In 1947 the school re-opened with the Controller Captain Slimming. His wife acted as matron (It is interesting to note that he insisted he was Controller and not headmaster - see 1923 RAF Memorial unveiling report).
In the first world war Slimming had been a 2nd Lieutenant in the 25th Divisional Cycling Corps, then a Captain in the Royal West Surrey Regiment, finally a Captain in the RAF.
Slimming’s wife died in about 1947 but he soon married the new matron, Miss Rankin. Slimming was a tyrant and beat any erring boys with a cane or heavy leather strap on the hands or bare buttocks. The school was assembled to witness these beatings.
In general the school was run more like a prison than a comforting home for boys who had recently lost their fathers and none of whom wanted to be there.
One boy recalls his first days at the school :
“I joined Vanbrugh Castle School in 1947 aged 8yrs. After climbing Maze Hill with my small suitcase and walking up the gravel drive to the double doors of the castle, I knocked on the door and heard footsteps, a small door opened at adult head height and a voice (probably that of one of the older boys) enquired "Who are you?' "New boy sir" I said. The door then creaked open and I went to meet Captain Slimming the Controller.
Only 5 boys arrived that day but the following day more
Later on, a boy was suspected of having stolen a shilling so Captain Slimming assembled all the boys in the largest room and beat hell out of this boy’s bare buttocks with a belt till the boy was bruised and bleeding.
Quite an introduction to this new life at 8yrs old, but from that date such beatings were common. To my lasting surprise I only remember one boy who was withdrawn from the school.”
The cook , Mrs Doyle, produced food that was absolutely awful. Ghastly Spam (with gristly inserts) and rotten Polish eggs were often on the menu. The quality of the eggs didn’t improve much when the lion quality scheme was introduced. Boys ate great quantities of bread and jam. Meat was always 90% gristle. Sunday lunch was usually cold grisly mutton, nasty tasting mashed potato and yellow piccalilli pickle.
Between the wars the youngest boys were taught at the Castle by Capt. Slimming. Later all boys went to normal day schools in the district. Pre 11+ pupils went to Royal Hill Primary School on the other side of Greenwich Park. Older boys went to Charlton Secondary School, Kidbrook or the Roan School.
Later, the City of London School offered one place a year to a suitably academic boy. For these boys the school day was lengthened by the commute by train each day up to the city.. In return, they had some freedom denied those who went to local schools. St.Joseph’s Academy in Blackheath took boys who were Roman Catholics.
On one occasion the boys in the Salmond dorm were making a great din after lights out. The boys in the adjacent Tedder dorm, maturer by a couple of years, were talking reasonably among themselves, when the door opened and Captain entered. These older boys were in mortal fear, but he simply said, "Keep on talking," and crept on his knees across Tedder floor so as not to be seen through the glass window of the swing-door into Salmond. Arriving there, he inched it open and peered in through the crack, identifying the miscreants. Suddenly, he burst in, named the individuals, told them to stand by their beds and then, one by one, thrashed them.
Beds had to be made with impeccable hospital corners, shoes had to shine, silence had to be maintained in the dormitories, weeding had to
be done (without any implements and without breaking the stem of the weed) on Saturday mornings, after the weekly medicine glass of epsom salts, choir-practice (taken by Captain) had to be attended on one or two nights a week as Vanbrugh boys were roped in as choristers for the Naval College Chapel, Foster Parent Letters had to be written monthly and letters home each Sunday. Every one of these activities was subject to rigorous inspection, and so there was no chance of any plea for support from home - all one could write, as Auntie Jessie told us to, was "Dear Mum, I hope you are well and happy as I am. ...". The prohibition of the possession of stamps or of sharp implements combined with these other requirements to make us feel as if we were in a kind of prison.
Given the feeling of entrapment, it is perhaps not surprising that, one day, three or four boys, including David Wildish and aided by a Royal Hill boy called Morris, who lived in Park Terrace, Maze Hill, ran away (we said, "escaped"). Police cars rushed about in search of the absconders and eventually they were brought, bedraggled and downcast, back to Vanbrugh. Nothing was done immediately, but perhaps two days later Captain assembled us all in the room named Heal (after the prewar benefactor) and called the escapees to the
front. He announced that the two days' delay had been because he did not believe in punishing people in anger: he would rather do it consideredly. Then, starting with the so-called ring-leader, who I think was Wildish, he dealt multiple lashes to each of the boys' bare behinds. It seemed never-ending and was accompanied by anguished screams. Having to witness that did nothing for the confidence of the rest of us: if that was the way Captain behaved when cool and
collected, how might he behave when angry?
