Teaching at Aberlour House by David Hanson

Link to George’s Welsh’s memory>>

David began his teaching career in Slough at the age of 22 in 1963. His first school was William Penn County Secondary School, Berkshire. He had achieved a degree in Physics and Chemistry at Sheffield University prior to his appointment. He was inspired in his career choice by his French teacher. His first job paid £70 per month. He set about the development of a science laboratory in the school. Went to Eton College to talk to a man about making Science benches. He used tubular steel and sheets of plywood. Had to allow space for the gas taps. The school did a study on water voles on the Thames, which was unusual. He taught all the Sciences and was self-taught in Biology, teaching up to O’level. Got a reflecting telescope but it was difficult to open it in the evening as the school system would not pay for a caretaker to open and lock up. It was frustrating. Stayed in the school for a year.

Aberlour House gate house

Aberlour House gate house

Moved then to Aberlour House in Moray, which was a total change. Applied for a job as a teacher of Mathematics and Science (8-13 years). Accommodation was included. The head, Toby Coghill (1964-1989) came up to Slough. Meeting him was an inspiration. David was invited to come and look at the school. He had decided to take the job as the train came up to Craigellachie and he saw the beautiful landscape. Prior to this he had only been as far as Aviemore. The school was for boys only until 1973 when it became co-educational.

He was able to organise a wide variety of activities for the children. There were numerous expeditions and field trips. David and his classes started a study of bird pellets from Barn Owl Roosts and other birds of prey. As the Recorder of Mammals for Moray the findings were reported to the National Mammal Society. David founded the International Bird Pellet Study Group and started communicating with people all over the world including museums and universities. the children’s role was making observations and recordings.

Porcellio spinicornis by Jomegat, Contributor  Creative Commons License source http://bugguide.net/node/view/315584/bgpage

Porcellio spinicornis

Another study was the distribution of woodlice during a given year e.g. 1970. With the children, David found one woodlouse in a holiday cottage in the Cabrach and sent it to a Scottish Woodlouse Expert. It was a Porcello Spiniconis (related to Porcellio Scaber) and had not been seen in Scotland before. It had a black head and yellow spots. They went looking for it every 10 sq. km. and found them everywhere including the mortar of ruined cottages. A distribution map was created.

Another project was the distribution of fleas. There were some newspaper articles in the P & J and the Northern Scot about “Madman collects fleas!” in the early 1970s. Disused birds’ nests and road corpses were good sources.  The fleas were put in glass files with alcohol and sent to an expert called Bob George.  Other investigations were wasps and crane files. Basically David found someone was looking for X and they went looking for it. This could take place in the evenings and weekends. They went on cycle trips and school minibuses.

One day David found road kill of a red squirrel.  They searched it for external parasites, skinned it, gutted it and prepared the skeleton. One boy prepared/cured the skin, stuffed it and mounted it on a piece of wood. Others prepared the skeleton using UHU glue. It took over the work for the day and beyond.

When David first arrived at the school there was no central heating. There were some old radiators downstairs. The windows were left open at night because the fresh air was thought to be good for them. In the winter the children could wake up with snow on their blankets. A parent donated central heating to the dormitories for the boys and the blankets were replaced with duvets.

There was no Highland Games until the closure of Blairmore , an independent school in Glass nr. Huntly, which closed in 1993. This led to the Games (“Blairmore Gathering”) moving to Aberlour House in the same year.  The Highland Games were known as the Aberlour House/Blairmore Highland Games.

Textured Rubik Cube developed by David Hanson in the 1980s

Textured Rubik Cube

The North of Scotland Rubik Cube Championship was held at the school through the 1980s. David created one with textured faces and a blind person was able to solve it.  Hamish Thomas and David were able to solve the same cube blind-folded.

Speyside Microcomputer User Group (SMUG) was created in 1981 with the purchase of a 10K pack. The ZX81 came out. The children were able to exchange games and swop programs.

