24th June 2017. Although not technically a family day out, this is worthy of a mention, plus June was a very quiet month despite it being the hottest on record to date. Some 30 years ago my school life ended, as it does for all of us at some point in time. My senior school was a place called Bloxham School, located in the picturesque Oxfordshire village of Bloxham, which lies on the outskirts of the Cotswolds. Every year, they hold an open day called Founderstide. This is a day for pupils past and present, and their families, to get together and have a look at the school and all its departments. There is a church service, prize giving for the best students (of which I never partook for some reason!), displays, sports events and a bit of food and drink. It is then rounded off by a grand ball in the evening.
Over the years I have popped back on the odd occasion. It is always a bitter-sweet experience, as life in a British boarding school is not all Harry Potter-esque fun and japes, despite my kids nicknaming the place ‘Hogwarts’. There were dark days there for almost everyone at one point in time or another, but age, and a mortgage, puts school life into perspective, and you tend to rose tint the past, filtering out all the bad bits. Although you spend a relatively small amount of time at school (in this case, I was there for 5 years), it seems to leave an indelible mark on your psyche.
Seeing the place evolve over the years is interesting. Best summed up by the phrase ‘Everything changes, but it all stays the same’. The growth of the School has been very subtle, with new buildings sneaking in unnoticed, and old ones disappearing back into the village, or repurposed for other school duties. For those who have not been back since leaving, they would still be able to navigate the place, only hitting the odd dead end, or brick wall where once there were none.
The route to get there had not changed (Lutterworth, Rugby, Dunchurch, Southam, Banbury). Neither had the mode of transport – my father’s car (the TD4 Freelander this time, and not a 1980’s Audi 100 filled with cigar smoke). As soon as you hit Banbury, you can smell the food factory nearby. Still not sure what they make but it is a heavy sweet smell almost like coffee baking. There were some days in the 80’s when this smell gave me butterflies, and anxiety. In an almost Stockholm Syndrome way, it now signals an imminent sense of nostalgia.
Once in the village there is a diversion away from the main car park, to the playing fields, which serve as a temporary car park during Founderstide. I arrived in the clonky old Land Rover just as the prize giving had taken place. It has moved from a modest marquee on the Headmasters Lawn to a massive marquee on the uppermost playing field. My car drew, what I imagine were, some admiring glances from the array of Range Rover owners who walked past it on the way back to the school. I joined the throng and headed straight for a look at my old house.
The school (still) has 6 boarding houses. Mine was called Raymond House and was opened by Margaret Thatcher in the early 1970’s when she was Minister for Education. It is possibly the most ill-fitting of all the buildings in the school, being a 3 storey rectangular box, with a small house clamped at a right angle to the far end of the building. Bar new windows, and a new name plaque it has not changed a bit externally in almost 4 decades. I did not look inside, as it has now become a house for girls only in the aftermath of the school becoming fully Co-ed at the end of the 1990’s. The quad, the rectangle of tarmac outside the house, was full of cars but used to be full of life. I remember sitting out there, reading Stephen King, listening to ‘Born In The USA’ by Springsteen and being all that was the 80’s.
I moved around from there to the Science Block. I almost got expelled due to an incident early in my school career in this building, but that is a story for another time. It has not changed a bit. I think some of the desks have been replaced, and a couple of rooms have been chopped in half but again, very recognisable to all who have been though it over the last however many years. The buildings outside have changed a bit though. As you look at the front of the building, it is now flanked to its left by the Technology Centre, a very modern piece of architecture, housing computers and design stuff. In front of the science block used to be the Squash Courts, Five Courts and an antique Gym. These have been replaced by a Music School, built into what was the old gym. Beyond that, sandwiched in between the Music School and the Great Hall is the ultra-modern Vallance library, named after the headmaster of my era.
I walked up past these buildings to the Great Hall itself. This was really the heart of the school both now and then. It has the English block at the far end and the language block at the front end. In the middle is a large, obviously, hall. This is where all school assemblies took place, along with plays, prize giving, talks, and even movies thanks to a cinema screen that lowered down across the stage. I explored either end of this building, as the hall itself was being prepared for further activities. Once again, nothing has changed, and in one classroom, even the desks were from my era. I did notice all the plastic chairs had been replaced by ones with cushioned seats and backs. The youth of today clearly softer than the youth of yesteryear.
There were many areas I had missed, and I may go back again one day, but I was pressed for time, so rounded off my visit to the main school campus by wandering through the main school building which is home to the Chapel, dining room and a small library among other things. This has changed quite a bit, with the old staff room being replaced by catering equipment to service the new and rather large refectory area. The Chapel itself has not changed, and I think any pupil from any past era would agree, going right back to the start of the school around 1860. Whilst it is a delightful bit of architecture, it was a place I tried to desperately avoid whilst there as a pupil. We had to use it at least 3 times a week – house chapel, school chapel and your year chapel. I feel that all those years spent gorging on God were enough to last a lifetime…
The main school is also now adorned with CCTV cameras, which makes sneaking out under cover of darkness for a crafty cigarette virtually impossible. WIth this type of security it makes me wander how the odd rebellious student is able to rock the boat these days! I am sure they have new and different things to do that would upset the system.
I ended my walk down memory lane by walking up Workhouse Lane. The name arose from an actual Workhouse situated on the lane, which was, in my day, owned by the school and converted into a small theatre for plays not grand enough to be performed in the Great Hall. I am not sure of the buildings purpose now, but it looked dishevelled and unloved. Its use seemed to have been consigned to the history books.
Back on the playing fields, I fired up the car and hooked my iPhone up to the Bluetooth cassette in the cars old tape player (things of science fiction 30 years ago), firing up ‘Misplaced Childhood’ by Marillion as I once again bade farewell to a place I will never truly leave behind.
Total mileage: 72.5 miles