Dear Oswestrians Old and New
My name is Derek Poulton and I was a boarder at Oswestry School from the winter term of 1947 to the end of the summer term 1952 or 53 - I left the term before I went up to the Senior School. Oswestry School, as you know, is an excellent school with a good reputation and one should be proud of having been a pupil there - I know I am.
Since returning to live in the North [Derek now lives near Preston], I have often thought about my boarding days, and had many thoughts/discussions on how boarding affects your future life. On numerous occasions I have revisited Oswestry to show my family and grandchildren the school and see how things have changed. There have been quite a few changes, but walking through the school I saw many things almost as I remember them. The Memorial Hall was started after I left but the ‘Last Day’ on the wall is still the same. Boarders buildings have been built on the fields where we used to keep the school cows and private houses built where the swimming pool/farm was. There are new classrooms by the Chem-lab where there was a field and orchard. On our last visit to the school, I saw the tree planted by Ann Williamson, the daughter of our Head Master in what was the Head’s garden. All these things make me think that it is a really small world, and maybe I could take you and those who remember me back to those good times. In the following narrative, please remember I am looking back many years ago. The classrooms, dorms are where I remember them, if not still used for the same purpose. The progression you make through the school, from my first classroom/dorm to Senior are in correct order, it’s just the age range that might not be spot on.
The Head Master was Mr Williamson and, as mentioned, he had a daughter Ann. He also had a brother who was the school vicar and gave us RE Studies - he also ran the school boarding annex in town [old Holbache House] (at the top of the park behind the Parish Church). His RE lessons were quite an ordeal as he was very handy with the blackboard duster and we had many painful reminders of it!! (The Head would use the cane, but only if you had been really bad). To be sent to the Head’s Office meant 3 strokes of the cane. (What would they say about that now?).
Ann was a very nice girl; she was allowed to have a boarder to tea and play on some Sundays - I was often the lucky one. I think she chose me as she was by far the better tree climber.
Teachers, I’m afraid I can’t remember their names. Although I do have a school report of 1951 for Form III, it was signed by J.F.Tilley (or Jilly). This is a shame for there are many happy memories of the teachers and how they helped us. One (a lady) lived in a pre-fab in Oswestry, she would take us on our Sunday walk, then back home for a nice tea.
Another (I think he was a teacher, I know his son was a day boy) used to make scale model railway engines. In fact, one of his engines was used on an outdoor track on Lord Harlech’s (Ormsby-Gore) estate at Brogyntyn. We used to have some lovely rides around the grounds.
The Cook was a Mrs Richards - lovely lady, who spoke only Welsh. She had lost her husband, but with the job she got her son in as a boarder. At first, he could speak only Welsh, but we looked after him.
The Matron (forgotten her name) again was a lovely lady and treated us all as her children. She had her own rooms near the dorms and looked after all our clothes and medical needs. She would pack and unpack our trunks and ensure we had clean clothes each day. Opposite her room was a door with direct access to the upper floor of the Head’s house. It was the door I used when I went to play with Ann and was right next to her room. Ann had a bookcase in her room with Dinky toys all beautifully arranged on it. The door was locked and Matron only let me through when all the other boys had gone on their walk.
My best friend was John Goddard. We also had another pal named Macdonald (can’t remember his first name). We all hailed from the Manchester area and would go out with each other’s parents on their visits.
A local boarder was called Steele whose parents owned a Manor farm locally which had secret passages behind the wooden panelled walls. We’d visit the farm on our Sunday walks and had a lovely tea after going through the passages.
There was also the son of Lord Bonner-Morris from the London area. Only memory there was his parents once arriving in a helicopter (quite a happening in the 1940s).
For a couple of years we had Julian Ormsby-Gore, the son of Lord Harlech, whilst his father was British Ambassador in Washington USA. Lord Harlech was also the Chairman of the ‘British Film Censorship’ Board. You always saw his name on the cinema screens giving the old ‘U’, ‘A’ or ‘X’ certificates. Again, on some Sunday walks, we visited Julian’s home (Brogyntyn Hall) for tea. We’d also ride on their outdoor model railway and played under the waterfall joining the upper and lower lakes. (I believe this is now all in ruins.) Julian himself died many years ago.
