Michael Farrer's time at the Sanctuary School from 1944 to 1948
(Michael died at the Charterhouse on 10 March 2010)


After that first, rather Bohemian, year under Mr. & Mrs. Batts in the buildings next door to the Shrine, life was to become very different. We officially became known as The Sanctuary School, as distinct from Quainton Hall, though we were under the same Board of Governors, with Fr. Patten as Chairman. It was strange to arrive at the beginning of the Autumn Term, in September 1945, to take up quarters in the Vicarage, to live rather a different life, far more akin to that of every other boarding Prep School.

There were to be a number of differences. One was that Scouting disappeared. Tom Tapping, our new Headmaster, with Bessy, his wife, who taught us English and Latin, was not particularly interested in Cubs or Scouts at that time, although when he later owned Beeston Hall at West Runton he certainly had a Scout troop running there. The Country dancing also went, but, of course, our duties as Choristers at the Shrine remained. Our Choirmaster was Anthony Turner, who was originally a member of the College and was known as Brother Anthony. After a while he returned to secular life and moved into the School as a Master. He returned to Walsingham in later years as an Assistant Priest at the Shrine and then went to Canada to become a Roman Catholic Priest. He remained a frequent visitor to Walsingham, and I am very glad that, in February 1996, I was able to gather a small group of Old Sanctuarians who had known. him to have lunch with him at the Black Lion. He returned to Canada a week or so later and then, sadly, died of a heart attack. It was fortuitous that we were able to meet him then, on his last visit to Walsingham.

He was later joined by Desmond Probets, who taught us Geography and other subjects. He came at the beginning of 1946 and left at the end of the Summer Term of 1947. His Geography lessons about India particularly enthralled us, recounting tales told by a friend of his called Thomas who had spent some time there. He subsequently went up to London University and was later ordained as a Priest, with a distinguished career, largely in the Solomon Islands where he became Dean of the Cathedral of the Diocese. I was able to renew aquaintance with him in recent years when he was Rector of Timperley in Cheshire. He more recently retired to live in his native Yorkshire, and I was very pleased that he was able to come to celebrate Mass for us in the Sisters' Chapel in June 1994, when I was able to organise a function for the 50th Anniversary of the arrival of the School at Walsingham. He has just been telling me, on the telephone, about his time as Curate at St. Mary's Kenton in the 1950s when he often preached in the Chapel of Quainton Hall School, thereby getting a double dose of the "Walsingham Schools".

Enid Chadwick was still our Art Teacher, and Divinity was taught by Fr. Patten. We used to make the journey down to the College for these Divinity lessons, but there were occasions when Fr. Patten was away for some time and some other Priest who would be in Walsingham as his Locum would take over. These gentlemen would come up to the school to give their lessons. I can remember a certain Fr. Ross, who was Vicar of St. Saviour's Hoxton in London, and the characterful Fr. Fynes-Clinton, who was rector of St. Magnus-the-Martyr, London Bridge and one of the great figures behind Fr. Patten's restoring of the Shrine.

Our singing life followed the same pattern as before. We sang a Mass at the Shrine on Saturday mornings, and sometimes on other days that were great Festivals. We sang Benediction every Tuesday evening and on Festivals of Our Lady we would sing the beautiful Plainchant of Vespers of Our Lady. I think that Vespers music was for many of us, as well as certainly myself, our favourite. I still maintain that the Office Hymn 'Ave Maris Stella' possesses the most beautiful Plainchant melody of any Hymn. Whether in its simple unadorned form or with the glorious adornment put around it by Claudio Monteverdi in his Vespers of 1610 it never fails to pull at my heart strings and will always remind me of Walsingham.

