400 Press Release

Press Release for the Reunion for 400 Anniversary of Thornbury Grammar School

“A Fabulous Weekend of  Nostalgia for Old Thorns”

The glorious weather of the last weekend enabled all the plans for the Thornbury Grammar School Years Reunion to fall into place with good effect!

The Reunion weekend, which had been in planning for 2 years, came to fruition in an emotional way that few could have anticipated.  In three parts, the various events were attended by in excess of 500 former pupils, many of whom showed high states of emotional response to the reality of meeting-up with lost friends from as long as 70 years ago.

Beginning at 1.00 pm at the old TGS site, now the Castle School Sixth Form Centre, some 500 arrived, inevitably including many who had not announced their intention in advance!  On arrival, they were greeted by current Marlwood School Sixth formers and Captains and registered by former TGS pupils and other friends.  It was a hot afternoon, yet quite difficult to persuade many to get out of the sun and inspect their former haunts in the coolness of this old building, but what joy that brought to lots recounting tales of past achievements, misdeeds even, and fun, sadness, hard work, friendships and the start of not a few relationships that culminated in marriages.  The thrill at seeing old friends again, the excitement at those fond embraces was very moving.

It was not easy to encourage guests to move-on to Marlwood where there was an extensive exhibition of photographs covering the past 100 years.  Sports teams, music and choir groups, prefects of the day, panoramic photographs, sports day and cross-country activities aplenty, Old Thorns Dinners, School trips, past Speech Day and Concert Programmes, old School Reports dating back to 1910, a book prize – “The Ocean” written pre-Darwin times and awarded in 1863 to Edgar Cullimore by the then Headmaster John Field enriched the Exhibition which it is hoped, will be scanned and available via the Thornbury Museum and Thornbury Grammar School, websites in due course.  Guests at Marlwood were able to wander the School, though many preferred to just sit and chat, enjoying the occasion and their renewed acquaintances.  Even the Marlwood event had to close, and sadly, people had to leave long before they wanted to.

At 7.00 pm, doors opened at the Armstrong Hall to admit the 210 guests for Dinner, and what a “wow” factor they were greeted with!  The impact was huge; the transition wrought with decoration that was characterised by exquisite attention to detail was stunning. There were 21 round tables of 10, including three on the stage.  White table cloths were adorned with floral centre s with maroon roses and scattered with table confetti consisting of small cut-out School crests.  Maroon and green napkins, place cards with the “Marlwood 400” project symbol, and thematically coloured helium balloons completed the table décor.  For each guest there was a Programme featuring photos of the front and rear elevations of the TGS building and including pictures of all nine Headteachers at the School ,since George Nixon in 1879, and a favour for the ladies and a bottle of the School beer for the men, each bearing the School crest / project logo.

Following an excellent meal and first class service by Napier Catering, there were two speakers. Mike Lewis (1943 – 1951) reminisced and reflected on the impact of the war years on teaching staff and the lives of the School.  At the pinnacle of his career, Mike became a director of the Esso Oil Company in G.B. and Europe.  He was followed by Lady Catherine Bragg (née Cate Haste 1965 – 1963), who spoke a little of her times in School and then introduced the guests to various high-profile people and interesting places she had encountered during her career in journalism and in T.V. production.  Former TGS and Marlwood Maths teacher Graham Gambling was host for the evening and following votes of thanks to the speakers and proposals of toasts by former TGS/Marlwood pupil Dr Mark Crawshaw, a response on behalf of Marlwood School was given by current Headteacher Keith Geary.  The main raffle prize – a school crest-inscribed Waterford Crystal bowl, was won by former TGS pupil, ex England and British Lions Captain, John Pullin.

A good sized group gathered outside the Church on Sunday morning for a guided visit around the central parts of Thornbury by the Museum’s Meg Wise and Roger Howell.

At 1.15 on the Sunday, at the TGS site, upwards of 100 formed a “crocodile” that wound its way down Church Rd. to the sound of Church bells peeled by former pupils, and in sight of the School flag, flying from the Castle mast.

Greeted on arrival by the current School Captains, and refreshed with tea, they joined-in a congregation of 250 for the Service of Celebration that began at 2.30.  Started-off by a “Marlwood” choir composed of present and past pupils, parents and staff, and skilfully tutored by Beverley Oldfield, the Service immediately reached a high point with Rutter’s “Look at the World”.  Peter Hanks and other former pupils presented an extract from the Messiah in tribute to the late Pauline Astbury, former Head of Music at both Schools and a Head of House, and a Thomas Tallis piece “If Ye Love Me”.  The two readers were former Headteacher Terry Fazey and Jennifer Armarego – daughter of former Headmaster John Rouch.  The Service was brought to a conclusion with the lusty singing of the old school hymn “Thy Hand, O God, has guided”, sung to the Thornbury tune composed by local composer Basil Harwood and the organ voluntary, Walton’s “Crown Imperial” played by organist Nigel Davies, formerly Head of Music at Marlwood.

Even after this further emotional veneer of the weekend, congregants were still reluctant to depart and many stayed for a while outside the church.  Some, the lucky 50, who had managed to secure a ticket to the Thornbury Castle finale event, enjoyed a relaxing, informal cream tea to bring the weekend’s memorable proceedings to a conclusion.

So, what are the prevailing feelings?  Very fortunate to have had such fine weather that facilitated the enjoyment of so many, – very happy and so pleased to have been a part of this highly successful weekend, almost certainly unrepeatable, and possibly bringing to a closure, the reality and the memories and dreams of that very fine establishment, Thornbury Grammar School, three of whose headmasters – Charles Ross, R.W.Jackson and John Rouch – portrayed previously in articles by Nick Large, had done so much to shape the School and imbue it with character and tradition over a period of 56 years.  Other former Heads – Dennis Rendall, Terry Fazey, who was responsible for the very successful transition to the new site at Marlwood in 1972 and thereafter, and Rita Bintcliffe, were also represented in the weekend’s proceedings.