The Boarding School
King Edward VI School, Stratford-upon-Avon 1914-1945


Memories of a Boarder - May 1925 to December 1934
by Joe Stephens


I arrived at Stratford-upon-Avon on 2nd May 1925, one day after my eighth birthday, and for the next nine-and-a-half years it was always a toss-up whether I should have my birthday at home or at the term's commencement. With me that day came my trunk of regulation school clothing and my tuck box.

Regulation clothing implied dark grey suits with a black suit for Sunday wear, and large starched 'lampshade' collars which were superseded in later school life by wire starched inside collars. That trunk served me well and was not finally thrown out until the early 1970s. The tuck box failed to survive my school days but was fun while it lasted.

The boarders at Stratford-upon-Avon in that year of 1925 were almost as numerous as the day scholars and natural rivalry existed between the two groups which became militant when snowballing was possible. The boarders were lodged in several houses in the town. Some were with me at Trinity House under Mr J L T Evans as Housemaster. Trinity House was adjacent main gate. Years later when I left KES in 1934 there remained only six boarders in School House.

Trinity House was a pleasant place and I remember still the lusty singing of the local Operatic Society which frequently startled us, since their rehearsal room was only a wall's thickness from our bathroom. The semi-ruined buildings behind the house housed a gondola and we marvelled at the use by Marie Corelli of a carriage drawn by diminutive ponies. In my time at Trinity House I remember the death of Queen Alexandra and the burning of the theatre in 1926, a major event with fire-engines from near and far, some horse drawn, hurrying to the scene.

Academically, as a young country lad of just eight years, I was placed in Form 1, the only class in the school controlled by a woman teacher, Miss Lupton, I think. Later she was succeeded by Miss M T Bell. Form 1 occupied a building across the playground, close to the wall of the almshouse gardens and reached by outside staircase. The upper floor was also occupied by a classroom used by Mr Smallwood. My memory of him is of a kindly but reserved disciplinarian capable of biblical quotations when he was surprised by a correct answer to a question... "out of the mouths of babes and sucklings" was a favourite.

Beyond this classroom block which contained the woodwork room below, was the tuck shop, an alley back to Church Street and the gymnasium where on one wet day's informal PE activity I broke my collar-bone when in collision with a body swinging on a rope.

Related articles

History of the boarding side of the School 1876-1938

Lilian Bowen, maid and cook at School House

Brian Walker -
Memories of a boarder 1931-1938

1930s Physics lab


Memorial Library and new Classrooms, 1930s Memorial Library and new Classrooms, 1930s

As for the other buildings... across the playground from the Pedagogue's block and the quad was an isolated Memorial Library where in the mid-1930s I had my French oral as part of the Oxford School Cert.

Under the archway at the main gate was the domain of Sgt Vallance, who was custodian, gate-keeper, cadet instructor and bugler amongst other things. To my young eyes when he was in uniform I marvelled at his 'cavalry' legs, and the puttees that were wound to finish at the ankle whereas our cadets' efforts finished at the knee. He was a friendly man who gave us great help especially those of us chosen to be members of the armed party at Church, Chapel or War Memorial parades. He had been in the lancers and his trumpet contrasted with our bugles. He was a character and the school's first line of defence against the raiding American (and other) visitors and sightseers.

Near the memorial building and back towards Chapel Lane, alongside town tennis courts, a row of new classrooms was built in the early 'thirties, including a new physics laboratory for Denis Dyson, remarkable for the modern folding chairs (Tansad?) and the degree of automation he introduced, like the electric motors that blacked out the room at a touch of a switch and drew his blinds for him. I believe he lived in Loxley Road, then but a lane, overlooking the new playing fields which had taken the place of rugger pitches by the river beyond Holy Trinity Church. Here balls inevitably went into the river which was often fast flowing in the winter months.

Likewise the cricket fields on the riverside opposite Bancroft Gardens were inadequate. I recall Mr Dyson had a small observatory in his back garden. One sad sight at this time was to see Eric Virley helping his ailing father (Mr Virley, the French master) across the playground to his classroom in the new block. He suffered from increasing paralysis.

Mr Turner ruled in the chemistry lab adjacent to the fives courts, Mr T J Barnsley had the geography room in the quad and also took physical education. Mr A G Webber was noted for his maths lessons, his facility to erase the blackboard with his gown, but also played the 'cello. Mr H W Horn coached the cricket XI while "Wobbles" (Mr Whitfield ... he of the ancient bicycle) coached the colts and I retain to this day in 1983 a scar on my upper lip where one of his shorter balls took off and smacked me in the mouth. Mr R Walpole was on the staff and an officer in the cadet corps. I think he coached the oarsmen after Mr Riddle left. "Jelly" Evans coached the School XV.

During these early years at Stratford-upon-Avon inevitable changes took place at the school and in the town. We had seen the destruction of the ornate old theatre by fire in 1926 and we had watched a new theatre rise from the ashes, despite much criticism of the lady architect's efforts. We were to see the new structure opened by the Prince of Wales, later to be the Duke of Windsor. We had watched the representatives of the nations unveil their country's flag on flag poles set in a semi-circle across the front of the building. The nearby gardens were altered, the Shakespearean statues were resited and the old canal basin leading to the footbridge across to the boathouse was given a face-lift.

