Grammar School Days
During the year of 1942, I, along with twelve more pupils at Highfield School, passed the scholarship exam. Some of us were going to Wigan Grammar School, others to the Girls High School and some to Ashton-in-Makerfield Grammar. The ones going to Ashton were those who lived in the County, as opposed to the ones living in the Wigan Borough. Those days, the boundary for the borough was at Pony Dick, so everyone living past there were supposed to go to Ashton. This didn't always apply though, as some pupils did go to either the Grammar or the High school. As it was, Eric Taylor, Jimmy Taberner, Charles Hughes, Ernie Chadwick, Ronald Rawcliffe and I, went to the Grammar at Wigan, Jean Parker, Alice Heaton and Dorothy Winstanley went to the High school, and David Eccles, David Talbot, Gordon Fairhurst, and Dorothy Hughes went to Ashton.
I remember sitting the exam, which was taken in the hall and answered on pink and green papers. We thought these rather odd, as we had always written on white paper previously. We had to put our answers down on the actual question paper. Anyway, later on in the year, news came that we had to go to be interviewed by the respective heads of the various schools, and this was carried out at the Education offices in Wigan.
The interviews were made in the order of exam results i.e. the ones who had got most marks went first. Jimmy Taberner and Dorothy Winstanley went first, on the Monday morning, Eric Taylor and I were interviewed during the afternoon. We were ushered into the interview room and seated behind the desk were the respective heads of the various schools, Mr. Taylor, Grammar School, Miss Nicholson, Girls High School, and Reverend Mother, The Convent. We were asked various questions about our ambitions etc. I said that I wanted to be a midshipman, and Eric said that he wanted to be a judge. As it was, Eric came the nearest, as a solicitor, and Recorder.
I wore a tie to the interview that had been given to me by cousin Franklyn, who attended Heywood Grammar and the tie was one of theirs. The head said to me "What kind of tie is that?" and when I told him, he said, "You shouldn't wear that until you are a fully fledged Grammarian." I was completely mortified and cried when I got home! I thought that I had blown it and that I wouldn't be going to the Grammar School after all. I have realized since of course, that he was only joking. The interviews must have been a success because we all got notification to start.
I recall going for a walk with Eric later in that year, about August, and feeling very superior as we went past our old school, (we were still on holiday,) and listening to the pupils working as we passed the open windows.
Finally the day arrived when we started at our new school. We newcomers had the school to ourselves for the first day as all the others only started back on the Tuesday. We made our way into the hall and thought it to be very grand, in fact those days the Grammar School was a pretty modern building, having only been open about eight years. At the foot of the stage where the headmaster and two more sat to take assembly, there was a two manual organ The head came in on that first morning, dressed in a dark grey suit, complete with mortar board and gown. He looked stern and forbidding, not a bit like the man who had conducted the interview. I was having mixed feelings about the school already. We all were allocated to our classrooms and form teachers, our names being called out, last names of course, we didn't use first names. I was placed in 3A to start with, and our form master was H.R."Dick"Nutt, a really nice man and a good teacher. I think that we were in Room 12, which was on the bottom floor near the entrance, and the boy that I sat next to that first day was Ken Farrimond from Caunce St. near St. Catherine's and I found out that his dad worked with mine at the pit.
Copying out the timetable of lessons, checking our textbooks and putting our names in them took up the first day. Name, Condition Date. I can see them now; some of the books were literally falling to pieces, because, due to wartime, books were hard to come by. My cousin Brian Hill was in our class, he had come from Holgate School in Orrell. Playtime or "Break" as it was known as now that we were "grown up" came along and we went out into the playground to chat to our mates and see what they thought of the new school.
The first day passed quite quickly and we didn't have any homework set. The next day, however, when we arrived at school, it was like bedlam! 490 boys from 11 to 17 in age, all milling around, waiting for the assembly to start. We filed into the hall and stood by our seats. The prefects, in their little black gowns came in followed by the rest of the staff, Everyone dressed in their gowns, a feature that was a bit awe inspiring to someone from elementary school where the teachers were ladies in dresses. All remained standing until the Head, accompanied by HW "Pat" Lemon, the assistant head, who incidentally came from Northern Ireland, and W.G "Willie George". Allanson, the senior master, came on to the stage from the rear. IW (Curly) Johnson, the music and maths master was seated at the organ and assembly would begin.
