New College Worcester (NCW), Whittington Road, Worcester, WR5 2JX
The NCW group returned from Amsterdam on Sunday, tired but full of stories of an enjoyable, but thought-provoking trip. We visited Anne Frank’s House and the Resistance Museum, as well as doing a boat and walking tour. As Marjorie reported in their magazine, on 22nd August 1939, two Upper School Chorleywood students travelled to the Netherlands for an International Camp:
Both Isobel and I had long looked forward to going to camp in Holland, as it was to be our first experience of going abroad. The crossing from Harwich to Flushing took just under five hours and was very smooth, but we still had to get to Amsterdam which meant a journey of at least three hours. The final stage of our journey was an hour’s taxi ride.
The building in which we camped is normally used for the Dutch Socialist Youth Movement. In the middle of next morning, we were told that we should have to move out from the Hostel, as it was to be used by the army. The rest of the day was spent in putting up tents. The next day, we began camp in earnest. In the morning, a scavenger hunt took place. Later in the day, we had study circles, followed by sports.
On the following day we went to Amsterdam. It is like Venice in that there are canals running through many of its streets. There are no motor-buses, but small single-decker tram-cars.
That afternoon came the startling news that we were to return home. There is no need to say that we were disappointed. In these three days, there had grown up a great feeling of friendship between French, Dutch and British.
We British were advised to travel to Flushing that day, owing to the extensive movement of troops which was to take place on the following day. The departure of the boat was delayed over an hour, owing to the large influx of German refugees. We had a chance of meeting some of these personally when some of us shared a compartment with them on the train from Harwich to London.
When the College began in 1866, it was a very different institution, as is evident in the description of the ‘Origin of the College’ from the prospectus c. 1880:
The College for Blind Sons of Gentlemen was founded in 1866 by the Rev. R. H. Blair. It was opened with the view of giving to the families of the better class an opportunity of educating their children in a systematic manner, with a due regard to home comforts, and with surroundings their position. The advantages secured by a school, where books are in abundance, and every branch of education is attended to by well qualified masters, appeared to justify this effort. This idea, conceived with foresight, Mr. Blair worked out with enthusiasm and energy: many influential gentlemen of Worcester and elsewhere, subsequently entered into his plans: and the Lord Bishop of Worcester has continued the warm and untiring friend of the institution. These and later efforts have resulted in the settlement of the College on a healthy and prosperous basis, and in a growing conviction of its necessity and value.
Worcester College was founded by Rev. Hugh Blair and Rev. William Taylor. When Blair resigned from his position as headmaster in 1872, Rev. Samuel Strong Forster took over. He remained as headmaster for nineteen years. After Forster’s death, Charles Medhurst published ‘A Brief Account of his Life and Work on Behalf of the Higher Education of the Blind’:
It was not upon educating the Mind alone that Mr Forster was bent, he was equally careful to urge bracing pursuits for the Body. Bathing, Rowing and Walking, together with a varied Gymnasium, helped forward to health and strength the weakly and the strong. Drill was seldom allowed to be omitted from school routine. He was always of opinion that the Blind required more open air exercise than the sighted, and, very wisely, many of the School’s days were spent in long excursions into the country. Sunday afternoons too were nearly always thus occupied. Public speaking Mr Forster always held to be another essential of Higher Education. Through his efforts, a Debating Society was established, which flourished healthily for some 10 years, membership being extended to outsiders.
In the 1980s, students of Worcester and then RNIB New College went in July to Saumur in France. The spring 1988 magazine, Graham described one of the first trips to include one of the girls:
In Saumur we were met by three families and we split into groups: myself and Mark with Mr Diment, who with Mr Dean often had to translate my ‘franglais’. The Begnon family were very hospitable and made us feel very much at home. They spoke no English and we had to muddle through.
Visits from Saumur included several churches and chateaux, much to Mr Dean’s delight: also a lovely old windmill, whose friendly restorer could also blow glass, make tapestries and play the organ. Naturally we visited some ‘caves’ where the famous sparkling Saumur wine is produced.
Most mornings we had French conversation classes with Mme Hereau who was the efficient organizer of the French families we stayed with.
As described in the Spring 1986 magazine, three Worcester boys also went tandem riding to Austria:
Our cycling took us through Belgium, Luxembourg, France, Switzerland, Lichtenstein and Austria. We met with many mountains and steep hills en-route: one of the steepest was to the Alberg Pass. Angus and Suhas climbed almost to the top of this, but because of bad weather and thin air, we had to call it a day. We were two miles short of the top.
The tandem ride was sponsored by a well-established travel company called ‘the Travel Club of Upminster’. Funds raised from this project are being put towards the artificial ski slope on the already graded slope below the Malvern Lawn.
In February 1978, a group of eight girls and four staff went from Chorleywood to Sappada in Italy on a ski-ing holiday. Miss Blunt described their experiences:
We stayed in the Hotel Europe where the girls enjoyed the juke-box in the lounge after supper. As the ski slopes were close by we ate three meals in the hotel, with not much variety except in the shape of the pasta. However, an ice cream parlour next door and a patisserie at the top of the ski slope helped supplement our diet.
Skating on the outdoor rink and tobogganing were enjoyable activities on the first two days, but rain spoilt these for us. A chair-lift taking us up 2,000 metres above the village was another memorable experience. Most of the group tackled down-hill ski-ing with commendable success, considering the poor weather conditions. We spent four to five hours on the last day, and two of the girls were rewarded with an exciting run down the full piste, returning for the first time on a drag lift.
Tomorrow morning a group of sixteen staff and students are off to Amsterdam for four days. We are going to the Anne Frank House and Resistance Museum. Last year’s expedition was to Berlin as Dr Normanton Erry recalled in the Autumn 2015 newsletter:
Wir sind Berliners!
In October, ten members of Years 10 to 13 went on a History and Citizenship trip to Berlin. We were in a hotel built on the site of the former Berlin Wall so we were constantly crossing between the old Eastern and Western sectors. Helped by Boris, our German-Chilean-American tour guide, we had an exhausting, but fascinating, four days travelling around the city by foot, taxi, tram, train and boat.