Generally speaking the road between the Vicarage and the Shrine, round the corner at the crossroads where the Sunk Road goes off, and down past the Knight's Gate was a well worn track for us. I had an extra duty and privilege. As one of the few boys left over from the old days of Quainton Hall I had been taught to serve at Low Mass and I was frequently sent for to serve Mass at the Shrine. This gave me an extra reprieve from lessons which I thoroughly enjoyed. I cannot remember the exact frequency, but it seems to be at least once, or even twice a week. I would miss the first lesson of the morning, which was often Maths, my least favourite subject. Perhaps that is why I subsequently failed Maths at O Level! So, gladly, I would wend my way, on my own, down that familiar road to serve either Fr. Patten or Fr. Derrick Lingwood, sometimes at the High Altar, sometimes in the Holy House or one of the other side Chapels. On occasions there would be a Sung Mass at which we were not singing as Choristers and I would join the boys from St. Hilary's Home in serving for that.

We saw quite a bit of the boys of St. Hilary's, as we were all part of the Walsingham Establishment. I remember, in particular, Victor, who was bigger and older than the others, Michael, a small, cheeky-faced boy known as 'Flip', and, of course, Stanley Smith, who is now Bursar of the Shrine. He is one of the very few people left in Walsingham now whom I remember from those distant days, apart from Sister Julian, and Joy Long and Doris Woods who were Matrons at the Sanctuary School at that time, and of course, still adorn Walsingham in their cottage in Guild Street, and have remained very much part of Walsingham life all these years. Their work mainly seemed to be at the Friary when we had ‘overspill’ accommodation there. Our first Matron was a very dignified, grand-seeming lady called Miss Abercrombie, who left to become a Dame at Eton, and, at some later stage, a little lady with glasses, Alice Berry.

Mr. and Mrs. Tapping kept a very well run School. They both had a very high standard of professionalism and were both excellent teachers. Tom Tapping taught History, Maths and French and Bessy taught English and Latin. I can certainly say that the very great interest in History that has always been with me stems from the enthusiasm instilled in me by Tom Tapping. Two other Masters joined at a later stage. One of them, a Mr. Peatfield, was quite an elderly gentleman who had retired from being Headmaster of a Grammar School in Yorkshire. He had the distinction of having played cricket at a very high level in the early part of the century, before the First World. War. He had played for Glamorgan when it was a Minor County and had played for the MCC, even to the extent of playing, on at least one occasion, with the great W. G. Grace at the end of that demi-god's career. He had played with Jack Hobbs and others. To those of us who, like myself, were mad on cricket, his presence at the school was a dream. He would regale his entranced audience with stories and, lame though he was, would swing an elderly bat to our schoolboy bowling down on the cricket field next door to the field. He taught French and Maths, from what I remember. If a boy were to ask, "Please, Sir, can I be excused?", he would roar, "Can I?, Can I, boy? Canaille is French for the rabble. May I? It is 'May I?".

The other Master was a Mr. Jepson who had served as a Gunnery Officer in the Navy. As so often the case with that noble breed, the guns had made him somewhat deaf. I do hope we did not take too horrid an advantage of his disability. Boys can be dreadful little creatures and do not really feel for the acute misery they can cause. I think, though, that in those days we still had great respect for those who had served in the recent War.

Tom TappIng certainly instilled a new life in the school. As we had grown bigger we led a life very much more like most other Prep Schools. However there was one quality quite unlike most other schools. The Vicarage retained its atmosphere as a dignified and gracious country house without seeming to aqquire the knocked about, utilitarian air of most boys' schools. The first impression to the visitor on entering the front door was of a family home, the grandfather clock in the hall, that air of ease and comfort redolent of a gentleman's country house. The fact that there were forty or fifty boys on the premises would only be noticed by going into the classrooms and dormitories. The gardens retained their well kept elegance and the house kept them company. This was a talent and facility that Mr. and Mrs. Tapping had which I noticed as well when in later years, they ran Beeston Hall. at West Runton, near Sheringham, when I taught there in the 1950s.

We were now of such a size as a school that we could could get up Football and Cricket teams to play other schools, and sport was taken very much more seriously than it had been before. I can, in fact, only remember us playing the Junior School of Greshams at Holt, both at home and away, but these great occasions we looked forward to eagerly. For one thing, Greshams always laid on a first rate and huge tea. There was one occasion when, at cricket, we were bowled out for some very low score, something like 12 or 15, I believe, but, apart from that, we did not acquit ourselves too badly, and may even have won on some occasions.

