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John Porteous and Catherine Porteous

Catherine’s earliest memories of the school. Visiting St James’ Park with Nanny. A visit by the Princesses to Westminster Abbey. [2:37] King’s visit to the Latin Play in 1937. [3:24] War and evacuation to Ireland, where she stayed until April 1940. [4:38] Wearing lifebelts on the boat back to England. [4:56] Staying at Lancing College. Listening to Churchill on the radio. Soldiers returned from Dunkirk sleeping in gardens. [6:25] Moved from the coast. Blitz begins. [7:42] Living in Herefordshire. The Blitz at Westminster School. [8:41] Herefordshire. A governess shared with the other Masters’ children. Rode a pony to school every day. [10:49] Made friends with an old poacher. [12:00] Moved into the town. More involved in the community there. Westminster boys learning how to live in the country. [15:18] Her mother, Mrs Christie’s, food parcels from Australia. Tony Benn helps her with her long division. [16:08] Learnt to swim in the river. [16:25] Awareness of war news. [16:45] Religious service and local vicars. [18:12] Excitement on D-Day. [20:42] Arnold Foster, Head of Music, organised a local choir and orchestra with the boys. Enjoyed by the locals. [21:27] Plays by the boys. Her first Shakespeare. [22:20] Vanessa and Colin Redgrave, who were also evacuated and joined their classes with the governess. [22:40] Masters’ wives and matrons worked hard to cater for the boys without servants. [23:49] Return to London. It felt dirty, broken and sad. [24:30] Masters’ children took lessons with a member of staff. [26:10] Living in no. 17. Cycling around on top of the water tanks in Dean’s Yard. [27:09] Hide-and-seek in the Cloisters. American soldiers. Playing around on the school roofs. [29:02] Bomb damage to the school. Impact on father’s health of the strain of war and school bomb damage. His illness in 1947. [31:35] Went to boarding school. [32:17] First saw John playing Gwendolyn in ‘The Importance of Being Ernest’. [33:47] Occasional returns to Westminster. The Greaze. Later watching her son in the Greaze. [36:00] Mother kept hens at school. Boys thought she was very eccentric. [37:15] Mother became very good at entertaining. Would visit boys who were ill. [39:50] Christie’s lasting friendships with the boys. [41:59] Catherine and John meet. [43:33] John’s experience of WWII. Tormore School Prep School. Trained for the Challenge quite intensively. [46:04] Many boys he knew from his prep school were at Westminster. [46:57] Westminster was very liberal after his strict prep school. Food at Westminster. An unpleasant experience with the school food. Post-war rationing. [49:43] Post-war Westminster bleak and dirty. The Abbey coal-black inside. Princess Elizabeth’s wedding. [50:50] The robes and huge jewels of the Indian Princes. [51:50] Smog and the effect of city living on the Westminster boys. [53:39] College was very ‘churchy’. [54:44] Found work too easy in the Shell. [56:20] They were precocious and gave themselves extra work in non-school subjects, for example learning Tamil. He learnt Anglo-Saxon. [58:08] Teaching classrooms. [59:20] Seen as infra dig to take A Levels. Trained for the Oxbridge exams. [1:00:51] Scared of John Christie, who taught them and made them learn Greek by heart. [1:02:25] Descriptions of teachers. Munck, killed in an aeroplane crash. Charles Keeley, shy historian. [1:04:01] Deeply churchy place. Prayers every morning. Some King’s Scholars considered becoming Catholic. [1:05:33] Description of the Westminster tradition of Decals and evening calls. [1:09:29] Initiation ceremony to learn Westminster slang. Changes in the tradition while he was at school. [1:12:31] Scholars all slept in the same dormitory apart from the prefectus, who had a separate room which had formerly been the bedroom of Catherine Porteous when she was younger. [1:13:42] Abbey an important part of Westminster life. [1:14:54] Queen Mary came to the Abbey when her favourite curate was preaching. Looked old-fashioned. The misbehaviour of Catherine’s sister on one occasion. [1:16:03] Eccentric Masters. Troutbeg, who wore tailcoats. Rugbig, who carried a cane. Simpson. [1:18:53] John Carleton, an excellent House Master and a huge influence on John. Remained a friend with Carleton. [1:21:17] Catherine was required to call all the Masters by their surnames, unlike the other Masters’ children. [1:22:39] Gradually starting to use Christian names for pupils. [1:23:53] The re-opening of College and the royal visit. John Carleton’s first year as House Master of College. Terrible acoustics of the new building. [1:25:16] The opening of College by the King and Queen. [1:28:58] An instance of John Carleton’s ingenuity. [1:32:59] House ledgers. John’s character as a young man. [1:34:40] Uncertainty what would have happened to him if he hadn’t won a closed scholarship. [1:36:43] Good friends made at Westminster. [1:39:31] Being in the 6th and 7th form at Westminster was very like university. Boys educated each other. Informal classes were like tutorials. [1:40:36] Debate with Eton. Etonians were more sophisticated. The Westminsters felt like ‘ignorant schoolchildren’ in comparison. [1:42:39] More difficult for John to make ends meet at Oxford than it had been at Westminster. [1:43:45] College was the elite. Very strong sense of cohesion as a house. The gowns meant they were more easily distinguished from the other houses then. [1:45:16] Catherine had lots of friends in Oxford. Sent to Germany by her parents, who thought she was being too frivolous and that she was getting too involved with Robin. Learnt German.

