Friday, August 16, 2013

From Old Boys Association to this Blog - How it got Started.

Many have expressed their appreciation for my work on this blog and the Facebook page in charting the history of the school and bringing people together again (virtually) after 40 years or so and some have asked how it all got started. I can only take credit for so much of it, so i thought i'd give a little history of how it all came about - or as far as i can relate it.....

by Trev Teasdel

Long before the internet, while I was still at the City of Coventry Boarding School in the 60's and in fact long before, there has been an 'Old Boys Association'. Led in the 60's by, i think, the top man - Martin Hawthorne, who was Headboy in my first year - 62 - 63 and who returned as a PE teacher in the early 70's. The Old Boy's Association met periodically in Coventry to share memories, catch up, share photos and press cuttings and who knows what else. Annually they would arrange sports matches at the school between the Old Boys and the staff - usually cricket or Rugby and below is a photo of Martin Hawthorn presenting headmaster George Parker with a portfolio of photos and cuttings collected by the Association, some time in the late 60's. Many of the photos and cuttings are probably on this blog and will be either in the Coventry Archives or the Pioneer centre's portfolio.

The Old Boys Association continued right up until the internet age. I think the last one was organised in Coventry c2001. Michael Billings (who was at the school in the late 50's) and Graham Baker (who was at the school early to mid 60's) were instrumental in organising the Old Boys Association at that stage.  We have, via Michael Billings, some press cuttings from the last Old Boys Reunion in Coventry - re-posted below.

I can't give a proper history of the Old Boys Association but if anyone has a handle on it, I'd be happy to post such a history. Below are some cuttings that are already posted on this blog about the last reunions in Coventry c 2000 / 01

Michael Billings - with beard and glasses.

The Original Old Boys Association in the 1950's
This is the 3rd Old Boys Meeting in Coventry at Queen Victoria Road. It's interesting to note the name Dennis Whiteley, as I've recently posted a press article from 2000 with a picture of Dennis who was at Wyre Farm Camp school at the beginning in 1940, when he was only 13. He went on - as illustrated above, to become secretary of the Old Boys Association after he left the camp. I've re-posted the article here to illustrate this - 

From c1960, the Parents / Teachers Association also formed as a forum for discussing issues pertinent to the welfare of the boys at the school and organising fund raising events to raise money for equipment that the school couldn't afford eg the may have been stalls on the playground during Visiting day, dances, raffles etc. i think there may have been associations with the Old Boys Association and an interest in the development of the school over the years. In the mid 60's my own parents put a lot of energy into the parents / teachers Association. My mother did some secretarial work - I remember her typing up lists of pupils and their addresses so they could mail out parents with notices of meetings / events and (I think) a newsletter. My father, according George Parker in my report, had a lot of 'drive' on the committee which he thought at the time, that i could do with - well i think this blog (and other work I've done) is clear evidence of that coming out of me after i left school. Two of the pupils lists for 1964 and 1966 that my mother typed up are now on this blog in the top menu and on the facebook page in the notes. A lot of parents got involved and made valuable contributions over the years and in 1961, there is a report in the school magazine The Boarder on the work of the earliest parent / teachers association which is posted on this blog Here

Sports day July 1962 with Head Mr Rowlands and Mr Chinn (Director of Education in Coventry), supported by the Parents Teacher Association.

Eric and Margery Teasdel - my parents as they were in the 60's 
on the Parents Teachers Association.

The Boarder was a duplicated annual school magazine operating between 1958 and 1961 and although it was for current information and a review of the academic year in terms of sports, activities and contained features and creative writing - it did publish retrospective articles and potted histories. It's the equivalent (for the time) of a current blog although they only published annually. Now of course it provides a hugely insightful historic resource and thanks to Michael Billings and Paul Williamson, we have two copies on this blog - check the index. 1958 and 1960 / 1961. If anyone has copies issues 2 and 3 - please let us know! We've got some great information from these magazines. It's a great pity therefore that the magazines didn't continue beyond 1961 - it would have been a huge resource and i would have loved to have been involved. The pupils wrote most of the material under the editorship of  English teacher extraordinaire (in the best possible sense!) Colin Partridge and some of the other teachers of the time. 

Boarder Issue 1  1958

Boarder Issue 4 1961
Most of the articles are on the blog - see the Index.

