Vanbrugh Castle School

Reunion September 2018

[Use the back button on your browser to return or click heading to go to Home Page]

Vanbrugh Castle School Reunion – Sunday 2nd September 2018 by Danny Downes

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.

Danny Downes

Vanbrugh Old Boys and Staff with host Lisa

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

Mike Fenner
Duncan Brown
Tony Payne
Ray Reeder
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.

Engraved glass memento

From: Air Vice-Marshal Malcolm A B Brecht CB CBE MA FRAeS RAF

Air Staff - Strategy 7
C/O ExO 601 (County of London) Sqn RAuxAF
Ministry of Defence
Level 5, Zone I
Main Building

Lisa and Martin Taylor
********* ****
* ********* **** ****
London SE3

2 September 2018

A team of fellow Kingham Hill School boys invited me to accept your very kind invitation to visit your home, which was previously part of Vanbrugh Castle School. Sadly, I cannot join them as I am away.

A number of the boys who attended Vanbrugh Castle when it was a school were sponsored through the school by the Royal Air charities, in some cases having lost fathers serving in the Royal Air Force. I understand that you have researched the history of the Castle and the house you now live in, and having learned of the link with the Royal Air Force you have been kind enough to open your home to old boys from the Vanbrugh who went on to Kingham Hill School. Your kind invitation is particularly special in this the Royal Air Force's centenary year.

Thank you so much for opening up your home to the old boys, I know it was known to them as an extension of the school next to Vanbrugh Castle, known as the Wakefield Wing. I have heard from a number of old boys who are excited to visit. Indeed, I believe you may have around 30 visitors - a mixture of otd boys and their partners, including one old boy who left in 1959.

The theme for the Royal Air Force in this our 100th year is 'Commemorate, Celebrate and Inspire'. We commemorate those who have gone before us. Including the parents of the boys who went to Vanbrugh Castle School through the Royal Air Force. We celebrate the Royal Air Force today with serving people and families and friends. Perhaps most importantly, we seek to inspire, to inspire those serving today and the future generations who will serve or support the Royal Air Force. What you are doing In opening your home is truly inspiring, and I thank you on behalf of the old boys and their families who are visiting.

In recognition of your kindness and interest in the Royal Air Force's 100th year, I know the visitors intend to have a collection for the Royal Air Force Benevolent Fund.

Letter of thanks to Martin and Lisa from Air Vice Marshal Brecht

Guest photographers

Nick Buxcey & guests

The Gardiners

Lisa with David Wildish

Chris Mander, Charlie Downes, Adam Greenwold

Gareth Hughes

Willie, Ann and David

David & Ray Gardiner & families

Mike McConnell & guests

Nigel Bailey & Mark Harris

Liz Valentine, John Valenine, David Wildish & Ken Wildish

Martin, Harry & others

A group

Tony Payne , Paul McCann, Brian Pafford & Colin Thirsk

Colin Thirsk & Ray Reeder