When the Easter term of 1947 came, in January, our football had hardly got going for the term when the snows came, thickly and heavily, blotting out all possibility of using our football pitch until nearly the end of term. That winter of 1947 remains about the most severe in living memory and certainly holds a record for severity in this century. For week after week the whole country, and particularly the exposed district of North Norfolk where there is no land between you and the North Pole, was covered in very deep snow. New snow storms came from time to time, blocking roads and cutting villages off from the outside world. Walsingham itself was completely cut off for about a week or more. So severe was the crisis that there no sweets to be had at Ede's shop in the village when we went on our usual Saturday shopping expedition, because supplies had been unable to get through.

It may have been that same Saturday that we walked along the road to Snoring as far as we could until the snowdrifts barred the way. A lorry had been stranded in the drifts further along some days before and the driver had made his way on foot and with great difficulty through the drifts to Walsingham. We took great delight in helping the men who were digging out the drifts and one of the other boys, Tim Gregorie, and I claim to be the first people to reach that lorry and to open up the road to Snoring. Thirty years later I was drinking in the Oxford Stores and recounted that story to one or two people there. One of the men in the company turned out to have been the driver of that very lorry. That coincidence was, naturally, an occasion for drinks all round again.

One other walk on another occasion was towards Great Walsingham and I can remember, as we passed over the ford near St. Peter's, seeing the biggest snowflakes I have ever seen, before or since, falling fatly and lazily to cover the ground yet again. We were very, very cold that Term. A number of us, myself included, suffered from chilblains. Fuel, in a country still suffering from extreme shortages left over from wartime, was in short supply and to keep any warmth at all going in the School in those sub-zero temperatures must have been a continual problem. Food was also in short supply, as rationing was, at that time, if anything more severe than it had been during some of the War. Butter and jam had to be spread very, very thinly and supplies were carefully nurtured. When jam ran out we would sprinkle salt and pepper on bread and margarine to make a more tasty spread. It's funny now to think that lack of jam seemed a terrible deprivation for me as a boy. Now, I hardly eat any jam at all, even marmalade is a rarity.

One day, nearly at the end of Term, very late in March, there was a warmer feel in the air, and that night there was an extraordinary electric storm, with lightning and yet no thunder. There was probably rain, but certainly the following morning the sun rode in a deep blue sky. The snow had nearly all melted and blue pools of water flooded the fresh green grass of the water meadows that run from the house to the Stiffkey. The air was like milk and it was, I still think, one of the most beautiful mornings I can remember. The winter had ended dramatically and spring had come.

The melting snow had created severe floods in East Anglia and when I came to go home to Folkestone, where my family lived at the time, my father owning a Hotel there, the train journey was considerably hampered by this added hazard. For some reason I was travelling on my own, a day earlier than the others, probably due to some exigency of my parents’ business. I was seen off early in the morning with a good hearty breakfast of cereal, bacon, egg, fried bread, toast and marmalade, and a packed lunch of sandwiches was put into my hand to sustain me on the journey. When I reached Norwich, where I had to change on to a London train at about mid-day, I found that my onward journey was delayed by an hour or more because of the flooding in the flat country. I had already eaten the packet of sandwiches, and so, to kill time, I went out into the City and found a cafe where I regaled myself with sausages, eggs and chips, Eventually getting on the London train I arrived at Liverpool Street to find my frantic mother grabbing me and rushing me to the Great Eastern Hotel for lunch, certain that I must be absolutely starving. I did full justice to a three course lunch before we went to Charing Cross to catch a train home to Folkestone. I had tea and toast and cakes on the train to arrive home comfortably in time for a full dinner at about 7.30, again of three courses. Despite being described as thin as a rake I was renowned as a hearty trencherman in those days, and certainly, all the food restrictions the Government tried to impose had no effect on me that day. Purists might say I ate enough in that one day to keep an Ethiopian village for a fortnight. That was in the hungry starving days of Britain in 1947.

