217. Grenham House
Boys aged down to 7 were forced to enter a regime consisting of fear and corporal punishment. Today such a school would have been closed. A student died there. Fortunately while tragic caused by an illness and not the awful violence the employees were responsible for.
The boarding school is closed now. However it is still safe to state that it was not a place for children to stay while the school was in existence.
- ‘Oh no, another rotten caning coming up’… Broadcaster John Suchet recalls grim time at boarding school (The Daily Mail)
- The only time that Poirot was beaten (The Daily and Sunday Express)
- Grenham House (Friends ReUnited)
- Louis de Bernières: Aged 8, I was sent to hell (The Times)
An well-known author has come forward with his experiences at the school when he was a child.
Captain Corelli’s Mandolin author Louis de Bernières, 66, reveals ‘hellish abuse’ he suffered at hands of two ‘sadistic’ teachers at English boarding school (The Daily Mail Online)
Canings at British schools were not uncommon. Although I attended Grenham House for five years, I was first caned at the age of six or seven at another school. I was caned three times at Grenham. If you misbehaved you knew what was in store as punishment
i could not agree more you did the crime you got the punishment as i did made men of us
you did the crime you got the punishment great school hard but fair i was at grenham house for eight years made men of us
I attended a nearby preparatory school to Grenham House, Canterbury House School situated in Westgate-on-Sea, the next village along from Birchington, between 1960-1965. The relevance being that when Canterbury House closed down the Headmaster, Major J.S.S. Bury, started as siting and teaching at Grenham House. Major Bury was a man of great integrity – a Military Cross from WW2 and a local Justice of the Peace, an extraordinary man. He was also a Man of God, regular church-goer with great humility..
There is no way he would have tolerated the unacceptable beatings and paedophilia goings on at Grenham House if he realised or was aware what was happening, if indeed the activities mentioned were still happening when Major Bury was there. Late 1960’s-early 1970’s? I don’t think Major Bury was there for very long in any case.
I do recall we used to play Grenham House at rugby and cricket, losing every time because we were a much smaller school. I still shake – after 50 years – at the thought of facing their fast bowler, a guy called Amlott! They had another bloke who partnered Amlott in the bowling , equally fast, but thankfully I can’t recall his name….
Denys Jeston also served in WW2 and was clearly very affected by his experiences. A Grenham House old boy died in his arms on the battlefield.
The Suchet brothers – the TV newsreader and radio presenter; and the Poirot actor – have written or given interviews about their time at Grenham. By and large they were correct with their observations.
In my days we boys were required to swim naked in the school’s pool, supervised by Denys in his ordinary working clothes. After we got out we formed a queue for Denys to dry our naked backsides – something that he insisted on doing. I always though this was very strange and something that no one has mentioned in recent times. We were apparently judged to be capable of doing this unaided after our nightly bath.
As for beatings, if you ever watched Billy Bunter on TV or read the books you will no doubt recall the reference to beatings – they were part of school life, particularly fee-paying ones, until the late Sixties or Seventies.
The Suchet brothers were rather detached and superior in manner I am surprised they are so negative about the school.Yes, I was cained too, but thtat is what happened in those days when you were a naughty boy! Those that critise are judging the school based on what happens in the schools of today. I consider the comments made about the swimming pool and Denys are strange as it never happened like that to me!
More than 60 years on, the memory fades but one thing I am certain of is the naked towelling ritual for every boy after emerging from the swimming pool. It was also disgustingly filthy towards the end of term.
While the culture at the school obviously changed, canings were part of school life during my time there. It is sometimes hard to think that things that were accepted as normal years ago are now frowned upon.
Are you ‘Chippy’ Rooke?
I am sure that Maj Bury was of the utmost integrity. However, sexual abuse was almost certainly rife but he was not aware of it. This can often be the case. Abusers do not usually broadcast what they are up to.
While I am certainly not accusing every teacher at Grenham of being a pervert, there were undoubtedly a number of them during the time I was there, but only one was exposed and he left immediately a complaint was made. He picked on the wrong boy who contacted his parents.
Those who were up to no good were the live-in ones – it gave them free reign and enabled them to be much closer to the boys.
i can remember his name.it was latham,and he was a deadly bowler
Hedley Wyatt? He was a terrifying fast bowler. I was at Grenham between 63 and 68, and I now write as Louis de Bernieres. I am collecting memories of Grenham House in order to publish them, and am in contact with several old boys. I would be grateful to hear from anyone. I am extremely angry about our treatment, although not all my memories are negative.
It would be a good idea to provide an email address.
