New College Worcester (NCW), Whittington Road, Worcester, WR5 2JX
Share some memories of former NCW students and staff here, as we count down to 16th December 2016, when we end our celebratory year in style with a concert at Worcester Cathedral.
Today is the end of the Countdown and the Celebratory Christmas concert. Thank you for the positive feedback we have had on the Countdown, and, of course, thanks to current and former staff and students without whom there would have been no memories. Our final memory comes from Mrs Mardy Smith, who is retiring after 14 years as our Principal:
I have so many memories of my 27 years at the College, I found it very difficult to choose one. So I decided I would think back to my memories of my very first week of employment at the College, in September 1989, when I arrived to be Head of Economics and Politics. Susan Boreham met me on the first day and made me feel very welcome, explaining what the programme and routines were for the day. Four new teachers joined NCW on the same day, the others being Maggie Verdeyen/Harrison, Trish Smith and Frances Betts, and we felt some fellowship being on a steep learning curve together! Gerald Gunton worked in my department and I found him to the most kind and courteous colleague I could have hoped for.
My teaching room at that time was Room 38 and I can still remember the students I taught in my first week, too many to name, and together they allayed many of my concerns about teaching visually impaired students for the first time. I have always appreciated the humour of our students and there were many examples that first week or so, not least when I made memorable clangers about issues related to visual impairment! I remember dodging Perkins braillers as the students carried them from lesson to lesson, being shown where the small number of BBC Micros (computers) were and being issued with a 5.25 inch floppy disk!
Little did I think I would still be at the College 27 years later, but I would not have had it any other way!
Students are enjoying end of Autumn term events, including staff/student football matches and the College Christmas dinner. Also, the Choir and other performers are busy preparing seasonal music for tomorrow’s concert. The Christmas concert has been an important part of the history of Worcester, Chorleywood and New Colleges Anne and Eileen recalled Chorleywood carol concerts from the 1950s and Trish and Julie remembered the 1960s and 1970s:
Christmas in the fifties was a much more low key affair than it is now. The nation was still recovering from the war and, although we weren't hungry, there wasn't an abundance of food. This was very much reflected at Chorleywood. What we remembered about Christmas at school is mainly music. They practised and sang carols for weeks in readiness for the Carol Service which was held in what was then the hall. A few people from the neighbourhood were invited and how we all squashed into that small space is beyond me. The one thing we do remember very clearly is the party given by the Rickmansworth Firemen. It was brilliant. We all went to the Fire Station and they entertained us and then we sang, "All in the April Evening" which reduced the hulks of men to quivering heaps.
By the late 1960s, we still spent weeks practising carols, especially as in some years we had a carol concert, to which parents were invited, in addition to the more private carol service. We walked in procession down the oak stairs, across the entrance hall, through the library into the winter garden and coming through into the back of the hall for the carol service? What a performance!
Miss McHugh loved carols, and in the Christmas term before she retired, we started singing carols in our morning prayers from early November. No firemen’s parties for us, though sometimes the choir did have a trip to Ford’s at Dagenham, where our carols were relayed all through the factory. We were rewarded with a very good lunch, and usually were each given a box of chocolates or other small gift.
The CDs with extracts from the Oral History interviews have been delivered today, ready for Friday. At the end of the Oral History Project, students interviewed each other. Amy and Ellie told Matthew what they liked about NCW today:
The best thing is that it is like a community. It is like a family. If you are in the corridor and don’t look happy, someone you are guaranteed will say ‘How are you’. It is really caring. As students we really respect that we all have similar problems and we really support one another, which I think is a really nice thing to have. And there are lots of teachers you can to talk to if you are having a bad day. In the morning it is cheery. I think it is such a positive and happy place. It is nice to come into a positive learning place.
At the end of his Oral History interview, Adrian reflected on his time at Worcester College in the late 1950s:
It was excellent. I enjoyed it very much. I was pleased I had the opportunity of being here, because it so easily could not have happened. I had a better academic education than I would have got anywhere else. I developed a sort of spirit that if I wanted to do anything enough I could find a way of doing it. I was reasonable about it as well: I obviously wasn’t going to be an airline pilot or something like that. But if there was something I really wanted to do, I could probably do it, and I went on and did so.