Here are some of our highlights:
For many of us, the best moment was the group being given the special privilege of standing on the floor of the German Parliament. This is an incredible building which was rebuilt after reunification by Norman Foster and remembers the history of dictatorship and war, but also reflects the openness of contemporary German democracy.
Also, Charlie was fascinated by the eerie atmosphere of the nuclear fall-out shelter. We went down the stairs of a car park and then felt as if we were transported back to the Cold War.
Rufus and Hannah enjoyed visiting the East Side Gallery where a section of the Wall has been preserved and artists are allowed to create pictures.
For Zoe, a highlight was the DDR museum. It told us so much about the differences of life in East Germany.
Rhys found the whole trip exciting, but he particularly enjoyed the food.
The Worcester College boys did get involved in fund-raising. Steve describes two tandem rides from Land’s End to John O’Groats. The ride in 1981 purchased equipment for the multi-gym.
The first one we ever did was sponsored by Lloyds Bank. It was quite plush because we were put in nice hotels. We had a minibus and front-riders from the cycle club. They were semi-professional. I think there were 15 pairs altogether. It took a bit longer than it would normally. Because Lloyds were sponsoring, we had to stop off in major town centres so they could do the press. The second time we did it, it was much more down-market. It was still a charity event but this time with little support. We stayed in church halls and youth hostels. It was just as much fun. We would raise money for the school. The first time we raised about £5000.
Over the years, Chorleywood students devoted their time to a variety of philanthropic activities. In the Second World War years, these were devoted to helping with the war effort, as described in the College magazine of 1942-3:
This year the school has again helped with domestic duties, knitted comforts for the troops, gathered eight-four pounds of hips needed by the Government for hip syrup and sent the money thus obtained to the Red Cross.
The memories have shown how life at the College has changed. Some of the differences are evident from Stewart’s 1935 account of Worcester College:
To colour our picture more vividly, let us present a brief outline of the days programme for summer and winter; remembering of course, that they are only generalisations, and that there are many exceptions to them under varying circumstances.
Breakfast is at 8 o’clock (9 on Sundays and after special festivities), prayers at 8.55am. Then comes the first working period until 10.5 after which there is a short working period until 10.45 at which milk, and bread and butter are served. Then follow two long working periods until 12.45. Lunch is served at 1 o’clock. Afternoon class in the winter is from 3.30 to 5; in the summer from 2.30 to 4, between which time and tea there is bathing. Tea is provided at 5 o’clock (4.30 on Sundays). Preparation (except on Saturdays and Sundays) from 6.30 to 8, after which supper is served. Lights out at 10.30, 11 on Saturdays.
In view of the facts here set out it would appear that we do very little work; but if this is at all in the reader’s mind, one can only point to our remarkable examinations results.
NCW students have been active fund-raising for a number of organisations over the years. The Newsletter of Spring Summer 2012 described a ‘Rough Idea:
Fundraising Sixth Form students and staff slept rough in the college grounds, in aid of St Paul's Hostel who provide night shelter and emergency accommodation for homeless people in Worcester. They made shelters from cardboard boxes and slept in sleeping bags for the night raising over £250.00.
Sixth Form student Krishen said, “I feel that the sleep out was a big success. I’m really pleased that nobody gave up and sneaked off back to their warm bed! I felt I gained some experience of what it’s like to sleep rough and I’m pleased that we could raise money knowing that this will help St Paul’s support the homeless in Worcester.”
Today is Children in Need day. The Senior Student team have been busy organising fund-raising events all this week. The Newsletter of Autumn 2014 described that year’s NCW events:
Students had a busy week organising various activities in aid of Children in Need which included ‘Change your name for a day’, a bake sale, a ‘Made Hair Day’ and selling bacon sandwiches at breakfast time.
They also ran a number of competitions, including ‘guess the number of sweets in the jar’ and ‘name the owl’ and also organised the ever popular student talent show. They had a very busy and fun week with their fundraising activities and managed to raise over £400.00 for Children in Need.
In the 1930s, Chorleywood had a Crafts’ Guild. The College magazine of 1934-35 described some of their activities:
The Country Life Group worked vigorously throughout the summer term. Interest was stimulated by various competitions, these were: I to recognize the leaves of various trees; II to recognise a number of wild flowers; III to arrange wild flowers; IV to make miniature gardens; V to imitate bird songs.
The Emergency Group had a series of lectures on ‘Some general principles of First Aid,’ illustrated by practical work. The other members devoted most of their time to simple bandaging.
Meccano Club was another popular pastime at Worcester College. The College magazine of 1946 described their activities:
Our membership in September was 15, and it is gratifying to note that at the time of writing it has risen to 24. A full programme of meetings was arranged for the year, the major part of the first term was taken up with the building of two large models – a crane four feet in height and a locomotive and tender over three feet long. Last term various model building competitions were held, and also a most enjoyable and instructive afternoon was spent in the G.W.R. shed and yards at Shrub Hill station on March 24th. Another departure from our normal programme was the demonstration of various methods of gearing, which was ably undertaken by several senior members for the benefit of beginners.
Borrowings of the club’s meccano have been heavy this year owing to the increased membership. We were fortunate in obtaining two consignments of parts, one from the Meccano Guild in November.
Adrian was the first student to get an amateur radio licence while at Worcester College. Below, he and then his brother Brendan recall their enthusiasm for this hobby in the early 1960s:
I was more interested in the soldering iron than the Morse key. I was more interested in building things than chatting, although I did a fair amount of chatting to people as well. I built my own transmitter that could transmit in Morse Code.
In the College we had an amateur radio station down below the stage in the gym. We used speech and we used Morse Code. We used to talk to people all over the world. I talked to people in Worcester and I talked to people in Australia and the United States. I had a good friend in Kyrgyzstan who was a blind radio amateur. Radio amateurs used to see how many countries they could contact; it was a very competitive activity. The Worcester ones I am still in contact with – they are real friends.
