Schooling 1956 to 1966

Kenton College Nairobi and The King’s School Canterbury

King’s School Canterbury

Life at one the Oldest Public Schools

The King’s School, Canterbury is an English Public School located in the Precinct of Canterbury Cathedral in the County of Kent

In the ’60s, to enter Kings Canterbury – or any Public School – it was necessary to pass the Common Entrance Exam. Exceptionally bright pupils had the chance to win a Scholarship (which meant reduced fees) Most boys took the Exam when they were 13: I was 12, and did well – recording a very high mark of 81% for one particular subject French B  which pleased the Headmaster at Kenton enormously because I was in his class for French. Although I did well, it was not quite good enough for a Scholarship. 

When I joined the school, the Headmaster was Canon Fred Shirley. There were about 650 pupils at King’s and like Kenton, most were “Boarders ” and there were a number of different “Houses”. Each boy was assigned to a particular House after one year.

The first year was spent in one of two junior Houses which were in the main School Grounds – I remember my junior House was called Lattergate. 

The school uniform was very distinctive in that we had to wear wing collars waistcoats and boaters (straw hats) and the complete uniform cost a fortune from the “Old School Shop” – located just outside the School Grounds, and run as a true monopoly. The Wikipedia link provided describes the school layout and the uniform in some detail, although nowadays it is a mixed school. With such a distinctive uniform we of course stood out like a “sore thumb” and were often targets for the inhabitants of the Town.

My assigned House after my first year was Luxmoore, which was reserved mostly for the boys whose parents were outside the UK. Luxmoore House actually consisted of two very large detached houses, close together, and had large grounds with its own playing field. Situated on the main Dover Road, about two miles south of the main school, we were every day expected either to walk or cycle to the main school for lessons, assembly etc. Luxmoore provided dormitories, catering and study facilities for all the 90 or so boys, and our House master was Mr K K Roberts (known as KK) who lived in a separate apartment with his rather attractive young wife. 

At Kings, the privileges started in the final year when pupils reached the Sixth form, and the Head Boy and School Monitors (House Prefects) enjoyed extra privileges and wore black gowns – as did the teachers and pupils who had won scholarships. Monitors were also allowed to administer corporal punishment to other pupils and walk on the grass (“hallowed turf”) in the School Courtyards which were part of the Cathedral Grounds.

The school facilities as one would expect were impressive. Within the large grounds of the Cathedral precinct were most of the Houses and classrooms and other educational areas – such as a Library, various laboratories – and a gymnasium. The main Sports area was located some miles away, and catered primarily for Rugby (Kings was well known for its Rugby) Cricket and Athletics. There were also some squash courts and tennis courts in another area en route to the main playing fields.  

Apart from all the academic and sporting facilities, we were of course living alongside the oldest cathedral in the country, and were obliged to attend cathedral services on a regular basis. The school also provided most of the Cathedral choir, and music played an important part in the curriculum. I can still remember the particular smell of the old damp walls from the Cathedral crypt on Sunday evenings …. 

Arts or Science? After the first year, pupils had to make the choice as to which educational path they would take. Probably the most important choice we as pupils ever made, Arts consisted broadly of Languages, History and English, and Science broadly of Maths, Chemistry and Physics. The goal was then to pass intermediate Exams in either Arts or Science at age 14 or 15 (“O” Levels) and then to take the main University Entrance Exams at age 17 or 18 (“A” Levels) I chose Science, although in retrospect, I believe I would have done much better in Arts, for which I was naturally more talented. But even at the age of 13, I had the RAF in my mind as a possible career, and knew that Science would be more relevant.

CCF The Combined Cadet Force was available at Kings and we were provided uniforms and had some training and trips: naturally I joined the RAF section, and remember one visit to RAF Manston where I had my first flight in a Chipmunk – a trainer aircraft. I think the aim of the pilots was to make sure each cadet remembered the experience, and sure enough, after some aerobatics and the smell of the rubber mask, I remember throwing up in spectacular style! So much for my first taste of the RAF!

So What Went Wrong? You may well ask. With all the privileges available to me from one of the best schools in the country with fantastic and committed teachers and superb facilities, what was the problem? After all, I had been used to being away from home and family – I had spent the last four years at Boarding school in Kenya. And I had shown academic and sporting promise.

There were two main reasons. The first was my physical size. Some boys take longer than others to mature physically, and in a school like Kings, size was very important – both for sports (sporting prowess was highly acclaimed) and for establishing oneself within the “hierarchy”

The second was to do with money: Kings was a very expensive school with high fees, and it was the reason my mother continued working so hard in East Africa – she wanted her sons to go to the best school. (My father was not supportive) Most of my fellow pupils came from families where money was not a problem and some from very privileged backgrounds: and so “class” was an issue, and teenage boys are quick at sniffing out those “who don’t really belong” – and this was exactly how I felt: that I did not really belong.