During her oral history interview, Julie reflected on what she gained from her time at Chorleywood:
The thing that has shaped me the most has been learning how to make friends and relate to people, which happened there very much. Also what came through my parents, and was fostered by both my schools, was having high expectations of myself and not seeing limits. Seeing only opportunities – to have a go and try to find a way to do it, and not, ‘oh dear I can’t do that because I’m blind, it’s too difficult.’ Chorleywood did foster that sense of not feeling limited. We always assumed we would get jobs, husbands, houses and do stuff. That is what we thought would be the norm. We didn’t think in terms of this might be difficult. Sometimes it was difficult, but it wasn’t the first thing we thought of. This is what has shaped me because I’ve always wanted to have a go at things. It is better to have tried and failed than not to have tried at all.
Our new students will be reflecting this week on the end of their first term at NCW. In the early 1960s, Richard reflected on his first term at Worcester College:
I came to Worcester on 7th May 1913. This was the second term of Mr. G.C. Brown's headmastership. With his characteristic courage and determination, he was destined to build a great school. I was the tenth boy only, but in spite of the small numbers, Mr. Brown shaped with us the beginnings of a range of activities.
My first term, for instance, saw the foundation of our first Troop of Scouts; in the following term, as two or three more boys came along, we formed a second Patrol, and the highlight of our Scouting career occurred when we went to London, eight strong, to act as guard of honour for King George V at the opening of the Headquarters of the R.N.I.B. We were inspected by His Majesty and by the Chief Scout after the opening ceremony.
This was on 19th March, 1914. We used to think we were the first blind Scouts and it would be interesting to know if this is really so.
Mr. Brown was a very enthusiastic swimmer and a very able life-saver, and the beginning of this successful College activity dates from the day on which he took Wilkinson and myself to the City Baths, about a three mile walk, for what proved to be the first of a series of almost weekly visits.
On Saturday evenings during my first summer term we were encouraged to practise athletic sports on the lawn, and produced quite a reputable sports afternoon during Speech Week.
To me, this first term at Worcester was most enjoyable, especially after the severities of my first school. The human kindness, the family life and the deep sense of relaxation at Worcester, compared with the rigours of that other school, have remained a happy memory throughout my life.
In 2005-6, the History and Drama departments, with outside students from LOOK, were involved in the 'Prisoner 4099' project with the National Archives. Students visited the archives in Kew and then studied the documents relating to the family and imprisonment of William Towers, a Victorian child prisoner; he was in prison for stealing two pet rabbits. As the National Archives website describes, the work culminated in the production of a dramatisation, which can be still heard at http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/education/prisoner4099/listen-to-the-play/default.htm
The performance took place on a Saturday in May at New College Worcester. The play was to be a ‘rehearsed improvisation’. This meant there were to be no scripts; the students would have to create and then remember their parts! Everyone was nervous and excited and we spent the morning practising.
Lights... Sound... ACTION!
We staged the performance in the afternoon. The actors and musician played their parts with great enthusiasm, some of them wearing Victorian costumes. All the LOOK journalists had press hats and carried homemade microphones!
The play was recorded and edited by the team at Youthcomm Radio, a Worcester-based radio and online service run for young people, with the help of Worcestershire County Council. The atmosphere was fun but the young people were also determined to do justice to the play and to the characters they had created.
After the final scene was recorded, there was a huge outbreak of applause and shouts of joy! Everyone was really excited about what had been achieved. We celebrated with tea and cake and were very grateful that we didn’t have to go to prison, wear Victorian costumes or have bread and water for dinner!
As the newsletter of 2013 describes, New College students have collaborated with a local theatre company:
Students came together to perform an adaptation of 'Midsummer Night's Dream', the Shakespearean comedy which follows two sets of young lovers as they make their way through a magical wood of fairies and sprites.
36 students were involved in two productions: the play itself and a devised piece which was created by the young people of the college with local theatre company, Perfect Circle.
The Drama studio was transformed into the world of a film set with director's chairs and clapperboards whilst the characters were dressed in 1930s costumes, black and white, with the fairies representing the colour in their purple costumes. Music by Glenn Miller was used to the set the scenes and in the interval the audience were treated to a performance by NCW's jazz band.
