Sam Compton

Sam Compton

Summer Performance of Oliver

Lights on, videographer ready, staging set, Stonehouse Court Hotel booked, and the children rehearsed. The only thing potentially missing was the audience. With the late announcements of further restrictions, seating plans had to change, key stage bubbles could not mix, and we had to adhere to the hotel’s Covid policy.

Our fantastic and understanding families supported us with the new seating plan. The use of a large gazebo for the younger children ensured they could remain an integral part of the whole school performance. Lastly, the clever juggling and re-arranging of the show by our drama teacher meant ‘Oliver’ could go ahead against all odds.

We were absolutely thrilled that the children were able to hold their summer production of ‘Oliver’ in front of an audience. The children had an amazing time and performed to perfection! The production was filled with acting, dancing, singing and most importantly children having fun. But the icing on the cake was for parents to share their children’s enjoyment.

We are all looking forward to our next show!

Read More

Memories from one of Hopelands first ever pupils!

In 1954, Mrs Eva Murray-Browne, who was the wife of a Doctor and lived in Stonehouse, saw that there was a need for an affordable local school which offered excellent education. She was a mother of 4 children and she originally founded the school in her home which was called the Mount (pictured). Her vision was to encourage pupils to learn together in an environment of strong family values. It is incredible to think that our school originally started with just fifteen pupils round the dining room table and is now bustling with over 70!

The vision of Mrs Murray-Browne, developed over fifty years ago, is still integral to the success and progress of Hopeland’s Preparatory School. By working closely with our Hopeland’s parents, we retain the family and homely atmosphere while continuing to achieve academic excellence.  Our aim is to ensure, that by the time our pupils leave us in Year 6, they are confident, resilient, inquisitive young people who have gained a love for learning and a zest for life.

We love hearing from former pupils, and we were delighted when John Tuffin got in contact. He attended the Mount from 1954 to 1956, together with his brother and sister, (in those days boys had to leave when they turned 7). John said it was a happy experience where he received a high standard of tuition and unlimited kindness.  Here are some of his recollections from his time at Hopelands:

I have abundant memories of The Mount, as it then was. (Hopelands was the name of the house where it later moved, further up Regent Street).

Mrs Murray-Browne was the Principal and never far away.  On a day-to-day basis the school was run by two friends, Miss Gallie and Miss Bowmer.  They were talented teachers.  Miss Bowmer was very musical.  Other teachers were Miss Alliston and Miss Saint.  In keeping with the Parents National Education Union tradition, various mothers used to come in and help as well.

Apart from the three Rs we learned some general culture about Roman history and Greek legends.  We started French, read Bible stories, and had a lot of music.  When I was about 6, we had Picture Study.  Each term we were given a book of reproductions of about 10 paintings by a single artist.  Every week we spent a period looking at one of these and discussing it.  I did Vermeer, Gozzoli and Memling.  Vermeer and Gozzoli struck a particular chord with me, and I still have one of the Gozzoli reproductions.

We also spent a lot of time with games of all sorts, drawing and painting, sewing and crafts.  In the summer we played rounders outside. The food was excellent and abundant, and we had lunch in Mrs Murray-Browne’s dining room.

I have only good memories of Hopelands, I am delighted to see that you are still going, and I wish you every success for the future.

A fantastic insight into the early days of Hopelands!


Read More

Lockdown Part 3 – What our parents say

Within a week of entering 2021 the nation was put on lockdown once more. With minimal notice, plans had to be cancelled, businesses and schools were closed, parents hoped their home IT was up to the challenge and school staff aged a few years overnight.

Within a day, Hopelands Preparatory School teachers moved their lessons online and the virtual timetable, which had been developed to strengthen pupils’ resilience and continue their passion for learning, was implemented. The virtual timetable mirrors the school day and runs from 8.30-3.30. Every subject continues to be taught including art, DT, dance, French, PE, and music. The children attend the lessons, interact with their form teachers, see their friends, ask questions, and receive feedback on their work. We know that home schooling can be both uninspiring and isolating, so having this interaction with teachers and peers is key to continuing the successful relationship the pupils have with our school. To date we have had an outstanding high engagement rate with our pupils through the virtual learning which we are incredibly proud of.

There are 10-minute breaks between each lesson as well as the longer morning and afternoon breaks and time for a healthy lunch. Children are encouraged to move away from the screen, run around outside or play with their siblings or toys.

Parents have both embraced and supported the timetable and have been instrumental in encouraging their children to carry on their love of learning. We have listened and acknowledged their feedback as it is important for us to understand how we can further support our families through these difficult times.


  • ‘I am amazed and grateful for how well the online learning appears to be working and a credit to all those involved in accomplishing this.  Thank you.  Our son is certainly more comfortable with the experience this time round, if still a little reluctant to open his camera!  Tomorrow morning’s music session might sort that out as he presents his violin and a short piece of music!’


