Royal-blue Overalls and Midnight Mischief (1993)
Irresistible mischief, antics and adventures. Jacqueline Silver (Old Fish, 1987 - 94) looks back on her time at New Hall.
The journey back to New Hall ended with us sweeping up the majestic, mile-long Avenue, racing the trains before turning the bend to count the pairs of sentried trees and comfortably sleeping policemen. Mornings began with sweeping classrooms, or trudging through muddy fields to pick out horses’ hooves, clad in royal-blue overalls. Break times were filled with gaggles of laughing girls, arms linked, kilts flapping in the wind, sauntering unhurriedly down the Beech Walk.
It was a world where nuns glided through curiously coined corridors: the Ambulacrum, Aloysius Corridor, the Grey Passage. Where horses clip-clopped happily past the windows while girls daydreamed through their studies of the prospect of their lunchtime riding lesson with a real-life colonel and ponies with names like ‘Wiggy Turbine’. Here netball matches involved loitering in the shooting circle when playing against opponents from other schools who made such opening gambits as, ‘Is it true you all go to barn dances and go to bed at four o’clock here?’ Of course not! Four o’clock was for study in the Octagon.
The Octagon was a rare instance of accurate nomenclature. Six Acres is not six acres. And who condoned naming the Reception the Red Room and then kept it steadfastly painted primrose yellow? And why during the 350th anniversary year was there a flurry of duplication and every corridor in the school seemed to be re-christened the Susan Hawley wing? Who decided that the wood that houses mossy grottoes and the nun’s graveyard – that is strictly out of bounds – should be tantalisingly called the Wilderness? Could they blame the sneaky smokers and those engaged in the thrill of the trespass?
Irresistible mischief, antics and adventures. ‘Girls, where are my twenty-two copies of Wuthering Heights?’ piped a certain Scottish English teacher plaintively, desperately rifling through her desk drawers and every cupboard in sight, before a sheepish student, abandoned by her cowardly classmates who had originally egged her on, eventually climbed through the window to retrieve them from their outdoor hiding place.
To exacerbate a certain Geography teacher’s anguish at his beloved paperweight (a stone with a painting of Great Britain on it) going missing, one new replica a day would appear overnight on his desk, over a period of two agonising weeks. We had created a fleet of forgeries, sized in gradients from the tiniest pebble all the way through to a giant painted rock…There was a Latin prank that resulted in a pupil being taken as, at the very least, unconscious, if not dead, having feigned a fainting fit. The well-planned, whole-class escapade had gone too far and she was too scared to rise, as if from beyond the grave, at the appointed time.
In a grand-scale costumed plot, we tortured the spooked-out group of Scandinavian drama students who were unfortunate enough to be using the building for a Summer Camp while the annual Children’s Holiday was underway. We appeared in their dormitory, as the bell struck midnight, dressed as a troupe of convincingly made-up, top-hatted, ghoulish undertakers, bearing a pallid, shrouded body – having raided the School’s unrivalled costume cupboard – still the only place to this date where I have actually tried on vintage Chanel.
And if you ever hear tales of two novice nuns on the loose in Chelmsford who got into Dukes for free and were never rumbled as frauds, it wasn’t they who borrowed veils from the nuns’ washing line, where they flapped innocently and happily to dry.
It was a magical, mysterious, marvellous microcosm. Where adventure, parody and wit prevailed and character and the extraordinary triumphed. A unique world, fuelled by love for a special place and special people, and filled with a zest for laughter, life and learning. Education, achievement and personal triumphs, all the more prized because we were truly looked after and accepted as individuals and ourselves. A precious, privileged, unequalled seven years of education and inspiration; where personalities were formed, nourished and allowed to grow, and where friendships were forged to flourish.