PART 5: Prep School Life at Skippers (1960-63)
NB: Rooms and spaces inside/outside/around buildings are highlighted in RED
In 1960, six years after John Ward became headmaster, I was dropped off at Skippers Hill Manor Preparatory School by car: a Morris Oxford Series II Traveller. My luggage comprised a shiny black metal tuck box full of sweets to tide me over for the coming months, and a suitcase containing a new school uniform. Each garment bore a machine-stitched name tag, which, according to the linen room, was to ensure that your clothes never got mixed up with those of other boys. My few belongings included a Latin primer called First Steps in Latin, a concise Oxford dictionary and the King James version of the Bible.
Photo: Skippers Hill Manor Preparatory School showing fenced-off lawn,
sundial and part of the rear courtyard in the early 1960s.
NB. This photo was used in the advert for the 1953 Schools Handbook (see ‘The Wards’).
Skippers Hill Manor is situated high up on a hill (461ft; 141m) in the village of Five Ashes, East Sussex, perched on the rim of a natural ridge in the landscape. From the vantage point of its curved terrace at the rear of the manor, you look down onto the school’s playing fields below, and across the sweeping, undulating patchwork of small fields, hedges, woods and sunken lanes of the High Sussex Weald.
Rear terrace at Skippers Hill Manor overlooking the playing fields and cricket pavilion
Some four miles away, on the opposite side of our ridge, at one of the highest points in the county, lies the town of Crowborough (791ft; 242m). It was there that Arthur Conan Doyle wrote the Last Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes at his home in Windlesham Manor in the late 1920s.
Three miles away to the north east of Skippers Hill lies the quintessentially Sussex village of Mayfield (143m), with its iconic, white-weatherboarded cottages, and once the base of a powerful smuggling gang during the early 18th century.
As was the custom on joining the school, new boys had to meet the headmaster, John Raymon Ward. While nervously waiting my turn outside the headmaster’s study, an older boy passed by and warned me that I had better know the date of the Spanish Armada as the headmaster was hot on history. No one had mentioned beforehand about any quiz! What was the date anyway? Was it 1485 or 1588? My brain raced through the few dates that I knew. I felt beads of sweat tickling my brow. The door of the study opened; a worried new boy exited the room. Now it was my turn for a grilling. As luck would have it, that meeting proceeded without any history questions. The warning I had been given turned out to be a wind-up — a silly schoolboy prank.
I was suddenly alone, aged 10, left to fend for myself among a group of unknown men, women and boys, in the strangely unfamiliar surroundings of an old, thatched country house, with underground smugglers’ passages, secret chambers, trap doors and deep cellars. Waving my parents goodbye, I wondered when I would see them again. Boys often found separation from their parents a traumatic wrench. Most boarders suffered from bouts of homesickness at the start of a new term. It never lessened with time. Ironically, on returning to Skippers after the summer holidays in the autumn of 1961, and dreading the imminent return to isolation and holiday-book testing, one of the boys’ radios was playing Helen Shapiro’s No. 1 hit Walkin’ Back to Happiness!
On the first evening, new boys were assigned a housemaster, a live-in teacher to whom the new boys could turn if there was a problem with, say, settling into school life. New arrivals were also assigned one of the older boys whose mission was to familiarise you with the vagaries of school life, school rules, what to expect and how to survive. Hearts sank. Now it was sink or swim.
There were about 90 boys in the school then, 80 of whom were boarders. There was just one girl, Katharine Angela Maxine Ward, the headmaster’s daughter, who joined the school in ±1956 and slept in Foyes Cottage, the headmaster’s house across the road. She was classed as a ‘girl boarder’ in 1962 when she joined my class. The boys, aged between 10 and 13, came from all parts of Britain, as well as from Africa, France, Iran, Thailand and Japan. Day boys were regarded as the lucky ones, as they could go home every evening and at weekends, and so avoid some of the unpleasant rigours and challenges of boarding-school life.
The primary goal was academic achievement which involved preparing boys either for the Common Entrance (CE), an examination which boys took at 13, or for a place at a grammar school or public school. Emphasis was placed on cramming for CE and fortnightly testing. CE was a prep-school boy’s ‘rite of passage’. Passing CE promised successful examinees admission to a public school, whose education, prestige and old-boy network offered potentially life-changing opportunities (i.e. good jobs). The secondary goal was to create a boot camp to discipline, regiment and toughen up young boys and instill obedience to authority. [See Section 6.1]
Among the subjects taught at Skippers in the early 1960s were algebra, art, English, French (Faro and others), geography with OS map reading (Mander & J.R. Ward), geometry, Greek (Faro), history (J.R. Ward), Latin (Faro et al.), mathematics (Mander), music (singing; choir), physical education (Mander and others), science and scripture. Science was taught in the lab (classroom 8) for one period a week. There was little equipment and, as I recall, few, if any, science books. In 2020, 57 years later, the former lab is now called the Science Room.
There were two pianos for boys to practise on: one in the gym used during assemblies, and one in the piano room adjoining the changing rooms near the exit to the rear terrace. This small room was used by the music teacher to conduct voice auditions for choir members, for individual vocal practice and for piano and violin lessons. There was a small art room (classroom 7) at the back of the school’s hutted classrooms next door to the lab, which was used by most forms once a week. In 2020, 57 years later, the space is still being used as an Art Room.