Students of the Colleges have pursued a range of hobbies and interests. From the 1950s, Worcester College boys were involved in amateur radio. In the 1970s, Chorleywood started an amateur radio club, as is demonstrated in this Progress Report from November 1978:
The club was formed in 1974 by Shirley Hesketh, a teacher at the school, who had recently obtained a Transmitting License as G81WU. The Club now has a small operating room, an assortment of aerials, and a steadily growing amount of equipment, loaned or donated by friends, including a VHF transceiver which the licensed members use to make contact with other amateurs in the area and around the Home Counties. The Club holds the appropriate callsign G4GRL, and our girls are becoming well known and popular on the amateur bands.
What next for the Club? We hope to enable our members to make contacts all over the world by providing modified equipment for the high frequency amateur bands.
Just as the effort involved in qualifying for a licence is particularly great for our members, so is the achievement that much greater, being just the starting point for a uniquely appropriate and satisfying hobby.
The Worshipful Company of Lightmongers also invite the Head Boy and Girl to the Court (black tie) dinner which was described by Matthew, the Head Boy, in the newsletter of Summer 2011:
Every year in May our Principal, along with Head Boy and Head Girl, attend one of the Company’s quarterly black-tie dinners to celebrate our affiliation. The dinner was a delightful affair, taking place at the beautiful old Tallow Chandlers’ Hall, in London.
The three of us enjoyed the warm, friendly company of the members of the Lightmongers’ Court and other guests and an extravagant dinner. The whole event was very enjoyable and an experience no one shall ever forget. This was a fitting event to celebrate our association with the Lightmongers and continuing work together. The Head Boy and Girl were recognised for their work this year with the presentation of an award from the Lightmongers.
Today Mrs Smith and a group of students and staff of NCW are with the Worshipful Company of Lightmongers in the Lord Mayor’s Show in London. NCW is affiliated with the Lightmongers and they maintain an interest in our work and support us in a number of ways. Support includes a contribution to funds, Head Boy and Girl awards and a Science prize. In the Autumn newsletters of 2009 and 2014, the Lord Mayor’s Show was described:
Six students took part in this prestigious event and 6000 strong parade, giving them a unique experience of London’s proud cultural heritage. Connor and Nathan made us all proud when they were interviewed about their sporting achievements by the BBC as part of their live coverage!
As guests of the Lightmongers, one of the London trade guilds, they walked through the streets of the City of London on the traditional 800 year old route headed by a beautiful carriage pulled by two magnificent black horses alongside a giant floating pig!
With the bells of the City of London ringing, and cheered by the large crowd, they were surrounded by marching bands, flotillas of armed forces and hundreds of different trades. It was a great day for all involved and a wonderful opportunity to be part of such an historic occasion.
As part of NCW’s 150th Celebrations, a Jubilee Day was held in April. There was a street party lunch, a celebrity cricket match, vintage tea tent and performances and displays throughout the day. In 1966, Worcester College held a Centenary Garden Party and Open Day on the 29th June. The programme included a range of activities:
Libraries: Display of Braille books, methods of printing braille and braille writing machines.
Chapel: A boy will play the organ.
Typing room: Display of typing and examples of work.
Commonroom1 : Display of hobbies.
Commonroom 2: Display of Mathematics apparatus and teaching methods, and methods of surface representation.
Commonroom 4: Display of indoor games’ apparatus.
Laboratory: Display of Science apparatus and methods of teaching Science.
Language laboratory: Language teaching.
Woodwork and Pottery Room: Display of craft work, apparatus and methods.
Gymnasium: A programme of drama and music between 2.15 and 3.00pm.
Swimming bath: Canoeing 2.15-3.45; Swimming 3.00-3.30pm.
Orchard and South Lawn: Display of apparatus for camping, rambling and meteorology: agility apparatus.
Playground: informal activity after 3.00pm.
The 150th Anniversary celebrations include a number of very different events (culminating in the Christmas concert in Worcester Cathedral). The College newsletter for Autumn 2015 described the involvement of students and staff in the Ceramic Tile Project:
Jon Williams from Eastnor Pottery worked alongside the Head of Art to develop the concept of a ceramic tile mural, a project that everyone could contribute to and that would form a lasting commemorative display for the 150th year.
Students researched the history of the College and reflected on what the College means to them today. Jon visited for a day to run a special workshop and each student designed and produced from clay a tile in the shape of an apple or leaf, along the theme of ‘What NCW means to you’. The sixth formers contributed the pieces of ‘bark’ for the trunk of the tree. The students used all the techniques they have learnt in ceramics classes to produce a fabulous array of tiles, which were taken by Jon to be fired, and collated to make the final piece.
The result is stunning and the ceramic mural now forms a poignant permanent display on the wall of the recently refurbished study area in the library. Students, staff and visitors to the College will enjoy it for many years to come.
Former students of King’s School have also sent in memories for the 150th anniversary. Phillip describes some of the links between students in Worcester:
I was a boarder in Castle House from 1943 to 1952 and well remember The Worcester College for The Blind as it was known in those far off days. In the senior school we had contact with them through what we knew as The Sixth Form Club - a must for boarders as it gave us social contact with other sixth formers - especially those who were in the Alice Ottley!!
Our blind colleagues played an active part in our activities and to the best of my now somewhat distant memory, we were made very welcome by them. Those of us who may have had a degree of apprehension when we first met them, soon realised how well they overcame their difficulties and lived all but normal lives and did their best to foster communications with us.
Worcester College started at the Commandery and moved to the current site in Whittington Road in 1902. However, for fifteen years from 1887, the college was at Slaughter's Court, Powick, three miles from the centre of Worcester. Mary Thomas in her book of 1937 “The First Seventy Years: Worcester College for the Blind” described the location:
Slaughter's Court, owned by Earl Beauchamp, was more spacious (with four acres, including "pleasure grounds" and a garden), and was generally much healthier for the 36 boys who passed through its portals. However, there was nowhere that the manual organ could be installed, nor was there room for bulky Braille books. So "The Iron Room" was built, where lectures, concerts and services could also take place. This was moved to Whittington Road (and was used until the Chapel was built).
