Over seventy of Peter and Jenny Larkman’s friends and colleagues, among them John and Angela Dancy, gathered in the Great Hall at half-term, at a splendid dinner-party, to express their thanks to them for all they have done so well over the past eleven years for Allhallows.
It is difficult to realise that four years ago we were expecting a four form entry and that in 1987 there were over 300 pupils in the school, but as we all know, such has been the severity of the recession, the effects on boarding in many preparatory schools, big and small public schools, have been devastating.
I said last summer at a staff party, held on the lawns of Venning, to celebrate the launching of Allhallows College Ltd., that in the words of the old Chinese curse it was our fate to be living in interesting times. For some they have been sad times, for others unnecessarily hurtful, but with the arrival of our new Chief Executive John Müller, and the determination of our new Board of Directors they are exciting times and it must be recorded that no one could have worked harder than Peter Larkman to ensure the smooth transition from school to college.
For the benefit of those who have only known Allhallows recently I am sure it would be interesting, if I recall some of the outstanding, happy and memorable achievements of Peter Larkman’s headmastership.
When Peter was appointed in 1983, he had taught at Gordonstoun for seventeen years and been a housemaster to the Royal Family and the Mountbattens. It was no surprise that, coming from such an influential school, he brought with him some of Kurt Hahn’s ideas. Peter was interested in the unfashionable business of character building and education in its fullest sense, but Peter was far too tactful to try to impose the ethos of one school on another; he used to say that Allhallows was a school of character, full of characters and he realised that it had its own culture and was proud of its past.
However, soon after Peter’s arrival an appeal was launched and, under the direction of Bill Preston, the former Second Master, over £200,000 was raised, an enormous sum in those days, and in 1987 the Sports Hall was opened by H.R.H. The Prince Andrew. Those who were there will always remember the royal cavalcade sweeping down the drive and the Sports Week that followed, when stars like Jeremy Bates played exhibition matches at the school. A new wing, in the Gordonstoun style, was added to Charton and girls were admitted throughout the school. The Study Block was turned into Lillies House for day-pupils, Sixth Formers returned to their houses and ‘The Old Engine House’ became the Sixth Form Centre. A magnificent Jubilee Ball was held in 1988 to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the move from Honiton to Rousdon and a marquee, the size of the Graf Zeppelin, was erected near the Sports Hall. The Fire Brigade was started, again in typical Gordonstoun fashion, to compliment the Coastguard, and flourished under Keith Moore’s enthusiastic direction.
Academically the school did well, considering the range of abilities of our pupils. Results in the last two years indicates this, with four Oxbridge entrants, six last year to Bristol and seventy-four in the last two years gaining places on degree courses. Peter would never pretend that we were an academic hot-house, but our pupils gained immeasurably from the approach Peter fostered.
Recently 11+ pupils have entered the school and join Otter House, under the care of Anne Giles. Headmasters seldom have time to teach much nowadays, but Peter, as a Cambridge Physicist, taught enthusiastically in the Science Department and took the lead in Personal Social and Moral Studies. On the games field too we were lucky to have a headmaster, who was a Free Forester and who was much in demand as a rugby referee.
Above all Peter flung himself into marketing – devoting his time, efforts and talents to it – and how expert he was at it! He was a superb speaker at assemblies, on Speech Days, with a wonderful quarterdeck manner. No wonder that in their replies to a questionnaire that was sent to parents about what they expected from Allhallows, they said – apart from academic excellence and a high standard of pastoral care – they most valued the friendly caring atmosphere of the school, which Peter had done so much to cultivate. Of course this was only possible with Jenny’s unswerving support, kindness and charm.
If I am spared in my retirement, I hope to write a brief history of Allhallows, in which Peter will have an honoured chapter, alongside one on the Old Honitonians, who now manage the school, and whom he did so much to support.