A few boys were studying for their 13-plus examination. One of them sometimes installed himself in a tiny corner room known as the study (see floor plan, Gallery), while other boys were given coaching for their 11-plus examination, for admission into grammar schools. Some boys excelled in their examinations and won scholarships or exhibitions to public schools.
Boys who excelled at sports, but who were academically borderline, were warned by masters that their sporting prowess would not be sufficient in itself to secure a place at their chosen public school. They also needed to pass their exams.
There was a Wolf Cub Pack for younger boys and Sea Scouts for older boys. As cubs, we earned proficiency badges to sow on our uniforms, and the sea scouts learned various maritime subjects — up at the Scout Hut — such as how to tie knots and the theory of how to tack a sailing boat. In practice, scouting was more about team building, discipline and strengthening bonds between boys, than about sailing. You could join the Chess Club if your parents granted you an exemption from scouting. Ironically, as the school was situated 35 miles inland, sea scouts rarely got a taste of the sea. In fact, the troop only managed one excursion in three years to a beach at Hastings, where three scouts at a time had just 15 minutes to practise sailing a dinghy!
Some of our teachers were qualified, and told us that they had either been to university or to a teacher-training college. Some had no formal training as teachers as such, but planned to get or complete the necessary training, or study for a degree. All of them were dedicated to their métier, and as a result, they helped me excel in Latin, French, mathematics and scripture. The staff-pupil ratio was about one teacher to 9 boys.
As a treat, half way through the lesson, one of the Latin teachers used to read us stories about Ancient Rome, including the legend of Horatious Cocles, The Capitoline Geese and The Rape of the Sabine Women. Roman history totally engaged the boys in my class. And there was no exam for it!
When teachers were not giving lessons, coaching, marking schoolwork or setting tests, they would challenge pupils with algebraic puzzles, or ask you to define the meaning of unusual words like austere — a word I overheard being discussed by pupil and master outside the dorm near the school’s front entrance.
Teachers occupied their non-teaching time helping boys with their homework, supervising clubs or a choir, refectory and library duties, staff meetings, and setting, invigilating and marking fortnightly tests and end-of-term exams. Or they were involved with sporting and extracurricular activities such as interschool cricket matches, excursions to the seaside or to Mayfield (church services), or running a scout camp at South Park near Lewes (Mander). This extra teacher involvement, an enviable pupil-teacher ratio, coupled with good exam results, represented the added-value that parents thought was worth paying for — something state schools did not offer.
‘Skip’ (Mr Mander) at scout camp, South Park nr. Lewes, Sussex ca. 1961/62
Andrew Pillar, a Sixer at scout camp, South Park nr. Lewes, Sussex ca. 1961/62
Colonel Faro, the deputy head, taught French, Latin and Greek. He reputedly came from Egypt. He was a short, portly man with a round, red strawberry-pitted face, who looked as though he might burst out of his three-piece tweed suit at any time. He was known for wandering around the school corridors at Skippers, cursing boys who urgently needed to use the toilets late at night!
The ‘Colonel’, also known as ‘Coloney Bogey’, was famously lampooned for his eccentric behaviour in a school play, and for his memorable words “Do boy, do!”, which he said in order to get you to hurry up as you made your way along the corridor at night to use the toilets. He would use his foot to kick you along. What was he doing there anyway? Keeping a tally on boys’ comfort breaks? Guard duty?
Front row (adults): Maureen Ward, J.R. Ward, Mrs Walker (?), Colonel Faro, unknown teacher
K.A. Maxine Ward (at JR’s feet)
Photograph by Buchanan of Portslade, Sussex1
Colonel Faro was, it seems, neither an army colonel nor a major, nor originally from Egypt, as many thought. ‘Colonel’ Faro was born Richard Augustus Faro in Canterbury, Kent, on 27 July 1896. His father was Richard Sydney Newman Faro (b. Barnstaple, Devon, 1867-1961), a dentist, and his mother was Gertrude Frances Purcell (b. South Sydenham, nr. Tavistock, Devon, 1868-1939). He had two sisters: Dorothy and Violet.
Faro was educated at The King’s School, Canterbury (1909-1912), where he won the 3A Form Prize (1st out of 16) in midsummer 1911, aged 15. On 1 July 1912, he went to St Bees School in Cumbria.
During the First World War, Faro served in the Special Reserve. According to his public school record, he saw service in France (1915 to 1917) where he was gassed, mentioned in dispatches and awarded the Croix de Guerre Français.2 Neither of the last two claims are confirmed by his Army Service Record or other sources. Between 1917 and 1920, he was stationed in Canterbury serving with the 3rd (Reserve) Battalion “The Buffs” (East Kent Regiment), a home service unit training drafts. Between 1920 and 1922, he served in the Army Educational Corps, retiring in the rank of Lieutenant in 1922.
However, his more reliable Army Service Records of 1922 and 1941 show he retired from the AEC Reserve of Officers with the rank of Lieutenant, not Captain, or Major or even Colonel.3
In May 1925, aged 29, Faro worked as an assistant purser aboard the SS Oronsay en route to New York. His height and weight were recorded then as 5ft 7″ and 11 stone. In 1934, Faro lived at 36 Old Dover Road. In 1939, Faro is recorded as being a director of a foreign travel company, at the time he was living with his father and sister Violet (school mistress) at The Old Forge House, 81 Old Dover Road, Canterbury, Kent.4
The Old Forge, 81 Old Dover Road, Canterbury (Grade II listed)
Dockenfield Manor School
From ±1945 to 1954, Faro was the deputy head at Dockenfield Manor School, Farnham, Surrey, where he taught French and Latin. The school, whose headmaster was Dr Gerald Hastings in the 1940s, had a history of abusing pupils. Pupils remember Faro for being a strict, grumpy and sadistic teacher (see Section 3.4.3). Between 1950 and 1954, during school holidays, Faro travelled three times to New York by cruise ship, tourist class, to visit Miss Elizabeth Davies at 935 Shirley Avenue, Norfolk, Virginia, for three to four months each time, returning first class to Southampton on the SS Georgic in 1952 and 1954.5
Skippers Hill Manor Prep School
Faro began his tenure as deputy head at Skippers Hill Manor in the Summer Term of 1956 and taught French, Latin and Greek. He used to sit on his shooting stick while watching interschool cricket matches held on the school’s playing fields.
