Memory Bank

Update From The Archives - Lent 2021

It’s been another busy term here in the archives and I am pleased to have been able to continue the work whilst working from home during the current lockdown. In exciting news, it shouldn’t be too long until the Peeper’s Pie magazines we have for St Joseph’s School are digitised. I plan to put them on the ‘Digital Material’ section of the archive catalogue for you to be able to browse and I’ll be able to share more extracts through the archive Twitter account!

The fascinating range of enquiries I have received over the past term has really enabled me to continue learning more about the Princethorpe College site and the people for whom the Princethorpe Foundation Schools have played such an important part in their lives. I hope that you enjoyed this month’s #ThrowBackThursday post on Princethorpe Connect reading all about the early days of Crescent School. While the Grounds Team have been hard at work restoring the Nut Walk, I have also taken the opportunity to research the names that the St Mary’s Priory grounds were known by – I soon discovered that whilst there was a wide range of flora and fauna within the grounds, the Sisters weren’t necessarily quite so imaginative in their naming. According to the Peeps magazine, alongside the more familiar Lime Walk and Nut Walk, there was also an Acacia Walk, Ilex Walk, Holly Walk and Laurel Walk for the girls to explore - all within the enclosure of course. Here’s a challenge for you - can you remember where any of these places were? Did you have your own names for the grounds after it became Princethorpe College? Let me know at @PFdn_Archives on Twitter.

I mentioned in my last update that each of the Year 7 classes get an introduction to the history of Princethorpe and the Benedictine nuns that founded St Mary’s Priory as part of their Religious Studies classes. One of the key messages that I try to convey in the session (and in any of the events I’m involved in) is that the records and objects in an archive help to tell a story. Based on the items I had carefully selected, the pupils drew lots of good conclusions about life at the Priory. All of the pupils really embraced the lessons and asked excellent questions, but I was so impressed with the follow up work that Mr McCullough’s class produced. His pupils went away and created their own ‘archive in a box’ and then discussed what they knew about the person from the items they had selected. Well done to all of Year 7, especially 7XM! Thanks also to Kieran McCullough for sharing these photographs.

Following on from the successful Virtual St. Mary’s Priory Reunion, I was delighted to be able to meet some Old Princethorpians that are now living in Hong Kong and the Far East in November online. I used the archive slot to share images from the archives relating to the campus and extracts from the Princethorpe magazines to bring back many happy memories and lots of stories. I wanted to give a special thanks to Nelson Tam who kindly completed the Boarders’ Questionnaire and shared some photographs of the college from his time here. If you would be interested in sharing your memories of boarding at any of the Foundation schools, the short questionnaire is still available here: Boarding Questionnaire.

I hope that you all stay safe and I am very much looking forward to meeting those of you who have crossed (or travelled back across) the Atlantic and now live in the USA at the end of February at their Virtual Reunion!


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Travel Back In Time To The Crescent School Of Yesteryear

It was with great delight that I had the opportunity to talk to one of the first Crescent School pupils, Fiona Douglas, about her memories of her school days.

As readers of my #ThrowBackThursday and Twitter posts will know, I often lament the loss of records relating to the early days of the Foundation Schools so you can imagine my delight when I was contacted by one of the first pupils to attend Crescent School. What followed was a delightful hour talking to Fiona Douglas (nee Loughery) on the phone about her personal memories of her time at the school and (as with conversations I have had with other past pupils) it soon became clear that Crescent School brought back many warm, happy memories. I am always keen to add oral history accounts to the archive as each person brings their own stories and memories about the school. If you are interested in being interviewed about your time at Crescent School, then please do send me an email at and I would be delighted to arrange a time that suits you best.

Crescent School was originally founded by Mrs Eve Mortimer to educate the children of Rugby masters like Fiona, whose father was a master at Rugby School from 1934 until 1961 when he retired. Mrs Mortimer’s school was initially based at Troy House but it quickly outgrew those premises and moved to Horton Crescent, and it is from there that the school got its name.

Fiona was one of the oldest pupils at the school and remembers being part of a group of about 8 children that made the move to Horton Crescent when it opened. In the early days, class sizes were small with around 10 children in each class though Fiona remembers that the numbers would decrease each year when the boys left to go to Prep School. Her cohort were taught by Mrs Mortimer for the majority of their lessons and what an incredible teacher she sounds. Under Eve Mortimer’s tutelage, alongside the traditional subjects taught to Primary School pupils, they were taught French from the age of 5 and Latin from the age of 8 and were well set to achieve good results as the first pupils at Crescent School to sit the 11+ exams.

It was while talking about her memories of her classroom that Fiona really helped bring the school to life. Based in the upstairs classroom at Horton Crescent, Fiona remembers that there was a paraffin stove in the centre of the large classroom during particularly cold weather and that the pupils got up hourly for some exercise – well needed I’d imagine in the depths of winter! She recalls the great excitement that the children felt when they listened to the weekly radio programmes – from Charles Chilton’s ‘How Things Began’, Fiona learned all about dinosaurs and ‘Music and Movement’ formed an integral part of the school’s PE programme. (As an aside, I remember using Music and Movement tapes to teach PE when I started teaching so either I am old or the programme has clearly stood the test of time).

