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News > Archive > From West Indies to West Buckland

From West Indies to West Buckland

20 Jul 2017
The Magician of Bagdad
The Magician of Bagdad
It is hard to believe that it is more than fifty years since we arrived at WBS, my brother Bobby and I, on a typically cold, wet and windy Eastertide. Our father, Charles Phelps, had been appointed Head of English, and a brand new house was being made ready for us - 2, Fortescue Close. Our neighbours at no.1 were John Armstrong and family. Charles enlisted the help of a team of sixth formers to help unpack the crates from Trinidad, and even construct a concrete garden path through the mud which became known as the 'Huxham highway' after its creator
We all took a while to adjust to this new life in the wilds of 1960s Exmoor: Charles struggled to umpire cricket matches in the biting cold winds, mother Mary with the isolation, Bobby with the strict rituals, rules and uniform (herringbone suit et al) and myself with the long daily trek to school in Barnstaple by taxi and bus. All very different from our laid back and balmy lifestyle in the tropics!
Nevertheless, Buckland cast its spell and Charles became a key figure over the years with cricket coaching, drama productions, being a housemaster, setting up Langholme, and what was then the 'new' library in one of the prefabs near the CCF hut. Mary became school librarian, and house mother for Langholme and the small close knit community of WB staff soon banished any sense of isolation. I did feel sorry for Bobby though with having to live up to being a "master's son" and going off to Prep every evening, having to play rugby, CCF and worst of all, the dreaded cross country runs, five in all! He invariably 'lost' a shoe and had to be rescued!
Nicknames seemed to be the order of the day, and Charles, being rather large became known as Piggy and inevitably Bobby was Piglet!
Charles eventually retired (not that he really wanted to) and moved to South Molton in the 1980s. He was given a rousing WB send off!
So it was in March this year that husband Bob and I decided to take a trip down memory lane and set off from North Norfolk to North Devon. It was the day after the end of the Spring Term when we arrived at WBS, and rather gingerly ventured into what had been the Head's house. We were greeted most warmly by Monica who gave us a personal tour of the school. Wow! What a transformation! Gone were the grimy corridors where eccentric Gerald used to lurk; gone the old prefab huts down the lane to Fortescue Close; gone the old Manual workshop; gone the young farmers plot, gone potholed 'Piggery Lane' and the dilapidated sheds and garages that had once been pig sties. In their place we found swish new buildings of architectural merit - a magnificent library, sixth form centre, sports centre to name but a few. How our sport mad grandson would have liked to see the Jonathan Edwards jump marked out in lights and paviors. But I was pleased to see that Fortescue Close remains much as it was.
Our thoughts were how impressed Charles would have been to see these extensive changes and to know that Buckland is thriving. If any readers would like to share memories of Charles or WBS, my email is [email protected]. Many thanks to Monica for giving us so much of her time.

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