Mr Mike Weston reflects on the special ethos of our school and shares some of his favourite pictures from the archives. Known to so many alumni and current students at Senior School Voorschoten, no one is more qualified to tell this story.
The BSN is a special school. I guess virtually any school with a bit of pride in itself could make that sort of claim in their publicity blurb, but I don’t mean it in a vague, waffly sort of way. I mean something very specific. Something that seems to me of significance.
The BSN is special, perhaps even unique, in the following respect. It was founded by a woman in 1931 and staffed by women. It was re-opened after the war by another woman and, again, staffed by women. That might not have been so unusual as long as it was a Kindergarten and Primary School, but as the upper age limit rose and it became a Secondary School, the staff were still all women. It was 28 years before the first male teacher arrived and 40 years before the first male Principal. That made for a very powerful and rather unusual ethos (for that time).
In the school’s earliest and most difficult days, some of these pioneering women even worked for no salary. And whenever the school was inspected in those days, despite some ‘areas for improvement’, there was always warm mention made of the remarkably happy atmosphere and the very close teacher/pupil relationships. And over the years, as the school grew and new teachers arrived, they fitted into that ethos and continued it.
In 1983 the Junior School choir recorded an LP called Children Unite which made it to the Dutch charts. It had all sorts of interesting developments. In the back row, nos 1 and 4, are the Bolland Brothers, two Dutch celebs of the day who were behind the project. Between them are Andy Wright, Head of Music, and Brian Davidson, Headteacher. On the far right are Sir Philip Mansfield, the British Ambassador, and Maureen Jonker MBE, Head of the Junior School.
Before coming to the BSN, I had taught in an excellent state school in Germany and two top Independent Schools in the UK. I had had a wonderful start to my teaching career; but when I arrived at the English School of The Hague in 1972, I knew within a fairly short time that this was something very different and very special. I had planned to stay for two or three years. I am now in my 51st year. It may sound as if I am falling victim to what I call ‘the gilding alchemy of memory’, but it was like joining a delightfully happy family. It was a friendly, informal (though not slack), welcoming atmosphere. I was struck immediately by the mix of boys and girls from all over the world and from every ethnic, cultural and religious background. And they got on so well together! It was a remarkable experience that we – students and staff alike – shared; because we had, nearly all of us, moved away from our own homes, our backgrounds, our own countries, our own language even. Rather unusual in those days. So, the school became our new family. We bonded with one another. We were all in the same boat.
Over the years, of course, the school has changed beyond recognition. It is now huge and complex. But underlying all the change, certain values and attitudes have remained constant. I know. I have made a long journey with the school, and I have been aware of these things. Nowadays my job as archivist is to know what our alumni have made of their lives, where they are, what they are doing; and I know not about hundreds but about thousands. I am in touch with many and I know what their feelings are about their old school. Of course, there are many other ex-students, worldwide, who belong to Old Student Associations and have fond memories of their old school, their alma mater. But I don’t think there can be many who have a more profound attachment, a deeper sense of gratitude and belonging than ours do.
The Modern Language Faculty in 2004. John Cliff is missing.
After the wonderful 2012 Alumni Reunion I wrote the following. It still applies. It always will.
“The atmosphere at these alumni reunions is something quite remarkable. Flying in from the four corners of the globe and from many past decades, these old students have an attachment to the school and to their time in the Netherlands that never ceases to move me. The laughter, the hugs, the memory-swapping, the sudden recognitions, teachers and students now on first name terms and firm friends – it is always an unforgettable experience.”
Left to right; David Davies, 1969-2010; Rick Gould, 1976-86; Richard Cunliffe, 1972-2014; Mike Weston, 1972-; John Cliff, 1974-2013; Richard Singleton, 1985-2004; Eric Porter, 1977-2009. Reunited. Some great friends and colleagues with 230 years of service between them.
And the last words come from Nancy Macdona, the remarkable lady who was on the staff in the 1930s and succeeded in reopening the English School after the War. She often referred to the school as ‘my Miniature United Nations’ and expressed her feelings as follows in a broadcast on the BBC radio programme Woman’s Hour in 1952:
“Presently when the little Norwegians, Argentines, Americans and Swedes will be returning to their own countries, and later when their paths become earnest as they go to and fro through another world, perhaps something will remain of that wonderful unity in the The English School in The Hague. It might be that an ex-pupil grown up in the diplomatic world, representative of a nation and at loggerheads with another will suddenly realise, “Why! That is Carl the Norwegian boy I played with or Akio from Japan who gave me some of his sweets in school.” And that small memory may bring to pass that the seed of international friendship was sown at the English School in The Hague.”
East meets West in 1948.
The little girl on the left is Ti Ming. Her father was a Chinese diplomat. At the very time when this photo was taken China was being taken over by Mao Zedong and the Communists. As a representative of the hated old regime her father could not have risked returning. I wonder what became of Ti Ming.
*Header photo: The BSN Beijing exchange trip October 1999.
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.