It wouldn't do to be too serious and miss out on the festive fun...
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4th December 2015

Dear Parents,

It would appear that the festive season is upon us, just as we begin Advent ... I have to confess that I have to suppress the inner Scrooge when thinking about ‘Black Friday’ or before that, the sight of Christmas decorations in a garden centre in October. Do you occasionally say “humbug” too?

There are so many distractions at a time when we should be preparing ourselves for a truly beautiful time in the Church calendar, it is actually quite tempting to opt out entirely. But then you see the children getting excited about preparing for Christmas and it all seems relevant again! It wouldn’t do to be too serious and miss out on the festive fun.

So while the nights have drawn in and it is noticeably colder, our hearts are warm here at Downside and we are looking forward to a glass of mulled wine at the Christmas fair…

One thing which was really pleasing this week is that The Daily Telegraph, perhaps influenced by The Good Schools Guide write-up of Downside, has nominated us as being in the “Top 10 Most Beautiful Schools”. This accolade is long overdue but it is nevertheless appreciated.

Sadly, we have had to postpone this term’s school play, due to an illness in the family of the play’s Director. The new date for next term will be announced shortly.

I hope that I will see many of you before Christmas, either at the end of term Carol Service or at one of the Abbey services. It is a special time for celebration here in Somerset; the crib in the Abbey church is always worth seeing and Midnight Mass is just wonderful. The Abbey services are listed here.

Saturday 5th December, 7.30pm
Sunday 6th December, 7.30pm
POSTPONED - Drama production: Oliver Twist

Thursday 10th December, 2.20pm
Fifth Form Parents’ Conference
Please email to RSVP

Thursday 10th December
Carol Service, Abbey Church, 4.45pm
Christmas Fair, 6.00pm
In addition to the mulled wine and hot dogs, you’ll find an array of gifts on sale from Neal’s Yard, Godminster Cheese, Wraxall Wine, plus much more.
Pupils returning home on Thursday 10th December are free to leave after the Carol Service.

Tuesday 5th January
Term Starts
Junior Boarders to return between 2pm – 7pm
Senior Boarders to return between 2pm – 9pm

Friday 22nd January, 12noon
Parents’ Association Junior Parents Lunch
Please RSVP to

Friday 22nd January, 1.30pm
Junior Parents’ Conference
Please RSVP to to confirm your attendance.

Saturday 30th January, 7pm
Parents’ Association Burns Night Supper and Dance
Do keep the date free in your will be available for purchase at the Christmas Fair.

Please find a link to the pdf 'Key Dates' document here.

The Curry and Quiz night was a great success – well done to the Staff team who won by a whisker, their relative youth combined curiously with encyclopedic knowledge! It was a most convivial event. Now we look forward to a Burns Night celebration and cèilidh next term.


Well done to pupils who were involved in a number of headline triumphs last weekend:

Rugby vs Wells Cathedral School
1st XV won 74 - 5

Hockey vs Bruton School for Girls
1st XI won 6-0

To view all results click here

We’re also delighted to announce that a number of Downside pupils have been selected to play County Hockey for the Avon Junior Academy Centre (JAC), next year, having completed the development programme (JDC) this year.

U15 Boys
Fred Morris (GK)
Constantine Lubec

U15 Girls
Olivia Dolman

U16 Boys
Ed Fitzgerald
Alex Lowe
Chris Fitzgerald

U16 Girls
Poppy Marsh

U17 Boys
Ollie Nelson

We’re really proud to have so many pupils representing the county, congratulations to them all.


As part of a library revitalisation and expanding literacy programme, we’re encouraging pupils to cosy up with a book during the Christmas break.  We’ve teamed up with eBooks to offer pupils access to both a selection of classic titles, plus digital copies of books from the School Library.  To access the eBooks, simply click here and login with your usual school details. Do encourage your son or daughter to make use of this great new initiative! There are lots of enjoyable books to choose from.