My e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org if anyone would like to be in contact. Louis de Berniere-Smart
Louis – I was at Grenham House in the late 1950’s,early 1960’s and have never been so miserable in my life. I was mercilessly bullied but it was nothing as compared to the sadism of Denys Jeston. I remember my first beating,late at night,in a downstairs classroom where he would take a run before bringing down the cane. I was so small and slight at the time that I fell over with each stroke.
And there was the paedophilia, furtive from someone like Lidgate but explicit from a very tall English master for whom I was the “teachers pet “ and who sexually abused me through my time at the school.
And of course you never told your parents. They would have found it unbelievable !
I am extremely surprised to hear about the tall teacher because he was newly married with a young child. I had the highest regard for him as a teacher. I would go so far as to say he was the best teacher I ever encountered. He was also very generous with his time out of the classroom, teaching boys to swim and coaching on the sports field. He saw how backward the school was in some respects, e.g. music appreciation and the age of the books in the library, and persuaded headmaster Denys Jeston to improve matters.
While I was caned three times by Jeston, I don’t hold it against him. Yes, it hurt, but canings were part of school life 50 and more years ago. Times change and what is acceptable today may not be in a few years’ time.
This is a message for Julian Marshall, who commented below. I am astonished by what you say about Ben Adams. He was my best teacher ever. I do remember him creeping about the dormitories at night and eavesdropping on us. Anyway, you were my ‘uncle’ for the first year, and I would like to thank you for looking after me.
Louis de Berniere-Smart
I went to C.H.S as a boarder in 1979
at the age of 8. I was there until it closed 3 years later.
I found it a good place for education and a great place for sport.
I experienced and witnessed sexual and physical abuse at this school. I can confirm the drying ritual post swimming. I was there from 1960 to 1963. It was so cold in winter that the water in your mug would freeze in the dormitory. One of the “masters” would get into bed with the boy next to me. Luckily I was not too pretty. There were good people Like Major Nelson who served in India. When caning you Jeston’s face would go red and his voice go dry. Nightmare.
Denys Jeston liked to humiliate his pupils. A favourite way was to shout “boooooy” at one. Another was to give us nicknames, thus one who was small for his age was called Half-pint, another was labelled Cuckoo because of his slightly bizarre behaviour.
The only subject that Jeston taught was Latin. I hated it, firstly because I found it difficult and secondly because of his attitude. He had an MA in classics and so the subject was second nature to him. Get something wrong and there would be a loud “Ughhhhhhh” from Jeston in front of the whole class.
Another humiliation was for Jeston to say to a boy in a loud voice in front of the whole class “Your breath stinks. Have you been to the toilet today?” as if the two were connected. This from a man with a degree from Oxford.
His mother died at the school in her private quarters while I was a pupil. She must have been in her 80s and may have had cancer. The next day at breakfast Jeston exploded with rage at us for making a noise in our dormitories the previous night while his mother was on her death bed. Children do not understand these things and he should have shown a little understanding
David and John Suchet have spoken of their canings at Grenham but what they forgot was that corporal punishment in British schools was common until the Eighties or even the Nineties. Anyone what read the Billy Bunter books or saw the TV series should know that. Denys caned me several times but I do not hold it against him because beatings were par for the course. At least one of my contemporaries at Grenham said that his father whacked him.
The Suchets have written about Jack Lidgate, the deputy head and Jeston’s business partner. Mercifully I was not a “pretty” boy and consequently never suffered. He taught maths and sometimes called a boy up to where he was sitting to explain a point in class. Lidgate then put his hand up the boy’s short trousers.
I recall how cold the school was because a minimal amount was spent of heating by Denys. We used to have to put our hands on the radiators for a little warmth.
On the positive side, Grenham had some excellent teachers – Major Nelson and Ben Adams spring to mind for particular praise. Some of the classes were unbelievably small with as few as eight boys.
Autumn swimming in the freezing sea every Sunday
Swimming naked from age five to thirteen in front of staff and parents
Beaten with a cane by the headmaster with a run up followed by a slide having cleared the desks
I remember Major Nelson and The tall Ben Adams very well and with a certain amount of affection! I enjoyed cricket and hockey and was a colour cap for three years for hockey and two for cricket!
We played football not rugby and we had a bath every three days!
It is many years since I was at Grenham but I think we had a bath every night with the exception of Sunday. I remember that two or even three of us could be in the bath at the same time. The water was not replaced for the next batch of two or three boys, so it was often pretty filthy with hair and soap scum. Also filthy by the end of term was the water in the swimming pool. I recall a greenish mould floating on it. I doubt if chlorine was ever put in the water.