Faro’s will of July 1970 shows that he was living at Hollingbury Court School, Warninglid, Haywards Heath, West Sussex, presumably still teaching at the age of 74.
In 1976, Faro was admitted to the Regency Nursing Home in Tunbridge Wells, Kent, where he died three years later, without issue. He never married. He left £1,652 in his will and various small legacies. He bequeathed £200 to the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, £200 to Miss Elizabeth Davies, and his book collection to P.J. Smith of Hastings. He gifted Eugene Rolfe of St Albans £50 for her kindness to his late friend Henry Fraser Manning Lee, a schoolmaster (b. 1915, d. Mayfield, 1960). He also gave £250 to the Catholic Church of St Thomas, Mayfield, to cover church expenses and for saying a Requiem Mass in his memory on the 27th of July (his birthday) each year.6
In 1962, while using the library, I came across an unassuming book that contained a series of quiz questions and answers. A few days later, while snooping around on my own in Colonel Faro’s study, which had a large, first-floor, bay window overlooking the front garden, I came across a leather slipper which I knew the Colonel used to beat boys in their pyjamas, for misbehaving.
On his study desk lay a stencilled copy of some quiz questions. On closer examination, I noticed that those questions were the same ones that I had come across in that book in the library. I confided my discovery of that document to one of my schoolmates. In hindsight, that was an error of judgment.
A week later, Colonel Faro’s quiz was announced. When the results of the quiz were posted on the notice board, it was clear that participants had achieved far higher scores on the quiz than schoolmasters would have predicted. I later discovered that, within a few days of the announcement of the quiz, almost every boy who was eligible to take part, had miraculously visited the library and memorised the quiz answers! I never advised the school about the quiz results. Sneaking was frowned upon, and the thought of debunking the results of the quiz to the Colonel, was not worth the potentially fateful consequences of doing so.
Recollections of abuse
Roger L. Gledhill [pupil 1946-47]:
Major Faro was as an “upper middle-aged, portly gentleman with greying, balding hair. He was strict and bad tempered at times and No. 2 in rank at the school. He sat at the top end of table at mealtimes and moaned at anyone unable to eat the food placed before them. Miss Young’s punishments included using a hairbrush on open knuckles and mustard on an open tongue.” [pub. 2018]
Maurice De Montfalcon [pupil 1940s]:
“The entire faculty was all involved in child abuse and fraud among many other offences. Punishments meted out by sadistic teachers and prefects included 3 to 6 cuts on the hands, being held down naked on a bed, being whipped with a stick, pulled hair, and kicks on the behind.” [pub. 2012]
Michael Nassau Kennedy [pupil ca. 1946]:
“Major Faro was a born sadist and used a cane or a slipper to punish. The head [ed. G. Hastings] was a small, self-important and often sadistic man. He gave Peter Vogel (a Czech) six strokes of the cane on each hand in front of the whole school, when his hands were covered in chilblains”. [pub. 2012]
Christopher Farey [pub. 2013]:
My brother, Peter Farey, was at the school in ca. 1944 and was “badly beaten and kicked black and blue by the headmaster” [ed. Gerald Hastings] for stealing apples from a nearby orchard. Peter was quickly removed from the school, but the abuse was not reported to the authorities.
Dockenfield Manor School, Farnham Surrey — a Memory [www.francisfrith.com] and private correspondence with above-named pupils.
Note: The complete biography of Richard Augustus Faro (called Finding Faro, 23 pp) and the complete biography of Miss Elizabeth Davis (called Finding Miss Davis, 29 pp) will both be available for consultation at the Library of the East Sussex Record Office, ‘The Keep, Falmer, nr. Brighton, East Sussex in April 2022, at the back of the updated The History of Skippers Hill Manor document.
Many lessons were held in a long hutted classroom block — a series of old green buildings with gabled roofs of differing heights, linked together and covered with horizontal green clapboard. The block stretched all along one side of the Quad and well past the kitchen to the rear of the school [see floor plan: classrooms 1-4, 7 and 8]. Classrooms were furnished with locker desks, a desk and chair for the teacher and a blackboard. You kept your exercise books, text books and a dictionary in your own desk. A classroom typically accommodated 10 to 12 boys.
Greek was also taught, but only to a select group of pupils in the ‘scholarship class’, in classroom 5 overlooking our Quad. English and French classes were held next door in classroom 6.
Although ‘deep’ classroom cleaning was done by school cleaners from Leybourne Grange Mental Hospital7, class monitors were elected to rub the blackboards clean after lessons and generally keep the classroom tidy.
The library was located at the front of the manor house, next door to the headmaster’s study. The walls were clad in light oak panelling and there was a large bay window. A copy of the Bayeux Tapestry hung in the room showing, among other things, the death of King Harold with an arrow in his eye.
