Holywell House school reunion brings back memories of swimming on land

HAVE you ever tried swimming on dry land? Apparently it can be done according to Jillian Anderson, who is helping to organise a reunion with fellow pupils of a former St Albans school where she learned to swim without water.

She recalled “land drill lessons” from Holywell House school’s resourceful sports mistress Miss Grymstone who merely shrugged off inconveniences such as being based in landlocked St Albans and having no school pool.

Leg movements

Jillian said: “Whilst standing on one leg, we were instructed to wave the other leg in the air and attempt to make the leg movements of the breast stroke; at the same time we would flail our arms around trying to coordinate our arms with the waving leg.”

The sports mistress would then rhythmically chant: “Out, round, kick, glide, out, round, kick, glide.”

As if that was not difficult enough, imagine completing the manoeuvres in a long green pleated skirt-shorts, blouse, socks and plimsolls.

Jillian, who was just under five when she became a boarder at the school in Holywell Hill from 1952, said that Miss Grymstone’s unusual approach, “must have worked as I can swim quite a long distance, but only doing breast stroke.”

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With Holywell House closing back in 1962, Jillian, n�e Thomas, and two fellow former pupils, Penny Davy (n�e Nichols) and Jennifer Taylor (n�e Cash), all of whom attended the school during the 1950s, are meeting fellow ex-students nearly 50 years after the closure to chat and exchange stories.

Jennifer said she had fond memories of the fee-paying school, which she describes as being “housed in the wonderful ivy-clad Georgian building opposite Caf� Rouge.”

Upon the school’s closure the building was used by an architects’ firm, and has recently reverted to a private house.

She recalled: “The school may not have been of the highest standard academically or had the best of facilities – the science lab had one bunsen burner and a few stained test tubes and reeked of sulphur – but we did have the benefit of a beautiful tennis court and large playground which encircled a magnificent horse chestnut tree around which we would play chasing games.”

She recalled: “All the pupils were somewhat in awe of the headmistress, Miss Marjorie Cloutte, who was a bit of a tyrant, but fortunately for the younger pupils teachers were delightful and did their best with the basic facilities at their disposal.”


Students wore smart uniforms, with girls originally sporting navy blue blouses with white spots.

But in the 1950s the uniform changed to green blouses and dresses with white spots; purple blazers with green and white braid around the edge and heads topped with a panama hat for the girls and a cap for the boys.

Holywell House School, which bore the motto “Vigilia et Audacia,” watchfulness and boldness, educated about 100 students a year – day pupils and boarders.

The reunion is being held at Caf� Rouge, Holywell Hill, St Albans, at 12noon on Saturday, April 2.

For more information on how to take part, email jennifer at: Rykjen@aol.com, Jillian on jtarka@yahoo.com or Penny on pennydavy@hotmail.com