We used to start with a hymn from "Songs of Praise" then the Lord's Prayer. A couple more prayers from the headmaster, usually bidding prayers and then a reading from the Bible by one of the prefects from the lectern by the side of the stage. After this the RCs came in from the dining room where they stayed during prayers, and also the late boys from the lecture room where you went if you missed assembly. The Head would give out any notices that were relevant and any other business. I recall the first assembly well as Ken Carrington had to go up to the platform to receive his Rugby colours from the Head; these were in the form of a badge, which he had to stitch to his football shirt. We all clapped when he got them.
I was placed in Powell house, the houses being called after the School's founders, so you had Powell after Sir Francis Sharp Powell who had been an MP for Wigan in the last century, and whose statue is in Mesnes Park. Bridgeman after Sir John Bridgeman a Freeman of the Borough, Bridgeman Terrace was named after him. Eckersley so called because of Nathaniel ffarington Eckersley, the pit and mill owner of the town (also known as "owd Nat") Crawford after the Earl of Crawford and Balcarres another pit owner and builder of Haigh Hall. Leigh after Sir James Leigh. and Bankes so called after Squire Bankes of Winstanley Hall. These were the 6 houses in the school, another house was Linaker, after Thomas Linaker, another Freeman of the Borough, but this was just for the boys of the Prep School, who started at 9yrs and whose form mistress was Miss McCartney (affectionately known as "Muck Cart"). These boys were being paid for to attend school, and even if they didn't pass the scholarship exam, they could continue right through the school. Miss McCartney was an accomplished piano player and used to play for singing practice. The piano was a "baby grand", and this was something else that I had never seen before.
Powell house met every Friday in the Lecture Room. Here, the house policies were discussed and formulated. It all seemed so strange to me to have meetings where the chairman would ask the secretary to read out the minutes of the last meeting. I didn't even know what minutes were, other than marks round a clock face! I can visualize it now. "Will someone propose that the minutes are signed as correct?" "Mr. Chairman, I beg to propose that the minutes are signed as correct." "Will someone second that proposal?" "Mr. Chairman, I beg to second that proposal" "Will all those in favour please show" I didn't realize at the time that all this was to prepare boys for the world of business outside.
The Man who taught us General Science at that time was Rev. E.D. (Dippy) Preston, a Church of England priest, who was helping out due to the fact that most of the staff of conscription age were away on active service. We hadn't been at school for more than a week when Neville Wood, a boy who lived in Newton-le-Willows, was messing around in the Junior Chemistry Lab. We were all there, waiting for the teacher to arrive and Wood was playing with the swan necked tap, he had it turned on and, with his thumb under it was liberally spraying everyone who was unfortunate to get in the way. In walked Dippy "Boy, come here!" He said. "What's your name boy?" "Er--, Wood Sir" "Come with me Wood" They disappeared in the direction of the Headmaster's study. Soon they were back and Wood was tearful, rubbing his backside where "two of the best" had been swiftly applied. He didn't play with the taps again!! Neville later in life became an Inspector of Police.
We were introduced to Latin and French, algebra, geometry, all subjects that were completely foreign to me. Dick Nutt taught us Latin. "Discipuli pictorum spectate"(Pupils look at the picture) the phrase still sticks in my mind even today! Mr. Boswell (Joe Boz) was our maths teacher and he was a man with a very dry sense of humour. Joe always managed to look funereal, never smiling much except for a slight smirk now and then. I recall Jimmy Taberner coming in one day with his book smeared with jam. "What's this on your book Taberner?" "It's jam sir" came the reply. "How did it get there?" said Joe. "My little brother did it sir," said Jim. "Tell your little brother to go and stand on his head in a corner when you are doing your homework in future" Said Joe. He also told us a tale about a parrot that could count. It would go "one, two, three, five, dammit I've missed out four!!" and this was again delivered with a "deadpan" expression. He was a riot was old Joe!!
I think that Mrs Ferguson was the one who taught French to 3A. She had originally been Miss Crossland, but had married during the summer holidays. We boys were really cruel to her because she was a "soft touch" and she always had trouble keeping order. She once sent me out into the corridor for insubordination, and as I stood there, I saw old Pat Lemon approaching, I knew that if he saw me it would have been a swift walk to the headmaster's study and a whacking, so I shot back into the classroom. "What have you come back in for Foster," she said "Mr. Lemon's coming down the corridor Miss" "Well, go and sit down then," she said.
