"New boys are wets and weeds, their mothers blub when they say goodbye, while Seniors such I (ahem, ahem) stand sniggering by." (see footnote)
This photo was taken just before I caught the bus on my first day at WC and shows the full regalia for a 1957 First-former. I'll never forget those long crocodiles of kids trailing around the countryside for Sunday walks - especially the winter ones. I used to get chilblains on my ears and the freezing cold knees are burnt into the psyche forever. Was there ever a more impractical get-up more rigidly enforced?
Proudly sporting my first pair of long trousers. Like John, we all felt the cold, especially in the nissen huts, which were un-insulated & warmed only by large pipes running along each side of the dorm. 'Cosiness' wasn't helped by the brown lino, iron bedstead, 3 inch mattress, two blankets and a threadbare ex-Navy counterpane. In the common room there were coke stoves, but we Firsts were firmly relegated to the outer ring of heat-worshippers!
I did not know why I was being sent to Wymondham College, I did not ask to go there, & I was not allowed to see the place first, which was probably just as well.
We were collected by buses, as very few parents had cars. It was a quick "goodbye Mum", Dad was at work, and off we went on our North East Norfolk village tour collecting sometimes only one pupil per stop, a very sad reoccurring enactment which we all had to observe, a sort of torture for those who had been on the bus the longest. Then the bus would make the break and head for somewhere the other side of Norwich and we would not see or speak to our parents or any other outsiders again until half term.
The first impressions were grim and I remember thinking of my brother who was at that time about to enter Padgate for his National Service military training. It seemed we were doing the same, but ten years to soon.
Two days later I had staked out my territory; this was my space, my bed. I was homesick already. The moment of relative peace was shattered by a disturbance at the entrance to the dormitory, Nissen Hut 26.
The 'Broadland Six' had arrived and were contemplating their next crisis. Only three beds - the three beds which were in my territory on the opposite side at the end of the Dormitory. The full spectacle was therefore before me and the sheer desperation of the moment was very apparent. Thundering flesh and whirling cardboard suitcases charging like Pampas bulls, straining every sinew to get that bed as if their lives depended on it, which was true. The territory was claimed and three new friendships were made, one of them for life. I do not recollect the other three, maybe they made lifelong friends in 28.
We turned up every term after that, it was not so bad after all.
With an 11+ pass, I had the choice of Paston (North Walsham) or WC, but the Paston train from Sheringham passed the end of my garden every day & the mayhem that I saw going on inside the coaches terrified me enough to plead for the alternative. Having read books like 'Jennings and Darbishire,' I'd developed a detailed mental picture of what boarding school would be like and became more excited as September approached.
Come the day, an ancient trunk (packed carefully during the previous week) was barrowed to the pick-up point by my Grandfather. The coach arrived, Mum didn't cry (relief), and off I went on the winding journey through Sheringham, Bodham and numerous small villages. We must have arrived around 11 o'clock, I suppose, because there was time to get the baggage to the dorm (26 - North House) and meet Jack Hawkyard (Housemaster) and Mrs Saunders (Matron) before lunch. By the end of that couple of hours, in strange surroundings & hemmed in by seemingly-unfriendly people, my pre-conceptions evaporated quickly & I was bewildered and frightened.
We were herded down to the dining hall and assigned to long tables that seated about 20 boys of various ages, with a master at the head. Halfway through the meal the tears of despair welled up & were noticed by the master, Doc Staveley, who took me outside. I can't remember what that kindly man said over the next half an hour, but the crisis passed and I never cried for home again, unlike some whose muffled sobs were a nightly occurrence in the dorm.
I was reasonably well-built for my age so didn't suffer much from the bullying, which was infrequent and more mental than physical. The worst incidents I witnessed involved a first former being spat at by a circle of 2nd formers while made to stand (naked I think) on his bed after lights-out, and what would be called a 'delicate' youth being given a freezing cold bath for failing to gain any athletics Standards. All 1st formers had to endure bath nights when 2nd formers were liable to dash in and give the occupant a 'golden shower!' Another never-forgotten memory of that year was when I came back for the Summer term without cricket whites. After a frantic letter home, a pair of trousers arrived in a parcel with a note that mentioned where they had been bought in Holt. "Huh," said a Holt local (to what seemed like the whole dorm), "That's the second-hand shop where all the POOR PEOPLE buy their clothes!"
Apart from that, the memories of the first year include:
- Norwich City reaching the semi-finals of the FA Cup (then beaten by Luton Town 2-1)
- Balls dropping (at last!)