  • ‘We have been blown away by how brilliant you have all been this term, and prior to this lockdown. It is evident there has been a huge amount of work going on behind the scenes preparing for a possible lockdown, but to roll out a full online timetable for all 6 classes with 24 hours’ notice is incredible! The communication has been fantastic, both from you all in the office, but also from all the teachers keeping us updated with lesson plans. We were very impressed with how the class teacher adjusted her teaching plans considering feedback from some of the parents, adapting content and providing resources such that classes could be carried out off-line if that was the parents’ preference. She has also been brilliant these last two days managing on-line teaching and 4 students in class. We are reminded, yet again, how pleased we are that we decided to send our child to Hopelands…. as before in the previous lockdown, the ‘I can, I will, I do’ attitude shines through.’


  • ‘We are so deeply grateful for the day we stepped into the Head Teachers office: two confused worried parents, too frightened to make the change to Prep School. “Well, what are you waiting for?!” you asked us quite firmly! It was just the shake we needed. Our daughter is flying at grammar school and we are so grateful for the excellent quality of teaching our youngest child is receiving at Hopelands. So, thank you one and all.


  • ‘Just wanted to say what a fantastic job you and the rest of the staff are doing. The Government really did spring it on everyone this time, but it has been incredibly smooth and well organised. Both my children really enjoyed the school experience yesterday, so thank you’


  • ‘We just wanted to say how pleased and impressed we are with the provision of teaching during the lockdown. It’s great to see how well the children and teachers can work together remotely.’


Read More

Choosing a Primary School for your child during lockdown

Choosing the right primary school for your child is one of the hardest decisions for any family and made even more difficult during a national lockdown. At such a young age, you are deciding the next 7 years of your child’s school life. Everybody has a different set of criteria in terms of what they are looking for in a school. However, most families want to ensure their child achieves the following:

  • Happiness
  • Academic Excellence
  • Creativity
  • Confidence
  • Resilience

and most importantly to instil a love of learning that leads to academic success.

In normal times you can visit different schools and see the children in the classroom environment. As soon as you enter a school, your instincts will tell you, if you have a good feeling about it. However, due to Covid, schools are currently closed to external visitors, which makes choosing much more difficult. There are other ways which can help with your decision:

  1. Contact the school to arrange a virtual meeting with the Head Teacher. At Hopelands Preparatory School we are happy to organise meetings via Microsoft Teams with our Head, the appropriate class teacher, and the parents. At these meeting you can discuss your needs and hopes for your child. Ask questions, how does the school support high or low achievers, is there a parent / pupil survey which you can look at, where do children normally go to secondary school afterwards, is there morning and/or after school provision etc.
  2. Study the schools’ website. Is there information on there about the school’s ethos and values? If so, do you agree with them? Read their latest OFSTED/ISI report. Does the school have regular newsletters, it may be useful to have a look through recent ones as this will give you an insight into daily school life. Are the children’s achievements celebrated frequently? Check out the school calendar, is it filled with different trips and excursions? All these will enrich a child’s learning.
  3. Find out if the school offers extracurricular clubs. If a school has a wide variety of both lunchtime and after school clubs this can really add to a child’s school experience, and is a sign of committed and passionate teachers, who will want to go the extra mile to support your child’s educational journey.

Schools have been, and continue, to be working above and beyond during the pandemic. At Hopelands we are following our timetable online with every subject being delivered including art, PE, music, and dance. Our children have yet again risen to the challenge of virtual learning. They have all engaged and it is clear to see that their in-school training on Teams has been highly beneficial. Their focus, concentration and resilience has been apparent, and we are very proud of them.

If you wish to find out more please call 01453 822164 between 8.30-3.30 or email to find out more.


Read More

Christmas Message from Mrs Bradburn

This year I have been astounded with our children’s resilience, strength, and determination. They have not only readily adapted to life during a pandemic, they have also risen and exceeded the challenge of staying positive and focused on both their academic studies and future aspirations. They impress and inspire me every day.

As we end the Autumn term, I would like to share some of the highlights with you:

Reception have been busy settling into school and getting to know their new teachers and friends. They had a virtual visit from the local fire service, made ‘superpower’ vegetables, evil pea soup and learnt about our amazing world and space. They even had a spaceship land in our classroom and tried some freeze-dried astronaut food.

Class 2 have had a fantastic start to the year getting to know their new teacher, Miss Cook. A particular highlight for me was watching the children’s ideas come to life in DT where they designed their own superhero capes for their teddies. The children were careful with their needlework and produced some great work of which they were proud!

This term has been a steep step up for Year 3, and I must say they have all risen to the challenge. They have been learning how to survive the Stone Age when building replica axes; discovered their bearings by creating their own magnetic compasses; explored the local geology and bedrock of Stonehouse during the rock walk and started to develop essential (and lifelong) coding and multimedia skills.

