Memory Bank

Martin Heffron Reflects On His Time At Princethorpe

My time at Princethorpe was from 1973 until 1980. I was lucky enough to attend Princethorpe in the good old days when (as boarders) we roamed far and wide around the buildings and grounds.

The stability of boarding school was an important discipline for me, because my family moved around a lot and I had been to five different primary schools in almost as many years. I wouldn’t have described me as a wild child, but I needed to settle down. After the initial shock of being away from home, I soon settled in and discovered two passions that have lived with me for the rest of my life:

  • Birdwatching; and
  • Rugby Union

Princethorpe was ideal for both. The slightly fearsome Mr Price taught me all about the game they play in heaven and the grounds themselves were my birding tutor.

The combination of boarding school discipline, compassionate support from staff, lots of great sport and the freedom to spend time on my own doing my own thing could not have been a better environment for me at the time and I thrived.

The school was also a place to make great friends. I remember meeting my great friend Antony Jarvis for the first time on the walk out to the rugby fields. He told me about his life in Kenya and how much his mother loved birdwatching. I told him how wonderful it must be to watch birds in such an amazing country and the next thing I know I’m on a plane to Nairobi at the start of the summer holidays. My connection with Antony, his family and Africa itself have remained very strong and my eldest son is just about to start a ranger course in South Africa and Botswana as part of his gap year adventures.

Kieran Cahill was another great friend I made at school. We spent the last two years of school sharing a room in the building at the end of the drive where we had to keep the coal fired boiler working or we ran out of heat and hot water. Not so funny in the middle of winter. Unfortunately for Kieran, he is a very tidy man and……I am not. I still fold clothes the way he taught me to. Thanks for all your patience Kieran. Like me, he married an Australian and lives in Brisbane. I see him several times a year.

The teaching staff at the time were a combination of lay and clerical. There were too many great people who supported me and helped me whilst I was at the school to name them all, but I would like to mention Father McManus. Even as a very young man, I would have described him as my friend. His compassion and wit were the source of great wisdom and insight for me. I learned a great deal from him, much of which has been invaluable to me as my life has progressed.

I moved to Australia with my work many years ago, married a fantastic Australian girl (Meg) and have been living happily every after ever since.

Meg and I established a business in the Hunter Valley region of New South Wales in the pensions space and never really looked back. I have had an interesting and fulfilled life with many friends and plenty of love. I have been truly blessed.

In December last year, my family and I visited Princethorpe and Melanie Butler was kind enough to devote some time to showing us all around. Neither of my children had been there before and it was my first visit since Midnight Mass in 1993. Obviously, a lot that has changed (for the better) but also a great many things remain the same.  

The visit brought back so many wonderful memories and whilst it was only a brief visit, the atmosphere and ethos of the school feel the same as they always have – for me, and that is great news for the current students.

As for many people Princethorpe left an indelible and positive mark on my life that has continued to this day. I consider myself very lucky to have attended the school. It really changed my life.

I wish everyone working at the school and all students the very best for 2019 – you have a great legacy to sustain.

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Musical Memories For Sei Matsumura

My name is Sei Matsumura residing in Tokyo, Japan. I studied at Princethorpe College from May 1987 to March in 1988. Our family lived in Coventry for that one year because my father was accepted to the University of Warwick as a visiting fellow during his sabbatical leave. He had finished his PhD of Social History at the University of Warwick.

The deputy head Father McManus considered some conditions of mine at that time, I was 16 years old, it was the season just before GCSE (or rather O level) examinations and I was on my experiencing study period. He arranged for me to join the fourth year, the year below, and that worked well for me. As soon as I started at Princethorpe I was really into music and art, I was especially keen on playing piano under the guidance of the music teacher, Mrs Sue Francis. I challenged myself with tough piano pieces such as Chopin, Mozart, Gershwin etc - those we were not allowed to try in proper music course in Japan. It was lucky that my piano teacher was interested in me attempting pieces which I wished to play.

Everyday I spent a lot of time focusing in the music practice room which was one of the quietest places in school. I also preferred to take piano lessons in the Chapel, I could hear the sound containing rich reverberations. I can also remember the uniqueness of the art class. For example, we could select or find the motif to draw for ourselves. Someone was drawing bottles consistently or another preferred drawing statues. I was drawing photos picked up from National Geographic. In Japan, students have to draw the same object designated.

