Remembrance of Things Past

Mostly about growing up the 1950s in Ilford, Essex.

[216] Highlands School


[216] Make the Punishment Fit the Crime

First written early 2015. Revised and reissued late 2019

I have talked a little in my last blog about my two Primary Schools, Grange Hill and Highlands. Now we move to the basics of education, the Three Rs.


Education then was said to consist of the Three Rs – Reading, wRiting and aRithmetic. We certainly started with them. I cannot remember learning to read but I must have done it, presumably at school with some help at home. I can say that our early reading pre-dated all the varieties of phonics. We only ever used normal letters and correct spelling. I can remember a series of books called ‘Janet and John’, which we may have used. They were about – wait for it – about a girl and boy called Janet and John. As Wikipedia notes, they were typical, English middle-class children. (We were not then a multi-cultural society.)

(There was another series of Ladybird books for children, including a graded sequence of books designed to teach basic reading. We used these with our children in the late 70s.)

Readers will be aware of the Beatrix Potter stories for children, beautifully illustrated. I can remember my first of many visits to the Children’s Library at Gant’s Hill, where I brought home one of these. I loved the pictures. We certainly used the library regularly after that. I can’t remember how old I was. On my first visit, together with the Beatrix Potter was another book, which was a great disappointment to me. It was called the ‘Story of Rayon.’ I thought it might be a story, but it was a children’s book about the production of rayon. After that, I looked inside carefully before choosing library books.


Writing at school was very different then. We wrote in exercise books and used a simple ink pen or pencil. Each desk had an inkwell for our pens. I can remember that when the nib of a pen was broken the teacher would supply a new one. For some reason, we had to take the new nib into our mouth and suck it for a few seconds before use. It must have had a waterproof oil to preserve it before use.


At Primary School, none of the children ever used a fountain pen or a ball-point pen. (Teachers could use fountain pens. I don’t think we ever saw ball-point pens at that stage.)

The quality of writing was important. We learned how to shape each letter. At Primary School, we stuck to what I later learned to call printing. We simply did not do joined-up writing. Cursive script was not acceptable at Primary School and was never taught. (Somehow, without being taught, we all started to do it when we went to Secondary School.)

There were lessons in formal handwriting, when we would try to produce perfect, artistic script. (Mr Adlam taught us to do a simple form of Gothic lettering with a broad nib.)


There were, of course, no calculators but we all did ‘sums’. Without calculators, it was more important to be able to handle numbers (and our complex currency!) We learned tables and had to know from 2 x 2 = 4 up to 12 x 12 = 144 by heart. We learned Long Multiplication so that with a pen and paper we could work out 123 x 456. [It’s 56088. We may not have done quite such difficult sums at first.] We did decimals and Long Division, so we could work out 123 ÷ 456 [That comes to 0.2697..]


Other Subjects

With just the one class teacher, there was no formal timetable and we must have covered other things – History, Geography, Religious Instruction (RI), Art, Music and PE, about which I remember little. RI certainly included the Bible stories of the Old and New Testament (and nothing of other religions). Art was based on powdered paints, which came in just three colours, to be mixed to make others. Music was singing, accompanied on a piano, with occasionally the chance to use percussion instruments.

For PE, once a week, we had to remember to bring shorts and plimsolls in a bag. For many years, the only trainers [US: sneakers] seen in England were the simple, cheap, black, Chinese made plimsolls shown in the picture. All I remember of Geography is that we would be given a map of the World (printed as described above), showing the location of two or three cities, a few days before end-of-term exams.

The other thing I remember being taught, in our final year, was Country Dancing. We did the Valeta, the Gay Gordon and one or two others whose names escape me. (‘Gay’ had a quite different meaning then.)


We knew nothing of SATs. We did not know what was in the curriculum (if there was a curriculum,) nor did our parents and, for the most part, no-one wanted to know. It was up the school, presumably dictated by the local education authority. They did their own testing, when appropriate, and had examinations at the end of every term (or sometimes just twice a year). Parents received a report at the end of term with examination results. In every subject, the report would show exact percentage results from the examination and position within the class.