One small humanitarian act is to be credited to Captain Slimming.
One of the improvised dishes that Mrs Doyle, whose husband became
handyman later, dished up in our dining room was maccaroni peas. The
boys did not like that and repeatedly complained about it. Eventually,
one supper-time, Captain came down the stairs connecting the staff
dining room with ours in order to investigate our complaint. He dipped
a spoon into the maccaroni vat and, taking it to his lips, tasted its
contents, as he looked enquiringly into the air. After some
consideration, he said, "Um, nourishing, but I don't think we'll have
Captain Slimming was capable of humour but not of a forgiving kind. More than once, I heard him ask a question with an objectively true answer (e.g., "What is 2 plus 2?"). When the true answer was given, he would say, "Only just right." And once, on boot parade, he said to a boy, "Your shoes are very shiny!" The boy, just back from holiday, said, "They were polished by my grandma." A little further down the inspection line, Captain said to another boy, "You'd need a great-grandmother to clean your boots!"
Every month under Capt.Slimming’s regime the boys had a shoe inspection. If he considered that a boy had unduly worn the soles or bent down the backs, then the boy was whacked across the head with the shoe or had his cheek pulled sharply.
Slimming’s shoes were always highly polished.
Slimming’s wife was assisted by husband & wife Pat and Bridie who helped to bathe the boys. Some other of the first Assistant matrons were Miss Schneider (sympathetic and Swiss), Miss Mochler (kindly and Irish) and Miss McComiskey(fierce and Irish). Other Assistant matrons were Miss Barton, Miss Tillotson and Miss Birch. Miss Schneider was the essential human side of what we all perceived as an inhuman institution. She was eminently talkable-with and gave us Swiss postage stamps, mysteriously marked "Helvetia", as presents.There were normally only two matrons at the school at any one time.
One day, and I thought it was because, trying to emulate squirrels, I had nibbled at an acorn on the way to Royal Hill, I was taken ill and put in the sick-bay in Wakefield Wing. My temperature kept climbing and went on being taken into the night. Then, when it reached 105 degrees, an ambulance was called and I was taken down the very steep Vanbrugh Hill - the slope could be seen even in the windowless ambulance - to St Alphege's Hospital. How forbidding that victorian hospital was, with its lights always on and with a perpetual humming sound! And how welcome was a visit from Miss Schneider to reconnect one with a less threatening world, even if that world were Vanbrugh Castle!
At the start of one meal, Miss Mockler, trying to get the boys to comport themselves decently, said, in her very Irish accent, "Poot yer hands onter the tearble", at which every obedient boy, thinking that "onter" meant "onto", and wondering what was going on, placed his hands on the table. "I said, poot yer hands ONTER the tearble!" At which the boys pressed their hands even more firmly onto the table top. I can't remember how that was resolved.
Slimming used to inspect the boys before they walked, crocodile fashion, across the park to Royal Hill Junior School.
Occasionally after inspection, he would sprint round the back of Greenwich Observatory to intercept us before we left the park on the other side, to check that we weren’t misbehaving. Once, a member of the public must have worried that we were being accosted by a dirty old man because the headmistress (Miss Broad) at Royal Hill was alerted and we were questioned by her after morning assembly.
An arrangement was made with some Americans for them to become “foster parents” to the boys. Each month we all had to sit down and write letters to them. Gifts were sent from America mainly at Xmas time. However some foster parents were far more generous than others and this led to a bit of resentment.
Each Sunday the whole school was assembled to write letters to our mothers. There was hardly ever anything to say and the letters always began : “Dear Mum, I Hope you are well and happy as I am” even though that was clearly untrue.
Brian Cuddehay climbed the tree next to the coach house. Unfortunately he fell down through the glass roof of the potting shed below.
His legs were badly cut and he was rushed to hospital, but he survived.
David Harvey fell against the concrete step which separated two levels of the grounds. His head was very badly cut and blood gushed out profusely. It scared me.