Y4 have risen to many creative and academic challenges this term from the Roman invasion, creating their own haikus, tankas and cinquains. In DT, they have carefully planned, designed, and finally constructed individual ‘Toy Theatres’ for a live performance of ‘The Owl & The Pussycat’ by Edward Lear. The project was complex from the very start, however Y4 greeted every lesson with enthusiasm and a determination to succeed and they should be very proud of their achievements. A paper and card theatre can be bought from Amazon, but no shop bought construction can match the imagination and vitality of the hugely successful Y4 work!

This term, Year 5 have enjoyed learning about the crime and punishment in history in all its grizzly glory! Learning about the planets and constellations in science has been fascinating for all, especially discovering how big and messy the craters created by meteorites can be when they hit earth. They have also enjoyed the ‘Christmas’ activities with Mrs Elmore and creating fragmented horses in art. And of course, the best thing of all was ‘Barvember’ in maths!

This term, Year 6 have enjoyed making practical face masks in DT, creating mountain formations out of cake in geography, experiencing what it would have been like to live during an air raid in history and dissected pigs’ hearts in science. In ICT they have learned how to use code to create their own challenging point scoring games. As well as this, they have even had time to rescue Miss Porter from her worst nightmare – a huge spider stuck in her hair!

Last, but not least, we end this term with an immense sense of pride as a we have recently been ranked 35th Top Independent Prep School in the country (Sunday Times 2020). What an achievement for a small prep school like ours.

As you can see, it has been a busy and successful term for your children, and I hope you agree that Hopelands remains true to its ethos in that it is a very special place where children are able to grow in a safe and nurturing environment.

As a small school, we have fortunately not been as affected by Covid-19 as some of the larger schools in the country. This has meant that your children’s education has not been compromised by the continuous disruptions the pandemic has created. I am very pleased that at Hopelands we have not had to return to online learning during the autumn term as all lessons could be delivered in school. The very few children who have had to isolate have received online lessons and we will of course continue with this for as long as is necessary. I am hopeful however that the positive trend continues. I thank you for the support you have shown to the school in this unpredictable time.

Finally, the festive season is on the doorstep. Christmas is such a special time of year, the opportunity to spend time with our families and taking time to reflect on and appreciate all that we are thankful for. I obviously want to wish all our families a wonderful Christmas break with lots of time for family fun, food and festivities. I always feel privileged that I get to spend part of the Christmas period with young children, for surely, Christmas is the perfect time of year for being around young people. The pure joy, innocence, and magic of Christmas for children is simply infectious.

I would like to take this opportunity to wish you all a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New year, and I look forward to seeing you all in the New Year to kick-start the spring term.

Mrs Bradburn

Head Teacher



Read More

9 Tips to Achieve 11 Plus Success

To say that 2020 has been a challenging year for many would be an understatement. Lockdown, furlough, hand washing, and social distancing has become part of everyday life. It has been an unprecedented time for us, and for many children it must seem as if the world has turned upside down. School life changed; holidays cancelled and visits to grandparents restricted.

At Hopelands Preparatory School, due to our small class sizes, we were able to open our doors to ALL pupils from early June. With the Covid-19 measures in place the children quickly adapted. Their resilience and perseverance shone through and deserves praise and recognition. It was a joy to see their happiness and enthusiasm at being back with their peers and teaching staff.

Last year we celebrated an 88% pass rate to Gloucestershire Grammar Schools. A fantastic achievement which we are very proud of, especially as we are a non-selective school. This is achieved through the individual attention and ongoing encouragement by our specialist teaching staff to all the pupils. Key to Hopelands is to instil a nurturing and personal environment which allows children to feel safe, grow and succeed.

This year the Grammar School Test is taking place on the 17th October 2020. Although this can be an anxious time for both children and their families, it is also a time of great excitement. Here are top tips from our teaching staff who have had the privilege to watch many pupils go through this experience and achieve success:

  1. Ensure a good routine the week before, plenty of sleep for your child with healthy meals.
  2. Confidence is key, instil in your child the confidence that they can do this. They have spent many months learning, reading, preparing and boy, are they ready!
  3. Start the day with a healthy breakfast. A banana or healthy snack on the way is a good way to keep their blood sugar levels up, which aids concentration.
  4. Arrive in good time, have two adults in the car if possible. Traffic can be busy on the day and parking can be tricky. Having the option of an adult taking the child to the exam whilst the other parks the car can reduce stress levels.
  5. Check your child has everything they need for the test, i.e. a magic pencil and a rubber. A break time snack, bottle of water and a couple of tissues are also good.
  6. If they have a digital watch, turn any alarms off. Emphasise the need for your child to calculate their timings during the test. Listen to the instructor in the room!
  7. Start every question afresh, if you struggle on one, move on and do not dwell on it. Every question is a new opportunity. Never give up!
  8. Track answers, double check that they are in the correct spaces. The answer sheets can be tricky to fill in.
  9. Prepare your child to cope with any distractions within the exam room. They must stay focussed and keep their concentration.

