Recollections

My Memories - John Nevin (1961-1962)

I was delighted to hear from Derrick Gillingham and read his recollections. He writes very well and is more literate than I am. It seems very late to be reconnecting with the people I went to HH with but I just never had the space to do it until now. One of the things I remember about Derrick is that he had the complete Sherlock Holmes that he was reading, something I was unfamiliar with and which I later admired him for reading at that age. He was the most cheerful person I knew there. My unhappiness there was caused by the situation I was in due to the sudden uprooting of my life. The whole place was extremely beautiful and I liked all the masters (except Mr. Ellis). I don't remember the black fish-skin at all but the mutton was my favourite meal. I can still see Mr. Newby carving that enormous joint. 
 
My family had just come from Brazil and I remember my parents taking me to Kendal Milne. During the process of buying the uniform, the subject of swimming  came up because I loved swimming in Brazil. I wondered where the bathing suits were. The salesman said that I would be using my birthday suit. I wondered about that cryptic remark and it gradually dawned on me what that meant. I was soon to have a different swimming experience to what I had imagined.
 
It is sad that Ian (Kraunsoe) passed away (in April 2013). His parents were actually living in Brazil at the time and I found him someone with whom I had something special in common and there was something serious about his nature that I found attractive. There was a day during the Christmas term (61) when I wanted to run away from the school. We were walking along the driveway together while I was expressing my feelings about it to him and he persuaded me not to do it. He took me back to Mr. Butler and told him the situation and Hubert was understanding and compassionate about it.
 
I visited the Pull Wood Bay property twice, once with my wife. We were driven there by my cousin who lives in Darwen. I missed seeing the beautiful gardens as they were when we helped to maintain them. I remember doing estate work and throwing earth onto a screen to make soil for the new cricket pitch. Then there were the Sunday BBC church services with Hubert struggling to play the hymns with 1 1/2 fingers missing on one hand.

I was on Alfred house and I well remember being in the changing of the houses ceremony. Pomp and Circumstance is forever burned in my memory. That recording must have been very old because I still remember the scratchy sound but it also left me with a love for Elgar's music.

 

The History Date Machines - David Porter (1963-1968)

Thanks for passing it all on Gordon.

Derrickk!! You are wonderful to read. Thank you.

And......as a trumpeter I cannot but help but blow my own a bit.

Derrick left HH in 1962 and lo and behold the Major had a new history date machine arrive in 1963.

One of my fondest memories is of Major inviting me to sit with him in the Playroom one evening, just him and me.....we just had a wonderful time calling up battles, events, whatever..putting dates to them, and just generally indulging ourselves in our love of history. I felt SO special. I can still recall the feeling!

He was like my father, mentor, friend and inspiration all wrapped up in one.

Didn’t stop him punishing me when he smelt onion weed (one of my other passions) on my breath one lunchtime. Isn’t it amazing...I actually remember the conversation. We were discussing the spelling of the name of the Russian composer of the 1812 Overture. You know...Peter whatsiname.

Good wishes to you all from Australia.

 
Who shall escape blame in the presence of the Great Dame? - from Derrick Gillingham (1957-1962):
What can we say then of Miss Isa Blake of Greenock? Isa, presumably, as in the diminutive of Isabella, the Spanish form of Elizabeth, meaning: God is satisfaction. We may say, I believe, that her name was not far off the mark and her divine right far from merely nominal. She was the occasional teacher of mathematics who is described by Peter in his memoir as: 'the Queen Bee'. The figure head then, and a formidable old dame who did not tolerate boyish dalliance, as I found out to my cost on more than one occasion.

I was one of the Major's history date boys, but that was as far as my head for figures went. In fact, I was a mathematical dunderhead. Even the leaden Miss Blake of Greenock could not plumb my numberless depths, and I vividly recall my first lesson with her. Having introduced herself in a sonorous tone and accredited herself to the said place in Scotland, Miss Blake requested, brusquely, that one of us ask a question, no doubt to lull us into a false sense of security and hook us at the outset. "Any question?", says I, as chirpily as I could manage under inclement circumstances. "Yes", responds she, bluntly, and in the tone of: "Obviously, you silly wee boy". In the face of such non-specific gravity, I felt half emboldened, and, after a brief pause, rejoined with: "How high is Red Screes?" Well, I was after all a local boy, and that question was about as mathematical as I got, but she was absolutely furious, and, after a loud tirade, consigned me to a corner of the classroom. That, you might say, was at once the summit and the nadir of my mathematical career (as in headlong to destruction, or falling from a great height).

