1971 dining room strikers return to HCS
It's National School Meals Week and, after Hereford Cathedral School tracked down the infamous dining room strikers of 1971, they returned to HCS yesterday to experience the School's much-improved lunch menu.
Lunch, which was so bad 46 years ago that it made front-page news, caused 120 pupils to stage a strike.
But yesterday, the one-time strikers were impressed with the lunchtime offering, with one former pupil, Peter Davis, describing his chicken katsu curry as "gorgeous". The group enjoyed a tour of the school, and were even served their lunch by Headmaster Paul Smith and HCS Governor Rear Admiral Philip Wilcocks, who looked the part in their chef's hats.
The strikers were also subjected to a 'detention', where Mr Smith ordered them to do lines as punishment. Meanwhile, the School's Cantabile Girls's Choir sang a wonderful rendition of 'Food, Glorious Food'. The strikers were also offered a ready supply of toast - which is apparently what many of them survived on in their school days as the meals were so poor.
Last month, Boast launched a hunt to find the boys with the help of local paper The Hereford Times. He found that the food strikers were lurking in far-flung places of the globe, such as Singapore and Australia, but others were in cities and counties much closer to home like London, Bristol, Herefordshire and Wiltshire.
Wiltshire-based doctor Steve Rowlands admitted this week he was one of the main culprits. Aged 17 at the time and a senior monitor at Hereford Cathedral School, Rowlands recalls: “I’m afraid yes, I was a culprit! A group of us decided enough was enough and we asked everyone to queue up as usual but when the doors opened for lunch we all decided we would walk past the food counter and just sit down in silence.”
Rowlands, 63, remembers one of the housemasters asked him to make the pupils eat, but the monitor stood up and said: “You don't want to eat, lads, do you?” Rowlands recalls: “They just shouted ‘no!’ and then I remember a big cheer went up and we left the room in silence. I’ve been dining out on that story ever since, but my wife has never believed me!”
Another striker Jonathan Carver, now a Crown Prosecutor, remembers the housemasters approached their tables and said: “All right, boys, you’ve made your point.” A food committee involving pupils was set up immediately after the lunchtime rebellion and a nutritionist, Mrs Wyatt, was employed to source better ingredients.
Shortly after Hereford Cathedral School’s chef Andy Boast launched his hunt for the dining room culprits, one former pupil, Neville Towell, contacted the school from Singapore. He was 13 at the time and remembers the food on the day of the strike was much worse than the newspaper story had described!
“It wasn’t beef stew! We couldn’t believe it, that was what our headmaster had. What we had was a plate of watery, greasy mince!” Recalling the food strike itself on 26th April 1971, Towell said: “It was a bloodless coup. It was a small act of defiance from which a major change happened.”
Andy Boast cooks a wide range of healthy, nutritional meals and says he spends every single penny of his daily budget sourcing great seasonal ingredients for pupils, and as locally as he can.
And nobody skips lunch!
He added: “The big thing is that we’re very aware of dietary requirements and we’re very hot on nutrition. We notify pupils of the 14 allergens they need to be aware of. Each menu informs pupils and staff what allergens they need to keep an eye out for, and every day the catering staff have a pre-service briefing.”