Airthrie's alumni

Includes a wide range of well-known personalities, from authors and television presenters, Christopher and Julia Sommerville, through rock musicians such as Brian Jones of the Rolling Stones, to those who went on to teach at Airthrie, such as Jane Chatham and Sue Young who taught several generations of Airthrie students, between them dedicating nearly eighty years and who are remembered by so many.  Jane, in turn, has helped research the post-war Airthrie History.

For obvious reasons we have not included ex-pupils personal details or contact information.  Should you wish to make contact with people you recognise, please email details to and these will be forwarded to the relevant person.  We encourage you to contribute!

Alumni Letters

Peter Grimshaw, now living near Broadway, writes:

I attended Airthrie from 1949 – 1952, before moving on to Dean Close Junior School and subsequently Monkton Combe School in Bath.  My sister Anna followed me at Airthrie in 1953, and in turn my three children, Russell, Christopher and Melanie in the 1970s.

In the late 1940s we lived in Brooklyn Road which in those days was on the edge of Cheltenham with open fields beyond, long before Princess Elizabeth Way and the Hester’s Way Estate was built. I marvel that the town was safe enough in those days for a 5 year old to get to school on their own, walking as I did to St Marks to catch the No 2 or No 4 bus to Queen's Road and then walking up Christ Church Road to Airthrie (for there was no problem with school-run traffic in those days!).

One summer's day, instead of catching the bus home, as usual, from the junction of Christ Church Road and Queen’s Road, two or three of us walked along Queen's Road as far as Lansdown Station, where the temptation of a Walls ice-cream between two wafers got the better of us, so having spent the bus fare on ice cream, I had to walk all the way home.

When my Mother managed to deduce why I was late home I was so severely reprimanded that I have never forgotten it.  I had committed the ultimate “crime” of eating an ice-cream in the street – apparently only urchins did that – whilst wearing my Airthrie School cap and blazer.  I am so sorry Airthrie for bringing such disgrace on the school and can only hope that some 64 years later the School’s reputation is no longer tarnished by my disgraceful act.

With only the muddy lawn at the rear, exercising Airthrie’s children must have been a major problem for the staff, solved as I recall by a daily walk before lunch.  Under the watchful eye of “Miss Woody” we were walked in crocodile formation down Christ Church Road, right into Eldorado Road and right again into Queen’s Road. Just before the railway bridge we pushed open a wooden gate and walked along the cinder footpath that linked to Malvern Road Station.

This was the highlight of the walk, for as budding train spotters we looked down to the tracks in the cutting below and across to the engine sheds and goods yard where Travis Perkins is now based.

Our route took us up the station drive to Malvern Road and back to school passing Christ Church.  The street lights along the station drive were gas powered and occasionally we had to step round a ladder on which was perched the lamp lighter changing the mantels.  Little would I have thought that some 50 years later my wife and I would have had two of those same cast iron lamp posts from Malvern Road Station in our garden.

Although the limitations on the Airthrie site in those days made PE impractical, I do recall that there was an annual school sports day held on the playing field at the nearby Cheltenham Ladies' College - Farnley Lodge. Then there were swimming lessons in the junior pool at Alstone Baths in Great Western Road to which we walked to again in crocodile with our rolled up towels and swimming gear tucked under one arm .

There was great excitement when a lorry from our family civil engineering business – Grimshaw Kinnear Limited – arrived at the school and a gang of workers started to construct a narrow tarmac footpath around the back garden at Airthrie and to regrade the lawn.  The path was still there when my own children started at Airthrie several decades later, although I have no idea as to why the work was carried out during term time!

I have two particular memories of the large classroom to the left of the front door, or more particularly of the low cast iron radiator in the bay window at the front that we used to sit on.  The first was a little “rough and tumble” with another lad, that resulted in my forehead coming into contact with the said radiator so hard that I was rushed off to A & E in a taxi. Oh, how I made the most of my bandage and stitches for several days thereafter.

My second memory of the radiator ( February 1952) was far more grave for Joey assembled all the children and staff in the front classroom. Those of us who had been freezing in the conservatory classroom were allowed to sit on the floor nearest to the radiator before Joey announced that King George VI had died earlier that day. Sadly I have no recollection as to what happened for the rest of the day, but I doubt we were sent home early.  I had forgotten Joey’s snap arithmetic questions on times tables at school assembly until I read the website history, but perhaps it explains why, some 65 years later, I often do the same with our grandchildren if I am driving them to or from some activity.  I have such fond memories of Airthrie.