Auriol describes the new College in the months after the merger:
All the rest of the girls arrived at Worcester on Tuesday 8 September 1987. I arrived in time for lunch, then I was taken to the Gables, (now Brown House). There were twenty-three girls all packed into the one house: all the would-be occupants of Dorothy McHugh and Peggy Markes houses put together. After several weeks, the Peggy Markes people moved out of the Gables, so there was much more space. Then we moved into Dorothy McHugh shortly before Christmas.
As the months turned into a year or two, we found our way between the main building, the houses and the temporary buildings, apparently coping well with areas of building site. In the spring term 1989, the leisure block opened. It was very full of echo and noisy at first, but basically I was impressed: there was much more choice and the food was a considerable improvement. The carpet was a later addition.
Our first Christmas after the merger seemed a massive undertaking. On Saturday the 19th, there was the first informal Christmas concert. It was held in the gym. No other concert was ever quite like it to my mind: but then, there is always a magic about the first event of that kind. Two senior boys were the comperes, posing as cleaners, and the programme included a recorder duet, the college blues, the first of the school psalms on fire regulations, the deafening and almost frighteningly noisy “If At First” to finish with, and my unaccompanied rendition of “Hark The Herald”, in which I forgot the words and the audience helped me out. On Sunday the 20th, we had my first carol service at Saint Martin's.
An historian can have a difficult task, when dependent solely on written sources, finding out all the factors behind the scenes which influenced a decision. David, one of the Old Boys involved by the Headmaster, suggests that the Report’s choice of Worcester was partly the result of local lobbying:
Early in the 1980s, the principle of the two schools merging was adopted. The practical decision of where the merged school should be based, however, had not been decided upon: should it be based on the Chorleywood or Worcester sites, or, should both sites be sold, and a neutral new site be found and developed?
In November, 1984, Bob Manthorp, with the help of some Old Boys of Worcester, gave a multi-media presentation on the past, present and future of Worcester College to the great and the good of the City and County.
The Mayor for the year expressed his shock at the possibility that the College would move away from the City, and expressed his resolution that he, and the City, would do all in their powers to make sure that the merged schools would remain in Worcester. And they were true to their word!
In 2002, for an exhibition linked to the centenary of the Whittington Road site, Sarah, then a Y9 student, reflected on some of the changes to the College buildings which had occurred after the merger:
The school building has changed in many ways, especially since the merger in 1987. Before the girls came to this school everything was different. There used to be a stage in the gym, where plays and concerts would be performed: the stage was removed and a drama studio was built. the drama studio is still used for lessons but plays are performed in the new extension, which also contains a new chapel and library. Before the leisure block was built, the dining-room and kitchens were where the old library was. This now has been turned into offices for the senior management team, and the principal's PA.
Now, the kitchens and dining-room are in the leisure block with the surgery and the coffee bar for the students' use. A new wing was built onto the school, including a science corridor with more than just one room. This has come in very useful! The Music, English and Humanities corridor was used for boys' dormitories, but now however there are houses. Most of the houses are purpose built.
When the decision was made to merge Chorleywood and Worcester Colleges, there was considerable discussion about where the new college should be located and its nature. Two reports were written and both came to the decision that the site in Worcester should be chosen. The Report of the Working Party led by Miss Chapman stated:
4. Members wish to record their admiration for the present schools. At both, a most impressive list of academic subjects is studied with conspicuous success in GCE examinations and in university entrance. The schools have established an academic reputation which is unequalled anywhere in the world, and an excellent range of sporting activities takes place at both schools.
5. The working party believe it important to stress that whatever arrangements are made for the future they should be such as to ensure that these high standards continue. We believe the functions of the new school should be to provide for pupils the opportunity for optimum personal, social and academic development, and enable them to realise their potential, and that it should continue to provide for those pupils capable of benefiting from it an education leading to university and equivalent higher education.
8. There is a need for an energetic special school to enable parents to express a preference for educational placement and to act as a focus for specialised curriculum development and for the development of teaching methods and materials within groups of visually handicapped pupils.
11. We believe that there is relatively little to choose between the Worcester buildings and the Chorleywood buildings, though either site would need considerable development. We did, however, form the opinion that Worcester is a preferable location. It is a lively and friendly market town in which young blind people have been naturally accepted, and it has good accessibility for all parts of the country.
There was some sadness when Chorleywood was closed. Concorde dipped in salute to the girls as it flew over the last garden party in June 1987. The last year was described in the Old Girls’ Association Newsletter of 1987:
1986 was frequently punctuated with the remarks "this will be the last time we do this", and "we won't need these any more after this" - reminding us constantly that the life of Chorleywood College as such was gradually winding down. During the year a number of staff left. After the Summer Mrs. Kirkwood and Miss Murdie began commuting between Worcester and Chorleywood, so we see much less of them.
In spite of, or probably because of the above circumstances, the spirit in school during the first half of 1986 was very positive. Both the sixth form and the fifth years (who knew they would all leave) gave a great deal to the school in leadership and initiative, and by many of them staying on to the end of the Summer term instead of leaving straight after their exams.
Of course since September with our numbers in the mid-twenties and only six full-time teachers it has seemed like a different world. Nevertheless the year as a whole has been much like any other in that we have participated in the usual sports, swimming and athletics at numerous events, sailing, tandem marathon, fun run, judo and, new to us, goalball; in various kinds of speech, drama and music, culminating in an excellent performance of "Toad"; outside activities like Red Cross, Guides, church youth clubs; in fund raising through sales and sponsorships, and in theatre outings and educational visits. The usual parties and annual events have been celebrated - much photographed and videoed for posterity! Two girls were privileged to be chosen to visit Japan and Australia respectively, while the furthest most people ventured otherwise was France.
Although the merger of Worcester and Chorleywood Colleges to become New College took place in September 1987, the first girls who were beginning GCSE and A Level courses arrived in the Autumn term 1986. Anita, who came in 1987, describes her feelings about the change:
As the merger grew closer, there was an almost 50 - 50 split in my year group in terms of those in favour and those against the idea. I most definitely belonged to the latter group. I was very comfortable in my Hertfordshire "home". During the final days at Chorleywood, many tears were shed by many of us.
