Long shot

by Edward Gorton

Well, I think it has been a couple of months since I last looked at this page! As I mentioned earlier, I had stumbled across it quite by chance, in a ‘long shot’ of an attempt to find some reference to Huyton Hill School. For a few weeks after making my first contribution, I kept looking to see if there had been any further response – but no! I then really forgot about it until today, 28th July 2010, when I suddenly had the thought to look again! There is quite a lot I’d like to add here, and to share. I’m not sure how much you can add in one go.

I am amazed and excited to see that more contributions have been posted. Doug (Douglas in HH days!) Hickman – yes, I do remember you! I think Arthur House(?) and I think both from my school memory, and also from your writing, that I must be two years older than you. In school terms that is a LOT older! It would be so lovely to be in touch though! David (? dporter@.. ?) Although you remember me, I’m so sorry but I do not remember you, neither Richard Rudkin. It also seems now that it is not me that you are standing next to in that photo! None the less, I’d be so pleased to be in contact with you!

Doug, I have read your contributions with great interest and mixed emotions… I can indeed relate to many of the wide ranging memories that you have of life at HH. For my own part though, I always like to think that life is made up of a series of experiences. Some are happy and rewarding experiences, whilst others can be challenging and sometimes unhappy ones. No matter what, the experiences that we each gain are ours to keep forever, and no one can ever take them away. In some way or other, I feel we are made all the richer for the many different experiences that have come our way. We are all different people, but I do accept that for some former pupils, the negative aspects of school life all those years ago can still be very real.

Although I did have some difficult and upsetting times myself during my stay, I am able to put those aside and to remember with great happiness and pride the very many happy times spent in such an amazing place: The school building, the gardens and grounds and the dam streams (junior and senior!) The woods and the trees: the Beech tree near the school and the ‘Giant Redwood’ with it’s soft bark, located quite close to the staff car park. Yes, and the monkey puzzle tree! There was also a tree known as ‘Red India’, but I cannot recall where! Was it perhaps where the path to the senior dam stream crossed the back drive? I also recall ‘The four sisters’, ‘out of bounds’ on the lakeside of the front drive quite close to the junction with the back drive.

I remember playing ‘Commandoes’ in Wray field. I remember ‘Estate work’, and weekly summer bike rides and ‘expeditions’… Can you imagine it: scaling Dollywagon, Helvellyn, many of the Langdale pikes and eventually Scafell Pike itself – at the age of 12 and 13, and wearing only shorts, tee shirt, ‘Lumber jacket’ and plimsolls!!In contrast, an incredible sadness for me was in my final term, Autumn 1967. At that time I was ‘Number 1’ on the ‘age order’ list, and it was during this term that following a period of illness and absence from all school life, Major Gerald Villers Butler passed away. It was for me, and for us all, an unimaginable shock. The Rev. Lindsay (of Hawkshead and Wray church, and also Common Entrance Exam Invigilator) broke the news to us all – when hurriedly and unexpectedly called to an assembly in the Crossley. It was some days before a very emotional Hubert was able to face addressing the boys.

Looking back, the void left after Gerald’s death was I feel to signal the beginning of the end for HH. I have visited Major B’s grave on a number of occasions, high up on the hill in the grave yard at the church of St Michael and All Angels, Hawkshead. Quite emotional even now, I have stood there in silence to ponder, reflect and to think of people and places of another time. In true character from one Butler brother to another, part of the inscription on Gerald’s grave is in Latin: Timor Domini Fons Vitae – The fear of The Lord is the fountain of life. Even after years of Latin at school, I confess to have had to ‘Google’ this to find the meaning, and to learn that it is from Proverbs 14:27! I have visited HH a number of times in recent years. Although ‘our school’ is now Pull Woods Luxury holiday apartments, and in my view totally out of character, to me it will always be Huyton Hill Preparatory School, Near Ambleside, Westmorland… (and No post code!)