Miss Barishnikov was our English teacher. I don't know what her nationality was but she was a really good looker, always well turned out and wearing a flower most days. She had short black hair, which was cut in a bob, with a fringe. I only saw her "lose her rag" once, and it happened like this. It was April 1st and Eric Taylor decided to play an April Fools day trick on her. He wedged a pile of books over the partially open door and when they fell on her head as she walked in, he said " April fool Miss!" She came across and didn't half batter him about the ears!!
History was taught by PT (Paddy) Gore and Geography by TH (Tommy) Walker. They all had their peculiarities; Paddy Gore's was to punish you by taking hold of the short hair over your ears and twisting it!! Tommy Walker would say about something "Piffle, utter tosh, tommy rot" Curly (So called because of his lack of hair,) Johnson would always be jingling his keys in his pocket. Curly was once taking us for maths. It must have been when I was in the transitus, because the lad that I am thinking about was older than me and in those days, if you failed School Cert. by only one paper, you stayed in the trans. and did the lot again. Curly always had the habit of sitting on one of the boys desks, facing the class. He was doing just that one day when Benny Cox who was sat behind him, had an imaginary comb in his hand and was miming the action of a barber over Curly's bald head, parting his hair, combing it this way and that. I don't know how any of us kept our faces straight. Our sides were aching!!
I hate to say this, but I slacked like mad for the first term with the inevitable results. In the end of term results I came 31st out of 31, this led to me being dropped down a form into 3B. It brought me to my senses with a bump. I then realized that if I didn't help myself then no one else would. I had been used to personal tuition by the teachers at Highfield, but at the Grammar School you had to fend for yourself.
Our form teacher and maths teacher in 3B was Miss Hosendoff, and she was brilliant. I learned a lot from her. Miss McKee was our French teacher, a very nice and quiet sort of person, not very big, but with protruding front teeth, she got the unfortunate nickname of "Two Fang Fanny". She really knew her stuff when it came to languages, and had studied at the Sorbonne in Paris before the war, and taken a French degree there.
Our English teacher was EJ (Bill) Williams, he was well past retirement age and was quite deaf, and his form of punishment was to take hold of your arm just above the elbow and squeeze it. It didn't hurt much but a lot of the lads would "play to the gallery" and howl and scream. Bill seemed to enjoy it when they did this.
I made new friends in 3B, Frank Weir, Norman Bentham, who both came from Newtown, and Ronnie Slater who lived in Wrightington. Ronnie lived in a little cottage in Toogood Lane; they had no electricity, and no running water. I went to Ronnie's house on quite a number of occasions, and it was really olde worlde. His dad worked in the silk mill at Eccleston, but didn't enjoy good health; in fact he died while Ronnie was still at school, leaving Mrs Slater with 2 boys and 2 girls to bring up.
They kept goats for the milk and also for meat. When a Billy kid was born, it was killed, and the meat eaten, the skin was cured and put down for a rug. Water was drawn from a well at the bottom of the garden, and the house illuminated with oil lamps. I remember going there during the summer and being taken to Ronnie's uncle's farm. All Mrs Slater's relatives were farmers. We assisted in getting the hay in, I had a wooden rake to gather the hay into heaps in the field, and then the men came with the cart and pitchforked it in. I spent many a happy hour at Slater's. Ronnie and I would go off into the woods to look for woodpigeon's eggs and I climbed a few trees for those. We got some, which I took home for Ma to cook for me. The whites of the egg stayed sort of transparent even when fried, but they tasted all right.
By the end of the first year I had settled down to 3B and seemed to have found my level, I remember that in the end of year exams, I came 10th in the class of 32, which was pretty much an average. I used to love biology and general science, and I took this through to school certificate level. The only snag was that I had to keep Latin as a subject and I hated it. We had a book called The Revised Latin Primer, which had, in most cases, been altered to read The Revised Way of Eating Primed Beef. During our time in the fourth and fifth forms, Pat Lemon was responsible for our intake of Latin verbs and nouns. There was one time when Paul Singleton was in the class and Paul had his Latin primer out under the desk, on his knee. Old Pat was going round the class, asking boys for infinitives, pronouns, presents, pasts and futures. All stuff that we had supposedly done for homework. Pat was a bit deaf and couldn't hear Paul calling out the answers from the book on his knee. All went well until it came to Paul's turn, then old Pat saw the book and pounced!