The answer to my question, just in case anyone has been wondering for the last fifty years, is: 2,546 feet. At the time, given righteous indignation and rage on the one hand, and a general state of mute terror or suppressed amusement on the other, the answer was not forthcoming. A bit of a scree herself, Miss Blake, I seem to recall, as in: granite-faced, and a danger to those, like me, who were beneath her stony eminence.
 
She also did for my musical career. I was in the music room, seated at the piano and awaiting her dread tread in the corridor. I was also sucking on half an orange and it was perhaps this happy preoccupation that distracted me, as I never heard Miss Blake's approach until the last moment, and panicked! So much so that I plonked the potentially offending fruit, juicy side down, onto the keyboard, then closed the lid. Can you believe it? I then sat in horror as she deposited herself at my side and instructed me to raise the lid. I remember hesitating and having to be further urged by her (not a patient soul) to comply. I'm afraid that I cannot possibly report the sequel as I have blocked it entirely out of my mind, save to say that my music lessons did not extend beyond the end of that term.

One further item on 'Our Lady of Greenock'. In some recent notes I made on members of staff, I used the adjective 'rotund' to describe her, and, reading Peter's memoir, I found that he had applied to her the same lexical label, which is accurate enough, though she was hardly a barrel of laughs. We may safely laugh at her piccadilloes now, however, and without being unduly irreverent, or at all unkind.
 
Just an additional note: I was informed by Tim Batho (at the Reunion) that Miss Blake did not in fact hail from Greenock but from somewhere else in Scotland beginning with G, but don't recall exactly where. Not Glasgow though. It might have been Galashiels, but I'm not sure. For present purposes I will continue to refer to her as a native of Greenock.
 
What's in a Name - from Derrick Gillingham (1957-1962):
Peter Royds mentions in his memoir that the Butler brothers would have applauded any effort to promote peace in the world, no doubt under the banner of 'good will' to all men. I remember that on one occasion Hubert Butler addressed the school in the dining hall to narrate the story of an encounter he had had on the streets of London, possibly on the way to or from Switzerland, on UNICEF business. I believe the meeting was initiated when he asked a man for directions and this led to an engagement of minds and an exchange of ideas and information. The story lodged in my mind, and, as I have come to understand it, was a lesson about trading ideas, and to do with the quality of exchange, not so much at a common rate, but as a precious rarity, and at mental rather than metal or material level. Or is this too esoteric? Anyway, I have been left with the sense that unless man to man communications of that sort become more the norm, the wars will go on, and all manner of petty disputes to boot. Small change there, I'm afraid.
 
As for the Major (he of less civil title), it could truly be said that he had (though not in the ordinary way) three hundred boys, all or most of whom are devoted to his memory to this day. The Major it was who initiated, or hugely enhanced, my interest in history, just as he did for so many others. On one occasion he referred to me as his 'history date machine', a badge of honour I wear to this day. The circumstances surrounding the bestowal of that epithet were as follows...
 
I had been hoisted up against a wall in the basement by a senior boy. While I was 'assuming the position' of helpless sprat, the Major descended the steps (unbeknown to my assailant who had his back to the stair), and, in a fearsome tone, thundered, at close quarters: "Get your hands off my history date machine!" The look of gloating superiority changed instantly to one of sheepish acquiescence, and my erstwhile assailant left the scene without so much as a parting bleat. From bully to woolly in short order. And sheared to exposure in the process. I don't recall the identity of the woolly party, but I seem to remember that he never troubled me again. Such was the Major's awesome authority. Not the kind of thunder you ignore, nor would you laugh at his lightning. And yet, except perhaps in cases such as the one I have just recounted, the feelings he inspired fell well short of fear. Respect, and reverence, spring immediately to mind in this connection. Real respect, of course, has nothing to do with fear.
 
