This is a part of the story I’d not heard:
In the late 1970s, a boy who I’ll call Charles arrived at Downside. As was usual, he was sent to the junior boarding house, sleeping in a dorm with 30 other boys. Its housemaster was a monk called Dom Denis. He was a large, ebullient man who kept a train set in his study, where he would invite boys to play with it and drink cocoa.
One night, Charles told me, Denis came into the dormitory and sat by his bed. He slipped his hand under the covers and fondled his penis. That first time, Charles was too frightened to make a sound. But when Denis came back on subsequent nights, he shouted. Denis fled. Charles was 12.
Soon afterwards, Denis was moved away from the junior house.
I was still there then (in the junior house in, umm, 1976, left the school in 81) and I knew nothing at all about this.
Perhaps the most serious of those involved Fr Nicholas White. He taught geography and, the inquiry found, throughout the 1980s he repeatedly molested the children in his care.
Ah, now this, yes.
According to many, the Downside of the ’70s and ’80s was a hard place. Hierarchies were rigid, discipline harsh and violence common.
Really? My abiding memory of the place is the laxity. Obviously, lines not to be crossed and all that. But the overall scene seemed to be that of course boys will be boys. So, allow them to be so along with some guidance about how to be good at it.
Charles described elaborate initiation rituals, such as ‘crucifixion’, where younger boys were strapped, sometimes naked, to their bed frames by prefects and older boys. Occasionally, boot polish would be rubbed on to their genitals – something known as ‘blacking’.
Sounds more like something out of Tom Brown’s Schooldays. Indeed might have come from that. Obviously, I don’t claim to have known everything that went on everywhere over the 5 years I spent there. But having never heard of this, in the slightest, means it might not have been there.
And there was a year there – 1980/1 – where I was the Deputy Head Boy. In charge of all the prefects, effectively. Perhaps I am simply wildly unobservant. But I think I would have heard of it if it was something institutionalised in any way.