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The Bush Davies School Reunion

The Bush Davies School Reunion

6 January 2011

‘Shadows on the Wall’. Sue Passmore reflects on the Bush Davies Schools Reunion in Oct 2010 – a celebration of a landmark institution.

On Wednesday 20th October 2010, a reunion took place at Charters Towers, East Grinstead, the former home of Bush Davies Schools. This extraordinary gathering was organised by Suzanne Gielgud, a former pupil who currently directs and produces films through her company Gielgud Films. She had made several attempts to gain access to the estate in order to make a documentary film about the school but only received negative responses from the property company that now owns the site. 

In October she was given distressing confirmation that the Adeline Genée Theatre was due to be demolished imminently, and if she wished to have a reunion it must take place on Wednesday 20th October between 2pm and 4pm. With only three weeks to organise the event, the Facebook jungle drums and mobile technology swept into action, and 200 loyalists arrived for one last journey down memory lane, to share again the love and loyalty of their ‘Bush’ days, culminating in a symbolic re-enactment of the ‘Grande Defilé’ in the theatre. 

Instinctively my reaction to this unscheduled occasion was sceptical; the estate had become a mere shadow of its former self, empty for some years. How distressing would it be to see the school we loved, with so much history, about to face a final closure?  

Heavy steel gates and barbed wire fences guard the derelict buildings that once housed a school that flourished for 75 years in the heart of Sussex. The Adeline Genée Theatre stood silent and remote. It had been the jewel in our crown but was ultimately an insurmountable financial burden. The building was only accessible through the stage door, and the cold neglected auditorium and huge empty stage was a stark reminder of the demise of the ‘Theatre in the woods’ as Noreen Bush once described it. This performance house, once so vibrant with talent and creative achievement had nothing in it to remind us that we were once an integral part of its day to day life, now it was stripped to the bare walls and painted dark grey. 

Walking up the driveway in the cold bright autumn sunlight towards Main House the barbed wire fences that prevented access to all the areas where the buildings were near to collapse was a painful sight. Thankfully Main House was still intact and seemed to have survived the neglect so evident in all the surrounding studios, classrooms and dormitories. 

It is hard to describe the joy with which former classmates greeted each other, in some cases, after more than 20 years. Suddenly the hall was full of noise, laughter and memories, all the shadows disappeared and so did the years. Ex-students travelled from all over the UK, but also from the USA and Europe just to be part of the day. Jane Riley and Kimmie, Noreen’s grand-daughter, came to represent the family, former staff Heather Fish, Alfreda Thorogood, Pat Prime, John Raven, Jill Knight and Heather Rees came to share their memories with everyone. The loyal Dame Beryl Grey came from her home near the school to pay tribute to past successes of the schools. The climax of the afternoon was a poignant tribute to the past, re-enacting the traditional ‘Grande Defilé’!  Maroon t-shirts with the Bush Davies emblem printed on them were worn by everyone present and with typical pride the Bush tradition was upheld without embarrassment thanks to Suzanne Gielgud and staff volunteers who masterminded the event. As the curtain slowly fell an eerie silence was broken by a deafening cheer that filled the auditorium. The school song closed this brief tribute from all of us. ‘Grace and vigour be with us, integrity our rule’.

Paul Kimm’s poignant verse ‘Shadows on the Wall’ was one of the many poems that this talented man composed and I was so pleased to be asked to read it on this occasion and it was so appropriate. Paul wrote it just before the school closed.

Sue Passmore, 22nd October 2010 

Former pupils and faculty of Bush Davies interested in obtaining a DVD of the film Bush Davies School – The Final Curtain should contact films@gielgud.com or call +44 (0) 1444 414401.

  Paul Kimm and parents in the Genée Theatre

Above: Paul Kimm and parents in the Genée Theatre 

by Paul Leopold Kimm

In tribute to Joyce Percy, Daphne Peterson and John Harrison 1989
Decades have passed
Those corridors of happy and so young,
Have trod the floors of all our schools
Their feet have made indelible marks;
Their endeavours, forever engraved upon our hearts.

Now, as the curtain slowly lowers – We ALL look back.
Those scattered seeds so kindly thrown
By our forbears; and by us too –
Now our young, migrate to lands unknown.

We did it. Yes
And built the walls – together.
Listened to the chattering voices in gathered halls;
And little shadows on whispering walls
Engraved in them, forever.

Bush Davies somehow will survive,
And to you all, I offer up my praise;
A curtain falling. Never. Never.
Just pull the ropes and see it raise,
We'll live again. Whatever.

Read also about the Bush Davies Teachers’ Award for Professional Development - Sue Passmore writes about a special award to be presented to a teacher in memory of the Bush Davies Schools.


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