MORE than 300 former pupils from the days when Steyning Grammar School was truly a grammar school returned for a 400th anniversary reunion on Saturday.
The focus was on the ‘old boys’ who went to the school before it became a comprehensive in 1968, having amalgamated with the secondary modern.
They were welcomed by head teacher Nick Wergan before attending a special service at St Andrew and St Cuthman Church, led by the Right Rev Dr Martin Warner, Bishop of Chichester.
Among the congregation were former teachers, head teachers, head boys and local dignitaries.
A buffet lunch at Bolton House followed and guests were given tours of the school during the afternoon, before a talk by local historian Dr Janet Pennington on 400 Years of Education.
Some had travelled from far and wide, one of the furthest being John Bee, who settled in Australia in 1965.
Mr Bee lived in Southwick when he attended the school between 1948 and 1953, and then went into the East India Company as an apprentice.
“Quite a few of us went into it as apprentices,” he recalled.
He said he still had a brother in Epsom, Surrey, and had been in the country since the beginning of July to make the most of the trip.
“I can’t believe the amount of building that has gone on,” he said. “To walk to the old school grounds, you used to go through potato fields and there were only a few houses around.”
Nigel Divers, who lives in Shoreham, and Trevor Woodget were among the last true grammar school students, from 1962 to 1967.
They also used to make the journey from Southwick, on the steam train known as the Horsham Flyer.
Mr Divers, secretary of the Southwick Society, said: “I have a sneaky feeling I wanted to come to Steyning so I could come to school on a steam train.”
Mr Woodget, now Basingstoke Baptist Church minister, said it was a special school.
George Barker, a boarder at the school between 1951 and 1959, was the instigator of the Old Boys association.
He said when he retired in 2000, one of the first things he did was go back to Steyning to see how the school had changed.
“The memories were all there,” he recalled. “I was asked to write some down on record, which lead to my book, The Slog Smugglers.”
At the time, he was in touch with only two former pupils but he started going through databases and hand writing letters to all the possible names, trying to get a directory together of people who went to the school up until it became a comprehensive in 1968.
Mr Barker, who lives in Peterborough, said: “People are extremely fond of the school, particularly in the 30s, 40s and 50s.
“You find the boarders have the greatest affinity to the school because they spent so much time here. It was part of your family. The boarders were kings.”
He recalled his headmaster, John Scragg, running the school to Victorian values, with discipline for the masters as well as the boys.
One of the oldest at the reunion was 88-year-old Geoffrey Mason, who came as a boarder in 1936 and was head boy for two years from 1942 until he left. He also recalled that discipline but he said it didn’t do anyone any harm.
Cathie Ballard, the daughter of Mr Scragg, who was headmaster from 1944 to 1968, said she remembered the sound of Mr Mason’s motorbike when he used to make return visits as a young man.
“He used to come up Church Street when it was very quiet. You could here his motorbike coming along.”
Mr Mason said: “We had a wonderful staff. They had some great interests, ornithology, archaeology and gym.
“They did so much with us out of school. This is what I think today. There is the school curriculum but there is far more to learn.”
He went into the Indian Army as an officer and was commissioned at Bangalore.
Mr Wergan said it had been fantastic to meet so many former students and to welcome them back from across the world.
“Our success as a school is built on traditions of excellence and commitment; we can be forward looking and proud of our heritage,” he added.
“We are grateful for the support of our former students, former colleagues and honoured guests as we mark our 400th anniversary.”