Stories from the Archives: A Pamphlet in the Gutter

In 1979 I was asked if I would be interested in starting a school archive and finding out something about the history of the BSN, in particular the early days. Surprisingly, not much was known. Initially the school had been very small and had moved from one set of rented premises to another. With each move most of the ‘junk’ had been thrown away, and record-keeping in those days was scant anyway; staff and students alike had scattered to the four corners of the globe and taken their memories with them; hardly anyone stayed for long. And of course this was long before the days of the internet.

So, to begin with, progress was slow; but gradually a picture started to emerge, at first just broad outlines but, little by little, in more detail. After a couple of years I felt I had an accurate record of the school ‘s history back to 1948 when it was re-started after the war, but the pre-war period and the founding of the school largely remained a mystery. A final clue which involved obtaining information from the Public Records Office in Auckland, New Zealand, and which had seemed so promising, in fact proved fruitless. I recall going into school on a Monday morning and telling the then Headmaster, Brian Davidson, that our clue had led nowhere. We had to accept defeat. We would never know what had taken place in the 1930s. It was just too far back.

Three days later, on the Thursday of that week, a letter arrived at the school. It had been posted in the small town of Penarth in South Wales and was addressed To whom it may concern.  It came from a certain Mr Packer – and what he said was quite remarkable. He had apparently been out walking his dog a couple of days earlier (probably the day I received the bad news from New Zealand) when he noticed what appeared to be a small pamphlet blowing along in the gutter. Out of curiosity he picked it up and found that it was a twenty-year-old prospectus of an English School in The Hague. What on earth a twenty-year-old prospectus of our school was doing in the gutter of a small town in South Wales is anyone’s guess but the most amazing bit is yet to come. As he read it Mr Packer thought to himself, “I wonder if that’s the school my aunty Olive taught at before the war.” As there were only three or four teachers at the school, the odds against this must be astronomical; but we were indeed the school where she had taught  –  and she was still alive, though well into her eighties.

I got in touch with Olive Bowen (née Jones) immediately, and a few weeks later she flew across to The Netherlands as an honoured guest of the school. She spent a weekend with us and was able to tell us all sorts of fascinating things about the early days of our school. I shall be sharing them with you in future articles. I don’t think you will be disappointed.

It is a remarkable story.

Stories from the Archives is a new Voices Blog series by BSN Archivist Mike Weston.

Mr Mike Weston

BSN school archivist, detective and storyteller

Mike came to the English School at The Hague (BSN) in 1972 as Head of German, intending to stay for two years. Mike has been at the BSN for nearly 50 years. Over the years, he has taught a range of subjects and has been involved in many school activities. Starting a school archive from scratch and tracing the school’s history is the activity that has given him the most pleasure. Once he reached retirement age, he asked if he could stay on as the school archivist in hopes to be of service for a while yet. In this capacity, he regularly dives into the archives and comes up with some great stories. His stories are all our stories; enjoy them.

21 Comments

  • Louise Douglas says:

    Remarkable story Mike, so beautifully told. I can’t wait to hear more.
    I will be staying tuned.

  • Sallie says:

    I’m looking forward to the next instalment – it’s a real treat to continue to hear your stories!

    • Mike Weston says:

      Hello, Sallie. I hoped you’d be reading them. Some tales you know, some you don’t. Half a dozen more to come.

  • Jihann P says:

    On the edge of my seat!

  • Juan Arias says:

    Looking Forward to hearing more Mike.

  • Lisa Longdon says:

    Definitely looking forward to hearing more Mike.. I thought that I went back a very long way. 1968 but this is amazing!!

    • Mike Weston says:

      So pleased you enjoyed it, Lisa. And you do go back a long way. I know you’re a granny but I still think of you as a sprightly young teenager.

  • Gil Lerman says:

    Remarkable and fascinating work (and writing, of course), Mr. Weston. Looking forward to more stories.

    • Mike Weston says:

      Thanks, Gil. Glad you enjoyed the introduction. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed by the stories to come. Keep tuned in.

  • Tony Garvin says:

    I still remember when it was the ESH and the transition of badges and ties to BSN.
    Mike, looking forward to the next instalment.
    Tony

    • Mike Weston says:

      That was a very significant period in the history of the school, Tony. Who knows, maybe one day I’ll write something about that. Meanwhile I hope you’ll follow the fortunes of your predecessors who feature in the stories ahead.

  • Caroline says:

    This is a great article Mike! Can’t wait to hear what aunty Olive had to share about the BSN!

    • Mike Weston says:

      Thanks, Caroline. The next instalment will be posted today and then every Thursday for a while. Hope you enjoy the stories.

      PS I am embarrassed to add this bit but which Caroline are you? There’s quite a few in the Alumni Association as well as personal friends. I hope you turn out to be the one I like most. (God, Weston, you silvery tongued so and so!)

  • Kathryn Leaney says:

    What a great first installment. Looking forward to reading the rest to see how the story unfolds.

    • Mike Weston says:

      Hello Kathryn. How nice of you to drop me a line. I do hope you enjoy the coming instalments. I certainly enjoyed writing them. I particularly like next week’s – got quite a shiver of emotion re-living it after all this time.

  • Sandra Hoskins says:

    Hello Mike.
    Wow! I just read this article and was amazed to see my old home town of Penarth suddenly pop up. Incredible.
    My mother still lives in the town and I was there only last week. As a BSN parent of three children (two having now left) I am sitting here thinking what a small world we live in.
    Now I’m off to read your next instalment. Keep up the good work.

  • Mike Weston says:

    Hello, Sandra. I can imagine what a jolt of surprise you must have got when Penarth suddenly appeared. We never did find out how that prospectus finished up there. Although Olive came from the area, the prospectus was from the 1960s , more than twenty years after her time in The Hague.
    I hope you enjoy part 2 – a bit of excitement.

  • T Packer says:

    Thanks for enriching this memory. I met a teacher from BSN at an event in London recently and found myself recalling this story. Mr Packer was my father and Olive was my great Aunt. For some reason, a few weeks later, recalling that conversation, I found myself dropping Aunty Olive’s name into Google, only to find this. Thank you.

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