A birthday drink with a dozen ‘Blacksell’s boys’ has become a huge reunion event that attracts more than 200 former Barnstaple pupils every year.

Gerald Thorne (left) pictured in his school days with former classmate and fellow under 15s rugby teammate Kingsley Chugg.Gerald Thorne (left) pictured in his school days with former classmate and fellow under 15s rugby teammate Kingsley Chugg.

Painter and decorator Gerald Thorne was approaching his 60th birthday when he met up with a few old friends who had attended Barnstaple Boys Secondary Modern School in Derby Road – now Yeo Valley Primary School.

It was suggested they try and organise a reunion and 28 years later, the annual gathering now attracts more than 200 ex-pupils from home and abroad.

Gerald is busy preparing for this year’s event at Barnstaple Rugby Club on Saturday, June 2.

He said: “I never envisioned that it would grow to such an extent. It’s fantastic that so many friendships have renewed over the years.

Mr Uglow's class, pictured in 19??. Picture: SubmittedMr Uglow's class, pictured in 19??. Picture: Submitted

There are still some unaware of the annual and Gerald hopes any publicity generated will attract them this year.

He added: “We thought the numbers would be dwindling especially as we have attended so many funerals so we were surprised by the record turnout last year.

“It has also become apparent this year that some old boys are suffering from age related problems so for the first time carers are being encouraged to help them attend.”

Gerald and Tony Freeman visited their old school that operated from 1939 to 1972 in search for memorabilia.

That, coupled with information from a book on the school’s history Pursue Excellence, prepared by former pupil Terry Trump, they have developed an archive of photographs, school reports and more.

Tony said: “Going back to school was a strange experience. After over 60 years I could still remember the smell, the classrooms and even the school vegetable garden that we were responsible for and I was only at the school for a short time.”

Gerald has tracked down the oldest pupil, 92-year-old Ivan Turner as well as the son of the school headmaster at the time, Simon Blacksell. Both are hoping to attend the reunion this year.

There is also confirmation of former pupils travelling from abroad including photographer Paul Harris, who will be making his third trip from Los Angles.

There were two headmasters during the school’s lifetime, Phillip Heppenstall, known as Percy or Heppy, and John Edward Blacksell better known by the pupils as Blackie while the school became known as ‘Blacksell’s Academy for young thugs’.

All former pupils are welcome to attend the reunion on June 2. Please call Tony Freeman on 01271 850255.