- Making a crystal set in a cigar box - the start of a career in electronics
- A crush on Rosemary Bacon
- A song with the line 'I love ... I love you so-oh woh woh woh' (later found to be 'Come Softly to Me')
- Cracking coke as a punishment
- Being woken up with the rest of the 1sts in the middle of the night by Matron - to 'relieve the bladder'
- Playing Bottom in a 'potted' version of Midsummer Night's Dream - staged in the Pit
- One who shall remain nameless 'bottling' his emissions in a Brylcreem jar
- Being 'bopped' by Ken Bowman during German lessons
- Watching the construction of Kett Hall with Trevor Dodd (first JCB we'd ever seen)
- Getting 'flu. Nurse: "How many times have you been to the toilet today?" Me: "About 5 times." Nurse: "Stupid boy! I mean OPENING YOUR BOWELS!"
By the end of the summer we were all pretty much friends and had become hardened to the regime. But that was just the beginning....
I joined Wymondham College in 1969, near the end of the era when the boy's houses and the girl's houses were entirely separate. To be honest I hated the routine and restrictions living at Wymondham forced on me, and spent my whole school time rebelling in one way or another. Invariably I ended up paying the price (those were the days when masters and even prefects were allowed to administer corporal punishment and "sweat periods" at unearthly hours). The master of my House (Durham) was Mr. Worrall for the first year.
The first time he slippered me I cried, and he took pity on me and gave me a huge slice of cream cake, so I guess he wasn't so bad. Then the Houses combined boys and girls, and Durham combined with Wakefield to form New Hall. The housemaster then was Mr. Garrard, who took an instant dislike to me and made my life very miserable indeed, especially when the large snowball I had balanced above the door of the English classroom hit his head instead of Glen Hipperson's. I was constantly writing out punishment essays or in detention, and over the next couple of years I grew to resent him with a passion.
Read the tale of David's revenge on the Rules and Punishment page.
'I still curse my parents for sending me to WC. It seemed like being thrown away... How we cried, some of us that first week or so in September 1958.'
Prior to coming to WC I had failed the 11+ but passed the required test to go to WC Technical school. My parents decided to check the place out and I was allowed to join them. Someone took us on a short trip to a classroom , a dorm and the dining hall. My folks were not impressed but I was ecstatic and pleaded with them to let me attend.
I got my way and on the first bus I met a boy from Costessey, Robert Read, and he and I remained friends through school and into apprenticeship at Perkins Engines. We lost touch when I left for the USA and he went to Brazil in the 60's.
My joy of WC lasted for 2 weeks before homesickness hit and some teacher took me aside and talked me through it . After that, my memories of WC have been a terrific learning experience that has stood me well in my lifetime.
Dave Turner (1951-1958)
"September 1959 - leaving Reedham on the first day at Wymondham for, from the left: Sally Stone, Margaret George, Margaret Flint and John Tibbenham (we do not look too nervous!), together with old hands, Merv Boast and Linda Taylor. This was a good year of 11+ results for Reedham Primary School as apart from the four going to Wymondham there were two or three others who also passed."
[Merv Boast's father was Headmaster of Reedham Primary School - Ed.]
The new starters (usually first years) were referred to as 'ticks,' whose duties involved setting tables, serving tables, clearing tables & scrounging hotdogs from other tables. When not doing things related to tables, they spent their time cleaning shoes, making beds (with hospital corners) in under 30 seconds, counting all the squares in a reinforced glass window, holding items of value against the wall with their noses, sitting in cold baths and ironing other peoples shirts. I know, because I spent my life as a 'tick' doing all of these things and more.
Unfortunately, the publication of a photo in the 81/82 school magazine showing me sitting up in bed in sickbay clutching a teddy did little to enhance my reputation and I got locked in a wardrobe for being a 'lick'! That year, I also got caught out by a member of "The Goman Empire" who hid a radio transmitter in our dorm and a spicy lights-out monologue entitled "My Willy" was unwittingly broadcast to the entire school, including one matron and a house-mistress who were secretly monitoring the airwaves after getting a tip-off.
This how we looked on our first day ...
Kevin Kennedy (Sept 1957) Alan Loose
I never wanted to go to boarding school, but as I was later to discover, nor did most of my first year colleagues! Over the previous couple of weeks I'd been into Norwich buying toothbrushes with matching soap holders, wash bags, aertex shirts for PE, writing paper and stamps, and all the other guff on the "uniform list,",and to be perfectly honest, the novelty of buying new and seemingly useless items was wearing off . My poor mother had labelled everything in sight with iron-on/stitch-on labels to ensure that it was impossible for me to lose anything. The next problem was how to fit all of my new gear into the ONE suitcase I was allowed to take on the coach with me. My dad was a dab hand at packing, so whilst I went to my room to spend my last Saturday afternoon sulking, he packed my bag.