April 2013- Cockroach Breeding program
Additional memory from David prompted by a comment by a former pupil (see comments below).  David and the children came up with the idea of collecting and selling cockroaches as a way of raising funds for science equipment. This was before EBay so they collected live cockroaches and sold them through Exchange and Mart. Live Cockroaches are fed to certain reptiles as food. The cockroaches were collected by David, the children and the Headteacher too sometimes. The little business had a number of repeat orders. One customer wrote that the female had died in transit and could they send another one. This was a problem initally as they didn’t know the difference. After some research it was discovered that the female had an egg pouch so they were able to satisty this particular customer order. It wasn’t a really high value enterprise but they raised sufficient funds for two microscopes.

Additional information

Maths bookDavid’s Current interests/activites included collecting interesting objects and a shop in Dufftown and writing maths text books for Galore Park Publications. He has also been the Chieftain at several Aberlour House Junior Highland Games.
Other Mathematics and Science publications

William Penn Secondary School for boys appears to have closed in the late 1960s.
Another teacher’s experience of the school 1957-1959 (see top of pg 9)

Information about Aberlour House within Aberlour village. 
RCHMS record of Aberlour House in Moray with numerous photographs of the building
International Bird Pellet Group-academic reference
Flea distribution map from Bob George’s Atlas of Fleas
Northern Scot Archive information about SMUG!  which was based at Aberlour House.

Gordonstoun TVAberlour House Junior Highland Games
Current information about the Games- Gordonstoun TV video of the 2012 Games
Games Information- 2012 Games,  2011 Games


23 thoughts on “Teaching at Aberlour House by David Hanson

  1. David Hanson was the most influential teacher that I ever had the fortune to meet and be taught by. I have very fond memories being taught hockey by him, running alongside him on morning runs aside the river spey and all to often being told off far to frequently for my misadventures.

    My Expedition with David to Cape Wrath was a highlight of my Aberlour years.

    A truly inspirational man.

  2. Wholeheartedly agree with Darren Nicholson. He saved Aberlour in a very dark time. I would dearly love copies of the mathematics investigations that he wrote. Missed out on Cape Wrath due to an injury. Maybe one day…

  3. David Hanson taught me in the late seventies early eighties. His science cards were legendary and just the ticket to inform any young scientist. I remember putting this early knowledge to good use during my housework. We would always pass the science mobile on the way to our housework in an isolated octagonal building (The Octagon). We would always pop in on our way past and as long as Mr Hanson wasn’t there help ourselves to what ever chemicals our new found scientific knowledge informed us would produce the most interesting results when thrown into the Calor gas fire housed in the Octagon. Result varied from the mundane to a little too exciting. On one of the more exciting episodes we managed to burn the carpet tiles, however thanks to our mathematical skills we managed to shuffle the tiles around the regular shape to avoid detection.

    Other episodes included distillation using a Liebig condenser and a potato, bottle digging and guitar making. I only hope that the spirit of Aberlour House lives on and it is not just a name in a new location.
    Thank you for being different Mr Hanson.

  4. Comments added to the shorter version of the memory on the home page.
    Christopher Scheel on December 4, 2012 at 1:25 am said: We also had a cockroach breeding program where we sold/gave the cock roaches away through scientific publications. I remember getting up in the middle of the night to hunt cockroaches around the house.
    Topher Scheel

    Angus Downie on December 4, 2012 at 2:30 pm said: Edit
    Mr Hanson was inspirational – although if you got on the wrong side of him his temper could be severe (but it was usually warranted). One project I did with him was making nettle wine…I don’t think it was very alcoholic, but aged 10 or so I was allowed to drink it all! Feeding live mice to the resident snake population was interesting; taking bets on which mice would last the longest. I can still remember the smell of his classroom/science block – unique mix of bunsen burner gas, mice/gerbils/masters/photographic chemicals, plaster moulding, wooden instrument making, and small children…

  5. Ooh, more posts 🙂

    Was sent to Aberlour when I was 9. It was 1987. And I was (still am) female. I do not recall being involved in any research (woodlouse based, or otherwise), but have various other bits and pieces.