FRIENDS REUNITED - Enter the Digital Age

I joined Friends Reunited c 2006 (I think) after my friend Ann requested me to join and filled in details about the schools and colleges I attended. Friends Reunited seemed to be the first internet connection between former pupils. Both school names were represented - Wyre Farm and City of Coventry. Many former pupils were signed up for it and you could search via dates you were at the school to find people. Some had provided a photo and profile information and some had even posted photographs, many of which are now on this blog. However it was pretty static - not much interaction and messages often were answered. however it was a start. Most people abandoned Friends when Facebook cranked up c 2008 / 9. I made my first contribution to what has become this digital school archive on Friends - uploading a number of photographs. The pages are still there and there has been been some interaction - but not much! Still it launched the school into the digital age!

In July 2006 Irving Holloway started a Topix thread with these words 
"Hi i am looking for some old school mates from city of Coventry Boarding School in Cleobury Mortimer (shropshire). I was there 1972-1975 ,in Blunt House (JB 37), I still live in Germany,hope to hear from you all soon Irvine Holloway "

Irvine Holloway
Topix was restricted to just message sized messages really, although you could include a url. It soon became the first real interactive and active site on the internet for former CCBS pupils and is still being used. One interesting url was a link to BBC Wales regarding Rev D.A. Williams (Jack or Jake as he was known to pupils) leaving 2 million to charity after a long life. The comments reflect the good, the bad and the ugly of the school and much bravado. The punishments, the abuses and the sport of staff-room-raiding get a good airing on this forum! People reconnecting after many decades and swopping contacts was an important part of this.
I didn't contribute to this forum until after i started this blog, although i had visited it often to catch up with new comments. I began to contribute mainly to sign post people to the new blog. It's still often the first port of call for people still finding this blog and has played a brave role although clearly the original objective was for Irvine to find his own estranges school mates but it did the biz for the rest of us. Good initiative Irvine. Key people got involved with this forum including - Keith Ison and Rosemary Webb-Rehill in 2008.

November 28th 2008 John Brown sounded the Facebook bell. Many of the blogs like My Space and Vox were loosing their social networks to this new kid on the block called Facebook. It was on its way to become the giant it now is. I had already joined Facebook the month before and could see the potential for building on the Topix forum as you could add photos and notes and the networking and search was good although Facebook in 2008 was only just getting going. This is what John Brown said on Topix
"Face Book is the way ahead gents...I discovered this site through a face book link."

Indeed there were two Facebook pages (as now) at an early stage of  Facebook. I had joined both and uploaded some photos. The more buoyant one at the time was City of Coventry Boarding School

Nigel Tuckey
This had more people on it - over 70 I think at the time and more posts. It was certainly the one i related to most and was set up by Nigel Tuckey JB1 (pictured here) who was at the school 1970-1975.

Up until 2011 this page was definitely the most lively with quite a few photos being posted and some limited conversations. However, until 2011, neither this page or I Survived Wyre Farm Camp School were anywhere near as lively as they became. Every few months there might be some new photos, an odd comment here and there but it was good that they were there.

A lot of people seem to think I started this page and although I may have started one had there not been 2 of
Mike Godwin
them already, it was in fact started in 2008 by Mike Godwin (Pictured below). It originally had less people and less posts than the other one. The situation changed first when Rosemary Webb-Rehill joined in with an idea that her brother had about there being a similar camp school in Yorkshire. I did some research and found a picture - that discussion led to fuller posts later on, on this blog about the history of the National Camps Corporations and indeed there were over 30 identical schools built. However the real change came in 2011 when Facebook upgrade it's community pages.  Mike Godwin responded to the upgrade and messaged everyone on the page, telling them that there was now more scope for adding pics etc. The Coventry Boarding school page didn't upgrade until much later. This message stimulated Michael Billings (who had been involved in the Old Boys Association) to ask a bunch of interesting questions - Did anybody remember Mawley Hall, Castle Toot and many more. Rosemary responded to the Mawley Hall question, telling us it had associations with Napoleon's son and King Henry V111. I researched that further and uncovered a lot of interesting material and Rose brought Sarah and Aileen in and others like Paul Starling joined in and suddenly the I Survived Wyre Farm Camp page took off intensely with new people joining, research and discussion and many photos being blogged. Instead of postings being periodic, they were now daily. This page became the most lively with those from the 70's preferring the City of Coventry page. At some point Mike Godwin appointed myself and rose as Admins and dropped out. Michael Breslin was added in as an admin and between us we've kept it running. I think the involvement of the ladies of the school Rosemary, Sarah and Aileen have made a huge contribution to the discussion in so many ways than it would have been with just us lads.