The school report was almost the only contact of parents with the school. In addition to exam results, there was a comment on ‘Conduct.’ This was what interested our father. He wanted to see: ‘Good’ or: ‘Excellent,’ and was never satisfied with ‘Fair.’ (One word was all we ever had.)


There was corporal punishment. The Headmaster had a cane. It was very rarely used. Perhaps it was the threat of punishment, or perhaps we were just well behaved. I cannot remember any child ever being punished, or any action of disobedience or disrespect to teachers – at least at Primary School. The class size of forty was not a problem.

There were House Points awarded as incentives – for good work (neat writing and drawing) and for remembering PE kit.

Mr Adlam

There was no way of knowing how classes were defined, but we assumed some sort of streaming. The top class of Fourth Year Juniors was always taken by Mr Adlam. All teachers tended to keep the same class, which meant that they could re-use material. It is clear that Mr Adlam taught mostly the same topics from year to year.

Most teachers then were women. Mr Adlam was a middle-aged, pipe-smoking man. (I don’t think he actually smoked while teaching. He did smell of tobacco.) He had a charismatic approach. Somehow, we both loved him and feared him. Behaviour in his class was always perfect.

[Think back to the blog about carol singing. When we were much older and went round the streets of Ilford with the Youth Club carol singing and collecting for charity, we knew where Mr Adlam lived. Even at seventeen or eighteen, no one dared to knock on his door and ask for money!]

He would explain the lesson to us, drawing on the blackboard and leave us with a task involving writing and drawing. Every piece of work might have a tick when marked. If it was good, it could be marked ‘G’, ‘VG’ or ‘Ex’ for one, two or three points towards House Points. It was so hard to get a mark of ‘Ex.’ I can remember trying really hard at drawing the red cells within a diagram about blood – and being disappointed with a mere ‘VG.’

I can remember lists of new words to learn, written on the blackboard. Once, one of the words was ‘candid,’ which he said meant completely honest. As an example, he said: if your wife asks you whether she looks nice in a new dress, and says she wants your candid opinion, it means you must tell the truth. Of course, he added, she still wants you to say yes even if it’s not true! (I don’t think Mr Adlam was married.)

There were many things that Mr Adlam taught, that I have heard others say he also did on other years. He went through human skeleton in a series of lessons, and did digestion and the alimentary canal from end to end in another series. As we did the skeleton, we used card, scissors and glue to construct our own skeleton, week by week, which we proudly took home at the end of term.

Craft work with scissors and glue was part of the syllabus. I remember knife-edge folds made in card, and envelopes made from variously coloured pieces of card to take home. When it came to pressing on knife-edge folds, or gluing together, his motto was: “Keep on doing it until you can’t do it any more … Then keep on doing it!”

Mr. Adlam obviously had his own thoughts about what he should teach us. I remember – Wikipedia tells me it was 17 October 1956 – we listened to the opening of Calder Hall on the radio. It was the first nuclear power station in England, part of what became Sellafield. I think it was the only live radio I ever heard at school.

(It didn’t fit into the subjects we usually did at school so we were given a new exercise book for it. We put ‘Topics’ as a subject on the front page. The only other time we used this book was when Mr. Adlam taught us about ‘inertia’ and Newton’s three Laws of Motion, which he demonstrated with the help of a medicine ball!)

I wasn’t all work. Once a week he would read to us the continuing story of Moonfleet by J Meade Falkner. It was the same book each year, an adventure story with smugglers. Mr Adlam would write up a list of characters on a side blackboard and the list stayed up there. He had to explain why one significant character in the book was marked as ‘(deceased)’.


At the end of term, in a little entertainment for the whole school, we would always see Mr Adlam, dressed in full regalia, sing a Gilbert and Sullivan classic song. There was ‘A More Humane Mikado’ who would “make the punishment fit the crime,” and the Modern Major-general’s Song from the Pirates of Penzance.