John and I were often used by the Head to show new boys around the school. We would be called to the Head’s house, and while he talked with the parents, we would take the boy on a tour and give him to Matron. She would show him his bed and storage space etc (we had a wicker basket under the bed for our special toy or book and next day’s clean clothes) then return him to the Head. We were made responsible for Julian and got on very well together.
My first Dorm was for the 8-10 year olds and was in the attic of the Head’s house. Two small windows looked out over the Head’s garden, over the road to the playing fields. The windows are still there. It was a long way down from that Dorm - down the stairs past the Matron’s room, down some barred (still there) stairway to the ground floor.
My second Dorm was for 10-14 year olds, which ran the length of the school, over the 10-12 years classrooms. Must have been about 20 of us in there; at night, before lights out, one of us would have to read from a book or make up a story. Firstly though, we had a glass of hot milk or Horlicks in the dining room. Then we went upstairs to get ready for bed, we would then kneel by our bed and say our prayers before getting in bed.
The senior Dorm (I left school the term before I would have moved in) was above the seniors/12-14 yrs classrooms, pointing towards the playground and at the top of the barred stairway.
The dining room was at the back of the Head’s house, its windows looking onto the chapel entrance. I believe there were 4 tables - one down the left hand side for the senior boys, one in the middle for the 8-10 yr olds and one in the right hand corner plus the Head’s table for 10-14 yr olds. They were long tables and benches, except for the Head’s table. (It all looked like Hogwarts except the pupils sat with the Head and teachers at the end of the table). You moved down the bench (think daily) and the 2 boys at the bottom would serve the meals to the table and clear away. As a 10-14 yr old, you sat first at a small table in the right hand corner of the dining room, then before seniors year, you moved onto the Head’s table. When you went on the Head’s table you served the meat course to the table but the potatoes/veg would be in the proper serving dishes. There you really had to behave and eat properly.
You didn’t get toast for breakfast, but when you sat at the top or bottom of the table, the teacher may give you a piece of theirs. Meals were good and plentiful, Mrs Richards being a fine cook.
Next to the dining room we had a tuck room where we kept our tuck box (I still have mine). In the box we kept our special treats - tins of food, sweets, crisps etc. You could go into your box once a day after afternoon lessons and, on a Wednesday and Saturday, you could select one of your tins for the Cook to heat up for tea.
As on the map the classrooms were beneath the Dorms. You stayed in your own classroom with your own desk which held your books etc. The teachers moved around for each lesson, except for the Chemistry lab and RE where you joined the teacher. The 10-12 yrs classrooms were used for homework, which was done every evening after supper and Sunday after Church, before lunch and in the evening. We had the normal lessons - Maths, English etc but the only foreign language lesson was Latin. There were no music lessons, unless you had taken up music before you joined the school. This was a shame for I’d loved to play the piano, but then the old piano in the tuck room was pretty useless.
A wooden hut at the bottom of the playground was for the 8-10 yrs - my first classroom - before I moved into the proper school.
Our entrance to the school was through a side door, facing the ‘Fives Court’ (similar to a squash court). The court building was still there but I couldn’t work out if it is still in use.
Depending on the season, we played football or cricket - the Head didn’t believe in rugby. Sports afternoons were Wednesdays and Saturdays - these were held whatever the weather. After lunch, you changed into your sports gear (in the school changing room, not the sports field’s) then you were locked out of the school building from 1300 to1600 hours - with no shelter. If the pitches were unfit to play, you went for a run of between 3 and 5 miles. Or, when it snowed, we made sledges and sledged down the farm field hill at the back of the school (now students’ buildings). It was great fun and, even in shorts, we didn’t get cold and were ready for our special tea.
In the summer there was the outdoor swimming pool. This was down the farm track at a place called Oswald’s Well. (Houses there now) Over the winter the pool was left empty, but it filled with leaves and all sorts of rubbish - this we had to clean out. Then the stream that fed Oswald’s Well was diverted into the pool and back into the stream; mighty cold water but great fun after sports and in the evening after lessons.
There was one good thing to sports days though, we could have something out of our tuck box which the Cook would heat up for your tea.
Sundays we always went for an afternoon walk - except me when I had tea with Ann. Walks were for the boarders only, but sports afternoons the day boys had to do as well - they couldn’t just go home.