There is one incident that I recall from those days of wartime schooling. I was very naive in all matters sexual until probably around the age of 12 or even 13. It sounds so ridiculous today, but children were told, and really believed that babies were found under gooseberry bushes, or that the stork brought them. I was looking around the shops one day as I was going to school and I saw sanitary towels advertised in a chemist's window. Bear in mind that rationing was in force at the time, and all textiles needed clothing coupons to buy them. I saw these towels and realized that they were being sold without coupons. If I had had money with me, I would have gone in to buy them. Just imagine the look on the assistant's face if I had done so!!
I also recall walking along Market St. to school and passing the Queen's Hall. During the war there were concerts given there by various artistes, usually piano recitals. Dame Myra Hess was one of them. Going by the Hall one day, I was intrigued to see that a concert was advertised, "Puishnoff plays Chopin". This intrigued me and being a "philistine" where classical music was concerned, I couldn't make head or tail of it. As I tried to pronounce it, it came out as Pushinoff plays Choppin. So much for the art of musical recital!
The British Restaurant
It was about this time that I started to use the British Restaurant for my dinners. I had tried one of the cafes in town, but it was too expensive, as Ma only gave me a shilling (5p) for dinner each day. The Rendezvous was owned and run by George McCandlish, and was situated about half way between Pendlebury's and Woolworth's, in Standishgate. One day, I decided to give it a go and off I went with two other boys, Tony Dickson, and Jimmy Walkden. I didn't realize at the time but these two had "well off" families who weren't stuck for a bob or two. Tony's dad was a cattle dealer from Newburgh, and Jimmy's family were builders who lived at Greenhill House in Wigan Lane. When we arrived for our meal, they had a reserved table on a raised part of the floor, but I was left in the lower part of the restaurant. I could see them tucking into a full dinner, but when I looked at the menu, all that I could afford was a small, solitary meat pie. I was hungry for the rest of the afternoon!!
That finished me off trying to "keep up with the Jones's". I went to the British Restaurant, which was situated in King St. under the Court Hall. This was a wartime innovation where a workingman or woman could get a good meal, without frills for a reasonable price. Stan Wilkinson and David Lown, two of my classmates, usually accompanied me. It was an unusual place, dark and sweaty, no windows in the restaurant at all, with two large extractor fans let into the outside wall. As you entered, there was a queue to join on the left hand side, which led to the pay box. When you finally got there, you shouted out to the lady in the kiosk, white, blue, yellow, black! These were the colours of the plastic discs that were to be handed in for the various components of the meal, and the nett cost was a shilling (5p) White was for soup, inevitably brown in colour, blue was a small dinner (red was a large one) Yellow for sweet, and black for tea. If you wanted coffee, it was a brown disc. The main course was usually 2 blobs of potato, a couple of pieces of meat or mutton, carrots and gravy over the lot. Mostly the sweet was a Manchester tart, liberally smothered in lumpy custard, doled out from a white jug. After leaving the kiosk, you went to the table where the cutlery was kept, and there begin the search for a fork with straight prongs and no food stuck to it. A knife that didn't have a jagged blade, and a spoon with a straight handle. Once the meal was loaded onto a tray, the search would start for a vacant table, amongst the sweaty, noisy mass of humanity eating their dinners. It may not have been "posh" but it was at least more filling than a small meat pie.
Speight, Bully of the Fourth
In our class of 4B we had the infamous Gerald Speight. Gerald had been kept down because his work standard was abysmal. He was an out and out bully who oppressed anyone who was smaller than him. We had to elect a form captain each year, and this was done amongst ourselves, supposedly by vote. Guess who the form captain was? Yes it was Gerald!! "Vote for me or else!!" He bought himself a form captain's badge from Oliver Somer's shop and proudly sported it in his lapel.
About this time, we had a new teacher, named Miss Swires and she came from Yorkshire. She taught us General Science and was also our Form Mistress. We hadn't met the lady and this day, we were in the Junior Chemistry Lab. waiting for her to make an appearance. As usual there was plenty of noise as everyone was messing about and shouting to one another. Suddenly she came in through the door. "Quiet!!" she shouted above the hubbub "everyone outside and line up" We all went out sheepishly and formed a line. "Which of you is the form captain?" Speight came up to her "I am, Miss" "Not any more " she said and took his badge from him. "I'll appoint my own" I've never seen anyone so deflated!! He hung his head and went back into line. Talk about getting his comeuppance.