It was fantastic to hear our young people working so beautifully with Shakespeare's lines and making them sound so natural. The audience's response to both plays was genuine delight - Shakespeare is definitely thriving at NCW.
In 1952, Chorleywood and Worcester College students took part in a film called 'Pathway Into Light', which had a commentary provided by the actor Jack Hawkins. John describes his involvement:
While I was at Worcester RNIB sent a crew down to make a publicity film and they wanted some activity in the gym. I was singled out for this and I had to kick a football at Ray Follett, who was in goal, i.e. the window ladders at the end of the gym. Ray rolled the ball out and I promptly belted it back at him. The cameraman said this would not do and insisted that I bent down to feel the ball with my hand before kicking it. I tried to explain that this was not what we did, but was silenced and told that if I kicked the ball without touching it people would not believe I could not see. Much to my shame I capitulated and did what I was told.
Another occasion when students were able to be part of an artistic collaboration came in 2012. The NCW choir sang ‘Raise the Sky’ at the Olympic Torch Relay celebration and a group of students assisted the lyricist when he was considering Sir Edward Elgar and looking for ideas. Chris Baldwin, the lyricist, described what happened in the Souvenir Programme:
When I had the pleasure of working with the young people from New College, I discovered that they had much in common with the composer. One young woman could identify trees from the call of the birds roosting in them. Another young man knew the kind of building he was approaching by the nature of the echo it produced.
So a group of students from New College Worcester, their tutors and myself planned a journey of our own. We visited Elgar’s Worcester and Worcestershire. And we also visited the Worcester that these young people know and love – experiencing it from the perspective of those more interested in ‘fixing the sounds’ than most of us. And from this journey a series of themes and songs emerged which now form this song cycle. We have created a celebration of Worcester and Worcestershire through an imagined conversation between the late Elgar and contemporary blind and partially sighted young people.
In 1959, the Chorleywood Choir produced a 45 RPM extended play record called ‘The First Christmas’ which was issued in the HMV Junior Record Club series. As the record sleeve describes:
Christmas is inevitably linked with carols and many of the most popular of them are sung on this record by the Chorleywood College Blind Children’s Choir. They form the musical background against which the story of the shepherds watching their flocks by might, of the three kings from the East following the star to Bethlehem, of the child Jesus in the manger, is told by Dame Edith Evans, one of Britain’s best loved and distinguished actresses.
The tradition of a students’ informal Christmas concert was continued at NCW, as recalled in the magazine of 2000 by Mrs Campbell:
A range of dedicated students shared their wonderful talents in an evening packed with songs, jokes, music, sketches and poems. During the course of the evening, our funny bones were tickled by Charlotte with an amusing rendition of a monologue about Anne Boleyn’s Ghost. Philip performed a selection of very funny limericks, while a selection of Y11 students performed a satirical sketch, written by themselves. All the singers entertained us with a wide range of music, from the latest chart lists to enduring classics. Students also played keyboards, the piano and the accordion.
On a more sober note, students performed a short Drama piece about the plight of the homeless. This piece lent itself well to the evening, as the concert this year raised money for the homeless charity SHELTER.
Another Chorleywood Christmas tradition was recalled by Trish when she was interviewed as part of our Oral History Project, supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund.
The Sixth Form would get up early on the last day of term and walk around the main building singing carols. Each dormitory would have submitted a choice of carol and the members of staff did too. And so they would sing that particular carol up at the windows; coming from outside it just sounded beautiful. We used to wait for the carols coming. You could hear the carols coming from around the other side of the building. When we were younger, we used to follow it round. We used go into other people’s dorms to listen to their carols. I took part twice. One morning it was a real winter’s morning and by the time we had finished we were absolutely frozen, but it was good fun. Some of the dorms would throw bags of sweets down after you had sung the carol.
The Sixth form also went out on two evenings during the last week, round the village to sing carols to the friends of the school, like the local vicar or some of the cleaners who lived locally. They weren’t expecting us. Then there was one lady who had been a housekeeper at the school and she was expecting us. We always made that the last port of call and she would invite us all in and she would be ready with hot mince pies and hot drinks. We used to spend the rest of the evening with her and sing the occasional carol; and that was really good.