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5 Responses to Long shot

  1. John Mott says:

    Edward, Thank you so much for your memories. You are that bit younger than me. “GVB” was a fixture in my life and certainly a great influence for good. Looking back, he was possibly the nearest to a role model I had at that time, my own father being posted overseas seemingly endlessly. I must have gone back to the school at the end of the sixties because I came away with a couple of show-cases they let me have. Was the school closing then or something? John

  2. Jeffrey Ratcliffe says:

    11/5/2011 Today, on an impulse, I decided to see if there was anything about Huyton Hill School, Ambleside on the net.
    I was pleasantly surprised! Many things on the blog struck a chord and transported me back to my time at school between 1952 -58.
    Somewhere in my pile of papers I have photos of the school, summer concerts et al and I will find time to dig them out.
    I vividly remember “Estate work” moving a mountain to fill in the marsh between the school and the boathouse. The first grass strip which was to become the cricket ground was sown in my last year.

    • Edward Gorton says:

      Jeffrey, it has been some months since I last checked back to see if any further contributions had been made to ‘our’ very own HH space on the internet.

      Months had elapsed since my last contribution, sadly with little sign of activity. Today 26 May 2011, I checked again, and I’m so pleased to see that someone else has discovered this place!

      Please, please may I encourage any other readers who share memories of HH days, to make contributions here?! It’s very special to be able to share thoughts and experiences of a place which was our home for several years – although rather a long time ago now!

  3. Gordon Dyer says:

    Hello Jock and Edward! I have just visited Huyton Hill and it prompted me to search on the net for any references or contacts and it is really good to find this blog.
    I was at the school from October 1963 to June 1968, also my older brother CharlesDyer and younger brother Richard Dyer, and have very good memories of everyone there including Hubert and Gerald Butler, Mrs. Shuttleworth (secretary), Gordon Osmaston (Maths), Mr. Newby (History and Geography), ex. Rugby Leage player and pipe!), Mr Saville (with mini cooper), Bill Black (groundsman and caretaker who could crush shoepolish tins in one hand!) and all the staff. It would be good to complete a list of them all. (Who was the other part time maths teacher who came in a Ford Popular for the advanced lessons?).
    Looking back, it seems almost unbelievable that we had such an idyllic time at school, we were so lucky to have been there.
    I have a couple of school photos but don’t know how to post them on here, so let me know what I can do. I also have home videos of the athletics day and could send out or post clips.