The space could accommodate about a dozen boys at any one time. There was a table in the middle of the room with about six chairs around it. There was an empty brass shell case standing next to the fireplace; the type used for holding fire-irons. There was a marble elephant on the floor near the door. A framed portrait of an unknown man hung on the wall above the fireplace. His eyes seemed to follow you wherever you stood in the room!
Boys were encouraged to read books in their free time and during school holidays. The duty librarians kept a card index of boy’s name, the date of the loan and the name of the book borrowed.
The library’s collection of fiction included authors like Mary Buchanan, Agatha Christie, Arthur Conan Doyle, Kenneth Grahame, Cynthia Harnett, W.E. Johns, Rudyard Kipling, Captain (Frederick) Marryat, George Orwell, P.R. Reid, Sir Walter Scott, Kate Seredy, R.L. Stevenson and Thor Heyerdahl. There was also a small reference collection including an English thesaurus and a Concordance for the Bible.
The library was also used for conducting internal investigations, IQ testing and medical tests. Today (2020), the former Library is the Front Office. The Library is now located in what was the Lloyd’s Music Room.
Some of the books
The gymnasium, now Year 2’s classroom, was a very old white building parallel to the road passing the school. The area used for gym (PT) classes and assemblies was relatively small (35ft x 23ft) and took up about 70% of the whole building.
Within that gym space was a row of three wooden posts (P1, P2, P3) which you had to avoid during PE classes; they posed a potential hazard to gymnasts (see floor plan).8 Several climbing ropes, knotted at the bottom, were tethered to the wall bars on the north-facing wall when not in use. You had to shin up them during PT classes.
The remaining 30% of the building was occupied by a stage and a storage area on the west side, which could be accessed via a small, black end-door in the wall of the Quad.
There were safety mats, a springboard for vaulting, a multi-section wooden gymnastics horse, a pommel horse, and a strange, inverted V-shaped climbing frame (ladder) that spanned the garden end of the gym, peaking in the middle. You had to climb over it, or else hang from it like a monkey, moving from rung to rung. Boys found this extremely demanding as we had insufficient muscle strength to carry our bodies to the other end.
Image: Ken Bonham, 2019
The gymnasium was also used as a theatre for school productions, and as a shooting gallery (air rifles). The targets were placed at the far end of the gym and you fired lead pellets while sprawled out on the stage. On Sundays during the winter term, the gym became a cinema. Films shown there included The Wooden Horse, The Colditz Story, The Lavender Hill Mob, Land of The Pharaohs, Kind Hearts and Coronets, The First of The Few, and The Dam Busters. They were shown using a Bell & Howell film projector, brought along by a visiting projectionist. Outside the gymnasium, near the road, there was a small wooden hut. I think that was (where our) our tuck shop (was). Boys bought sweets there with any spare pocket money they had, and stored them in their tuck box.
Among the sports offered at Skippers were cricket, swimming, gymnastics, football, athletics, rugby, boxing, shooting, riding, sailing and cross-country running. During one of our Sports Days in the summer of 1962, one of the very athletic boys (Hamish X) won the victor ludorum and a silver cup, for coming first in the mile race — four times around the perimeter of the cricket pitch — aided by a pair of leather running spikes. Owning spikes at school in those days, at that age, was uncommon.
On cross-country runs, which most boys dreaded, the slow-coaches — usually overweight or unfit boys who ended up at the back of the running pack — got the backs of their legs lashed by one of the crueller masters.
A leafy branch would be torn off a tree en route and used to ‘encourage’ the laggards to speed up. One route, known as the Big Triangle, ran the whole length of Stonehurst Lane, up Brick Kiln Lane, then up Criers Lane and into Skippers Hill (road), past the gymnasium (on left) and finished at the school gate. We all believed it was three miles long, but in fact it was almost four!
In 1961, I had just read about how athletes used salt to replace the salt they lost while running, so I secretly took some salt from the lunch table, swallowed some during one of the runs without water — awful — and came home in the first ten or eleven!
The broad range of sports offered by Skippers was probably influenced by the sporting ethos of Harold Bucknall, a rugby player, who in turn may well have been inspired by the all-round sportsman C.B. Fry. Fry not only co-ran TS Mercury, a naval training ship offering similar sports to Skippers, he would also have been a sporting hero in Bucknall’s early life.
Skippers Hill Manor was run as a boot camp for toughening up and educating young boys, preparing them for Common Entrance examinations and grooming them for places in grammar schools, public schools and the Royal Navy. To achieve order, discipline and good academic results, Colonel Faro, JR Ward (headmaster) and Royal Naval Reserve Lieutenant John Richard Mander, together taught and ruled with an iron fist. Despite some of the ‘softer’ sides of school life described later on, life at Skippers in the early 1960s was disciplined, regimented and sometimes unnecessarily harsh.
The daily regime included:
- fagging duties (06:00-07:00)
- wake-up calls at 07:00
- cold showers
- breakfast at 08:00
- enforced silences during mealtimes
- daily inspections for tidiness, hospital corners on beds, dress code
- school meals
- lessons with ruler punishment
- rough contact sports
- daily physical exercises (Swedish Drill)
- detention by prefects
- punishment by prefects, nautical-style
- censorship | breaches of privacy
- classroom humiliation
- cruel dormitory punishment
- corporal punishment
- shared bathwater
- gruelling cross-country runs
A typical day at Skippers began at six o’clock for the small group of ‘fags’ which included me. Fagging involved carrying out menial jobs for teachers or older schoolboys. The duties are similar to the tasks of a ‘college servant’ at Oxford or Cambridge University. I used to take a cold shower in the shower block next door to the kitchen, or an early-morning dip in summer, in the new outdoor swimming pool near the path leading down to the school’s playing fields. Today (2020), 57 years later, the former shower block is now called the changing room and the kitchen still occupies the same space.