Afterwards……. celebrate!

Whether your child feels they have done well in the test or had a complete disaster, their commitment, time and determination deserve huge recognition. At Hopelands Preparatory School our knowledgeable and experienced teaching staff ensure that the pupils are ready for this test.

Year 6 Pupils leave Hopelands as resilient, focussed, and excited learners. Sitting the 11+ is just one part of this process, in the words of Malcolm X “Education is the passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to those who prepare for it today.”

To find out more about how Hopelands can support your child’s educational journey, please contact Mrs Sam Compton on 01453 822164 or




Read More

A day in lockdown at Hopelands

We are in week 5 of virtual learning at Hopelands Preparatory School and after late nights for teachers who were busy exploring the world of Microsoft Teams, school life has started to settle down. Children are adapting and embracing this new way of learning.

Although all year groups are following the online timetable, each class has modified it to ensure the sessions apply to their children’s strengths and learning needs. Here is a typical day for our 7-8-year-old pupils in Year 3.

8.45 Morning registration & presentations

Pupils log onto the system and mark themselves in. They see their teacher and class friends and wave with a smile and a hello.

Pupils are given the opportunity to do a presentation to the rest of their class. They take turns to write a PowerPoint on a subject/hobby and upload it which enables everyone to see it. This is a great way for them to practise their presentation and communication skills and further develop their self-confidence. Today’s was on the exciting event of chickens hatching. The presentation was brought to life with plenty of pictures of eggs ‘rocking and rolling’, resulting in fluffy chickens. Pupils are invited to ask questions and discuss in more detail.

Afterwards the class has a general catch up where they share how they are feeling. In these unprecedented times it is more important than ever to enable interaction and discussions which support positive mental health.

9.30 – 12.30 Lessons

Subjects covered, on different days are Maths, English and Science, and the lessons are split into mixed ability groups. The teacher sets the work and the pupils are encouraged to share ideas and ask questions to each other within their groups. The teacher spends time with each of the groups, listening to them read to each other and discuss thoughts. Towards the end they all come together to share what they have learnt.

13.00 – 16.00 1:1s

The afternoon is spent on 1:1s. Every pupil has 30 minutes each with the teacher every 2 days. Work is reviewed together to check their understanding. The teacher will also listen to them read. Marking is done with them in real-time, the teacher reads their uploaded work and then directs the pupil to edit and review it. Marking together has been immensely beneficial to both the teacher and the pupil. For pupils not on a 1:1 they can choose how they spend this time. This can be catching up on work from the morning, reading, playing sport, doing a creative activity or having fun with their families.

It’s a busy day for our teachers but at the heart of all this is the children so we asked them what they thought of it.

What do the children think?

‘I am really enjoying the virtual learning particularly the Science experiments as they are a mixture of work and fun. My favourite one so far is testing daisies in different coloured water to see if they change colour in different temperatures. I’m hoping the blue wins…’

I love the online teaching.  The lessons are great although some of the work is hard and I definitely enjoy the interaction. We all get a chance to put our ideas forward and I really enjoy the early morning presentations. I love seeing and interacting with my friends and my teacher. I feel “happy and cheerful and good” about the online classes. I really enjoy that we can go into our own groups and really like the one to ones and being able to talk to the teacher and ask questions.’

And behind every child is a family who is helping and supporting. Here are some of their views:

What do parents think?

‘The family has enjoyed being back in the classroom and I have enjoyed experiencing the class interaction and dynamics first-hand. I must confess, there has been an improvement in my learning and understanding of the key subjects. How times have changed…’

‘Our IT skills have improved enormously during the past three weeks and we have experienced working in virtual groups and navigating our way round Microsoft Office. The teachers have helped enormously by providing clear instructions and adapting the procedures regularly to help facilitate the process.’

‘The Y3 children are supported by the 1:1 teacher and student sessions. These events take place periodically and allow for valuable time to discuss the day’s events and help to keep the children focused and motivated.’

‘Overall, we are finding the process enjoyable and manageable.’

‘As a parent, these daily lessons have made an amazing difference to my child’s attitude and outlook. Before they started, they were very low in self-confidence and we had a lot of tears and upset. However, she is now back to her usual self and going from strength to strength!  Being able to interact with friends has been wonderful and she has found the work the teacher has set incredibly inspiring and has wanted to do more things outside of class as well. Like everyone we have our good days and bad days, but the lessons really help to keep a structure and balance in these uncertain days. I can’t really express how thankful I am to Hopelands, and her teacher in particular, for putting these lessons together – they have really helped and made her so much happier and self-confident it’s been a joy to see.’