The way in which wear, or accidental damage, to garments was punished by beating meant that boys lived in perpetual fear. At Royal Hill, one day, Peter Kennett caught his pocket on a projection from one of the iron desks and ripped a half-square flap out of it. We all felt the consternation, but a local girl in the class said that her mother did invisible mending and took Kennett's jacket home in the dinner hour. She brought it back miraculously whole and, on this occasion, Kennett was delivered. That was a real act of kindness, freely made. Our local class-mates knew the sort of thing we were in for.
The school supplied the choristers for the choir at the Royal Naval College which in the early days was poor. Capt. Slimming took choir practice a couple of times a week at Vanbrugh.
Captain Slimming's method of selecting choir members was unusual. Boys were lined up to sing and he would walk down the back of the line and if a boy did not sound right, an ear was pulled hard and the boy was silenced.
He smoked all he while and often left his burning cigarette on the keys which scorched the ivory surface.
In 1951 Captain reached retirement age and a farewell gathering, attended by local press people, was called, at which, despite the boys' loathing of him, he was presented, on their behalf, by John Ayers, with a briefcase, bearing the initials G.A.S. Captain made a little speech to the effect that it was time to hand over to a younger man, that his successor would be a Mr Webb-Jones and that perhaps the boys would call him something like, "Spider" and that the new man, being younger, would be able to beat us harder.
J W Webb-Jones took over as headmaster in 1951. In house schooling for pre-11 plus boys started and other staff were employed.
D. R. Jones was the first and had been appointed just before Webb-Jones. He was an all round good egg. He later became the Chief Education Officer(psychology?) for Shropshire. He had a wife, Molly, and a son.
Webb-Jones introduced a system of "stars" and "stripes" to discipline the boys. Each time a boy did something especially well, he would be awarded a little form, signed by a master, detailing his achievement. These forms (stars) were printed in red ink. Each time a boy committed some offence, a similar form, but in black ink (a stripe) would be issued. To add a social component to the motivation, two "houses", Harries and Cordingley (after famous Air Marshals) were set up and a chart, on constant display in a prominent position, showed where the two houses stood with respect to stars and stripes. Of course, the ultimate deterrent of caning was reserved for repetitive or serious offenders, but we were mightily relieved that it was no longer the punishment of first resort as it had been under Captain Slimming.
Peter Lyons was appointed to be the second master. So we had a Headmaster (not a controller) and two masters. Resultingly, the programme of activities greatly increased. David Jones was hot on arts and crafts, as well as sports, and, at one point, set up measured plots on one of the lawns for the boys to be encouraged to garden. Peter Lyons was hot on music and sports and, stepping into choirmaster Mr Phillips's shoes, utterly reformed the Naval College choir, most notably by introducing the Oxford Psalter, to replace the dreadful Cathedral Psalter. The unaccompanied singing of the choir during the liturgical part of the service reached a fairly high quality and, with the Cambridge organist Peter le Huray assisting, the services eventually attracted visitors coming down the Thames from Westminster pier.
The choirboys practised twice a week for the Sunday service at the Naval College. It was a perk for them to walk, unsupervised, down to the Chapel instead of in the formal crocodile formation that the rest of the boys walked in to the service.
The boys were unpaid for their efforts, but were rewarded with an outing once a year to a naval attraction (Devonport Dockyard, a submarine, a trip on a destroyer).
One year the boys were invited to go to an Xmas party at the College to join the officers’ children in the fun. The food was served in the Painted Hall but the most striking thing was the way the undercroft had been decorated as a pirates cave. Barrels of freshly minted gold farthings spilled over the floor. Just like the real thing.
In later years the choir were paid for their services.
There was a two hour interval between our arriving back at Vanbrugh from school and supper at 6 and eventually the complaints about hunger led, in this new humanitarian regime, to the establishment of a meal called "snack". Perhaps at 4.30, a bell would ring at the dining room door and, "Snack!" would be shouted. A stampede of boys would then rush across to "the Wing" to pick up the biscuit or slice of cake that was on offer there. The respite afforded by snack was shortlived, for l’appetit vient en mangeant.
An incident occurred which caused considerable trouble.
Letter writing (mostly to our mothers) was compulsory and the whole school sat down (usually on Sundays), at desks, in silence until the job was done.
It was a task hated by the boys. At that time there was very little of interest to write about. The steel nibbed pens that we used had to be dipped in inkwells, often left a splodgy mess on the paper, and went rusty after use.
