny Reading, referred to in your publication, celebrating 50 years of girls at Marlborough.

As the oldest of three small daughters at the time, I regarded these exotic new girls with awe, being unaware that I would join their ranks a few years later, a year after Dad left Marlborough, as many Housemasters did, to become Headmaster elsewhere. (I was a contemporary of Harriet (née Egglestone), Baldwin, MP. We were the only two girls taking Russian A’level, and both went on to the same college at Oxford. Needless to say, I did not get the same First as Harriet did! My only claim to fame, having worked as a French teacher in international schools in Greece, France, and the UK all my life, is that I am the mother of 8x gold-medal-winning Paralympian Sophie Christiansen CBE, and of a son, Alex, of whom I’m equally proud, who is an NHS Physiotherapist and whose future wife has just finished a stint as a doctor in Savernake hospital where I was born. The world has turned full circle!).

Mum is still in touch with a few of the Cotton House boys of whom she was so fond. One of them very kindly drops in for a cup of tea whenever he’s in Brecon, where she now lives. Colin Goldsmith, who took over from us at Cotton House with his wife Pat, wrote a nice obituary for Dad for one of the publications in 2010. Mum would love to hear from anyone who remembers the Elliott time at Cotton House."

If you would like to be put back in touch with Shiela Elliott, please email the Marlburian Club at

Brasser in the 60s and 70s

After we shared Sue Canney's (LI 1970-72) photo of the Brasser on 2nd November, Tom Stevenson (LI 1966-71) sent us in several more which we also love.

If you want to see the full images, we have shared them on MC Global Connect in the newly created Brasser Group.

Brasser Group 1971

We love this photo of the Brasser group sent in by Sue Canney Davison (LI 1970-72).

We believe it was taken in 1971. If anyone can identify any of the players, we'd love to know?

My Time at Marlborough
by Jack Thomas (C2 1942-47)

One afternoon in July, 1942, my father and I took the steam train from Ealing Broadway to Paddington. There we boarded a faster train bound for the glories of the west country. Two hours later we alighted at the small station of Marlborough, long since closed by Dr Beeching. A pleasant walk of half a mile brought us to the centre of the town. Samuel Pepys admired the handsome high street with its colonnaded shops and broad avenue, wide enough for a coach and four to make a u-turn, and a church at both ends of the street. But we were not there merely to admire the town. We walked along the Bath road through the town until we came to Marlborough College at its west end which we explored. There my father spent the first 17 years of his life with 9 years as a pupil at the College. This is the history of four generations, Dean Farrar, J.S.Thomas, A.F.W.Thomas and J.B.W.Thomas, your humble author.

C2 was a friendly House. We slept in two dormitories, 30 boys in each, with bathrooms at the end. In the middle of each dormitory was a pair of ropes suspended from the ceiling with a ring at the end of each about level with your armpits. The prefects instructed us how to swing forward and backwards in ever increasing yardage until we hit the ceiling in front and behind. I could never do it! I am not a gymnast.

The prefects were on the whole a kindly lot and as far as I can recollect, there was no bullying or homosexual behaviour. There was some very mild fagging in which we did things for the prefects like cleaning their shoes or running down town to buy something for them. If we had to be disciplined, the punishment was “Voss me at 7, Thomas.” ‘Voss’ was a legendary school porter back in the 1860’s and vossing a prefect involved getting up at 7 o’clock fully dressed and waking him up. Normally we got up at 7.30, had a cold bath, dressed and crossed the court to the dining hall, a building which has since been knocked down, only to be replaced with an even less distinguished one. We were each allocated a pat of butter (‘groise’) which we then put on the end of a springy knife and flicked up so that it stuck on the ceiling. There it would stay for several days or weeks until the heat of the hall melted it and the pat would fall on some unfortunate and unsuspecting diner. The food by the way was atrocious. It was wartime and we were starving. We all supplemented our intake with a great deal of ‘brewing’ on gas stoves in our studies or common rooms. Baked beans which were not rationed were a staple supplementary diet. So was going downtown to the school tuck shop – first shop on the left as you enter the High Street. But for a real treat if a relative arrived to take one out, the Polly Tea Rooms offered exquisite and delicious delicacies.

The Master, F.M.Heywood, who I later discovered had been educated at Haileybury, once told a funny story on the top table which was deemed so hilarious it went right round the dining hall in 46 seconds flat. He told a story about the school swimming pool which I should explain was open-air and curved round part of the Mound whose trees shed their leaves profusely into the pool. “We sent a sample of water from the swimming pool,” said the Master to his prefects, “to the laboratory for analysis, and the report came back, ‘This horse will be fit for work in three days’ time!’ How we laughed at what we deemed in those days a rather risqué joke.