After dressing, I went upstairs to the English master’s bedroom on the first floor of the manor, a room overlooking the garden, in the newer part of the manor (left). There, I would make a pot of tea, wake up the master and serve him and a maths master sleeping in an adjacent room, mugs of tea.
My duties included choosing and laying out the master’s clothes for the day, cleaning the washbasin and hairbrush, preparing the shaving kit, and ensuring his salted butter arrived at the head of his table in time for breakfast. In return, I was paid six shillings and eight pence in cash (a third of a pound sterling) at the end of each term.
The English teacher also taught scripture. As an additional benefit, I was allowed to use his Bible Concordance and Grundig tape recorder, to record selected passages from the Bible.
That same teacher once tried to diddle me out of my fagging fee at the end of term, saying if I did not carry out an out-of-scope errand for him, he would withhold payment! Despite feeling blackmailed, I agreed, fearing non-payment. Hobson’s choice, perhaps. In those days, you just did what was asked of you, blindly obeying those in authority.
There were three meals a day: breakfast, lunch and high tea at 17:30. ‘Family service’ was the norm: a meal service that involved all boys sharing the same food at the same times in the refectory. There were only set meals, so no choice. Boys of different ages sat together at the same table.
After completing our fagging duties, we joined the rest of the boys for breakfast in the refectory (dining room). The refectory’s windows contained single-glazed, diamond-shaped panes of glass mounted in lead. The room had a parquet floor.
Boys sat at long wooden dining tables, with a schoolmaster at the head of each table. The boys ate porridge or breakfast cereals out of blue plastic bowls. A boy would be appointed to go around his table with a catering-sized, stainless-steel tea pot, filling each boy’s blue plastic mug with hot milky tea. Sometimes you were invited to sit at the headmaster’s table by the bay window overlooking the shingle drive. It was considered a privilege to be invited to eat at the headmaster’s table.
One of the boys was asked to say grace, after which food was eaten in complete silence for the first half of the service. Only the clatter of bowls and spoons and the sound of munching punctuated the silence. High tea (supper) was less formal.
During the second half of breakfast, boys were permitted to talk. By then, the postman had been. Letters and parcels from parents were handed out to the boys. One of the boys, Thap Thing Thong, from Thailand, aka Thap, who joined the school in 1961 with his brother, was sent parcels containing large bags of pistachio nuts which they shared with me.
Thap — who seemed taller than the rest of us and was probably nearer 14 — and I struck up a deal whereby he would protect me from school bullies in return for doing his Latin prep. It worked. If you were not liked, boys would call you a pleb and bully you, while those who disliked you regarded themselves as patricians!
On the walls of the refectory, between the bay windows, hung several Valete boards (Lat. farewell). These were long wooden ‘honours boards’ printed in gold lettering. You were confronted by them at every mealtime. The boards listed the names of boys who had passed their Common Entrance or other exam, the year when they said ‘farewell’ to Skippers, and the public or grammar schools to which they had gone.
The Church of England grace prayer was spoken aloud by one of the boys to mark the end of family service.
Breakfast was followed by morning assembly, which was held in the gymnasium. During assembly, the teachers and headmaster stood on a stage. A morning roll-call was conducted. As boarders often fantasised about running away, some of us believed that the true purpose of the roll-call was to check whether any of us had escaped from school. Surnames were called out alphabetically from an attendance book by “J.R.”. Some of the names I recall were: Bentinck-Budd, Richard, Hamilton, Hamish, Kirby, Peter (head boy), Nakaijama, Pillar, Andrew, Shawcross, Hume, Shead (head boy after Kirby), Thap, Ward, Maxine), Whittaker and Youdale (day boy). We replied “present” to confirm that we had not escaped! Prayers were then said, hymns were sung to the accompaniment of a piano, and important notices were read out.
After morning assembly, there were the usual daily lessons (Mon-Fri), interrupted by a breaktime at 10 o’clock, when we all had to do about 10 minutes of Swedish Drill — physical exercises adopted by the British military in the Victorian era to instil discipline and obedience — outside on the Quad, facing our green hutted classrooms. During the remainder of the break, there were fruit handouts, but only to boys whose parents had paid the extra charge.
In the evenings after supper and prep, boys spoke to teachers, played pop music in clubrooms, hung around school corridors, or, like me, went to the shooting club on Tuesday evenings in the gymnasium. Other boys built model planes made of balsa wood, or played with their homemade crystal radio sets. Many boys were involved in cubbing or sea-scouting activities, or played chess, or just read books or comics. Still others would lie on their dormitory beds reading quiz books, adventure books (e.g. Kon-Tiki) or letters, talking, playing with their cricket flick books or with pocket calculating machines like Kübler’s Addiator Arithma.9
There were six dormitories at Skippers: two on the ground floor and four on the first floor called Lloyds, Hoods, Richard Jones and Braithwaites. At night, boys often talked until lights out about running away from school. There was bullying at the school, but it was usually practised well out of sight of the authorities. The misery it caused a boy’s life at school helped to fuel their escape fantasies at night-time. Most of the boys had read or heard about the audacious wartime escapes in the book The Colditz Story (1952), or had seen the film.
