Any OW returning to Woodbridge must find it a confusing experience. So much appears to have changed and even those bits which remain recognizable are never quite the same. Almost every decade marks out its offspring by changes to the general topography – subtle and not so subtle. Here’s what I mean.
When you were at school where was the Dining Hall? If you say Marryott House you really are a strong vintage, and even “The Old Schoolroom” would mark you out as someone who was a pupil between the wars. But if you are able to point to the present location, there are other dating clues: did you sit by houses at long tables, with staff or prefect dishing out the grub, or were you offered hatch-service, and allowed to sit where you wished? They still have to queue but it’s not so rough and noisy as it was. And the food is better.
Or what about the School Hall? Was that where you gathered each morning for assembly – assuming there was one, as that (like Speech Day) was rested for several years? Of course, if the School Hall was also your gym – now we are going back! You’ll at least suppose that everyone still takes their exams in the School Hall as some things cannot change. Wrong. The Sports Hall vast and sunless now provides no distractions for those seeking inspiration.
Houses are a minefield for the historian. Suppose you were in Queen’s – but which one? From 1914 to the close of the 20th century it was a senior pupil boarding house, but now it is the kindergarten department. Tallents House and Marryott both have entirely separate periods of use. Once there were four boarding houses, not counting The Abbey, and now only School House remains.
When I started at school they were building the New Block, but in my last year they pulled it down (and significantly left the plot unused!) And don’t even go near the so-called House Rooms for your classroom memories, the clue is in the name. Oh, and there’s another hint as to your vintage – was there a Willard House? Girls of course arrived in 1974 – “the gymslip invasion” claimed the EADT, and they transformed the school supremely.
Finally, there are the staff – for good or bad they define the school and the memories you share. Many pupils suppose the staff during their era was the most talented, most weird, most caring or whatever. But along comes another generation who defiantly claim the same for their teachers. Perhaps that’s the essence of a good school: each generation supposes they knew it at its best, and it’s all downhill from there. But it isn’t. Change comes about, causes alarm and indignation, but in the end calm returns and the doom clouds clear to reveal progress. ‘Twas ever thus! And long may it continue.
Don’t forget the Dinner on Saturday, 19th September. And spare a grateful thought for Thomas Seckford, 500 years old this year, who made it all possible.
Best wishes to you all.