Although the Harrod period is rightly regarded as Sibford’s ‘Golden Age’ not everyone had the same feeling towards that period though they were very much in the minority. Ian Hedger, who was at Sibford between September 1928 and July1935, which covered the end of the James Harrod period and the start of Arthur Johnstone’s era, and also the move from the School’s traditional site at the Manor to its current site at the Hill wrote his evocative, and deliciously acerbic memoirs, shortly before his death in November 2012. He entitled it:
That was The School that was!
“At long last we have some formal notification (2002) of the burial of the Old Lady (The Manor), issued it seems by the undertaker himself! I refer of course to the oversize post card arriving with this year’s Reunion programme. (Ed: We are not sure as to which Reunion Ian referred.) My mind immediately bumbled back some 75 years to when I carved my name followed by the date 1928 on the roof beams above the Boys Playground Loo. It wasn’t of course called a ‘Loo’ in those far off days; the terminology was ‘Fezzies’, which I imagine had some reference to the headgear worn by the away team at the battle of Omdurman!. This undoubted work of art, produced by myself, showed both initiative and achievement, although the reward was such that I was unable to sit comfortably for several days! Returning to the present day I wondered which particular dwelling of the character collection will inherit my early masterpiece. Possible a blue plaque with the simple and telling words ‘Hedger was here, mounted adjacent to the privileged entrance would without question, serve to enhance the ambience of the courtyard scene!
‘Relive the best days of your life’ may suggest the notice is specifically for Old Scholars but it is not exactly an epithet I would apply to those Neanderthal days of James Tyler Harrod, complete with trimmed beard and side whiskers. In my opinion the School was still living in the stagnant ethos of the end of the Great War some ten years previously. There were daily reminders of the importance of the League of Nations and also a polyglot language called Esperanto, with a vocabulary of 2000 words culled from a melange of the entire dictionaries of Europe that was to bring all mankind peace and tranquillity. Educational sanity began to return to the School with the advent of the Cro-Magnon period of Arthur Johnstone; but even he found it hard going at times. He was a good teacher of Mathematics and I remember in my School Certificate year he taught us a few tricks from elementary Calculus in order to solve seemingly impossible equations. Although many found fault with his Headship, it must, in fairness, be said that he was the person who pulled the whole School out of its educational mire of the late 1920’s and also sowed the seeds of the development leading to the present day. Having said this it is possible that my perception, as the smallest boy in the bottom Form, may be faulty. There were during Harrod’s period a number of exceptional students, some of whom became, in their time, household names.
My most pungent memory of that grey winter term, my first, was being given the leading role in a ‘New Boy’s Concert’. The candidate stood on a discarded and very unsafe trestle table, arms stretched out and a lighted candle in each hand. He was then required to sing the national anthem or some such ditty. Any perceived failure in pitch or diction was immediately rewarded with a mouthful of toothpaste and shoe blacking mixture and a return to the beginning of the ordeal. On successful completion there was, it seemed, a statutory period of detention in the ‘Glory Hole’, a partly bricked up area completely airless beneath a disused staircase. The atmosphere was enhanced by the daily visit of the Headmaster’s dog Toby. I believe the whole thing was discontinued after my happy inauguration; at least I have no recollection of being a later spectator.
At that time the Old School was lit by homemade petrol gas and, as far as we pupils were concerned, only George Webb, the general maintenance foreman, was allowed to handle the thing or its fittings, hence it was always dark at night after ‘lights out’. The journey from the Dormitory to the distant bathroom was considered unsuitable for young lads; actually the story went that we might end up in the Girls Dormitory by mistake and in those far off days that would never do! As a result of these restrictions we all had ‘gallipots’ without handles (Ed: Chamber Pots) placed under our beds. On moonlit nights these were used for team races along the 6 x 80 foot corridor between beds. Although great skill was exercised there were from time to time casualties and the item was no longer suitable for its original purpose. Strangely at the start of each year the faulty vessels that had escaped replacement, always found their way under the new boy’s beds with disastrous results. This inevitably led to acrimonious correspondence between Matron and the Parents concerned and many a first ‘end of term’ report was unnecessarily condemning.