Speight was to blame for my fear of water, which stayed with me for a long time. It happened this way. We used to go to the baths once a week and I couldn't swim very well. We were in the shallow end and I wanted to go into the deep end. This was when the Baths were in Millgate and were only a small affair. The pool was 3ft deep at one end and 6ft deep at the other. I think that the length of it was 25yds. There were pipes running along the whole length of the pool to grab hold of, and I was inching my way along these when this arm came around my neck and I was dragged under the water. I came up spluttering and choking and realized that Speight was the culprit. After that, even in swimming races, I had to start in the water, as I couldn't dive in for the life of me.
I do recall, though, Speight getting a real "shiner," it was in one of the inter form rugby matches, and Speight was playing. There was a ruck and Speight dived into it, just as someone's boot was coming up. It caught him under the eye, closing it for him. The next day, his face looked well, his eye was all the colours of the rainbow and shut tight but I couldn't feel any sympathy for him.
He never made it any further up the school than Lower 5, which would have been called "remedial" today. I think that he must have left when he was around 15 years of age. Later in life however, I read that he had become an Inspector of Police in what was then Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe.
Teachers and their Idiosyncrasies
In the fourth form we had Arthur Thompson (little Aigey) taking us for maths and geography. He was a funny little man whose saying was "It's all in the book!" It was a good excuse not to explain anything. Again he was an old man, helping out because of wartime. Any misdemeanour would have Aigey holding your face with one hand and slapping it with the other, for that was his specialty.
Our English teacher in the 4th, and 5th forms was Eric (Weedy) Wallace. He was one of the most laid back individuals that you could find anywhere. Having said that, he was a very good teacher. He would come into the classroom and having set some work, would put up his feet on the desk and have a minute. One of his stock expressions was "you're a lousy lot" delivered full of sarcasm. One day in class, I was acting about, and I put my ruler under the desk lid, trapped it and was firing pellets of paper into the air. One of these hit the shade around the lamp, causing it to ring out. Weedy looked up and said so nonchalantly "that was a stupid thing to do, wasn't it?" I felt a right idiot!! When he left school to take up a post in Ulster, we had a collection for him. I forget what we bought him, but Dick Hall, who wrote the note to go with it had put Mr. W. Wallace on it, to which Weedy responded, My name isn't the same as my nickname you know.
Miss Swires was one of the best teachers that I had the pleasure of knowing. She really put her heart and soul into the job. It was she who first brought out a form magazine, in which she would put bits of news that her pupils gave her. She duplicated it on a block of gelatin somehow, using green ink. I never understood the way it worked. She would organize field trips to Arley woods, but I never managed to go on these, as I was always needed at home on a Saturday, looking after the hens or some such thing.
We went to Prospect Park for rugby, and there was one field where the reservoir is now, where the junior matches were played. I've never seen a pitch with a worse slope, if you got the advantage while playing downhill you soon lost it when you played the other way!! The main pitch was used for the seniors and for inter school matches. This was the home ground for Wigan Old Boys. In the dressing rooms were two big baths and a cold shower, where we would chant the Grammar School war cry after the match. Give a yell, give a yell, give a right substantial yell, and when we yell we yell like hell, and this is what we yell, W.G.S.!!! It was also from this field that the cross-country runs started. Imagine about 50 youngsters, freezing in the March wind, teeth chattering as they waited for the word to be given for the "off", then a mad dash for the gate at the far side of the field to be in "Pole Position". I ran in two cross-country races and came in 26th on the junior and 10th in the senior.
There was one rugby match that comes to mind, I think that this one was an inter house match. We had a big lad playing for us by the name of Robin "Tubby" Yates, I can see him now, a round red face, curly hair and glasses. When I looked at his boots I saw that he wasn't wearing football boots, but a pair of hobnailed army boots!
Tubby once got himself in a spot of bother with the police. It wasn't anything criminal, but it was the first time that fireworks were available after the end of the war. It must have been 1946, because I left school at the end of summer term '47. It was outside of Oliver Somers shop in Mesnes St, where there was a long queue for fireworks and I think that everyone and his dog were queuing up. Just outside the shop was a horse and a cart making a delivery. The horse, a big shire, was about 17 hands high. All of a sudden there was pandemonium, someone had thrown a firecracker near the horse and it was rearing up on its back legs. There were a couple of policemen nearby, and one was an inspector, carrying a stick like they used to. They both wrestled with the horse trying to calm it down. The inspector had seen Tubby throw the firework and as soon as he had the horse under control, he went across to Tubby to tell him off. "I'd a good mind to lay this stick across your back you stupid boy!!" He said. Tubby's face was crimson and he slunk away as soon as he was able.
