No. 203

OSB Logo The Old St Beghian
  July 2023


Following a lunch between James Brindle (G 49-53) and Sam Ashton (SH 47-53),
Sam has contributed the following reminiscence.

Coronation Day, 2nd June, 1953.

“As the great day approached, it became clear to me that whereas the local schools were all having a holiday, we were not. I found this outrageous. I was head of School House and second head of school; Brian Scott, from Grindal, had the distinction of being head, and I do not now remember who exactly were the heads of ‘Hostel’ north and south. Anyway. I said to the effect look, we`re just not having this; and with me being the self-appointed shop steward, we got an appointment with J. C. Wykes the then Headmaster. I was totally familiar with him and his wife, since most days they had lunch with us on School House, and in my lofty position, I sat with them on the top table.

I put our case quite forcefully and he agreed, thus we got an additional three-quarter holiday. I’d been on my guard lest he tried to shift the date of one of the two others we had in the summer term to June 2nd.


OSB Notes - Sam Ashton
Sam Ashton (Left) and James Brindle (Right)

Now as to our lunch, plus the view of the Coronation.

As has been said by others, we had great freedom on all Sundays: ‘bicycle’ was an item on the ‘clothing list’. We were greatly encouraged to go into the lakes and mountains, which we did, in parties of two or more, backed by the ‘blue ticket’ system, by which your house master recorded where you were going and with whom. One copy went with you and the other remained in the book. The Sunday timetable was arranged to give us the maximum time away from School House. The first compulsory event in the evening was evensong in chapel, and I have a distinct memory of seeing from my choir stall Eddy Holmes and John Leigh dashing in, having left outside their bikes and climbing ropes.

There was a list of approved hostelries, the management of which had all received a letter asking them not to serve us with alcohol; we were easily identified in our navy-blue shorts and blazers plus stockings of a lighter shade. Of course, we all got to know which landlords were relaxed about this. Such a one was Charles Caldwell, who together with his wife, Anne, owned and ran the Bower House, Eskdale. I blush with embarrassment to tell you how, in the company of Bryan (`Charlie`) Pringle, we ordered a gin and orange and two glasses. Charles’ expression didn’t flicker, and we got our order.

Sometime later, in about 1950, when I was fifteen, I have a very clear memory of entering the Bower House through the outer lounge and being about to cross the route from the kitchen (on my left) to the dining room, when a girl in a white overall crossed my path carrying someone’s lunch. Our eyes met. Len Deighton has an apposite phrase: ‘She came into my life like the Royal Scot, but without all that noise and steam.’

Let`s just say that by June 1953 the Caldwell`s daughter, Gill, and I were well acquainted. Luckily for me I was approved of by Charles and Anne. Charles had been to Rossal, and if St Bees lost in the annual rugger clash of the titans, I would receive a scornful postcard.

As soon as I told Charles about our victory with J.C.W., he said he’d hired a television set on which to watch the great occasion and proposed to put on lunch; the price, to include watching the Coronation, was two and six. I put up a notice in the Hostel main corridor (it was important to view the board every morning in case your rugger set was due to play that day). I think there were about fifteen responses, and I rang that information through to Charles. On the great occasion, Gill on a day’s holiday from Calder Girl’s School, waited on us and then we watched the ceremony. It was a great success except that London appeared to be suffering a blizzard, which seemed not to be noticed by anyone in the capital!

At that time the Bower House, as run by the Caldwells, and always employing an exceptional chef, was a beacon of civilization in an otherwise barren landscape. In their favour was the developing nuclear site at Sellafield. The Bower House subsequently became the inn where senior government scientists, engineers and civil servants stayed. It was also a popular place for St Bees’ parents to stay. Sometimes members of staff would be invited for Sunday lunch, T.A. Brown for example. Other regulars were jolly bachelors: prime examples were Tony Dearle, and riding pillion on Tony`s bike, David, ‘Bill’ Henderson. Tony is remembered by one wet day drying his socks on the dining room radiator!” 




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