Stephen Spurr

When he arrived at Westminster he felt the school needed to rediscover its purpose and reshape itself for the 21st century. [3:42] His aim in the first year was to consult people over the future of the school. [4:00] His previous school had been Clifton School in Bristol. Every school is different, and when you begin at a new school you must understand its ethos. [5:08] At Clifton he had learnt how important it was to have co-education. Clifton had been in a difficult financial state when he first arrived. He had learnt how important it is for the Headmaster to keep on top of finances. [6:25] He had been a housemaster and head of a large department at Eton. Before then he had been a university academic. Westminster is like a small university in some ways. [7:30] Westminster was originally ahead of other schools in co-education, but now can be seen as a dinosaur. Believes that the Westminster model is the right one. [9:18] Doubts about excluding girls from the years below. [10:34] He decided to change the composition and numbers in the sixth form, so that Westminster no longer felt like a boys’ school that happened to have some girls in it. Decided on 1/3 girls, 2/3 boys in 6th form, with minimum of ¼ boarders. [12:23] School increased overall to 740, to allow for more girls at 6th form. Introduced a head girl. [13:19] The number of women in the Common Room has also increased. [14:08] The greater number of newcomers in the sixth form helps the boys who are already pupils to see the sixth form as a new beginning. [14:35] Balancing money spent on social mobility and money spent improving facilities. [15:53] The importance of fundraising. [17:55] The choice between fundraising for a very large endowment or raising money every year to plough straight into financial assistance. Chose the latter. [19:08] Harris Westminster Academy. Westminster needs to look outwards more. [20:23] Westminster summer school. Inspiring pupils to go into higher education. [21:55] Media portrayal of Westminster. Most schools try to get into the press. At Westminster, it’s the reverse. Many calls from the press, which are not always relevant. Need a good relationship with journalists. [25:47] The impact of social media. Pupils need to be educated on how to use it responsibly. Can be a very positive thing. [27:10] Relationships should not just be virtual. [27:48] When first came to Westminster pupils had Walkmans and weren’t talking to each other. Needs to be a community in the school. The development of a parenting forum, where parents can discuss their concerns. [29:44] A moral education should be central to the school. Nurturing individual talent is important, but pupils must also have a sense of social responsibility. [32:38] Relationship between the School and the Abbey was re-assessed during the preparations for the 450th anniversary of the foundation of the school in 2010. Began working together more. Morality and spirituality became more central to the school. [35:30] Introduction of civic engagement, for every pupil to participate in, rather than community service, which was for pupils who weren’t interested in sports. [39:16] Many Westminster pupils will go on to be leaders, and leaders must be socially responsible. [40:17] Traditions. Latin Prayers. Deciding either to abolish it or take it seriously. [43:46] When he began, the Governors had been concerned that Westminster had lost some of its style. The importance of the Archives. [45:47] The introduction of girls’ uniform. It had previously made it appear as though girls were just an add-on. [48:48] Pupils have more generosity of spirit now, and are less brittle and competitive. [53:31] The importance of the Monitors and Head Boy and Girl. [55:17] The Common Room previously hadn’t had much of a common purpose. He tried to involve more staff in the development-planning of the school. [57:35] The Headmaster needs to protect teachers from management, legislation, financial matters, and so on. Their sacred task is the teacher / pupil relationship.