Some 15 years or more after I left Grenham, my dad received a begging letter asking for money to rebuild the swimming pool. We decided to ignore it because the school was owned by Denys Jeston and he would be the beneficiary of the money raised. It was a business and there were other ways of financing improvements.
I don’t think there were any five-year-old pupils at Grenham when I was there, although there were certainly some aged seven.
When I arrived at Grenham I was five years old and by far the youngest in the school. The youngest of us slept in the Lidgate home where I learnt very early on how to control my homesickness!
The swimming pool would grow green algae which became darker and darker as it multiplied because the pool was so warm, and, as the previous writer has said, never chlorinated!
1974 to 1979, I was in Beatty, pupil number 57, my nick was “Bruce”, from age 7 to 12, my memories of Grenham House was the cane, powder scrabbled eggs every breakfast except Wednesday, Jeston supporting Chelsea, the two Dachshund own my Jeston new wife, Major Nelson great teacher, Mr Hollands Rover P5 he was strict but fair, Jack Lidgate doggy hands and glass eye. Crying with the other kids during the first week of new terms sleeping on straw filled mattress in the cold darkness. I felt so strongly about boarding schools I promised never to send my own kids to boarding school, though I do endorse private education, it pushed me. I sent my boy to local grammar schools and private schools.
I was at Grenham from 69 to ’73 and remember watching the moon landing there. During that time my two younger brothers joined me (Tony and Tim).
In my last year I was made house captain of Haig, though not a prefect for some reason which was unusual. I do remember very clearly that during that year, Haig pretty much cleaned up all the cups/trophies so much so that the shelf in the dinning room hardly had enough room for them all with the rest of the houses had one or two here and there. My friends were richard Latham, James Last who had hands the size of dinner plates and Jeremy Bagwell Purefoy who sadly died recently. I must have been living in a different universe and never saw most of what is being mentioned here. Apart from the home sickness I just got on with it. I went to the Duke of York’s RMS in Dover afterwords and that was truly awful in comparison
The author Louis de Bernieres wrote in the Sunday Times recently that the marriage of headmaster Denys Jeston in August 1964 brought out major changes at the school. I had left Grenham before Louis started but I can confirm that his account is substantially correct.
Independently, John, the oldest of the three Suchet brothers, all of whom went to Grenham, has written in the Daily Mail of his experiences there.
You can read both John Suchet’s article and a precis of Louis’ piece in the Sunday Times if you type in “Grenham” to the search facility of Mail Online
Where I differ is over corporal punishment. I will not repeat my views which can be read elsewhere in this thread. Yes, it hurt me but I do not think that canings went beyond what was nationally accepted and legal at the time.
Sexual abuse of a few pupils was rife when I was at Grenham. However, perpetrators do not broadcast what they are doing. A fellow pupil could easily have been totally unaware of what was happening. It is only if a boy complains that action is taken against the culprit – as it was once when I was there.
Louis de Berniere’s article in The Times has reopened this and caused several people who were there to respond.
This place was well beyond the “they caned people at school then” comments.
This small school, it now transpires, had over 50% of male staff as abusers. Having been there, I had thought it was more like 30-40%.
It was cold, filthy and the abuse was inescapable.
I will leave you with the recent comments of the wonderful assistant matron, Miss Simmonds:
I worked at Grenham House
I read Louis de Bernières’s article last week and had a sleepless night of memories — because I was there, working as an assistant matron before I started at Durham University.
The senior matron’s speciality was humiliation. Several of the boys were bedwetters — I can smell the dorms now — and were forced to hang their wet sheets and rubber undersheets at the foot of their beds.
At Grenham House nudity seemed to be the norm. The boys swam naked in a filthy pool of green, scummy water. When they emerged, Denys Jeston, the headmaster, towel on lap, was waiting to dry them. I asked the matron if this wasn’t odd, to be told that he “loved” children.
For some reason many of the teaching staff were present at bathtime. Several of the boys were 13 and 14 — heaven knows what they thought about me being there. Shocked, appalled but not knowing what to do, I smeared Vaseline on caned bottoms and cuddled the little ones.
The events of almost 60 years ago are still vivid. I’m still ashamed that I did nothing to alleviate the terrible suffering I witnessed. In the end I begged my parents to find an excuse to send for me — I was on some kind of contract — and left before term ended. I was never paid for that term, and for years I tried not to think about the dreadful place.