In one classroom, used for craft work, an oil can & whetstone had been left out and a boy decided it might be a good idea to clean his nib with the oil to stop it rusting. It did remove the rust but when he came to try out the pen it wouldn’t work anymore. The ink just ran off the nib.
The boy immediately spotted the potential of this discovery and put a drop of oil into all the inkwells (except his own). The letter writing session which followed shortly afterwards was a fiasco.
When it was discovered that the ink had been sabotaged demands were made for the perpetrator to own up. He didn’t and as a result the whole school was made to sit in silence until he did. This torture was continued for two or three days. Still nobody came forward (impossible now that so much pain had been visited on all the boys).
After about a week the matter fizzled out. So it came as a shock for me to be summoned to the headmaster’s office and told he knew I was the culprit. Rather than some awful retribution all I received was a mild telling off for the hiatus I had caused.
I still wonder who it was who put two & two together to realise that I was the only one able to write with my pen on that day.
Mrs Webb-Jones contributed greatly to boys' gainful employment by arranging for plays to be performed from time to time, with stage, curtains, make-up and audience. That involved the learning of parts and many rehearsals and dress rehearsals. I remember that one play was "The Rest Cure" and another, "The Crimson Coconut". Ambition seems to have grown and "Toad of Toad Hall" was put on. Peter Lyons was involved with these more elaborate performances and it was probably he who cast me as Mole in "Toad" because he had a rather unnatural interest in me as a young boy and enjoyed seeing me gyrating effeminately as Mole and saying, "Oh me! Oh my!" I was mortified at having to do this and greatly envied the masculine roles that Kennett (Rat) and Tommy Comer (Toad) had. Tommy Comer flourished as Toad.
One Saturday, during the run-up to one of the earlier of these productions, Kennett, Wildish and I secured permission to cycle across London to Pinner to visit Peter "Knobby" Norman, who had left Vanbrugh and lived there. We cycled off vaguely in the right direction, but became bogged down in back streets at Wembley. It was so late by the time we arrived at Rayners Lane, that we had to telephone Vanbrugh to say that we could not possibly get back in time for Mrs Webb-Jones's rehearsal. Peter Lyons was furious, but it had been an innocent error, and we certainly had not wished to incommode or offend the very pleasant Mrs Webb-Jones.
Perhaps the final dramatic offering was "The Pirates of Penzance", in which I was cast as Frederick. Most of the solo pieces were spoken, but the choruses were sung and Mr Webb-Jones actually added some lines of his own to the "Doctor of Divinity" verse. Mine was not in principle an effeminate role, but it did involve soppy love scenes with Tony Rowling, who was one of the "maidens" and that caused the same mortification that the Mole role had caused. My mortification was made worse as my Mother, Aunt and her friend attended the final performance. I don't know how Karyl Brahms ("that Jewess" as my aunt's friend described her) got into the audience, but I think that Peter Lyons had something to do with it. The upshot of her visit was the appearance of an article in the Daily Telegraph about how taken she was with Vanbrugh Castle and what it was doing. (Click to see the programme
There was a sequel to that, too, for one evening when, delinquently, Kennett and I were having a glass of sherry with Miss Tillotson, the assistant matron, in her room, who should appear on those winding stairs but Karyl Brahms and a friend who had come without permission, at 10 o'clock at night, to take in the marvellous view over London obtainable from the roof of Vanbrugh Castle. She did that and had a glass of sherry as well, with us.
Peter Lyons left to teach at the prestigious Wells Cathedral Choir School. Whether or not it was all prearranged, shortly afterwards, Mr Webb-Jones landed the job of Headmaster there.
In 1961 Lyons became headmaster at Witham Hall Prep School. He was there for 28 years
The man who was accepted to replace Peter Lyons was perhaps even more outstanding, but in surprising ways. His name was Gregory and he was a tall gangling man, claiming to have several organ degrees.That would seem to stand him in good stead for dealing with the choir, but I don't remember much happening on that front.
Gregory was a demagogue and made alliances with the boys. At table, on one occasion, I (a prefect) had cause to say to Michael Lewis, "Be quiet!" several times. When I became exasperated, he said, "You can't touch me now; I'm too powerful." He was referring to the fact that Gregory was his protector.