I said that we had a teaching staff of useless temporary beaks while all the real masters were away fighting the Nazis. On our table at lunch sat Mr Popovic who may or may not have been Russian. Anyway, he spoke little English. The object of our cruel joke was to make Mr Popovic embarrassed. Remember, we were a cruel lot when it came to speaking to any adult we despised. So somebody on the table was deputed to ask Mr Popovic the following question, “Sir, have you ever been tossed off by a horse?” Mr Popovic thought hard for a moment before replying, “No, but I should like to have been.” Collapse with mirth of the whole table. In retrospect, I am ashamed of our behaviour.

Sport was an important element in our lives – exercise of any sort or a ride on our bikes (‘grids’) to Silbury Hill, Avebury or even Stonehenge. Just above C.2 were the playing fields. Here we played rugger in the Christmas term, hockey in the Easter term and cricket in the summer term. At rugger I got badly injured by a boy called Drewry who tackled me and damaged my cartilege which eventually meant I needed surgery (see ILLNESSES). Leave-Off Games, as it was called, I turned to the indoor games and became good at Rugby Fives at which I represented the school in the first pair.

Music played quite a large part in my life. The Director of Music was B.D.Hilton-Stewart, though we always called him Hagger-Staggers. So when he took Congrational Practice in the Memorial Hall on a Friday morning, we had Congregagga Pragga in the Memoragga Hagga with Hagger-Stagger. There was a great deal of schoolboy slang, almost all of which I have forgotten. But if you wanted to reserve something, you ‘rushed’ it. A run across the Marlborough Downs was a ‘sweat’. One of the beaks was called Tegan. He was known as Two-Gun Tegan. E.R.L.Gough who wore a toupée was known as ‘Wiggy’ Gough.

Brasser 1941

I soon became a member of the choir and sang in our beautiful chapel all my time at Marlborough. I also took up the trombone and played in Brasser, which was great fun. I remember I bought my lovely instrument from Boosey and Hawkes in Upper Regent street, near the B.B.C., for the princely sum of £12. I was taught trombone by Mr Lewis who is sitting in that photo on the left of Hilton-Stewart.
I played in the school orchestra under the baton of Hilton-Stewart and remember vividly the thrill of performing Schubert’s Unfinished symphony. One cannot get much nearer to heaven than that. Hilton-Stewart also organised Subscription Concerts. He brought down to Marlborough the London Symphony Orchestra which he conducted. Solomon played the piano divinely and one memorable concert gave us Benjamin Britten on the piano, Peter Pears singing tenor and Dennis Brain in R.A.F. uniform playing his French Horn.

Just before ‘D’ Day, an American band came and gave us a fantastic concert in the Memorial Hall. No, alas, it was not Glen Miller, but it was as good as him, with sousaphones at the ready and a glorious stream of Sousa’s incomparable marches sending us into delirium. So music was very well catered for in our lives.

Religion too played a big part. I was ordained by the Bishop of Salisbury (Rt. Rev. Neville Lovett) and in my last two years assisted the communicant at the altar during Holy Communion, something which I also did back at St Matthew’s with my father. We had some memorable sermons in Chapel. We were prepared to listen but expected the sermon to last no longer than twelve minutes. Imagine our horror when Winnington-Ingram, Old Marlburian and Bishop of London for yonks years, preached fluently for 20 minutes and then said from the pulpit, “secondly.” The whole school groaned audibly. Later that day, in the Master’s Lodge, Winnington-Ingram blessed various groups of boys who were summoned – the Prefects, the leavers, the first XV and the confirmandi. One boy happened to belong to all four groups and received four blessings from the Bishop. My! But was he holy!

During my four years in C.2 I had four Housemasters. Since I myself became a Housemaster at Haileybury for 18 years, I do know what I am talking about. I will give my mark for each of them.

R.A.U. Jennings was a lovely man who lasted two years and then married which meant he had to leave as C.2 was a bachelor House. He taught me English one year and inspired me with a love of Browning’ s dramatic monologues, especially The Bishop orders his tomb in St Praxed’s Church and Soliloquy of a Spanish Cloister Years later when we at last visited Rome, the first church we had to see was St Praxed’s (It’s just by Trajan’s Column). I can still hear in my mind ‘Janks’ as we called him spouting, “Grr! There goes my heart’s abhorrence…” I think he was a good Housemaster if a bit handicapped by falling in love. Β+

After him for one term only came D.S.Milford, a wonderful rackets player (he had been world champion) and international hockey player. As a Housemaster he was totally useless. He always put Brylcreem liberally on his hair and was known affectionately as ‘Slimey M’ γ

He was followed for two years by F.H.P.Barber who had been in the army and was badly shell shocked. He tried hard but could not do a good job. βγ

Finally I endured G.R.Rees-Jones whom you can see was Welsh and very pleased with himself. I would say he was a lazy schoolmaster, though he did go on to become a Headmaster where it is even easier to be lazy. In the 1930’s he played centre for Wales, look you, in a legendary team. At Oxford his wing three-quarter had been the famous Prince Obolensky. Βγ+

In the four years I spent in C.2 not once did any Housemaster ever visit us in our dormitories; not once was I visited in the Sanatorium where I had German measles for 10 days.

