Kevin Sherwood has been revisiting the sites of his youth , when he spent time at the Brooklands Remand Home during the 1970s. He’s keen to hear from anyone else who has memories of that time and place. His contact details are at the end of this article, as are some the the photos he took when he visited recently.
The musings of a naughty boy
Daily life at Brooklands Remand Home for Boys in the 1970s
At the junction of Somerton Road (B3153) and Field Road (A372) just outside Langport stands a grand old country house that has recently been re-named as Redwood Grange. This magnificent building with its stunning interior was built between 1888 and 1890 for William Kelway and was his family home until his death in 1933.
In 1950 the property, including various outbuildings and several acres of land, was acquired by Somerset County Council and transformed into an Approved School or Remand Home. Between then and the late1980s it served its purpose as a residential home for wayward boys and also as a holding residence for boys awaiting foster care or adoption.
The house was called Brooklands from when it was built until it was re-named a couple of years ago, and it has a synonymous link with Langport; some elderly residents will recall instances of the occasional break-in or reports of petty shoplifting and even the odd absconding of one or more boys.
I have the inglorious distinction of being the only boy ever to be sent to Brooklands on no less than three occasions and I have some very vivid memories of my times there.
I recently got in touch with Janet Seaton of the Langport and District History Society and decided to jot down my recollections to share with anyone who may be interested.
My first visit to Brooklands was in April 1971 along with two friends, we had all appeared at Poole juvenile court that morning and were each sent to Langport for a three week assessment.
We were all crammed into a social worker’s car and without much ado off we went. I was eleven at the time and my two mates were both twelve and inside we were all terrified of what to expect although we tried not to show it. None of us had ever spent time away from our families before and three weeks seemed like an eternity!
Pulling into the driveway of Brooklands we saw a magnificent big country house with beautiful grounds and some of our fears subsided a bit. This wasn’t such a terrible place it seemed and upon entering the spectacular entrance hall we were open mouthed at the splendour of our new home. Coming from a council estate in Poole we had never seen such beauty in a building.
We were whisked off to meet Mr. Swan (the superintendent) and his wife, an elderly couple who were very welcoming and nice. Next we were given different clothes to wear during our stay and shown our beds in the junior dorm.
After being fed we were taken to the recreation room and introduced to the other boys. It didn’t take long to bond with the others as we were all from a similar background and we were all in the same boat. There was never any bullying at Brooklands and there was an easy going atmosphere.
Within a few days we settled into the daily routine of breakfast in the main house, education upstairs in the classrooms, lunch, then an hour or so in the recreation room. In the afternoons we were all given jobs to do. Every boy had to polish his boots until you could see your face in them. My best mate Julian and myself were the incinerator boys, we had to collect all the scrap paper from the classrooms, the offices and the matrons room and workshops and take it to the incinerator out next to the orchards (no paper shredders in those days) all under the watchful gaze of Mr. Enderby. He appeared strict at first but it didn’t take long for him to mellow and he would wander off to check the bee hives and the orchards while we had a crafty fag behind the incinerator, disguised by the smoke from the burning paper.
Fags were the currency at Brooklands and we had various means of acquiring them even at eleven years old, but more on that later.
During our time there some of the older boys were helping to build the big playbarn which started in 1970 and took three years to complete. It ended up as a first class playbarn/indoor gym where on my subsequent visits I spent many hours playing 5-a-side football, volleyball and basketball etc.
One of the staff members was Mr. Keens, a short, strict, sergeant-major type elderly man who would take us out on Saturdays for walks. He would don his boots and thick socks and armed with his walking cane he would lead us off in single file, usually in the direction of Huish or Muchelney. His idea of a walk seemed more akin to a route march to us boys but it got us out of the house and grounds for a bit.
The rule of law said that all the non-smokers had to walk at the front and the smokers at the back. We had to walk in single file as the roads were so narrow so with twenty or so boys straggling along it was easy to have a fag at the back without fear of being caught. The old sergeant-major up the front never had a clue, bless him.
On Sundays we were encouraged to go to church, but not forced in any way. It was usual for about twenty or twenty five boys to attend and sergeant-major Keens, as we called him, would march us down to St. Mary’s at Huish Episcopi. It is a beautiful small church which hasn’t changed a bit in fifty years. I went to the harvest festival service there (Sept.2021) and it brought back some very distant memories. Anyway, when we got to the church we were lined up outside and inspected, tuck your shirt in, comb your hair, shine your shoes on your trousers.
Being 1971, it was only two months earlier that decimalisation had occurred and so we were all given a shiny new 1p coin for the collection. There wasn’t a collection plate in those days but a really old man would stand at the door holding a church purse, which was two pieces of dowel with a black cloth bag attached similar to a snooker table pocket. The old boy had failing sight so as we lined up to exit the church the first ten or twelve boys would drop their penny in the bag and the second half of the motley crew would hold their penny over the bag in their right hand and flick the bottom of the bag with their left forefinger all the while keeping hold of the penny.
Our little scheme worked a treat and each week that got us ten fags and a book of matches (10p) to share. Back then there was no age limit for buying cigarettes and there was always boys going into town with or without staff who would nip in the shop and get ten fags for their “mum”.
Upon reflection it seemed a wicked thing to do but we were just like a male version of St. Trinians, and needs must. Naughty boys are as naughty boys do.