Things went from bad to worse and we saw more of the man from the RAF Benevolent Fund, Sqn/Ldr Cutting, presumably called in to trouble-shoot. Then, climactically, on being threatened with the sack, Gregory assembled a crowd of his boys outside the Wakefield Wing, like Wat Tyler, rousing them to rebellion. I suppose the police were called and the thing, and Gregory's career, brought to a conclusion. Peter Kennett remembers being in the library during the Gregory debacle. He heard Jonah's voice and shouting, which got nearer and nearer. Police were rushing about the corridors l Eventually, Gregory got into the library and grabbed PK by the throat. PK was thinking he would hit Gregory, when the Police stopped the activity.
It was necessary to find an immediate replacement for Gregory and the only man who could be found was the long-retired Wing Commander Roberts. It was difficult to imagine that he would be much good at the modern kind of teaching that David Jones had introduced, or at any kind of teaching. He walked with a stick and played the piano badly at morning assembly.
His priority seemed to be to retain his sexual powers in his old age. He said vitamin E was good for that and that lettuce contained a lot of vitamin E. "I can't have too much of it," he told Kennett.
Further evidence of this obsession came when assistant matron Miss Tillotson, cutting through W/Cdr Roberts's room (fashioned out of a former upstairs corridor), found him in there. He pulled her down on to the bed and made amorous advances, which she strenuously resisted.
One pupil remembers his insistence on correct spelling and words like” necessary” and “phthisis” often merited a reward of a sweet.
A young fair haired New Zealand master called Fleming, who must have been appointed after Roberts, thought that the spinelessness of the boys would be improved by making them box.
A makeshift ring was constructed in the dining room, and a knockout competition ensued.
With little or no instruction in the art of boxing, blood covered the floor in next to no time.
It isn’t known if the exercise was considered a success, but it wasn’t repeated.
He also instigated early morning runs. Boys had to get up at about 6am and run around Greenwich Park for an hour before having breakfast. Of course the boys hated it but looking back there was something nice about being out in the cold and frost at that time of day.
One of the masters (was it Fleming?), who owned an Austin Healy, had a wife who was killed when she fell from the car after the door suddenly opened.
Around 1953 “peasouper” fogs enveloped the castle for days on end. Visibility was reduced to a few feet through the thick green sulphur-laden air. I can still taste this evil mixture when I think of it today, and the mournful sound of the ships’ foghorns on the Thames.
Webb-Jones instigated a snack time at about 4pm after the boys complained of feeling hungry in the long wait from lunch to supper. He also set up a “tuck shop” which was essentially a cupboard full of sweets in one of the classrooms.
It was open for a limited time at 4pm for boys to spend their meagre pocket money. Boys were punished by stopping them using this facility.
Some naughty boys discovered that if the cupboard was pulled away from the wall access could be gained through the back to the treasure within.
Colin Addison 1954 - 1964 remembers (in no particular order) :
The sizeable scar on one knee from the door catch of Mrs Chalmer’s Citroen.
Change to staying at VCS until 13. I am pretty sure I was in the last year of the old system, certainly I was the last boy to go to City of London School. This meant travelling up to Blackfriars by train with Michael Loughlin who was in the year before me. I remember the pea-soup fogs when we could hardly see the lamp posts in front of us when running down Maze Hill for the train. There were regular strikes and train delays, which often meant our train would be cancelled and the next one was expected to take two loads of hopeful passengers, we always shoved our way onto it. On one occasion we thought it would be a good idea to get the river boat from Greenwich Pier during a train strike, the problem was that thousands of other people had the same idea. We eventually got to school around midday, in time to finish early for sports.
So the first year of leaving at 13 must have been 1960. My year then had an extending gap down to the 12 & 13 year olds who were in their last year at VCS. I think there were very few of us in my last year, maybe 4 or 5, who were older than 13 years.
We gained a lot more freedom as the years rolled on, especially being at “City” and commuting daily. Looking back it was bearable, and after all, we knew nothing different. I don’t remember the staff numbers increasing, maybe there was one more teacher. Reads and Kingham Hill schools were talked about, Reads was THE onel to get to.
Life got fairly pleasant as I started to make friends on the other side of the walls! I was even allowed to visit a Youth Club somewhere on the other side of the Heath. Inevitably beer and girls were discovered, I was by then 16 or 17 playing rugby for the City of London Old Boys 3rd team on a Saturday afternoon after playing for the school in the morning. I was allowed to cycle to the “City” sports ground at Grove Park.
Mr. Cheesman, the handyman, allowed us to sneak a quick fag in his workshop on a Saturday morning - there was a shop down in Greenwich which would split a packet of cigarettes and sell them individually!