  4. Hello Gordon – and other former Huyton Hill boys – you may not remember me, but at the time we Burbidges made a fairly large proportion of the school.
    If you were at Huyton HIll from 1963 to 1968 – you must have been there at the same time as I was (I’m David burbidge) – and my younger brother Jonathan Burbidge. I also remember my contemporary David Simpson who lived at Old Maids Farm i Brompton on Swale near Richmond, and Andrew Dickinson whose dad worked with the Metal Box company in Malaysia.
    When I first went to Huyton HIll in 1961, I was 7, and my two elder brothers Dick and Peter Burbidge were also at the school – we are all three in the 1962 ad 1963 school photographs. My younger brother Jonathan came to the school in 1965 (I think) and I left in 1966.
    I remember much that you have written about – Brigadier Osmaston (or Ozzie as he was known then) taught us Maths in the room above the boat house. He lived in Coniston, smoked a pipe and wore a hat.
    Mr Saville drove a mini Cooper and took part in rallies in the Lake District – especially in the Grizedale forest. I remember once overhearing him say how he driven all the way to school and had not been able to get above second gear. Strange how something like that stuck in my memory when so much else faded away. I think not having gears on my bike made me conscious of this sort of thing.
    Major Butler (Major B) took us for dam building and estate work. He also led us on our mountain walking expeditions. I remember very well cycling to the Old Dungeon Ghyll hotel in the Langdale Valley where we left our bikes and then climbed up Bowfell. On our return we all had afternoon tea with scones at the hotel.
    I remembered that we all wore Norvic Kiltie sandals to climb these mountains and thought I must have been mistaken – surely we were wearing proper walking boots. But then I saw an old photo of us on top of Scafell – and yes, we were definitely wearing the K Shoes Norvic Kiltie sandals – very solidly made, a good buckle and a solid sole – but definitely sandals! Plus grey shorts, long socks, grey shirts and grey corduroy lumber jackets which must have made us look like were from a borstal.
    Sometimes on our way up mountains we would become thirsty and we would ask if we could have a drink of water. Major Butler (who I think had some military experience fighting in the desert) strictly forbade us to drink anything on our hill walking expeditions. “It will only make you more thirsty,” he said. I suspect this is why I have spent most of my life seriously dehydrated!
    And Mr Newby (who lived at Waterhead for a number of years but died recently) took us for tobogganing, rugby, and Geography.
    I remember him cycling down the road which drops down from Brathay and coming down past the rugby pitch where we tobogganed, and his pipe would glow redder and redder as he came down the hill, like a blast furnace.
    He also led us in Scottish Country Dancing, and gave me something I consider to be one of the most valuable skills I have: he taught me to whistle like a hill shepherd by putting two fingers in my mouth. I remember he showed me how to do it, and after a week of practice I was able to master the skill! He was well loved in the area – and well remembered by the many local people including his wife Joan who still lives nearby.
    Mrs Shuttleworth was the school secretary and continued to work at the house after it became holiday flats living in a cottage in the grounds. Sadly she died recently as well.
    Claud Harrison taught us art – and also did a picture each year for the school calendar. Claud was a well known portrait painter doing “conversational portraits.” His special theme was to dress people in comedie del arte costume and then paint them with a scenic backdrop.
    I used to visit his and his wife Audrey when they lived at the old Quaker meeting house on Cartmel Fell. He died fairly recently. His son Toby Harrison was a contempory of my brother Peter. He became a potter and made very distinctive pots with an oily sheen. I have some in my house.
    I was head prefect in 1966 and remember reciting a speech Hubert Butler had written about why we flew St George’s flag – the gist of it being that the second world war was like the fight between St George and the dragon, but once the Nazi dragon had been slain there were still other evils around to be conquered.
    The speech accompanied a special show we put on for the parents with trooping the colour where we marched across the terrace to the music of the March of Figaro, did Scottish country dancing and other performances. I remember a boy learnt to play the theme tune for Doctor Who – we saw the first episode in the main room where we watched TV on a strange contraption which projected the TV films onto a screen.
    The parents all sat down on the lawn being eaten by the midges, which must have been terrible. What I especially liked was a sign Hubert Butler put out on the lawn which said: “Please walk on the grass – stiletto heels aeriate the soil,” (though he probably spelt it correctly!)
    We swam naked in the lake every day – apart from in winter when as a special treat we were allowed cold baths instead! I mentioned on the Outdoor Swimming Association forum (of which I am part of here in the Lake District) that we swam naked and a woman asked why? “Because if we swam with our clothes on they would have got wet,” I replied.
    Mrs Byron was our matron – and rather cruelly because she had some facial hair, the older boys called her “Bicro hairy.” She was rather obese and drove a bubble car. I remember going to the dentist in Ambleside with her – it must have looked a sight, with her filling most of the car, and me squashed in beside her.
    We slept in dormitories with the windows open in winter, but there were one or two of those large water filled radiators downstairs which you could sit on which was always very pleasant despite being continually warned that it would give us piles.
    I remember throwing pillows across the dormitory at boys who were snoring which would wake them up for just long enough to allow me to get to sleep.
