Reminiscences – Mike Finch

My connections with the School started in 1948 when my brother John Stewart Finch started at the School in the September of that year. I joined the School twelve months later as an eleven year old. (Pic) My first ever visit occurred in November 1948 when I visited John with my parents. We came by train to Banbury from our Birmingham home and caught Sibford’s local bus, run by Jesse Tanner, whose funny little vehicle had a ladder attached to the back to enable luggage to be loaded on the roof! We got off in Acre Ditch by Sibford Gower Primary School and my first view of Sibford School came as we viewed the Manor from across the ‘Sib’ valley. For me it was a life changing event.

The Finch family became involved with the Society of Friends through my grandfather John (Jack) Finch who in the early years of the twentieth century worked for the Sturge family in Southampton, who were Quakers, and through their enlightened approach to employment he joined the Society of Friends. My father Fred Finch, who was born in Southampton, also became a Friend. The family moved to Birmingham in 1920. My father met my mother Hilda Rogers, who was a member of the Baptist Church but was quite happy to attend Meeting with all the family at the Friends Institute on Moseley Road. It was at the Friends Institute that my parents met with their mutual enjoyment of choral singing. They were married on Christmas Day 1932 as that was the only day my father could get off from work! My family were typical of many working class Quaker families of that time, who struggled to get the best for their children. It also exploded the myth that Sibford and its sister schools were privileged institutions for the rich and wealthy. Nothing could have been further from the truth. Sibford was a wonderful opening on life for me and I shall always be grateful for my parents love and kindness in giving me such an opportunity. My Dad had a shoe repair business at our home in Moseley, Birmingham. My Mother was a Chiropodist and held her ‘surgery’ in our living room, so I had to make myself scarce if I was at home. More often than not she would be out visiting clients. I used to get teased at Primary school about my parents occupation’s because they said “Me dad crippled ‘em so that me mom could cure ‘em”!

I started at Sibford on 22nd September 1949 – I remember it very clearly and it was certainly one the most momentous days in my life. My mother, brother and I left home in good time to catch the 3pm train from Snow Hill station to Banbury which was always on time in the five years that I was at Sibford. We travelled by Tramcar which were shortly to be replaced by Buses, so it was another event on this special day as it was to be my last ride on my local Tramway system which I dearly loved. As the train pulled away from Snow Hill and as Mom waved us off I noticed her bite her lip to hold back the tears but strangely enough I didn’t cry then as I was too excited. However I do remember my brother taking me up to Tyne Hill on the first Sunday of term where after some raucous games with my brother’s great friend Graham Whyte I suddenly felt home sick and burst into tears. Fortunately I soon got over it and got into the way of things at Sibford until the first Parents Weekend when I did have another weep as Mom and Dad were leaving. Having an elder brother there helped enormously. Parents Weekend was a great event during my time at Sibford as we didn’t have half-term holidays or long exeat weekends and stayed in school for the whole term – it also meant a large food parcel of goodies to supplement the meagre diet of the time.

My love affair with historical matters certainly blossomed whilst I was a pupil at Sibford, helped enormously by the fact that I was privileged to have been taught by two excellent teachers on the subject, namely Ted Langford who taught the juniors in my time, and the legendary Dorothy Brigham, a member of one of the great Quaker dynastic families. Dorothy really ‘felt’ history and made it come alive. Trips to Broughton Castle, Sulgrave Manor and Swalcliffe Tythe Barn, helped me to absorb the richly historic ‘Sibfordshire’ area.

Life at Sibford was, by today’s standards, fairly primitive. The Junior boys lived in Holmby House, located at the top end of Sibford Ferris and is now a very pleasant bed and breakfast establishment. The Junior boys stayed there for their first year or so and then moved up to the Hill where the older boys slept. Holmby House was relatively comfortable in comparison to the Hill dormitories which were bare and barren, with no curtains, no carpeting and very little privacy – a school inspection in the early 1950’s described them as ‘barrack like’. In 1949 there were two dormitories called Gillett and Morland. Morland was in the area that is now occupied by the School Library and has changed little in appearance. Gillett, which housed junior to middle school boys was physically an identical dormitory at the other end of the building now occupied by rooms ????. In 1950 when the Centre wing was built a new dormitory called Clark was added above two classrooms and this housed Senior boys. The Sibford girls all lived at the Manor, or the Old School as it was called then in ‘comparative’ luxury compared with the boy’s Spartan accommodation. Funnily enough the boys of that generation seemed to accept the status que and we did have some memorable dormitory raids!