My days at “City” will not be remembered as academically outstanding, our Chemistry master said one day “ you’re a f…… bucket chemist Addison” and he turned out to be spot on, but I made small marks on the rugby pitches, played in the back row for the 1st XV and captained the winning house team in my last year, how the head master turned his nose up when I collected the cup, and was awarded half colours. Also played cricket with Mike Brearley, later England captain of course, who captained my house side (undefeated!). In those days he opened the batting and kept wicket for the 1st eleven, played in the 1st pair at Eton Fives, and full back for the 1st XV, and then left school for Cambridge etc etc. His father taught maths in the school.
I was taught to play bridge by Mr. Morgan and Mr. Botrill on Friday evenings.
Scouts were held in the school, must have started when I was about 11 or 12 years old. At 14 I joined the Combined Cadet Force at “City”.
The band was started in Corner’s time. My clarinet was my own, not donated, my mother bought it and when I got fed up with it I sold it to Hugh Croxford, he was a year or two older than me. He rapidly got the hang of it and used to play with a jazz group in the Green Man(?) at the London end of the Heath (I think). If only I had stuck with it! I do have this very distinct memory of a performance when Paddy Purcell disappeared backwards off the stage followed by boxes of flowers etc!
My days at VCS were reasonably happy, I don’t remember any boy running for home. We had all sorts of things going on.
I remember the tuck-shop, we could move the cupboard away from the wall and “raid” it via a back entrance.
We graduated to a cricket net on the grass at the end of the playground by the castle, and played endlessly at weekends. And there were the swimming competitions in the public baths at the bottom of Maze Hill.
Later Jimmy Thompson and I got to know the river frontage of Greenwich and Deptford well, being allowed to go out on a Saturday exploring.
Just after I started at Vanbrugh the Cutty Sark was floated into its dry dock and on the way in it hit a barge. We boys were taken down to watch.
There were visits to various war ships in the Thames, both British and American, always lots of CocaCola on the US ships.
The Xmas parties sponsored by The American Embassy, or similar, with super presents for all the boys. One year one boy was given a model plane which had to be assembled in balsa wood with the wings covered with tissue paper and doped etc. It had two Jet-X engines, so to the top of the fire escape we went, lit the engines and the plane promptly caught fire and crashed to the ground in flames. A short-life present.
On a Sunday evening, we assembled in the TV room to watch Bruce Forsyth with Sunday Night at the London Palladium. Amazing that he continued going for so long. As someone else said the TV was always going wrong, and of course both chanels were in black and white.
On bonfire night experimenting with home-made fireworks and raining the remains onto the garden next down the hill to the Castle. It belonged to a Miss Mott who would come and complain.
When I was about to leave the school after nearly 12 years the headmaster (J.Corner) asked me to write a letter of thanks to the Royal Air Force Benevolent Fund.
I could not do it. The misery of the first few years there was not expunged by the more liberal regime that followed. The place always felt like a prison.
Every Saturday morning a glass of Epsom Salts was administered to each boy at breakfast time, regardless of any irregularity in the bowel department.
Inevitably this led to a bottleneck at the lavatories an hour or two later.
Mr Webb-Jones was impatient with moochers. He preferred people to use their time profitably. It was this philosophy that led to the setting up of the Chicken Club, the members of which (Kennett, David Wildish and me, among others) fed their chickens in the buildings behind the greenhouses and benefited from their eggs. It led also to the setting up of the Mouse Club, with Tommy Comer, Kennett and myself. The chickens stayed in their pen, but our mice certainly did not stay in their cages: we took them around with us, inside our shirts. It is true that increasingly we smelled of mouse urine, but I found that rather companionable. We took them to bed with us, too, and I delighted in the patter of little feet approaching across my pillow and a little nose sniffing in my ear. Tragically, though, I killed more than one of my mice by rolling over onto it, and had to give that up.
One day, at the Roan, I decided to put my mouse in my desk during the lesson. But there is, in those desks, a hole where the iron leg passes through the wooden floor of the desk proper. The mouse found that and, immediately the shout, "A mouse!" went up. Boys were tumbling about in the aisles trying to catch it before they were brought back to order by Mr White. Then, "A Mouse!" was heard from the next classroom, when the animal had passed through the gap by the central heating pipe. Needless to say, people knew who was responsible and we were warned about the filthiness of the habit of harbouring mice in our shirts.