Despite restrictions the food at school was good. In those days Friday was always kept as a day of Abstinence and no meat was eaten, one of those Church rules that were always kept then, but nowadays are largely forgotten. We always had Macaroni Cheese, or Cheese and Potato Pie at lunch on Fridays, followed usually by Syrup Pudding. One Friday, as the Macaroni Cheese, a particular favourite of mine, was wheeled in on the trolley, I exclaimed, "Oh Good! -- Friday!" Tom Tapping heard this and cried out, "What was that: Fried Hay?" So for ever after that Macaroni Cheese became known as 'Fried Hay.'

Our numbers were continually growing. Of boys who joined at that time I remember
Jean-Claud Hopper, who was half French and had been brought up in France. I had great delight, on one or two occasions, of beating him in French exams because his spelling was a little faulty.
We were also joined by John Hall-Matthews and his younger brothers Tony and Tommy who had been living in India. I am very glad to have, in more recent years, re-established contact with John Hall-Matthews - he is a Priest and is Rector of Wolverhampton. Tony, his younger brother became Bishop of Carpentaria in Northern Australia, a position previously held by their father, and Tommy is also a Priest in Australia. Despite the very strong diet of Church teaching in our education and the continual atmosphere of the Shrine, they are, I think, the only contemporaries of mine at Walsingham to enter the Priesthood. Paul Atkins. who was at the school for a while just after me, is now Vicar of West Runton and a Canon of Norwich. Both younger members of the Staff, Desmond Probets and Anthony Turner, later became Priests, but then, with them, their time at Walsingham was intended as part of their journey to that goal.

Apart from our singing duties at the Shrine during the week, we would be taken every Sunday morning to the Parish Mass at 11 o'clock. There we sat in the congregation, as the Parish church had its own choir. It was there that we would hear Fr. Patten's sermons. He never used notes, and very often spoke from the Chancel steps rather than going up into the Pulpit. During the Summer, in particular, there would be other visiting preachers, and, of course, often the preacher would be Fr. Lingwood. One thing that always amused us was that so often, at the quietest part of the Mass, after the consecration, Tom Tapping, who was a big built man who did everything hugely, would let out an enormous, shattering sneeze, "Harrashoo!", he would go. Bessy, petite and feminine at his side would always answer with a tiny, ladylike, "Ah-choo!"

On Sunday afternoons we went again to the Parish Church for catechism where we joined the children of the village and the boys from St. Hilary's Home. There would be some striving to sit near certain girls, but it may well have been that we were expected to sit apart from these objects of our interest. Here again, Fr. Patten was in his element. His teaching of the Catholic Faith was simple, direct and uncompromising. I remember particularly his teaching of the uniqueness of the Christian Faith, that all the half truths and strivings of other systems were entirely superseded by the Faith of He who is the incarnate Son of God.

After Catechism we were free for a few hours to wander at will over the countryside. Although we did not have bicycles and were limited to distances we could cover on foot we were able to explore a wide area. I always say now that, after spending four years of my boyhood there, I know every blade of grass around Walsingham. The banks of the Stiffkey were always a great delight to us, and the wide open grassland of the Common to the East of the Sunk Road, with trees to climb and rolling acres to feed the imagination. In another direction we came upon the ruined church tower at Egmere, which always struck me as more than a little eerie and creepy. I am not all that happy about it to this day. In snowy weather, particularly in that famous winter of 1947, we were able to toboggan down the steep sides of the Martyrs' Field. We trekked to Barsham although the Manor was no longer open to our invasion as it had been in our first year there. We got to Wighton on one occasion and were able to climb up the tower of the church to see the spreading view beneath with the sea in the distance. My companion on a number of these rambles was Francis Hall, the son of Fr. George Hall, the Vicar of St. George’s Tombland in Norwich. We were to share many other adventures in later life. He now lives in Kelling, near Holt.