Then, summer came and for me it changed everything. I had the opportunity of getting to know some of the boys from Worcester at an international goalball competition in Milton Keynes and I began to realise that things might not be as black as they appeared to be. September came and with it many novelties - new friends, a new place to live, and a new course (first year of A-levels). I don't recall those early days at Worcester being half as traumatic as I had imagined and I think that this was due to the fact that although I had left many good people and things behind at Chorleywood, I had also taken to Worcester perhaps the most important part of my life at that time - my friends. We gave each other the confidence and support needed to adapt to the new situation. The environment at Worcester also helped us along the way. It was more open and willing to embrace differences than Chorleywood; there were a wealth of new experiences to be discovered and enjoyed.
One of the most pleasing aspects of running the countdown, has been the memories a number of people have been inspired to send. Harvey, a Worcester College student of the 1950s, described the important part that rowing played in his College life:
Summer term was magical for me because it meant rowing. Every Tuesday and Thursday afternoons were spent on the river bank and out on the water in Fours, Pairs or Skullers, always with a cox, Ray Follett or Doug Folley.
The drill for getting the long boats, clinker built Fours, from their racks to the river was as follows:
Under the supervision of Ray Follett, six or so boys, some with a little sight, some with none at all, would lift the boat from its rack and swing it over our heads, keel up, and carry it out of the boathouse, across the towpath, down a flight of wooden steps cut into the river bank, and on to the landing stage. We would then move to the very edge of the landing stage and slowly and carefully lower the boat from over our heads, keel down, down onto the water, tricky because the landing stage was fixed, and the river level varied according to the rainfall in Wales! Once safely afloat, the boat would be tied to the stage, and ready for action.
The astonishing thing is that, as far as I remember, this launching drill always went without a hitch - nobody fell in the river, the boats were never dropped or damaged, and nobody tripped on the steps.
Rowing was good too: upstream under the echoing road bridge, and the rail bridge further on, downstream towards the cathedral, and the scary bit when we could hear the roar of the weir, and it was time to turn for home.
Students are travelling home for half-term so the countdown will resume again on the 1st November. Half-term breaks provide a chance for students to have a rest and spend extended time with their families. As David recalls there was no such opportunity in the 1950s:
In Mr. Bradnack's time, and mine at Worcester College, we were only allowed one visit a term. This had to be on a Sunday, from after chapel and its length was dictated by the time of trains back to wherever our visitors came from. The last London train left at around four.
In the days before Sunday trading, things to do were limited in Worcester. No cafes, so lunch would be had at almost certainly the Diglis Hotel. Nothing was open, except cinemas, and the boats offered a trip down the river. And all this in the days before everyone owned a car! So, I remember one trip down the river, one visit to the cinema, to see 'High Society', and a few pleasant lunches at the Diglis. Any change of food was welcome, however good or bad it was! One half day break from the claustrophobia of sharing a form, a dormitory, a dining table and a common-room! Or three half days in a year of thirty-nine weeks of College existence. One way of extending this was to take another boy with you, in the hope that his parents would reciprocate the kindness.
The third KS3 and KS4 boarding house is named after Peggy Markes. Miss Markes was the final headmistress of Chorleywood. Former students, Susie and Julie, provide some recollections:
Miss Markes believed that anything was possible for her girls to achieve, and would do all she could to enable a girl to study her chosen subjects if she showed interest and stickability. She would fight, too. It was only through the sheer tenacity of Miss Markes that I ever walked through the doors of Chorleywood as a pupil.
She was very clear in what she thought was right to do. I thought she did a lot of very good things, such as getting greater involvement with the community. She set up long weekends so that we could get out and meet up with our parents more regularly and for longer and there was fund-raising for a caravan on the premises so that parents could take their daughters out for two or three nights. She was a very strong champion of “her gals”. She was very proud of our achievements. I respect a lot of her achievements, but oh she used to shout.
The Gables, which was purchased by the NIB for Worcester College in 1919, and was for many years the Headmaster’s house, became Brown House at the time of the merger. G.C. Brown, headmaster from 1913 to 1938 was a key figure in the development of Worcester College. Paul, a former student of the late 1930s, described him as ‘a very approachable and friendly personality’ and the affection of former students for their old headmaster was demonstrated when they purchased the College clock in his memory. In April 1928, Brown was the subject of an article in the Beacon:
The unique and progressive School known as Worcester College for the Blind owes so much to its ‘Head’ for the last fifteen years. The College, both at work and play is now highly efficient. A good sighted standard has now been reached in study as well as rowing, chess and swimming. The College was also the pioneer of scouting for the Blind. In 1914, their band of scouts undertook a tour on which they were presented to the King by Sir Robert Baden-Powell, were received by the Lord Mayor at the Mansion House, and were entertained at the House of Commons.
Worcester College and all that belongs to it colours Mr Brown’s life so vividly that it hardly seems possible to use the words ‘hobby’ and ‘relaxation’ where he is concerned without bringing in its name. His success is due very largely to the fact that he is not an unapproachable disciplinarian, but enters wholeheartedly into the life of the pupils.
The Sixth Form House at NCW is named after Mr Fletcher, the Headmaster of Worcester College from 1969-1980. Mrs Brock, who was for many years Head of English at NCW, contributed an Obituary, but also a picture of a very different time and school, in the magazine of 1986:
My first memories of Worcester College for the Blind are inextricably linked with thoughts of Richard Fletcher. I had come to the College, one blustery November afternoon, to attend an interview for a temporary job, and, in many ways, it is thanks to Richard, that, seventeen years later, I am still here! The memories of that day are a strange collection – tea and cucumber sandwiches, a prep bell, the noises peculiar to an all-male establishment – but, over all these, the impression of twinkling eyes, a willingness to listen beyond the nervous stammerings of the newcomer, and the immediate warmth of kindness.