To find out more about Hopelands Preparatory School call us on 01453 822164 or email



Read More

How Hopelands are keeping children happy and learning in lockdown.

With the world seemingly turned upside down and many life events put on hold, the one thing that has not stopped is education. Children are still learning. Parents are frantically learning too. Pythagoras, fronted adverbials and PE with Joe, whilst working from home, cooking, cleaning and generally trying to keep sane! How we are all missing school and its community.

To keep providing the education, and support both our children and their families, Hopelands Preparatory School is operating a virtual learning timetable which runs from 8.45-12.30. The children attend the lessons, interact with their form teachers, see their friends, ask questions and receive feedback on their work. We know that home schooling can be both uninspiring and isolating, so having this interaction with their teachers and peers is key to continuing the successful relationship the pupils have with school. To date we have 100% attendance with our pupils through this virtual learning – this is an outstanding engagement rate that we are incredibly proud of.

Children’s progress is consistently monitored so that any gaps can be quickly identified and worked on. Children thrive on structure and security, therefore having this timetable in place helps them remain focused, motivated and fully engaged. Parents have both embraced and supported the timetable:

“What an excellent maths lesson today. Brilliant. It’s all falling into place and I’m getting more confident at leaving my child to it.”

In the afternoon, several different activities have been suggested which the children can do either on their own or with their families. For example, this week Reception class were set the task of making shapes out of nature and we received some fantastic pictures.

All our staff have gone above and beyond. Easter holidays were spent learning and testing new technology, planning lessons and working out a new virtual timetable which will strengthen pupils’ resilience and continue their passion for learning. We are truly grateful and incredibly proud of everyone’s hard work and dedication.

As you can see, we may not currently be able to open the doors to everyone, but we are very much working harder than ever. Please call us if you wish to find out more, email: and call 01453 822164.






Read More

Hopelands Paris Trip 2020

I thought I might write the Paris report before we left. It’s all predictable. We know the routine and we know the children.

But in truth we have no certainties. Paris is brought to a halt by a heatwave or a flood or les Gilets Jaunes or by rioting Dental Hygienists. Angelic children and the more wayward unaccountably swap roles. The race is not to the swift nor the battle to the strong, as we know. It’s about time and chance. We learn this with our own children on the day out to London, which begins all smiles and ends in the Chamber of Horrors.

The Hopelands foray got off to a fine start. The train left on time, waved off by parents who lingered on the bleak platform as their offspring headed out to the great unknown, and Swindon. I looked round the coach. Was there a dry eye amongst these children? Answers on a postcard, please.

We caught Eurostar at St Pancras and sped off to Paris. I’ve used the service virtually every year since its inception and it just gets better. And faster. In no time we were in France. Farms and houses flew by. Of course, that could have been Storm Dennis. Anyway, the children were unconcerned, as they were busy with their picnics. Hannah and Lexi munched contentedly; Oscar peered over his glasses at my humble fare. I think he was about to comment but I forestalled him by announcing that we were on the outskirts of Paris. We weren’t, but soon we were.

Our first sight of Paris reminds me how things change. The shop opposite the ticket office in the Métro is no longer the boring boutique with fresh pastries and hot croissants; it is ‘Go Johnnie Go’ offering ‘drinks and food’.

The people in the ticket office are inclined to give me the third degree about the ages of my party. Primary school children are meant to travel at half price and should one of my taller protégés surge into view there is trouble. To avoid this, I take one of the shorter ones to the counter with me, although the thought did cross my mind that Miss Porter might agree to come forward on her knees. In truth, it’s a toss-up between Amy and Matilda but I opt for Matilda as Amy appears to be in high heels. After the usual game of slamming down the window when the customer reaches the head of the queue, we buy our tickets, and I let Matilda rise from the crouching position. Then it’s off to the hotel.

Aurélie and Maria are waiting for us, which is a delight, as are the refreshments. This first evening, we usually cross Paris to the Sacré Coeur or go up the Arc de Triomphe to get our bearings high above Paris, but this time we decide to take a break and settle into our rooms before marching off to our diner for supper.

Like so much of Paris and no doubt the world, the little Matisse has been embraced by the American way – or been strangled by it. The paintings have gone and been replaced by the restaurant name in Harley Davidson lettering. The hand-thrown pizzas are no longer available, but you can have ‘un Chicken’ or ‘un Double Cheese’. Yes, there are still the hot dishes and the grilled haloumi and the fantastic salads, but it would all be pretty disappointing for me were it not for the staff who are wonderfully welcoming.

‘We heard you were here.’ says Mo.

I don’t ask how. It’s like a homecoming.

And so, to bed. Oscar and Sam have the dorm next to my room. I observe this fact to them.

‘So, you’re quite safe,’ I say reassuringly. Again, Oscar gives me one of those looks over his glasses. And I shut the door.