I will leave the Eleven Plus until I consider Secondary Education, which may be next time – or maybe later …

Author: Alan

Retired, currently living in Cheltenham.

50 thoughts on “[216] Highlands School

  1. What a wonderful blog. I was very fond of Mr Adlam such a good teacher. Still remember what he taught us. Still have the skeleton! Saw him many years later in the Mikado at Chigwell Operatic and Dramatic Society production..


  2. I remember the highlight of the week being Mr Adlam reading Moonfleet.


  3. My biggest memories of Highlands involve the really expert teachings of Mr Adlam. I left Highands in 1974. Fond memories….,


    • I think I left in 1958 so he must have taught there for twenty years. Everyone remembers Mr Adlam.


      • I was searching for the name of the school uniform outfitters for Ilford County High School for Girls in the 1950s and by a convoluted way ended up on your blog. You must have been in the year below me as I was at Highlands from 1957 onwards. I’m sure I recognise some of the faces in your school photo. What a legacy Mr Adlam left – the best teacher I ever had! They may have been big classes but we learnt a lot. Do you remember Miss Alderson (reception class) Mrs Baker (2nd year) Mrs Wetherden (4th year) Mr Wills – music teacher, Mrs Oliver – deputy head, Mr Cummings – headmaster? I am a textile artist and did an installation piece 2 or 3 years ago using many memories and images from my time at Highlands. Thanks for reminding me of happy times


      • Yes I think I had Miss Baker. There may have been two Bakers. I’m sure we always called them Miss.


      • I left in 1968 and Adlam was still going strong with the same curriculum.
        The guy was always impeccably dressed with amazing posture and tall with a particularly long stride. Very impressive-I always found him to be extremely reasonable and fair.


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  6. I was there 48 to 54. Remember Adlam smacking my bare inner thigh..(short trousers) Still feel the pain.Had no idea as to reason.
    Cummings headmaster.A dreadful tyrant and bully.Feared by all..
    I was caned across the hand by Miss Oliver aged 6/7 No idea as to why. I was a child.
    I was a quiet very polite child.always saying please and than you.A happy home life.Not a problem child in any way shape or form.
    The only fair and nice teacher Miss Light who became Mrs Harris ?
    School days….happiest days of your life …………..??
    Couldn’t wait to leave..
    I then went on to great things.


    • I don’t remember much about Mr Cummings. I think we all feared all the teachers then. And, yes, I remember short trousers.


  7. I was thrilled to read your post and everyone’s comments. I was taught by Mr Adlam when I was in the 4th year at Highlands in 1974 and I have never forgotten him. I remember he liked to use the word affirmative as an alternative to yes,and I thought I would try it out in class as well but I had misheard him and said infirmative instead! As a vey shy child I was mortified when the class laughed. I remember learning the alimentary canal, the eyeand the ear – very useful as I studied to become a dentist. We also made the skeleton which I was so proud of but unfortunately it got thrown away by my dear mother who got scared by it when she came across it hanging in the dark! I still regret that after all these years. Moonfleet also brings back memories and I learnt that jail could be spelt gaol as well. There was a boy called Ralph and Mr Adlam insisted on pronouncing it ‘Rafe’ which was again something new for me. Oh and in the gym Mr Adlam would count the seconds for someone doing a handstand by saying one hundred and one and so on. I could go on and on now that I have started!


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  11. I had Mr Cummings as a teacher and he wasn’t dreadful at all. I was very envious of the famous skeletons, but heard about Mr Adlam being expert at throwing chalk at inattentive students! He used to lead the singing at the end of our Christmas partys as everything was being cleared away. One of the favourites was Underneath the Spreading Chestnut Tree. At the end of the party my mum
    ( shared by Alan) used to make me go up to Mr Adlam to thank him and I was very careful to be polite! Highlands was a great school!


