School photo

Humphrey Hawksley 

Grange 1965 - 1972

My arrival at St Lawrence College was prompted by the opening of Cameron House in 1965 and the opportunities for an education between Junior School and Senior School. I can’t remember whether I passed the 11 plus or not but my parents didn’t want me to go to the local secondary modern in Suffolk.  A friend of the family found out that St Lawrence was offering a ‘midway’ education for those aged from 9-10 years old.  As a consequence I took an exam when I was aged nine and was given a scholarship.  I joined Cameron House which turned out to be a Nissen hut near the Headmaster’s house - in fact it was the old sanatorium. It felt like I was waking up in an old aircraft hangar with lots of hospital beds.  After 2-3 years I went up to Grange House. My elder brother also went to St Lawrence at 13 from a prep school in Suffolk and my younger brother went up after him.  He joined Cameron too.

It was hard leaving my family.  It was all very exciting in the first instance until I walked into this big room with my parents and realised that I was very shortly afterwards going to be left on my own. That left a big pit in my stomach initially but after a while I simply got used to it. I later came to realise that you have significant reserves within you, especially when you understand that you simply can’t go home at the end of the day.  You have just got to get on with it. It also teaches you to live cheek by jowl with people and that’s very useful.

I was the youngest in Cameron and probably the smallest because I acquired the name of ‘Titch’. There were a few pupils who came from families living overseas, either as medical missionaries or in the services.  My friends were Mark Cousins, Adrian Rensburg from South Africa, John Hodgkinson (a local boy), two brothers called Murphy who were Canadians, Paul Lynnscott, Graham Connell, and a day boy called Philip Taupin. You get to know everyone well because you all live together.  We used to go home at half term and the odd exeat, as well as for the longer holidays.

I wasn’t particularly good at anything. Everyone was better than me. Being taught hockey and rugby was a revelation. I was scrum-half and fly-half because I was so small.  I am not even sure what position I played in hockey - when I first saw the hockey stick, I thought it was a golf club.   In cricket, I was pretty useless at bowling, but was better at batting and slip fielding. Academically I felt comfortable with most subjects but my termly reports were dreadful.  It seemed I disappointed all who taught me. English and History weren’t too bad but I was good at Latin so they made me do Greek too. I remember a conversation with Tom Lilley about why I was doing two languages that nobody spoke, rather than doing French and Spanish. He didn’t really answer. Unfortunately I was still learning how to write at this point (I was c10 years old) so being taught Greek where their letters do not join up, meant that I never learned this skill either. Even today my writing remains un-joined up. Biology fascinated me and John Binfield was a cut above as our English teacher.  He made Shakespeare come alive for me as did Barry Webb with TS Eliot’s ‘The Wasteland’.

School wasn’t place for huge intellectual debate.  In fact there were two parallel universes.  In the outside world of the late 1960s, there was the Vietnam War, the ‘Summer of Love’, the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, and films like ‘Easy Rider’ and ‘Woodstock’. Set against this you had the 1950s style of St Lawrence which was ‘don’t talk about your feelings’, go out and win at rugger, have a good meal, say your prayers and go to sleep’. I was more of an ‘Easy Rider’ type of pupil so my peer group reflected the ‘John Lennon in bed with Yoko Ono’ type of crowd rather than the ones that admired conventional stereotypes such as a military hero or politician.

I was not a model pupil.  Indeed I left St Lawrence at 17 in 1972 with another pupil, Ray Eaton, who was 18 and we joined the Merchant Navy.  We worked our passage to Australia on a cargo ship by painting the deck, sweeping out the holds and learning to play darts while at sea.   The parallel universe extended to conversations with Harold Clifford about university. He said: “Humphrey, you should really try and go to Oxbridge.”  I said: “Why?”  He said: “Which university would you like to go to?” I said. “Why do I need to go to any?”  And I never remember getting a convincing answer from any of the masters.  But when I look back now, it was clear that my thoughts were never on going to university, but on travel and adventure.  Our writers were Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, Ken Kesey, Hunter S Thompson and, of course, Mario Puzo with ‘The Godfather’.  I decided that I didn’t want to go to University or even try to get my A levels. I started in English, History and Latin but my Sixth Form began at exactly the same time that St Lawrence decided to bring girls from St Stephens into our classes, making it difficult to give full concentration to declining Latin verbs.

However, what St Lawrence instilled in me was this: make your own decisions, judge character, decide what you want to do and take responsibility for it rather than rely on a network of establishment around you. This was probably an unconscious, rather than a conscious, set of practises and values which came from the school.  I have also gained a good insight into the lives of the ‘protected’ and the ‘unprotected’.  St Lawrence College is not a place that I wear as a badge, perhaps unlike an old Etonian or Old Harrovian.  Without that degree of comfort, protection and security, we learned about resilience instead.  However tough the day, however many challenges were thrown at you and in whichever form, there was no option to go home at night and so you had to make it work. That, more than anything, is what I have taken away from St Lawrence.

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