I suppose most of my contemporary’s would consider the food was of a pretty basic nature. We then ate in the original dining room at the Manor which had a long slopping floor due to the renowned subsidence of the 1840’s extension which housed it at the back of the Manor house and which was demolished in 2000 when the Manor was sold off and a new smart housing development replaced it. (Pic)

Coming back to school food my one lasting memory is of Sunday lunch, which was pretty dire and always the same and undoubtedly the worst meal of the week – cold beef or lamb cooked two days before; cold shredded raw cabbage; cold beetroot; mashed lumpy potatoes and a pudding which could best be described as foaming jelly! Tea on Sunday was slightly more palatable as we had cake to follow our bread and jam. That was the only time that we had cake. Amazingly two of my favourites today are cold shredded cabbage and beetroot. Food generally during the weekdays wasn’t too bad with some nice stews and always sausages for breakfast on Fridays!

Sunday in general was a difficult day for many of Sibford’s youngsters with choral in the morning (Hymn singing) which was actually quite popular, followed immediately by the trek to Sibford Gower for Meeting – A Quaker meeting can be quite daunting to a child who has never experienced it before – fortunately I had no problems as I was a Birthright member of the Society of Friends. We also had an Evening Meeting in the School when we usually had a guest speaker. In the afternoon we first of all had to write home to our parents and we always managed to catch the 4pm postal collection at Sibford Ferris Post Office – our letters always arrived home by the next morning – so much for progress! We also had compulsory walks although we could choose ourselves where we went (and with whom!) – most old scholars of that period look back on those Sunday afternoons with affection as it allowed us to absorb the wonderful countryside in which Sibford is located. We learnt so much from those trips to such places as Temple Mill, Swalcliffe Common, the Ridge and Traitors Ford.

The weekly timetable consisted of eight periods a day between Monday to Saturday. Wednesday we finished school at lunchtime for a half day but had Saturday morning school until lunchtime. Wednesday and Saturday afternoons were particularly good if you liked sport, which I did, and gave me the opportunity to play soccer and try to imitate my heroes of the day at Villa Park! (I was quite a useful midfielder). When we reached Year 9 we were allowed to bring back bicycles with us which gave us a great outlet on Wednesday or Saturday afternoon if we weren’t involved with sport, with trips into Banbury etc. I have to admit to not being a very good academic scholar as Sibford was, in those days, run with a Grammar school curriculum. I found studying pretty hard going – although I was fairly good with craft subjects, art, drama in particular and sport. I also managed to be appointed a Prefect in my final year which gave me, rightly or wrongly, many privileges, such as making our own tea on Sunday when we made a pig of ourselves!

We very much made our own entertainment in free time and evenings and specially remembered were dark cold evenings in winter when we huddled around the coke stove which we called ‘God’, located in the Boys Common Room which was sited where Fielding House now stands. It was an old pavilion which had been given by Birmingham Friends in the early 1940’s. We were able to toast bread by holding the bread on an improvised fork against the red hot stove. Heaven knows what today’s Health and Safety Executive would have made of it!

Great times of the year were Hallowe’en, when the girls and boys separated to put on a Review of little plays and sketches. I felt very much at home here because of my life long enjoyment of amateur dramatics. Following hard on to Hallowe’en was Guy Fawkes Night when we enjoyed the sight of a huge bonfire and a firework display.

The other thing that Sibford gave me was great confidence to go forward and achieve things. I also enjoyed great camaraderie and most of my closest friends today all went to Sibford. Many of the staff of that period were quality teachers like Gladys Burgess, Dorothy Brigham, Reg Rowntree, Michael Harrison, John Hodgson, Joan Greenwood and Ted Langford.

After a successful career in design engineering, I had the great fortune to return to Sibford in 1982 with my appointment as the School’s first Estate Manager (Pic) and then as its first Development Officer in January 1992. I also met and married the love of my life Wendy in 1985, who was also on the School staff and has been for 38 years.

However, I think that’s enough of my view of Sibford.   I hope the reader will enjoy the many amazing reminiscences chronicled in this article.