During each summer the pleasure launches (Robin Goodfellow, Calypso and others) plied their trade. We enjoyed our occasional visits to the new theatre, and we performed our own plays at the school. I have a photograph of one such effort, the "Two Gentlemen of Verona" which Mr John Ferguson produced in the gardens of the Headmaster's house in 1934, where two lads made excellent ladies (stand up Jack Sillitoe and Leslie Badger).

As boarders we were something of a closed community, in our separate houses. We had our own routine. At the beginning of each term (and supplemented if possible during the term) we banked our pocket money with the housemaster who issued it weekly. At the tuck shop across the playground my sixpence per week had to be budgeted carefully and the choice lay usually between twopence expended on a whipped cream walnut, or chocolate marshmallow or turkish delight, or perhaps, going for volume, the choice was for liquorice strips at one-halfpenny, a sherbet fountain perhaps, or aniseed balls and gobstoppers.

On Sundays we attended the Guild Chapel for morning service, and attended the parish Church by the river for evening service by Canon Melville, as often as not. The Beecham family were often there, and to this same parish church we came on St George's day (Shakespeare's birthday) with our flowers in procession. Prefects read the Chapel lessons and if you secured a nod of commendation from Mr Smallwood sitting at the back of the balcony you did well. My voice broke relatively late and my lanky height, singing treble, was a source of embarrassment until I could retire to the back row of the choir stalls.

Changes had taken place at the Guild Chapel. At one stage the iron railings round it were removed. The tall box-like pews were altered and lowered, and frescoes were revealed on the walls ... the theme was the day of reckoning, I believe. The organ was pumped by use of a wooden bar in a curtained, annexe and generations of pumpers had left their graffiti exhorting future pumpers to pump with varying degrees of aggression as the wind supply diminished - a small indicator on a string and pulley was the indicator (airwise).

The chapel leads me to the curfew, an ancient custom still preserved in my time. None of us, sitting up in Big School doing our evening prep, will ever forget the curfew. Nor the passing gas-lighter who rode up on bicycle to each gas lamp (there was one opposite BS outside Dr Murray's house). Here he would get off his bike, reach up with a pole and activate the gas supply.

On Sunday afternoons the boarders had Sunday walks with the housemaster. I recall one such when we walked through the town, along Warwick Road past Mr Smallwood's Jolyffe House, turning left to come out above the Welcombe Hotel, then a large country-house. On that occasion the local 'townies' sniped at our column and raised the blood-pressure of Mr Evans. On another occasion, this time up Banbury Road in frosty weather, we were sliding on a pond when the same Mr Evans was upended and hit the ice with sufficient force to bite right through his pipe. In frosty weather it was also our custom to put out two long streams of water in the playground the night before to ensure two long slides (one each way) in the morning.

The boys at KES were placed for administrative purposes into four houses. Mine was Shakespeare and our colour was green. I recall in BS on the wall behind the large carved desk a row of references to famous old boys such as Warneford. BS had many uses in my time, for assemblies, for debates under Mr Smallwood on Saturday nights, I think. It was then used as two classrooms with a rather unsatisfactory curtain to divide them.

On one occasion the alarm was raised when the beam supporting the fireplace at the far end started to smoulder from the heat of the fire above it and the school building and adjacent almshouse was at risk. School plays took place on temporary staging at that same end of the room, using the adjacent library as actors' waiting room.

The school played cricket in the summer term and rugger in the winter months. The only soccer played was in the playground. Swimming facilities were abysmal, involving a long walk to Warwick Road and to some changing huts alongside the river. One took one's chance with boats and had a good long walk back again afterwards. In effect if one was any good at cricket there was no swimming. That was so in my case. My best effort on the cricket field was against Alscot Park at Stratford-upon-Avon where I bowled out 7 for 35 runs. My batting brought forth a school magazine comment that "Stephens combines all out attack with dead bat defence" which says it all. I thoroughly enjoyed the games and sporting activities, except for cross country running which I loathed. I would stay behind and practice place kicking for ages, rather than run to Clifford Chambers and back.

Meals in the pavilion were taken care of by matron (Miss Tedstill) assisted by the headmaster's secretary, Dorothy Stead, the food was pushed from the school up Banbury Road on a hand cart and sandwiches, etc, were prepared at the ground. "Mens Sana In Corpore Sano" or words to that effect. The groundsman had a horse complete with leather overshoes... the horse not the groundsman. And in his hut in the corner of the field we could buy pop and from those long-off days the name 'Vimto' survives today, though the formula may have changed.

November 5th was celebrated on the playing field but woe betide any boy who dared to pin his catherine wheels to the rugby posts! Sports days we enjoyed and Lucas Tooth parades on the playing field. I have a photograph of the 1934 parade. I am reminded of Speech Days when I go through my books today. It was the custom during my time at KES for prizes to bear the school crest and as I type this letter I am returning to two such books. The first was the form prize for Form 1 dated July 1927 and signed inside by the head (A Cecil Knight) and the other is the form prize in 2A dated 1929 and similarly signed. The first book was a collection of stories of King Arthur, the second was a collection of stories by Dickens. The only other achievements of mine that come to mind are the cricket bowling cup and (less actively) the Victor Maslin prize for bible knowledge.


Joe Stephens, pupil 1925-1934
writing in 1982


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