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Reaching out across 50 years: School reunion stirs memories and evokes the past

June 28, 2018

September 1968 and 93 fresh-faced, apprehensive 11 year old boys stepped through the doors of an institution that was to shape their lives. Fifty years on many of those same boys, now all in their early 60s, will once again to step through those doors together.

The “50 Years On” group is a key feature of Old Bancroftians’ Day every year and this Sunday it is the turn of that class of ’68 to re-connect, reminisce and remember. Some year groups make little effort to trace lost colleagues while others treat it as a welcome challenge. The class of ’68 from Bancroft’s School in Woodford Green, Essex, is firmly in the latter camp. As a result, around 40 of that year group will meet again this weekend.

1968 was a different era. It was the year student protests gripped universities here and on the continent. The Vietnam War was dragging on into its second decade and a war-weary America was getting restless. Northern Ireland was teetering on the brink of civil unrest. South Africa was about to plunge itself into a quarter of century of sporting isolation by banning the English cricket team containing Basil D’Oliviera.

Old Bancrotians' Day

The quad – still pristine half a century on

Bancroft’s in 1968 was on the cusp of huge change though those 11 year old boys being ushered from the imposing gates, around the pristine quad to the wood-panelled Great Hall to be allocated to their classes had little inkling as to how much change they would see in their seven years at the school.

The cane still loomed large on the list of possible punishments. The cloisters were open to the elements. The changing rooms were separated from the gym and the swimming pool, requiring crazy dashes through the snow and ice in winter wearing only swimming trunks and shoes, clutching a towel that could never adequately protect one from the elements.

Many of the staff had been teaching at the school all their lives, some having been boys at the school. Goodbye Mr Chips could have been written about the Bancroft’s that embraced the class of ’68 .

It changed. Indeed, change was a constant feature of our school days.

A new headmaster, Ian Richardson, had arrived a year or so ahead of us and with him came many new ideas.

Those cloisters which invited the winter wind to whip through their arches were closed in, although that spoilt the fun of wading through the mountain of autumn leaves that always accumulated outside one classroom, causing the history teacher to explode with rage as they blew around the room when we carelessly left the door open.

A new science block was built. A new gym and swimming pool was built with the novelty of having changing rooms in the same building. This has since been superseded by an even newer sports building. It is disorientating for that class of ‘68 to walk into what they still think of as the new gym only to find it is now the drama centre.

David_Worsfold_Bancroft's_1975

I thought the boaters were great fun in 1975 – and still do

The uniform was gradually updated but not quite fast enough to prevent us from being the last sixth form to wear boaters. Some of us loved them and many will be dusted down at the weekend if they can be found.

In 1968, a quarter of those boys were stepping into an institution that wasn’t just to be their school but also their home. Boarding at the school had been part of Bancroft’s from its foundation but by the time we left no more boarders were joining. It was a change that had a fundamental impact on the culture of the school. The debate about whether it was a change for the better or worse is one that will always occupy Old Bancroftians of our generation and earlier when they meet.

A bigger change was to come before we left the school, however.

In 1973, as the class of ‘68 entered the sixth form, it was joined by two girls. Six more followed the next year. Now it is a fully co-educational school. For us girls were a novelty, now they are the norm at Bancroft’s.

Change swept through our era and it has followed us as we have trodden the twisting path of life’s journey since leaving.

1968 Bancrfot's Form List

That 1968 form list. At Bancroft’s the first year has always been the third form

Yet, seeing the names on the form lists from 1968 has reminded many of that class of ’68 that those boys were part of an institution that remains part of them. They have been inspired to reach out to each other, re-connecting after a lifetime, determined that as many as possible will greet each other in person at this weekend’s events. Many of those who can’t make it have been busy promising each other they will meet soon.

We will have changed, some more than others. Many have led lives that have taken unpredictable turns, some bringing joy, some despair. Some have followed what seemed to be pre-ordained paths.

Lives have been lived. Some have already run their course.

As the names on the class lists from 50 years ago were ticked off during our months of research to find everyone, there were moments of sadness as the list of those who haven’t made it to the glorious uplands of their seventh decade grew longer. There were those we all knew. One died while we at school, another just weeks after leaving. Others we are only just learning will be with us only in spirit.

Yet, for all the change of the last 50 years that has swirled around us and moulded us there will be moments this weekend when it will be as if nothing has changed.  Fleetingly, change will be an illusion.

Standing in the quad looking up at the tower and the great wooden doors below will remind us all of the timelessness of the journey that thousands of boys – and girls – have experienced over the 130 years that tower has stood guard over the school in Woodford.

In the chapel we will rise to sing the familiar hymns and psalms as the summer sun streams through the stained glass, casting rich colours across the faces, once young, now old. It will be a moment when change will seem elusive, almost forgotten.

Floreat Bancroftia

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