I can remember some of my friends full names such as David Banerjee, Jonathan Doxey, but most of them just their first names. There were some students from outside the UK, students from Hong Kong, Spain and Israel and we had the same English class for foreign students. Such an international atmosphere influenced me a lot. I hope all of them are well.

Last September I had the chance to visit Princethorpe College again after 20 years, because I participated in the Computer Music Conference at De Montfort University in Leicester. I stretched my legs to Coventry just the day before leaving to Japan. It was my pilgrimage.

Once I stepped into Princethorpe, I was surprised that the facilities inside are truly renovated. However, main parts like the corridors and chapel are just the same as they were. In addition, it is a mixed school for boys and girls, now. I am happy to see there is a sophisticated curriculum around Music, Art and also Computer Aided Design. Because, I am teaching Sound Design and Computer Programming for Design as one of the faculty members at School of Design, Tokyo University of Technology. 

After going back to Japan in 1988, I went up on to university as a computer music major. After I finished my BA I started my career as a video game sound designer and composer at SEGA. Then I shifted my course to academic, making interactive artwork or system based on audio, sometimes using visual and completed an MA and then a PhD.

Looking back on my path, I think that the one year experience at Princethorpe was surely one of my turning points which formed my musical and artistic basis, alongside receiving a different sort of education. I am profoundly grateful to Princethorpe College.

Sei is pictured in one of his beloved music practice rooms during his visit.

Richard Sibbick's Loft Clear Out Brings Forth A Tale Of Two Cities

It’s what you do in the spring. We sort out our homes and lives as we strive for a fresh start. Yet inevitably through sorting, memories of the past are brought to the front of our minds. So it was that when decluttering the loft I came across a bag of videos gathering dust. A quick look at the title of one video cassette (for the benefit of some readers we did have to record moving pictures on magnetic tape would you believe) invoked memories of a fine original score by Rinaldo Merlo, thoughtful lyrics by Chris James and a classic Weir/Skiffington production.

It was an easy choice then to ensure this particular plastic brick wasn’t added to the “stuff for the charity shop” or the “stuff for the burgeoning black bin bag”. Instead, I had the pleasure of converting this faithful recording onto a new media, albeit a bit shaky and noisy, for your viewing pleasure. A Tale of Two Cities can be seen by all again some 26 years later. So, put aside your marigolds, hang up that duster and grab a cuppa to look through the artistic gems on You may discover a reason to sort out your own loft.

The Mystery of Lillie Rochaid

We get many enquiries into the Princethorpe archive, many from past pupils and their families who are interested in what we have from their time here. These are always a pleasure to research and I try to help whenever I can.  Occasionally we get something that is a little more unusual.

In November, we were contacted by a local landowner whose land backs onto the Crick Tunnel, near Rugby, regarding the death of a past pupil there on the 18th January 1906. Having spent Christmas with her family in France, Lillie Rochaid was travelling alone on the 2:45pm train from Euston to start a new term at St Mary’s Priory. When the train arrived Rugby, the platform inspector was surprised to spot a carriage door hanging open. Lillie’s body was found shortly after in Crick Tunnel. It appears that she fell from the train and was then dragged along the tunnel. Whilst some stories ran in the national papers suggesting that there may have been foul play involved, it was more likely simply a tragic accident.

After the inquest at the Railway Inn, Kilsby, Lillie’s body was collected by her uncle, Count Joseph Rochaid, who then accompanied her back to Dinard where she was buried. It appears her father was too unwell after receiving the news to travel. The Priory was also deeply shocked, the 1906-1907 edition of the Peeps magazine contained a 5-page article in memoriam of her. The writer states ‘Lillie had endeared herself to all by her bright, happy, unselfish ways… had always a bright smile and a kind word for everyone’. As a tribute to Lillie’s memory, her father donated an elaborately decorated gold and silver monstrance to the Priory that was more than 2½ feet tall, which he himself designed. Round the base was the inscription ‘Presented to St. Mary's Abbey by Count Rochaid in memory of his beloved daughter Lillie. Died January 18 1906. R. I. P.”

Janette Ratcliffe - Foundation Archivist