Gallery: Some of the best days of our lives!

Hundreds and hundreds of pupils have passed through its gates and gone on to be doctors, judges, England cricketers, pop stars, life-savers and much more besides.

Steven Russell

Hundreds and hundreds of pupils have passed through its gates and gone on to be doctors, judges, England cricketers, pop stars, life-savers and much more besides. A new volume celebrates 60 years of Brandeston Hall - a building with an intriguing past, as Steven Russell discovers

NORMAN Porter puts it rather well. He says the new book on his former school doesn't pretend to be a serious historical work - he's being hard on himself there - more, “in the way that impressionist painters try to capture the fleeting moment, it seemed important that the nostalgia of childhood memories be articulated and captured”. It's about people - “an attempt to get inside the hearts and minds of those who have lived and worked there, and to understand how the place has impacted on their lives”. So the anecdotes run freely, with recollections of the time the school near Framlingham was snowed in, for instance - villagers joining pupils and staff to share food and warmth, and children and adults alike sliding down fields on fertiliser bags. There are tales of boys climbing the tall lime tree known as Basil Brush, in the days before health and safety concerns made everyone think twice; and there's talk of how being forced to eat food such as parsnips, leek and tapioca pudding (by one particular master whose name crops up frequently) left some youngsters mentally scarred.

The Sunday-evening film-shows, like The Dambusters and John Wayne in The War Wagon, lodged in the mind of boarders who made up the bulk of the Brandeston Hall community - and more than one ex-schoolboy confesses to casting longing pubescent looks in the direction of assistant matron Marie Few!

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Tony Martin recalls Bertie Manthorpe, who came from Framlingham College each week to teach art. “He had a propensity to throw a heavy bunch of keys towards dreamers and an ability to hold a Vick inhaler in place with his tongue when clearing a nostril.”

Mention of Neville Marsh's English report of 1956, meanwhile, raises a chuckle: “His physical attitude in class and his writing both suggest a slipshod and indolent approach.” In the event, Professor Neville Marsh became Acting Vice-Chancellor of Adelaide University - after earlier being head of the anatomy and physiology department at Brisbane. His background is in cardiovascular physiology and his research interest in bleeding disorders caused by snake bite. If that's indolence, count me in.

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Brandeston Hall is an independent preparatory school linked to nearby Framlingham College. Gwen Randall, who has just stepped down as head of the college after 15 years or so, recognises that which makes life so potent.

She writes: “Short trousers, pony tails, conkers, hopscotch, rugby scrums, dance and drama, eggy smells in science labs, croquet on the lawns, times tables, Janet and John, Beatrix Potter, Shakespeare, woodwork and jewellery-making, choirs and athletics trials, flutes and fiddles, midnight feasts and fashion shows, pranks played on matron, school reports, merit stars and miscreants, cows in the distance, ducks on the pond, stick insects in jam jars, beetles in match boxes, blooded knees, prizes and silver cups, granny and the school play - this is the tapestry of Brandeston Hall.”

Intriguingly, it's a place that had a life before becoming a school. The story starts in the middle of the 1500s, and through the imposing gates have passed lords of the manor, country gentlemen, maids and footmen, generals, soldiers, and only latterly teachers and students.

Brandeston used to be part of a manor - a rural empire including the village, the lord of the manor's estate, and houses for tenants who paid rent and provided labour.

In 1543 Andrew Revett bought the manor from Henry Bedingfield, making Brandeston his seat and starting to build the hall in 1543. It was finished in 1550.

“Andrew Revett, founder of a 300-year dynasty based on Brandeston Hall, was a country gentleman and government official who lived during the reigns of Henry VIII, Edward VI, Mary I and Elizabeth I . . .” explains Norman Porter. “He died in 1572, having been for many years involved in a dispute over land, even to the extent of being imprisoned in the Tower of London for 15 weeks. He was finally pardoned in 1558. He is buried in the chancel of All Saints Church, Brandeston.”

The hall was sold to Charles Austin in 1845, and gutted by fire during a renovation a couple of years later.

Charles Austin II, who died in 1937, was the lord of the manor for 62 years and the last to live in the hall. Under him, the history of Brandeston Hall grew chequered. Indeed, reports Norman, “Charles Austin II lost the hall in a gambling bet with the Duke of Hamilton but it is said that the winner of the wager would not accept the deeds.”

Charles and wife Harriet moved to the nearby vicarage in 1906 and rented out the hall on seven-year leases. (By the way, there was a touch of intrigue about the couple: Harriet was Charles's first spouse - “the secret wife”. She'd been a servant and a divorcee. “Her husband was too terrified of his aristocratic mother's disapproval to admit that he had married her.”)

The manor - then 1,600 acres, about 20 farms and other premises - was sold in 1920.

Wartime opened another chapter. Many country houses were requisitioned - Brandeston among them. The hall was never empty for more than a few weeks at a time. When the 54th Infantry Division made it its HQ, the dining room became the map room, with direct lines to the War Office. Another division headquartered there was the 79th Armoured Division.

The war over, it was Major Charles “Bunny” Austin III - son of Charles II and his second wife - who sold Brandeston Hall to the governors of Framlingham College in 1947. There was some nice symmetry to the sale: Charles Austin had in 1852 set up a school for children from Brandeston, Kettleburgh and Cretingham, and had also been one of the founders of Framlingham College.