Unsurprisingly, some boys fantasised about searching for the much-talked-of smugglers’ tunnels underneath the manor, and using them as a means to escape from school undetected. But our dormitory prefect warned us that escape was pointless, as our conspicuous school uniforms would eventually give us away in the broad light of day, and we would soon be picked up and brought back to school to face the headmaster’s ‘music’. Or that we would be caught leaving by an overground route by a school ‘guard’ who might be patrolling the school corridors at night, on the lookout for potential ‘escapees’. One such night-watchman was Colonel Faro, the deputy head, who often patrolled the kitchen corridor near the boys’ toilets, late at night.
Each night, we neatly folded our clothes on a chair beside our beds. Our dorm prefect would stir a few teaspoons of Andrews Liver Salts into a glass of water and drink it down in one go before it stopped bubbling. After lights out, you were officially not allowed to talk in the dorm. That was the time we let our imaginations expand in our dark little universe.
Some boys would hide under the blankets and tune into pop-music broadcasts on their crystal radio sets, listening with headphones. Attaching the aerial to the metal bed frame enhanced the quality of reception. One night, a boy opened a matchbox containing glow-worms that he had found in the playing fields, and showed them to all the boys in the dorm.
In class, if you failed to give the correct answer, or if you misbehaved, the stricter masters would punish boys by cruelly striking their palm with the side of a ruler several times with great force. It stung like hell! For some inexplicable reason, none of the boys dared to challenge the right of masters to punish us like that. RNR Lieutenant John R. Mander, who taught mathematics, geography and map reading skills, was one of the teachers who used ruler punishment. What is now regarded as the physical abuse of young boys by their teachers, was endemic in prep-school life then, and included the liberal use of a leather slipper, ruler, cane and cat o’nine tails.
Note: The complete biography of John R. Mander (called Finding Mander, 33 pag.) will be available for consultation at the Library of the East Sussex Record Office, ‘The Keep, Falmer, nr. Brighton, East Sussex in April 2022. It can be found at the back of the updated The History of Skippers Hill Manor document.
Punishments such as these made us scared of the stricter schoolmasters. Consequently, there was always a boy on ‘lookout duty’ somewhere, ready to warn other boys that a master was approaching, and would whisper “Cavey!” (KV), meaning “Beware”. Our masters, some of whom we feared as much as we respected, were in our reality, also our ‘enemies’.
Our headmaster, John R. Ward, was known by the boys as “JR”. He had a distinctive, purple port-wine stain on one side of his face, which, at the time, some boys said was a war wound caused by an exploding grenade. The myth spread. He taught geography and history. He endorsed corporal punishment and used the cane liberally.
Once, when boys in high spirits were jumping around on their beds in Dormitory 1 (now Danielle Puttock’s room – Year 3) by the front entrance having a pillow fight and making a noise, a duty master came in, singled out the two boys involved and sent one to the headmaster’s study. There, he was given ‘six of the best’ by JR on his pyjamaed bottoms with a long whippy cane. We cringed as we heard the sound of the cane lashes followed by the poor boy’s anguished cries. The other boy was given a beating on his behind with a leather slipper in Colonel Faro’s study.10
In the evenings, boys had to do their ‘prep’. This meant spending at least an hour every day in the classroom preparing for the following day’s classwork. Sometimes prep was meted out as a punishment. If you were caught doing something wrong, such as hitting another boy or being insubordinate to a prefect, you would invariably be given an hour’s detention after school, during which you would either have to write out a hundred lines or do extra prep. Boys who were told to do their detention on Sunday evenings in winter would end up missing the film show.
I was once given extra prep by Kirby, the head boy. My penance was to do Latin exercises at five o’clock on a cold, dark morning in an unheated classroom, for one hour, before my fagging duties. He never came to check that I was in the classroom, or that I had done the work. Either he must have trusted me, or he was too lazy to get up, or he just forgot!
The dormitory prefect would sometimes punish a boy in the dormitory for some transgression, such as disobeying a request, talking after lights out, or for being insubordinate.
One of the more sadistic punishments was called the “crucifixion”. This involved the boy in question having to stand in the middle of the dorm in his pyjamas, without the top, arms stretched out parallel to the floor, for three minutes, with all the windows wide open in cold weather. If his arms dropped down too far, a minute was added to the standing time!
The punishment was extremely painful and humiliating, as you had to stand there in full view of all your dorm-mates who quietly enjoyed watching you suffer. None of our schoolmasters was aware this was going on behind the scenes.
Prefects who were a year or two older than you, had powers to discipline younger schoolboys, with, one assumes, the tacit approval of the school authorities. Ironically, learning how to tie knots in the Sea Scouts enabled one of the prefects to make his own cat-‘o-nine tails, a tool once used to flog sailors in Nelson’s navy at the end of the 18th century. This sadistic tool was made of twine, with up to nine ball-shaped knots tied to a short rope with a pleated handle. The prefect would lash the backs of boys’ legs when they had misbehaved, or to get them to line up in an orderly queue in the school corridors.
See also: Section 5.1: Cross-country runs.