It was while I was at the Grammar School that I was instructed into the art of woodwork, something that I have enjoyed throughout my life. Billy Baron was a belter at woodwork and his workshop was a credit to him. He used to wear a gown for assembly but as soon as he could, he was back in his brown smock coat. He had all the benches set out in rows, each with its complement of tools in the cupboard underneath. Plane, mallet, straight edge, ruler, set square, marking gauge, bench hook, tenon saw. And on a rack at the end of the bench were the chisels four in number 1", 3\4", 1\2", 1\4". These were paring chisels and woe betide any boy who struck these with a mallet. In one corner of the workshop was a lathe, but boys who were taking woodwork as a subject in the School Cert only used this.
Billy had made himself a saw table that attached to the faceplate of the lathe, thus making it a bit easier when cutting up stuff for jobs. The timber we were given to work with was beautiful stuff. It was obviously prewar timber as nothing was imported during the war. Straight grained, no knots, it was a shame to cut it up. All red deal. He also had a sandstone wheel for sharpening planes and chisels, and this ran in water to keep it cool. The first job that I remember doing was a "Matchbox Stand" and this had a dovetail joint in it. Mine wasn't too bad, but Jack Glover's was atrocious. He had to cut bits of wood to pack the joint with!
Before we started to make anything, Billy showed us how to plane up a piece of wood, getting the face side flat, and trying it with the steel rule, then marking it with an "F", from here we squared up the edge, trying it with the set square, and marking it with an "X" All basic stuff but something that stays with you all your life.
When Billy had to hand out punishment, it was usually in the form of "lines" "Twenty lines of poetry" he would say.
At that time, all the windows in school were covered with mesh, stuck to the glass. This was in case of enemy action, when it would prevent glass from being fragmented, if a bomb blast had occurred. The arches under the main hall were bricked in to form air raid shelters, and occasionally we had air raid practice. When the School Magazine was published it had all coluors of paper for covers, I think that it was whatever they could get at the time. I can see the advertising in the magazine now," Uncle Joe's Mintballs 5 a penny and only one point." "Studying for matric? Your child's eyes are precious" Caffin the Optician. See Caffin See Better" JJBroughton Sports outfitter, Oliver Somers Sports Outfitter. A lot of the advertisers were ex pupils of the school, and some had given money to buy prizes. O&G Rushton, the Wholesale Grocers, gave the Harry Rushton cricket bat for the best average score. The John and Gerard Pendlebury Prize, given for work in the School Cert. exam. Pendlebury's being the original owners of Debenhams. The Broughton Prize for bowling, given by John James Broughton, the sports shop owner, whose initials now are known worldwide as the logo of Dave Whelan's sports empire.
The Gym at the Grammar was a really modern affair; it had a sprung maple floor, and a beam setup that was out of this world. When the beams were required, the beam post was pulled out along a railway to the centre of the room and held in position by two bolts in the floor, the beams then lowered on wires with counterweights and pegged into position, on these, beam saddles were placed to allow as many as eight boys to vault at one time. It was possible to turn the beam right over to present a flat side to the top for exercises involving walking on the beam.
The beam saddles were stored on a rack at the back of the gym, and it was on these that the "invalids" sat. These being boys with sick notes from their parents. When Harry Eckersley was the gym master, he would take a rugby ball and aim drop kicks at these boys during the lesson, I'm sure that sometimes they got more exercise than us trying to dodge the ball!!
During my time at WGS we used to have Wednesday afternoon off. This was to enable any games to be played and for the rest of the boys to go as spectators. Of course this was never adhered to and it became another holiday in mid week. A form of punishment was to make boys stay in school for Wednesday afternoon, thus depriving them of their treat. One day, as we were having a French lesson, Brian Santus was using a pea shooter.
We couldn't get hold of the real thing so we improvised with a piece of glass tube, which could be bought at Wilsons Chemists in Darlington St. You could get all sorts of chemicals and apparatus there, like magnesium ribbon, which burned with an incandescent flame!! This day, Brian had been chewing up some rice to shoot and he let fly at Miss McKee, who was teaching us. The rice splattered on her glasses and she couldn't see who had done it. Brian wouldn't own up so the consequence was that she kept the whole class in during Wednesday afternoon, and this got a lot of lads mad. They frogmarched Brian towards the duck pond in Mesnes Park intending to throw him in, but a lady intervened and Brian escaped!!