    The “investigations” I referred to were a series of mathematical problems, written by Mr Hanson (Tatty) on laminated cards. We would work through these at our own pace. They were designed to develop inquiring minds. In my view this exposed us to the creativity, wonders and beauty inherent in mathematics. Unfortunately all of this was rather lost on me at the time, though I did enjoy it. Somehow the GCSE syllabus that I encountered in senior school was so dull that I forgot about the wonders that Mr Hanson exposed us to until relatively recently. In an ideal world, his syllabus would be universal.

    One of the other respondents to the thread mentioned Mr Hanson’s science cards – these operated on a similar basis, but another teacher (Dr Gough) was the one teaching biology, chemistry and physics when I was at Aberlour. I do not know who wrote the cards in the science room. Dr Gough was pretty cool too. Gruff and a little peculiar, he had attempted to sail around the world single-handedly prior to teaching at Aberlour. He returned to the UK with a wife from New Zealand. Can recall various antics similar to the one posted above in Dr Gough’s science room, and one where he caught a friend and I mixing yeast, sugar and orange juice to a conical flask with the hope it would ferment in the warmth of the large octagon (a folly built on the grounds).

    Mr Hanson had a serious demeanour, and could be extremely forbidding in a quiet way, but he is one of the few people I have been able to trust. He liked to write with a burgundy ink, with a distinctive spiky style.

    He would take us to rummage in the former midden of the house, where there were all manner of fragments of lives lived there, including Roman glass (my memory may be playing tricks on me there though). The first present I ever bought my father was a small, chipped, octagonal bottle (allegedly Roman) for 50 pence.

    He taught hockey in my time. I had no aptitude for sports, but somehow got too close to a team mate’s hockey stick and took a whack to the temple. A few people stopped to look at me at horror, which amused me. The week before, we had been taken to see an old girls’ match at Gordonstoun, and a player had taken a ball to the forehead that looked like a half boiled egg so I imagined that something similar had sprouted on me and was rather pleased. Next thing I remember was seeing Mr Hanson’s shirt COVERED in blood, and that he had just been pressing me to his chest. I looked down and saw blood on my shoes and burst into tears. I was bundled off to Lady Coghill, the Headmaster’s wife (she had been an army nurse in WW2) who took me for sutures in the local cottage hospital.

    After lunch we had to rest for an hour. Usually we did this in our dormitories, but when Mr Hanson was on duty, we’d sit in the common room and he would play Gregorian Chant music. I had never heard anything like it, and love it to this day.

    On the weekends pupils were allowed to make picnics, and go off exploring unsupervised. A favourite location was Linn Falls, uphill of the village, but my first trip there was with Mr Hanson and some other pupils (possibly the whole class). I wasn’t prepared for the icy grip of inland water or deep pools, and panicked midway across the lower pool even though I was a strong swimmer. Tatty caught me just in time.

    Besides classes and sports there were various recreational activities in the afternoons. Tatty ran one where we would make things from fimo modelling clay. Younger pupils like me would make beads and paint them with acrylic paint, and more advanced students would make chess sets taken from moulds of a famous medieval set.

    Though I was never homesick, a few things that I encountered in the first few weeks made me long to be away from Aberlour. We would write letters home once a week (phonecalls were only permitted on birthdays). These letters would be checked by our form – or class – teacher (Tatty was my form teacher). As writing home made me feel homesick, I’d invariably end up crying all over the page. These letters couldn’t be sent home, so Tatty would take me up to his tiny bedsit in the boys’ part of the house, make me hot chocolate on his little stove and help me to remember the good things that had happened in the week.

    The last time I saw Mr Hanson was late one evening on the Tottenham Court Road in London. It is very close to the British Museum, which then housed the British Library, and to UCL and many awesome bookstores. I think he had been down for a conference. I don’t think I shall ever forget how alarmed he looked when I told him that I was training to be an architect as I was something of a slow learner in maths.