A doctor visited the school once and gave all the boys a ‘Heaf test’ in the library. This tested whether you had been exposed to tuberculosis infection. The medic used a Heaf gun, a metal, spring-loaded, syringe-like gun mounted with a disposable needle head. It delivered a circle of six needle punctures in your left forearm. If, after a few days, a ring of red dots appeared on your skin, it indicated a positive reaction. Boys who tested positive, like me, were advised to have their lungs X-rayed in hospital as a precaution. Some parents were wary of having their children exposed to too much radiation, and so withheld their sons from follow-up tests in hospital.
Sometimes spelling or mental arithmetic quizzes were run by the subject teacher in the last half of the lesson. The class would all have to stand while each boy had to answer a question asked by the teacher. If you got the answer wrong, you were ‘out’ and had to sit down. The last man standing was declared the winner. I won one of the arithmetic quizzes, as I had managed to remember those imperial units of measurement called rods, poles and perches.11
I used to hang around the kitchen for company so I could talk to Sylvia, one of the three cooks there. She may have had a Spanish accent. I think she lived in the small holiday chalet not far from the Scout Hut which lay further up the garden bank.
I remember Leonard who worked as a kitchen porter and/or odd-jobber. I think he was one of the casual workers bussed in from Leybourne Grange Mental Hospital. He had a lazy way of sloping around the buildings as if in a dream!
The kitchen staff and the ‘Leybourne Grangers’ all worked under Mrs Ward‘s supervision. The kitchen somehow managed to churn out three meals a day, seven days a week for 80-odd mouths. Sylvia sometimes cooked a tasty concoction made with onions, mince and dark-brown gravy, and served it with thick slices of fried bread.
There was once a table-clearing competition in the refectory to find the table of boys that could clear away their tableware and cutlery and wipe the surfaces clean, the fastest. The winning table would earn a special treat. In 1961, my table won. As a reward, we were taken to see the film The Guns of Navarone at a cinema in Eastbourne.
In 1962, I caught scarlet fever (or: scarlatina) at the school. Symptoms included a rash of small red pimples on face and trunk. As it was highly contagious and had the potential to paralyse school life if left unchecked, I was immediately quarantined for about two weeks in a bungalow up an incline opposite the gymnasium. Alone. No lessons or visitors! Apart from Matron, that is. She brought me up meals from the kitchen, and letters. The only thing I could do was rest, read books and memorise JR’s list of history dates which he had printed on yellow stencilled paper.
The history stencil contained several pages of English monarchs listed chronologically and by Royal House, starting with Alfred the Great and ending with Elizabeth II. It included the dates of important historical battles and a few world events up to the Suez Crisis of 1956.
Each boy belonged to one of the three ‘houses’: Livingstone, Drake or Churchill. Each house had its own house colour which matched the colour of your sweatshirt. If you behaved in ways that were approved by your teachers, you were awarded stars against your name on the House Board. Stars were awarded for schoolwork, good behaviour, or for a sporting achievement. Sometimes stars just appeared on the board, and you had no idea what behaviour had been rewarded, or which behaviour was worth repeating. Anyhow, the stars you earned for your house helped decide the winner of the inter-house competition. The house with the most stars earned each member of the house a treat.
Just inside the front entrance on the left, next door to the library, the was a small room with a window. The barber shop! There, a travelling barber turned up every few months to cut boys’ hair. We all got short-back-and-sides, army-style. Today (2020), this space has now been absorbed by the Front Office.
In the summer of 1962, a number of boys staged Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, with Kirby (head boy and violinist) in a leading role (Bottom). It was held outside in the rear terrace behind the refectory. An elevated grassy bank with a sundial was used as the stage. The audience watched the play with their backs to the playing fields.
In 1962, one of the boarders behaved inappropriately towards another boarder. The incident was reported to a dorm prefect who escalated the incident to the highest level. The circumstances were investigated by JR — we found out — after which the boy in question was confined to the sick bay (next to bathroom) for a week or two and prohibited from attending lessons, having contact with other boys, or eating in the refectory. We were just told that he was “sick”. Shortly afterwards, he was quietly removed from the school (i.e. expelled).
One night, there was an unannounced fire drill. Boys had to get up after midnight and walk (not run!) — while half asleep in their pyjamas and dressing gowns — all the way down to the art room, the place appointed as the ‘muster station’ in case of a fire or drill. An alphabetical roll-call was conducted by JR to determine who had not reached the assembly point in time. Boys who did not make it to the assembly point within three minutes of the alarm going off were declared “burned” and were given detention the following day!
Every weekend, if there was no exeat,12 boys would sit in a classroom and write home to their parents, thanking them for their letters and presents, and updating them on their progress at school. Letters were supposed to sound positive. I once wrote a letter to my parents saying that I was unhappy at school and asked to be withdrawn. My letter was promptly returned for rewriting! All outgoing letters boys wrote were routinely and secretly opened, read and censored by the school.
Letters containing negative feelings such as homesickness, references to corporal punishment, bullying or school diet, were immediately returned to the boys in question for rewriting. Some letters were actually read out in class to humiliate their authors.
Ironically, one of my ‘better’ letters (a rewritten one) was read out in class and held up as an example of a letter every boy should write home to his parents. It was positive and factual, but devoid of emotion or concern.
The postman colluded in the censorship. All ‘authorised’ letters were handed as a batch to the postman by the school, so any letters the postman found secretly posted in the red pillar box outside the school, were returned to the school.
It was clear to boys, even then, that the school zealously guarded its reputation, and so made sure that nothing leaked out to parents that might potentially damage the school. There was a tangible sense that Big Brother was always watching you. It was clear that the school owned your right to privacy, not you.