There was another incident concerning Brian Santus that is worth relating, and that is the one when we were in the 5th form. We had a science lesson coming up and we were waiting for the master to appear. I do believe that at that time it was Jack Kerr who was to take us. Brian Santus and another boy were scuffling on the floor. I can't remember who the other boy was, but Willie George Allanson came in and stopped the fight. "Right" he said, "Come with me to Mr. Lemon." Old Pat was Deputy Head and must have been standing in that day for Mr. Taylor. Willie George looked round the class; everybody was head down, reading their books. He looked at Alan Everingham and said to him, "What page are you reading?" Alan was on the wrong page!! "Right" he said, "You can come as well"
When they got back, Alan and the other boy had been "Whacked" with 2 strokes apiece, but crafty Brian had got off without. "You can't cane me," he said. "I've got diarrhea" Of course he hadn't but they couldn't take the chance!!
There were all kinds of crazes at school, I recall once that someone discovered the rubber bulb on the end of old style fountain pen filler would fit nicely on to the drinking fountain, and that once filled, it made a perfect water pistol. Starrs, the stationers must have been clapping their hands to see all their old stock being bought up by Grammar School boys, little knowing to what purpose it was being put to.
Another bright idea for a water pistol was the small oilcan that was sold for 6d(2.5p) by Singers, the sewing machine people in Market St. In no time at all, pupils had bought up the entire stock of these.
I don't recall many boys being asked to leave or to be "sacked" as the boys put it. One notable one was John House, whose exploits were legend. How much of the tale is true I can't say, because the legend was passed on through many times telling and no doubt with embellishments as it was told. The story is thus: - House was taken to the headmaster's study for some misdemeanour; whereupon he was told that he was to be caned. "I'm not bending down for you" was his reply when asked to do so by the Head. "Do you want Mr. Lemon to assist you?" said the Head. As old Pat was about to do this, House slugged him on the jaw with an uppercut, vaulted over the Head's desk, left the building, and never returned!!
There was only one other notorious case, and that concerned Jim Knight, whose father Joe was a boss at Lord and Sharman's slipper works. Knight had stolen some potassium from the lab. He had taken it into the toilets near the gym, and had put it into a wash hand bowl, filled with water. The property that potassium has is a great affinity for water, and as it met the water in the bowl, it began to spin round the bowl very fast; some of it was spat out and nearly blinded another innocent bystander. Knight was caned and then given the boot.
We were taught history in the 5th and Transitus by "Pop" Skirrow. This was where my writing style completely disappeared, from being legible to an illiterate scrawl. Pop used to go at it hammer and tongs with the notes. I can see it now, "Repeal of the Corn Laws" "War of the Spanish Succession", "The lines of Torres Vedras" We scribbled away furiously as Pop paced up and down, sheaf of notes in one hand, and pulling his gown back onto his shoulders with the other. His gown was never on his shoulder; he was always hitching it up. One boy in the class, Bernard "Weesh" Whittle (so called because his middle name was Aloysius) was a very slow and methodical writer, and Bernard would be at least 4 pages behind at the end of the lesson. He had to borrow someone's book to take home and copy up the notes. Pop took us from Oliver Cromwell to Disraeli in a very short time! I had so many abbreviations that by the time I came to revise my notes, I'd forgotten what a lot of them were!
At one period in the transitus, I think that it must have been in my second year, after the initial failing of the school cert. we had a lady teaching us by the name of Mrs. Knight. She was a contemporary of G.K. Chesterton, the scholar and writer, and used to tell us tales of being at college with GKC as she referred to him. Our set books in English Lit. were, Memoirs of a Foxhunting Man by Seigfried Sassoon and the Shakespeare play was Henry IV Part 1. That was for the first year in trans. and in the second and final year it was Two Years Before the Mast by Robert Conrad and MacBeth. I got to know those books and plays quite well.
During my time in the 5th and trans, we were taught French by Ken (killer) Morris. I'll never forget the first day that he took us. He seemed very calm and as he was writing on the board, Eric Taylor was chatting to the boy in the next desk. Killer spun round and hurled the full stick of chalk very accurately at Eric's head, where it broke into several pieces. Killer just said to him "Pick them up and bring them back to me" Eric was speechless!! Killer never sent anyone to be caned, as he preferred to do it himself with a gym pump.