Miss Mockler was saying grace in the dining room one day, "May the Lord make us ..." and Kennett's mouse, Zeebee, stuck its head out of his shirt, just in front of her. The grace continued, "Get it out of here!"
Miss McComersky ( the severe Irish assistant matron) entered a dormitory to find a boy (I’ll spare his blushes) pleasuring himself. She told him off and reported the boy to the acting headmaster (D R Jones). He was summoned for an interview and on his return was asked about what had been said to him. The boy said "He told me to look up 'perseverance' in the dictionary." Perseverance??? Was the obscure message that he should persevere in trying to overcome these behaviours? It was mysterious, indeed. It took 45 years for me, musing on this again, suddenly to realise that what Mr Jones had urged him to look up was - ‘perversion’!
A fishing club was set up about the same time. Several boys joined and were allowed to go out on Saturdays to any place they thought might suitable for fishing.
Some of us not in the club were envious of these boys who often returned with a catch of eels which the cook prepared for them to eat.
I wonder why I , who disliked fishing, didn’t join the club just to get away for the day.
In the winter when it snowed the boys were permitted to slide down the slopes on makeshift toboggans, or make giant snowballs, in Greenwich Park. It was all good fun.
After the Webb-Jones era, new staff were appointed in the 1960’s. Messrs. Morgan, Bottrill and Evans as masters and Mrs Chalmers as Matron (she owned a Citroen DS car & was reputed to own a castle in Scotland and was well liked).
Mr Cheeseman became the school handy man but he didn’t live in. He allowed pupils to smoke in his workshop in the entrance courtyard.
Around 1960, boys who reached the age of 13 yrs left the school and went elsewhere to complete their education. Of the two schools to which the boys progressed, Reeds & Kingham Hill (which still exist), the first was the most prestigious.
Life became quite pleasant for those pupils,older than 13yrs who had not yet completed their secondary education at outside schools.
Under Corner’s headmastership a school band was established. Paddy Purcell, of the Royal College of Wind Music, was persuaded to be the band leader.
The expensive brass instruments were acquired by appealing to the public to donate them. The less expensive, like clarinets & flutes, were bought by the boys’ mothers.
The band played at local events outside the school. Paddy regularly lost his temper; he was Irish!! He fell backwards off the stage once, we had great difficulty continuing to play for laughing, he was ok though.
A little later a scout troupe was set up which went on camping expeditions. One such was at Downe.
Miss Mott who lived for many years in the house on Maze Hill just below the school had cause to complain about our behaviour on more than one occasion. Experimenting with home-made fireworks and raining the remains onto her garden caused upset. On bonfire night a good fire was usually ablaze on the ground above her garden.
I was at Vanbrugh from '62 to '67, during the time of J.H.Corner. Tyranny seems to be the common thread running through all the headmasters. I recall once saying to some of the boys that we should go to the Benevolent Fund and complain. Somehow Corner heard about it and I was thrashed severely and bore the marks for ages. The abiding happy memory is of the camaraderie amongst the boys. It would be interesting to know if there exists some way of coming across any other old boys. It was good to see the newer photos, I appear in 2 of them.
I was sent to VC I think, from about 1958 to 1964, and then went to Reeds School, where I was expelled within my first year.
My memories are fond ones now although at the time I was constantly beaten and we seemed to take it in turns to bully and be bullied. We were all called by our surnames or nicknames. Mr Corner was on reflection entirely unsuitable for the position he held. He had violent and frequent mood swings, often fuelled by South African Sherry, I seem to remember. He could be very kind, for example taking two or three of us to his house in Kent and letting us fire air rifles or he could be so scary that eye contact was to be avoided at all costs.
I enjoyed athletics (breaking the records for 100, 200, and 400 yards races) and playing football. Colours ( green tie with white stripes) were awarded after scoring a lot of goals one year. I'm in one of the football team photos. Terry Maynard was the captain. Playing in the band and singing in the choir gave me a lifetime love of listening to and playing music.
I became a steeplejack working all over the world and am now a great grandfather. I am what I am because of Vanbrugh Castle and I turned out alright eventually.
I still love Greenwich. The Park, The Thames, RNC and Museum, Cutty Sark and of course Vanbrugh Castle.
During my years there I joined the band on trombone (the Star & Garter home visits stuck in my mind with all the war veterans).