My best friend at school was Peter Lloyd who was Best Man at my wedding. By a strange coincidence Peter and I were born on the same day in 1928. Saturday, July 23rd. We had the same tastes in so many different ways. We both had fathers who were parsons; both had one elder sister. We liked doing the same things – playing games, singing in the choir, playing in the orchestra, listening to classical music, watching sport. We both went in to the R.A.E.C (Royal Army Education Corps) for our National Service; we both went to Peterhouse, we both did a Dip. Ed. in our fourth years; we both became schoolmasters and subsequently Housemasters, he at Uppingham, I at Haileybury. That’s about where the coincidences end. But we shared a study in New Court, number 22. On one occasion there was a knock at the door and two Old Marlburians paid us a visit. One was Lord Jowitt who was the Lord Chancellor and the other was Lord Goddard, the Lord Chief Justice. That was the most distinguished gathering that study had ever seen!

On the 8th March, 1945, one of my friends died in the Sanatorium. He was Michael Hanscombe, 17 years old, who had contracted meningitis which killed him in three days. I was terribly shocked and I think the whole school was surprised, saddened and humbled by the news.

In my last term, F.M.Heywood took a sabbatical and went to India. A dreary little Maths teacher called Robson became acting Master and promptly set about organising a rebellion in Common Room to get rid of Heywood. The uprising came to nothing and Heywood continued as Master. Meanwhile on the first day of my last term, I went across Court to the Museum Block to look at the Master’s Notice board. And there it was. Robson had made me a School Prefect. There were at that time over 700 boys in the school, a mere 25 of whom were School Prefects, about two per House. So it was a great honour and afforded me the incomparable delight of wearing a white tie on Sundays and being allowed to carry an umbrella as a symbol of my office in all weathers, including prolonged heat waves.

On June 6th, 1944, I was sitting in a classroom in the Leaf Block being taught French irregular verbs by Mr G.G.Beecher when he casually announced that the Allies had invaded France and that it was D Day. A couple of weeks before this, we awoke to find tanks parked all down the Bath Road. A Division had landed on the school on its way to a port for embarkation on D Day. It was Friday so we all trooped to the Memorial Hall for our weekly conregagga pragga. We sat there patiently waiting for the Director of Music and looking at the stage with its huge blue curtains firmly closed. Unknown to us the officers of this regiment were eating their breakfast behind those curtains on the stage. It happened that the school play that term was French Without Tears which required a large table as the only prop. Some clever stage hand went back stage and pulled open the curtains. There were all the officers around the table enjoying a quiet breakfast. Suddenly they were exposed to the gaze of 700 boys and mocking laughter. This event for some of those officers was perhaps more terrifying than their subsequent landing on Sword, Omaha and other beaches in Normandy. We went into our classrooms for lessons and found soldiers at the back of the rooms shaving and eating breakfast out of billycans. It was the most extraordinary day I ever spent at Marlborough.

On about the third day of my last term, it snowed heavily and it never stopped all through, January, February and March. We were frozen with the cold. All of us had terrible chilblains. No games could be played; snowballing became the top sport. As I walked up from town one icy afternoon a car came round the corner, lost control and skidded inexorably towards me. That could have been my last moment on earth. It missed me and term ended early. I left Marlborough a fairly mature schoolboy, not very well educated but eager to discover the world. The army turned me into a man and Cambridge educated me.

The school motto is Deus Dat Incrementum (1 Corinthians 3:6:"God Gives The Increase"). I certainly felt that He had increased me.

Marlborough Reminiscences
by Charles A. Hope (B1 1954-58)

"First just a gentle start. In a Shell maths set, a master was conducting a mental arithmetic test. “I have eight pence in my left trouser pocket and nine pence in my right pocket. I transfer one third of the money in my right pocket to my left pocket. I then take five pence from my left pocket and put it in my right pocket. I then spend three pence on an ice cream and pay for it from the coins in my left pocket. Jones, how much have I got left in my left in my pocket?” Jones, who had been dreaming, answered quick as a flash, “Precious little, Sir?”