Quite apart from the associations of Walsingham itself that part of Norfolk has a particular quality of its own which is hard to describe but quite unlike anywhere else in England. The flint walls and red pantile roofs, the tall-towered churches with wide windows, the rooks in the trees, the feeling that every road is leading to the sea make North Norfolk unique to me, and my appreciation of it was nurtured and fostered by those ramblings as a boy during those years of 1944 to 1948.The Friary

As our numbers were growing extra accommodation had to be found beyond the confines of the old Vicarage. Accordingly, at some stage, the School took a lease on the Friary house at the other end of the village and some of our number had dormitories there. I did not sleep there myself, but with three or four others slept in the Gardener's Cottage by the road on the edge of the Vicarage grounds. That gave us a little freedom, even though Messrs. Turner and Probets lived on the ground floor. They both might be out in the evening on some occasions, leaving us to our own devices. One summer evening, when, after all, we would have been in bed at some amazingly early hour by today's standards, like 8 o'clock, or it may have been even earlier, we crept out from our bedroom, fully dressed, and stole down to the fish and chip shop that used to be in Great Walsingham in those days, near the ford. We had obviously taken care not to wear any distinctive part of school uniform, but I seemed to be the object of admiration from my fellows because of the cool way I seemed to go to the counter and order fish and chips all round.

Mrs. Tapping was particularly keen on directing Shakesperean plays for us to perform. The trial scene from the Merchant of Venice was done one Christmas. One summer the outdoor amphitheatre which lay in the Vicarage grounds was put to use for A Midsummer Night's Dream, in which I played Titania, much to my boyish embarrassment. The other Summer term the Friary cloister ruins were used for Julius Caesar, in which I played Caesar. Having to lie, apparently dead, after my murder, with flies walking over me, was a little annoying, but it was a considerable step up in masculine comfort from playing Titania.

At length the end of my time came. I had become 13 in the summer of 1947, and it was decided that I should take a Scholarship Exam for Felsted in the Easter term of 1948. I was to have taken this Exam at Felsted, but because of an outbreak of some epidemic there, it was decided that candidates should take the Exam at their Prep. Schools. Accordingly, Tom Tapping had to adjudicate the Exam, which I wrote largely in his study, from what I remember, and worked at different hours from the rest of the School. As a consequence I had time off, at times during those few days when the rest of the School were working. Tom Tapping, knowing my intense enthusiasm for cricket, which I had largely caught from him, lent me his copy of Pelham Warner's book, 'The Fight for the Ashes’, which described the England Tour of Australia in 1911-12. I was able to spend time out of doors, as the weather was fine and warm, reading this absorbing book. I can remember nothing much of the Exam, but I can remember that book. I was totally absorbed in Hobbs and Rhodes with their record opening stand at Melbourne of 323, the unplayable bowling of Barnes and R. E. Foster who took 34 and 32 wickets respectively in the Series. You can imagine my thrill when I subsequently got to Felsted the following Term and discovered that J.W.H.T. Douglas, who had been the England captain in all the tests, in place of Pelham Warner, had been an old Felstedian.

The end of the Easter Term came and, with many regrets, but with much excitement for the future, I sang my last Mass and Benediction at the Shrine and ended that memorable four years of my life. History has moved on and the Sanctuary School closed in 1956, a year after I had spent a short time teaching there. Fr. Hope Patten died in 1958 and much of what I have recalled here became history.

Waisingham is still, externally, very much the same now, but there are many differences. In the 1940s, when I was there as a boy, the number of pilgrims was tiny compared to nowadays. We rather enjoyed the atmosphere in the Summer Term when we were somewhat a centre of attention. Distinguished visitors used to come to the School, Lord Norton and the massive Sir William Milner, both Lay Guardians of the Shrine, and often a purple cassocked Bishop or even, on one occasion, a bearded, black robed Orthodox Bishop from Yugoslavia.

The National Pilgrimage at Whitsun seemed to us a massive assembly of people, but when you consider that the congregation used to fit, rather tightly it is true, into the Shrine Church, it can have been only tiny compared to those usually expected today. This, in contrast to the drastic falling off in Church attendances over the years, speaks volumes for the effectiveness of Walsingham as a force in the life of the church. We used to provide the choir to lead the singing of the Pilgrimage Hymn, 'Protect Us While Telling', with its chorus of 'Ave, Ave, Ave Maria', sung in the Procession through the village. Invariably it would be discovered that different parts of the Procession had reached different parts of the verse, even different verses, by the time half the route had been covered. There would be even more chaos now with ten times the numbers of people nowadays.