Friday is St Valentine’s Day and begins with an appropriately hearty breakfast, after which we buy the baguettes from Madame Thévenin who greets us enthusiastically. She shows no sign of ageing except that her eyesight isn’t what it was.

‘Oh, Monsieur,’ she beams over the counter, ‘vos enfants! Ils sont si mignons!’

It’s like one of those ‘should have gone to Specsavers’ advertisements …

Having acquired the rest of our picnic, we head off into the city, pausing for a snap in front of Natalys, with the girl herself centre stage. I thought the manager might rush out and offer to buy the photograph for company publicity. Fat chance!

Our first visit was to be the hospital at Denfert Rochereau. It’s a fine building, famous for its work for over two centuries.

‘This, I announce, ‘ – ‘

It isn’t there. The medics have left. No longer do nuns in their white cowls glide across the courtyard. Instead, coffee bars and burger joints have sprung up randomly amongst the scaffolding and cement mixers as work goes on to convert the ancient building into ‘un centre commercial’. At least there are conveniences. So they trail in, Lexi, Hannah and all, disappearing into the bowels of the gutted building.

‘All right?’ I ask when they emerge into the sunlight. ‘Did you have to pay?’

‘Yes and we should ask for our money back,’ responds Amy crisply.

We pass the catacombs. Of course, they aren’t. They are tunnels from the plaster of Paris mines. In the eighteenth century when a major reordering of the city took place and the charnel houses were emptied, they needed somewhere to stack seven million bodies. These workings seemed appropriate and one can visit this necropolis on specific days. Oddly today, St Valentine’s, was such an occasion and there were queues stretching round the block. Perhaps there is a special piquancy in plighting one’s troth beside a wall of skeletons. Max, ever curious, would have liked to take a peek but others were reluctant to wait for an hour or so to see something macabre; one can do that sitting at home watching Midsomer Murders.

We paused to learn about the Lion de Belfort. It recalls Gambetta’s escape from Paris by balloon at the end of the Franco-Prussian War. Until then, Paris had held out against the Germans after the surrender of the French armies at Metz and Sedan, tearing itself apart much as it had done in 1789. Napoleon III abdicated and sought sanctuary in England. It was an abject humiliation for a man who had endeavoured to repeat the triumphs of his great-uncle and failed at every turn. He died in Chislehurst, Kent, broken by illness and thwarted ambition. His last words were:

‘Were you too at Sédan?’

I think he was too hard on himself. The legacy of Napoleon I is the legal and administrative system of France, and the memory of glories. Napoleon III left us Paris, one of the world’s greatest, most beautiful cities. It was entirely redesigned and rebuilt thanks to his energy and vision and the ruthless brilliance of the planner, Baron Haussman. The object was to let Paris breathe and let people move about easily, enjoying the monuments and green spaces. This is Napoleon III’s triumph.

We had a glance at the Val de Grace, the scene of the Duke of Buckingham’s assignations with Anne of Austria. Joe sprang forward to take a photograph. I’m not surprised. It’s a gem of a building. Next, we wandered through the Luxembourg gardens. We could see the Panthéon through the railings. It’s a fine church, reminiscent of St Paul’s and built as a thank-offering to God when Louis XV recovered from illness. True to form he refused to foot the bill, as did the Church, and today it’s sort of pay-as-you-go basilica. The crypt contains the remains of literary and national heroes like Rousseau who coined the watchword of the Revolution, ‘Man is born free, but everywhere he is in chains.’ Actually, it’s not free to visit his tomb

The weather was perfect. The trip was going splendidly. Then tragedy struck. As we sped towards the Fountain of the Medici. Lily hurled herself to the ground. Instantly, our emergency procedures clicked in. Surgeon Commander Porter applied dressings with a dexterity, which made those long minutes in First Aid Training suddenly worthwhile. Natalie gave specialist advice. Sophie intoned the word ‘Gosh’ with deep emotion. We were a little huddle of friends gathered round a broken bird. Well, not quite. In no time at all, Lily had made a recovery – miraculous. Well, perhaps. Anyway, it seemed appropriate to stop in front of St Sulpice church for our thanksgiving picnic. The building is beautiful but odd; the south tower has remained unfinished for two hundred years because the architect, depressed at how his creation was turning out, climbed up and threw himself off the top. In recent years, the church has suffered further indignities at the hands of conspiracy theorists tricked by the Da Vinci Code into believing it is a good idea to dig up the floor with pickaxes.

There were two nice surprises here: In the magnificent fountain, mallards were swimming, two drakes on guard in the top bowl. And as we were watching, suddenly a group of students came up bearing gifts, heart-shaped lollipops for Valentine’s Day. No charge. Just pass on the message.