Thus Gerald and Hubert, spear-wielding and mind-bright, were just about right. The Butler brothers were well named.
 
Sink or Float - from Derrick Gillingham (1957-1962):
It is interesting to note (in a 1969 cutting from the Westmorland Gazette) Hubert Butler's statement that the increase in motor cars and boats was impinging on Huyton Hill's outdoor ethos and that this was contributory to the School's closure. I remember my grandfather (who lived in Ambleside) complaining about speed boats on the lake. He said that these had destroyed the peace and tranquillity of Windermere and ruined the fishing. He was a master of hyperbolic storytelling, and, on one occasion, claimed that not a solitary fish had been seen or caught in the lake for the previous six months. Apparently the last to be seen had popped its head out of the water and promptly been run down by a speed boat! It was the way that he told it too - the fine line between gravity and levity, sinker and float.
 
In 2003 Peter Royds (1957-1962) wrote:
"I have had the best intentions of writing some recollections of school life at Huyton Hill for a number of years. This was because there was no sign of anyone else doing so. I felt that if I didn't attempt this, however inadequately, there would be no record of a unique school which represented a now vanished piece of social history.
What finally converted those intentions into action was the news that the house is to be sold. It is, therefore, now likely that my holiday visits to the flats in Huyton Hill (created after the school closed) will be coming to an end; and the memories revived by that continuing association could then disappear completely.
So the motivation is not so much that we all had a wonderful life at the school in harmony with the scenery, but rather to leave some trace of the life and times of the school to posterity.
I was at the school from 1957 to 1962, aged 8 to 13. A five year stretch was about average for Prep. School.
Then as now, the most captivating feature of the place was the beauty of the location. The magic of the setting has remained with me all my life."
A full account of his recollections is available at https://sites.google.com/site/huytonhillschool2/recollections
 
John West (1955-1961) followed up with this:
"(I wrote) a letter to Peter Royds, after he had sent me a copy of his book. Peter's letters were in longhand, but my writing's so appalling I find it easier to type, so I had, until the hard disc got thrown out, a copy to hand to send to Edward, when he expressed interest." (luckily Edward kept a copy so we can now all enjoy it - Ed)
 
Wikipedia Article
I hope that this web site has now helped to make up for the previous lack of published information about the school.
A factual article is availlable in Wikipedia at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Huyton_Hill_Preparatory_School
 
Brig. Osmaston - A Colleague and Friend - Margaret Baxter 
"As Brig.Osmaston and I were both teachers, we were necessarily at different locations at HH throughout the day, only having a chance to talk during coffee in the Reilly. However, this didn't prevent us becoming good friends, and I quickly realised what an exceptional man he was - sensible, learned, experienced in all walks of life, and above all friendly and humorous.
I was especially pleased that he and June invited me on many occasions to their Grasmere home to join in with their holiday house parties of family and students. We had superb meals, games outside, and expeditions onto the fells. One time the Brig asked me to lead a climb on Dow Crags, and I felt so honoured that he trusted me to do this. (It wasn't a very hard one!) My most vivid memory was of a skating trip to Tarn Hows. We were playing ice hockey with walking sticks and having a great time, when the Brig tripped over and lay prone on the ice. Of course, we all rushed forward, whereupon the ice gave out some mighty cracking sounds, and we all rushed away, leaving the poor man isolated! I think it was Tim who stayed with him and manoeuvered him onto a sledge. He needed some stitches to his forehead, but was otherwise OK, and we were able to laugh about it afterwards.

One thing I remember him teaching the boys at school was a version of scouts' pace; three steps running and 2 steps walking, making a sort of swaying movement, which you could keep up for hours.

The Brig gave me his army riding boots, and I wore them with pride when out on my pony, though they needed a bit chopping off the top of the legs. They still stand in my hall, forever known as The Brigadier's Boots!
I feel blessed to have known such an exceptionally nice and kind man, the sort of friend you would wish were immortal!"
 