Gavin Griffiths

No strong impulse to go to Westminster. Serendipity rather than conscious plan. Just wanted to leave his school in Wimbledon. [2:07] Sees teaching as a job rather than a career. Accommodation at school meant he had a better lifestyle than he would otherwise have been able to afford, so unable to leave Westminster. [3:50] Enjoyed all his roles in the school. Attempts to prevent him from being Head of English. Without an SMT, it was easier for elderly teachers to put pressure on Head Masters than it is now. [7:05] Ashburnham House Master. Great job. Its location meant it was difficult to get people over there. Supervision of the house had not previously been very thorough. [8:31] Grant’s was fun but very tiring, since it was a boarding house and therefore very long hours. This improved after another boarding house master had a nervous breakdown. [10:18] Far greater parental involvement than before. Can make it more difficult for the children. [12:17] Westminster looks after children better than it used to. More involvement and pastoral support from the House Master now. [13:26] Change in the texts studied. Othello and Lolita now no longer on the syllabus. [18:33] Teachers’ tendency to perform. Used to being the centre of attention. [19:13] Big figures in the Common Room. Ernest Sanger, an Austrian Jew who left Europe before the outbreak of war. Should have been an academic. Theo Zinn, an enormous influence. [21:47] Inspirational teachers can often be the bully as well. [22:29] Common Room 30 years ago. All men apart from one teacher. Smoking and conspiring. An example of plotting against the Head Master, John Rae. [24:21] Improvements to Common Room photocopying during his time as Common Room President. Also finding a helpful Common Room secretary. [27:47] Computers have made some tasks easier but have created more work. Enjoyed teaching in different classrooms when there was more pressure for space. [31:14] Introduction of girls to the school. Frances Holland School didn’t have laboratories, so girls came for the science lessons. It began as an informal arrangement. [32:57] The introduction of girls meant there was more socialising in Yard. House differences became less important. [35:24] Much harder to get into Oxbridge than it used to be. [38:21] The importance of straightforward criticism. [41:24] Theory of the developing intellect. [42:01] Negative effects of child protection policies. More cumbersome now and instructs children to distrust all adults. Morally offensive. [45:20] Miss the 7th term for Oxbridge, when the most difficult topics were tackled, but otherwise the intellectual element of teaching is just as challenging. [46:49] Teachers that he particularly remembers. Russell Dudley-Smith, a polymath. Richard Jacobs, an inspiration as an English teacher. [48:58] The predominance of Maths, the only subject with no moral content. On whether this will continue. [51:43] Advice to teachers joining Westminster. Advice to pupils at Westminster. [54:51] The virtues of conformity or independent thinking. [55:41] Will miss having an audience when he leaves. [56:50] An anecdote about a pupil’s late prep. [58:22] Unsure what he will do after Westminster. Perhaps writing. [1:00:19] Preventing the stripper-gram from accosting John Rae.

Jeffrey Eker

Westminster Under School restarted in 1943 in Grant’s, when the Great School was evacuated. Joined the Great School in 1945, when it was back in London. [1:10] A day boy. Lived above Baker Street station. School still finding its feet being back in London. There were barrage balloons and anti-aircraft guns in Vincent Square. Rationing of food and clothing. [2:52] He entered via the 4th form, which no longer exists. [3:43] Weekly form orders, when the pupils were ordered according to their marks the previous week. A very competitive atmosphere. Moved up two years due to his academic promise. [4:29] Took the School Certificate at 14. [5:00] Maundy money prizes and book tokens. [6:06] Physical training in Little Dean’s Yard in the morning. [7:10] The war was very traumatic for him, as a Jew. He was excused going to religious services, although some other Jewish boys did go. Was allowed to be away from school for the major Jewish religious holidays. He was an atheist. [8:42] The Under School evacuated for 4 weeks when the flying bombs came to London. [10:22] School numbers were very low when he arrived. No more than 220 boys. [11:05] Greaze took place in the roofless School. [12:52] Memorable Masters. W. F. Monk, an inspiring teacher. Dr Burch, who had no control over his class at all. [14:55] No bullying, and corporal punishment was very rare. [17:03] Enjoyed rowing. [18:05] His mother and siblings were sent to America in June 1940 by his father, because they were Jewish. His father probably thought he was never going to see them again. [18:50] Father came to England in 1911. Landed at Tower Pier, penniless and not speaking the language. First job was in Petticoat Lane, selling fabric off a barrel. Ended up with a textile business. [20:36] Knew he was going into business but didn’t tell anyone at school. [21:46] Brother went to Westminster when it was evacuated, and had a totally different impression of the school. Felt that the Housemaster was a bully and an anti-Semite. Jeffrey felt no anti-Semitism at all when he was there. [22:27] Saw the first meeting of the committee that set up the United Nations, which took place in Church House in 1944. Boys felt they were at the centre of the world. [23:47] Went into his father’s business after school. Sold the business and retired at 57. [24:29] Was in Ashburnham House, but there wasn't much house spirit. Felt more a member of the school than his house.