The following morning we sat round the dining table, and it felt like the last supper (only it was breakfast!).
All too soon, Sunday afternoon had arrived. I walked down to the bus stop to meet the coach with dad. Mum was too upset to come with us (if she was that upset, WHY WAS SHE SENDING ME AWAY???).
I climbed onto the coach a little bewildered, because everyone else had their uniform on. Not me however. I was sporting a hideous nylon shirt with Vulcan bomber collars, a rather awful cap sleeve tank top affair, and a blue velvet A-line skirt with knee length blue socks and my new and extremely tight school shoes. I was so confused I couldn't even cry!
We landed at the College after what seemed like forever. Here began my nightmare!!! "FIRST YEARS GET YOUR BAGS AND FOLLOW ME" bellowed a very small woman wearing a poncho! I may only have been allowed one suitcase, but they didn't state how big it could be. No new fangled "Wheels-on-the-bottom-to make-light-of-getting-from-A-to-B." I had to drag this case, a tennis racquet and an unruly hockey stick from the coach park all the way to Kett with that woman shouting "KEEP UP." I could hardly stand up, never mind keep up!
I was taken to my dorm, where, to my horror, I had to share with eight other people. As it turned out, I was the first to arrive. Everyone else was still at home, because their parents didn't put them on a coach to fend for themselves on their first day!!! I got one shelf in a locker for toiletries, one small drawer under the locker, a bigger drawer by the cupboard, and about three coat-hangers-worth in the wardrobe! We had a uniform inspection before we could put our clothes away. Mum got 10/10 for labels.
Then that woman appeared again - Miss Willetts. Miss very-small-but-very-loud Willetts! A bell rang. Tea time. We filed down and I was shown to my table. I met a nice girl called A-J. She HAD come on a coach, so she felt like I did. Alone. We became great pals.
Lights out for first years was 20:45. A quick brush of the teeth with my new tooth-brush (and matching soap holder) and into bed (one starched sheet above and below, and a scratchy as buggery blanket, all topped off with a seventies brown and orange counterpane. No wonder I couldn't sleep).
Here starts seven years of boarding school bliss!!
Katrina Meredith (Macdermid) - then only 11 .... and really quite upset!
My first day was a cracker. I was the first to arrive at the House, and after getting to the dorm was sent by Scrotum to the (very busy) Sports Hall, where I was apparently meant to go. After a long time, during which everybody else was split up into groups and left the Hall, myself and one other young chap were left in this vast echoing room with no-one else. Some teachers came and told us off for hanging around and then, after some questions, found out that we were boarders, and shouldn't have been there. Eventually I found my way back to Fry some hours later to find that the dorm was now full and I was now the latecomer intruding into new friendships! Always knew that Scrote had it in for me ...
Iain 'Sid' Sidey
Having got on the bus at Walsingham (my sister having warned me not to wear my cap until told to, and sit near the front) we arrived at Wycoll without anything untoward happening. The bus pulled up near the TD Block, a roll call was taken, everyone got out and began to go their different ways.
Where should I go? No direction signs. Fortunately a third former from my village, Kevin Hewitt, spotted a third former in the house I was in (York), by the name of David Staff and asked him to show me where to go. When we got to the house the housemaster (Doughty) was waiting in the courtyard and said ‘Ah Staff, you are in the annex this term’. This meant that poor Staff had to take his cases back the way he had come and all the way to the annex. I have often thought they could have told him when he got off the bus and saved him the longer journey.
Having given my name I was directed upstairs to an eight dorm and was the first to arrive. I chose a bed furthest away from the door and near a radiator (as per advice I had been given by several people who knew the ropes. Luck would vary at the beginning of each term as to which buses arrived earlier and sometimes I would not be so lucky). Eventually the following arrived in no particular order: Mark Aldiss, Peter Marples, Charles Jenkins, Brian Middleton, Andrew Bawden and Steven Bishop.
Teachers would pop in and out; Flo Hibbert announced that Andrew Bawden’s nickname would be Biffo, without offering any explanation why. That made seven people in an eight dorm. The eighth person, whose surname was Jacca (or Jakka, memory fades but his forename may have been Peter) never arrived. I have often wondered what he looked like and why he didn’t come.
