My name is Alice Herring, and I joined Rye in 1997 and left in 2004. I work freelance in the Film industry within the costume department. My role as a costume buyer is to source everything from cheap polyester fabrics on the Goldhawk Road to the finest wools, linens, and silks from around the world. I source haberdashery, dyes and paints, buttons, leathers, feathers, fur, jewellery, and hand-stitched world textiles. Trims, braids, and trinkets are all found for our team to make the costumes to the designer’s drawings. I am now beginning a new role in the Breakdown department. This is a small section of the costume team and we specialize in dyeing and screen printing the fabrics as well as hand-drawn and painted effects. We age and distress the costumes, all in line with the needs of the script, continuity requirements, and shooting schedules. My most recent work includes Mission Impossible 7, Aladdin, The Favourite, Cruella, Jingle Jangle, Maleficent 2, Kingsman 3, Doctor Doolittle, Darkest Hour, The Nutcracker, Cinderella.
I became a full boarder at the age of eleven. After visits to other schools, I came to Rye to experience what boarding was like. There wasn’t a moment of doubt in my mind after that weekend; Rye St Antony was the school I wanted to be a part of. I will forever remember, with fondness, entering the dining room that first evening for supper with Ohemaa who was looking after me. She instantly walked over to the older boarders from another house and said hello to her sister. She and all her friends gave Ohemaa a kiss and a hug and I thought to myself – this is going to be ok, this is a family.
Anytime I tell people about my years at Rye, I smile with appreciation for such a loving community to call “my home away from home”. There’s no denying that boarding from eleven wasn’t hard. I certainly experienced homesickness. From day one though, I knew I was safe and cared for. Miss Peck was my head of house and we had endless fun. Even though she taught in the school during the day, I felt secure knowing I could find her on-site somewhere. There was always staff in the house if I needed someone. After school, the boarders would get back, as would Miss Peck, as if we were all returning from “work” and re-uniting as a unit, a family, or a gang. Miss Peck would ask us all how our days had been, she’d even let us relax with her in her flat sometimes when she was off duty. She spent a lot of time getting to know us and making sure we were ok.
I will always remember how much I loved walking back from the main school, past the music block to the sound of students practicing their instruments. I’d plonk myself down on the sofa in the house mistress’s office. I’d chuck my bag on the floor, un-wrap a penguin, and have a natter with Miss Peck or the Australian gap staff about my day. The house staff were always approachable and struck the balance between friendship and authority, ultimately leaving us feeling safe and cared for at all times. This created an environment to off-load or share achievements and excitements. Miss Peck took these informal moments to inspire us to push ourselves. Usually in applying for Duke of Edinburgh, representing the school sports teams or applying for a leadership role, be that as a housemother to a junior boarder, school council rep, or prefect.
By the time the weekend rolled around, an activity had been planned for Saturday and we’d had half the week to get excited about it. Weekends were a time to relax and have fun. After school on Fridays, Ohemaa and I would walk up to Headington to rent a movie from Block Busters. We’d spend our pocket money on popcorn and ice cream and settle in for a slumber party. We’d drag our mattresses and duvets into the common room or stretch out on the comfy sofas, now that the weekly boarders had gone home.
Saturday morning meant a fry up and a slow start followed by an afternoon out as a house. We’d have trips to activity centres, cinemas, shopping in Oxford (a warm Ben’s cookie was our favourite ritual before getting the bus home). Christmas shopping in Bath, summer weekends to Torbay, Pop concerts and walks, and annual socials with local schools. Sundays were quieter, with Mass in the morning, and nothing planned for the afternoons except the guarantee of a can of Coke, a packet of crisps, and a Club biscuit or a Wagon Wheel. For me, Sundays were a chance to enjoy hours of uninterrupted practice on the drum kit, no other students wanting to have their turn. I’d also use this time to get homework finished and relax. That was of course, until Miss Peck asked me for a few drumming tips and we’d lose hours bursting into laughter practicing paradiddles. I particularly loved getting the key to the art room, popping on my music, and diving down a rabbit hole of creativity with the art materials or the sewing machine.
In summer, the house staff would open up the swimming pool for us. We’d play pool games, perfect our dives, and while away the afternoon sunbathing on the lawn. In winter months Miss Peck would unlock the gym cupboard and we’d get out the yoga balls, crash mats, and hula hoops. This always provided us with an afternoon of laughing till our tummies hurt. Miss Peck would invent games and we’d launch ourselves onto the crash mats like stuntmen.
On many a weekend, we would pack our rucksacks, raid the camping cupboard and pile into the school minibus for trips to The Peak District, Dartmoor, or Exmouth. Usually to complete the next level of The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award, orienteering challenges, or just a chance to explore more of the UK.
The years flew by and we progressed on up the school, leaving Langley Lodge to move into a beautiful Victorian house, The Croft. To me at that age, The Croft felt like a set from a film. It seemed grand, there were so many floors, corridors, and creaky floorboards. Beautiful tiled floors as well as shiny parquet floors we loved to skid across in our socks. Wide, twisting staircases, steep and narrow back staircases. Enormous bay windows in the common room and a huge glittering Christmas tree during the Michaelmas term.
As we moved into Year 11 and Sixth Form we graduated into our own room in The Cottage; a more modern building with a courtyard garden.
Saying goodbye to Miss Peck we now had Miss Tomlinson looking after us, guiding us through our final years. Throughout school though, both Miss Peck and Miss Tomlinson were my mentors, my biggest cheerleaders, my parents away from home. They encouraged me to have goals and supported me in achieving them. They made it possible for me to leave school on Tuesday nights and attend The Oxford Youth Theatre, developing my love of the arts. They encouraged my work ethic, preparing me for higher education. House meetings were held to discuss house issues, and resolve disagreements. This helped me grow ‘my voice’ and confidence to speak up for change. They generously topped up my pocket money when mine had run out, bought me ice cream, or gave us treats from their own kitchens. They spoke to me as a person of value, listened to my worries, and coached me to be the best version of myself. When I was in Year 7 Miss Peck’s sister also worked at Rye as a teacher and house staff. Later on, Mrs. Olsen lived with her husband in the boarding house, further enhancing the feel of us being a family.
So, boarding to me was, well my life for most of the time during my formative years. My day in, my day out, my highs, and my lows. A time for development, for transformation into the person I am now. It allowed me to grow from a little Year 7 finding my feet, unsure of who I was or where my strengths lied into a resilient, confident, caring person. I loved looking after younger boarders and foreign boarders where everything for them was different and new. Living alongside boarders from other countries meant I was learning about cultures, cuisines, and traditions other than my own. Boarding at Rye taught me to accept differences. It gave me an inquiring mind and an ability to empathise, and develop my emotional intelligence.
Boarding developed my social confidence, self-assurance, love of community, and desire to contribute. I was a member of the Rye family, adding to the atmosphere of boarding life.
Being a boarder has meant I have developed life-long friendships and friends in other countries. Boarding at Rye brought a “family feel” to my years in education and my time back at home in the holidays was cherished and treasured. Perceived as limited for a few years, I suppose it meant real “quality time” was spent together as a family, for which I am so grateful. Perhaps it gave more gravitas to a hug, to a phone call, to the letters in the post and memories we created. So, I am thankful for the seven years I spent boarding at Rye, I wouldn’t change it for a second. Thank you to everyone who looked after me, it shaped me into who I am and I loved it.