Patrick Kennedy

War broke out as he started at Westminster. [3:16] Evacuated with the school. Dwindling numbers of pupils. [6:10] Left Lancing when France fell. [7:21] Chocolate rationed. School moved to Lancing College. [13:10] Chose Maths as his main subject. Tony Benn was in his class. A booby-trapped door that caught the Head Master, John Christie. [18:39] Comments on John Christie. [19:30] The house magazine for Grant’s. [21:46] Stayed at a farmhouse. Good quality dairy products there. [23:13] The Home Guard at Buckenhill. The House Master, Murray Rust, was a Major in the Home Guard. [25:24] Robert Bruce, a friend. Walks together in the mountains after university. [27:35] Football. [31:15] Tennis. [32:20] Activities in the boys’ spare time. [33:49] Reading evenings. Walks. [34:36] Harvesting mistletoe. [37:33] Tony Benn, who was called Wedgewood Benn. A time Benn was beaten for putting his feet up on the desk during a lesson. [49:20] Masters’ wives were very integrated with the school. They used to cook for the boys. [51:53] Cycling at the weekend was very popular with the boys. [52:55] An example of Murray Rust’s quick thinking in an encounter with a hand grenade in the Home Guard. [59:25] Long-distance race across the common, called the Bringsty Relay. [1.04.03] Academic studies. Weekends dedicated to music and arts. House choirs.

David Summerscale

Went to Sherbourne School. Parents lived in France. Read English at Cambridge. [2.50] Taught at University of Delhi. Unhappy at first but then loved it. [5.34] In 1939, Parents moved to Paris, then back to England in 1940. France as a long-standing interest for him. [6.54] Beginning to teach English at Charterhouse in 1962/63. Oliver van Oss, the Headmaster at Charterhouse. Very talented pupils from very different homes. Often very anxious pupils. [13.25] Less academic pressure then. More time to learn and enjoy. [16.10] Left Charterhouse to be Headmaster of Haileybury School, just after he got married. [19.05] Haileybury was still in the dark ages. Boarding only. 60-bed dormitories. Quite claustrophobic. [20.23] Not very stimulating academically. Spent 10 years there trying to modernise it. [23.43] Didn’t want to be a Headmaster. Loss of freedom, even then. The last generation of the amateur headmasters. Didn’t think too much about the next career step. [25.52] Had begun to start thinking that he couldn’t do much more as Headmaster there. [27.22] Distinct dislike between Charterhouse boys and Westminsters. [28.29] Contacted by Burke Trend, a Governor at Westminster, about the position of Head Master. The interview. A difficult interview question. [31.24] Call from Edward Carpenter to offer him the post. [32.10] Westminster wasn’t as academically successful as it thought it was. [33.04] Arrival at Westminster. John Rae. [35.29] Westminster needed Head Master who spent time in the Common Room, who was available to talk to. [36.18] Challenges of a school in London - like the IRA. The difference in tempo between Haileybury and Westminster. [38.21] His predecessor at Haileybury completely dominated the school. Westminster too had been dominated by Rae, his predecessor. Common Room and pupils were all doing as they liked. [40.12] He tried to encourage teachers to do what they enjoyed doing. [40.49] New staff needed to be robust. Interviews and practice classes were less rigorous then. No hierarchy or Senior Management Team. Would rely on the Head of Department. Appointments often relied on hunches. [44.13] House Masters were more difficult to appoint. [47.19] Left Westminster just before it became more professional. The first Ofsted inspection. Creating policies for Ofsted. [50.44] Jim Cogan, the Master of the Queen’s Scholars. The role of Under Master. [54.43] Living in 17, Dean’s Yard with his family. Uncomfortable but loved their home. Some privacy. [57.30] Very good atmosphere in the Common Room. [58.01] No facilities for music or science when he began. The Robert Hooke Centre Appeal. [1.1.38] A community spirit among the teachers, since all in close quarters. Accommodation for staff a growing problem. [1.02.53] The challenges of establishing new houses with very little space. Problem of growing pupil numbers. Existing houses were overcrowded. The creation of Hackluyt’s and Milne’s, and the Masters involved. [1.06.50] His participation in sport. A way of meeting other teachers and pupils on common ground. Refreshing that sport wasn’t extremely competitive. [1.10.01] Dramatic productions. [1.11.10] Relations between the Abbey and the school. 1.15.10] Wesley Carr, Dean of Westminster. Undervalued by some within the Abbey. Respected by some in the School. [1.17.53] Receiver Generals and their relations with the school. [1.18.30] His experience as a parent of a Westminster pupil. Relationship with Tristram Jones-Parry, the Head Master who succeeded him. The effect of Westminster on his daughter and son. [1.22.55] Age differences didn’t seem to matter as much at Westminster as at some other schools. Less of a hierarchy among pupils. [1.24.12] Changes to headmasters’ roles. Felt the right time to leave.

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