 
An email from John Mott on 18th September 2011:

Subject: Catch-up

"Hello everybody

I have been in something of a black hole recently for two reasons. The first is illness and two months later I am back to my version of normality. The second is that the Huyton Hill group (or is it now a "cohort"?) have been using my secondary e-mail address (john@johnmott.dk) instead of this one (johnmott@viaction.com). Now I never read the secondary e-mail address and it gently fills with spam that I occasionally clear out. Imagine my surprise when I found you all there after a strange silence in recent weeks, all stuck in among various types of unmentionable spam. So I have a request: please can we agree that you will use johnmott@viaction.com as my contact address in future?

You will see that I have added my brother, Bill Mott (HH 1951-1955), to the mailing list. It is perhaps him you remember Chris, because I left in the summer of 1953 and you arrived in September. Bill must have been the youngest in the school on arrival in 1951 as he was just turning seven so far as we can remember. Bill has sent quite a few photos that are now on the site and I am sure he has some recollections worthy of print. 

I have said to Gordon Dyer that I am now proud to be associated with the magnificent website that we have all created under his leadership recently. My regret is that I appear to be the oldest OH (Old Huytonian) so far found. This is worrying to me and I really wonder what has happened to all the others of my era. It does, however, give me a sense of perspective when I read of the changes and developments in the school after my time. It is also a relief to have my own vague recollections corroborated by others years after I experienced them. An example is the issue or corporal punishment at the school. I am sure I experienced it from HDB and can well believe that it had ceased to be the practice by Gordon Dyer's time, for example. I taught at Marlborough and Bryanston in the seventies and eighties by which time corporal punishment was out of practice there to all intents and purposes. I now live in Denmark where corporal punishment is illegal - even in the home.

It is funny how long term memory is so vivid when short-term memory begins to crumble! I have been amazed by what you guys have managed to remember, particularly of names and details. That struck me most when reading John West's Recollections. I wish we had his e-mail address so that I could thank him directly. I thought the whole thing made amazing reading.

So, I have a question for you all: what happened to the School Council? In my day on regular occasions there was a meeting in the Library to review school rules. The Heads of Houses presided and HDB sat at a table by the door to his private accommodation. New rules were agreed and written up into files - one for each house - for reference. I thought it odd that rules were seldom removed and so these rules must have accumulated out of all proportion to the capacity of the school to remember - let alone enforce - them. ...Or am I just dreaming? I am sure this deserves mention, given that most independent schools developed similar institutions in the sixties and seventies, possibly influenced by the advanced example of HH.

Looking forward to hearing from some of you and to getting back into the swing of group e-mails.

 

Best regards

John

John Mott (HH 1947-1953)"

 
Reply from David Porter on 27th September 2011:

Subject: RE: Catch-Up

"Greetings to all you old-boys.

Though I have been quiet for a while, I have had a chance to glimpse the email traffic and the burgeoning size of our group. Wonderful!!

There is a well-known song in Australia by a bloke called Paul Kelly that is called ‘From little things…big things grow’. It could easily describe the way our community has grown, but also the legacy we all carry from HH.

I keep reading such special reminicsences from old boys which trigger memories of my own.

I actually laughed out loud when I read of Maggie B’s distaste for Miss Walker’s lipstick. I was literally transported back to my own memory of his comments on this distasteful image…and could see in my mind’s eye the blood-red stain on the fateful cup.

I could also see the models of Henry VIII, Richard I etc. on the mantlepiece in the Crossley beside the bugles.

I remembered being scared out of my wits in the 1963 Autumn term by a television program that began on the BBC. It was called Dr. Who.

As a life-long follower of politics, a small-time participator, but one continually fascinated and moved by a sense of social justice…I remember a place where we were exposed to and urged to be intellectually engaged in this part of our civil society.

Some of my memories….

1.     My first term…and watching the images from Dallas of Jack Kennedy’s assasination.

2.     The 1964 General election….and Wilson’s victory.

3.     Churchill’s funeral………….I just watched the whole telecast on YouTube a couple of months ago…..and cried again when the cranes on the Thames bowed their booms.

4.     Wilson’s attempts to ‘protect’ the Pound and restrictions on taking curreny abroad.

5.     Silly memories like wondering why Duncan Sandy’s name had a silent y, and thinking that Reginald Maudling’s name belonged to one of the horsemen of the apocolypse.