The CCF Field Day sometimes went through the night for the older boys during the 1950s and in the Winter terms it was still mighty cold. Our group were given a grid reference and told to get there not later than 8 am when two boys would bring us breakfast. We worked out a compass bearing which was straight through Savernake Forest and set off in as straight a line as we could amongst the trees and bushes. We eventually came to a 10 foot high fence and realised we had somehow got stuck in a deer park. We could hear the deer rushing about not very far away but could not see them. They would all suddenly stop and we could hear their breathing but still could not see them and wondered if they were getting ready for a charge in the same way Mowgli killed Shere Khan the Tiger with the herd of buffaloes in the Jungle Book. In some panic we pulled up a section of the fence enough to crawl underneath. I think we reached our rendezvous about 4am to sleep briefly before being woken by the arrival of breakfast on a pair of bicycles.

Meanwhile, Vaux, I think it was, a sturdy second row forward in the College 1st XV was taking part in some other mission up north on the bleak Marlborough Downs.
His group lost him. This did not worry them at all and they wandered about in the biting cold wind until eventually they saw the light from a fire and set off to investigate. There was Vaux sitting in the warmth and happily toasting one of his sandwiches. They asked him where he had found all the wood. Came the reply, “There was a hut.”

My own, more trivial part in playing at soldiers on a Summer Field Day was waiting down at the bottom of a field bordered by a hedge. It was going to be our turn next to stage an attack on a copse towards the top of the field. We were standing about getting bored and I wondered what effect it would have firing a blank cartridge at close range at an ear of some cereal crop that was growing just the other side of the hedge. So I did and looking at what was left of it, I said in rather a detached manner, “Hmm, shredded wheat.” It then seemed quite funny but down the hill striding at a great pace came a master who had been a Captain in the 2nd World War and was now teaching us war games. He was furious and demanded to know who fired that shot. I admitted it was me straight away. “Don’t you realise you will have given your position away to the enemy?” he demanded. Foolishly, I thought this absurd and said “but we have not started yet.” He was furious and told me he would report me to my Housemaster and asked that I should be caned for insolence and not taking the war game seriously. Luckily for me, my Housemaster, Derek Seymour, quite liked the shredded wheat bit and I escaped the beating.

The statue of Cupid that had been – and I think still is – in the Memorial Rose Garden. We all arrived for breakfast one morning to see it sitting on the apex of the Hall roof which was about the same height as the splendid new Dining Hall. Nobody ever knew who did it and perhaps after 60 years one of the team will admit to be a perpetrator and explain how they got it up there. It stayed there for about a week while someone worked out how best to get it down. There are still separate and named beds in the Rose Garden. An anonymous letter in the Marlburian expressed concern that the President Hoovers were, for the second year, in the next bed to the Lady Belpers.

The highway authority put up a sign just before the bridge over the road from B3, warning of children crossing as indeed they did to reach the main gate. The sign, back in the mid 1950s, showed a boy and a girl holding hands, the girl in a dress and the boy in short trousers. Within a few days some Marlburian found this all too humiliating, got some black paint and gave the boy a pair of long trousers. I do remember Tom Garnet saying in some assembly that the Highways Authority had objected to having their road signs defaced and no one was to do such a thing again. We were sure he had a twinkle in his voice.

“Bolly” Lamb had a cupboard in his classroom in Leaf Block where he kept all his books and at the beginning of every lesson he would open the cupboard and get out what he needed. One morning, a College beagle had escaped from the kennels that were up by the Observatory and wandered into the classroom. The boys swiftly put it into this cupboard and waited. When Mr Lamb appeared as usual opened the cupboard, out walked the beagle to greet him. It made a very happy start to the day

My brother Robert was also in B1 six years earlier and the next two stories are from his days.

Court was mostly, if not all tarmac in his and my time with a double row of Lime trees running down from the gate to C House and masters used to park outside C House. Someone fixed a huge meteorology balloon over the end of the exhaust pipe of a car parked back against the wall with the empty balloon tucked out of sight. It was filling to a good size as he drove out of the gate and set off down the Bath Road. No one knew whether the owner had seen the balloon in his rear view mirror and removed it before his car spluttered to a halt or whether the balloon had simply burst and given him the shock of his life.

One of the teaching staff regularly came into his North Block classroom for the first lesson after lunch having had rather too much to drink. In those days there were about 6 lights in the classroom, each of them a large white glass ball hanging on a cable from the ceiling. One day, carefully planned and rehearsed, a lookout told the rest of the class when he was coming and standing on chairs, they got all the lights to swing round in a clockwise circle. They then all quickly sat down at their desks and swung their heads and shoulders round and round in time with the lights. The poor man came in, stared across the classroom, held his head in his hands, said he would be back shortly and hurried out.

