This article was published in Issue 100, Winter 2017.
Click on a picture to see it bigger.
In the early spring of this year, the demolition began of St Bede’s school in Send. The pupils vacated the building at the end of the autumn term 2016, and moved into their new building at the site of Send first school. The merged schools are known now as ‘Send Primary’, and St Bede’s has been reduced to dust.
Samuel Wright, a year six pupil, felt strongly that his beloved school should not disappear unnoticed nor forgotten. His mum ‘Sarah Wright’ also a former pupil from 1987/8, set up a Facebook memorial page in light of Sam’s wishes and dedication. Within just a week, membership requests were pouring in and soon reached over 1000. Daily updates of the demolition process attracted many ex pupils from far and wide, visiting the site to say their farewells. Then came ‘Brickgate’ with ex pupils on a mission to preserve their own small piece of St. Bede’s, by retrieving a brick from the demolition site. We watched as our beloved school disappeared bit by bit, as posts of precious memories and photos came pouring in.
It became evident very fast that a large percentage of the happy memories had one thing in common: the warm hearted and influential headmaster ‘Mr Ron Hall’. Not a negative comment to be seen, with post after post detailing something specific he had taught that had influenced their life. Many people expressed how wonderful it would be to meet with him again but assumed he would no longer be with us.
I was hugely blessed to meet with Ron a couple of years ago in his home town of Godalming, and decided to make contact with him to see if he would be willing to attend a reunion. He was delighted, very excited and agreed! His daughter Kate joined the group and posted a photo of him the day he was told. The excitement and outpouring of love that followed was amazing. A date was set and people started making arrangements, coming from far and wide to shake hands with this wonderful man and say thank you. Tragically, just five days later he very suddenly and unexpectedly died, just a week before his 91st birthday. Ironically this happened as the last part of the school was taken down, the entrance and office. As if the captain went down with his ship.
Everyone was in shock, with tributes and heart felt messages to his family flooding the group page. With the excitement and surprise of hearing he was still with us and was willing to bless us all with his presence in our lives again, the sadness was deep and great. I feel it was as if it was meant to be, that he should know how loved he was before he left this world, and we should all get the chance to mourn such a special man. It was decided the reunion would go ahead in his memory, and as a tribute to our school.
On the scorching afternoon of June 18th 2017, Lancaster Hall was bursting with reunited friends that had attended St Bede’s between 1939-2016. Mr Hall’s family attended and helped to set up a presentation of his life, including some very special hand written memoirs of his life, photos, letters written to the children, scripts of the many school plays and poems he had written over the years. One of the play scenes was even re-enacted by its original cast! – more than 35 years later.
Teachers both past and present attended, including Mike Hurdle and John Turley, who taught at the school in the 70’s & 80’s. The oldest member, who we were thrilled to have in attendance, was the lolly-pop lady of many years – Pat Clack.
The picture top right above is of Mr Hall & his team in 1982: Miss Yates, Miss Joy, Mr Turley, Miss Allen, Mrs Elsey, Mrs Carpenter, Mrs Jenkins, Mr Hall, Miss Wright, Mr Porter.
A minute’s silence was held for Mr Hall and all those lost over the years. A couple of Mr Hall’s poems were read out by Samuel and his friend, who were in their St Bede’s uniforms, followed by speeches from Mr Hall’s daughter ‘Kate’ and ‘Phil’, one of his first ever pupils. Samuel presented Kate with a plaque adorned brick in memory of her father, our beloved headmaster.
‘Peter Crouch’ from the Send and Ripley History society, also a former pupil, made a short presentation of some articles he had managed to rescue from the site. This included some wood slates from the hall floor, on old named stool, and the ball that adorned the top of the school tower. The tower was also salvaged and is in storage until a suitable place for display can be decided.
The following day, Sarah, Samuel and I, along with ‘Lydia Dunford’ (who had travelled from Wales and returned to her home town for the first time in 30 years) and Nicky Hirens, made our way to the school grounds in the boiling hot late afternoon sun. Red, green, blue and yellow balloons, to represent the houses: Arundel, Conway, Balmoral and Dover, were sent up over the vast empty space where our school once stood and so many thousands of happy and ever-lasting memories were made, It seemed like the perfect closure to our emotional and memorable journey.
I’m sure I speak on behalf of everyone, when I say a huge thank you to Samuel and Sarah for bringing us all together. So many are now back in contact with beloved school friends and are so thankful for the experience and opportunity to say farewell and thank you to St Bede’s. We even had one relationship formed as a result!
Another reunion is planned for next year. If you are not already a member of the group, you can find us on Facebook under ‘St Bedes school memories 1939-2016 junior, middle, secondary modern Send’. It will take you a while to scroll back through the vast catalogue of memories and school photos, but it is so worth it.
A book is being compiled to document the reunion and website, and will be given to the history society when completed. St Bede’s may be gone, but it will never be forgotten.
Lisa Ross (and she supplied the photos for the story)
Another reunion – Photo from Phil Billington of 4th & 5th years 1965 get-together that took place at the Onslow Arms.