Taking on roles of responsibility was a key aspect of life at Crescent School, being the ink monitor meant taking charge of refilling ink pots and handing out pens. Whilst for Assembly, the chair and hymn monitors were responsible for converting the classroom into a ‘hall’ quickly and sensibly. While Fiona doesn’t remember religion featuring particularly heavily in the school day, it appears that the Rugby School chaplain who led the weekly service for children of the Rugby masters must have told Mrs Mortimer what songs were in the upcoming Sunday service as she spent the week practising them with the children. Little details like copying lines of letters into their handbooks whilst practising cursive writing and learning to count using cowrie shells that were stored in milk tins are the sorts of details that are not captured in official records but are what embody the spirit of a school and why I was so thrilled when Fiona generously agreed to speak to me. The story of a pupil coming to school wearing their cardigan inside out but refusing to change it in case it was bad luck also made me chuckle.

As well as renting one of Rugby School’s buildings, Crescent School also had the opportunity to benefit from other Rugby School facilities. Fiona remembers walking as a ‘Class Crocodile’ to the field for school sports day and performing concerts or plays in the Music School. Whether there was quite the same enthusiasm for benefitting from swimming in ‘The Tosh’ is to be debated – every pupil that I have talked to remembers how bitterly cold it could be.

The children may also have spent time together outside of the normal school day. They might have seen each other at the Saturday morning woodworking classes that Mr Mortimer led (where Fiona made a stool which she still has today, as well as a bird box) or at the weekly service that was held in the Memorial Chapel. Living near to each other meant that strong friendships were quickly formed within the small community, and the children felt a close connection to each other due to their shared circumstances. These bonds led to lifelong friendships that are a hallmark of the special school that Crescent School is. It is with that in mind that I would like to end this month’s post by passing on my condolences to the Crescent School community on the recent death of Sarah Roer (nee Willans) in Canada. My thoughts are with all those that knew her at this sad time.

Farther Clarkson Football Team Photo

OP Gordon Innes got in touch to share a real treasure, an old photo of the College’s second and much loved, Headmaster, Father Clarkson in a football team as a child.

Gordon’s uncle went to school with Father Clarkson when they were both children back in Ireland. They were good school friends and were both in the same football team. When Gordon started at Princethorpe College the family presented Father Clarkson with a copy of the photo of which he was very proud.

Gordon recently had the photo digitally restored and shared a copy with College. Father Clarkson is bottom row second from the right.

It is a fantastic photo that we were delighted to add to the archives.


Getting A Glimpse Into Life As A Boarder In the Princethorpe Foundation

The Hong Kong and Far East Reunion gave me the opportunity to delve into the archives to see what I could find about boarding at Princethorpe College but there is a lot more I'd like to learn.

The first thing that I discovered during my research is that very few records relating to boarding have made their way into the archive for any of the Foundation's current and legacy schools. We have a small number of photographs and references in the school magazines for boarding at Princethorpe College and even fewer records for St Bede's College, St Mary's Priory or St Joseph's Convent School.

This is where I am asking for your help - if you boarded at any of the Foundation's schools, please could you consider completing the questionnaire below and donating any material from your time there to the archive. After you have completed it, I hope that you enjoy reading the rest of the article about boarding at Princethorpe College. 

Life As A Boarder Questionnaire

When Princethorpe College opened its doors in 1966, there were a total of 40 boarders within the school's pupil numbers. Only a decade later, this number had increased to nearly 200. Princethorpe continued to welcome students from all over the globe to this remote part of Warwickshire until 2004, when it became unviable to continue doing so.

Father Clarkson MSC does a great job of describing the boarders in this extract from his article 'A day in the life of...'.  (reference PC. Written in 1978, it wouldn't have seemed out of place even decades later in many boarding schools I am sure and really adds an extra dimension to the photographs in the article. 

"In the boys' dining hall, disembowelled boiled eggs gape murderously at their executors. Cornflakes, Sugar Puffs and Rice Crispies, pop, crackle and bloat as bedraggled and dishevelled boarders drown them in milk. Pieces of cremated toast are smeared with sticky marmalade and munch, chew, bite and grind, the breakfast is launched. Oh, for the culture of a meal amongst congenial company!...

A visit to their wing reveals rooms bedecked with pop artists, gaudy drapes, assortments of pictures and kilometres of sellotape. Penetrating sounds emanate from ever-improving, electronically equipped guitars and shatter any atmosphere conducive to study. Lower Sixth, not burdened with any imminent examinations, idle and laugh and discussively anticipate the next game/outing/social with a sense of liberation from the confines set out for them..."

In his article titled 'A Sixth Form View' for the 1973 Princethorpe Magazine (reference PC., Rino Cerio reflected on his time as both a day pupil and a boarder. When he writes about boarding, he states "I can honestly say this is where I saw the potential of Princethorpe. I started in the dormitory, then joined a room for four and then two in which I remained. The boarder's life gave me a degree of independence, self discipline and the ability to think. Responsibility was expected from me as I grew older..."

The glowing review of being a boarder provided by Rino Cerio is contrasted with this humourous article in the 1990-91 Princethorpe Magazine (reference PC., perhaps unsurprisingly written anonymously. Titled 'The Secret of Bill Barrett - Bored Boarder', it was written over the course of the week from the point of view of a weekly boarder. I won't reproduce the article here (if you'd like to read it, it can be found on the archive catalogue) but some things that struck me from reading it were a) how much time was spent playing in the grounds, especially Switzerland, b) that the boys played a lot of sport in the evening (probably in an attempt to tire them out) and c) the large number of pillow fights 'Bill' seemed to be involved in (despite his grumbles about adults ruining his fun). For a pupil claiming to be bored all the time, being a boarder actually seemed like quite good fun!

I hope that you enjoyed the brief look at boarding at Princethorpe College, please do complete the questionnaire using the link above if you can help fill in the gaps in the archive about your time as a boarder. I look forward to reading your responses!

Janette Ratcliffe
Foundation Archivist


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