In the sports changing room (by the school entrance not on the sports field), there was a boxing ring. If two boys couldn’t resolve their disagreement then you settled it in the ring.
The playground in front of the school was for day exercise after lessons and for boarders after school before their evening meal and homework. At the bottom of the playground is a wall to private houses, some trees and a white line. Cars were not allowed to cross this white line, except on Speech Days. When our parents visited, they firstly parked in the Head’s drive to pick us up, then, when returning, they parked under the playground trees. We had a very few visitors then and certainly no teachers’ cars. On my visit to school, the playground was full of cars.
VISITS - HOLIDAYS
Parents were allowed to visit once a term to take you out and you could take two friends with you. John Goddard, Macdonald and I used to share parents which gave us 3 visits per term. No overnights though and only after lessons on Saturday morning and after Church on Sunday. Parents would arrive at the Head’s front door, he would take them into his lounge for a chat - then if you’d been good, you would be called in and allowed to go out with your parents. The other two boys would be collected when the Head had chatted with you and your parents. You knew when your parents had arrived but you couldn’t go to them until you were sent for - so a long wait was rather worrying as things didn’t look so good.
We had three annual holidays each year and half term holidays when you went home. This was quite an operation, for you could get the mainline train from Oswestry. Coaches used to take us to Gobowen Station for our train, although there was a branch line from Oswestry. Once our train from Manchester was late and we missed the coaches! So the station master at Gobowen put us on the footplate of an engine (no carriages) and it took us to Oswestry. We then had to walk to school. What a thrill and adventure!!
Also at main holidays, we took our trunks home to check out all our clothes and to put the right clothes in for the next term. School uniforms were bought from Henry Barrie, St Anne’s Square, Manchester.
The chapel was used for Sunday service, which you attended twice every Sunday, and for the Christmas Nativity plays. Also for choir practice; you became a choir boy as a 10-14 yr old. I was such a “good singer” (awful) the choir master promoted me to the organ loft. There I had to pump the bellows to produce the air to work the organ. It was a hard job and it took some pumping of the arm to keep the bellows charged. If there wasn’t enough air, the organist was very upset and there was a ‘thick ear’ afterwards.
We had a small farm at school, near the pool and behind the orchard. There were a couple of cows which John sometimes milked and some pigs and hens which we helped clean out on occasions. The orchard was out of bounds, but boys being boys and the pigs liking apples, some apples came our way. Also the private house at the bottom of the garden had very tasty gooseberries.
I think everybody knows the story of the ‘LAST DAY’ so I won’t repeat it here. It is marvellous, however, to see that all these years later, the memory still lives on.
John and myself were firm favourites with the Head and Mrs Richards (the Cook) so we had many special times and memories (no we weren’t teachers pets).
There was a tuck shop at the end of the 12-14 yrs classroom, a bay window facing the playground. Think it opened Wednesdays and we could spend half our half-a-crown a week pocket money. It sold sweets, crisps, pop etc (a lovely Corona pop in their bottles with glass stoppers). It was part of our teaching on how to look after our own money and property.
On the last night of each term we would have a special meal and a ‘sods opera’ when those daring enough would put on a play, or tell a joke or two, or maybe sing a song. Great fun; once, one of the boys won a box full of Lyons ice cream rolls, and we had that for last night - so many ice cream rolls that they were coming out of our ears.
I didn’t finish my school days at Oswestry, unfortunately, due to a family problem. I finished my schooling in Southport. The vicar for that school started The Eagle comic in the 1950s. Then I joined the Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm for a career. I served on many types of ships, mainly aircraft carriers, and worked with numerous types of aircraft, jets, piston, helicopters and airliners, seeing most of the world at the same time. I later joined British Aerospace producing publications on how to service and maintain such aircraft - these are used by customers and air forces all over the world.
I’m now retired and look back with thanks for the life I’ve had - mainly due to the good schooling and standards set by Mr Williamson and his staff.
I hope these memories of my school days (Happy Days) will be of interest to the reader.
Derek has forwarded some photos of himself together with John Goddard, Macdonald and their families and we show these below. Also included are some photos from David Tomley OO (1942-1950) which show the fruit trees and other places referred to in Derek's article.
Click to download the attached file(s):