I was one of the few Americans at Gresham House from 1963 to 1966, along with my two older brothers and one other kid. I was caned 5 times as I recollect. This was quite a shock to me as I knew nothing of the punishment before coming there. Remember being humiliated in the dining hall by Jeston because, when we went to the local church one time, I had the nerve to look around in curiosity at my surroundings. For some reason, possibly because Jeston wanted more foreigners in his school, I was never touched except by Lidgate’s roaming hand.
Louis, This is Stephen Lundy again. I think we were in 6th form together as I also arrived in September, 1963. I left early (1966) as we returned to the United States. Sound right to you?
Well, this is interesting. I was at Grenham from 65 to 69 and went on to Rugby. I was in the Shooting 8 with Louis and remember Peter Suchet fainting in chapel after a snowball fight!
I was there when parental pressure ended caning as a punishment – Denys Jeston told me at the time, I held the record for the number of times a student had been beaten in his time at the school (I got 6 strokes in my pyjamas 3 times in a fortnight – I must admit the third occasion was quite painful).
When the beatings ended, I spent virtually every free Thursday afternoon walking endlessly around the playing field, wishing that I could just be beaten and get it over with!
I have a serious internal conflict when today’s morals are applied to past actions – particularly when those actions are the norm at that time in history.
I believe I was the last boy to be beaten in School House at Rugby, by ‘Sixth’ with a car radio aerial! Now, I WOULD consider him a sadist.
My recollection is that there was more cruelty between the boys, to be honest.
I also remember my father (who had also been to Grenham) inviting Jack Lidgate and his wife to join us on holiday in Cornwall and, at the age of 9, standing on a boat with a bucket for him to throw up in while he played a 79lb blue shark. I think that changed our relationship – he always seemed embarrassed or angry when he spoke to me.
But I also remember being on the team when Grenham came second in a massive inter-school hockey tournament, and fantastic cricket matches and sports days and making some extraordinary friends.
I really believe that the education I received from Ben Adams and others set me on an amazing life.
Although my children curse me when I explain the Latin or Greek origin of a word, or criticise their grammar.
Here’s a subject for discussion: did Louis de Bernières and John and David Suchet achieve their success ‘because’ of their treatment at Grenham or ‘despite’ it
Hi Angus. I remember you very well. Yes, the education was superb, and you are right about the violence between the pupils. Ben Adams was an inspirational teacher, but did you know that he was shagging Julian Marshall for all the time that he was there? My real beef is that I was sent away at aged eight when I was a tiny boy who should have been at home with his parents. I never forgave my mother, and it spoiled our relationship. We are having a reunion soon, if you’re interested.
Sorry to revisit this but I first read this discussion on Friends Reunited several years ago and it has been festering!
I do not want to paint myself, or any of us, as victims or ‘survivors’. I have never seen myself as a victim and I do not want anyone to start regarding me as such.
I was at Grenham from 1955 to 1960, and then went to Charterhouse.
I have very fond memories of the school, and although I was beaten once, I never suffered any of the other problems. I remember one master who was always going around with one particular boy – whose names I know but shall not reveal – and I am sure he might have been the one mentioned above. Ben Adams was fantastic, and so was Mr Bonham Carter. I also remember Miss Price, the matron, and Miss Sharpe the French teacher, who everybody liked. I thought the education was pretty good. If there was sexual abuse – and I am sure there was – as in any school of that period – then as much came from the elder boys as from the masters. I remember one boy in particular who was known for it.
Jeston did indeed like to humiliate. When I arrived, I spoke when I should not have done, and I was immediately given the nickname ‘Gassy’ by Jeston and this stuck until I was head boy and he
ordered it not to be used. I am not a sportsman, but one day due to illness, I was co-opted into the 2nd eleven football. At half time, he told me that I was a disgrace to the school colours and I can still hear him saying that. we had one boy with an incontinence problem and his underpants were hung out for everybody to see. There is no excuse for that behaviour.
I remember the trips to the beach, the walks towards Reculver, the march through the town on a festive day, the visits to the Pitt-Rivers museum.
I cannot remember the details of the swimming pool, but I can say that Charterhouse in 1960 was not much better. The loos were filthy, the heating was only on from the 1st November. We had fagging and beatings there too, but the beatings were done by the older boys – is that better?
We have to look back at what was the norm for the period, and not judge by todays standards, (like apologising for slavery). I recently saw a video clip of the school and it brought back many happy memories of my time there. The downsides have certainly not had any lasting effect on me. There was certainly unpleasantness, but part of the upsides of a boarding school education is learning to live with it and overcome it. I am sure it has not done me any lasting harm.