Debbie HarrisRavenswood now has a presence on, and it was through Facebook that we got in contact with Debbie Harris, matron at the school when the school closed in 91. We caught up with Debbie and had a chat about her time at the school.


You came to Ravenswood as a young assistant matron. How did you see your role?

Elisabeth Hallam - Deborah Harris - Alice BurrageI was always conscious that we, the matrons, were like surrogate parents to the boarders, during their long periods away from home and so I made every effort to be a good listener, fair and kind in my approach and yet provide them with a happy and fun environment.

Have you any particular favourite memories?

I recall, the girls from Fair Maids of Perth and Lucy of Lammermore congregating outside my room after lights out, wanting to chat about their day, sharing their worries and asking for advise, sorting out little squabbles, confiding in me who they had fallen in /out of love with or kissed at the Valentines Disco! We had fashion shows on the top terrace and danced to Kylie Minogue! I also remember playing the Radio 1 Top 40 show on a Sunday afternoon while the children prepared for bed!

In my day, there used to be lots of activity, and hi jinx after lights out. Any memories of nocturnal activities?

One evening, when I was drinking coffee and watching TV in the residential staff room, which was situated at the top of the stairs leading to the boys Dormitories, I felt sure I could hear movement on the roof above my head. Convinced that I was not imagining things, I crept into the boy’s dormitories to check everyone was present and correct before investigating further and that is when I discovered that there were a few empty beds!! A few boys, led by David Godfrey (correct me if I am wrong , David) had decided it would be good fun to explore the roof top which was not only in a state of disrepair but at a frightening angle and with a rather scary drop to ground level if any of them had lost their footing!! Maybe somebody could remind me how the story finished as I must have passed out at this stage!!

Deborah HarrisBeing a day pupil, I was never there on a Sunday. What did Sundays look like?

On a Sunday morning I accompanied our boarders to StoodLeigh Church. The congregation was small and made up of mainly elderly folk and to be fair the sermons were not particularly inspiring so I did appreciate that it was a rather tedious hour and not the best introduction to 'God'. These were my personal, unspoken thoughts, as an active and committed Christian in 1988...and so I DID find it quite amusing when the boys piled their prayer cushions to a dangerous height and proceeded to kneel in solemn prayer or munch their way through their sweet rationings in an attempt to speed up time!

Tell me about the time you dressed up for assembly.

There was an occasion when I was challenged, by the girls, to wear school uniform plus a bright pink wig and see if the HM noticed me in the school assembly! I was almost mistaken for one of the V1 form girls and reprimanded but I managed to escape a stripe or detention, thankfully!

Have you and memories of anyone in particular?

Well, you all made an impression of some kind but some were more vivid than others!

I remember accompanying various field trips, leavers camps and escorting some of our boarders to the airport at the end of term. Camping was enormously good fun. One year, the Geography Master, Mr. Speaight, organised a field trip to a remote camp site in Wales. We did a fair amount of hill walking and were so tired on our return we collapsed in our tents while Mr. Speaight, very kindly, grilled some sausages for our supper. Unfortunately, a fictitious wolf, stole the rather burnt sausages, when Mr. Speaight was not looking, so we had to send out for fish and chips! The sausages were later discovered traveling down the stream which ran through our campsite, James Layton! I'm not sure if Mr. Speight ever caught on, but I did! And thank you to all the cheeky chaps, who dared to collapse Miss H's tent, in the middle of the night, here and on leavers camp!

As you lived at the School, what did you do on your time off?

When I did escape, I would occasionally go to the working men’s club in the village where Tracey Archer introduced me to Pernod and Lemonade (that was delicious but lethal!) and the local farmers who introduced me to the world of darts! I remember staggering up the long drive and attempting to tiptoe to my room without being spotted!

Were you ever a victim of any practical jokes?

I distinctly remember being introduced to the industrial dish washer on my first Sunday on duty and being advised by DJ Adams that the operational switch was inside the hood. When I, foolishly, leant inside this vast machine, DJ pressed the Starter button which was, of course, on the exterior, and I was greeted by a tank load of soapy water. I believe, the news spread fast, that Miss H was especially gullible, with a capital G!! I'm sure the boys will remind you of other incidents where I was equally gullible! I can also remember setting up camp in the bath room one night when I discovered my bedroom had been invaded by May Bugs! A couple of chaps, very gallantly, caught them so I could go to bed in peace! We also used to have regular fire practices and they always seemed to coincide with my evening bath or bed time.

Did you have to deal with any serious accidents during your time at Ravenswood?

I remember little Grant Egleton falling from a low branch of a tree in the courtyard and sustaining quite a serious head injury. He was such a popular little chap with no enemies so you can imagine how sad everyone was feeling on that Sunday afternoon. He made a great recovery, thankfully.

I think my favourite time at Ravenswood would be the winter times, hot radiators, long shadows, lots of atmosphere. What about you?

As Ravenswood is quite high up we would always get a fantastic covering of snow so we had tons of opportunities to sledge down the hills, make igloos and have brilliant snowball fights! More often than not the road to the school would be closed. We would temporarily lose our electricity supply which meant, oil fuelled lanterns and hot chocolate around the open fire in the hall way!

You were working at the school when it closed. What was it like when the news came?

The schools closure was very sudden and the staff were only informed hours before the parents and children so, as you can imagine, everyone was very upset but we tried to make those last few days happy ones. Mr. and Mrs. Todd held a leavers supper in their flat which was great fun. Mrs. Todd made a fantastic “spag bol”. And I remember Louise Shute guiding me through some break dancing routines! On the very last night we had dormitory raids and midnight feasts and at some point I rang the local radio station from the Matrons Work Room to share the news of the school closure and to request, "Don't worry, be happy" be played and dedicated to all the guys and girls at Ravenswood. I compiled a little tape which I believe is still in circulation (cringe!).This marked the end of a happy chapter in my life and I hope a few others!

Would be great to have a copy of the tape, to go with other Ravenswood memorabilia that is held by REPS, ANY COPIES ANYWHERE FOLKS?? Editors note

So what happened after life at Ravenswood?

The next chapter of my life was based in London, working as a private Nanny. During this period I met Steve, my partner/ common law husband and a couple of years later we had a gorgeous little girl who is, now, almost 12!!

Last year, we moved from Greenwich, London to the country as we wanted to swap high heels for wellies and concrete blocks for corn fields and smog for fresh air!!

Steve commutes into the City and I wobble to the local school on my bike where I am a Nursery Practitioner and Meg crawls out of bed at 7.30 and wonders across the fields with her friends to the high school so, no, I do not miss London!

In our spare time I weed my veggies, have a glass of wine with my friends, continue with my studies, escort Megan to all her social functions, help co - ordinate the local Dyslexic Support Group and explore the local area by bike or on foot! Steve and I still love our music concerts/gigs/festivals (front row at Live 8!) and Steve and Megan are huge Arsenal fans so their second home is the Emirates Stadium!