With all this intense discussion and blogging going on in 2011, things were bound to get confused on

Trev Teasdel in his 5th form Suit
Facebook. It was and is a great and immediate way for us to communicate but it was hard newcomers to catch up with posts being pushed down and discussion being split between different threads. We needed the research on, say Mawley Hall, to be presented in a more coherent way. The idea for the blog was born.

By the time this school blog was established, I'd had 7 years experience of setting up blogs charting the history of things I'd been involved with over the years - a huge archive of the Coventry Music Scene - I had run a Coventry music magazine and venue in the 70's and a huge archive of material and had taught Creative Writing and had organised a range of literary events in the Tees Valley - including magazines, literary festivals, writers groups and performance venues and made a film about them for BBC 2 Open Space.

All of the sites had brought people (who now lived all over the world) back together through the internet sites and many new projects took off from them. All though this site needs updating it gives you an idea of the range. Many of the early blogs have been deleted owing to various blog systems closing and having to try and re do them elsewhere - oh well - but the experience came in handy.

My experience began in 2005. I was co-running the Writers Cafe (a multi-media spken word and music venue at the ARC (Stockton Arts Centre) and a European funding group from the University of Teesside (where i had studied) were offering to help community groups and organisations to build their own website without tears! Now you didn't have to be versed in programming languages like Html or Php - they introduced us to CMS systems (Content Management Systems). Sounds complicated right - but it makes it all relatively simple to build websites without knowing the mark-up languages. Now it's even easier - some sites let you drag and drop whole sections of a website. That made it possible for me to create these sites easily. This blogspot took me 10 mins to set up and choose the look of it for example!!

I originally thought 20 posts would cover all the material we had generated on Facebook plus some posts which I had researched. that would be it - done and dusted! However it's 2013 and its still being added to and we've had over 60,000 page views and we've sourced literally hundreds of photos covering the school from the 1939 to how it is now, huge amounts of memories and booklets and papers and research in just over 2 years!! Who would have thought! We have a much better idea of the history and development of the school than anybody has previously had. Much learning and reconnecting has gone. The blog works in tandem with the Facebook pages - facebook being where we chat and the blog which forms the archive.

Where do we go from here? - I'm hoping to create a new blog and E book charting the history of the school over its 40 year existence. Much of the material is one here but it needs a linear history, showing its development from an idea to an evacuation camp to a secondary boarding school to an activity centre. meanwhile keep the photos and information coming in. The team work and the friendship (after all these years) has been amazing and I for one have learned so much.

Trev Teasdel 2013

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Press Cuttings from the War Years

The following press cuttings were kindly photocopied for us by the Pioneer Centre during the reunion. The first is from The Midland Daily Telegraph Wednesday August 21st 1940.

In these cuttings we gain a portrait of Wyre farm first headmaster and his wife - Mr Donaldson -

Wyre Farm Camp school had been in existence less that a year and Mr Donaldson (pictured) was the first headmaster. We learn from the third cutting "Invaded" that Mr Donaldson was from Broadway school in Earlsdon. The first masters included Mr Morris (later on in the 1950's he became headmaster), Mr Windridge, Mr Breeze, Mr Carr, Mr Dey, Mr Parkes and Mr Griffiths.

Mr Donaldson was "typical of the school masters of the period - strict but fair. On one occasion, after a pitched battle between the dormitories  he dispensed summary justice by lining the school up, and canning every tenth boy. No one complained, except perhaps the unfortunate tenth boys!"

After the November blitz on Coventry (during which the boys witnessed from a distance of 50 miles, the bombing in the night sky of their home city and wondered if their parents, friends and relations had survived) Mr Donaldson "returned to Coventry to gather what news he could and this he passed on to the assembled school"

And from the 1st cutting in the Midland Daily Telegraph August 1940 we get a portrait of Mrs Donaldson - the headmaster's wife -

" A word about the one person who has done more than any other for the joy and comfort of the boys - Mrs Donaldson, "Mother" to every one of the boys 160 boys and wife of the Headmaster. For 16 hours a day, when the camp began and now for a full 12 hours a day, Mrs Donaldson is looking after the welfare of the lads. Youngest to oldest, if they have any troubles at all, the boys fly to her, and, in spite of the fact that she does it all without salary, she loves her job.