6.     Martin Luther King’s ‘I had a dream’ speech.

7.     King’s murder

8.     Bobby Kennedy’s murder.

9.     Johnson’s abrogation speech

10.  The television programme celebrating the satellite link between Britain and the USA which culminated in the Beatles singing ‘All you need is love’.

11.  And then the most evocative for me… the suppression of the ‘Prague Spring’. Watching Havel pleading for his nation on the Beeb, and the terrible and sinister image of Dubcek boarding that plane to Moscow.

Such was the awareness nurtured in me, and involvement that Huyton Hill made me feel about politics that it sparked my first political action.

On leaving Huyton Hill at the end of the Christmas term 1968 to go home to Borneo my plane was diverted to Moscow. The icy walls of the forbidding and unwelcoming transit area of Moscow airport found my expression. I wrote ‘Hands off Dubcek’ in the frost.

When I told my parents of what I had done…many years later….they totally freaked out.

Imagine a little 12 year old Huyton Hill boy languishing in the Gulag?!  I wonder how H.M. Governernment would have handled that one? Ha ha.

Needless to say…starting secondary school in Australia in January 1969….they found this rather intense young boy a bit hard to take, especially since Snow and Illingworth were simultaneously being lauded and celebrated by this little pommy bastard as England won the Ashes that Summer.

Which of course leads me to the memory of the ‘radiogram’ and listening to Arlott et. al during our lunchtimes, his langorous west-country burr describing the action from Lord’s or Old Trafford. At HH I became a cricket ‘tragic’….which has lasted most of my life, now only diminished by the ridiculous spectacle of 20/20 stupidity. But back then a spark was ignited, and I can remember the exact moment it happened. I was sitting in the Crossley watching a film put on by Major B called, “Here come the Australians”. The opening sequence was accompanied by a soundtrack of Rolf Harris singing ‘Tie me Kangaroo down, sport’, and had vision of Norn O’Niell, Peter Burge, Garth McKenzie and all these other ‘Bronzed Aussies’ striding out onto the field. In that Summer of 1964 I then discovered the magic of ‘watching’ the cricket on the wireless. It is still my preference, enjoying the way talented wordsmiths can create a picture for my mind’s eye and evoking the spectacle through their description.

Speaking of the ‘radiogram’, do you remember ‘Travel Talk’ on a Friday for Geography with Mr. Newby? I loved opening my information pack and discovering things like a real coffee bean or wondering why the cocoa tasted so bitter when it was the foundation of sweet milk chocolate.

Before I finish I would like to say to Gordon, Edward and the others who have made all this possible a big thank you. What began as a speculative exchange of emails has grown to a wonderful celebration and coming together of like minds. I particularly liked John’s comment about short and long term memory. How true…the older I get the less I remember about last week, but instead recollect incidents from 40 years ago with increasing clarity. Be that as it may, I’m flabbergasted by the recollections and detail expressed by some of our contributors. Sadly my brain has clouded to that sort of detail, instead it snatches glimpes instead.

At 55 years old I can celebrate these 5 years at HH in a way that I couldn’t in my late teens and early twenties….even my thirties. I celebrate the good now…but it wasn’t always a smooth ride.

For many years I dwelled on my feelings of being a psychologically deprived child, thousands of miles from my Mum and Dad rather than focusing on the nurture provided by wonderful men like Major B and Brig. Osmaston in their stead. It took time, and it naturally involved forgiving my parents too.

Not a whinge….just another piece to the puzzle.

Another part of our lives.

This is the other story of Huyton Hill and the story of so many of the children of our era who were sent away to fend for ourselves.

We lived in a time when children did what they were told. We may have suffered heartache, but we were never under the impression that life was a funpark designed to continually amuse our selfish desires.

It was life…get on with it.

And there is the fundamental truth of our experience. I’m not at all sure that it was a particularly good thing to do to such small boys, but I know it was a different world back then. My consolation is the knowledge that the experience has made me a self-sufficient man, though slightly too accepting of shitty situations and definitely too naive to people’s motives.

