A Farewell to the Old School 1929

When I took on the task of launching a new website in 2008, one of the first series of articles that was published that year was an account of the move of the school from its original premises to its current location in 1929, produced by the late John Macrae, a stalwart of the school and the Association.  When we moved the website to be hosted alongside the School website, this article, one of the most popular in the first couple of years of the original website, became unavailable to visitors to the site.  I felt this needed to be rectified and have therefore reproduced the article below - I hope you enjoy it.

‘VALE’ - Words of farewell to the Old School

(from “The Bordenian” December 1928)

“At some time in the not far distant future we shall be deserting the familiar and beloved precincts of our ancient academy – “The old order changeth, yielding place to new” – and shall be exploring our new home.  Before we take our departure, however, let us make a rapid survey of our old domicile.

“Starting at the summit of the stately pile we find two classrooms which were one in the dim and distant past.  No longer will the treble pipe of “fags” be heard in one, nor the agonised voices of history students in the other.  The dormitories, too, with their thick carpet of dust, disturbed only by annual rehearsals, how long will they remain in this state?  And that terrible room – shall we call it the Chamber of Horrors? – where so many “Highers” have been taken, what will become of it, with its leaning walls?

“Descending to lower levels we pay a fleeting visit to the French and Geography rooms.  All dormitories once, my masters, and the scene of many midnight frolics.  And then the east wing, a labyrinth of dusty passages leading to diminutive and dustier cubicles to the walls of which adhere touching portraits and inscriptions – but disturb not the rest (and dust) of these sepulchral chambers and come to earth.

“Here we have much to regard in a very short space of time.  A fleeting glimpse of the courtyard and kitchens is sufficient, quite sufficient.  The dining hall is the centre of our interest, for here within its ink-marred confines repose our ancestral arms.  Then there is the Library, the scene of many “fagly” tortures and joys.  Its battle-scarred desks could tell many a tale if only they could speak!

“The Schoolroom next compels our attention, its battered walls tastefully adorned with detention lists and ancient maps, half obscured by a dense pall of dust.  Here has many a youthful voice been lost.

“With Hallooing and singing of Anthems”

Small wonder the ceiling is cracked!

“Of the remaining rooms, only those of the Sixth Form and the Prefects are of outstanding interest.  The former seems to re-echo with the yells which greet an unwilling victim of a practical joke, and the latter is as it ever was, a chamber of litter, pleasant in summer, but in winter as cold as the polar regions.  Many tales could be told of the laboratories, of fire and water, but time and space permit not – it grows dim and we whisper farewell.”


I wondered where the photograph shown below left was taken.  The text above seems to infer that this was the dining hall with the ancestral arms mounted on the wall at the end of the room.  These still exist and now lie in the archive room although I remember them mounted on the wall in the old hall between the Honours Boards. 

(A recent search in Archives produced only the banner - below right)


Old school_hall  Old BGS_Dining_Hall 2008-03-25clockold school003

Note the similarity of the piano in the dining hall like that in the present one.  Apart from this the similarities end.  There seemed to be no obvious form of heating unless the large chandeliers hanging from the ceiling provided enough heat as well as the light to illuminate the hall.  However, upon recent inspection of the Hall, two fireplaces have been found.  They are on the south wall and in white with the initials of William Barrow appearing in black.  The modern photograph in the centre above shows the far one better.  The fireplaces are positioned under windows so the flues are angled to reach the chimneys in the corners of the hall.  Note that now radiators are installed for heating and the fireplaces remain as decoration only.  The two chimneys can be seen on the outside photographs of the school on either side of the large central gable - see below.


Old school_HMs_house2  Old school_HM_house


In the centre of the gable is the school clock.  Sadly the hands now remain at 12 o’clock.  It is a clock designed to chime the hours and is powered by weights that hang on wires running down inside the walls, again being shifted horizontally to avoid the window openings.  It had to be wound by hand. The 2 photos immediately above show the Headmaster’s house and garden at the east end of the school with its own lean-to greenhouse.


All the old pictures show the bell tower at the western end of the building, but it had to be removed eventually probably due to over enthusiastic ringing making the brickwork unsafe.  To ensure boys were aware of school time there was a second bell at the back of the school facing College Road (the cinder track) to ensure those dawdling up the track in the morning were perfectly aware whether they would be late and have to face the consequences!

2008-03-25Old BGS003 2008-03-25Old BGS004

Rear bell support with the back of the Headmaster’s house on the left. The plaque for the clock is located outside the main entrance to the left of the Headmaster’s house.


Another part of the text makes reference to the laboratories, and once again there are a few features that may make even a youthful Old Bordenian feel at home.

