Old West Downs Society

Lionel Helbert, the Founder of West Downs

A Brief History of the Society

The Old West Downs Society did not begin until after the Founder’s death on November 8th 1919. There was no need for it until then. The Founder’s Secretary, Ted Russell, became the Secretary of the Society, and remained so for some forty years. The OWDS account was in a Building Society Branch at St Leonards on Sea, where Ted lived. It is only in the last ten years that the account has been moved, for the greater convenience of our previous Secretary, David Howard, who served the Society for some twenty years, succeeding Mark Hichens. A seventy year old building society account such as this, and such continuity of its secretaries, must be almost unheard of!

The Founder’s Birthday was on 13th June, 1870. It was decided that Founder’s Day should be on a convenient Saturday near to that date, each year. It had been a tradition for the School to have a holiday on June 13th, when everybody would go off on a great picnicking expedition. Another tradition was for gooseberry pies to be taken with them. The Society would be invited by the School to return, to take part in cricket matches, shooting events and so on. Gooseberry Pie would be available at lunch.

This tradition continued until the end of the School’s days. The last Founder’s Day lunch, in 1988, was not at the School, but at the Royal Hotel in Winchester. After that, we had one lunch near Winchester, and one at the House of Lords, but it has now become tradition to have a Dinner every two years at Brooks’s Club in St James’ Street, London SW1.

Over the years there had been one or two reunions of Old Boys at Dinners and Lunches in London. One of these took place in Regents Park Zoo. It had snowed heavily overnight, and it was a major adventure to get to the lunch. Very few made it!

There was a dinner at Quaglino’s one year, during Mark Hichens’ tenure as secretary. It was probably in the 1950s, after Jerry Cornes had taken over. Mark felt it was poorly attended, but it was enjoyed by those who did. Most of those who were there were of the Helbert era, or the early Tindall days. KBT himself was there. There were no more such lunches until the seventies.

Another of Helbert’s traditions was to have a School Holiday on Trafalgar Day, 21st October. Shortly after that date each year Winter sets in, so it is probably the last day that a picnic could be organised, with a good chance of a second day being available should the first be lost due to rain, etc. That is why the Dinner in 1996 was held on that date, though previous OWDS Dinners at Brooks’s had been in November.

On their last day at the School each boy or girl was formally welcomed into the OWD Society. Their addresses were handed over to the Secretary of the Society. For many years these addresses were kept in a manual register, one page for each person. There were three volumes, which I remember as being two red ones and a green one. The present database was taken from these manual registers, and was set up just after Founder’s Day in 1980 when I became a member of the Committee.

The Society has a Committee, who meet for lunch once a year to discuss any matters that are in hand. We no longer have any Helbert OWDs on the Committee, but we are about equally divided between Tindall OWDs and Cornes ones.

Until four years ago there was a meeting of the Society either on Founder’s Day, or, recently, before the Lunch or Dinner. The last time this happened the feedback was that people would much rather get on with chatting to their friends as it was a chance to meet them once again, and were prepared to let the Committee co-opt new members from whoever felt they would like to join us. So far this has worked perfectly, and a new member, one of our Old Girls, joined us following the 1996 dinner.

If anyone would like to attend Committee Meetings would they please let the Secretary know, and they can be informed when a Meeting is coming up.

NH, Membership Secretary