THAT BOARDING LIFE AT BVGS
OVA News Editor Nick Hammond (seated far right) gives his account of being a boarder at BVGS from 1954-61.
To relate what life was like as a boarder at Bishop Vesey’s Grammar School requires one to rack ones brains of some fifty six years past! Some memories will have faded and some will remain vivid in one’s mind. There have been several articles in past issues of the Old Veseyan News by former boarders, notably Jonathan Glauert, Tony Loades (with subsequent comments by me) and further back by John Pougher in the Spring 2006 issue of the OV News.
John’s account focuses on life as a boarder during wartime (the second world war) whilst Jonathan and Tony coincide with my own time at BVGS from 1954 -61. From reading John’s account life was somewhat distorted from the ones we others knew. However, there remain some common themes such as food, being allowed out from school and the odd elicit beer in a local hostelry as we reached the dizzy heights of the sixth form.
I do not know when the first boarders began at the School but I do know that boarding ceased in 1969. During the war years there were some 50 or so boarders but 38 was the maximum I recall during my time. All ages were represented from 11-years old to 18.
So, what are my abiding memories?
Arrival at about 5.30 p.m. on September 6th 1954 with parents, carrying a large “tuck box” which was required to be placed in the snooker room on the ground floor and only opened under supervision from the matron. Clothes and kit were handed over all meticulously labelled with Cash’s name tapes sewed on by my mother. Being allocated a bed in No.3 Dorm and meeting three or four other new boys before being shown the ablution facilities and where Old Big School was situated and where we would eat breakfast and evening meal. A breakfast time ritual was to collect a disc, about the size of a current one pound coin, which we could then exchange for lunch in the main school canteen.
The following morning we were directed to Big School for morning assembly, an event that never changed throughout my time at Vesey and attendance was required by boarders and day boys alike as form prefects took the register at the assembly. The only exceptions were boys of religions other than Anglican.
We were allocated to classes 1A – 1D. I was allocated to 1C coming from the “sticks” of Shustoke and my dad’s Approved School! “Beefy” Lewis was the form master and took us for maths. Some of the boys from local schools had studied French already so there was some catching up to do. After some academic success in that first term I was moved to 1A where Michael Emms, who taught us Latin, was the form master. I was desperately home sick during this time and looking back the permission to spend a Sunday at home after about six weeks was counter-productive in terms of overcoming that malaise. My unhappiness and physical sickness was exacerbated by some bullying resulting in one expulsion and a stitch in a cut above my right eye. School sport was my saviour when I got into both U13 rugby and cricket teams and began to feel at home at BVGS.
Home work, known as Prep, was carried out under the supervision of a prefect in a classroom each evening in the week including Fridays. Swimming at Erdington Baths was compulsory on Saturday mornings, as was church at Holy Trinity on Sunday mornings followed by a walk in the Park in the afternoon. A further short service was held in Old Big School on Sunday evening at about 7 p.m.
The “A” stream progressed through 2A, 3A and into 4A where we were fast tracked to take ‘O’ levels in the fourth year of grammar school as opposed to the fifth year. Misfortune befell me on the first day of the Spring Term when I broke my ankle rather badly and ended up in Birmingham Accident Hospital after a week in the school sick bay. A surgeon pieced it all back together. This meant I missed a substantial part of the term and was moved to a dormitory which I shared with Jonathan Glauert, on the same level as Old Big School. My ‘O’ level results suffered as a consequence but with little or no recriminations given the circumstances. Negotiating all the stairs in the school on crutches is an abiding memory. Free of plaster at last, I worked hard in the nets at home to strengthen the leg and ankle so that by the time I returned to school for the summer term I was able to play cricket and bowl.
I shall always remember the kindness of the teaching staff in helping a boarder with crutches attend external activities during that time. In particular, Les Chatwin who took me to his home, fed me Spaghetti Bolognese and thence to Stratford for the Shakespeare Play we were studying and then returned me to school. I shall also always be grateful to the teaching skills of a Mr Trout who unravelled the mystery of mathematics that had dogged me throughout the earlier years. Similarly, the recognition by Norman Jackson of the logistics of playing 1st IX cricket and then attending Erdington baths for the swimming sports on the same day, by a boarder with no transport. Norman gave me a lift.
A year in the fifth form of what Norman Jackson labelled R E’s (Returned Empties) bore academic recovery with a decent set of ‘O’ levels and entry to the sixth form. The fifth year saw representation of the school in 1st X1 cricket and occasional reserve appearances from the 2nd XV into the 1st XV. The Lower Sixth resulted in almost permanent places in both the senior sides for rugby and cricket. The weekly problem of turning up with clean kit was overcome by hand washing in the wash basin and drying over a radiator in the dormitory. The stiffness from insufficient rinsing soon wore off! Most of our rugby matches were played in the afternoon on either a Wednesday or a Saturday. It was always reckoned that extra efforts were evident on the touchline by the railway bridge as we strived to impress the females in the watching crowd!
In terms of organisational responsibility, once a sixth former, appointments as boarding house prefects took place. Duties would include supervising a table at mealtimes in Old Big School, supervising Prep in turn on a rota and attending to lights out at a dormitories allotted time.
Saturday evenings were often spent at a local Jazz Club, The Shantasy, which moved from Midland Drive to Coles lane at some time during those years. We were required to sign in a book that we had returned to the safety of the boarding house by 9.30 p.m. I am reluctant to admit that this rule was often abused by the ease by which exit was afforded through 3 dorm and the fire escape thereafter and the social gathering rejoined!
School holidays both half term and full holidays were generally spent back at home at the approved school, although once a driving licence had been obtained the A47/A446 to Sutton became a very familiar route as long as the family car was free!
The demands of time upon sport, girl friend (who later became my wife), school studies and generally enjoying life meant my studies suffered. Johnny Howells, geography master, was at pains to point this out to me and I have to admit to not taking heed. Did being a boarder mean there was little or no parental pressure except at School Report time or, as I suspect, was there was a failure on my part to accept the additional responsibility? My time in the sixth form at Bishop Vesey’s Grammar School was wasted academically but not, in my view, from education for life. It made me realise once I entered the commercial world that nothing came to you on a plate. I knuckled down to tertiary studies, passed exams stood out amongst some of my peers and enjoyed a reasonably successful and interesting career.
Boarding at BVGS provided for me not only academically but with the life skills to survive in a competitive world. I am extremely lucky and grateful to have had the experience.