Last week, there was a special event, a service for all those who take part in Lectio Divina groups within the school. A service was conducted where new Lectio group leaders Digby Barrowcliff, Humphrey Francis-Jones, Mildred Maybury, Alexandra Morris and Eleanor Wells were presented with bibles in leather covers and prayer cards, and all the other Lectio group leaders were given small Lectio altar cloths and crosses for them to use when they run their prayer groups. It was a quietly affecting service in the Weld Café; Dom Leo spoke about the importance of sharing God’s word and I spoke about Agape – the form of Christian love that is specially celebrated in the Gospels - as we prepared for an Agape meal of Pizza and Chocolate Mousse. The whole event was coordinated by the St Scholastica Community and led by Chelo Verdugo; after the meal there were party games. It was a delightful evening for everyone to enjoy.


As BBC Radio 5Live this week begged the question ‘Who is the Greatest British Sporting Legend?’, it led our Director of Sport, Mr Richard Jones, to look a little closer at the life of Old Gregorian, Major Maurice Turnbull (1906-1944). 

You’ll have seen pictures of Maurice Turnbull in the recently refurbished Turnbull Bar.  He attended Downside from 11-18, before studying at Cambridge and serving in the Welsh Guards.  One of the finest all-round athletes of his generation, Turnbull played Cricket for England, and both Rugby and Hockey for Wales, he was also a Squash Champion for South Wales.

Turnbull died at the age of 38, having recently landed in Normandy for D-Day. Sadly, he was killed by machine gun fire at Montchamp on 4th August 1944.

A notable man, a great sportsman and a patriot, we will endeavour to keep his name alive among the list of ‘sporting greats’ of the Twentieth Century.


Downside’s Head Girl, Alexandra Highcock, was selected for the prestigious McKinsey Leadership Academy last summer.  McKinsey are starting to advertise their 2016 academy now, click here if you’d like to learn more.


Last week the First and Second Form visited the National Roman Military Museum in Caerleon, South Wales. The pupils had the opportunity to visit the reconstructed military barracks, try on heavy legionary armoury, and lie down on the soldiers’ bunk beds.  

Learning about Roman military and religious customs and women’s lives, the pupils spent time in the Exhibition Hall before enjoying a Roman school lesson. Pupils also visited the military baths before walking through the amphitheatre, they also enjoyed practicing legionary drills under Mr Storey’s command. Throughout the visit the pupils were well behaved and were a credit to Downside.


A number of pupils made a visit to a local Polo Club on the Mendip Hills, last week. The activity is a welcome addition to the rota of extra-curricular opportunities and will continue in the New Year with several trips to the centre available each term.


Pupils were able to enjoy a talk by Dr Adam Lecznar, a Research Fellow from the University of Bristol, about the role of Classics on the Modernist movement in the early decades of the twentieth-century. Exploring Nietzsche, Marx, Joyce, and Eliot, Dr Lecznar helped us to understand why these important figures decided to use myths and texts drawn from Ancient Greece and Rome. 


A number of senior pupils were able to don their black tie attire for a celebratory CCF Dinner on Tuesday evening.  Presentations were made to pupils who have been selected to represent Downside School in senior roles at the CCF Parade which will take place in May.

Regiment Sergeant Major – George Thackeray
Junior Under Officer – William Harwood
Company Sergeant Major – Freddie Hobbs, Harry Travers, Felix Rusby
Colour Sergeant – Isaac Tse, Thomas Walters

Captain Alastair Falzon was awarded with his Long Service Award for fourteen years’ of dedicated CCF service to Downside School.


Congratulations to Annabel Staley who has been selected for the Team Bath Netball Performance League Squad, the youth squad of Team Bath Netball Superleague. She will be representing Team Bath playing in national league matches (U19). Annabel is also part of the Regional Performance Academy which is a pathway to the England Squads.


Pupils recently took part in the first Downside Whole School Retreat.  Within boarding houses, the pupils reflected upon how to live better lives, and to learn to be more aware of one another.