And that was so over all the years I knew him. He rejoiced in the successes of others, and was never afraid to face difficulties, even when he knew a decision to be right but perhaps unpopular. I never knew him to act hastily, and his patience and human understanding benefitted so many people.
After the memories of the changes in Information Technology, Silas, who is now a Computer Scientist at Cambridge, has sent his recollections:
In 1995 I arrived as a sixth-form student and noticed that partially-sighted students were able to play collaborative computer games over the network during off-hours, but that the technology was not yet advanced enough for the totally blind students to join in. So I made a text adventure game and started an adventure club, inviting other students to submit descriptions of new places for the game. I was amazed how well received this was; we ended up with over 700 place descriptions and we even had an English teacher join in the game to see what her students had written.
Meanwhile I started to see what else I could do with the computer network, trying to make it compose music and other experiments; I did make one or two mistakes that disrupted things for everybody, but it was a learning experience and I ended up doing lots of interesting networky things after I left, including helping on the World Wide Web Consortium's Web Accessibility Initiative and also working on networked computer simulations to help find treatments for cancer.
Sorry to say though that I lost the adventure game files because the disk I saved them to broke on the journey when I left in 1997. But I'd like to thank everyone who joined in; I couldn't have done it without you. Our adventure goes on.
The Sixth Form Hostel at NCW is named after Phyllis Monk, headmistress of Chorleywood from 1921 to 1944. Peter Foale, Miss Monk’s great nephew, has loaned NCW some of her diaries and her MBE for the 150th celebrations, and provides his recollections:
Phyllis Monk – or Great Aunt Phyllis as she was known to us – was a part of my life from my earliest memories until she died when I was aged 16. As children, we knew that she had done some remarkable things in her life. Her school prizes – lots of them – sat on our book shelves at home. We knew that she had gone to Cambridge University but had to go to Dublin to get her degree. Most importantly, we knew that she had been the first Head of Chorleywood, which was a ground-breaking school in so many ways.
I have clear memories of visiting her in the 1960s at the home she retired to in Jordans in Buckinghamshire: an elderly, dignified and rather serious woman but still with a twinkle in her eye and a great line in afternoon tea for her great nephews.
It’s only as I have got older that I have really come to understand what she achieved and I count myself very lucky to have known her.
Bradnack House also contains students from Key Stages 3 and 4. Brian Bradnack was headmaster of Worcester College from 1938 for twenty-one years. He was appointed to sort out the finances after the difficulties of the 1930s and he brought a new discipline to the College. Mr Bradnack was described in obituaries in the New Beacon by JW and PQ, two former students (the chapel at the time was a separate one-storey building):
Not long after taking up office, Bradnack was faced with the difficulties resulting from the outbreak of the Second World War. Some staff were conscripted, and gradually food rationing and other shortages hit the school. Bradnack rose to the occasion, taking classes himself, supervising emergency food supplies, and encouraging the boys to take part in what he called the U.S.A. (Useful Services Association). I well remember taking part in an exciting scramble over the chapel roof, where U.S.A. had been called upon to do some creosoting.
From his pupils he received respect rather than admiration. He was receptive to innovation, and not hamstrung by tradition.
He did not court personal popularity. He set himself to weld the school, which comprised boys of exceptionally diverse backgrounds and capabilities, into a healthy and well-disciplined community where all might hope to thrive. His undoubted success was due partly to his unusually virile manner and word of command but also to his selfless devotion to duty.
The residential houses are named after some of the former heads of Worcester and Chorleywood Colleges. Dorothy McHugh House has students from Key Stages 3 and 4. Miss McHugh was headmistress of Chorleywood from 1945 to 1968. She is described by Barbara, a former student from 1942 to 1951:
Miss McHugh taught Science to many of the classes. She was Irish and, although she spoke with an accent, she spoke well. She introduced a system of prefects and sub-prefects. Prefects were from the Sixth form. Members of the school nominated the prefects. They took prep with the Third and Fourth forms. They would also be at the ends of the meal tables to keep order.
Miss McHugh was very keen on every girl being able to perform. During Lent the school was divided into 4 or 5 groups. The groups had to do a Saturday evening concert. This would include sole items such as a piece of poetry, a story or a piano piece, or a vocal duet. Miss McHugh did not like girls to sing on their own as she felt this made them big-headed. Teachers would check the items before performance.
Miss McHugh was considered very democratic as she would even go and help cleaning shoes. Nothing was beneath her. She would read books to older girls for an hour in the evening.
NCW students all have individual Mobility training. Edward recalls his lessons in the 1990s:
Mobility training was much more formalised by the time I went to Worcester in 1992. By and large, mobility was taught one to one, and proceeded at the pace of the student. There were various routes that were taught, including the nearest petrol station (for the shop presumably), Kilbury, Sebright and Worcester itself. The rule was that you couldn't go to any of these places by yourself until you were deemed to have passed the route, though you could go with someone who had passed.
The practice of getting taxis wasn't particularly widespread when I was there. I was there before the introduction of free bus travel, but we did get a bus pass meaning that travel into town was heavily discounted. The only time I can recall getting taxis was in the sixth form, either on the way to a night out if there were several of us and the buses were unreliable, or on the way back.
David recalls how he was encouraged to develop Mobility skills:
Until at least 1959, walks were compulsory at Worcester, six days a week! The only day we didn't have to leave the building for three quarters of an hour was Saturday. On Sundays, the walk was after Church, from noon.
In summer and autumn terms the walk was after school, from four pm but in the Easter term it was after lunch: two pm, and back for afternoon school. The main entrance of the school was guarded by the prefect on duty, whose task was to ensure that no one got back into the building before the end of the walk. In the summer, swimming could be an alternative to the walk.
We most certainly didn't carry white sticks, and the only clue to local citizens was the caps we had to wear except if we stayed the Whittington side of Spetchley Road. Most of us would try to team up with someone with sight, but often this was not possible.
The options for these walks were very limited: if you wanted sweets you had to go to Whittington, Sebright, or even Worcester. Otherwise, you wandered round Walkers Lane, down Redhill, usually to watch the trains, or along Spetchley Road. The first rule in our Rule Book was: "No eating or drinking out of bottles in the street!"
