No sooner had the call been received than The Three Musketeers were off to rescue ‘The Phoenix of Swanmore’! On Wednesday, January 23, a telephone call to the Heritage Centre alerted the volunteers to the fact that Swanmore Middle School is about to be razed to the ground.
Historic Ryde Society was asked whether the Heritage Centre would become the final resting place of the phoenix mural, which hung in the school on a wall built of bricks salvaged from Bettesworth Road School, bombed during WWII.
Alan and Tony raced to the scene, but soon realised reinforcements were required, as they hadn’t fully appreciated the exact location of the bird….. Brian was called away from domestic duties to save the day. It took a good couple of hours before another phone call asked the volunteers in the Heritage Centre to open the back door in readiness for the new, somewhat weighty, arrival. Rev Brian Fessey, headmaster of Swanmore between 1979 and 1988, provided a bit more information:
‘When we were re-designing school uniform in the early 80’s, the pupils were adamant that the phoenix should feature somewhere. We found a novel with a striking image of a phoenix on the cover and adapted it. Then a very good firm made us T-shirts, sweat shirts, school bags, all with the image on. They looked great! Especially the sweat shirts, which bore an enormous phoenix! I wore my last one until fairly recently. At that time we were competing at the highest level in the England Schools’ Cross-Country events. (Thanks to Geoff Watkin – sports master) Our phoenix became a common sight around the country. The school motto for this new uniform was selected from various suggestions. It was ‘Knowledge is strength’.
The tiled panel was commissioned in 1954 in readiness for the reopening of the school, following restoration work. It was created by local potter and Sandown Grammar art teacher, Harold Charlesworth. Now that a lovely new building has been erected across the road, the school is due for demolition, prior to the redevelopment of the site. Rest assured the phoenix is in good hands. There now remains the thorny problem of finding a wall as robust as the Bettesworth wall!
Another exciting day for RDHC volunteers, who never can tell what’s going to happen from one day to the next! More images can be found on the Ryde District Heritage Centre gallery page.
More information about Harold Charlesworth and other Isle of Wight potters can be found on the Isle of Wight Pottery website here.