On Saturdays in the Spring, boys were allowed to watch rugby union matches on a black-and-white television. In addition, a small group of boys were invited each week to take tea with the headmaster and his wife in their sitting-room. We sat on comfortable sofas and chairs in front of a fire, just like at home, eating Mrs Ward’s dainty homemade sandwiches and cakes.
Our teatime hosts acted as our surrogate mother and father. Those get-togethers were supposed to help you feel as if you were in your own home at the weekend, and that you were part of a cosy family. And, if something was bothering you, it was, in theory, a golden opportunity for you to share it with your headmaster in the presence of the headmaster’s wife.
Mrs Ward told boys about her tough upbringing, and how once her father, a teacher, had promised she could go to the circus, or fair, only after she had read all the novels of Sir Walter Scott. Some 30 volumes, I believe! The moral of the story was that we should count ourselves lucky to be confined to the school most weekends, as there were countless others who were much worse off than us!
On Sunday mornings, boys would be bussed to St Dunstan’s Church in Mayfield for a service of lessons, hymns and a lengthy sermon. We used to have to queue up in pairs on the pavement, church-side. We all wore grey suits, a tie and black shoes. Boys carried a few loose coins with them to drop into the offering bag.
On Sunday evenings, boys took a hot bath in the bathroom, which contained four to six bathtubs. It was located on the first-floor landing that also had three dormitories leading off it. There was just one WC next door to the bathroom by the staircase, which serviced three dormitories of boys and some live-in teachers. As it was unventilated, it often smelled foul!
Matron supervised the bathing ritual, washed the boys’ backs and, dispensed first-aid, plasters, pills, steam inhalers and medications from a large, locked medicine cupboard that stood opposite the bathroom. As many as five or six boys took turns using the same bathwater, before the dirty water was refreshed.
There were two ground-floor dormitories leading off the Main Hall of the school. In Dormitory 2, which had a large fireplace on the west-facing wall [see floor plan], the Alfred Hitchcock thriller North By Northwest was screened one Sunday evening. During the film show, at the point when the leading actors kissed as the train was about to enter a tunnel, the projector was switched off, the film reel advanced, and the projector turned on again. The tunnel sequence was deliberately censored by the school, perhaps because its risqué symbolism was considered unsuitable for young, impressionable boys!13
On the last day of term, boys would be given their end-of-term reports to hand to their parents, and a holiday reading list. At least one book had to be read, which you would be tested on on your return to school. The relief of leaving school and going home for the school holidays was palpable. Boys would jubilantly recant the schoolboy rhyme: No more Latin, no more French, no more sitting on the old school bench! While most boys were collected by car, other boys travelled home by steam train from Mayfield Railway Station [closed 1965].
In 1962, on the last day of the winter term, a cold and dark December night, a school concert was held in the gymnasium. The concert included excerpts from Handel’s Messiah. My voice gave up the day before the concert and so my stand-in took over the soprano role singing Come Unto Him, All Ye That Labour and Rest. After the concert, boys left school to spend Christmas at home, as heavy snow fell that night, blanketing Britain for months.
Just before the Easter holidays of 1963, Mander organised a fund-raising competition to collect money for his Sea Scout Troop at Skippers Hill Manor Prep School. Sea Scouts had to carry out as many ‘Bob-a-Jobs’ in private houses during the holiday as they could. The scout earning the most money would win a haversack. It turned out that I had earned the money, having amassed the princely sum of £5 and 5 shillings (five guineas). Because I was withdrawn from school after Easter for financial reasons, the school—Mander, JR Ward, Colonel Faro—reneged on the deal. Mander nevertheless happily banked my hard-earned takings, instead of returning the money.
Their decision was unethical, inequitable and borderline fraudulent. A good scoutmaster should have underwritten the standards embodied in Scout Law and honoured his promise. Instead, it had been broken by the very person who was supposed to uphold it. This act of betrayal blotted not only Mander’s copybook, but also the school’s, exposing its true colours. It had failed to live up to the founding father’s philosophy—that gentlemen should be sporting, honest and honourable.
This event changed me and made mistrustful of people in authority. It was also a bitter-sweet moment. On the one hand, I was unable to say goodbye to schoolfriends and rightfully claim the haversack. On the other hand, I felt a huge sense of relief that I was not going back to the school, not least because after CE there were plans to send me, against my wishes, to HMS Worcester, a nautical training college-ship moored on the River Thames at Greenhithe, Kent.
- Part of a panorama photograph taken at Skippers in the summer term of 1956, rediscovered by Peter Kirby-Higgs.
- The King’s School, Canterbury Register, 1859-1931 (1932).
- British Army Lists (1882-1962) in Fold3.com (part of Ancestry.com); R.A. Faro, 1922, 19411939 England & Wales Register (Ancestry.com).
- The 1939 England and Wales Register for Kent.
- Immigration and Passenger Records for those years, Ancestry.com.
- Richard Augustus Faro’s will.
- A former home for the mentally handicapped in Kent, 1936-1996.
- Report by H.M Inspectors of Schools on Section on Physical Education in the gymnasium: (i) potential hazards posed by three “pillars” and (ii) dimensions of gym space.
- Pocket calculating machine was patented by Carl Kübler in Berlin in 1928.
- Corporal punishment in England’s privately run, independent schools was made illegal in 1999.
- Imperial units of area/length phased out in the United Kingdom in 1965.
- Weekend leave from a boarding school (Lat.)
- The British Board of Film Censors had given the film a PG (Parental Guidance) certificate.