Changes in the approach to Mobility is a very rich vein of memories. Formal training only began in the 1960s. Judy recalls going out of Chorleywood in the late 1940s:
We walked for miles and there were many really lovely walks. We predated the using of long canes or any formal mobility training. Looking back, I'm amazed at the responsibility that the partially sighted girls were given. I don't think it occurred to us at the time though.
Of course, there wasn't a great deal of traffic because petrol was probably still rationed. However, we took it for granted that our partially sighted partners would get us on and off the correct bus and that we'd arrive back in one piece.
A feature of NCW often remarked upon by visitors is the large wooden maps around the corridors. These are useful as an aid for Mobility, as well as being of great use to aid learning. The Worcester College magazine of Spring 1986 commented on their introduction (although the concerns about changes haven’t been realised because the map of Europe is near to the History department and is used to show developments during the Cold War):
Mr Greer has produced six different maps, covering the counties of the British Isles, Africa, South East Asia, North and South America, Europe and the World. They are made from varnished wood with a distinct gap between the component parts to facilitate the location of boundaries by the blind, and have both Braille and sighted labels. There are two possible snags Mr Greer has to face now: first, what happens if there is a war resulting in the moving of national boundaries (quite possible) or even county boundaries (less likely, admittedly). Secondly, there have been several instances already of pupils mistaking one of the new maps for that of the College made by Mr Greer several years ago, This quite naturally results in perplexed questions at the staff room door – since when has the senior bootroom been part of Indo-China, and who told the Russians they could move into the Currey Garden?
This weekend’s activities include a water-skiing weekend and a day canoeing. As described in the Autumn/Winter Newsletter of 2012-13, some students were taking the opportunity to learn Bush Craft:
Bush Craft is a new activity that has been introduced at the College this term by Matt Mandrell, a Forest School Practitioner and a new member of the Activities team. Students have been in the woods to learn about nature and practical skills such as sawing fire wood, making shelters and camp-fire cooking. They have also been enjoying relaxing in hammocks, learning to identify flora and fauna, making art out of natural materials and eating tasty meals they have helped prepare. The Bush Craft activities have helped the students in building confidence and self-esteem through setting achievable tasks and encouraged social interaction through various fun and engaging games. Matt has had a great time getting to know the students and of course helping out eating the forest banquets!
Weekends are now free time for the students. They can go home or take part in a range of activities which are organised. The students of both Worcester and Chorleywood Colleges had Saturday morning lessons, as Miss Boreham, a former member of staff at Chorleywood, recalls:
Saturday Morning School was from 9am to 1pm and involved living skills and music besides academic lessons. To compensate for Saturday lessons, Wednesday afternoons were broadly extra-curricular activities but could also include visits to the dentist or buying new shoes.
Care Staff slept in school as did the Headteacher or member of staff deputising for her. Teaching staff did weekend duties twice a year following Saturday morning School. The duty ran from after lunch on Saturday until 11pm on Sunday and the Teacher would have to sleep in school (often in Sick Bay) during that time.
Wendy also remembers some aspects of the Chorleywood uniform requirements of the late 1950s less than fondly:
The uniform was all brown on top, and for many years after leaving school I would refuse to buy any clothes which were brown. The tunics were Harris tweed, as were the heavy overcoats. I had a beret but never wore it, as there were velour hats for the winter and panamas for the summer. I'm sure half the uniform was unnecessary, but apparently the laundry took three weeks to turn round, hence the numbers of items needed.
We had two pairs of lace up walking shoes and a pair of house shoes, which I think had a strap and buckle. I seem to remember that we had to have 24 small handkerchiefs and 6 larger ones for the winter colds. Also, six white pairs of knickers for the summer, and six pairs of brown knickers for the winter. At least I missed the dreadful lisle stockings worn by older girls in my time. In my day once we had got through the junior forms wearing the sort of socks men might wear for football; we were allowed to wear 60 denier stockings in our senior years.
We also had very short tunics for gym which only came down to the tops of our thighs. Then there were overalls for science which got holes in them from the acid we used in the lab. I remember the gingham summer dresses, and again I would never buy any gingham clothes after leaving school.
Uniform is a topic which creates interesting discussion amongst former students of any school. David remembers the Worcester College requirements of the 1950s:
At Worcester, the uniform regulations were no other clothes than blazer and flannels, and two suits. Our everyday suit was worn one week, and the blazer and flannels the next. On Sundays, we had to put on our Sunday suit, which could only be worn in addition to Sundays for dances. Ties had to be worn all the time. Very rarely, in the hottest summers, we were permitted to take off our jackets and ties, but only if the staff gave permission. Memory 63
At NCW, Geography is taught to GCSE and Advanced Level. Much of the pioneering work in making advanced study accessible for students with a visual impairment was done by Geography teachers at Worcester and Chorleywood in the 1970s and 1980s. Jenni Rolls was head of Geography at Worcester, and then New College, from the 1970s into the 1990s. In the RNIB Curriculum Close-Up of 1999, Miss Rolls described methods of making field trips accessible:
Difficulties in access to maps may be overcome if the map is broken down into component parts. A series of overlays can then be used to gradually rebuild the map. A base map may only show simple contouring and rivers, and acetate overlays may add the features relevant to the study topic. A similar approach with tactile maps can be used, bearing in mind that the size of the map should not exceed a handspan.
Use of real objects such as rocks and soil can be beneficial. Also models of landscapes can be made from sand, clay, Plasticine etc and can help the understanding of scale.
Use of photos can help partially sighted pupils to understand scale and particular features, if the photos are clear and include a known object such as a person for scale reference.