My first memory of WyCol was having my bare legs pelted with acorns by the second formers (first year boys had to wear short trousers in 1969) and my tuck parcels raided, and my final memory is of trashing the third form dorm on my last night. Many other best-forgotton (or not admitted to) memories flood back after reading some of the various stories, such as sneaking vodka into the third form "social" in a Head and Shoulders bottle or being slippered for stealing the lead buttons from inside the dorm curtains. Somehow I passed enough exams for everything to turn out all right in the end.
The year, 1951. I had already passed the 11+ twice and failed both interviews, so my Headmaster at Diss Secondary School offered an examination to join a new venture (adventure?) at a boarding school recently opened. Did I agree? I’m not sure; all I know is that in September that year I was in a coach on my way to Wymondham. As a little old country boy (an evacuee to boot) I had never heard of Wymondham and had only been to Norwich a couple of times!
On arrival I was ushered into a queue and allocated to a Nissen Hut, later to become West House. A very kindly lady (the name escapes me), with a great big yellow Labrador/Retriever, welcomed us and showed us, together with the first intake boys, later to be known as Prefects, how to stow our gear away. In our Dormitory were some 30 lads, most away from home for the first time, immediately learning new words … Prefect ... Dorm ... Boot-room! Most confusing.
The first night ... a few sobs to be heard in the darkness ... older students shouting out for us to be quiet and settle down ... was this the life that had been ‘chosen’ for us by our parents?!!?
Next day we were assembled and sorted into ‘Forms.’ How these arrangements/decisions were made I never found out, oh ... and there were girls! Having to sit in class with girls ... how odd. Then there was the Dining Hall; Prefects dishing out food - we soon found out who were the friendly ones - rancid butter pats, horrid boiled fish and mashed potato on Fridays. 'Seconds' etc. etc. how strange!
Then we had to go back to school during the evenings and Saturday mornings!
Mr.(Stan) Littlechild was the PT Master. How did they manage to erect wall-bars to curved walls? Bit of a singer was our Stan and did a “Mozart” Opera in later years. Then there were Mr. Seeley and Mr. Mullenger in their lair - a goodly cuff around the ear for using a hammer to strike a wood chisel instead of a wooden mallet. My “coffee table” and “outside calipers” took three years (plus about a ton of mild steel) to complete, and neither were worthy of comment.
Mr. (Dave) Goman gave us great sheets of paper on which to draw mechanical things - I was a Bakers son! He also gave lessons on Engineering Science. While grinding out the interior of an engine cylinder, I gracefully caught my hair around the high speed shaft; talk about health and safety! Never did get my head around “co-effecience of linear expansion” but it must have had an effect for me to even remember the term. Building the Engineering Block! Bricklaying and mixing cement! He was also teacher of Geography, writing immense notes on the board for us to copy. I had trouble seeing that far, so not having ‘specs at that time I was reduced to spending hours in the evenings, copying the notes from one of the other lads’ books in time for the next period. Another new term and it was “periods” instead of lessons.
Sick-Bay. I was unfortunate during my first term to cultivate an abscess on my face and, after a bit of knife-work and a few jabs of penicillin, plus loads of head bandaging, I was cheerfully sent on my way by Matron. Unfortunately, nobody realised I was allergic to penicillin, and they just kept jabbing away. I was dying and didn’t know it! Still got my backside smacked for throwing Friday’s boiled fish and mash out of sick-bay window. She was a very hard lady ... who was the boy who could make his back-side as hard as a rock, looking out from under Matron’s arm while she was industriously whacking his rear? He was, also, the only one who was able to withstand Andrew Seeley's dynamic slipper!
I loved it all! Wish I was still there? Nah, I’m 65 now, so these are simply the ramblings and memories of an old chap! Rose tinted glasses and all that jazz! But, aaaah, the memories … pass me soft slippers and me pipe ...
Footnote: "This line was from one of the 'Molesworth' books ('Down With Skool') that I read before coming to WC. The author, Geoffrey Williams, also wrote 'How to be Topp,' and 'Back in the Jug Agane' and the books were lavishly and funnily illustrated by Ronald Searle. Must get copies & rip off some of the pics." - Alan Dean
Thanks for correcting our earlier (incorrect) assumption that the line came from one of Anthony Buckeridge's 'Jennings' books; a series of ripping boarding school novels. There is a connection anyway, as Miss Buckeridge (PE teacher) was the author's daughter and married Mr Herrington (aka Dibble).
Wymondham College Remembered