There are differences in liturgy and custom between now and then. When I used to wend my joyful, lesson-free way down to the Shrine to serve Mass, it was always to dress correctly in cassock and cotta, to answer the responses alone as part of a dialogue between the Priest and I. No member of the congregation would have dared to join in. They merely 'heard Mass' and, as the Mass I served was usually at 9.30, nobody would take communion. The strict rule then was that Communion should only be received fasting, so that after the time when most people had had breakfast nobody except the Priest would receive Communion, and he, of course would fast until after Mass. Even the large congregation at the 11 o'clock Mass in the Parish Church on Sunday would not communicate. You only took Communion it you got up very early and went to Mass at 7 or 8 o'clock.

The simple altar facing the people surrounded by con-celebrating Priests, was unheard of. Sung Mass was celebrated facing East and became a High Mass with the Celebrant attended by Deacon and Sub-Deacon in the proper vestments, of Dalmatic and Tunicle on great occasions or when the extra clergy were available. Lace would adorn the albs of the priests, but, unlike the custom in some other places, there was never, ever lace on the bottom of the cotta of anybody 'on the staff' at Walsingham. Our music at the Shrine was Gregorian Chant, that timeless, evocative music of Catholic history, Masses with lovely titles like 'Lux et Origo', 'orbis Factor' and 'Missa de Angelis'. At the Parish Church the Mass was sung by the congregation to Martin Shaw's Folk Mass, based on the modal themes of those old English Folk melodies which seemed to rise up out of the English countryside around us. I am conservative enough to say that modern language Liturgy and the music that goes with it has never been able to equal the quality of that which was used then. Even trying to forget a conservative attitude and merely looking at the purely artistic criteria of language and music, there is no comparison. Modern tastes have removed something very beautiful and moving and have replaced it with what is in my view the third-rate. Some things, it is true, had to go. That 'Parson and Clerk duologue' of Low Mass I used to serve was, after all, rather a Walsingham eccentricity. When I went out into the rest of the world I realised that not very many Churches, even of the Anglo-Catholic Movement, kept that rather Roman custom. I remember, about 1960, being in a London Pub one Sunday lunch time when a devout Roman woman I knew came bursting in with great excitement - she had been to a 'Dialogue Mass' where the congregation were allowed to join in, for the first time and was absolutely thrilled with it. I was able to respond, in an airy sort of way, that in the Church of England we had had a 'Dialogue Mass' for 400 years!

What has happened now is that, despite my quibbles about language, music and ceremonial, Walsingham is still very much England's Nazareth, where, in the words of one of those 'jingley' hymns that so horrified my first Headmaster, Alfred Batts, we can confidently pray that 'Faith of our fathers! Mary's prayers shall bring our country back to thee'. Still, in all the sea of heresy and apostasy that sweeps over the Church of England, Our Lady of Walsingham holds up her Divine, Incarnate Son to the world and His people still come to worship in even greater numbers than in my boyhood. One commentator recently remarked that it was interesting to note that since the 1960s when Liberal Theology started to cast out the Incarnation, the Pilgrimages to Walsingham have multiplied many times over I was very glad recently to be present at the celebrations at Walsingham to mark the 75th anniversary of Fr. Patten's first restoring the Shrine in the Parish Church, and to think that I have known this special place for 53 out of those 75 years and that it formed so important and unforgettable a position in my early and growing years. The music learnt there led me on to be a Lay Clerk at Southwark Cathedral, a Gentleman of the Chapel Royal at Hampton Court, as well as singing some years at St. Alban's Holborn and other places, and to be Choirmaster for a while at a London Church where I could teach the boys the Gregorian Plainchant I learnt at Walsingham. The Faith that Fr. Patten and the ethos of Walsingham taught me is still, thank God, with me, and Walsingham and Norfolk still weave their spell over me, more than anywhere else I know.

photograph from the archives
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