I returned to Hertfordshire in 1998 having spent 10 years in London and then to Stevenage in 2000. On one occasion, I cycled up the Old Town on a Sunday with my son and pointed out Alleyne’s School, where I’d been a pupil (now the Thomas Alleyne Academy. Ed.)
The locked gates and fences suggested that strolling around it it was not an option so we walked around the Grange instead, which was now fenced off and clearly no longer a part of the school. It had been converted into a block of upmarket flats. The big wooden doors at the entrance were now permanently shut so we had to walk round. The doorway on the corner we used to walk through was no longer there. A column with a spire, identical to the one on the other side of the building, had taken its place. The main entrance was where the stairs to the upper levels had been when we used the building.
The main door opened and a gentleman stepped out to have smoke and to inquire as to why we were snooping around. When I explained, he became a lot friendlier and said that he and his wife actually lived in the very flat that had previously been his wife’s classroom, even before it was annexed by Alleynes.
I noticed, beyond a fence, that what had been a hard tennis court behind the chemistry lab was now a car park. We continued to the back of the building. The whole of the playing field to the south of the Main Hall was now fenced off and had been built on. On the corner of the Grange, I pointed out the ground floor room that had been the sixth form common room, where only progressive rock music LPs were allowed to be played. I clearly remember Hocus Pocus by Focus blaring out of an open window on a pleasant summer’s day.
Part of the long high wall on one side of the playground was now demolished. We continued to the back of the building where my classroom had been on the ground floor. The windows and patio doors appeared to be in the same order (albeit replaced) but I was surprised to see that the sloping corridor that led to my classroom no longer had any windows. I remember queuing in that corridor on my first day with the sun blazing through the windows. Then, as we approached the flat, we heard a dog barking from within and decided to beat a hasty retreat!
On another occasion, I was able to walk up the drive towards the Main Hall with my daughter in tow. The fives court was now boarded up and possibly being used for storage. I pointed out my classroom (for the 4th and 5th year) above, It had been the art room before the new block was built behind the Main Hall. I pointed out the original hall (before my time) which was now the dining room with the kitchen added on. Blocks of classrooms on the left, of course, but the place where there used to be a large area of grass in front of the labs now had a library on it. I’m sorry to say that I believe Prince Charles would describe it as a “carbuncle” as it is in such contrast to the buildings around it.
When we arrived at the Main Hall, we were surprised to find that it was being hired out to a congregation without a church. We were mistaken for newcomers and invited in but I declined, being in no way religious. It would have been a good way to view the inside, of course, so maybe I should have accepted the invitation. The Main Hall was no longer connected to the gymnasium by the changing-room and lockers. A few cars were parked in that space.
The ancient outbuilding opposite the “carbuncle” in which caretaker George Pitcher stored various items was now, of course, demolished. I looked for any remains of the footpath which led to the back of the Grange without success and where was that small statue of a lady in a toga directly behind the outbuilding? Looking through the windows of the classroom adjacent to the outbuilding which had been my chemistry lab, I noticed that it had been converted back to a regular classroom. We departed via the Maltings and looking through the window, I spied an electronic keyboard, which suggested that it was still dedicated to music but in need of restoration. I believe it had recently been restored in 1968 when I joined the school because the paint smelled fresh and the varnish on the floorboards was still sticky in places. I never knew of its connection with Vincent Motorcycles up to 1955 until I saw the blue plaque on the end of the building where the entrance had originally been.