It’s not easy to have a school reunion when the school was closed in 1976 and converted into flats. There’s no welcome from the current headteacher, no curious glances from the younger pupils, no dusty classrooms full of desks and chairs.
But when the building remains and is occupied by 5 different sets of owners, the entire reunion depends on the goodwill of people who have no link to the school except that the dormitory where you slept is now their bedroom.
This prep school, perched proudly at the top of Maze Hill in Greenwich, was home to up to 60 pupils each year. During the period it was open, it schooled over 400 boys, many of whom went on to join the services. These boys had one major thing in common: their fathers had died while serving in the Royal Air Force. Their fees were paid by the RAF Benevolent Fund, who also provided clothing and school trips. Hopefully, our collection of £265.00 for the RAF Benevolent Fund will be well received.
This was a school where the amazing staff were also surrogate parents, the 19-year old school cook would take you swimming, the matron would soothe away the pain with medicine and love and the 18-year old teacher would inspire you to break your own boundaries and allow you to be yourself.
Not every old boy enjoyed their time at the school but they still returned such is the draw of this wonderful building. The boys who attended in the 1940s had an entirely different experience to those who attended in the 1970s. Different head teachers had different values and had the power to influence the happiness and wellbeing of each pupil.
The bond between the old boys is unbreakable but what I found strange is that whilst we all in the same school, in the same situation and miles from our mothers, we were so taken by the school, the buildings, the ethos and the staff that we never thought to ask others why they were there. Only recently, have some of the boys shared the grief of the death of their father.
What started out as a suggestion to have a reunion grew into a day that was more special than I could ever imagine. Thanks to the hard work of several and the extreme kindness and generosity of the hosts, 32 old boys and staff together with their families met at Vanbrugh Castle School on Sunday 2nd September 2018, 42 years after the school closed.
It was more of a family reunion with bear hugs and beaming smiles. There were floods of memories, roars of laughter and stories of sadness. The hosts were fantastic and allowed everyone into their beautiful homes. More stories, flowed, confessions were made, memories drawn from a deep well of nostalgia. The warmth of the welcome was matched by the enthusiasm to listen. The owners of the properties had researched the history of the school and this history was coming alive. Here were the boys whose echoes of laughter had rung out in the building where they lived.
The weather was glorious, the food was delicious, the atmosphere was emotional whilst the Castle and ‘Wakefield Wing’ stood silently in the background almost knowing that they had played their part in nurturing these boys.
I would like to thank Frank Valentine, Colin Cummings, Jon Moreau, Lisa, Martin, Harry, Lucy and Bill from The Cedars, Will and Ann from Flat 1, David, Jocelyn, Finn and Owen from Flat 3 and Bernadette, Luke, Mercedes and Mabel from Flat 4 for helping to make the entire reunion so special. Thanks also go to Air Vice Marshal Malcolm Brecht who wrote a gracious letter of thanks to the owners of The Cedars.
Finally, a deep and heartfelt thank you to the staff, Old Boys and their families for turning up. To Chris Mander for providing an outstanding visual reminder of the school between 1974 and 1976 and to Maria Hoddy for a guided tour of the kitchen.
Back Row : Danny Downes, Mark Harris, Nick Buxcey, Colin Cummings, Colin Thirsk, Gareth Hughes, David Gardiner, Ray Gardiner, Charlie Downes, Simon Harris, Martin Chalker, John Valentine, Brian Tyekiff, Paul McCann, Brian Pafford, Adam Greenwold, Frank Valentine, Ken Wildish, David Wildish
2nd Row : Lisa, David Pafford, Maria Hoddy (cook), Chris Mander (teacher)
Front Row : Nigel Bailey, Jon Moreau, Chris Pafford, Mike McConnell
Not shown in group picture : Mike Fenner, Duncan Brown, Tony Payne (teacher), Ray Reeder and Ian Harvey
This glass memento engraved with a picture of a school cap from the 1970's together with the letter from Air Vice Marshal Malcolm Brecht were presented to our generous hosts Martin and Lisa.