Food ... Yes, indeed, a very important part of any student's life! When I first arrived at Ushaw in 1946 the food was very ordinary - plain and wholesome. And nothing in excess. But the Second World War had just ended, and rationing was in full force. There was a Tuck Shop which opened once a week for about ten minutes, where we could buy sweets - I can remember at some time when I was probably in Little Lads the Tuck Shop got its first delivery of chocolate - triangular bars of Toblerone chocolates - such luxury! In my first few years at Ushaw our parents were allowed to send us food parcels - when I think about it now, these food parcels must have made things very difficult for parents who had to contend with all the rationing.
However, at some point the food did improve, especially for the midday meal. I remember that we received a talk about the 'new' food, about respecting it, how much effort had gone into preparing it, what it cost to bring us such wonderful food, about our manners, etc. And the system changed too.
First let me try to explain how the refectory worked. The ref. was filled with long tables; each year group had a table to itself; there was a special table in the centre for those whose duty today was to wait on. And overlooking all the tables was the Prefect (a priest) seated at a raised dais, and behind him the Reader, whose job it was to read from a good uplifting book during the meal or until the Prefect became fed up of sitting on his raised dais. When he gave an imperious back nod to the Reader, then he stopped reading and we were allowed to talk. Each table was divided into 'trenchers' of either six or eight students. It was always good to be on a six trencher, because the same amount of food was given to each trencher. Each trencher had a bread board and bread, milk/water jug, tray of food, and so on. (Most boarding schools must have the same sort of system).
Normally, up to the point when the food changed, the priest/professors ate their lunch-time meals in their own dining-room. When we were offered better food, the prof. who headed each year joined us at our table in the ref; each trencher moved up week by week, and within the trencher the lads moved next to the prof. each day. The idea was to civilise us and teach us how to converse with our elders and betters. It was all a bit stiff and uncomfortable, and I suppose it was just as bad for the prof!
Another thing which was notable in my time at Ushaw was the Bounds rule. Those in the Junior House were aloud to speak amongst themselves but not with anyone in the College. Little Lads could mix with each other, so could Big Lads, Phils and Divs, with their own year groups but not with anyone in another Bounds group. The only exception was that siblings could speak to each other but not too frequently. Even when we went out into the grounds of the College for a breathe of fresh air between lessons (or for a smoke - Phils and Divs), there were separate areas where each year group was allowed to roam - woe betide anyone trespassing into the wrong area!
Games were played each afternoon - football, Cat and Cricket. Cat was a game imported from Douai, played with a pitch and tar ball on a Cat-ring with a Cat-stick; a very special form of rounders, and rather dangerous! On a Tuesday and Thursday (half study days) those not playing games often went for a walk in the countryside. Little Lads went on 'public walks', everyone not gaming was ordered to go in large gangs led by a senior Divine; older years could go out in twos or threes. But of course there was to be no converse with the local population in the villages we passed through, and certainly no shopping on the High Street.
In the St Cuthbert's Chapel, a beautiful ..... But that's a post for another day!