Mr Quadling took the Maths Upper V1th. Not being a boastful man, some one other than he told me that he had redesigned the trigger mechanism in the British version of the Sten Gun, a small quick firing short range machine gun that had been invented to make use of large amounts of ammunition captured from the Germans which would not fit the 303 rifles and Bren guns used by the British army. What he did tell us (in a more general Set in the Hundreds) was that he had taught a boy called Wall, one of those brilliant mathematicians who are moved into the Upper V1th aged 15. Mr Quadling said in the following year there was nothing more he could teach him and gave him the most advanced book he could find, written in German, which he was to work his way through on his own. He finished it within a term and Mr Quadling had to find something else. He was nicknamed Sweet and Lovely by the other members of the class, all at least two years older, from the line in Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream , “O sweet and lovely wall.” Wall took an Oxford Scholarship Exam prepared, as was the custom then and maybe still is, by a group of 5 or 6 Oxford Colleges. The main paper said at the top, “Candidates should attempt at least 8 Questions.” Wall apparently answered all but one of the 20 questions and then wrote. “I believe the 14th question is incorrectly set. This is how I think it should have been” and then he rewrote the question. “If I am right, then the answer would be as follows” and then solved the problem as now set by him. Not surprisingly, all the Colleges in the group offered him their top Scholarship. Perhaps Wall will read this and tell us more.

The Memorial Hall brings back many memories.

The Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra came by coach to us and then straight on to Bradfield School to give concerts twice a year. They came with 6 double basses for one concert and Sir Charles Groves conducting usually, I now read from an old copy of The Marlburian, without any music in front of him. They continue this tradition of bringing fine music to schools to this day, no doubt still to Marlborough.

Christopher Hassall came to give a talk and, with Dame Edith Evans, read extracts from various plays including, even in those far away days, her happily over the top version of Ernest in the handbag speech.

James Blades, the percussionist, came with a great assortment of instruments. He told us how the huge gong at the start of J Arthur Rank films was made of cardboard which boxer Billy Wells and later wrestler Ken Richmond pretended to strike while James Blades would struck his gong. As an aside during his talk and demonstrations of various percussion instruments, he said, “If bread is the staff of life, what is the life of staff?” After a pause, “One long loaf.”

Later in his talk, he got out a baby’s bib and held it up for us to see. “This is an invention of mine. I am planning on it making my fortune and then be able to retire. It has a foam rubber front so that when your baby dribbles soup down it, the soup gets absorbed instead of running off the bottom and making everything messy.” Then, while pretending to wring out the bib with both hands, “You can see the great advantage is that your baby can have a second helping.” The “urghs” just about equalled the laughter.

After a final flourish with a row of car horns, the sort that seals are taught to play in circuses, he produced another car horn, with the large black rubber bulb set in the mouth of the horn instead of the pointed end. “This is another of my inventions. It is for putting strawberry jam into donuts. You squeeze the bulb, put the point into the jam and release your grip on the bulb to suck up the jam. You then stick the point into the donut and squeeze the bulb. You release your grip on the bulb and then after a pause, remove the point from the donut. This last action means you suck most of the jam back out, save a lot of money and just leave the smear you get in modern jam donuts.”

Opera bass Eric Shilling came to sing the lowest notes I have ever heard. He must have been in his twenties at the time. No doubt with a soprano and others but it is only him that I remember. After a particularly low last note of some song, he ground his foot on the floor boards as if giving a final push to some earth down a hole he had dug.

He told us that one of his highest honours was to be invited to sing in an Italian opera at the Milan La Scala. He set off at once to see an Italian coach and rehearse his part to ensure his pronunciation was absolutely at its best. Onto the stage he went and started to sing. Very shortly, the audience began to laugh at him. He knew of only three reasons why an audience would do such a thing. The first was that he had come onto the stage having failed to do up his buttons properly. He looked down and all was in order. The second was that the theatre cat had followed him on, so he surreptitiously looked behind him and could see nothing. The third was the grim reality – they were “giving him the bird” and laughing at his incompetence.

He continued to sing, trying his hardest and as soon as he came off the stage he asked an English speaking Italian singer why the audience had been laughing at him. The man replied, “They were not laughing at you. They were laughing because what you were singing was very funny and they revelled in the deadpan humour on your face” After singing in England to audiences who enjoyed the music and the sound of it all but never understood a word, this had never crossed his mind. He continued for the rest of the performance remaining in serene and blissful ignorance of what on earth it was that he was singing.

