the late Paul Lewis - who was well known to many in Walsingham - recalled his days as a boy at the Sanctuary School, which was in the Vicarage


Paul Lewis in 1950It was June 1949 when I first, as a frightened boy, first time away from home, was taken by my parents to start halfway through the term at the Sanctuary School.
My aunt, a nun at All Hallows Convent, and a friend of the family, Sister Kathleen Mary, first took us to the school to look around a few weeks earlier in the convent's 1936 Austin 10, which years later I was to buy and do many thousands of miles in. We went all the way from Bungay, Suffolk, to Walsingham, a total distance of about 100 miles, which seemed a long way in an old car.

I had previously been for a voice test at All Saints', Margaret Street, London, and was so horrified by this huge dark building, and the whole feel of this city building after only knowing the wilds of the Suffolk countryside that I was determined to fail the voice test, and deliberately sang flat all the way through, until at last the choir master said to one of his side kicks," take him away". I was delighted. Walsingham didn't seem so bad, it was in the country, and it was friendly, and something I could feel familiar in.

I found the food fairly awful, but being a hungry boy always ate it all up; we often had processed peas and we were convinced the little black bit on the end on most of them was an insect that had died there, but ate it all the same; also at tea time we had the usual bread, cake and mugs of tea, and there on two plates on each table was the butter cut hurriedly before the meal in the kitchen. As we stood at the table waiting for grace we would eye up the largest lump of butter, pick it up and lick it, and put it back on the plate. That stopped anyone else having it!

The school at that time was run by Ken Hunter and his wife Joan, who had been on a ship coming The Sanctuary School (the vicarage)back to England where they had been teaching; sadly the War had started and the ship was hit by enemy fire and Joan was severely injured, leaving her paralysed partially down one side. Walking was obviously difficult and painful. They were really good teachers, in fact were the only good teachers, with a few exceptions; most of the additional teachers were unqualified, and were completely hopeless at teaching, or anything else.

Ken Hunter was a great sportsman - we would play games three times a week in the afternoons, and have school on Saturday mornings to make up time. Saturday afternoon we would all go down to the village in crocodile to get our sweet ration (sweets were still on ration), generally a quarter of a pound to last a week.

The Hunters were low church Scots, which in Walsingham was a bit strange; there were constant confrontations with Father Patten, who insisted that those of us in the choir and sang from the organ loft were taken away for choir practice at the drop of a hat, missing lessons which, at the time, to us seemed great. We would also sing for all sorts of services, Benediction on Tuesdays, Mass on Saturday mornings and so on. On feast days there was often a special service, then Sundays we would go to the parish church, again in crocodile and then back in the afternoon to the church for catechism, after which we were allowed to go out for walks, or cycle rides if we had bikes. Wells was a favorite destination for many of us, and then back for tea, stand at the table, wait for grace, pick up the largest lump of butter, lick it, and put it back on the plate until grace was said. Looking back on that time, I was always cold and hungry, especially cold. I suppose we were all thin, being not long after the war and rationing still being in operation on many items.

One of the masters, a Mr Squires, built us a terrific tree house in the grounds - the only way up to it was via a stout rope which we had to climb and which we all learnt at great speed. The first day the muscles of my stomach hurt so much I thought I had done some terrible damage, but it soon wore Dr Najdanovic and Bishop Irene of Dalmatia off. We spent hours climbing the rope, or swinging Tarzan-like from it on the rope. One day I climbed up on a high branch, rope in hand and launched myself; at that moment a friend of mine walked into the wood, we collided with a terrific impact both completely winded, and some very cross words exchanged.

One evening in the deep mid-winter we were waiting for choir practice on the lawn outside the Sacristy and were throwing snowballs about while we were waiting for Brother Peter the organist and choir master to arrive. Nearby an Orthodox priest lived who I believe was Russian [Dr Najdanovic pictured right, with Bishop Irene of Dalmatia], and only spoke very little English. I threw a snowball at someone and missed, it unfortunately hit the priest's very tall hat and knocked it off. I was horrified, he stopped, picked up the hat and brushed the snow off and walked off without a word. I wanted to apologise but I was afraid he would not have understood, and to this day I am full of remorse at the event.

Brother Peter was Irish and red headed; he was generally very patient with us at the choir practice but sometimes we would try over and over again to get something right, he would then put his head on the organ and make loud howling noises. I was never sure if he was really crying or not. During the whole time I was there at the school there were only two of us called Paul, the other Paul being Yugoslavian and a member of the Orthodox church. I being Celtic and always fairly dark was always mistaken for the other Paul by Fr Patten and he would say to me, "of course in your church you do so and so", I was too scared to say he had got the wrong Paul, and the longer it went on the worse it got; thankfully he never did find out his mistake.

As is so often reported, when Fr Patten decided to introduce something new in the service he would say "as is our custom" we now do what ever new idea he had decided on. He was, I am sure, a very saintly man, very firm, very strict and yet kind.

Paul Lewis's Sanctuary School group photographWhen I joined the school we had class rooms at the building at the Friary, the other side of the village. We all walked down in the morning, back to school at lunchtime, and back again to the Friary in the afternoon. The ruins around us at the Friary were amazing to see, and retrospectively it is astonishing that none of us was hurt by falling masonry from the wonderful old building. Later we were to have class rooms at the school made from a converted stable block, all very smart, but with no heating, which was extremely cold in the winter.

When the time came for each group to go to our dormitories, Ken Hunter would do the rounds of all the dormitories at the appropriate time before lights out and read us a story, one of my favourites being Grey Owl books. Of course, years later it was proved that he was not really a "Red Indian", but who cares, the stories were great.

As time went by I imagine the disagreements between the Hunters and Fr Patten became so that they could not exist together, consequently the Hunters set up their own school in another county. Many of us went with him, I being one of them. The Sanctuary School had a new headmaster, but I do not think it ever really recovered after this.

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