Remembering Seaford College Junior School

It is 50 years since Seaford College Junior School, in Mill Road, Worthing, was sold for redevelopment, at the then amazing sum of £112,000, and pulled down.

Thursday, 15th May 2014, 1:00 pm
The main buildings of Seaford College Junior School

To put this in perspective, I found the bill for the fees that my parents paid for full boarding for winter term 1962. They were just under £100.

In 1964, term finished mid-March, as Easter was early that year, and by late April most of the buildings had already gone. Only the chapel was left still standing and looking forlorn.

The redeveloped site takes its name from the school and is now known as College Gardens.

The dining hall

The only original bits that still remain standing from that time are some of the old perimeter flint walls.

The building was first occupied as an emergency by Seaford College in 1944, when the school had been given six weeks notice to leave as their premises at Seaford were being requisitioned for the war effort.

When I went there in 1962-64, the houses were still named after the war leaders.

There was a framed letter from c1951 from 10 Downing Street hanging in the hobbies room, from Mr Churchill, saying that he was happy for a house to be named after him.

Grahams classroom

The other houses were Roosevelt and Smuts, after Jan Smuts, the South African war leader.

Classrooms and admin-istration were on the ground floor, with sleeping accommodation for juniors and teachers on the first floor, and seniors on the second.

The picture of the dormitory is one of the senior dormitories on the second floor.

By modern standards, it was Spartan.

The chapel

Note the crisp hospital corners of the beds and the counterpanes with the intertwined capital letters duly centred.

We spent ages making our beds look tidy and matron gave a prize to the best bed-maker, though there were never any prizes for me as it was a skill that I never really mastered.

The part of the buildings with the pitched roof was the gym and the main social area – we kept our tuck-boxes there.

It was here that we also saw films projected on a Wednesday evening; Laurel and Hardy were particular favourites.

The playing fields, from the Downview Road side towards Grand Avenue

The buildings were huge, cold and difficult to heat.

The brutal winter of 1962/63, when frost did not come out of the ground from Boxing Day until early March, probably hastened the decision of the owners to sell for redevelopment.

Coal was desperately short and pipes were bursting throughout the building.

I remember the spectacular pattern that the ice made from one high-up burst pipe between the kitchen and dining-room; it was rather beautiful and resembled organ pipes.

In those months all the children suffered with chilblains on fingers, toes and ears, and one boy even had one on his nose.

The boys from Africa – and there were a fair few from Ghana, Liberia and South Africa – were particularly affected.

This picture was taken Summer 1964 just after the schools had amalgamated

There were no games that term until the very last weeks as the ground was frozen hard as rock.

So every day it was a cross-country run. Rather than tramping the local streets all the time, we would sometimes be driven to Durrington or Salvington for our run.

With our duly polished shoes, brown leather gloves, raincoats and caps, as a group we would have been unmistakable to Worthing residents walking in crocodile to and from Holy Trinity Church on Sundays.

Before we left, we assembled in the gym to be checked as fit to go out.

One of the senior boys would appear with a cloth bag from Midland Bank and dole out a penny to each boy for the church collection.

Some of the naughtier boys would withhold their penny and peel off from the crocodile to buy sweets if any shop was open.

Failing that, they had to wait until Wednesday before the film, when the school tuck shop opened.

You could get four Black Jacks, a liquorice chew, or four Fruit Salad chews for one old penny.

From church, we walked along Rowlands Road and down to the seafront.

We would walk along the front and then turn up Grand Avenue. At Dolphin Lodge, an elderly gentleman on the top floor round right hand window would wave to us. We would wave back.

One weekend, he failed to appear and we all assumed that he had died. He may just have moved on.

Back at school we went to our classrooms to write the weekly letter home.

The teacher on duty would read our efforts to ensure that what we had written was both sufficient and unlikely to alarm any parents.

Then it was lunch and some free time before Crusader Class, taken by Mr Ackerman, a Worthing resident who gave up his Sunday afternoon.

He would often produce a slide show of a biblical story or parable, or from some improving text like Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress.

Good attendance meant we were given a Gideon’s Bible at the end of the year.

Then a bell would summon us either for a ramble in the countryside, if the weather was fine, or a walk around Worthing with our raincoats in crocodile formation, if it was not.

When we returned, it was time for tea.

As I was a chorister, after tea I would get robed ready for chapel, which was taken by the headmaster, Theodore Cook.

We would have practised the anthems and hymns on the Saturday with Dorry Cook, Theo’s wife, accompanying on the chapel organ.

Theo would always be present at every practice session, ensuring that pieces were perfect.

The choristers were seated on the cross-benches close to the altar, and the rest of the school sat in order of seniority, with the eldest boys at the back.

After chapel there would be hot chocolate and bed.

On the exeat weekends, there would just be evening chapel with parents attending.

When were told that the school was going to amalgamate with its sister school, Forest Grange, near Colgate, Horsham, we were sent on acclimatisation visits.

While most of the boarders made the change-over, virtually all the day boys left, apart from one who became a boarder.

So when we reconvened in Horsham on April 21, 1964, a lot of familiar faces had gone forever.

Even the house names had changed from the war leaders to local geographic features; Churchill became Whitevane, Roosevelt High Birch and Smuts Green Broom.

It was not easy for the teachers either, having their place of work shifted miles away.

Some did not make the move at all. James John Bond, my old form master, left to join MI5 – only joking!

Tragically, Simon Clark, who taught maths and science, was killed in a car accident a few months later. He was is his twenties.

Others, like Mrs A. B. Shadbolt (second from left) and Mrs M. E. Lavoie (second from right) stayed one term to see out the academic year.

I was sorry to see Mrs Shadbolt leave as she always had a twinkle in her eye.

Mr M. R. Slade Gooding (fourth from left), housemaster of Smuts/Green Broom, was something of a martinet, but he gained respect among the boys.

In this centenary year of the outbreak of the First World War, we remember the long shadows that the conflict cast so many years later.

Major J. D. D. Forrest (fourth from right), housemaster of Churchill/Whitevaneh was terribly shell-shocked. All of a sudden he would stop whatever he was doing, start saluting furiously and shouting “Stitch, stitch!” Just as suddenly he would snap out of it.

If he caught me or any other boy gawping at him, he would stare us down as if to say, “What are you gawping at?”

Since that time I have wondered what was the significance of “Stitch”? Was that the name of a commanding officer, or maybe he wanted to get a wounded friend to a dressing station, or perhaps he felt that he had been stitched up for another frontal attack, ordered by the top brass miles behind the front line.

By the time I left in summer 1966 to go onto the senior school, only Theo and Dorry Cook remained out of the original teachers from Worthing, working out their few years before retirement.

All the other staff had left, with the exception of the peripatetic art master, Stanley Pellett. He still came one day a week.

Today, his work, usually of naval or boating themes, commands between £500 and £1,000 at auction.

So the move was not without its human cost.

Forest Grange closed about 30 years later, for redevelopment again, and today Seaford College has its junior section taking girls as well as boys, at its permanent home in Lavington Park, near Petworth.

• If you would like to share your memories and photos of Seaford College Junior School, please get in touch. Send your memories and photos to James Connaughton, via email to [email protected], send them by post or pop into Cannon House, Chatsworth Road, Worthing, BN11 1NA. Telephone 01903 282351.

One of the senior dormitories