Moving the junior house of the college to Brandeston had been first suggested by the headmaster way back in 1866, but pupil numbers fell to less than 100 and the school was �3,000 in debt. When rolls fell to 65, he resigned!

Rab Butler's 1944 Education Act gave independent schools the chance to accept a “direct grant” from the Government in exchange for taking a number of pupils sponsored by local education authorities. Framlingham College did this, but it meant space was tight. In the summer of 1946, thoughts turned again to Brandeston Hall.

There was an Old Framlinghamian War Memorial Fund, designed to support the sons of old boys, provide a memorial in the chapel and build a new junior house. Happily, it had surplus funds available for that third aim. An appeal for help was also launched.

The hall was bought in the summer of 1947, reportedly for �12,000, with another �8,000 required for conversion work. (Charles Austin had paid �35,000 for the building and 26 acres of parkland in 1842.) The sum was offset by War Office payments acknowledging the extent of dilapidation, and the sale of surplus huts. The nett cost was thus just over �8,000.

The first cohort of 100 boys, 75 of them boarders, arrived in 1948. Peter Stewart was the first to cross the threshold - “purely through the happenstance of bus timetables”, he explains. “I seem to remember catching the bus with my mother to Ipswich, then the bus to Framlingham, then a taxi to Brandeston - and we arrived around 2pm instead of the planned 4pm for the opening Autumn Term”.

The atmosphere of the war years still hung about the place. Many Nissen huts were still standing and some were converted - into a changing room, tuckshop, classrooms, and a sports pavilion, for instance.

The pond contained evidence of previous use, too: including old boots and phosphorus bombs! “As recently as September 2008 war-time remnants were being turned up in the grounds,” says Norman.

Early months brought other challenges: periodic failure of electricity supplies and a mumps epidemic.

July 2, 1949, saw the formal opening by Princess Alice, granddaughter of Queen Victoria. Framlingham College had been founded in 1864 in memory of her grandfather, Prince Albert. Brandeston headmaster David Kittermaster remembered the royal visitor endearing herself at tea on the terrace by throwing the dregs of her cup over her shoulder and into one of the yew bushes.

And so the years have flown by, with the hall last year celebrating its 60th anniversary as a school.

It was a meeting with John Pemberton, then a sprightly 87-year-old and one of the original teachers, that helped Norman realise there was no full and fitting written history of the place - “nothing which captured the rich complexities of the school or its human dimension”. The book is a project between him and Chris Keeble, a designer, and took almost three years.

Norman, the son of a policeman who moved around the county, was at Brandeston Hall from 1950 to 1952 as an 11-plus direct grant student. He went on to Framlingham College and St Andrew's University, and had a career in teaching - mainly modern foreign languages and sports coaching. He also played hockey for Scotland a dozen times.

Norman hopes the finished article will appeal not only to former students but also to people interested in local history and future generations interested in their heritage.

He says Brandeston Hall is not simply an educational institution but a living war memorial - “a school made possible by the generosity of Old Framlinghamians who wished to pay tribute to those of their friends who had given their lives in battle, and who wished to perpetuate the memory of those friends by enabling future generations to enjoy the kind of education that they and their lost friends had received”.

A History of Brandeston Hall costs �15, plus UK postage of �2.50. Copies can be obtained by ringing 01473 735565 or emailing or writing to Rill Cottage, Kiln Lane, Great Bealings, Woodbridge, IP13 6NJ. (Cheques payable to The Society of Old Framlinghamians). It should also be available via Browsers Bookshop in Woodbridge, The Woodbridge Bookshop, Framlingham Bookshop and Aldeburgh Bookshop.

Brandeston bits

1948: Brandeston Hall catered only for boys, aged 10-13

1952: eight- and nine-year-olds joined

Old boy David Carr says fees when he went in September 1967, aged 10, were �108 a term

1977: Became co-educational. Fourteen girls in first intake

1987: A number of larger oaks lost in the gales were used in the restoration of Hampton Court, which was devastated by fire the previous year

1990: Pre-prep launched with five- and six-year-olds. Continuous education from five to 18 now offered for the first time (with Framlingham College)

They passed through the gates:

Brandeston Hall old boys and girls - a random selection

David Larter: played cricket for Northants and England, winning 10 caps between 1962 and 1965

Prof David Hansell: appointed Professor of Thoracic Imaging at Imperial College, London, in 1998

Nick Innell: Tours of duty during 16 years with the Intelligence Corps took him to Iraq (UN Special Commissions weapons inspection) and command of a military intelligence battalion during the occupation of Kosovo. Was head of security during the UN war crimes tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, with specific responsibility for Slobodan Milosevic

Jonathan Adnams: executive chairman of Southwold's Adnams brewery

Charles Carter, part of the Army's operational and planning group for the recapture of the Falkland Islands in 1982

Laura Wright: BBC Radio 2 Young Chorister of the Year in 2006 and member of the group All Angels

Sir Mark Hedley: became High Court judge in the Family Division in 2001

Nick Carlton: captain of the P&O liner Pacific Sky in 2003. After reports of a man overboard, he turned the ship around. The man was recovered after nearly three hours of searching in 25-knot winds and rough seas

Lucy Verasamy: weather presenter on Sky News and Channel 5

Katy Wilks: Aged 19 in 1995 when she saved a three-year-old from drowning at Felixstowe and was honoured by the Royal Humane Society

Charlie Simpson: former guitarist with Busted and now fronting Fightstar

John Barker and Alex Henney: second overall in 2007 race to the magnetic North Pole

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