The NCW Boarding Houses organise their own Christmas events, alongside those held during the school day. As the magazine of 1996 shows, the choice for a meal has varied considerably:
Bradnack’s pre-Christmas meal was on Friday 1st December at Perdiswell. The food was very good, and the boys certainly enjoyed dancing to the band with the ladies they met there. After the excellent Bradnack Christmas meal on 11th December, we all had a good sing-song around the camp fire in the lounge. On Friday 1st December, Fletcher House held a Summer party to remind people the Winter would not last forever. Some guests unearthed their shorts and T-shirts to add to the summery theme. A barbecue provided refreshments. A visit to ‘Summer Father Christmas’ in his grotto proved to be a tempting attraction! The proceeds from the evening went to Acorn’s Children’s Hospice.
This year the Dorothy McHugh house Christmas dinner was held at a pub in Hallow. It was a very good evening with lots of food, and everybody agreed it was a great success.
David describes some of the Worcester traditions of the 1950s (the boys were divided into Malvern and Stratford Houses):
Each House, would have its own separate party, and even here, there was competition as to whose party was better. These parties involved all sorts of party games, but most importantly there was the chance of a more interesting supper than had been available earlier in the term.
The Stratford House party invariably enabled Ray Follett (Assistant Housemaster) to entertain. Invariably, he sang in his wheezy tenor voice, "A Policeman's Lot Is Not an 'Appy One”.
The Christmas dinner was held on the last Sunday of term, and was the only occasion on which chicken would be served for the whole year. It was followed by Christmas pudding, and it would be probably the only meal that would be appreciated by all.
The Christmas Variety was a concert put on, and organised, by the students. Staff were invited, and some actually came. There were some parts which were expected: the College Band, the skiffle group (that I led), the more musical playing the piano, some other instruments, but most importantly, was the song, which was especially written each year, to satirise staff, students and happenings. This was sung to the tune of "Much Binding In The marsh".
Here's a verse from circa 1955, inspired by a flu epidemic:
‘At Worcester College for the Blind
We're getting very close to Armageddon!
At Worcester College for the Blind
It's hard to tell a live one from a dead 'un!
The sickroom's full of people with the fever or the flu,
They say that Brad has made his will and fled to Timbuktu.
I'd book in at the nearest B and B if I were you
At Worcester College for the Blind.’
With the end of term and Cathedral concert approaching, the students are looking forward to Christmas. The girls at Chorleywood have fond memories of their Christmas traditions, although Susan, a student from the 1970s, remembers her worry of one year:
I dreaded the day before the October half term when, as we filed out of assembly, we each took a piece of paper from a drum. The paper bore the name of the person for whom we had to make a "tree present", to be given out at the Christmas party. These were to be made rather than bought, they weren't supposed to cost much and food (though plentiful) was discouraged.
One year my worst nightmare happened - I was to make something for our headmistress. Nobody wanted to swap. What did she get? A spring bonnet pin-cushion made out of a paper plate turned upside down, a round bath sponge, a bit of an old dress and some different coloured pins and a spray of artificial flowers. Miss Markes found out who made it and thanked me.
In the late 1930s, the boys of Worcester College were joined by Hans, a Jewish German refugee. In 1939, his mother, although sadly not his father, was able to escape the Nazi Holocaust, by coming to Britain:
I entered Worcester College in May 1938 aged 15 and went back to my parental home for the Summer holidays with Reg Dowell, one of the teachers at the time who stayed with us. The following term witnessed the events of "Kristallnacht" on the 9th of November. After that my parents wrote to say that I should not return "home" for the Christmas holidays because of the worsening conditions for Jewish people. Our headmaster at the time, B.O. Bradnack, appealed in the chapel for someone to take me in for the holidays.
The first one to respond, I remember clearly, was the son of a Welsh miner. The final choice fell on Alan whose father was a butcher in Leicester. There I was well fed and learned to sing "underneath the spreading Christmas tree" and to kiss females under the mistletoe. The Easter 1939 holidays I spent with Jim and his family in Guildford.