Mrs Donaldson waved a hand at 50 or more boys playing a variety of games. Most of them wearing nothing more than shorts and shoes, yet their sun burned bodies did not feel the coolness of the hillside wind so apparent to we city folk.

"Fresh air, good food and regular sleep did that" she said firmly "Life at the camp is equivalent to a good boarding school - and there are 40 vacancies."

From the press cuttings on 1940 and 1942, we learn that there are still considerable vacancies at the camp.

The first cutting (from 1940) begins with a Pathe News style reportage -
"Mrs Richardson; of 662, Sewall Highway, this is to tell you that your son John is fit, brown as a berry, and as cheerful as any schoolboy in perfect surroundings can be expected to be"

Of course they are requesting more pocket money - what else!

In the war years the lads were there 24 - 7 owing to the bombing and unlike us later attendees, didn't have school holidays to look forward to. The 1942 article is an attempt to 'sell' the camp to parents as a "Children's Paradise" The first article appeared about 3 months before the Coventry blitz November 15th 1940.

The camp was still operating along the lines of a holiday camp and evacuation camp and the future of the camp was at that stage undecided. Many of the camps didn't follow the path of Wyre farm camp school to become a secondary modern boarding school and later activity centre. Some fell into disintegration but in the 1940 article they say "Peacetime future of the camp has yet to be decided but there is little doubt but that the Education Committee will favour its retention as a holiday school camp."

Children's Paradise
In the articles we find descriptions of both the settings and the school itself -

In the 1940 article we read that the school is -

" Set on a hillside, from which the land falls away on all sides, to rise again into the hills, which frame it in a setting of what is best in the English countryside, the camp is completely self-contained."

"Built throughout in cedar-wood, the spacious huts which comprise classrooms, dining hall, assembly hall, wash houses and dormitories, are all centrally heated and have all services laid on.

The curriculum, at the moment, is school lessons in the mornings and as much fresh air as can be obtained before bedtime at 7.30pm. (Yes 7.30pm!!). Fishing, swimming, rambles, gardening, sports and games come in the latter category.

Proudly the youngsters showed us the vegetable plot, and with still greater pride, the flock of geese, which exists mainly on their food scraps. They pointed out with delight the six young pigs fattening in the sty, but the lamb 'Lilly' strayed from a farm and found a diet of toffee, cake and chocolate provided surreptitiously by the boys, better than grazing.

When she would persist in following the boys to their lessons and even went to sleep in the dormitory, she had to depart!

In the 1942 article entitled "Coventry Boys Are Learning in A Children's Paradise - School on the Borders of Unspoiled Forest" we learn -

"The school is is situated on high ground over looking the peaceful village of Cleobury Mortimer and in the near distance are the verdant Clee Hills and the unspoiled Wyre Forest.

Decorated in bright colours in keeping with the surrounding countryside, the school buildings overlook spacious playing fields that roll down to a beautiful valley, bounded on all sides by pleasant woodland. Classrooms and dormitories are bright and clean, well ventilated and much much more comfortable for work and rest than those of the average city school.

There are five dormitories accommodating about 170 lads, and each one is in the care of the masters whose rooms are at either end. They are equipped with two-tier beds and every boy is provided with a separate locker for his personal belongings. A link with the home town has been retained by naming the dormitories after Coventry districts and such familiar names as Stoke, Earlsdon and Bablake adorn the entrance to each one.

A large dining room, complete with modern kitchens and a spacious assembly hall form the focal
2nd Headmaster Mr B. Martin
point of the school, while adjacent to these is the chalet like home of the Headmaster Mr B. Martin.

(presumably the headmaster's cottage hadn't been procured at that stage).

Apart from the classrooms, the school contains a gymnasium, library and woodwork and art room, while isolated from the rest of the buildings is the school hospital. A resident state-qualified nurse and an assistant are in attendance at the latter, and the school is visited regularly by a doctor.

Added to the usual school curriculum are classes in practical nature study, gardening, biology and practical geography, the surrounding area being ideal for studying the last mentioned subject.

fresh air, unrestricted quantities of the best food, nightly shower baths are but a few of the many advantages that these boys hold over those still in war-time Coventry.


