At its peak, in the fifties/sixties, this camp contained over a hundred boys and over six teaching staff with a Sergeant or two to deal with the logistics.
The hardware was hired from Liverpool: mainly bell tents and two cookers, one to continuously boil water and the key anthracite 'Mrs Sam' (origin of name unknown) to deliver pies, joints, bacon and eggs and whatever the meals required. All this was collected from Langdons, brought to School to add smaller items like lamps, picks and shovels, then delivered to Bolton railway station and loaded into the back half of a carriage in a siding to await departure.
Meantime the campers were recruited by Christmas and sorted into tents by voluntary selection from the second and third year forms. They were summoned to the station and directed to the siding and entrained early in the morning with their kitbags and sandwiches.
The journey began by our special carriage being shunted (six men to points and signals) onto the back of a through train round Manchester to Stockport, then shunted again onto a Shrewsbury train, where it was shunted onto a MidWales train to Llandeilo, then onto a Carmarthen train, then again onto a Pembroke train, and finally into a siding at Saundersfoot. There, a local carrier waited with a lorry to take the hardware into the camp field to be unloaded and erected. The key point there was the unloading of Mrs Sam, because wherever that came off the lorry would be the kitchen: no further movement was possible.
The staff and senior boys (selected specially for key functions, particularly kitchen) erected tents, particularly the eating marquee and stores. The boys (with minimal instruction) erected their own bell tents! And that was it for the week. Only details have changed: train for coach, bell tents for ridge tents, gas for Mrs Sam, permanent toilets for the notorious double-seater.
The programme of events has not changed significantly over the years. Each day starts now with breakfast and orders for the day and ends with cocoa.
One feature of the early years was that the organisers were never sure until they arrived at the camp that field would be available, and often cattle were moved out for us to move in. Usually we camped next to Netherwood School, which one year lent us a trampoline!
Our farmer, David James, whose father provided the first field in 1948, eventually retired around 1990 and the camp moved to Trevaine on the cliffs above Monkstone Point.
Because of increased numbers, the Saundersfoot Camp was eventually split, so that the two school years (second forms, called Thirds, and third forms, called Fourths) were not repeating two years at the same site, the camp alternated sites, one week at Saundersfoot then the next week at Balycastle (NI) or Alnwick (Northumberland).
Eventually this complicated arrangement led to the splitting of the camp, Third Forms at Saundersfoot and Fourth Forms at Instow (North Devon).
The site at Instow, on the Torridge estuary, was near a very small village with a well-stocked shop and post office, close to the sea from the farmer, Mr and Mrs May.
The programme of visits and activities mirrored that at Saundersfoot, to Barnstaple, Bideford, Appledore, Staunton Sands, Chivenor RAF Base and a local Army Base with exceptional facilities to entertain the campers for a day.
The staff and facilities at this camp were provided mainly by the Scout Troop, and particularly the transport that made it possible.
This was an extraordinary period when there were camps for almost all parts of School life: Junior School: (Grasmere Camp); First Year: (Shells Camp) at Llanbedrog; Second Year: (Saundersfoot Camp); Third Year: (Instow Camp); Fourth Year: (Patterdale Camp); Fifth Year: (Lochearnhead Camp), and Brathay Hall for VI Forms.
Additionally, two field trips were on the menu: Hothersall (Lancashire) for Lower II, which engaged mainly in geographical activities, and Heswall, for IV Form groups accompanied by Form Masters, into Cheshire, visiting Vauxhall, Port Sunlight and Thornton Manor (Lord Leverhulme), local surveys.
THE SAUNDERSFOOT EXPERIENCE
Of all the wonderful School camps this is both the longest surviving and the only survivor.
It began out of the local experience of H V Brookes, a schoolboy of Carmarthen, who searched for a post-war replacement and found an ideal site in a small harbour village north of Tenby with a tenant farmer called James and formed an alliance lasting almost fifty years.
For the first few camps the countryside was still an anthracite-mining field, with small trains being taken down to the harbour for export, but the industry was to expire quickly, leaving strange tracks and tunnels to explore.
The coast was ideal, full of cliffs and bays, wide expanses of sand, castles and walks, the most famous being the Pembrokeshire Coast Path, an extraordinary national path of miles and taking in much of Milford Haven, Britain’s largest natural harbour.
Our campsites moved around the Old Mill Farm at St Issels over the years. One of the more taxing features was that until the advance party arrived we were never sure which field we might inhabit – hopefully not the one the cattle had just exited, but the one with a tap, and sometimes with a small barn and cattle bath nearby.
From the field we could see Coppet Hall beach and hear the waves beating the shore.
The path to the beach went through the cricket field where one camp or two we fielded a team to play a village eleven. On the beach we played a cricket final, and for some years we launched a polystyrene sailing dinghy and walked to Amroth.