From time to time, we had concert pianists come to play. The grand piano was apparently a very fine one though the casters on its legs did not spin too well. This was not a problem to a team of helpers who would swiftly shunt it across the stage as required.

A ballet company came for one subscription concert. My only memory of it is that of a pretty little dancer suddenly falling to the floor, landing on her bottom, immediately bouncing up again without using her hands and continuing to dance as if nothing had happened. It was so seamless, I thought perhaps the whole thing must be part of the performance and only afterwards, I learned that she had caught her toe in one of the ruts made by the grand piano.

Every year the Inter House Singing Competition was held in the Memorial Hall. We were blessed with Richard Podger in B1, a musician who played the flute, the piano and probably more instruments and sang with such skill that he won top scholarship to Kings College Cambridge. We came 1st with Drake’s Drum and the following year without him, we came humiliatingly last. It all left me with the unshakeable belief that Conductors can work miracles with a motley collection of amateurs, happily confirmed when Gareth Malone came along 50 years later.

At the end of term there was always a concert, most of it comprising short light-hearted sketches, many gently mocking the characteristics of the teaching staff. None of the sketches can I remember at all but between two of them, a large second row forward, perhaps Vaux, appeared from the wings of the right side of the stage pulling a tug of war rope slowly across the stage until he disappeared into the wings on the left and there was nothing but the rope for 15 seconds or so jerking its way slowly across and then a team of five or six boys appeared from the right all tugging hard but failing amidst much laughter. Between two later sketches, Vaux appeared again, tugging this rope from the right, all in the same way with nothing but the jerking rope for 15 seconds or so until he re-appeared on the right being tugged by himself across the stage.

An exquisite memory of The Right Reverend Bloomer, Bishop of Carlisle, standing outside A House in black and purple as I arrived. “I am looking for my son Bloomer. Have you seen him anywhere recently?” Before going in to look, I saw on the other side of Court by The Master’s notice board there were a couple of boys one of which looked like Bloomer with his distinctive red hair and I said, “I think that’s him.” The Bishop peered across Court and said “Ah yes, thank you. It is he.”

Every Marlburian of my generation will remember hearing for the first time the astonishing volume of the singing in chapel. You took it for granted after a while until you were next in an ordinary parish church and were surprised at the barely audible congregation. I came back for a reunion of our era ten years or so ago and somehow all of us attending the service sang as we had always sang in chapel, full volume. By chance the Master joined us at our table for lunch and with real sadness in his voice said that we had sung with more enthusiasm and greater sound than when the chapel was filled with the present school. Certainly Peter Godfrey pushed us along in the singing practice we had every Thursday before he was enticed away to New Zealand. One memory of our daily chapel service was a prefect announcing the lesson he was about to read. “Today’s lesson is taken from the second apostle of St Paul the epistle to the Corinthians”. No one ever knew whether he had created this Spoonerism on purpose but it was not the same prefect whose turn it was to read the long Latin grace at lunch. It was usually read at great speed but still took 15 seconds or so. This prefect read quite slowly and after about 20 seconds paused before starting the next sentence but the whole school sat down and started talking with the usual noise made by 700 boys and he never finished.

Dr. Hunter, the school doctor, must have a mention. He had a no nonsense manner about him and would fairly regularly inject two days worth of penicillin in one dose as he considered this was more effective, never mind any instructions from the manufacturers of it. The whole school got through a fearful Spanish Flu epidemic in 1957 without loss when part of Summerfield was converted into an overflow sanatorium. One day when out shooting with his 12 bore shotgun, he slipped while going through a hedge and got some mud in the barrels. While cleaning it out with his middle finger, he managed to catch the trigger on something and blasted off the end of his finger. He was just pleased he was not looking down the barrel.

Perhaps it was both Vaux and Matson again, this time on top of the flat roof one wing of the Science block during a practical physics lesson. The class were trying to calculate the height of the science block by timing how long it took an eight pound shot to fall from the roof to the ground. Whoever was teaching them had gone off to do something and had rashly left the class on the roof. A few wandered off onto the roof of the other wing and one of them thought he should throw the shot from one side to the other for a friend to catch. He tried and not only did it not reach the roof, it smashed its way straight through the glass window of the classroom below. Like any quick thinking Marlburian, he knew it would be best not to hesitate and quickly dashed down and round and up to the classroom, knocked on the door and when asked to come in, said to the teacher. “Please Sir, can I have my ball back?”
History does not relate the sequel.

In B1 and no doubt throughout the school, we had House Prayers at the end of each day. The housemaster would say the prayers and a house prefect would choose a reading, often a parable or a story from the Old Testament. One night, Nigel Roberts just stood without anything in his hands and said, “Cast a cold eye on life, on death.Horseman, pass by.” Two lines from a poem of W.B.Yeats. It had a stunning if chilling effect on me and no doubt on everyone. He was a very talented poet himself.

