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Clem's Memories

The next set of recollections are by Bernard Lawson, known to one and all as Clem - a nickname he picked up during his time as a pupil at Stillington Hall.  Read on, through a series of memories which are sure to make you smile, to find out exactly how that came about...

'I went to Stillington in the latter half of the 1950s and later moved with the college to Mirfield and eventually to Sunningdale. I travelled from Warrington to York by train and caught the "reliable" Reliance bus to Stillington. Couldn't have spent my early years in a much better place and I met so many people from all over the uk.

  I learned to enjoy the countryside and have told many people about the bank of daffodils you met as you arrived in Spring. My birdwatching hobby began whilst roaming the fields, woods and lanes around Stillington. A pheasant once nested on the outside wall of the kitchen garden and hatched its eggs, despite it constantly being observed by curious students. Bats were a familiar sight in the summer evenings and owls were spotted frequently. Foxhunts were about and I recall once seeing hounds in the college grounds. Have to say always been anti.


Life in the The Hall ran to a timetable and most time was spent in class or studying and not on our knees as some might expect. We helped in the kitchen garden or farm, as we had a few cows, and the older ones would help with haymaking in a field just down the road, in a lane behind the pub.  I think scythes were used to cut the grass which was turned by hand. Saturday was cleaning day when we all had to do a bit. At one stage I had the glorious title of Prefect of Hygiene and had a room where all the disinfectants, etc, were kept - my little empire - and from which I could see for miles on a clear day.


Sunday was freedom day when we were off. We went walking.  Sometimes we made nuisances of ourselves and enjoyed messing about in the River Foss. I recall meeting a farmer who was a bit sharp - think we may have been messing with a sluicegate. To this day I don't know what he said in his Yorkshire accent but we thought it sounded like "get off the beast path". - one of life's great mysteries! We used to give the bell in the church at Marton an occasional ring. We had film shows with breaks when the reel had to be changed. Occasionally things broke down so we either had to wait for another showing or never saw the end of a film.


Football was played regularly either in the grounds or in a field near where the cricket gound is now. We played other colleges and schools including Easingwold and Bootham, a Quaker college in York.  Post-match food made being on the team worthwhile.


Visits to the dentist in York weren't so much fun. His surgery overlooked rooftops and I can still recall the sound of that drill as it hit the nerve in pre - anaesthetic days. The trip was great though!


We had contact with the Poles based at what we called the Polish camp reached via the road through Sutton on the Forest. I recall their wonderful national costumes.


The village football team was successful during my time. The name Norman Morse springs to mind as he had a trick of dummying his marker by jumping over the ball and very often breaking into a giggle which wasn't really the point of the exercise. As for the cobblers daughter! As one priest always said nothing wrong with admiring God's handiwork!


Lots of stories and characters spring to mind including an English teacher called Mr. Durrant known as Da Di; an older gentleman with glasses and a moustache who had a sort of scooter. Not quite a Mr. Pastry or Mr. Bean but ideal for Maurice Cole - Kenny Everett - to impersonate. I believe the story about him leaving because he drank altar wine was a good old myth. We nicknamed one lad (also from Warrington) called Geoff Cullen ‘Bullethead’ as he would occasionally run into a small stone column on the front lawn with his head. Didn't do much damage as he became very successful in later life and saved somebody from drowning in the River Mersey. I last met him in Perpignan a few years ago watching Rugby League, of course. On one visiting day a few eyes nearly popped out when one of the lad’s mothers decided to breast-feed on the front lawn - Mrs Connolly from Halifax.


We had our mad moments. Most weekends many of the priests would be away preaching in Catholic churches asking for help with money for the college. Somehow a gang of us decided to have a pillow fight as the priest left in charge was one of the weaker ones. My dormitory invaded the next one and it was all over in minutes.The Rector - Fr de Negri ( fifth from left seated on photo) - was not happy on his return and tried to find out who was the ring leader by interviewing everybody individually. I think expulsion was on the cards but nobody was identified - as I said somehow! Can't remember what the punishment was. The occasional cigarette would be smoked and covered up by the chewing of some garlic plants which we found in the grounds.


My nickname Clem which goes back to my days at Stillington. When Pope Pius XII died in 1958 four of us decided to have a bet on the name of the next Pope; can't remember the actual wager. For the duration of the election we decided to call each other by that name. I can only remember two - Xystus and Clement. Stranger things have happened but for some reason my name stuck and, apart from some immediate family, everybody has since known me as Clem - even my wife who despite few gentle reminders from my mum in our early days together still calls me Clem.


A small picture of life in St. Peter Claver College. I have read the two other memories and do find the one by John Sherman slightly incredible. Most of us were ordinary boys from ordinary families who thought they wanted to become priests but at most, if my memory serves correctly, only one or two on your photograph became priests. Sounds like a waste of money but far from it. We had the opportunity to experience aspects of life we would never have come across and forgetting the religious side of things we enjoyed ourselves in a manner we would never have dreamed of. People may have concerns about what happened behind closed doors but I think we were in safe hands.

 I have fond memories of Stillington and can still see myself in my little empire, doing a bit of scrumping on the way to Farlington, watching the curlews, scoring a goal against Bootham and being called junior by a bigger lad from the same team; we won, so it didn't bother me.'