Thank you to Peter Bolton, for sharing his memories from Boarding at Highbury in the 1960s. This blog is entirely in Peter's own words.
My Dad, Jimmy (JC) Bolton was a well-known Trade Unionist and a City Councillor. He was originally from York, England, a Freeman of that beautiful city. He had travelled to South Africa as a young man and met my Mom (Harriet) in-between serving up North with the SAAF during WW2 and trips back to work in the Trade Union movement as a General Secretary. He died in York whilst on a business trip and carrying out his usual duties of meeting the Lord Mayor of York in 1964.
I was staying at my Uncle's Farm in Hillcrest at the time, along Link Road, where we spent so much time horse-riding, egg collecting and grading, feeding the pigs, milking cows and enjoying our frequent visits to Rubicon Farm. When news came that Dad had passed away in York, I learned that I would not be coming home. My Grandad – Poppa Waters, my Mom's Dad, was the person who told me the sad news.
I recall there was a huge memorial at Durban City Hall, the flags flew at half-mast, and the newspapers were published with a thick black border. Even with all that palaver, I still recall watching anxiously up and down the road every day in case Dad really was still around and would just walk back into our lives - I was just 10 years old.
Soon after those sad days, I was told I was going to be a boarder at Highbury, there were, after all, six of us children and Mom had no chance of being able to carry on Dad's work with the Unions with all of us at home. I was to attend with my older brother, Thomas, who didn’t remain at Highbury too long as he turned out to be a compulsive escaper! He went on to Mansfield as a day scholar after Mr McMillan told my Mom that they just could not stop him from escaping and he would be happier as a day scholar.
So I was at Highbury now on my own – I made a few really great friends, some of whom I am still in contact with today. The closest of those friends was a boy named Darryl Cheek. Darryl and I still chuckle about how we used to go and sit under the water tower, which was near the Bell by the quadrangle, and we would cry and cry as we were so homesick. Of course, after some weeks this passed and we had great times at Highbury – on days when my Mom could not be there to do a weekend visit, I would join the Cheeks, and vice versa. Mr Langley was one of the first people I met from the teaching staff and he was very sympathetic to my situation, having so recently lost my Dad. He made sure that I was treated with consideration, although that did not mean that I got off lightly when misbehaving – which we all did quite a lot – from time to time.
Mr "Spook" Harris, was our Maths/Arithmetic teacher, and his twin sons, Nigel and Martin, were in our class. There were many others from well-known and not so well-known families in the area – Paddy Acutt, The Stonell brothers, Alan Bissett, Kelvin Johnson, Bruce Curry, Brian Silberman, Gavin Sklarchick and Darryl Cheek, to name a few. We played rugby, softball, cricket, grew vegetables in our vegetable gardens, went swimming, went on runs/paper chases, and we gave some of the teachers quite a time, as mischievous boys would of course do. Poor Mr O' Farrell, when he was on evening duties with his old dog, Toby, we would make a noise, laugh at jokes and play the fool and the little sliding window between the duty teacher’s room and our Dorm would slide open and we would be told to be quiet. After lights out, we would hear Toby click-clacking along the wooden corridors so we had loads of warning before "BOF" got there. We were always sorted out the next day – after cold bath parade, the Dorm would line up outside the bathrooms to receive a good whack on the rear with our heads under the wash hand basin. If it was Mr Harris, he would make sure you knew it! Mr Langley had a tackie called "Killer", ouch that would hurt, but we generally got more than one disciplining – our faults, normal for those days, and no offence taken or given.
One of our fellow boarders who lived on a sugar cane farm had lost both of his lower legs when he fell off a cane truck onto the rails, so, undeterred, he used metal false legs which were strapped on with a leather harness. Of course, nothing held him back – he played cricket and rugby and it hurt like heck when you had to tackle him. I do recall that at bedtime, his false legs were always at the side of his bed – what an inspirational young chap. My Highbury days were overall marvellous, exciting and rewarding. Mr McMillan would walk around the school wearing his Mortar Board and cloak, he was respected and revered. "Pops" Bissett was a total legend at Highbury and we all loved him! We would sing "While Shepherds washed their socks by night" if we were at the back during Sunday service. We enjoyed acting in the plays – Macbeth was a favourite. Darryl Cheek and I did photography, Brian Silberman banging away on his drums (I think he went on to be quite a well-known musician)… it was great!
Prep was always an interesting time, we would have to be carefully watched, as the naughtiness of young boys was always about to come to the fore. There was lots of silly behaviour and at times initiation, which was not awful, but did involve black shoe polish and would be considered totally unacceptable these days.
We would sometimes sneak out of bed and leopard crawl up to the fence around the swimming pool at night to observe the teachers having a late-night swim and get together – luckily, we were never caught! Someone was caught after ringing the morning bell about an hour before it was supposed to be rung and waking the whole school up early – that did not happen again after the Head made it clear what the punishment would be for any further similar incidents.
I used to, for a while until I was caught, escape over the back fence near the old swimming pool late afternoon on a Friday and come back using the same route on a Sunday afternoon. The head stable lad from my Uncle’s stables at Rubicon Farm, Lex, would wait on horseback with a saddled up racehorse in tow and I would canter way to spend my weekend "riding work" at the stables on the farm and on the gallops near the Roll's farm near what is now Waterfall. This came to a stop when I was riding along from the station with a couple of horses, together with the head lad who was doing the same. We had to collect some new arrivals for race training from the station and as we trotted through the town of Hillcrest, there was Mr McMillan in his car, driving past! He looked at me and wagged his finger. I knew I was for the high jump. Sure enough, I was dealt with on my return and got to find out what the cane felt like. Of course, well deserved and no regrets. There were no more escapes, just approved authorised days out.
I have fond memories of hot chocolate from a huge metal urn and peanut butter sandwiches under a large tree near the water tower to the rear of the row of classrooms near the quadrangle. There would be lots of honey bees buzzing about and the mugs would be re-used. The one who had finished with his mug shouted out "Quiz!!??" and the first boy to respond by shouting out "Echo!!" would get the mug to use and do the same when he finished.
I remember vividly the time spent in the sickbay after having a tooth out at the dentist’s in Hillcrest – dentistry was not as advanced and modern as it is these days!
I also remember watching movies in the dorms, put on for our entertainment - one, in particular, "The Turn of the Screw", in black and white is still as clear as it was then, all these years later. I managed to reach the dizzy heights of Library Monitor (I love books and reading) and to this day I will always say with a smile, that my time as a boarder at Highbury were some of the happiest and most memorable days of my life.
I have visited my old school a few times, the last time being for the Centenary, where I was honoured to give a speech and recollections of school days on behalf of another Old Boy, who was at the time one of England’s Law Lords, Lord Richard Scott of Foscott. It was such an illustrious occasion, where so many Old Boys and their families met up, laughed and cried with the happy memories of days gone by. I stood in a long queue of Old Boys, waiting to shake the hand of Mr "Spook" Harris who had been one the most highly respected and revered teachers of our era.
Kindest regards to the School and all who are privileged to be associated with Highbury.