We had Tommy Walker as our geography teacher, and Tommy was good and quite easygoing. He had a special room for the subject, right at the end of the corridor on the first floor. Here was a display case full of interesting things, like sharks teeth, and an ostrich egg, some fossils etc. Under the case was a set of drawers where the big maps were kept. Tommy had a pile of Geographic magazines that he sometimes let us look through, and they were quite interesting. In one of his cupboards he had rollers for maps, which saved a lot of time when we had work to do, as he would put the roller into a frame and having inked it on an ink pad, would proceed to put an outline in everyone's book. We thought that it was a great idea, because before this, we had to trace the map from a book, shade the back in with a soft pencil and then re-trace it in the exercise book.
Tommy also had an epidiascope, which was a forerunner of the overhead projector. He could show us pictures on a screen by placing the picture on a plate under the lamp. I used to like geography.
We had in our class a boy by the name of Gordon Thorley. He wasn't much of an academic and I don't know what happened to him in later life except that he went towards London. The incident that I have in mind concerning him was one that was rooted deep. We were in the Gym one day and the class was being taken by "Pop" Denning, who was an ex army man from World War One. He would walk about the school ramrod straight, and was in charge of junior school maths and sometimes filled in at the gym when required.
I'll never know what misdemeanour Thorley had been guilty of, but the first we knew of it was when Denning came up to him and knocked him to the floor. We all stood there petrified, it was a side of Denning that we had never seen before. As Thorley lay there snivelling, Denning picked him up and hit him again, dropping him like a sack of potatoes! He then stood over Thorley and beat him about the face. We were gobsmacked!! I'm sure that Denning was a bit of a sadist, as he liked nothing better than speaking of "six cuts of the cane"
I recall one day, Denning was taking us for a subject, I think that it could have been geography, and he was speaking about Africans. Today he would have been reported to the CRE but those days it didn't exist. He said to us "You've heard it said 'work like a Nigger,' well, don't believe it, because Niggers are a lazy lot and above all they stink" I don't know whether he had had experience of this or not!
He was in charge of the Scout group at the Grammar School, and used to go on camp with them. Denning also took us for maths in the fifth form, and it was from him that I always remembered the formula for sine, cosine, and tangent. The "sine" of a public house (perpendicular over hypotenuse) the "cost" of a boarding house (base over hypotenuse), and the tanning of a poor beast (perpendicular over base) we always used to say the "tanning of a poor boy", as it suited the way that Denning used to work. When I was in the 5th and transitus forms, we had as a science teacher, Jack Kerr; Jack had been on war work somewhere as had been "Mustard" Smith. Jack took us for chemistry and Mustard for biology with Willie George taking us for physics. I had opted for General Science as opposed to Physics and Chemistry.
I well recall the day when "Mustard" came in to talk about reproduction. Those days, sex was a taboo subject and one to be sniggered about behind desk lids and in corners, where books like "Health and Efficiency" the nudist magazine were furtively examined. All the pubic hair on the models having been smudged out by the photographer. "Mustard" opened like this "Today, we are going to talk about reproduction and if anyone wants a lavatory door to write on then I will find one for him" The class was dumbstruck!! We didn't have any more problems with the subject of reproduction I can tell you!!
During my time in the 5th form, we had Mrs Stewart for our teacher. One day, she wanted to give us a lesson in biology, and this was to involve the dissection of a rabbit. One of the boys in the class, Roy Derbyshire kept rabbits, and she asked him if he could sell one to her for the purpose of the experiment. He did as he was asked and turned up this day with a rabbit in a box. The idea was to kill the rabbit by chloroform, but when it came down to doing the deed, Mrs Stewart couldn't do it, she gave Roy his half crown and gave the rabbit to one of the boys as a pet!! We never got to cut one up.
It must have been just after the end of the war, because the netting had been removed from the windows, and we were playing in the playground. Norman Cunliffe ran at the windows of 3A and tried to open them by hitting the bar with both hands. The bottom window was one that was hinged at the bottom and opened about 6ins inward; there was a catch at the top that could be sprung open. It was a trick done lots of times by many boys, just one of those daft tricks that boys get up to. Anyway, when Norman did it, he missed the bar and both hands went through the glass. I can see him now, holding his wrists, blood pouring out, it was really scary. One of the masters took him across the road to "Drumcroon" where Dr Talwrn Jones had his surgery, and he stitched Norman up. Years later, I was speaking to Norman and he told me that Dr. Jones had billed his mother for 7/6p(37p) for the stitching!