We had some excellent sermons in the college chapel many preached on the basis that the discomfited were to be comforted and the comfortable were to be discomfited. One followed the theme of us all being miserable sinners to be converted from our wicked ways. The preacher made it clear that if we were wanting to get to Bath, turned to the right at the college gates and set off down the High Street until someone “converted” us, so that we turned back the other way, we would not have reached Bath. We would not have even reached the point from which we had started.

Bruce Chatwin was in B2. He enjoyed his rather refined and cultured image and he thought he might make a career in Sotheby’s. He did indeed spend some time there as a porter before starting to write. Playing rugger seemed to him rather an uncouth and unwholesome pastime but play he had to as we all did. He was not a fast runner and was consigned to the scrum. In a combined B House match against C House, Chatwin was passed the ball about 10 yards from the line. He had no option but to charge his way through the melee and hurl himself over for a try. What was not to be missed was seeing him get back on his feet to great applause, in obvious confusion over whether to be proud of his achievement or having to cope with the loss of his treasured image.

Playing a friendly game of tennis with Nicholas Halton in a howling gale on B1’s court below the athletics track, a ball drifted off in the wind towards Preshute and rolled past the wire mesh gate in the fence about two courts away. He set off to get it and on the way back, he shut the gate as he went by and said, “Oh, that explains why it is so windy in here.”

Perhaps not for printing but there is no doubt you will have to have it - certainly with no names, first heard by me at Marlborough but with no memory of when, who and where. One boy broke wind (oh all right, farted) rather noisily. The class all started giggling and the beak said severely “Stop that! “ One voice, instantly “Yes Sir, which way did it go? “

Mr Goodban taught in a classroom immediately to the right after entering the doorway welcoming in Greek only those who can manage geometry, but what subject he taught us now escapes me. One day, as the lesson was due to start, someone came in and told us to read and revise as Mr Goodban was not feeling well enough to come in and was staying at home. He was one of those really pleasant teachers who treated us with more kindness than we deserved and as a result we did take unfair advantage by talking in class and not being intimidated.

One member of the class – and I am sad to have forgotten his name too because he deserves praise for this – said that in the break after lunch we should call on him at his house which was one of the terraced houses in the High Street just past the church on the right, say hello, wish him a swift recovery and tell him we looked forward to having him back soon. About 5 of us went. We rang the doorbell and Mrs Goodban came to the door. Our leader explained why we had come. Mrs Goodban called up to her husband asking if he would like to see us and off we went upstairs. He was sitting up in bed having had some lunch himself. We said our bit and very soon disappeared. I learned weeks later from some other member of the staff – and I cannot remember who – that he was absolutely overwhelmed by what we had done.

I was reminded of this when learning that the Headmaster of Westminster School said that he had given up appealing to boys’ better nature because after 40 years in the teaching profession, he realised that boys did not have a better nature. I would not argue with him but once in a while you catch a glimpse of what might come later.

In or around 1957, there appeared in a National newspaper a letter written by some man attacking British public schools in a truly vile manner with all the usual claims that they were filled with thick over- privileged slobs whose parents had too much money etc. etc. Two boys wrote a reply from school directly to him “on lavatory paper as this is the only appropriate paper on which to write to someone as foul as you” and heaped a load of abuse upon him. The man was over the moon and immediately followed up his first letter with another saying , “ I told you so” quoting this and other choice extracts. The two boys went to see The Master, Tom Garnet, and confessed all. He was very understanding, told the whole school what had happened and this was the first time I heard that excellent advice that you should never post a letter full of anger and steam until you have read it again in the cool of the following morning.

Mr Guy Barton was our Art Teacher with all the eccentricity that artists should have and blessed with an eccentric wife Maire although I never met her. In the mid 1950s in the 5th Form we had one art lesson a fortnight (alternating with one of musical appreciation each week). He had such enthusiasm for his subject he carried you along. From making us consider the effect of the dark blue sky impossibly seen through the windows in Van Gogh’s painting of the church at Arles at one end of the scale, to photographs of a tower block of flats at the other. The tower block was to him a disastrous concept of isolation with the impossibility of a mother letting her children enjoy a playground a dozen or two floors below. He wanted a combination of privacy away from the outside world and of meeting the outside world on neutral and unthreatening territory such as a communal garden containing benches in the entrance area to a group of homes. In a residential home, there should be an area for having a cup of coffee with newspapers to read through which every one must pass. All this, I am sure, was his original thinking and who knows, those who speak of such things now, might have had his thoughts filtered down to them from those who had heard him 60 years ago, even if they have new names such as “defensible space” for his concepts.