Miles Harper, a pupil in the early 60s now running a successful Advertising and Design business in London, contacted us in January 2015, writing:

I saw on the website that a history of the school was being written and I was nostalgically remembering a happy time there in the early 60s.

Headmistress Joey was a firm but kindly presence and I will never forget her random calling out of times tables during morning assembly asking a chosen child to reply. Her favourite was 7 x 8 - a calculation that to this day is still the most ingrained piece of maths in my brain!

(Having heard this comment, Principal Beth Sullivan thinks that this is a practice that is worth reviving in morning assembly – the reward for a correct answer now being a leaf point).

John Bate-Williams a pupil from the late 50s writes:

I was at Airthrie from about 1956 to 1960, when I went on to the Cheltenham College Junior and then to St Kenelm's which was in the Shurdington Road.  I remember my early days - having to be carried up the outside stairs by Mrs Ward, beating away at her rather ample chest ... Joey Browne was the lovely headmistress, and I ended up as a boarder for about a year in 1959 when my grandfather was very ill in hospital in London and my mother had to be near him.

There were only a few of us boarding - Caroline Kennedy was, I think, one other. I remember that Joey was a very good blackmailer - if I didn't cry too much during the week, missing my mother, she would take me down to a toy shop in Winchcombe Street on the Saturday and buy me a Corgi or Dinky toy! She was such a super lady, and one of my regrets in life is not getting to her funeral in about 1976, when I was in my very early days at the Bar in London and I thought it would be difficult to escape from a Court commitment.

Mrs Cassin is another name I remember from that era - by a coincidence she had lived in our house in Hewlett Road some time before we moved there. One of my memories is of the fun we had in the garden, belonging to gangs, identified by which way you wore your cap - peak to the left, or peak to the right! I occasionally see two of my contemporaries at Airthrie, Nicholas Griffiths and Anthony Kirk Duncan.

I live near Tetbury and work in London and would love to come and have a look round sometime!

Harry Malone and his twin brother John

Yes I do recall John Bate Williams so we were clearly there at the same time.  Our father was British, a Colonel in the Indian army in Singapore (educated at Edinburgh and Sandhurst) but our mother was Dutch.  They had met, after the Second World War, in Singapore following her release from a Japanese camp in (Dutch) Indonesia where she had been interned for the duration of the war.

In the early 1950s, when our father was re-posted, mother initially returned to Holland, but later moved to the UK.   At the time that we arrived in Cheltenham, we did not speak English, but like most 7 year olds we quickly assimilated and our progress was documented in my 1955 Spring school report signed by J. N. Browne (Joey). “Harry is overcoming the language difficulty. We are very pleased with his progress”.

After Airthrie, in 1956 my twin brother and I went seamlessly to Dean Close Junior and then on to Dean Close College.  We were boarders all the time. We saw our mother in Cheltenham but after their subsequent divorce, we very rarely saw our father, who paid for our education of course, but was a manager of palm plantations in Africa for Unilever.  Around 1963 he remarried a widow with two children and got a job in Belgium, so when we left DCS we both went to The International School of Brussels where we soon became quite fluent in French (the Dutch upbringing helped).

I later returned to Cheltenham and got a temporary job at Cavendish House whilst studying at the Technical College in Hatherley, where I managed to pass GCEs.  I then gained employment at Dowty Rotol in the Export Department and also worked at nights on the manual switchboard at the Queen's Hotel, a very interesting experience!  Seeing an advert for a job that was asking for someone with language skills, I replied and secured a job at Leonard Stace, Gloucester Road.  The company had started to export its speciality, industrial coated papers, and wanted someone to communicate with their European customers. I loved the job and was able to use my languages. After 3 years I saw a similar position advertised with a larger company near Manchester, but which also involved travel, so I relocated with my wife Brenda, who had been a Pate’s Grammar School student, and went North.

The Manchester job with Sterling Coated Papers Ltd, again a company that made specialised papers, taught me a great deal about the chemistry and technology in the manufacture of different papers and their adhesive backings.  True to their word the company sent me to Scandinavia, Spain, Portugal, Switzerland etc. as their export sales rep, so it was all good experience.  After 2 1/2 years there were some internal management changes and I was transferred to their label equipment sales division where I learnt about the equipment and the applications for labels within the manufacturing industry.

We realised then that in the UK at that time, promotion was quite hard to get and often one would be waiting for “dead men’s shoes”, which was frustrating and Manchester was a cold, damp place.  With 2 children now, my wife and I happened across a local paper which had printed a letter relating the story of an English couple who had just returned from working in New Zealand for 5 years.  They wrote glowingly of it and as it happened, back in the days of the telex machine, part of my job had been keeping in touch with the company’s Australian and New Zealand distributors and I got on well with them.