    It is a curious thing that it has taken me the bulk of 20 years to realise just how great the education we received at Aberlour House was. I’ll never be a mathematician, but I love to read about it, and many many times I have had an “oh my goodness, THAT is what Tatty was teaching us”.

    I could waffle on for days, so shall leave my recollections here (for now)

    • So great to hear your stories and reflections. ( one of them though I will just say is a school boy/girl myth as I can assure that Lady Coghill (my dear mother) was never a nurse in WW2! She was 17,when the war ended!,)

      • Ah ha, that makes sense, in retrospect. My mother was of the understanding that your father had combat PTSD, which had curtailed a career in Architecture, but this may also have been a myth.

        By a curious coincidence, the night TC died, I had had a dream where everyone from that time in Aberlour was at a party, and I was desperately trying to speak with him, but then he left the party. Few days later his death notice appeared in the Irish Times. So, some extremely late condolences from my end.


      • I still look back at the later days at Aberlour House fondly, though I absolutely hated my early years. The ‘pond’ brings back some happy memories as did the seasonal parties and Christmas before we headed home.

  6. David Hanson was the most inspirational teacher I had the good fortune of having..in my entire school years.
    He used to take us to disused railway lines where we built up amazing collections of very old glass bottles, he introduced me to Byzantine chess and we made chess boards .
    I discovered a love of volleyball with him . Mostly I realised that he cared about us and listened to us, inspired us and never gave up on me..when many others did.
    By the way Tatty, I did actually make something of my life…but I think you are the last person I would have to say that too, you always believed.
    Thank you ,

  7. David Hanson and Toby Coghill were the reasons I decided to become a teacher. I do not flatter myself to think that I have anything like the influence of either of them, but all of the best things I do at my work (especially the expedition training) are inspired by what I have learned from them. Aberlour was a fantastic environment in which to grow up; Tatty and TC were the chief creators of that culture. Respect! Why is he called Tatty?

  8. I was at Aberlour from the mid 80s, so some of the other commentators on this page were certainly there with me.

    Being quite a naughty boy me and my friends often got on the wrong side of Tatty, so from my perspective he was the kind of teacher to be feared if you did anything wrong. I think the funniest was when he was acting headmaster after TC left. We were playing Hockey one wet afternoon on the upper field, and the pitch was like a mud bath. So me and my friend scooped up some wet “mud pucks”, so when someone came up with the we would smash the mud puck with our sticks and it splatters all over their face. We did this for the whole match goofing around like clowns and annoying everyone until we got sent off. Immediately afterwards Tatty took us to his office and blew up, with the reddest face I had ever seen and a speech worthy of a US marine corps drill instructor. We had an incredibly hard time trying not to crack up with laughter, holding our breath, attempting to look miserable. I think we were rewarded with a couple of failure points and detention for Saturday afternoon.

    I loved my time at Aberlour. The whole experience, from year 1 to year 6 was like one big long adventure. I still remember my first camping trip with Ms Port and Ms Cochrane (anyone else remember them? They were the most adorable teachers ever) then the more hardcore hiking camping trips with Mr Black onwards.

    Some random memories to reminisce on….such happy times:

    1) bare handed dissections of cows eyeballs with razor sharp scalpels at the age of 8.
    2) pricking your thumb so you could get a fresh blood sample to look under the microscope
    3) feeding rats and mice to that bloody huge snake in the science lab
    4) the school chef butchering a roadkill badger in front of 8 year olds and showing all the body parts and how it all goes together. Gawd, I still remember him skinning the head and taking the eyes out.
    5) being allowed to keep your own pet in the mini octagon
    6) watching the northern lights late at night from the upper hockey field.
    7) watching the moon, Jupiter or Mars from that “massive” telescope observatory in the upper field