A third article from the Coventry Evening Telegraph in 1983, after the school had closed and entitled "Invaded - by the Kids from Coventry", describes the opening of the school -

"The summer of 1940 was rife with rumours of invasion. There was, however, one which was peaceful and unopposed. This was when about 200 12 year Coventry boys (actually it was less than 200 - about 160 and I think they would be between 12 and 15) descended on Shropshire. Their destination was Wyre Farm Camp school on the outskirts of the sleepy town of Cleobury Mortimer. They had been evacuated because of the worsening situation in France.

On arrival at the camp on Monday June 17, there was a brief ceremony led by the Rev Richard Lee and the Union Jack was raised. After dinner the lads were distributed to the four dormitory huts according to the district of Coventry from which they came. The four huts were Gosford, Radford, Earlsdon and Stoke.

At first the lads were viewed with suspicion by the locals, but they soon got used to the invaders. In an area with many apple orchards, there was scrumping. the farmers, like Mr Donaldson  dispensed their own justice. A clip round the ear was usually sufficient. The odd serious misbehaviour was dealt with very severely by Mr Donaldson.

They were allowed to make a foray into the Wyre Forest to collect wood from which goalposts were fashioned under the supervision of Mr Griffiths.  One Sunday, every month, was visiting day (in the war years they weren't allowed home during the holidays so visiting day was more often than later on). Parents and relatives came in a fleet of coaches. Although the lads were pleased to see their parents they were really more interested in the contents of the bulging shopping bags carried by mum. Only too soon the coaches departed and although the lads would be the last to admit it, there were many a damp eye.

Entertainment was provided by the boys themselves in the form of Saturday concerts. One of the lads who took part in those concerts is today a professional actor who has appeared in Crossroads.

At first there were trips to the cinema in nearby Bewdley. Eventually they acquired their own sound projector operated by Mr Windridge. They even had a cine-camera and films were taken of their activities and shown on their projector.

One film was of the "Wood-hunting expedition" in Wyre Forest. As this was silent, there is no record of what the Master said to the boy who dropped a log on his foot!

During the blitz time, the lads wer often roused from their beds and directed to the trench shelters. Many will remember these nights when the sky in the direction of Birmingham was aflame.

After the blitz, one enterprising dad cycled all the way to the school from Coventry to tell his son that the family was safe.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

The New Block

A few pictures from the Coventry Telegraph of the 'New' block or Senior block as it was known when it was opened in 1966. Later, when the Pioneer Centre opened it became known as Forest Lodge. the 'New' block was demolished in 2010!

Here are some photos -

This first picture is from the 1960's or early 70's i think.

This latter picture is from the Pioneer centre period judging by the building next to it - perhaps prior to its demolition judging by the skips!

The old dorms after the new Block opened in 1966. Gone are the bunk beds as many of the older pupils moved into the new block.

My thanks to the Pioneer Centre for letting us photocopy this article.

Wrens Warren Camp School (National Camps Corporation)

During the Wyre Farm Camp school (City of Coventry Boarding school) reunion 2013. We looked through some of the archive photos of the Pioneer Centre (as the school is now called).

Among the archives we found this research into the National Camps Corporation supplied to David Mack by John Bell - who wrote a book about Wrens Warren Camp School in Coleman's Hatch, East Sussex. Unlike Wyre farm camp School, Wren's Warren fell by the wayside and never became a secondary boarding school or anything related. It fell into dereliction and then a chicken farm and in 2001 made was for 7 luxurious houses according to John Bell.

The following is a letter with some research as sent by John Bell to David Mack in 2003 with some interesting information about the financing of  the camp schools. Click on the images to enlarge the view.

John Bell is the author of  Memories of Wrens Warren: A School Camp in the Ashdown Forest, 1940-45. Author, John Bell. Publisher, J. Bell.

There is a pdf of information here 

Cleobury Area - Reunion 2013

The Talbot - Cleobury Mortimer

View from one of the bedrooms in the Talbot.

Four poster bed in the Talbot

Approaching the Talbot from the carpark at the back.

Another view from a Talbot Hotel bedroom.

A view of the street outside the Talbot

The Crusty Cob!


Bewdley through the bridge (No caps though!)

Far Forest - leading to 6 Ashes

Nearly at the School!