Soham Grammarians

The Hole-in-the Ceiling Gang

[Editor: This incident was referred to by Dick Bozeat in his talk at the 8 Oct 2005 Annual Dinner.]

Terry Day 57 writes (12 Oct 2005): My brother had preceded me in the school by 10 years so I was aware of a few of the oddities of the building. One of these was the staircase into the roof void. He was proud to boast that his initials were on the lead flashing on the roof. The Hole in the Ceiling occurred on the first night of the winter production of 1962, (I don't think it was '61) [1962 was the Winters Tale in which the editor took part].

A group of us were the stage team. George [Willett] was Scenery and I was Lights, others of the team were present but not captured. Over time I had already explored parts of the void and the external inner roof area accessed from a further door in the loft and found those initials. This was casually commented on after we had eaten tea in the Dining Hall and I said I felt that in the 'spare' hour before were needed I would match my brother's engraving.

This fired the imagination of my colleagues rather more than the essential call of homework to be done in that hour. The first task was to ensure that no prefects had retired to their sanctum beside the back staircase, then use that staircase to the Housekeeper's Room above. The second job was to ascertain staff presence upstairs by creeping onto the main landing to listen at the head of the corridor leading to the Staff Room. Two voices were heard. We were reasonably certain of the whereabouts of the other staff on the premises. (The ACF had taught us a lot about tactics.)

All went well as we ascended the steep stair into the loft. My colleagues were amazed at the size of the space and the apparent complexity of it all. It had by this time started to rain and I felt it would be unwise to go onto the roof and then leave a telltale trail of wet footprints on the floor below as we left. I was interested in the structure of the turret above the Staff roof and I made my way carefully across to that corner. A bad move in hindsight. I had the torch and the rest followed. At some point a heel went through the ceiling sending a pile of plaster neatly onto a pile of books Mr Rennison was marking at the table below.

Thankfully for some we had the element of surprise together with forward planning and made for the trap door at the end of the building that would bring us out at the farthest end of the upper corridor. It was hoped that the staff would know of the stairs but not necessarily the trap. Messr’s Bozeat and Rennison duly reached the stairs as Dick related. There would have been no answer to their challenge except for the fact that George, being large of stature, could not make it through the trap. That exit was quietly closed and we surrendered to inevitable chain of events that culminated in an open and frank, if somewhat painful, meeting with HM the following morning.


Sadly, George Willett died of a massive heart attack in about 1985.

I revisited the school on a number of occasions. The first time I visited, Edward was still firmly in the chair. The Staff Room had become his office. I was ushered in and as the warm hand of welcome was extended I made a slight involuntary glance towards the ceiling. It was not missed, and the greeting was "Well, gone on to other things, but certainly not forgotten".

In 1980 we moved back to Ely and then commuted on a daily basis to London. One evening I met Albert Lawrance on the train. I had sat at his dinner table for large part of my time at SGS but had never been taught by him, so the relationship was not as frayed as it could have been (I am not mathematically inclined). I was invited to visit the College as our children were approaching secondary school age.

I received a similarly warm welcome but refrained from looking up as the mark would surely by then have been repaired. I was shown the around College and just as I was about to leave Albert casually remarked that he was frequently reminded of me because of the ceiling!

In 1983 I became a governor at the City of Ely Community College. In 1985 Alan Bullock, Head of Main School at Ely, was appointed Principal of SVC. At that time a representative governor of each college sat on the other’s governing body as part of the, by then frail, Federation arrangement. I was asked to be that governor for SVC and duly made an appointment to see Alan. I looked up at one point and was immediately informed that he was aware of the history of the blemish.

I had mistakenly assumed that a forty-year-old slip was all behind me until Saturday evening.

I suppose this postscript is a tribute to a social situation that has all but disappeared in much of the country. SGS/SVC was, and is, part of widespread, generally stable, community that supports its institutions. Many staff, gaining genuine job satisfaction, value that and see no need to move to other establishments. Some of those who have moved gained experience elsewhere and returned to invest that knowledge in the school. Others took the Soham experience and invested it in their new appointments.

Editor: Terry Day MBE BSc is chaplain to the Cambridgeshire Constabulary, having also served for many years in the Metropolitan Police

last updated 17 Oct 2005