    In our first dormitory, called Dollywagon, when I was only 7, we had a potty to relieve ourselves in which was kept in a little cupboard. We would drink as much as we could before going to bed and then see if we could fill the potty to overflowing, which we did several times – being severely punished for doing so. Corporal punishement was rare – but I was beaten with a slipper by Hubert on a couple of occasions.
    The most vivid memory I have is skating over the lake in the very cold winter of 1962/3 when the lake froze solid – even cars drove on the lake, and apparently there was a bus running from Lakeside to Waterhead over the ice.
    And also swimming out to the island. I taught myself to swim in Cyprus during a summer in the early sixties – and became rather good at it . We had a boom which came out from the pier and we would swim out to it – or do lengths. When we were good enough we could try for the island and received a certificate if we made it. Mr Newby came in a rowing boat with us.
    And every morning we would run down from the school to the lake with towels around us and leap into the lake as naked as the day we were born (the older boys were allowed to wear swimming trunks – I think puberty was the signal for a little modesty!)
    Hubert Butler swam in the lake all the year round – and in the winter of 1962/3 we heard him breaking the ice with a sledge hammer to get in!
    Mostly, we all enjoyed it – but I do remember a little boy from Texas coming to the school, and he didn’t like the cold at all. I remember his crying his eyes out because he didn’t want to get in a cold bath (poor wee thing!)
    We built dams in the grounds – and after the showing of the film The Dambusters spent a lot of time bursting our dams – and then filling them up again.
    The cricket pitch by the Boat house would be flooded every winter making a safe skating ground for the boys. In the summer we played British Bulldogs in the same place – the boys running down the hill at another line of boys and then wrestling each other to the ground – the last one standing won. My brother Peter broke his collar bone doing this.
    We had single wicket competitions – if we won we got points which were added to our general knowledge competition points and good conduct points and others points to see who came out on top. The one scoring the highest became head prefect.
    And that was how I became head prefect – I worked out that the way to win single wicket competitions was to hold the bat as defensively as possible, making it impossible to bowled out, and then to run single runs every time. Nobody could pick up the ball and get it back to the bowler in time – so one run at a time I notched up enormous scores. Cunning but perhaps not really cricket!
    Similarly with General Knowledge competitions – you got one score for the first time you did the General Knowledge quiz, and then more points after the holidays when you did the same quiz again – only I made sure I memorized all the answers, so although I didn’t do so well the first time, I always got 100 per cent the second time round and often came out with the best overall score.
    We slept in all the dormitories throughout our school life – the highest being Scafell (of course!) In the highest dorms the fire safety measure was a belt coiled onto a friction drum which you strapped around you and then leapt out of the window hoping that the friction would lower you down gently, which it did, but it took a lot of nerve to let go of the window ledge and let yourself be lowered down.
    I remember there were always a few terrified boys crying in the room who clung onto the bed posts and refused to do the drill. It’s a good job there was never a fire!
    I was at Huyton Hill when the Cuban missile crisis took place. Hubert Butler came into our dormitory and told us that it was very possible that there would be a nuclear war and that we should get down on our knees and pray – and then left us to get on with it. Can this really be true? Memory and imagination have always been close neighbours and it’s possible this didn’t really happen. But I was certainly there at the the time of the Kennedy Krushchev standoff and Hubert Butler would have been very aware of what the consequences could be.
    We built tree houses in the rhododendron trees – and I had a little house which I made in a hovel covered over with branches, and moss and grassy sods. My friends and I would sneak away to heat baked beans on a little stove in our little house.
    We cycled everywhere. I never had a new bike but got hand-me-downs from my two older brothers. None of the bikes had gears until I was about 12 when I had my first 3 speed bike (also handed down from above.) We would cycle along the road from Ambleside to Windermere and if a car was coming a lad at the back would call out: “There’s a car coming.” Eventually something like an Austin 7 would come trundling by. And then if it was very busy, half an later the lad would call out again: “There’s another car coming.”
    Today I drive along this road a good deal as I lead a weekly choir in Ambleside, live near Kendal and often lead my singers from other choirs to sing in Rydal Cave or up at the Drunken Duck near Huyton Hill. There is rarely any time of day or night when more than a few minutes pass without a car coming by – more often than not they are bumper to bumper.
    I don’t remember learning very much of what most kids learn at school – and later on discovered I knew no science at all. But I did learn how to service a bicycle, climb a mountain, swim through North Atlanticesque waters, climb trees, and toboggan down snowy slopes. I developed a life long love of the Lake District and this is where I now live and work with my partner and 6 year old daughter.
    And I still consider being able to whistle by putting two fingers in my mouth one of my most valuable skills.
    David Burbidge, Smithy Cottage, Farfield, Sedbergh, Cumbria LA10 5LW 015396.21166 http://www.lakelandvoice.co.uk
    PS – I am staying with my three brothers and many of our other family members at Huyton Hill over the weekend of November 22-25. If you’re passing do call in and say hello.

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