In his autobiography, ‘See It My Way’, Peter White recalled Mr Herbert Clarke the Deputy Headmaster, who taught Science as well as Geography:
Oddly, the two masters for whom I had most respect and affection at Worcester both taught Science, a subject at which I was a total liability. Indeed, as Nobby Clarke said when he caught me blowing bubbles in a bottle of acid, "I'd rather have a barrel load of monkeys in my lab than you." (On another occasion it was a sack full of rabbits, but the implication was the same.) In my first year in his brand new laboratory, opened as part of a whole new wing on my first weekend at the College, I also succeeded in singeing my hair with a Bunsen burner - several times - reducing a pair of weighing scales to a pile of unrecognisable screws and rods and leaning on two gas taps, almost sending Class 4C into a toxic coma. Despite this, Nobby Clarke and I got on rather well. Despite his abrupt manner - something I was well used to from my father - he was a kindly, caring man with an eccentric sense of humour which sometimes passed us by.
Christine Cousins, a Biology teacher at Chorleywood, discussed the use of Fieldwork at a Curriculum Conference held at Worcester College in 1978:
This is the most exciting part of Biology, and should provide lasting memories. At Chorleywood, it is assumed that we will attempt anything that sighted people do.
The most important thing is to select your area carefully, and then to prepare your course extremely thoroughly: you must be certain that at the time you arrive, the tide will be right out, and that there will be so many fossils that you can’t walk between them.
Projects range from the grand ones, including rock surveying and construction of belt and line transects, to quadrat method (tie the quadrats to the pupils before they start to throw them), analysis of rock pool fauna, use of the dichotomous key and so, ending with simple ‘obvious’ things like the frequency of waves, tide changes, the nature of groynes, direction of flow of a stream. And when someone walks over the side of the bridge into the stream, we just turn this into an experiment!
Worcester College played a key role in advancing the delivery of Mathematics to students with a visual impairment. Reg Bonham, a former student of WCB and Oxford mathematics graduate, taught students to Ordinary and Advanced Levels. He was a major contributor on the Committee which produced the Braille Mathematics code in 1954. This allowed the analytical side of Mathematics to be handled by blind pupils and led to the production of textbooks in all the main areas of Mathematics, including Advanced Algebra, Geometry and Trigonometry. At a time before the development of drawing film (again you can see this in action on the NCW ‘How to’ videos), Mr Bonham improvised to help with the creation of geometrical diagrams; this device was not adopted generally but was reported to have produced ‘tolerably accurate diagrams’. Mark described its basic nature:
It was in the image of its creator, rugged and functional. What looked like a length of hacksaw was set teeth upwards in a board, you placed your braille paper over it and ran a rubber roller over the top to produce raised dotted lines for diagram-making. I think there was some bent hacksaw for curves as well.
Miss Phyllis Monk, the first headmistress of Chorleywood, was a Science teacher. In ‘Though Land be Out of Sight’, she described some of the adaptations made in the inter-war years (to find out about how staff and students make diagrams, light a bunsen burner and use a light probe today, see the ‘How to’ videos on the NCW You Tube Channel):
In simple experiments there would be several groups at work, but in chemistry, as for instance when studying the composition of water, when hydrogen was passed over heated copper oxide, the class shared the work of putting through the apparatus for a single experiment, and it was carried through with the sense of touch, hearing, smell and sight all employed. Plant physiology experiments were carried through as teamwork by the girls. We had many of the bones of a skeleton and a few models – ear, eye, throat.
Reproductions of my simple section diagrams, made with a spur wheel, for re-calling the chemistry and plant physiology experiments, were made by a volunteer, who wrote that he used an old sewing machine for the purpose.
Science Club has restarted today. Worcester, Chorleywood and New College have all played a pioneering role in promoting the teaching of Science to students with a visual impairment. For the 1995 magazine, Saqib conducted interviews with Mrs Betts and students about the activities of Science Club:
‘Lately we’ve been designing different types of alarms. We’ve made fire, flood and burglar alarms. Other experiments have included trying to get an egg into a jar with a circumference small than the jar, making a gadget to time exactly two minutes and how to make a car safe in a crash.’
‘Sebby, what would you say was your favourite and most successful experiment?’
Well, it was when we had to make a machine to make a balloon burst. I wired up an electrical circuit and attached it to a thin piece of nichrome. The metal got very hot. When we touched the metal to the balloon it burst.’
‘And what about you Andrew?’
‘My best experiment was my electricity-free flood alarm. I had a float on the top of the water. The float had a pin attached to it. The float had a pin attached to it. There was a balloon dangling above the water. When the water rose to a certain level, the balloon would burst.’ Memory 69
NCW students have taken the opportunity to challenge themselves. In October 2011 students from NCW teamed up with students from the King’s School, Worcester to go on an adventure of a lifetime to Morocco. The trip was described in the College Newsletter:
The students spent ten days trekking through remote villages, climbing steep rugged mountains, camping in hidden valleys and riding camels along the spectacular Atlantic coast line.
The group landed in Marrakech to be greeted with the every day hustle and bustle of Moroccan life and stayed the first night in a hotel hidden away down an alley in the heart of the city. The next day involved a long mini bus drive through the Atlas Mountains on narrow winding roads with spectacular views, stopping at a roadside restaurant for lunch.
The group then trekked through the anti Atlas region for five days, camping each night, waking to the sounds of mules braying and the camp cooks preparing breakfast. The high point of the mountain trek was reaching the summit of Guillez at 2900m above sea level. It was hard going, very steep and unstable at times but every one persevered and eventually reached the summit for the all important summit photo and a rendition of happy birthday for one of the group.
One former Worcester tradition, that NCW today, and any other school in the country, would not be able to follow, was part of their celebration of Founder's Day. On 29th May each year, all students would be given a packed lunch, some money, and told to go wherever they wished. Venues chosen, and initiatives shown were many and varied, as Richard Fletcher, the Headmaster of the time, revealed in his letter to the Old Boys' Journal for 1968:
A group of our small boys on Founder's Day showed courage and initiative by taking buses to Birmingham and the Warwickshire Cricket Ground, where they found their way to the Members' Pavilion and received a running commentary on the game from the Australian players. My first knowledge of this undertaking came when I received a letter from the Australian Manager, commending the good manners of the College boys and asking my permission for them to receive six Privilege Tickets for a forthcoming Test Match. Headmasters are noted for being inverted Micawbers, always waiting for something to turn down, but in that case I felt bound to say yes.