Academic Achievements I passed my first six “O” Level exams at 13 and one year later had 9 science “O” Level passes: I had started well, and was probably one year ahead academically. But thereafter, my enthusiasm diminished. I took my first science “A” Levels at the age of 16 and failed one. The next year I passed all three – a B in mathematics, C in chemistry and a D in Physics – pretty average results which meant that I could apply to Universities like London or Bristol but had no chance with Oxford or Cambridge. This pretty much decided me that I should apply to RAF Cranwell.

Sporting Achievements I was not outstanding. I made the 3rd XI school cricket team – being the only player batting at number 11 who hit a “six” – and the house Rugby team. I tried my hand at Boxing, but when your opponent has a reach six inches longer than you, this can be tricky!

Friends Unlike Kenton, I only have one friend from Kings with whom I would stay in touch. Hugh Slater was one of those who travelled with me on a ski trip party to Ischgl in Austria at the end of the last term. I remember getting horribly drunk on whisky before we boarded the train at Victoria station. Hugh was a good guy (he liked to be called Hugo) and went to Magdalene College, Cambridge University: we met post school on a number of occasions, and he was the my best man at my first wedding in 1976. Unfortunately we have not remained in touch. A more detailed acount of life at the King’s School in my day and written by Anthony Marsall (who I do not remember) can be found on the OKS website.

Interesting People. Kings produced some very accomplished pupils who went on to do great things. On the cricketing front (my particular interest to this day) in my time there was Charles Rowe – who played for Kent – and a little later, David Gower who had a tremendous career in Test Cricket. Close to Luxmoore was one of the Kent County cricket grounds, with a large oak tree within the boundary – I spent many hours there watching the cricket. On the social front, one of the King’s pupils was Brian Faithfull, whose sister Marianne achieved her own notoriety. When I was at Kings the “Sixties” revolution was in full swing, but unfortunately it bypassed me completely – although we all played Rolling Stones records and smoked “illegally” – normal cigarettes not pot!

Worst Memory There is one memory that still haunts me to this day, although most people would not understand why. I was playing in the house Rugby team for Luxmoore – I was full back – and we had a strong team with some of the School 1st Team players. A scoring opportunity arose where I was on the right wing with a clear run to the try line, and the ball carrier was one of the 1st team members (Devlin I think his name was) Scoring a try would have been a huge triumph for me and would have made a big difference to my “standing”. But – and I think deliberately so – the boy concerned did not pass the ball and was tackled, and the opportunity lost. We did win the match but this was scant consolation to me at the time.  

King’s School Canterbury Read More »

Kenton College Nairobi

Kenton College Prep School 1957 to 1961


My early schooling was at a day school in Entebbe, Uganda – where I did well  and from what I remember, we had some excellent teachers, including a Mrs Coyle.

I started my journey into institutional life when I was 8. When one spends most of the formative and teenage years away from home and family, this can be a difficult period, and assumes a great importance in later life because you have to learn to survive, and the survival techniques learnt tend to shape your character.

Kenton College was and still is located in Nairobi in Kenya.

When I was a pupil, the headmaster was The Rev C.E.Birks. The school was  a Prep School catering for boys from the ages of 8 to approx 13. It was situated in about 35 acres of land and had excellent sports facilities. At the time, the school was for boys only, and it was established for the education of sons of the “Colonials” from surrounding countries still under British rule or influence – Uganda, Kenya, Rhodesia, South Africa, etc

From memory, the school uniform consisted of grey shorts and jacket, with long grey socks with a purple stripe, and a tie with the same purple “motif”

As was the norm with schools at the time, the pupils (about 100) were split into different “Houses” – or teams. Bongo, Oryx and Kudu were the three names I remember, each being a type of African buck or antelope. I was a Bongo man!

Which brings me to one of my lasting memories – which was the train journey from Kampala in Uganda to Nairobi in Kenya.

This was a fantastic trip: there were always at least 10 boys – under the control of one adult (usually a teacher) – and we slept in the train because the journey took about 48 hours. The countryside and scenery was pretty amazing – much of the railway followed the Rift Valleyand we could see elephants and a variety of animals in the wild – sometimes very close to the train because there were no boundaries. We passed through a number of towns and villages on the way, where we could get local food and other items offered through the train window.