    Outdoor stuff
    1) kids running around several mountains for a competition to see who would climb them all and get back first, with minimal adult supervision
    2) 8 year old kids lighting gas stoves and cooking their own food in a tent, somehow without setting themselves alight and burning everything down
    3) reading old fashioned paper maps and getting around the mountains, with minimal adult supervision
    4) abseiling off a bridge or going out camping for the weekend near the school grounds, with almost no adult supervision. My point here is, we were trusted not to be idiots and the reality was we took care of ourselves very well.
    5) that massive end of year camping trip, I think it was something like 10-14 days. I went off to Cape Wrath with Dr Gough….unforgettable. Some other groups did stuff like the west highland way or down to England in dartmoor.
    6) learning to tie complicated knots in Wednesday afternoon camping training, like it really mattered.
    7) pooping my pants while on one of those long camping hikes when no one else wants to stop
    8) wednesday ski trips to the lecht

    1) Writing old fashioned letters with pen and paper, and waiting for the reply mail after school
    2) to lie down for an hour after lunch and read a book, in silence.
    3) to sit in the shower queue for ages, in silence, only to be rewarded with a cold shower.
    4) to stand in corners of the main hall as a punishment late at night, in silence, often for hours.
    5) polish our shoes to army standard on Saturday afternoons, and tie up the laces.
    6) sneaking down at 3am in the morning to raid the sweet tin in the headmasters office (you know, that tin what was brought out after lunch for our 1 sweet a day ration)
    7) Saturday afternoon visit to Aberlour village to spend our 20p fortune in pocket money
    8) pillow fight raiding other dorms. The pillows at Aberlour were fabulously heavy and feathery, perfect for beating up other boys.
    9) boys kept a comb tucked away in their long socks, so we could smarten up on the move.
    10) the boys boot room and that musty stinky smell of mud. And the fights that went on down there.
    11) wednesday afternoon “clubs”, we had a choice of activites like candlemaking, woodwork, art, sewing etc. Candle making was the most popular because we could make knuckledusters…by dipping our hands time and time again in boiling hot wax until our hand looked like a big wax boxing glove. A painful but hilarious experience.
    12) waiting for hours outside the phone box and those damn phone cards eating up credit so quickly when you finally make your call
    13) Sunday afternoon “picnics”. We could head to the kitchen, make up our own really bad peanut butter and jam sandwiches, a gallon of bright orange squash and run out in the school grounds all day, riding our BMX bikes, making a fort or beating each other senseless attacking other kids forts.
    14) Saturday night movie night. Anyone remember the school gathering up in PJs in the common room to watch a really old movie on TV?

    1) If we didn’t finish the meal, we had to stay behind until it was all eaten. Led to tears with some kids, but in later years we wised up and shoved the leftovers into a napkin on our laps.
    2) towards the end of a meal…”ding”…then we eat in silence, once tables are cleared up, each gets chosen by the teacher on duty to leave.
    3) saying grace…each week or so one kid was chosen to say grace for every meal and handle the “sweet tin” at the end. “For what we are about to receive, may the lord make us truly thankful.”. Later on in 6th form, when I handled the sweet tin I would let my friends scoop up loads of sweets into their sleeves.
    4) I’ll be honest, I hated the food (exceptions….xmas, roast pork and pancake day). But in hindsight, its 100 x healthier and more nutritious than the processed junk children are fed these days.
    5) soggy toast in the morning, brown bread, yogurt full of glace cherries which everyone hated.