Old science_lab

Look at the bench on the right.  It has one beam balance housed in its glass case and four others.  In the middle is a tangent galvanometer just like the ones we used at Borden through the 1960’s in Physics.  They consisted of a large coil of wire surrounding a small mounted magnet acting as a compass.  The interaction of the Earth’s magnetic field and that from the coil was used in a variety of experiments at ‘A’ level up to 1971.  Electrical power in those days would have come from wet accumulators.  At the far end of the nearer bench rest two calorimeters complete with thermometers providing some experiment on heat measurement.  It is possible that they exist and are still being used to this day in Physics.

Note the coal fire and the gas piping and Bunsen burners.  I should think this could have been one of the warmest places in the school on a cold winter’s day.  The heat from the gas lighting and a dozen Bunsens would have made lessons here just that bit more bearable – a fact not lost on me when, during the miners’ strikes, we managed to keep the laboratories warmer than most classrooms. [Editor's note - John Macrae started his career at the school as a Physics Master!]

One other thing about this photo is that there does not appear to be anything to sit on, so perhaps lessons took place with everybody standing. 

The next photographs show the old school at different times and a little detective work will enable the reader to put them into chronological order (hint - look at the size of the tree at the front of the school). I have tried to take contemporary photographs but much of the school field has been built on to provide private housing taking up the whole corner of the plot bounded by the original road up to the school, Riddles Road and College Road. Hence I was unable to get wide views.  At the time of writing, I have not been able to identify any of the internal rooms mentioned in “Vale”.  I am finding that the more I write, the more there is to investigate. I do not think of time as the enemy but it certainly seems to ‘fugit’ very rapidly!


Old BGS_c.1914 Old BGS_-_unknown_date 


The photo on the left above shows the cricket square in good condition but I think the outfield would have caused a bit of a problem!

Old BGS Old school_centre

Old school_main 

The modern photos were taken on 25 March 2008. The buildings are now used as the Sittingbourne Adult Education Centre having previously been the Kent Farm Institute and a Teacher Training College

And finally the Bordenian of March 1929 has this offering. 

“On entering the New School” 

At last, after waiting for fifty long years,

A marvellous vision to us now appears;

A spacious new school, done in brick, red and white,

Our jubilant hearts give a leap at the sight.

The great day has come, like the sun through the clouds,

The school to a man in the Dining Hall crowds;

“Let’s feast to the Gov’nors, who’ve turned up some trumps,

And bring us to bliss from our present old dumps.

Come turn out your linings and purchase good wine,

Then solemnly join hands and sing ‘Auld Lang Syne’ “

So heedless of rain and with arms full of books,

Past wurtzel and bungalows, sling we our hooks;

All eyes fixed ahead on the splendid new place,

Sporting a silk flag, all bordered with lace.

“Some brand new idea,” we all nod to ourselves,

And forward we trip like a concourse of elves;

Softly we glide, whispering praise,

Submitting each room to our wondering gaze.

Yet, ‘mid all these splendours, who feels not regret,

For the Borden of memories, dear to us yet?            A.W.S.

From “The Bordenian”  July 1929

“The first Term in our new building is almost over, and we have settled down to the new routine with the minimum of disturbance, although workmen are still putting finishing touches to the building.  The grounds in front of the School have also to be put in order, and the hard tennis courts to be surrounded with netting.   The playing fields are, of course, not yet ready for use, and the prolonged drought has made it difficult to get the large field into more than a semblance of order, in spite of the use of a steamroller.  Arrangements were made for the use of the ground of the Sittingbourne F.C., for School matches and first eleven practice, and the team is to be congratulated on its excellent record this Term, seeing that no small part of the Term had passed before cricket got going.  The position with regard to football next Term is also causing anxiety, but everything possible will be done to provide satisfactory pitches.”

(Note that although the School is thought of as being moved in 1928, and the dates on the drainpipe hoppers say 1928, it actually began formal education on 25 April 1929 for the Summer Term.)


“This Term Mr. A. C. Howard, B.A., has joined the Staff of the School as French Master, and we offer him a hearty welcome.  Mr. Howard is an Old Boy of the School.”  ( ‘Jimmy’  Howard retired and left Borden officially on 31 August 1969 after 40 years – JM.)


“There are now 180 boys in the School, three having entered and eight left since last Term.  There were 158 candidates for Free Place Scholarships at the examination held at the School on May 4th.  A list of successful candidates is given elsewhere.”

R E Brend         W G Brown       J H Burstow       S W Dane         W W French

K A Goddard     W H Kemp        R W Martyn       H C Mount         S H Price

D S Radford       A W H Shepherd                        H Wells               

(All these had Sheppey addresses)


Reproduced by David Palmer from original material by John Macrae.