In the camp field we played endless inter-tent games of rounders, sports, volleyball and football (Saundersfootball was a complete mixture of codes, numbers and rules). We had a Sunday service, a scavenge-hunt and a campfire with songs and stunts and scary stories into the moon.
From the field we made excursions to Monkstone beach, Tenby, Masnorbier, Oakwood, Bosherston Ponds, Castlemartin Tank range, Carew Castle (a ruin we did much to ruin), Brawdy Airfield and the chip shop at St Davids, to say nothing of the cathedral.
Mostly we had a loyal team of staff, and after relying on School Sergeants for the cooking, we had amazing teams of Senior Boys to order, deliver and prepare our meals.
THE SCHOOL COACHES
It was more than a coincidence that the activities of a famous Dr Beeching in the national rail network coincided with the birth of School coaches through the School Scout Troop purchase of its first coach – a £130 ½ cab Dennis Lowe III 39-seater in the early 1960s with the intention of helping delivering New Year hikers, Long Campers, Easter Campers, and other similar Scout parties, including eventually Cautley users. On its first trip the gearbox broke and it languished in Beaumont Road for 24 hours: the police were informed!
Because of numbers required at Long Camp an additional coach was purchased, and both vehicles were used mainly for Scout activities, but they were hired out for School camps at Instow, Saundersfoot, Hawick, and 5th Form Camp in Scotland.
For some years the two coaches were operated 'non-PSV' but subsequently they were licensed as Public Service Vehicles to be used for commercial activities, including non-Scout events: Heswall, School games teams and overseas trips to France and Netherlands.
Because of increased usage a third coach was purchased, and other vehicles were hired from Sharrocks (a local coach company) to cope with the School runs in morning and afternoon, to and from Chorley, Wigan, Standish, Culcheth and Rufford.
All the driving was done at first by ‘Scout’ volunteers, but the income and added responsibilities, and wages became too great and the coaches were finally sold to School, with profits going to the bursary fund and the enterprise becoming the basis of 'Bolton School Coaches', a vast current enterprise.
STRATFORD THEATRE CAMP
From a former Head of English:
According to my notes there is a reference to a camp at Stratford in The Boltonian for 1936. Earlier in the camping survey there is a reference to 1939. Frank Greene and George Sawtell evidently revived what had been a feature before the war. The magazine has records of the camps in subsequent years.
I attended a number in the 'sixties and 'seventies. Certain things had always to be arranged in advance: the site at Tiddington, a large area which led down to the Avon, where we moored punts, hired for the week from a boatyard near to the medieval Clopton Bridge and the Royal Shakespeare Theatre. At that time the theatre had a repertoire of matinées and evenings, showing five or six plays a week. Tickets, for which there was hot competition, were bought by Sixth Form boys sent down in advance on the day the booking period opened. Over a few years it was possible to see many of Shakespeare’s plays, some rarely performed. Vivid in my memory are the celebrated Midsummer Night's Dream of the late 'sixties, The Wars of the Roses, David Warner as Hamlet, The Winter's Tale, parodying in the pastoral scene the West End musical Hair, Antony and Cleopatra, Henry VIII a rare opportunity ... It was a walk upwards of a mile into Stratford and it was pleasant, late on a summer evening, to return in the knowledge that there would be coffee and conversation in the congenial company of Staff and Sixth Form about the production, other productions, Shakespeare, life and everything. We were sometimes joined by campers from other groups, who annually used the site and we came to know each other. I remember the leader of an amateur dramatic society from the south, who introduced himself as we drew water at the stand-pipe one sunny morning. He asked me about the previous day's production of As You Like It – and so we talked. There were easy relations between people who had come with a common purpose.
The theatre was not the only purpose. Boys quickly learned to guide the punts which took us into Stratford or contentedly up the river. Stratford near the Avon is magical and the sixteenth century buildings enable anyone with a little knowledge to imagine Shakespeare's childhood and youth. His birthplace became home for his wife and children, following his marriage by special licence to Ann Hathaway whose own birthplace in Shottery is only a short walk from the town. Visiting these houses, the birthplace of Shakespeare's mother, Mary Arden, and the home of John Hall, his physician son-in-law, you were always likely to meet some of our campers. Holy Trinity Church by the river displays the register of Shakespeare's birth and contains his grave. He returned to Stratford, as a successful and celebrated figure, having bought his own house, long since demolished, on land near the Guild Hall. Our parties were able to experience something of his work, see something of his life and feel something of his presence.
The theatre allowed visits to see costumes and to the workshop where scenery was ingeniously designed to meet the wishes of directors. Such opportunities were fascinating to Sixth-Formers, visiting undergraduates, teaching staff and friends. They added to the experience of seeing the plays from the theatre's high gallery impressed by the projection of varied inflections of voice. Everything in and out of camp was done in an informal and efficient way, following traditions of thirty years or more. Eventually the theatre revised its arrangements for the season so that a visitor could no longer see five plays in one week, the motorways made access to Stratford easier and we were able to make future frequent visits in a day.