Reminiscences of Wennington
by
Anthony Chadwick
Age 12, First Form, September 1971-April 1972

Most of my memories of Wennington are lost in the mists of time, as I was a small boy at the time, and these events took place thirty years ago. I was at this school for a very brief time, only two terms.

From 1967 to 1971, I had been at a small boys' junior school in the Lake District, not far from where I lived with my family. This school was run by a man and his wife. He was a strict disciplinarian, though he did make efforts to be fair, who perhaps went a bit overboard with the use of corporal punishment, usually with a leather-soled slipper. My father, now a retired veterinary surgeon, took his responsibilities very seriously - with four children to bring up. In 1971, my brother went up to Leeds University for his medical studies, and my sisters were still at school. I had a comfortable, stable and secure background, but perhaps my father was a little on the over domineering side. By 1971, I grew to fear my father and began to revolt against all authority. Rarely did a day pass when I was not punished at school for some minor infringement or bad attitude. My father would, naturally, vindicate my schoolmaster and say that I deserved what I got - and he was certainly right in most cases. I was a dreamer, and found difficulty in applying myself to school work. Finally, my parents began to be highly concerned, and sought advice from an educational psychologist. I remember going through various tests, including the symmetrical ink blots. I remember my father trying to explain to me that I was "super-normal" and this was what was causing my revolt against all forms of authority.

I was taken to Wennington for an interview with Brian Hill, and he went to great pains to show me things in the science labs that fascinated me, especially the hooded rats kept for dissection experiments. He showed me the school theatre with great pride. I found him a very kind man, obviously trying to build up some self-confidence in me. I had brought him some paintings I had done at my previous school, and he - appeared - to be impressed.

It was with great joy that I left the "slipper school". In September 1971, I was taken to Wennington, and had the job of adapting to a boarding school. The separation from my parents was no difficulty for me, since I was in a revolted attitude. I was put into a boys' dormitory at the back of the house facing the courtyard. I think it was on the first floor. The girls' dormitories, out of bounds to the boys, were at the front of the house on the top floor.

I was always appreciative of fine buildings, though I noticed more the uglier aspects, such as the slanting boiler chimney going into one of the main chimneys of the house. I was very attracted to the sixth form hut and the "Barkis Cellar", which of course was out of bounds to first formers. I nearly met my death climbing out onto the roof via a toilet cubicle skylight! It was the last time I went on the roof.

Like many others, I was given to mucking about in the woods. I ate so many blackberries that I was sick and got a rollicking from the lady responsible for the sick bay. It was at Bob's Pond where I smoked my first cigarettes with the son of a York hotel owner. There was a Londoner nicknamed "Bogroll" who was quite a boisterous kid. I also remember the appalling quality of the food. There was a small tuck shop where one could buy sweets, etc. but I never had any money. My parents would give me parcels, but the other boys would scrounge, so that I got very little for myself.

As for the masters, I particularly appreciated Frank "Wazzo" Burgess, as woodwork was my favourite activity. I mostly made bedside lockers, and became fascinated with locks of all kinds. I wanted to learn the organ, but I was told that the little chamber organ in the theatre was not in working order, so I continued with the piano with Chris Mitchell. He played us records, and I particularly enjoyed Mozart's 40th Symphony. It is thanks to him that I preferred classical music to Slade and Led Zeppelin who were then in vogue for most of the pupils. My form master was Gus, the English teacher. I must have caused a lot of heartache to Roger Gerhardt - but now earn my living as a French to English translator!!!! I remember him teaching us Vive la Première! and the tapes he used would always start with Ecoutez et répétez.

The Brian Hill era was anarchic to say the least. My father later told me that he had found Mr Hill to be without sufficient personality to run a school with few rules, little discipline, with the command of respect of which Kenneth Barnes had been possessed. I was on "red colour" status, but still managed to get to Wetherby and even to Harrogate. My parents were concerned when I started to steal from shops, churches, etc. - and certain things had to be nipped in the bud if I was not to become an outright crook.

