My old school is now an asylum…no really, it is!

Last night I received an email asking me to join an Independent Schools Directory.  It prompted me to write today’s blog.

At the age of around 10 years old, after suffering poor school results and much pestering on my behalf to my parents, they finally gave in and sent me to a private boarding school in South Wales.  We were in a lucky position where my father worked abroad and were able to afford it at the time.

Llanarth Court was, at time of joining, an all boys Preparatory school, run by the Benedictine Order.  Relatively small compared to most schools, there were probably 120 pupils spanning 4 years.  My memory is a bit hazy, but I seem to remember that the intake consisted of boys from all walks of life – military, diplomatic, foreign, and the ‘normal’ middle class like myself.  Girls were introduced in the last couple of years, attending the school only during the day.

The grand manor house, originally built around 1770, was later remodelled in Italianate style in 1849-51, and surrounding buildings formed the backdrop to some formative years.

The main building at Llanarth Court – a lot grander than I remember!

Writing this piece has brought back snatches of memories almost 30 years old:

  • Being woken up in the mornings by Queen played over loudspeakers by the ‘House Master’
  • Teachers smoking in class
  • Class seating being arranged in order of performance in ‘3-weekly’ tests
  • Receiving the cane (on the hand and backside) for various misdemeanours
  • 6am cross-country runs for more misdemeanours
  • 6am swimming in an outdoor, unheated swimming pool for even more misdemeanours
  • The headmaster (a priest) throwing heavy objects at face level as quick punishments (the old style desks had lids – believe me after a few months of dodging projectiles you became adept at raising that lid as a shield very quickly!)
  • The Weekend film club consisting of The Young Ones, Convoy and Enter the Dragon
  • All being brought together in the classroom to be given a lecture on the evils of masturbation
  • Early 8am starts to the school day, afternoons taken up with sports (namely rugby in the Winter and Spring terms, cricket in the summer) and Saturday morning lessons.

Looking back on the time spent there I have mixed feelings (mainly positive) and memories, but understand now, as I reach my 39th year, that it has had a far lasting affect on my character and outlook on life.  My independence, good social skills, love of classic rock and ability to get up in the morning quickly are no doubt directly linked.  However, it may also account for my sometimes Victorian-like views or attitudes.

For example, I do consider myself very liberal and accepting, i.e. a person is free to do whatever they want as long as it doesn’t hurt another person or break the law.  But when that line is crossed, I believe that punishment should be sharp, swift and decisive – preferably with a cane (kidding!).  I am starting to mellow in my old age and am not quite as right-wing as a Daily Mail reader, but there’s a subconcious knee-jerk reaction whenever I hear of an injustice unpunished.

Some of the things that happened have taken on a completely new meaning when looked upon with adult eyes.  I won’t go into them here, but they certainly wouldn’t be allowed to happen in 2012!

As a side note, whilst researching photos for this blog, I discovered some interesting information about the chapel at Llanarth, where many an hour was spent in early morning masses and choir performances:

Dating from 1750, this is probably the first Catholic church constructed in Wales after the Reformation. It was built to accommodate the many Catholics who then lived around Llanarth, but penal laws in force at the time made concealment necessary, so the original church was disguised as a tool-shed within a kitchen garden.

I left in 1986, the last school year before the school closed.  It’s now a ‘specialised assessment and treatment service for mentally disordered men and women who present with a variety of challenging behaviours’ and apparently very high security.

I’ve driven past a number of times over the years, always wanting to go back to see if it’s changed much – maybe I will one day, though hopefully just as a visitor!


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