    Crime and punishment
    1) That list of mentions and failures that was up on the notice board. 1 failure is a warning. 2 failures is your Saturday afternoon gone and no village visit. 3 failures meant your entire weekend was doomed to a life of hard labour on the school grounds, isolation, detention and mundane housework. Not sure what the mentions earned me, I hardly ever got them.
    2) hiding sweets and contraband under the mattress or under a loose floorboard
    3) at the end of term TC would return all the contraband, you know, all the fun stuff like catapults, sweets, guns and roses cassette tapes, Nintendo game boy, comic books, shurikens, knives, deadly weapons, cigarettes, chocolate easter eggs.
    4) Dr Gough patrolling the dorms at night, could hear his squeaky shoes from a mile away.
    5) grabbing some rope from the exped store, then going on a weekend raid on Walkers Scottish Shortbread factory just down the road. I actually did this, we treated it like some SAS special forces operation, waiting for the workers to go out of view, then we slung the ropes down the hill, climbed the fence and made a run for the boxes on the forklift trucks. Hoping we would have a ton of chocolate chip shortbread to feast on…guess what we got? Boxes of plain oatcakes and disgusting iced fruit cakes.
    6) Tatty doing the “Sunday morning inspection”. I remember him coming into our dorm, then running his finger along a really high window ledge to collect the dust and have a rant at us like he was some kind of army drill sergeant.
    7) caning day, any boys that got caned came back to changing room in either two conditions: 1: crying his eyes out or 2: coming in like a hero and showing off his war wounds, consisting of the most black and blue butt I had ever seen and not being able to sit down for days.
    8) Morning run..even if we had to do this every day as routine, it was still a punishment. I did not enjoy lining up in the hallway topless with just shorts on, waiting to go out into the freezing cold.

    Special occasions
    1) summer open day, cricket on the bottom field and picnics with mum and dad. bliss. And to top it off, strawberry tarts and tea.
    2) Xmas dinner and the Christmas play, stuff like Bugsy Malone, Camlamn game, Julius Caesar and Cleopatra.
    3) Medieval madness to celebrate 50 years of Gordonstoun/Aberlour or something like that. We dress up like knights and peasants and headed out to a real castle ruins for a day of jousting, drinking beer flavoured lemonade and pretending to be robin hood. Best day trip ever!

    Apologies if I’ve blathered for too long, I could go on for hours but I hope this rekindled what I consider, a golden age of childhood.

    • I remember it all to well, LOVED my time at Aberlour House, was there from 1981 to 1984 as a day pupil. I would love for my 3 children to attend a school like that but they are now few and far between, a real shame. No trust is given to children these day like we had at Aberlour. The staff were great and very approachable unlike schools today, singing French military songs in French lessons and listening to the Greek classics by Mr Chanon. Hours of sport every day and Saturday afternoons playing sport or getting up to trouble. Tatty was my favourite teacher, he really encouraged me through school.

    • I’ve just read your wonderful memories of aberlour house. I taught there for a few years.teaching junior science. My dad was the doctor. Anne Caldwell

      • Hi Miss Caldwell……I remember you so well and can only apologise for whatever I did to disrupt, but I seem to remember it was plenty.

        I have such fond memories of all the teachers at Aberlour, not least yourself! My time included names which no doubt you will remeber as well, such as Mr Channon, Msr Cavalier, Miss Cochrane, Miss Port, Mr Whylie and Mr Roberts

        I’ve been married to a primary school teacher for for over 20 years now and whenever she feels down about her work I simply talk to her about how inspirational you all were to me and how I’ll never forget you and your contribution to the person I became!

        So thankyou

        Alaric Gordon
        Aberlour House 1975 – 1978

  9. Ah that is an excellent list of memories, Ed. Had forgotten many until just now. Am pretty sure I remember you, but not your surname. Do you remember a horse (well he was only just a horse), in the stables called Nelson? I think you were fond of him if you are the person am thinking of. Good times.

  10. I was at AH in the early 90s and fed back into the state school system when the recession was not good to our family. I was very socially awkward and although academically gifted, was way out of my league elsewhere. Through Tatty, I opened out, gained friends, played sports and learned to rise to a challenge. I well remember his love of Gregorian Chant, the extra verse in the school musical dedicated to him after his year as interim head, and Shakespeare, which he always felt I should be into and wasn’t – and remain as uninterested in it to this day. As a teacher myself, I often look back to his authoritative yet approachable nature which I now employ on a daily basis.

