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Phil Gillam: Spiffing memories of Jennings' capers

Phil Gillam | Published:

The atmosphere at Belvidere Boys Secondary Modern School in the early 1970s was, quite frankly, a world away from that conjured up by the picture-perfect fictional setting of Linbury Court where the young and mischievous Jennings and Darbishire had their whacky adventures.

Shrewsbury Library

Nevertheless, it was the terribly, terribly English escapades and the awfully, awfully nice world of J.C.T. Jennings and his pal that I would always seek out whenever our sister, Jan, took us (our little brother and I) to Shrewsbury Library to choose some books.

The amusing novels of Anthony Buckeridge depicted a lifestyle that was gentle, unthreatening, and fun – in a place where nothing nasty could ever happen.

The boys there would say things like: “What did you want to go and make a frantic bish like that for?”

Or they’d exclaim: “Super-wacko-sonic!” and “Petrified paint pots!”

The boys at Belvidere also had a rich and colourful language of their own, but not the sort of thing I could repeat in this column!

Linbury Court sounded like the loveliest place to be taught. A place of sunshine and sponge cakes, and excellent friends who would never let you down.

It was a privileged world softly enveloping boys enjoying a private education in an idyllic country setting. And of course it was entirely fictitious.

Jennings and Darbishire got involved in all sort of jolly japes, and – in this way – the stories very much reminded me of the adventures of Paddington Bear or the knock-about comedy of Norman Wisdom.

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Shrewsbury Library – once of course the home of Shrewsbury School – seemed an entirely appropriate setting in which my 12-year-old self could pick out Anthony Buckeridge novels. Although devoid (at that tender age) of any firm views on politics, society and economics, I would still have known the difference between posh and not-so-posh. Even then I recognised Shrewsbury Library as elegant, tasteful, refined, historic, expensive-looking (and all this amounted to “posh” in my book, the same kind of “posh” that issued forth from the pages of a Jennings adventure).

It was 400 years before Jennings’ time that Shrewsbury Grammar School was founded by Edward VI in 1552. Its royal patronage attracted large numbers of students and by 1586 it had become “the largest school in all England”.

Initially established in existing buildings in the town, the school was extended between 1595 and 1630, giving us the beautiful buildings we now know set back from Castle Street.

Famously, Charles Darwin studied here – hence his statue outside the entrance.

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The school remained here until 1882 when it moved to its present location in Kingsland, from where it overlooks the river.

The gorgeous buildings off Castle Street were restored in the 1980s and the interior layout has changed a little since I was visiting the place as a boy and seeking out those Jennings books.

The library is one of Shrewsbury’s great architectural gems.

It’s a stunning collection of buildings that includes Rigg’s Hall. This is built on the old town wall, and parts of it date from 1405. It is linked to the stone school building and is now used as a children’s library.

Oh, and - by the way - have you ever noticed the two small statues above the entrance?

One represents a student holding his hat face-down and entering the school. The other is a scholar with his hat face-up, leaving the school.

Between them is a plaque with the date 1630 and a Greek inscription from Isocrates, the Athenian orator, which translates as: “If you are eager to learn, you will learn much”.

It strikes me that such an inscription was sadly lacking from Belvidere Boys Secondary Modern, but such words would have been perfect above the entrance to Jennings’ old place at Linbury Court.

What say you, Jennings?

“Petrified paint pots!”

Yes, I thought as much.

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