We had at that time a weekly Science lesson given by a gentleman known as ‘Crappy’ Thorpe (Ed: James Thorpe). He was Welsh so that probably accounts for his unusual forename! Water supplies came from a spring at the back of the Manor and were pumped by an ingenious device known as a Hydraulic Ram; driven by what is nowadays incorrectly termed ‘renewable energy’. One day ‘Crappy’ told us about the workings of this wonderful beast and then offered an apple to the first boy who could explain it. I was hungry at the time (a fairly permanent state) and pumped my hand up and down with great gusto. However, I was a new boy and not a member of the football team so was ignored until the remainder of the class, some twenty or more, had demonstrated their ignorance. In those days I had never heard of such words as ‘gravitational forces’ and ‘momentum’ but at least I gave a credible and, I think, creditable answer and like Paris, won the apple. That was not the end; it gave me the reputation of being too cocky. My ‘comeuppance’ came about a week later when my name appeared as a reserve for an away football match. The importance was not the game but the fact that away teams always had cream buns for tea. The great day came and as I was about to board the bus, someone said that ‘Gaffer’ (Ed: James Harrod) wanted to see me. Back I went to the main entrance hall to be received with a friendly smile and a shake of the head so back I went to the bus only to have the door shut in my face. I was naïve enough that I actually ran after it for fifty yards or so, banging on the side thinking that the driver had made a mistake!
We were in general shut away for thirteen weeks at a time and looked forward to a Saturday evening entertainment of some kind. No TV (not invented) and, until I made my own, only one radio in the Head’s house. We were sometimes allowed to listen to ‘improving’ programmes but in fact just to hear noise and music come out of a box was an excitement in itself. By way of alternative fun, there was a Gent who gave a Lantern lecture (Black and White slides and a light source that required a bicycle pump to keep it going.) on Macedonia and the Monasteries of Athos. After an hour, even the Master running the machine and changing the slides was getting a little weary and when the announcement came ‘This is a picture of my wife’ and an upside down sheep appeared on the screen to the joy of all!
This may seem tame to current sophisticates, but to us, at that time, it was a thing of joy for many days.
Another perennial was a worthy Quaker named Harvey Theobald to talk on the evils of alcohol. Quite absurd since most of us came from teetotal homes. He invariably produced a phial from his waistcoat pocket saying, with a grand gesture, ‘That this was the demon alcohol’, which was usually greeted with hastily subdued cheers from corners of the Hall that couldn’t be seen from the platform! It was noted by the School that the amount decreased term by term, no doubt by natural evaporation; but at that time there were other explanations proffered! The sad thing about it all was that we were never told about the more interesting sins and thus left School unprepared for the wicked world around us. In later years (Cro-Magnon!) we had by partial compensation in the School Library at the Hill a beautifully engraved version of Dante’s “Inferno”. I regret to say that the book about the Other Place was seldom removed from the shelves. This all goes to demonstrate something, but I’m not sure what!
There were two main events to liven the year, both in the summer term – General Meeting and the Old Scholars Reunion. The first was the only time we saw our parents at School. Although an exciting event when one could go out freely (with parents) and receive, like some ‘prisoner of war,’ a food parcel, and there was always the concern that one’s Mother would turn up in the wrong sort of hat or one’s Father might actually speak to another boy who had not been formally introduced! This sort of thing may seem a little oversensitive but the following will explain why. Before my time, a fellow called Smith (Ed: probably John Carlton Smith.) arrived at School with a nightshirt instead of pyjamas. (It was still on the clothing list, no doubt dating back to Richard Routh’s time.) Anyway he was dubbed ‘Granny’ straight away and the name stuck throughout his University life. When he later joined the Foreign Office he was still called ‘Granny.’ Everyone liked him but reasonable promotion never came his way and I can understand why – just imagine the disaster of a notice in The Times ‘Our Ambassador to Bongoland. – Granny Smith! I only mention these arcane matters to show that a chap can’t be too careful even at his first school. Parents mean well but unless checked can cause untold damage to the young.
The event that was really important was the Old Scholars Reunion, held in those days at the Whitsuntide Bank Holiday, and with the intention of entertaining the whole School. Each local area, London, Birmingham etc. put on a play or similar delight, and to cap it all the Quinton Jazz Band filled in any gaps in the programme. For us ‘internees’ it was a real bonanza extending from Saturday midday until the following Tuesday morning. It gave the Old Scholars gatherings a real purpose probably never to be achieved again – a sense of rapport existed between current and old pupils and no leaver would dream of missing his/her first or subsequent Reunion. Those were the days my friend, we thought would never end. They have. Are we all too blasé or is it because there is no longer a natural connection between Old Scholars and the current School. Leavers may attend our gatherings but that is cold comfort compared with the old time entertainment, when giving was far more important than taking our chequebook.
No, they weren’t the best days of my life, but were, I consider, the most important. I am what I am today only because of learning to overcome the trials and tribulations of those early years. I owe a great deal of gratitude to that dear old lady, Sibford Manor, my Alma Mater for many years. Although she is now truly dead and buried the memories still linger on in those who knew her. When we are gone so will the memories go, but there will remain the writing on the beam as a suitable memorial until one day that too will be gone.”
Ian R. Hedger 2010