News and Reviews

'From Langley to Langalanga'

Coming off the tarmac road from Gilgil to head towards the small settlement of Langalanga, our vehicle had to slow right down to negotiate the rough surface, so we had a good view of the many signboards at the junction. But one immediately caught our eye: 'Woodard Langalanga Secondary School'.

With our family associations with Woodard schools in the UK, and the unusual spelling of the name (without the more common second 'w'), we were pretty sure there must be some connection. A quick check on the internet – try Googling 'Woodard School Kenya' – showed us that this was the first such school to be opened in Africa, or indeed anywhere outside the UK, and that this had been achieved by the efforts of Col. Harry Vialou Clark, with the support of existing Woodard schools. We then found that 'VC', as he is called locally, is well known for his tireless work for education in Kenya, and in particular for the 15 primary schools he has built in this area.

Our hostess, Revd. Judy Kariuki, made a few phone calls, and was soon speaking to the Principal about her English visitors, one of whom was the great-great-granddaughter of Nathaniel Woodard himself, founder of the first schools back in the 19th century. Clearly the message spread rapidly, as the next thing we knew was that we were expected at the school the following afternoon, and that the Head and VC himself would be there to meet us and show us the school.

This was our third visit to Kenya, the first having been in 2002, when I was training for ministry in the Church of England, and we spent three months at Berea Theological College, up in the hills near Nakuru. There we met Revd. Judy and many other good friends, who are hosting us on this year's six-week trip. Our original plan was to travel to South Sudan for four weeks, but the unstable situation there has meant that we have ended up spending the whole time in Kenya; not that we are complaining, of course, as we love being here, and we always feel thoroughly at home with the Kenyan people.

All this is just to say that quite a number of 'coincidences' had to come together, for us to be in Langalanga at just the right time, to meet VC and to see the school. It is certainly a very impressive place, with keen and motivated staff and pupils. The classrooms and other buildings are well appointed, and when the multi-purpose hall is completed the whole will look very fine indeed. I must confess though that, as a former mathematician, I was rather distracted by analysing the interesting hexagonal design of the main buildings! Juliet, however, was more concerned with the extraordinary serendipity of finding ourselves in the one place in the world where this family connection could be found. Her family back home will certainly be fascinated by it.

One more connection to end with: When Audrey Woodard, granddaughter of Nathaniel, married Lionel Hoare in 1912, she was given a Bluthner 'boudoir' grand piano as a wedding present. That instrument is now in our vicarage in Langley, Slough, and is used regularly for Juliet's piano lessons. Whenever it is played, it will be good to recall our visit to Langalanga and the work for education that is going on there, that can trace its roots so far back in our shared history.

Revd. Robin & Mrs Juliet Grayson, St Mary's Vicarage, Langley, Slough, UK