  11. I remember you Ed!

    We both liked that pony called Nelson – not gelded properly, Arab x Hackney, driving horse that had never been backed properly. He used to be kept out to grass someplace along the Spey for half the year, so he’d be incredibly frisky when he’d come down to school. Good times.

    You were in the year below me, only I stayed back a year and was supposed to be on the Cape Wrath exped but had a broken foot.

    I’d injured it hiding a birthday present for a friend (whom am still in touch with) in the Old Library dormitory, which became an office after our time, jumped off a desk, saw a sick bowl on the floor and tried to swerve mid air to avoid it. Oophs. Crunch. Pain. Swelling. The matron at the time was some blonde chick from the Antipodes and she wouldn’t take me to a Dr. to get it looked at, so I was inching round the corridors for a week before open day happened and the parentals took me to get it x-rayed. Awkward! The (non-staff) man who used to invigilate the Common Entrance took great joy in yelling “WENCH, you are hobbling again!” at me in his gravelly voice – I think it was supposed to be upsetting, but it just made me laugh. He was a bit like something from the British Army in the 1940s. Awesome. Was his name Mr Marshall? His tweed jackets would be edged with leather, like Channy’s (Mr. Channon) the Latin and computing teacher.

    A year or so before all that, a horrible stomach bug rampaged around the place. The less sick people were tasked with wheeling round trolleys of soup and bread and tea to the more sick people. Think everyone was felled by it at least twice.

    Your memory for Aberlour details is seriously impressive. My head is now flooding but in the most jumbled up sequence. Shall try to get it in order or this will degenerate into total mush.

  12. I was at Aberlour from 1970 to 1975 and remember it very well. To add to Ed’s list:

    Staff members: Miss Port and Miss Cochrane I remember with huge affection. They seemed quite elderly even in 1970 but must presumably have been in their forties; for most of the juniors they were virtually surrogate mothers! Also Monsieur Cavalier the French master; a really lovely man, married to the French mistress from Blairmore, who kept a brilliant train set in his house and who organised a series of puppet shows – e.g. the Wizard of Oz – inevitably in French, and performed with papier mache puppets on the stage in the large Stable Block classroom. And Mr Channon the Latin master, victim of a memorable incident involving flying bread-and-butter pudding (a disgusting yellow muck) and who preferred reading stories from Roman history to teaching Latin or maths. Also Mr Wylie, native of Edinburgh, the music teacher and deputy head, organiser of countless concerts and choir trips to Elgin, Nairn, Inverness etc etc. If you were a sixth former he allowed you to stay up late watching Cannon, Kojak and the Six-Million-Dollar Man on Saturday nights. And Mr Stevens, the geography master, native of Southampton and owner of a clapped-out caravan which languished in the grounds for many years after he’d left – remembered mostly for the numerous cycling expeditions which he led to Cullen House during summer weekends, not to mention one in April which was absolutely bloody freezing. We arrived in pitch darkness, and all the ponds were frozen, as were our hands and feet; none of the camping stoves worked so we had to survive on Irn Bru, Parma violets and spam.

    Facilities: The swimming pool; with defective electrics which meant that you sometimes got an almighty shock if you were standing on the ground and put your hand in. We were instructed to jump in and jump out quickly from the edge – no health and safety in those days! And the cellars under the kitchens – surprisingly extensive and out of bounds – rumoured to be connected to the monument for smuggling purposes – although I’m pretty certain this was complete and utter nonsense. Also the dormitories, my best memory of which involved lowering a “corpse” (made from pillows wrapped in a duffel coat) from the window of Gauldwell so that it hung outside the windows of Lands End, in the middle of the night, on Halloween. Cue shouts, screams, immense noise and a biblical bollocking.

    Food: Muesli. Enough said.