I remember singing in the choir with the Wrens at the Naval College Chapel, and the occasion when the whole school went down with a flue bug. We were all bused to Hastings for a day of rest & recovery.
Unfortunately my mother threw away all my old photos of VCS so if anybody would like to post some photos of that period on this site I would be grateful.
There was a period when most of the boys had a craze for British truck name badges. We must have driven (forgive the pun) Atkinson, Foden & the others mad !!
John Corner was the head during my time, and I suffered his cane like many other boys. As much as I hated him then and for some years after, I have to say the one thing he gave me was a determination not to suffer bullys through my life, "RIP Corner you cruel bastard"
In 1974 I called into the school on spec with my future wife, they made us very welcome and showed us around, it seemed light-years away from my time there. The pupils and staff were very relaxed and happy : shame it went through it's growing pains only to close a year later.
After it was decided to educate boys only up to the age of 13yrs, pupils left for several secondary schools (the selection process seemed to be determined by J.H.Corner probably because the RAFBF had preferential arrangements with those schools). Among them were Reeds (Surrey), Kingham Hill (Oxford) and the Royal Wolverhampton School. At least one returned home to finish his education.
Brian Kettleborough, after leaving RWS and unable to decide if teaching was to be his career, applied to VCS and was accepted as a trainee teacher. The experience didn't put him off and he went on to have a successful time in teaching (at home & abroad) finally becoming a headmaster. So Vanbrugh Castle obviously did him no harm.
David Pafford also returned to join the teaching staff as a qualified teacher.
I went onto Kingham Hill School after Vanbrugh, and it was only then that I realised how restricted we had been at Vanbrugh.
I was there for 5 years. I was regularly up to mischief so I got caned a few times.
I played Clarinet in the band, and sung at the Royal Naval Colledge in the choir.
Corner was particularly nasty to particular boys. He was a very frightening man, who picked on boys. He used to swear at us on a daily basis and insult the RAF regularly. He used to insult the Jakeman brothers, Billy and Brian, who were from Northallerton. One of his favourite sayings about them was "kick him up the arse when he ain't looking" refering to them talking to each other about picking on other people. This was totally uncalled for, he was just a drunken thug.
He took us for French every day I think, and if we failed to do our prep up to his standard, we would be on detention, or he would take away priveledges, like watching the filmshow that we had every so often.
I didn't enjoy Vanbrugh because of him.
Corner was a tyrant, he scared me and he caned me. However he was a duel personality. He also took some us down to his cottage in Kent on a fairly regular basis. He had a very good sense of humour. It was just a shame he had this dark side to him. I am told about a year after I left he changed completely and became a very kind man and the boys loved him. Is it possible he had a medical condition which was diagnosed and brought under control?
I played the trumpet and then the tenor horn in the school band, under Paddy Purcell, and with the London Youth Orchestra. I will always be grateful to him for teaching me to play and read music.
In 1959 new classrooms were required to cater for pupils after the ‘preparatory school’ change and the increase in numbers. This building (in the shape of a T) was constructed on the play area behind the ‘coach house’ (see plan).
It was well thought out and contained three classrooms. Those in the cross piece of the T were slightly higher with a movable partition separating them off. This enabled the whole building to be opened up into a hall with a stage at the end. In this configuration the place was used for plays and film shows.
Corner arranged sporting fixtures with other schools in the area and beyond. A cricket team travelled to Cambridge to play.
An incident occurred after a fixture with another school from Blackheath. This team was invited back to VCS for tea after the match. Unfortunately things got out of hand and a ‘bun fight’ developed in the dining room. The visiting side went home thinking what great fun boarding school life was. Corner, however, was livid when he heard of the occurrence and next day lined the boys up outside his office and caned them all one by one.
Brian Kettleborough was one of those boys and took precautions before the caning by putting on two pairs of thick swimming trunks under his trousers. This ruse would have been impossible in former years when caning was done on bare buttocks.
In 1964 the house next door to the Wing was purchased (called Knolleys' Wing). It was used to house the increasing numbers of school staff. The boy's dining room was extended (towards the road) and a new access constructed from here to the new Wing.
Boys later discovered that the breach in the wall at the end of the air-raid shelter was another entrance to the tunnel under the garden that led out into the dell. This access was formerly filled with sand and wasn’t obvious to earlier generations of boys.