Kent School revisited - February 2003
In November of 2002, I made contact with Jane Pottinger (as was) thanks to the Friends Reunited website. During January of 2003 I called at her home and spent some time with Jane and her brother Wayne catching up after a gap of 23 years. Not much has changed character wise! Jane still thinks I'm "barking" but my hair is shorter and I'm fatter!
A couple of weeks later, we were talking about how much fun it would be to go back to Germany and I suggested we make the trip. That was agreed and I made the arrangements. I've always been a little impulsive and within a fortnight we were boarding the Hull-Europort ferry!
The 7th of February came around very quickly and one smooth overnight crossing later we were heading for Venlo, me driving, Wayne navigating and Jane and my partner Tracey fast asleep in the back!
We reached the Venlo border crossing around 10am, stopped for a coffee and started to plan our tour! It was here we decided to buy a map! See, I said I was impulsive! We decided we would head for our old stomping ground of Krefeld first and within an hour I was talking to the German couple who have recently purchased our former quarter on Hochbendweg. Apparently this area is now one of the most exclusive in the area and the houses are selling for between 120,000 and 300,000 euros despite needing fully renovating!
They were very accommodating and showed us all round the house. I was amazed to find the hole I accidentally made in the cellar door still there complete with the plywood my father covered it with! That being the case, those doors have not been painted in 23 years! Wayne and I both had our bedrooms in the cellars of our respective houses and this was our escape route for our after midnight adventures!!! (There were many of them too!)
We moved on to Fransisca Barracks but could not get in as it was well and truly locked up.
This did not concern us too much as most of our socialising way back when was actually done at 16Sigs, which is where the SKC, youth club, pool etc was located.
As kids we used to go up to the woods nearby and ride our bikes on what was known as "Seven hills" - see the pictures below! We were amazed to find it has remained exactly as it was for the last 23 years. The same big tree stumps, the same footpaths and the same bike tracks!
We moved on towards Krefeld and 16 Sigs former camp, getting well and truly lost!
The city center has remained exactly as it was but alas our memory cells, particularly those involved with directions, are weak! We stopped for some energy ... "vier mal currywurst mit pommes und mayo zu mitnemen bitte". It rolled off the tongue and I was away with it. "Und etwas zu trinken bitte, eine flasche Sprite und eine flasche Fanta".
Nice to know I can still eat and drink huh?
"Do you remember that radio tower?"
We spent more time going round in circles until I said "Do you remember that radio tower?" Nobody did but Jane recognised a shoe shop and before we knew it we were outside the 16 NAAFI.
That tower turned out to be sited on the edge of the parade square on the camp!!!!!
The camp was deserted apart from some circus trucks. We went to the gate and found a girl of around 17 "manning" the barrier. I asked her if there was any possibility of us going into the camp for a look around? She didn't seem keen to let us in but after some gentle persuasion and some truly awful attempts at speaking the native tongue again after 23 years, she caved in and raised the barrier!
We drove onto the camp, which is still in fairly good order surprisingly and headed straight for the pool where we had spent the majority of those long summer holidays. The pool was pretty much intact albeit looking somewhat neglected!
We rode around some more and ended up at the youth club building, which Barry Pottinger (Jane and Waynes father) ran for a time. It was locked as we expected but still good to see.
We then headed for Willich as Jane had worked there upon leaving school. The former engineers camp there is all but gone and has been replaced with a new development of industrial units. One of the huge hanger type buildings is still there but beyond that it is barely recognisable. This proved to be a bit of a downer for Jane and we moved on after a short time.
Heading to the old school
We decided to travel down the new motorway towards Monchengladbach. We figured that we would have time to locate the old school before finding accommodations for the night. We remembered it being a 50 minute run from home on the old tin cans. The school is actually marked on the map we bought and we knew we had to leave the motorway at Ausfahrt 5. It came upon us very quickly, less than 15 minutes, and as we came down the slip road we could clearly see the church tower standing above the trees. I'm certain every one of us had a lump in our throats and I knew right away this was not going to keep for the Sunday!
The front gates were locked as were the gates to the former bus lanes. We drove completely around the perimeter and found ourselves parking near to the farm next door. We left the car and headed for the front gate along the road. Wayne suggested that we came back on the Sunday but as we all know already, I'm impulsive! We helped the girls over the fence and were in!
