Jan Goldsmith is the matron of Cubitt House at Cranleigh School, Surrey. She explains how a three-year contract opened the door to a lifetime of looking after other people’s sons… and why she is still there.
I arrived at Cranleigh in 1989 with my husband. He was to take up a three-year contract to teach maths and I was to co-ordinate an appeal for an indoor swimming pool and a small performing arts theatre. I was also given the job as part-time secretary in the music school. After three years, the appeal closed having achieved its target. I was then approached by a very dynamic and persuasive boys’ housemaster to become his house matron, a non-resident position at Cranleigh.
At that time, Cranleigh’s matrons were contracted to work 24 hours a week. I still felt it was not possible to combine the two jobs. However, following much arm twisting, I gave in. I am still in the post 24 years later, working with my fourth housemaster and the enjoyment has never waned. I shall be forever grateful to my first housemaster (now a very successful headmaster) for his persistence.
A day in the life of a matron
The job has changed out of all recognition. There are now two of us who cover the day from 7.30 am to 10.15 pm – a seven-and-a -half-hour shift each. The house has increased by 25 to 100 pupils, boarding and day, and the ratio has stayed much the same with two thirds boarding and one third day.
Fewer boys have boarded at their prep schools and they arrive here less prepared for boarding life. Parents are much more pro-active and thanks to lines of communication available at the touch of a button, stay in touch much more. This has its advantages, of course, as it is a real pleasure getting to know them over a five-year period. There was little administration 24 years ago, but now it occupies quite a large part of the day.
Why do I enjoy this job so much?
It is hugely rewarding and a very real privilege to be part of a boy’s development during his five years with us. At the start of their career here there is a mixture of nervousness, shyness, excitement and exuberance. Gradually, over the weeks, the camaraderie and confidence develop. It’s so exciting for me to watch this.
No two days are the same. Boys are brilliant in their ability to bounce back from any setback. They will tell me about a bad lesson, but by the end of the day, they will have completely forgotten about it, unless a detention is involved! The relationship I have with the three lower years is very different from the one I have with the sixth-formers. By this stage, they have matured to become leaders in the house. They also become good friends to all around them, including the tutors, matrons and cleaners.
Homesickness is uncommon these days. Most boys go home after Saturday afternoon sport for 24 hours. The school day is incredibly full and busy. From morning to lights-out that there is little time for a boy to miss home.
Why do I continue to do this job?
In fact, it is not a job, but a way of life. Few jobs can offer the variety that this does. One day I will be enjoying cake and cookies with a birthday boy and his year group. The next, supporting an inter-house competition. Another day will involve sitting in A&E for several hours. The next, standing in the cold watching a house rugby match.
Of course, this is all interspersed with some sad moments. It is a great privilege to be able to support a boy through these times and, on occasions, his family too. There are the hilarious moments that are too numerous to list: the boy who went off to lessons forgetting that he hadn’t put his trousers on; the boy who wore two ties to chapel; the boy who mistook his toothpaste for hair gel and more, but all make up the rich tapestry of life in a boys’ boarding house.
When will I stop? Each generation of boys contributes to the life of the house in their different ways, and I suppose I cannot bear to miss a year group finally leaving as young men. This term, the fourth member of a family to be in my care has arrived in the house. I always promised myself that I would stay to see him arrive having known him as an eight-month-old baby, now he is here I know I shall want to support him through his five years. And so it goes on…