I was a boarder at Stillington Hall for about three years, 1956/7/8. The Hall varied between the bleak and the beautiful. The original family reception rooms werewonderful. Those parts of the house that had been servants’ quarters, or used for providing domestic services, had been converted to accommodate the boys, and were utilitarian at best. There was a dreadful shower block beyond the kitchens; family bedrooms on the first floor became several small dormitories, and on the top floor one long dormitory stretched the length of the house and looked out to the south. I remember an enormous walk-in strongroom near the back door. A small school block had been built in the grounds. Given that the Hall was only ever envisaged to be a temporary home while a new college was built, I suppose it was adequate. Most of the boys had come from working class homes in London, Glasgow and Liverpool, and the Lancashire towns of Wigan, St. Helen’s and thereabouts, with some from Ireland.
Speaking personally, I was not used to luxury anyway, and did not feel deprived, and I suspect that was true for others. Britain in the fifties was a fairly drab place.Time was passed playing interminable games of billiards, but football and rugby were the main occupations out of class and chapel. We had occasional treats such as films, ‘The Searchers’ with John Wayne was quite an event. Apart from playing all sorts of games on the field in the grounds, we also played at a field some distance away which was reached by crossing the ha-ha and walking past a wood, or on occasion through it, to very close cropped pasture, normally holding sheep. Onone memorable occasion we were playing football there when the hunt passed through. First of all a fox ran from one goalmouth to the other, followed a couple of minutes later by the hounds, and finally the hunt itself galloped through from end to end. To say we were bemused would be an understatement. Then, with great aplomb, the referee restarted the game with a dropped ball, what we used to call ‘a bounce up’ in the old days. We took most things in our stride, without fuss, perhaps it was the Yorkshire air.
There were farm buildings at what I think was the north end of the property, on the right after going through the gates. A lay-brother milked some cows and raised vegetables. There was an orchard behind the house, and a small ornamental pond. There was a huge Cedar of Lebanon at the front of the Hall, and an extremely tall Redwood tree at the north end of the ‘lawn’ beyond which was a former cemetery. One of the things I remember the most is the wild life. Birds of all species and the bird song. I particularly remember owls and bats. We spent hours walking, climbing trees and generally having a simple, but good life, what you have never had you don’t miss.
I remember an Irish maths teacher, Paddy Lynch, to whom I owe my nickname ‘Paddy’, he was a regular at the village pub. People from the Catholic community round and about came on Sundays and special occasions. I also remember one summer that there were some three or four itinerant Irish labourers working on a farm somewhere in the locality, presumably for hay-making or harvest. On Sunday they walked across the fields to the south, barefoot, with their their boots slung around their necks by the laces, and climbed the ha-ha. Then they sat on the grass and put them on before coming into the chapel.
The boys were a mixed lot, the odd, the cheerful, the morose and the lonely. The system of taking young boys away from home at the age of eleven to train them for ministry was going out of fashion even then, and ceased altogether in England by the eighties. I enjoyed my time there and wouldn’t have missed it. It gave an understanding of life beyond my Liverpool home, but I felt that the life was not for me. Rather ironically, I subsequently became a Church of England vicar.