Some work has started on the former science block. It still has many broken windows but the exterior has been painted on two sides and the scaffolding was still up. There were no workmen around as it was Saturday so we still have no real notion of what is happening to the old place beyond a little paint being slapped on.
We went directly to the main entrance and made our way in. The first sight that greeted us was the void where the glass corridor used to be and the old reception on the right.
From here we could see that some of the building opposite had been demolished as we could see straight through the where the 6th form block used to be. Some of you may recall the careers office used to be just to the right of that door at the other end of the corridor! For Miss Weir and English you turned left and went to the end, for Mr Ellis you went upstairs and left. I stood outside his classes many a time due to my inability to call myself Atkins Mark rather than Mark Atkins! I wonder how Ellis Rod is now?
We moved into the office next to the main entrance, (secretary?) and then into the headmasters office. I recognised it instantly but then, I spent plenty of time in there! I could barely believe it but the cupboard was still orange!
We headed for the stairs towards where we think the music rooms were (Miss Miller). The main structure of the buildings is still very sound but there is a great deal of broken glass and paint peeling wherever you look. The lift doors opposite the former library have been forced open and the lift is sat one level below!
The former library in its earlier life was the old operating theatres, hence being opposite a lift. With all the shelving gone you can clearly see all the original blue tiles and sluice rooms etc. There was a definite feeling of being watched in this area and I prefer to think it is only because there is a lack of natural light due to the windows having huge shutters on them ...
... needless to say, this part was viewed quickly and we moved on up the stairs towards Miss Millers music room!
Sights and smells
The whole place smells very damp and indeed there is a lot of water staining wherever you look. There is very little evidence of any work having been done in the main building for numerous years but the vandals and thieves have certainly done their work. The fire hose reels have all been removed but the bases are still very much intact and bright red! The stainless fittings are probably the only things here that have stood the test of time.
I had completely forgotten about the "out of Bounds" area in the attic of the main building and to this day have no idea what went on up there. For those who are curious it is a series of small rooms with no evidence of what they were for. Anyone else know?
We made our way downstairs again and into the corridor opposite the church entrance. There is a lot of light in this area as all the doors are glass and there are windows on the opposite wall. The downside of this is that you can see just how badly everything has deteriorated.
We followed the corridor round and found ourselves in an odd room that we didn't recognise initially. It was of course the former staff room opposite the heads office.
We left the building via the entrance opposite the dinner hall and it was immediately noticeably warmer outside than it had been in the building. We moved towards the dinner hall.
The school emblem
Amazingly, we found ourselves looking at the school emblem (that we had all forgotten was there) in the entrance! Apart from a few "naughty words" written on it and some damage where someone had tried to remove it, it was fairly intact. Funnily enough, this building, although dirty, appears to be in fairly good condition. There is some graffiti on the stage and some broken glass, but the floor is not too bad and it lacks the dampness of the main building. The gym is in a similar condition. Some may remember going into this building to have school photos done too?
The former 6th form block has gone, the maths block has gone, the metalwork, vehicle engineering block has gone, the tennis courts have gone, the hands have gone from the church clock and the huge oil tanks near the church car park have gone. The playing fields are back with the farmer and the tin cans no longer rattle into the bus lanes.
The memories however will always be there.
We left the school after two hours of nostalgia as it was getting dark. We headed across to Rheindalen and drove through the garrison passing the NAAFI and the SKC we used to go to there. As it was dark there was little to see so we headed towards Eindhoven and booked into the Holiday Inn there, a very pleasant hotel indeed. An Italian meal and a few drinks followed by a stroll around led us nicely into a very solid nights sleep.
The next day found us in Delft, which was shut! Well, almost. The Dutch, like the Germans always did take their weekends seriously but we managed to entertain ourselves by acting 16 again!
Another very smooth crossing saw us back in the UK, 560 miles after we set out. We have felt a wide variety of emotions and yes there were tears too. I don't know if I'll ever go back again as I'm sure it could not be as good as this was ... or could it?
Right then, where is this Skegness place?
"Participants" were Me, (Mark Atkins), accompanied by Tracey, my partner of 8 years. Wayne Pottinger and his sister Jane Urquhart (Pottinger as was). Tracey was not a pupil at Kent but sort of got dragged along. She still had a good time even if she did think us all nuts!