Formally leaving school in December 1963 was an emotional experience, which caught me totally off guard!
The Kings School, Peterborough has a long history of being connected to Peterborough Cathedral (I believe the relationship goes back to over 600 years!), and so all our special services were held in the cathedral, which included leavers services.
The various Cathedral services over the previous 5 years only required me to be there, because there was always an agenda that did not directly involve me. This final service was, however, specifically intended to celebrate those leaving the school having completed that part of their education. I was very much aware that I was now to be a part of the proceedings as I walked, with other boys, across the grounds towards the Cathedral.
We entered the Cathedral as a group, but I might as well have been alone as my attention was totally on the vastness of the building and the reverberations from the organ as it played while everybody was going to their designated seating areas. From my seat I could look up the very high stone columns with their ornate caps reaching upwards to a distant arched ceiling covered in religious murals. I could see the stained glass windows far across the other side. I cannot recall exact details of the service but it would have certainly started with the organ playing while the school choir slowly made its way to its particular area. This would have been followed by a number of hymns and then a sermon. There would have been more hymns and then the “roll call” of us leavers.
When our name was called, we had to go up to where our Headmaster was standing and accept the presentation of a King’s School bible. The School coat of arms had been stamped onto the front cover.
When all of us leavers had been presented with our bibles, the service would have ended with more hymns and then the organ would have played as the school choir slowly made their way back to wherever they came from. We would then have been directed to slowly make our way towards, and through, the large wooden doors that would lead us to a completely new world.
I can still recall walking out of the cathedral and having a very strange feeling of not belonging to anything anymore. It was a feeling of total vulnerability. I was standing on my own (in a crowd of boys who had also just finished school, and one or two of whom would be throwing their caps away) outside the huge and very ornate West front of the cathedral. It was a beautifully clear sky and the enormity of everything conflicted with my own insignificance in this world that I was now a part of.
Considering that I had already been accepted into Nautical College and would be starting there in a few weeks, made the feeling of loss even more surprising. I can only conclude that while the 5 years at school were an inconvenience and, in the previous year a source of stress, it had also been 5 years of stability.
Walking out of the cathedral grounds that day in December 1963 was a little boy lost.