Another member of the Staff, Mr Davies who taught English, told me of an invitation he and his wife had to dinner with another couple at the Barton’s farmhouse, with an old style kitchen range. They ate at a long bare wood table in the kitchen and food was served straight from the saucepan to their plates by Maire. There was only admiration and a little envy in his voice as he told me. During the meal, his wife had said to Maire, “I am now going to carpentry classes. I have made a tray. I have heard you do a bit of carpentry too.” “Yes indeed,” said Maire, “do you remember the five barred gate you came through at the bottom of the drive? That was the last thing I made.”

Mr Barton himself told us that he and Maire were having a spring holiday in the countryside one year and passed a field full of sheep. One of them was coal black. Maire insisted they called in to see the farmer. She asked him if she could have the fleece from the black sheep. In return she would sheer both it and some more sheep in his flock. They did a little haggling over how many sheep she should sheer and reached a bargain they were both happy with. Maire came home with the fleece, washed it , carded it, spun it into many balls of wool and then knitted him a fine black sweater.

While trying to track down the name of Mr Barton’s wife on the internet, I came across a website “parishkneelers ” run by a Mrs Elizabeth Bingham (who numbers Chris Hogg and Peter & Henry Brooke among Marlburians she knows). She has a page on Mr Barton’s time spent designing church kneelers after leaving Marlborough. It is truly impressive – Guy Barton enthusiasts should read it."

Life as a Senior Prefect
By Charlie Duff (B2 1979-84)

The trickiest morning of my term of office started with Roger Ellis (then Master) knocking on my door in the Porter's Lodge to ask me if I knew anything about the 32 pound artillery gun that had been placed in the middle of Court pointing directly at C House or the banner made from a bed-sheet with the words “17 SAS” which had been hung high up the spire of Chapel and was far beyond the reach of the Estate Bursar's team.

There were only two people to my knowledge with the ability to pick the lock on the gun garage, hot-wire the CCF Land Rover to tow it to Court and the mountaineering skills (and equipment) to climb the spire but I professed ignorance and the Master seemed happy not to find out and left with a twinkle in his eye. I am almost sure that the perpetrators offered to take the banner back down several days later as a selfless community act, which was gratefully accepted!

Carpentry Prize
by John Labouchere (PS 1949-54)

I was pleased to see some of the practical Old Marlburians given space in the winter 2016 OM Club Magazine.

My brother (Colin Labouchere, LI 1952-56) pointed out that I won the Carpentry Prize in 1954 with the building of the Village Green Seat at Sculthorpe, Norfolk, commissioned in memory of the 1953 Coronation of our Queen Elizabeth II. Shown in the photo as it was delivered to the village, and in the same place some 63 years later.

“Bushy (for his short fuse) Brent" was the Master in charge of the Carpenters' Shop behind Mount House. Towards completion the seat occupied much of the workshop. It was constructed of Burma (then available) Teak from Mallinsons (OMs all) and cost my father the then considerable outlay of £18 10s. The completed seat came 200 miles home on the roof of the Ford V-8 shooting brake. Since then I have worked in many churches and cathedrals replacing angels, ogres, saints and not a few pew-ends as a church joiner and wood-carver.

Thank-you MC for giving me this great start to an interesting life.

The Snow of 1947
by Tim Halton (B1 1945-49)

I was reminded the other day whilst watching the BBC weather programme how viciously cold it was during the whole of February 1947.

Snow drifts across the country caused roads and railways to be blocked with the result that coal supplies already low after the war struggled to get through to power stations so the use of electricity was restricted and as a result many of the classrooms were closed so many of us had our lessons in some of the "Out Houses " as they still had heating.

Because of the snow which lasted for weeks and the freezing temperatures no hockey or any other organised sport was played. However, all was not lost as a new sport evolved. Down Granham Hill there is an old cart track zigzagging down it, probably over grown now, which was ideal for a toboggan run. Sledges appeared from nowhere and my old homemade one was sent down to me on the train. The track was fast and I suppose quite dangerous. We lay on our tummies and steered by dragging a foot. Someone I recall failed to roll off before hitting a bush and got concussed. We were then all told to be more careful next time, no "health and safety" then! We did bicycle to Wootton Rivers on occasions to skate on the canal but it was not so much fun and when the authorities heard someone had fallen through the ice it was stopped!

Tim also reminded us that there was a paragraph in the 1947 edition of the College Magazine describing the “Great Cold” - which some may recall.

Copyright 2011



Marlborough College, Bath Road, Marlborough, Wilts SN8 1PA