We were directed and moulded by men who were wise and caring, who understood those realities, but who gave no truck to self-indulgence. Instead they injected a sense of duty, of service and awareness that  was a counterpoint to the natural selfishness of our childish ways.

They inculcated in us a sense of honour that has now gone the way of the dinosaurs. I cannot say that I have always followed that path, but perhaps I can now see Major B nodding sagely, saying ‘chin up David’ and expecting the best from me.

I usually do, and still worry if I can live up to his high expectations."

 

All the best to you all,

David

Ps. Gordon you asked if named attributions should be made on the website, I think they should. No-one should be worried about that. It seems a little bit dry to reference us as anonymous students of a particular era. So go for it, because I like to see a name to the story; it personalises it so much more.

And, as much as it grieves me, there is no way I can get to England for the reunion. How I wish I could….it will be a very special time…I know it. Nevertheless, I expect to be linked by Skype to the celebrations. That I can do!!!

 

Romance at Huyton Hill:

David Haythornthwaite (1947-1953)

"I went Back by chance to HH about 1 or 2 weeks after the closure and took my children round the School, I was surprised to find everything in it's place just as I had left it many years earlier. I must have spent 2 hours reminiscing.
After some time my wife and I and 3 kids stayed for a week or so when it was turned into flats.
My son Peter enjoyed the experience so much that he took his then girl friend all the way from Essex to the lawn next to the lake and surprised her with an engagement ring. Now married 7 years."

 

and I received this story from David on 5th October 2011:

David Haythornthwaite (1947-1953)

"Let me give you some idea how we extended our excitement when getting bored.
While in Scafell dormitory all of us around 13 years of age I think there were 5 of us. We had the bright idea of giving the staff some exercise; so we would stick a pin through the light cable and switch the light on and off and remove the pin which caused the fuse to blow down stairs. Well, after a few times suspicion grew because it only happened at night. After some time the Major would bound up stairs 3 stairs at a time and straight to our dormitory. Of course we were lying in bed surprised to see him and wondered what had happened. It was quite entreating listening to him bounding up the stairs. On one occasion the light was slightly moving and I can see him now looking at it standing in the doorway. He never did work it out."


Coincidences from Chris Brand (1954-1958):
I was at Huyton Hill from January 1954 until December 1958, and then went to Wrekin College in January 1959. I hadn’t seen the HH website until you mentioned it and I find it absolutely fascinating. It has brought back many memories, and many congratulations and thanks for creating it. I remember Brigadier Osmaston well and I am sure I was there when he first arrived at HH. We called him Brig Ozzy and he was well liked as well as being highly respected by the boys. I had no idea that he served in India as a surveyor or that Tenzing was one of his sherpas. It is a bit of a coincidence because I served in the Army for 31 years and was posted to Nepal for 9 months in 1972. I managed to get to Darjeeling in 1973 and met Tenzing. I have a picture of us standing together in front of the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute of which he was Chief Instructor. I have since been back to both India and Nepal several times on various trekking and climbing expeditions. I would loved to have visited Brig Ozzy before he died and heard his stories.
I have not spotted myself in any of the group photographs and I should have been in the one for 1958. I can recognise many of those who were present (and worryingly I can still remember some of their names although I am a little unclear on what I did first thing this morning!) so perhaps I was either ill or had escaped for the day. One thing I have retained (or at least my father did) are my school reports from Huyton. I must dig them out again.
Further to my Nepal story, my flight there in 1972 took me to Kathmandu via Delhi. On arrival at Kathmandu, I was met by the movements officer, a Captain Michael Winerick, who assisted me and some other officers on our onward journey (another flight) to our base in east Nepal. His name was very familiar since I remember a Michael Winerick at Huyton whose mother, Mrs Winerick, was the matron. I put this to him and he confirmed that he was indeed the same Michael Winerick. I think we thought that this was rather a coincidence. We next met again when we were both crusty Colonels in the MOD, but I do not know where he is now.
I have been back to Huyton quite a few times since leaving to show my wife and daughters where I spent 5 years of my life. On one occasion and much to my wife’s horror, I breezed in to some of the now private apartments explaining where we sat or where we ate or where we slept. Fortunately, the occupants were out for the day!

 

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