Kenton was a happy school for me – I did not feel out of place and all the boys shared the same background and/or “social standing”: we were all pretty much equal. As was common place in schools at the time, we addressed each other by surname. And of course we all missed home and our parents, but this was unavoidable, and so we made the best of it.

My particular memories of my time at Kenton were:

  • Dormitory Farting. We slept in dormitories and as you would expect with a group of boys together there were competitions as to the loudest/longest fart. One boy was the outright winner, and his speciality was setting light to the offending gas. His name was Boucher. He was from either Rhodesia or South Africa, and good at cricket, and I believe he was related to Mark Boucher, the wicket keeper in the 1990s for the South African Test cricket team.
  • Good Friends I had a number of close friends but the closest was Simon Hart. We were vying all the time for first place academically and sports-wise. He had an older brother, Robert, and I remember staying with his family for a few days in their wonderful home in Nakuru. Simon only had  one flaw – he picked his nose (ok, we all do…) but then he ate the proceeds.. Another good friend was Nick Browne, whose father was “high up” in one of the East African Oil giants (Shell or BP) and was therefore well connected. This led directly to me experiencing a few days with the Madhvani family – millionaires from India – who controlled the soap industry in Uganda. Their lifestyle was different to anything I had experienced before and their “ranch” near Jinja was probably on 500 acres, with cars available to drive for anyone – even the children.
  • Firework Tragedy There were two brothers at Kenton with me called Pakenham Walsh, both really nice boys, quietly spoken and popular. Every November 5th the school put on a Fireworks display, and any parents who were able to come were invited. One particular Guy Fawkes night, a spark landed in a box containing rockets, igniting the entire box. One of the rockets struck the boy’s father, Mr Pakenham Walsh, in the head. Unfortunately it was fatal: I had only been a few yards away and had witnessed the tragedy at first hand. 
  • Roller Skating and Marbles The school had a large tarmacked courtyard, which was excellent for two things: one was the game of British Bulldog using roller skates and the other was playing marbles. I became pretty good on the skates, and enjoyed playing marbles (some times called “nyabs” but I have no idea why)
  • Snakes Antlions and Chameleons In such a large space inside the school grounds on the outskirts of Nairobi, there were bound to be some dangers: the snake that was the most dangerous was the spitting cobra and there were occasional sightings, but generally speaking they avoided human contact. An interesting insect which could be caught and put into a container filled with sand or loose earth was the antlion.  As boys we used to collect antlions, which then made their conically shaped traps in the soil, and we waited for the next unfortunate ant to fall into the cone. And a chameleon was a fascinating creature and could be easily caught, and kept as a pet.
  • Corporal Punishment As was common at the time in Boarding Schools, corporal punishment was the ultimate deterrent. At Kenton College, this was usually administered to the backside by a master, either with a gym shoe or a cane. The resulting “weals” or bruises were a source of pride rather than shame, and afterwards displayed to one’s fellow schoolmates. It did happen to me on occasion, and in my opinion, did no long-lasting harm. If you “crossed the line” at school, and were caught, then a caning was on the cards, and you knowingly took that risk. It was preferable to being expelled.
  • Entertainment This was the 1950s and  before TV, and so entertainment was organised within the school – with Plays and Theatre productions and singing. I remember that I had my first part in a School Play and sang solo one verse of “In the deep mid- Winter” for one Xmas Carols concert – my introduction to amateur Theatre!
  • Test Match Cricket My favourite entertainment was provided through a small transistor Radio given to me by my parents – it could receive the Test Match cricket live commentary, and so late at night I could listen to how the England cricket team were doing on the other side of the world. Cricket was very important to most of us……
  • School Trips We did not make many school trips, but one that stands out for me again involves Cricket. In about 1960, the MCC was touring East Africa, with “Fiery” Fred Trueman in the team, one of England’s greatest fast bowlers. The match we were lucky enough to see was against a local Kenya side. I remember the Home team were down to the last batsman and Fiery Fred was bowling. The Number 11 was a tall Sikh, wearing the traditional turban: the first ball was despatched for a mighty Six. The second ball very nearly removed the turban, and the third ball (a yorker) shattered the stumps.  
  • Cubs and Boy Scouts The Baden Powell legacy was very strong in Colonial Africa, and I had been a “cub” before I joined the school. where we had a thriving Boy Scout group – the next level up. This was fun and something to do outside the normal school curriculum. Apart from learning how to start fires and experience basic survival training, we also tried to master campfire cooking… 
More information about Kenton with photos can be viewed from Pete Goddard an ex-pupil and Old Kentonian who was at Kenton some years later than myself.

Kenton College Nairobi Read More »