Right out of the blue one day I was called out of the recreation room to the office. I stood outside thinking I must have done something wrong but I couldn’t think of anything bad I had done when I was suddenly called in to be told my mum and dad were outside and I could go and spend half an hour with them. I ran out to see them in the driveway along with my three sisters and my baby brother. They were on their way to Wales for a week’s holiday and I had to stay behind despite begging my mum to take me. Of course she couldn’t take me and as they drove away I cried my heart out. It was the only time I did cry but after a bit of comforting from the staff and an hour back with my gang of naughty boys I was okay.
My mum had given me a massive bag of sweets, cakes and fruit which must have cost about three or four quid and back in 1971 you could get a hell of a lot of sweets for three or four quid. We had a feast in the dorm that night.
After our three week stay we three musketeers went back to court and were all let off by the magistrates. I guess we were considered to be redeemable and not quite beyond help at the tender ages of eleven and twelve.
My second stint at Brooklands in 1974 was pretty much along the same lines as before, there was the same old camaraderie between the boys. This time I was old enough to be promoted to the senior dorm so I had the added luxury of listening to radio Luxembourg every evening on the dorm tannoy system. I guess this was the beginning of my love of pop, rock and country music and I used to love the sounds being played by Johnny Walker, Tony Prince, Stuart Henry, David “kid” Jensen and the great Emperor Rosko!
Mr. Walters was the new superintendent and he lived with his family in a purpose built bungalow connected to the senior dorm. At the other end of the dorm was the night watchman’s overnight room. Every night a member of staff would sleep in a room between the two dorms to be quickly at hand if there was a medical emergency or an emotional issue and, of course, to curtail our nocturnal escapades such as tiptoeing to the washrooms to have a fag out the toilet window or having a midnight nosh up with the food we used to smuggle out of the dining room. About once a week we would all tiptoe past the night duty door and along the corridor to the junior dorm, there one boy would hold the door open while we all ran in and attacked the juniors in a massive pillow fight.
Within a matter of about thirty seconds all the lights would suddenly come on and there was an angry night watchman or woman stood in the doorway. It was absolute pandemonium as twenty odd senior boys tried to escape past the member of staff to get back to their beds and pretend to be asleep. It was what naughty boys did for entertainment.
We were always threatened with losing our radio for the following evening but I don’t remember the threat ever being followed through.
By now the playbarn was finished and we spent many hours playing sports of every kind. The orchards were absolutely loaded with fruit and we would collect apples, pears and plums to take to the kitchen for the cooks to make us pies and crumble. We also grew a lot of our own vegetables and we were very proud of our little market gardens.
One memory that will never leave me was during my stay in 1974. A few hand-picked boys would go to a special school near Bridgwater called Sand Hill Park. This school was for physically handicapped children and we would visit every week to take the kids swimming. If any of us boys thought we were hard done by, those thoughts were quickly dispelled by the humbling of helping these poor souls. Some of them were in very poor physical condition and we had to undress and dress them which was a task in itself, but to see the joy on their faces as we played games with them in the pool made it all worthwhile.
My final stay at Brooklands in 1976 was different to my previous two visits. I was just about the oldest boy there this time and because of this being my third time there I was king of the senior dorm. I knew the drill inside out and a lot of the staff from 1974 were still there.
The new superintendent was Mr. Mudd and his lovely wife Mary was the nurse, she also ran the office, the housekeeping department and just about everything else. She was an absolutely lovely lady and she took an instant liking to me. They lived in the new superintendent’s house that had just been built behind the dining room. Mrs. Mudd persuaded her husband to let me do the gardening around her house and she would come out mid-morning to see whether I wanted tea, coffee or a cold drink. After I made my choice a plate would appear outside her door with orange squash, a slice of cake, three biscuits and a fag on it. Every time she had to go to town or drive to Curry Rivel she would take me and she would always leave me a fag in the centre console.
At that time anyone over the age of sixteen who smoked was given four cigarettes a day by the duty staff at specific times to be smoked under supervision in the recreation room. This was all sanctioned by Somerset Council at the time, although there wouldn’t be a hope in hell of it happening nowadays. If any of us misbehaved we could forfeit up to one day’s ration of cigarettes.
Most of the boys smoked and fags were plentiful. I don’t ever recall anyone ever being searched but we would sneak fags into the home by visiting families handing them over or handing over money. A few of us older boys were allowed into town on our own with a written pass to show any copper that saw us.
Every Wednesday after tea me and my mate Mark Sweeney would go to the office to get our passes and our twenty pence allowance each. We would put our money together and either get 20 Cadets for 30p or twenty No. 6 for 36p, the rest went on matches and sweets. We would parade up and down Bow Street like grown ups smoking our heads off.
During my final stay at Brooklands I worked in a factory down at the river bridge which is now occupied by Europa Tyres. The old buildings are still standing and the company was called T.H. Bushell and they made suitcases and packing cases. I used to walk there and back every day that I worked and I really enjoyed it. My wages were deducted a bit towards my keep at Brooklands and the rest was saved for me and given to me when I finally left.
The old cottages that now stand to the left of the main house and back onto Somerton Road used to be workshops. There was a woodwork shop, a metalwork shop and a pottery studio. I spent many hours in them all making all kinds of crafts and gifts to take home to my family.
My three stays at Brooklands were each memorable for various reasons and in the main those memories remain positive. I had no idea at the time how much influence my three spells there would have on my life. I have always frequently recalled my memories throughout my life and have been drawn back there to visit a few times.
Brooklands housed many hundreds of boys in its time and It recently occurred to me that all of those hundreds of boys memories would be lost forever unless someone like me put them down in writing.
If my musings can make one single person reflect on how life was a little bit different back in the Seventies, then I will have accomplished my task.
I would welcome any feedback at [email protected]
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