‘Old Boys’ reunite to celebrate 400 years of Steyning Grammar School

The Old Boys reunion group standing together outside SUS-140721-113618001
The Old Boys reunion group standing together outside SUS-140721-113618001

On Saturday July 19 more than 300 former pupils gathered at Steyning Grammar School to celebrate the school’s 400th Anniversary.

The focus was on the ‘Old Boys’ as they are fondly called, namely those that went to the school up until 1967, before the school became a comprehensive.

They were all welcomed to the school by headteacher, Mr Nick Wergan before attending a special church service at St Andrew and St Cuthman Church, led on this occasion by The Right Reverend Dr Martin Warner, Bishop of Chichester.

The Church was full to capacity with ‘Old Boys’ and their partners, former teachers, former heads including, Lloyd Harrison (1975 – 1978), Peter Senior (1995-2006) and Maureen Ashley(2006 -2007), as well local dignitaries The Rt Hon Nick Herbert MP and Mr Jeremy Hunt, cabinet member for education and skills.

Headteacher Mr Nick Wergan said: “It has been fantastic meeting so many former students and we are delighted to welcome them back from across the world.

“Our success as a school is built on traditions of excellence and commitment; we can be forward looking and proud of our heritage. We are grateful for the support of our former students, former colleagues and honoured guests as we mark our 400th anniversary.”

After the service guests enjoyed a buffet lunch in the school’s newest Boarding House – Bolton’s, followed by tours of the historic Church Street site, including Brotherhood Hall and Chatfields both of which are former Boarding Houses.

Everyone also had an opportunity to visit an exhibition on the history of the school ‘The Steyning Grammar School Story’ and listen to a talk by local historian Janet Pennington on ‘400 years of education’.

The ‘Old Boys’ returned to the school from all over the world:- from Australia(John Bee, Peter Dawson, Richard Francis) , Canada (Tom Gray, James Griffin, Alan Guy, Reg Heaseman, Patrick Toomey), France (Alan Whytock, Paul Hampton), America (Noel Moloney, John Froude, Geoffrey Kemmish) and Malta(Tony Quinlan) as well as those residing in the UK including four former Head Boys :- Geoffrey Mason now 88 years old who went to the school from 1942-44 as a boarder and who is one of the oldest of the attending ‘Old Boys’ along with John Crowhurst, Howard Barker and Lewis Prockter.

Geoffrey Mason recalled: “It was a great school and a happy school. Discipline was very strict, but we had wonderful staff who taught us much more than the school syllabus, archaeology, drama, gymnastics, and they did a lot for us.”

Reg Heasman, now 87 years old, travelled from Canada to attend the celebration. Reg was one of the witches in the 1942 school production of Macbeth, an event remembered well by all who were there.

Reg said: “This occasion is special to me. This school was a turning point for me, I came from a small place called Southwick and was confronted with the ‘cream of the crop’ and being the smallest boy I has to compete with them, and I did, I got the science prize every year from 1938 – 45. It was a great school.”

Many of the students returning have had interesting careers; possibly the most distinguished of the Old Boys is Professor Sir Tom Blundell who chaired the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution and from the mid-1990s he was the Sir William Dunn Professor of Biochemistry at Cambridge University.

Patrick Toomey is a well-known ice pilot and has a strait in the Antarctic named after him.

Tony Quinlan was seconded by the Foreign Office to the UN as part of the interim administration in Gaza and then in Kosovo.

Many others have succeeded as surgeons, doctors, careers in the police and the services and there are a number of former school teachers and university lecturers.

George Barker, who runs the ‘Old Boys Network’ and has helped to co-ordinate this event, said: “Most of those that have come to the reunion are here to simply meet up with old friends but the underlying reason for making such a journey is a genuine affection for the school and a gratitude for the start in life it gave.”

Everyone thoroughly enjoyed the day, which finished off with tea and cakes before they all went their separate ways.

The Steyning Grammar School ‘Old Boy’s Network’ is an informal, non-subscription network of about 1200 Old Boys and is confined to the pre-1968 Old Boys of the Grammar School. The network is run by George Barker along with the website which is accessible only by its members.

The whole purpose is to give those who want to get in touch with old friends the basic tool to do so. Newsletters are produced twice a year and in these are recounted many recollections.

Members have recorded memories and contributed towards a record of the history of the pre-1968 school in a series of books: The Slog Smugglers (the 1950s), Nudes at Breakfast (1935-50), Crazy Buildings (history of the buildings), Acting the Part (school plays 1914-68) Calling Teacher Names (staff nicknames 1920-68), Making a Mark (names of boarders on the church pews) and A Stroll Down Mouse Lane (anthology of poetry) all books written by George Barker.

If there are any pre 1968 students who would like the opportunity to reconnect they are invited to get in touch with George Barker.

You can call him on 01832 280477 or email him on gbarker2@toucansurf.com or visit the ‘Old Boys Website’ at www.sgsob.co.uk

The School is looking to develop its links with the post 1968 student alumni, and ask that former pupils make contact via email on alumni@sgs.uk.net or visit the School website on www.sgs.uk.net.

Pictures contributed.