By April 1972, my parents decided that enough was enough, as Wennington was in its last phase of decadence - sad to say. I was sent for a term to a strict prep school near home to adapt me to a traditional education at St Peter's School in York. My parents must have instructed the master to go easy on corporal punishment, since I got on one occasion two painless strokes with a cricket bat for splattering ink on the classroom ceiling and talking during prep. The "culture shock" of a more traditional school after Wennington was hard, and traces of it followed me right the way through to my musical instrument making days and especially through seminary as I decided to become a priest.

To give a brief resume of my life since Wennington, I was at St Peter's for three years, where I managed to scrape a few O Levels. After a year in lower sixth at a local comprehensive school I loathed, I went in for organ building, but didn't stay long with the firm where I was an apprentice. I did a few odd jobs, mostly in York, until 1978. I did a harpsichord making course in London until 1981. Having been attracted to high church Anglicanism, I became a Roman Catholic in 1981 - of the traditionalist tendency, but found myself at odds with the authoritarian attitude of the clergy. Variations on a Theme...

I left England to go to France in July 1982, and eventually started my seminary studies in Rome in 1985. I studied theology from 1986-90 at Fribourg, Switzerland and entered a missionary community in Italy in 1990, where I was ordained to the diaconate by Cardinal Palazzini in March 1993. For a number of reasons, I left the community in 1995. I was ordained to the priesthood in a new situation in June 1998, and ended up in Montmorillon, a small French market town between Poitiers and Limoges. Not being on the pay roll of a diocese, I earn my living as a translator and celebrate the Catholic liturgy for a small group of faithful.

A few words in conclusion

Thirty years of hindsight, together with my observations of to-day's youth, have made me think about the whole concept of education. Most schools, and Wennington was no exception, have high ideals of forming pupils in cultural and spiritual values - and not just programming them to pass examinations. Unfortunately, in the early 1970's, most of these ideals were presented in a pompous and patronising way that none of us would take them seriously - or in any other way than sanctimonious and hypocritical banter. I know what I'm talking about, being a churchman!!!

The post 1968 era took its toll, and the children of to-day really do give more than cause for concern. I find that the whole concept of education is in a state of crisis, far worse than Wennington in its final days. We had no knives or guns, still less the thought of using them. We had some respect for authority, little of it, but some. Kids now are absolute anarchists, and we are heading for a lost generation. A solution? I am certainly not for bringing back the cane and a lot of the hypocrisy to which we were subjected, and to which children and adolescents are so sensitive. It is a problem of society, not just of schools: the anonymous bureaucracy of European politics, the breakdown of families, and so the list goes on. Perhaps the ideal education would be based on the ancient Greek model of a boy being educated by his own master in a dialogue setting.

I know little about Kenneth Barnes, but I should read his book to learn something of his philosophy that didn't interest me as a small boy. There are so few men of vision in the world of education and youth work. We must keep the memory of Wennington alive - a school that corresponded with a precise need in a precise era, but an ever-present reminder that educators of vision are more and more sorely needed.

The trip down "Memory Lane" as I discovered the Wennington site has helped me tie up a few last "short ends" and get to the bottom of a few mysteries that have dogged me over the years. There must be quite a few hundred men and women, each with the secrets of their experience, who feel just the same. I visited the building in 1995 (as I drove up towards Whitby to see my brother) and was so saddened by its state of delapidation. I felt like a character out of Brideshead Revisited, or perhaps La Traviata. The Wennington experience is a lesson to us all, whether or not involved in education.

The Wennington experience made me no less anti-authoritarian, and this has caused me many difficulties with authorities in the Church, especially the Roman Catholic Church. My critical attitude was my undoing at seminary, and I was always unable to fit into a mould. I don't regret this, for - as Oscar Wilde said - there was no more of an individualist than Jesus Christ. We need to be ourselves and learn to live with it.

May 2001
Montmorillon, France

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