We follow the rue Bonaparte, the only street in Paris to bear the name. It’s full of intriguing shops but sadly Pierre Berkmann the ivory carver has gone and the shop selling original documents written by the likes of Beethoven and Molière, has also vanished. So too has my dream of turning a smart profit by offloading a genuine Harry Miles. We speed on. Sophie chatters with Grace. In these times we need grace.

After a pit-stop at the crêperie beside St Germain des Prés, we glance at Picasso’s statue of his friend Apollinaire. It’s sad that it’s so ugly but then it might be entirely accurate. Sam nodded sagely. He does that rather well, and usually has something to add. Not this time, for we were off over the Seine, seeing the Louvre for the first time and on to the rue de Rivoli. Underneath our feet was the tunnel of the catacombs where the French Resistance had their headquarters during WW II; above was the Hôtel Meurice where the Gestapo had their Paris HQ.

On we marched to the Place Vendôme. It’s where Anton Mesmer of hypnotism fame once lived. He disappeared from Paris before the Revolution. Some say he feared his association with the nobility would serve him ill in those uncertain times; others say that he became alarmed by his own extraordinary and inexplicable powers and fled to eke out his days in obscurity. That mystery aside, the square is full of interest, above all, literally, the column Napoleon erected to celebrate his victory at Austerlitz. It is a copy of Trajan’s column in Rome, and the bas-relief, made from the bronze of six hundred captured cannon, depicts his military triumph. On the top stands the man himself, in the guise of a Roman emperor. Mr Modesty he was not.

We looked at the Opéra, the architect Charles Garnier’s stunning contribution to Napoleon III’s new Paris, and then headed for the Arc de Triomphe. We nearly didn’t make it and when we finally did arrive, we were faced massive queues where pre-booking meant nothing. I sent the troops up to survey the structure whilst I conducted negotiations for the tickets. Modern France, born in the Age of Reason, is, nonetheless a place where murder is forgivable if it is ‘un crime passionnel’. So the rule is: don’t argue; just appeal to sentiment:

‘These poor children have their hearts set on this great experience. I have one little mite who was recently … involved in … (gulp) an accident.’ A tear makes its way down my grief-stricken face – the old man in the corner blows his nose loudly and two minutes later the group is climbing the monument. It’s more than Napoleon could do. The builders, ordered to construct it on this very spot, had to contend with the fact that this was the site of a vast rubbish tip, and each time they got above thirty feet or so the thing began to disappear into the mud. Indeed, when it came to the triumphal opening by Marie-Louise in 1812 they had to erect a fake arch of boarding and scaffolding for the purpose. It wasn’t finally completed for over a quarter of a century and by then Napoleon was long dead.

Our final visit of the day was to the Invalides. We didn’t tour the Army Museum, which can take a whole day but went through the complex to see Napoleon’s tomb. I think it’s a monstrous affair, which ruins a beautiful church but it is surely impressive. That’s like the mixed feelings one might have about Napoleon himself. And I do recall that Queen Victoria took her small son there and ordered:

‘Kneel down, Bertie. You are in the presence of a great man.’

Perhaps he ignored her. Perhaps he took another swipe at some passing member of the hoi polloi with his riding crop. Perhaps like a modern child he simply said. ‘Why?’ Or just perhaps he experienced that out-dated sentiment, awe.

Saturday was a good day. It started with a present from Libby, Lily and Amy, a wonderful kindness. It was also sunny again and that was a great boon.

We went by bus to the Ile de la Cité. It’s rather fun, the bus, a sort of guilty pleasure as I recounted to Company Secretary and Honorary Colonel Compton. I reminded her that Louella, Countess of Westminster said that anyone who had been on a bus after the age of thirty had ‘been a failure in life.’ Mrs Compton seemed to find that amusing – or perhaps she was noting how this applied to me.

We looked at Notre-Dame. From the far side of the square it looks much as before. It will recover. It was used as a barn during the Revolution and had become so dilapidated by the second half of the nineteenth century that Victor Hugo wrote a little thing [The Hunchback of] Notre-Dame to stir up a public demand for its restoration. Yes, Notre-Dame will arise again, the only question is in what form? We did our usual visit to the Museum of the Revolution in the Conciergerie of the old Palais Royal. Much refurbishing has taken place here and much of it diminishes the experience. The dummies dressed as guards with their quills and swords and tricorne hats, and prisoners on straw and filthy mattresses have gone. Marie-Antoinette’s cell has lost the screen over which a guard watched her night and day; it’s lost the guard; her table is gone and the letter to the Chevalier de Rougeville, pricked out with a needle to outline a plan of escape has no doubt been recycled. The original engravings of Robespierre, ‘the sea-green incorruptible’, of Danton whose mighty voice could be heard on the far side of the Seine, of mad Damien, roasted to death for his attempt to murder Louis XV fifty years earlier, all these – and everything else has been replaced by illuminated screens. Nevertheless, the troops showed real interest. Max was thoughtful, Hannah too. Libby’s pompom ears drooped, overcome with emotion.

