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Boarding at Hallfield in the 1950s

Former Prefect James Houston (Class of 1960), recently got in touch to share his memories of boarding at Hallfield in the 1950s. Read on for his account of inspirational teachers, letters home, leisure pursuits and a memorable school trip to Holland.


2 December 2020




#Whole school

Boarding at Hallfield in the 1950s


“Possibly like many others during the Covid-19 restrictions, I found myself looking through old photographs and came across some taken during my time at Hallfield where I entered in 1955 as a young boarder. The first day came as something of a shock for a young boy approaching boarding for the first time in a 1950’s environment.

“Food rationing would have been a recent memory for many. Culinary standards would have been very different when measured against school meals of today, and the taste of some of the less appetising dishes stayed with me. In my latter times at the school when at the Prefects Table, I can remember the contrast with the Headmaster’s rather better-looking fare including a small jug of cream which often accompanied his own meal at the same table.

“We must have had a healthy lifestyle, as I can remember visits to the Matron’s area where malt extract was dispensed. There were also outside PE lessons seemingly regardless of the weather. Sports were encouraged. Boxing lessons were a reminder of how to deal with physical knocks.

“In those days the school was on two sites, one of which contained the dormitory accommodation and an area for indoor leisure pursuits including Billiards which set me in good stead later in life.

“I can recall very little television during my time but I do remember the communal radio set to which we listened. We were rather spellbound by a science fiction programme which was either a version of HG Wells’ War of the Worlds or Quatermass. Both of these became cult listening.

“School had a close relationship with nearby St George’s Church and Sundays always followed the same pattern – first at Church then letter writing home. Sunday afternoons were generally devoted to leisure pursuits. Some of the teachers used to play Mahjong, a game I tried to learn later in life but without much success. We were allowed home for two half Sundays per term which in retrospect sometimes felt that as soon as lunch at home was finished then it would be time to return to school.

“Sports days were quite memorable events and allowed for a shared tea and snacks with parents. Close to the sports ground area was the cottage style residence of the Fisher family. Mr Fisher taught Classics and was related to the Archbishop of Canterbury. He was one of those teachers who left his mark in his teaching of Latin and Greek. He clearly had a passion for his subjects, often pointing out mutual connections with Sanskrit. I enjoyed being in his class and was quite competent I recall but never quite able to catch up with one of my fellow pupils, Raynor who traditionally was top or near the top of the class. I note from the 1959/60 Hallfieldian that Raynor won a Foundation Scholarship to King Edward’s School Birmingham. Looking back I think that there was probably quite a competitive element fostered amongst us.

“Other teachers who left an impression on me included Messrs Amphlett, Hackett and Wells. Mr Amphlett taught me English and additional scholarship curriculum focused classes. I remember him urging me to acquire a Dictionary of Quotations. This stayed with me for a very long time.

“Mr Hackett taught me maths and gave me a good grounding for additional maths in my later schooling. Mr Wells was a native French speaker and very quick to pounce on both poor pronunciation and grammar. He used to suggest that he had spent time in the Foreign Legion but we never knew whether we were to take this seriously.

“I should not leave out music. Miss Morton tried her best to teach me piano but it was not to be even though I hail from a reasonably musical family. However, I can just about remember singing solo at St George’s Church so perhaps singing was a more sensible musical choice.

“This leads me onto the school trips in which I participated. It was Miss Morton who accompanied the school trip to Holland. I remember visiting Scheveningen, the Alkmaar Cheese Market, Delft and the Keukenhof Gardens, the latter famous for its display of daffodils and tulips. The trip had its lighter moments on the beach at Scheveningen.

“Within the UK there was the occasional more local visit. I recall visiting RAF Gaydon, home to a V Bomber Squadron and remember the plane with a sense of awe.

“As to the ethos of the school, I would say that it was a fairly strict environment whilst at the same time encouraging of academic effort. Behavioural Infringements resulted in being sent to ‘stand under the clock’ which would probably now be the equivalent of being sent to the ‘naughty step’. The Headmaster was certainly known for his insistence on staying within the school rules.

“I note from the Hallfieldian of 1959/60 that I was listed under the ‘Red Hundreds’ section. This must have been an award of some kind but I must admit to not remembering the nature of this award, behavioural, academic or otherwise. Perhaps a reader of this piece will be able to enlighten me.

“I went on to Oundle School and the names of other of my contemporaries or near contemporaries at Hallfield who also went to Oundle included Evershed, Gower, Goodman and Cole.”

We are grateful to Old Hallfieldian James Houston for sharing these detailed memories. If any readers are able to recall what the ‘Red Hundreds’ was awarded for, do get in touch with our Alumni and Development Officer Kat de Polo at kdepolo@hallfieldschool.co.uk

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