With almost 500 years of history under its belt, Collyer’s has helped some of the brightest young people in Sussex to prepare themselves for adult life.
Comedian Harry Enfield went there as did TV presenter Holly Willoughby and cricketer Chris Nash.
When Crawley councillor Geraint Thomas attended the college, there wasn’t a girl in sight. It was a grammar school and it was strictly boys only.
The girls wouldn’t join until 1976, when Collyer’s became a sixth-form college.
It may have been more than 50 years ago but Geraint has some very strong – and fond – memories of his time at Collyer’s. Except for the time they dropped rugby lessons – that didn’t please him at all!
Geraint travelled from Crawley to Horsham every day by train, starting in class 1C in 1962.
He said: “I was keen on sport and very disappointed when the school gave up Rugby in 1963 after a few tantalisingly exciting practices in Horsham Park on Friday afternoons.”
Rugby lessons could not be held on the school field during the early 1960s as they were being renovated and were out of action.
The teachers, though, made good use of the field by sending boys out to go ‘stone picking’ by way of a punishment.
With rugby kicked into touch, Geraint said he took to football for a while but said it was never really his game.
Cricket, on the other hand was very much his forte.
He said: “With plenty of encouragement from teachers, I went from strength to strength throughout my school career initially as a bowler and later as an opening batsman.”
As for those teachers, Geraint remembers them well and with affection, especially those who guided him into his own career, teaching geography at Hazelwick and St Wilfrid’s in Crawley and Warden Park in Cuckfield.
In the first year there was Minnie Young, who he decribed as “initially terrifying” and had to be addressed as ‘ma’am’ and not ‘miss’. She also appeared to take a very relaxed attitude to world crises.
Geraint remembered one morning – 9am on the day of the Cuban Missile crisis – she told the class she hoped they would all be around for their English lesson at 3pm, “as opposed to being vaporised in a nuclear war”.
There’s nothing quite like a joke about impending annihilation to put children at their ease!
Next up was Mr Willson who gave Geraint a book as a prize for coming top of the first year in the RE exam – though he remembered getting “a huge rollocking” from the man when he said he was not keen on attending the official opening of the school’s Duckering Hall.
Geraint said: “He somehow changed my mind!”
Also on the list of fondly remembered teachers was John ‘Mungo’ Park, whose bellowed “get out of my library!” stung many an ear. He may not have liked grubby fingers smudging his beloved books but he proved himself a good egg when he escorted a group of boys to Snowdonia for mountaineering courses in the Easter holiday.
Another teacher who no doubt left the boys with mixed opinions was Mr Brooshooft who, Geraint said, took some of the eager young cricketers to the county ground indoor cricket nets in Hove, where they received instruction from Sussex players.
Then he went and introduced circuit training for the football squad. Mixed feelings, indeed.
Jim Hodgson encouraged Geraint’s singing and allowed him to listen to Beethoven in his room at lunchtime; Frank Whitbourn encouraged the boys to love literature and drama; and Harry Fison was a “patient and encouraging” maths teacher.
But it wasn’t all roses at Collyer’s. This was the 60s, after all, and the line for what was seen as acceptable was a lot more blurry than it is today.
Geraint said: “Think marching practice, cross country, Saturday morning detentions, Monday morning beatings – some teachers taking against you for not joining the Combined Cadet Force or wearing red socks in ‘my gym’, routine physical punishments in the hair/ear region by some teachers, stinging sarcasm from older students and some teachers and receiving the Senior Divinity Prize from guest of honour Enoch Powell on Founder’s Day.”
Given Geraint’s role as a Labour councillor, that latter experience must have been the worst of all!
He added: “I made a number of good friends at the time though unfortunately I seem to have lost touch with all of them – Lenny Field, Howard Dazely, Dave Pearmain, Nigel Streeter, Hartley Bishop, Graham Ripley, Malcolm Bailey, Geoff Valentine.
“There were some really good times. SchooI plays and rehearsals – Dr Faustus, A Man for All Seasons, King Lear – having something published in The Collyerian, seemingly-endless games of cricket in the sunshine, the occasional geography field trip, winning a tuck shop hamper for exactly predicting the Labour majority in the 1966 General Election, listening to Jim Hodgson play Widor’s ‘Toccata’ on the organ at the parish church, hockey matches against the girls of Horsham High School, a quick beer in the King’s Head between the Founder’s Day service in the parish church and the prize-giving in the Ritz Cinema.
“I must be one of a very small number of Old Collyerians who will grab any opportunity to sing the old school song – for instance instead of making a retirement speech.”
The headteachers who have taken the helm over 50 years
Collyer’s has had 35 headmasters and principals since it opened – and some of them stayed for decades.
The school’s first headmaster was Richard Brokebanke, from 1541-1546.
He was followed by:
Nicholas Bayne 1546-48
John Fowler 1549-62
Thomas Hodeles 1563-67
James Alleyn 1567-1617
Richard Nye 1617-29
Edmund Pierson 1629-31
Thomas Robinson 1631-39
Rev John Sefton 1640-44
Rev Thomas Smith 1644-47
Rev Alma Hogglebin 1647-48
John Nisbet 1648-84
Rev Peregrine Peryham 1684-85
Rev James Wickliffe 1686-99
Rev Ralph Grove 1699
Rev Alexander Hay 1700-06
Rev Thomas Pittis 1706-12
Rev Peter Stockar 1712
Rev John Reynell 1712-22
Rev Francis Osgood 1722-73
Rev William Jameson 1773-1806
Rev Thomas Williams 1806-21
William Pirie 1822-68, after whom Pirie’s Place was named. A sculpture of him in the back of a cart being pulled by a donkey stands there.
Richard Cragg (the younger) 1868-83
James Williams 1883-90
Rev Dr George Thompson 1890-1917
William Major 1917-22
Rev Canon Wilfrid Peacock 1922-26
Philip Tharp 1922-56
Douglas Coulson 1956-66
(Eldred) Derek Slynn 1966-83
In 1976, the title was changed from headmaster to principal.
Since then the college’s principals have been:
David Arnold 1983-99
Michael Marchant 1999-2004
Dr Jacqueline Johnston 2004-14
2014-now Sally Bromley.
The soul of Richard Collyer
The tale of how Collyer’s became one of the oldest and most successful schools in Sussex has a sad beginning.
A potted history on the Collyer’s website states that in January 1532, Richard Collyer wrote his will and died two months later.
A merchant of great wealth, his will stated that, if his two children died under age or without heirs, then one of his two city dwellings should be sold and the proceeds used to build a school-house for 60 Horsham boys.
His mansion should be given to the Mercers as trustees to endow the foundation for salaries and repairs.
All he asked in return was for the school to pray for his soul and that of his wife, Katherine.
Sadly, his two children died before reaching maturity.
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