Julian Hanwell (CO76) The Bell is Silent

It’s been a long time since I’ve been back to ‘Main School’, so as I was visiting old friends in Cornwall, I decided to go back and take a look.

I must admit, turning right, past the old band hut, driving up the terraces did give me a thrill. In my day the path down the side was for Prefects only. Forty years later I had returned and I wasn’t walking, I was driving my Mercedes along that forbidden road.

My dream is soon broken when I reach the top. I realise it is now ‘one way’ but Derek (Burrell) is looking after me as I don’t meet anyone en route. Once parked, I get out and take a look. It seems unchanged although there is something missing. I can’t seem to think what it is.

I make my way to the central reception doorway. In my day, this was the ‘Master’s Entrance’ Am I going to be punished for this? Thankfully not, as the Receptionist signs me in and calls Helen Wheaton from the Alumni Office to escort me around the school.

We go into the main corridor where I used to stand outside Mr Wilkes office. In front of me is a cabinet full of reminiscent items: old ties, badges and school caps. To think, I actually used to wear one of these 45 years ago. If you were caught not wearing it, be prepared for 50 lines. At Treliske (now Truro Prep) you had to ‘tip’ or touch your cap if a member of staff or a parent drove by. Speaking of lines, the school had official ‘lines’ books. These had to be purchased from the school shop by the offending student. They looked the same as a standard exercise book but were thinner and appropriately coloured ‘grey’.

I suddenly realise what’s missing. Not the students but a critical sound for ALL students and Masters to obey. THE SCHOOL BELL. We both climb the stairs and stop halfway next to a window sill. “Is there something wrong?” enquired my guide. “No not at all. It’s just that the last time I sat on this ledge, I was the ‘duty bell boy’”

I only just managed to sit on the ledge with my legs up and my back toward the bell. It took me back years, although I was a young fifteen year old lad back then, not the 85kg I am now! Sitting in this ‘lazy; position you were able to both ring the bell with you right hand (via a thick piece of rope) and look at the clock at the same time. 40 years later things have changed… No Rope, No Bell, and No Clock ! It seems impossible as the bell ruled our lives from morning, first bell (07:00) to last bell at night (22:00 hrs). If you were listed to be the ‘bell boy’ you took it seriously as that bell wasn’t just rung, it was the official law and you were responsible for it.
Time, combined with sound governed us all.

At 9.00 you would start ringing the bell. You would ring it in a slow determined way. No quick rings followed by slow – it would be constant. You had to ring it for exactly two minutes – no more, no less. When all this was going on, you couldn’t help noticing everyone rushing about. Downstairs, opposite you, was the Masters Staff Room – already silent as most of the Masters were already in class. They would wait for the bell to stop ringing. Lateness was not tolerated. If you arrived in class just three seconds after the bell stopped ringing, you were immediately punished if you didn’t have a good reason for being late. The only person allowed to be late was the ‘bell boy’. Even then you had to hurry or you too would ‘cop it’.

Needless to say, with so much depending on the bell, you used to see students dashing about, trying to beat the bell. The bell boy would then be in a position to determine your fate. If it was a friend, you’d keep the bell ringing for another 20 seconds or so, to enable your friend to get in on time. If it was someone you didn’t like, for whatever reason, you stopped ringing the bell short of two minutes ensuring his lateness and fate. Quite cruel, but this is 1972 not 2016.

I got caught once ringing the bell for longer than two minutes. I think it was Mr Stedman Jones who had a ‘word with me’ later that day. He reminded me that the bell was to be rung for two minutes exactly and if he caught me doing it again I would be ‘Kept in’. The class rooms all had clocks back then. They were all governed by a Master Clock kept in the Science room and maintained by Mr Pascoe. I remember being surprised he’d caught me. No wonder we called them ‘Masters’.

I climb down from the ledge and my guide takes me further upstairs overlooking a kitchen area. This would have been impossible in my day as this kitchen area was once a small courtyard. However, to my surprise and delight I’d found my old friend ‘The Bell’. In a slightly different position it was now silenced. Its authority gone with the students not knowing its call. If you look from Heath Hall up to the appropriate window ledge, you will see the wear and tear of years of ringing. The evidence is there if you look for it.

There is still one more place for me to go before my tour ends. ‘Tower House’. Imagine my shock as I walk into a Library full of Students reading books. Tower House in my day was a 3rd year boarding house. Beds all the way down one side and all the way down the other. Looking towards that beautiful window I remembered hearing the town clock ringing 22:00. At the same time you heard the ten o’clock sleeper train leaving Truro station. I used to wish I was on it, going home.

I naturally go to my locker area and look for my name – which I carved into one of the left hand side roof supports. Some students ask me what I’m looking for. I feel like a Ghost in their presence. I was there in 1972-3 but where is my name? Book shelves now cover up my existence but just above is a name I still know today, ‘J M Trewhella’. My guide is quick to instruct the young students NOT to follow my example but my name is there, albeit hidden.

Back downstairs my tour ends, as it began, at the Reception area. I thank my guide and she is gone as quick as she appeared. It’s time to leave Truro School again.

Stepping back onto the Terraces I now see that Truro School has very much changed for the better since I was a student from 1969 – 74. Forty years have passed and I’m glad it’s still a school. I only wish I could come back and next time study much harder. But like those old school clocks time only moves forward reminding me how fortunate I was to have gone to Truro School and even more fortunate to socialise with former pupils who like me, still remember the sound of that bell.

Julian Hanwell