Kevin Cooper - Orwell '80 to '85

I attended Woolverstone from 1980-1985. I had no choice in the decision; it was at the suggestion of my primary school headmaster Mr Holland. Having visited the school and being shown round by a first former all seemed quite tranquil; the location, grounds and after-school activities appealed. Then I remember attending the final interview at the Grand GLC building, the HQ of the ILEA (Inner London Education Authority) .

I vividly remember the oak-panelled room with Mr Woollet and another member
of staff. The building is now part hotel and apartments. I remember one of my
London friends buying an apartment with a bit of a river view in the early 90s.

Well, I was given a place and attended from 1980 to 1985. I remember leaving from Coin Street car park (I think the site is still undeveloped.) I recall the lists of uniform and casual clothes you were allowed, and my mum had the relentless
task of sewing nametags into everything.

My house was Orwell: dorms for the first to fourth years, with allocated lockers which you locked with your own brace and padlock. Mr Skailes was the Housemaster and Miss F Clarke the Matron. One soon learned not to complain of stomach ache, as crushed blue, white or red chalk in water was the cure-all solution! She even made her own cough mixture: strawberry and a honey and lemon one. She used to check in your laundry and give you clean freshly- pressed items once a week. At breaktimes you would stand in line for your biscuits and cordial.

Adapting to boarding life had its challenges for me. I hated it for two years and was constantly running away at every opportunity at weekends. I got caught by Skailes several times, but ran for my life away from his car. Once I was caught and given the dreaded slipper. I was given a choice: resin-based or Dunlop Green Flash!

Our intake was the “Let’s experiment year”! I had compulsory violin and cello lessons for two years with Mr and Mrs Howard, whose dress sense was laughable back in the day.

One soon learnt certain rules: “ Get off the grass.” with detention if caught by Upper VIth Prefects. There were numerous smokers’ bushes, and if you got caught they would take away your ciggies and send a letter home - but who cared?! There were parents who actually SENT you cigs!

For two years we ate in our own dining-rooms - apart from Corners who had one table in each boarding-house. You weren’t allowed to start until top table had arrived and Grace was said in Latin. You had to wait your turn but there was plenty to go round! You had to be aware of Pete Sadler though, as he would soon dive in and grab some extra sausages or beans (I think he was nicknamed "Pete Fart".) The cafeteria system then followed which took time to work. If you were a veggie it was a bonus!! I went down that route for 3 years, and one of the chefs always cooked me a ham and tomato omelette …

There were loads of rumours going round about the school closing. Anyone remember the “Poor Man’s Eton” documentary?? I begged my parents to remove me; it never happened. The calls I made from the payphone - if you had the knack you could get free calls (I will say no more - we all know how!)

  • Remember the dares you were given; the pillow fights; the gauntlet runs - even a master got a pounding (KBY).
  • Remember one sixth year Ben Ania used to walk through in the mornings singing: “It’s time to rise and shine ....”
    A few of the sixth form I remember: Ben Ania, Nick York, Frank Stucky, Nick Miles, Steve Jones, the Bates twins, Mike Warboys ....
  • Another change was 5 mins was taken from each lesson to gain an extra period.
  • Getting sick notes? They had three colours if I recall: white, pink, blue !! The number of us that used to change the dates ??! Little did we know a record was on the staff notice board. You had to be really sick to get into sick bay.
  • The dreaded dentist visits from the portacabins - drill and fill if I remember !!!! Ahhhh
  • Remember the music-block lessons? The piano and saxophone teacher who used to smoke? You would arrive to a smoke-filled room!
  • Mr Salmon’s vast record collection.

Some of the teachers I remember: Mr Hyde and his wife, Peter Sadler, Mr Morgan, Mr Colin Hawes, Mr H Maxfield, Miss Bell the French teacher who introduced herself thus: “My name is Madame Bell.” ringing a bell. (We all laughed), Mr Clifford, Mr Skailes, Mr Cromarty, Mr Poole, David Sillett (sailing), Mrs Fitzgerald, Mr Woollett, Mr Pearce and his wife Penny. They were a huge influence on me and taught me how to milk goats and take care of horses, chickens, geese and how to slaughter them (not the horses!)

  • Having settled into boarding life it got easier. Corporal punishment was still in existence; several got the slipper or Dunlop green flashed. The cane was only administered three times in my recollection in front of the whole school by the head - bare butt cheeks ...
  • 3-5th years were fine - no real issues: sailing, army cadets and scuba-diving.
  • Remember one old boy used to frequent race days sailing (Graham Ireland) - always got in the way of the opposition.
  • The sandwiches after race meetings.
  • The rugby & cricket matches - all part of the school calendar.
  • Vividly remember the memorial to Mr Richardson. I believe his wife held a tribute service until the last of his intake had left the school.
  • The other afterschool clubs gave me great skills with photography.
  • The cleaners at school? Well, for the boarding-house they were great; never said a word about your illegal home-brew down the side of the radiator.

I left Woolvo with virtually no qualifications went on to college and University which I never thought I would achieve - gained 7 ‘A’ levels and a National Diploma. Living in London after school had its challenges, and I am sure Woolverstone gave me the lifeskills to deal with situations. Moving to Norfolk I worked for a HNWI private chauffeur dealing with family and other high profile pop and rock industry icons .... Sorry can’t name names but 60’s 70’s and to date icons and fashion industry - children, you can work it out?? And film producers .....

Currently caring for my dad with dementia - the odd day chauffeuring a businessman driving a Bentley Mulsanne!

Boy, did Woolvo have an influence on me! It made me; it shaped me to deal with life’s challenges. I do have regrets about issues as many of us probably do, but I don’t think I would have done half the things I did at Woolverstone if I had attended a London school at the time. There are things which I wish to keep to myself.

I apologise for the length but I could go on and on .....

P.S. If you wish to visit the school they are very accommodating to say the least. I had a fabulous tour of the school, even the Berners cellars - no lights but iPhone torches (the staff member may get fired so say no more!).