Working in small groups, the pupils established a set of three goals - their aspirations will guide them, as a group, through the rest of the academic year.  The new initiative was led by Fr James, Fr Boniface and Mr MacGreevy, and was popular with pupils and staff alike.


Downside has become a focal point for Rugby excellence, with a series of County Rugby trials being hosted on our pitches this term.  Last Sunday, 150 boys and their families visited Downside to take part in the DPP programme trials.  We’re delighted to announce that William Bowman has been selected to perform in the Somerset County DPP programme, which is managed in association with Bath Rugby.


We were extremely proud to hear that Felix Rusby and Jonathan Birkett led the way at the recent Street 5k Road Race.  With Felix winning the race, in just 16 minutes 37 seconds, Jonathan came in second place just 8 seconds later! It is especially nice to see that the Wells Journal picked up on their triumph.


Another winning success came from Sam Higgs who during the exeat weekend managed to find time to run the Wimbledon Half Marathon… He won the Junior category in just 1 hour 38 minutes; we feel exhausted just thinking about it. Well done, Sam!


I was delighted to be able to present First and Second Form pupils with their choice of book from the BookBuzz scheme, last week.  Established by the Book Trust with the aim of promoting reading for pleasure, the scheme enables pupils to choose a book to keep from a selection of newly published titles: the school has also received two copies of each title for the Petre Library! Another great initiative from our librarian, Janet Craig!


The Science Faculty were delighted to welcome Professor Joel Goldstein, a Research Scientist for CERN, to Downside.  We are very lucky to be able to welcome Professor Goldstein each year to speak to our pupils about the latest developments in the world of particle physics. 

Professor Goldstein has been working on the Compact Muon Solenoid experiment and shared some of his research on the signs of new fundamental particles. There was also time to discuss wider ideas in theoretical physics such as Super-Symmetry and exactly why there is speculation on the creation of Black holes at CERN. Finally, and on a more pragmatic level, Professor Goldstein drew on his experience as an ex-Admissions Tutor at the University of Bristol to share the inside knowledge on securing places at top universities to read Physics.


The Sixth Form pupils enjoyed a Winter Ball, organised by Evie Weston-Smith, last weekend. The event was a great success with attendees enjoying a three-course meal of Prawn Cocktail, Butterfly Lemon and Herb Chicken with creamy mash and roasted carrots, and a Choux Bun to finish – a feast! A photo-booth added a bit of additional entertainment, with pupils able to strike a pose with friends and remember the occasion.


The pupils of the Fine Dining Society enjoyed their first meeting of the academic year last week with an American-themed feast. Pupils were able to get involved in the preparation of a three-course meal, with the experienced assistance of Mr Rawlins and Ms Ball, before consuming their gourmet treats in the Head Master’s Dining Room. 
Downside School duo impress at Wells City Harriers’ Street 5k raceWells Journal, 19th November.

Where are the most beautiful schools?  - Daily Telegraph, 28th November 
Congratulations to Dr Alex Marra who has been awarded his PhD. Dr Marra has been researching the role of UK Catholic organisations in the present day.  

We are also celebrating the success of Mr Sam Potts, or resident Judo champion, who won the Welsh Open during the exeat weekend.
The Year of Mercy officially runs from Tuesday 8th December. You might like to take a moment to listen to Fr Leo's talk 'An Introduction to Misericordiae Vultus, the Bull of Indiction of the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy' that he gave earlier this week.  Click here to listen. To keep in touch with the other events taking place in December, click here

The Abbey Visitor Centre is now selling Christmas cards, gifts, decorations and nativities, they are available for sale in the shop, or online here.  

Just a quick reminder that you have until Tuesday 8th December to place your CD order with the Music Department if you wish to collect a copy of the latest CD at the Christmas Fair (or sent home at the end of term). This is a golden opportunity to stock up for Christmas gifts, the CDs are £10 each and the cost may be added to your termly bill.  Email your completed form to Mrs Tricia Rees-Jones to order your copy today. 

Have a relaxing weekend before the festive frenzy... 
Yours ever, 

Dr James Whitehead,
Head Master
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