    Folklore: The little bits of (presumably) barley husk in the muesli that were said to be Meggie’s toenail clippings. Totally unfair but worryingly plausible. Also Wester Elchies of Green Lady fame – an overgrown ruin in my day and the decidedly spooky site of several junior weekend expeditions. Some of the staff (Miss P and Miss C included) had taught there in the nineteen-fifties and sixties and were a source of ghoulish stories, one of which involved Mrs Mack the matron, a supposedly level-headed West Highlander who had (allegedly) encountered the aforementioned horror in an upstairs corridor. Subsequent embellishment inevitably resulted in this location being transferred to the long corridor outside the sick room at Aberlour House, which made nocturnal trips to the lavatory decidedly unpleasant – although the real-life horror at the end of this corridor was in fact the headmaster’s flat. And let’s not forget about the Aberlour Orphanage, apparently built for the specific purpose of housing Edward VII’s illegitimate children – at least, that’s what we were told.

    Caning incidents: Numerous; the most extensive of which involved a school concert, performed to an audience of invited guests at which numerous glasses of wine were left untended on a table in the hall with entirely predictable results.

    Minutiae: Trash Mags; like gold dust in the early seventies. The sandpit: 50% sand, 30% pebbles (i.e “ammo”) and 20% discarded Airfix soldiers of the aforementioned nationalities. Also tie-dyeing, candle-making and batik – lots of it (it was the nineteen-seventies, after all). And Judo, on Wednesday nights in Dufftown; where we were routinely thrashed by immense locals before becoming stranded on the slopes of Ben Aigan on the way home when the school minivan broke down (the battery fell out and Tatty (I think) had to walk back and retrieve it from a puddle. I seem to recall biscuits and cocoa in the kitchens when we got home. Ed mentioned Wednesday afternoon projects, in my case Plastic Modelling, conducted to the soundtrack of one of Toby Coghill’s casettes and thereafter indelibly associated with a Lighter Shade of Pale and Vincent (i.e. Starry, Starry Night).

    I also remember when the girls first arrived – all six of them. Looking back I think our overriding feeling was one of indignation at the anticipated uselessness of the fairer sex. Needless to say, this attitude changed pretty quickly when one of them proved herself to be pretty damn good at sport, and in fact won person-of-the-match at an appalling rugby game played in a blizzard at Blairmore in ankle-deep snow. I recall that everyone was briefly besotted with her and that she later went on to become an accomplished shot-putter – which is not something you can say very often.

    Illness: ideally something where you felt OK but which was sufficiently contagious to ensure that you were confined to the sick bay with trash mags, Bovril, paracetamol and gentian violet. And television, of course. I remember hamming it up magnificently with German Measles and watching some dreary drama about the First World War in which all the men got killed whilst the heroine spent her time crying (see paragraph above). The trick was to place your thermometer on a hot water bottle when the matron’s back was turned.

    Bamburgh: not the castle, but one of the matrons’ dogs – a beagle, I think – with appalling flatus, and the source of much hilarity.

    Dens in the woods: the Ice House (a genuine ice house; I wonder if it’s still there; it was half buried even in the seventies); the Pig Sty; the den among the rhododendrons overlooking the tunnel which carried the stream under the North Drive.

    I’m getting boring now. Happy times anyway…

  13. Planning a trip to Scotland in 2017 so thought I’d google Tatty Hanson who I hope to see, and stumbled upon this article and all the fabulous comments! The best of times in hindsight.

  14. Indeed i remember Mr Hanson from my days at Aberlour from 1964 to 1969.
    Yes he was an amazing teacher, if memory serves me correctly we went on a fossil hunting expedition to the Isle of Skye one Easter holiday that was too short to return to Zambia.
    I saw mention of Ms Cochrane and Ms Porter i believe was her name both great teachers too.
    I was back to visit some years ago and had heard of Mr Coghills passing after his knighthood from a lady in the village.
    We went to the school as it was under construction when Walkers bought it and was invited to return upon completion which i did two years later, and very much enjoyed the tour.
    I had heard that Mr Hanson had a book shop in Dufftown but ran out of time as is the case with infrequent trips to that part of the world from where i live now in Western Canada,
    My best wishes to Staff and students.
    Max Barclay.

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