The failure of the new arrangements in the Conciergerie has not been replicated in the Sainte Chapelle. The stained glass is still the truly glorious blaze of light and colour that it has been since St Louis commissioned the chapel as a shrine to hold Christ’s crown of thorns. Of course, the crown could be a fake but the building isn’t. Like faith, it endures. The wonder of it made Grace gasp and Joe set to with his Lumex taking his score of snaps to about the five hundred mark.

We picnicked in the Jardin du Roi where the last Grand Master of The Templars was burnt at the stake in 1415. This macabre detail does not alter the fact that it was a cheerful occasion, a good meal followed by a wild race round the lawn. I think this was won by Hannah or maybe Grace, but after a stewards’ enquiry, victory was awarded to Sam. (See Rule 49, sub-section G. on use of ear-studs).

At the Louvre, I had more trouble with the electronic world. The scanner with which the official read my documents could not identify that strange thumb-print thing which is a sort of bar code.

‘Je regrette …’ he began, shaking his head.

I wasted no time.

‘I have this injured child in my group,’ I told him, ‘and I fear …’ I shook my head. The official at the counter removed his glasses and wiped his eyes. An old man blew, his nose loudly. It was probably the same old man I had encountered at the Arc de Triomphe and probably the same nose.

Of course, the Mona Lisa – called La Joconde or La Monna Lisa by the French (logically, since her name was Madonna Lisa) – was disappointing as usual, but we’d seen it.

Outside, the Saturday ‘manifestation’ was an increasing problem. No one seemed to know what the protesters were protesting about but the gendarmes were busy blocking roads, rather randomly, it seemed to me. I think our old friend Gaston Lafarge was masterminding the operation. He recently gave up his job in the river police having failed the requisite ‘Eau’ level.

‘Jules,’ he says to his sergeant, Jules Planque, ‘ve must put up ze roadblocks.’

‘Aha,’ responds his colleague palindromically, ‘You ‘av un plan.’ He is impressed, but there’s a first time for everything.

‘Euh, not exactement,’ admits Gaston,

We were faced with the likelihood that we wouldn’t get to Les Halles, the Centre Georges Pompidou and the Hôtel de Ville as planned, so we decided to head for the Sacré Coeur. It was thus that, on the massively crowded Métro, we split into our manageable groups and sailed off. The lads and I got off at Châtelet but Miss Porter and Mrs Compton tried a different route and sped up into Montmartre. I understand Amy brought significant navigating skills to this hike. She has aspirations to join the navy, and this success might prove a winner on her CV. Meanwhile, having tried in vain to contact the errant girls’ group, we chaps were having refreshments in a nearby bar, the stools were high, and the prices higher.

And so, back to the hotel, our last night and the final day …

It was blowing a hooligan but you have to do the Eiffel Tower. Gustav has much to answer for. When we arrived, we found a new defensive glass wall around the whole base and tight security checks. Hundreds of tourists were waiting but despite the website’s claim that it opens at 9.00 tous les jours the queue only began to ease forward half an hour later. Clearly, there was now limited time but, nonetheless, all the troops rose to the challenge and led by Miss Porter and Mrs Compton, sprinted up the stairs and down again. We made it back to the hotel and on to the Gare du Nord, and finally onto Eurostar with minus three minutes to spare. Thence, it was the long trail back to London. Libby was sketching. I was allowed a peek and was impressed. Joe played chess with Harry, who looked immaculate as ever. Then it was my turn. Fortunately, I managed to fend off Joe’s wily moves until we reached St Pancras where I was forced to declare a draw.

Many of the trains from Paddington were cancelled due to the torrential rain that Britain had enjoyed in our absence, but ours left and arrived on time. We had made it, the first Hopelands Paris Trip.

The pioneers acquitted themselves well. As I said at the outset, the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong. Nor, sadly, is the accolade always to the kind and the considerate, the courteous and the appreciative. Such individuals often get overlooked yet during this expedition, probably during any expedition they were the true stars. So to them, a special thank-you, and from us all, heartfelt thanks to Miss Porter and Mrs Compton. We couldn’t have managed without them.

As for our friends in Paris, they were as ever amazingly generous and welcoming; they have too the gift of making us feel that we are really doing them a favour by being there. I hope we continue to merit their warm-hearted loyalty and affection.

I believe we will.

The Hopelands Paris Party of February 2020 comprised: Oscar Coggins, Lexi Coles, Joe Dunn, Sophie Ganderton, Lily Haywood Bhatta, Grace Horrell, Matilda Huertas-Mason, Libby Hughes, Amy Jones, Sam Kennedy, Hannah Luff, Harry Miles, Natalie Pearse, Max Safizadeh with Mrs S. Compton, Miss E. Porter, Mr Martin Piper

Written by Monsieur Piper.














Read More