So my wife and I made the decision to emigrate to Auckland, New Zealand in September 1973.  Our sons were 6 and 1  and a half years old.  We decided that we would start our own label business in NZ and I arranged for equipment to be sent from Holland.  I could see that manufacturing business there was still somewhat behind the UK and thus I started to contact all the many European suppliers that I used to deal with and was lucky enough to obtain several exclusive dealerships for both New Zealand and Australia.

Although our company was created in the basement garage of our rented house, and all four Malone's helped to print and pack the labels, after managing to create unique patient admission labelling systems for hospitals, the business took off and we relocated into new factory premises.  Eventually we built our own factory and distribution units which allowed growth until we were one of the foremost label manufacturing and equipment suppliers in Australia and New Zealand, having pioneered bar code labelling in the region and purchased a multi-million dollar printing press from Switzerland to create and distribute car and truck vehicle individually bar-coded labels, all the ancillary supplies and Road User Charge tags.

This is all still in use today and has saved the New Zealand Government many hundreds of millions of dollars over the years. By that time, the little company we started in the basement of our rented house had 55 employees, many millions in turnover, distributors in Australia and the South Pacific.

Brenda and I had worked side by side for all those years, and we were very tired, so we put the company up for sale via an international banker and tender process and sold it to a listed stock exchange company in 1996 having had offers from 9 other International companies.  Our eldest son Paul was a qualified graphic designer in partnership with his wife Nicky in Auckland where he and Nicky do the most amazing designs, but our younger son James went to Queensland after we sold the business in partnership with, but later buying-out a bar code systems company in Brisbane, which is now one of the leading label and equipment suppliers in Australia.

So, Brenda and I retired to the Gold Coast, to Sanctuary Cove, a gated community with 2 world class golf courses, a marina and a shopping village boasting some 10 restaurants. We have many friends, it’s a great place and the weather is fabulous. We are soon to celebrate our 50th wedding anniversary.

Of course I must not forget to mention my twin brother John, with whom I attended Airthrie and Dean Close.  John stayed on in Brussels at the International School after I left and gained his exams to qualify for entrance to UBC in Vancouver Canada. Both my grandfather, Dr Malone, and my father had Canadian passports.  John did not finish his degree studies at university.  He spent some years working as a lumberjack and became a musician playing the accordion and singing and composing songs in French. Some of his songs were recorded. He became one of the few people in Canada who could repair accordions.  Based in Edmonton, John was also an excellent motor mechanic and he spent many years working in Brazil and Korea and other 3rd world countries for a Canadian company who pioneered diesel to gas conversions to city bus fleets.  He was fluent in many languages and had a very engaging personality.

Unfortunately my brother passed away in July of this year from a very aggressive lung cancer after a short illness.  He has a son and a daughter, both in Edmonton, and has two little granddaughters, all of whom we are now in frequent contact with.  Regrettably he and I were not together very often over the 40 years or so we lived in different countries.

Letter from Reverend Ann Le Mare (nee O'Hara-Proud)

I was a boarding pupil around about 1943-45. Miss Brown was the Principal (she was known as Joey).  We used to walk to a hall for PE and sang songs of the Allies as we walked along, eg, Waltzing Matilda.  We had a royal blue uniform and I remember the blazer well.  We played in the garden and there were a lot of snails and we would race them.  We seemed to be grouped for ability so for different subjects we may have been with older or younger pupils so we got to know people quickly.  We learned French from an early age.

I remember the Barbar books and pointing out areas of the room in French.  We sang The Marseillaise as we walked to the gym and I think we sang it in French. Most pupils had parents in the forces; my father was in the RAMC, I remember being in a bed and not allowed home as I had chicken pox and my grandmother managed to find me a Fry's creme filled chocolate bar. It was such a rare find then and such a luxury that I wondered if I was very poorly!

All the little girls with straight hair longed to get ringworm (none did) as there was a rumour that you had to have your hair cut off and that it grew back curly.  I remember these days as a very happy loving time surrounded by care and fun and really enjoying learning.  Of course, I cannot guarantee the accuracy of all these memories but apart from homesickness and being told not to giggle too late in the bedroom at night all was positive.

Best wishes in your work with my grandchildren's generation.


provided by Mr Rupert Nichol:

'Children of six knew nothing else then - It was their way of life, not merely a nine till five attendance'.

'The children here are attending an historic establishment with much of the same ethos as 50 years ago - instilling good manners and respect for others. They are very lucky'.

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