  12. Another Mr Adlam pupil here, as was my sister and both of my uncles. Set us on a course for life in science, the most inspiring teacher I ever had. As you say, once taught by him you could never forget him. Music for us was with Mrs Spenceley (?) Additional to Science, Astronomy, Moonfleet etc. do you remember the radio series ‘Man’ which we were able to listen to weekly and the poems of the week we had to learn by heart, The Vicar of Bray, The Pig who could not Jump, Daffodils, I Must Go Down to the Sea Again, so many and I still remember big sections from all of them. The big stick that used to crach onto the desk when we were not attending or the brass ‘reception’ bell that used to be polished by a lucky monitor or Friday afternoons.


    • I think he was able to pick whatever radio he felt was suitable. I remember the opening of Calder Hall our first nuclear power.


  13. I visited Highlands in 2005 for the centenary and saw Philip Wills, the music teacher who was also Choirmaster at St.Andrews looking very well. Incidentally it was Mr.Cumming(singular)- everyone remembers him in the plural !


    • Wills doesn’t sound familiar. Do you know his dates?


      • Wills.Certainly 1954
        Good man.


      • I was Head Chorister at St Andrews around 1967 and we had an excellent Choir Master Mr Winston who lived at Chigwell. He took me through all of the exams for the Royal School of Church Music and I ended up for a while singing on special occasions at Westminster Abbey. Great experience for a 10 year old. Used to travel up on the tube from Grants Hill on Monday nights to practice on my own.


  14. Ignore last date of 1954 for Wills
    I had him for music certainly 1951


  15. I remember the list of characters from Moonfleet up on the board. In my year someone had changed “Mr Ratsey the Sexton” to “Mr Ratsey the Sexpot”. I don’t think Mr Adlam noticed and it stayed up there for the rest of the year!


  16. Great blog, thanks for putting this down. Just a small query: I believe, when I was in Adlam’s class it was the last year of primary, not the 3rd as you say. That was 58/59, did he change classes??


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  19. I loved Mr Adlam. He was strict but very fair and great at teaching. He had a bell he used to tap on his desk and say put your tools down children. If you disrupted the class he throw the rubber at you and sat you in the hall to read from the bible. I used to dust his board rubbers…. Awesome Teacher….


  20. I started with a lovely lady teacher in the 50s.I think her name was Miss Girdler ,but my memory is not that good now,i also remember Miss Gray and Mr Rugg,, Mrs Brailey,in the Junior school I can remember Mr Johnstone,Mr Bristow, Mrs Brown,


    • David did you have blonde hair? Do you remember Mrs Rotsey? She was my favourite teacher.


      • Stephanie

        What was your maiden name and when were you at Highlands?


  21. I was at Highlands from 1961 to 1967 and remember Mrs Brown, Mr Johnstone and I remember her as Mrs Bailey. But Mr Adlam who taught me in my final year at Highlands I remember the best. He took all the prefects and me on holiday to the Isle of Wight for a week in the Summer holidays which was great fun


    • Hi John. I remember you from Highlands. You used to live virtually opposite the gates in Lennox. If I recall your Dad was blind wasn’t he?


  22. Just found this I am in the photo 3rd from Right front row, I remember a Gillian and Maureen Toms . Started age 5 and left in 1960 brought back lots of memories. There was a vicars son Michael in one of my classes I heard he was a paediatrician in Canada


  23. I was there 1951-1955. 1st year Miss Moss, 2nd year Mr Wills,3rd year Mr Adlam, 4th mrs wetherdon. Mr Cumming was the feared headmaster. Mr adlam was the best teacher I ever had. I still have painting of a London bus that he got us all to do. He also helped us to make a human skeleton made with cardboard and drawing pins!
    However if you got into trouble as I did twice, he put you across his knee and spanked you on the back of the thigh a dozen or so times. More painful than the cane. But very happy times! John


  24. At Grange Hill we also did Country Dancing. It was on Tuesday afternoons and I went home for ‘dinner’. After dinner every Tuesday i would always try my luck “Mum I have a headache,” “Mum I feel sick”. It never worked. The problem was that at the beginning of the dancing session, we boys had to choose a partner! (14 of us and 28 girls!) It was excruciatingly embarrassing for a nine year old. Eventually I minimized the embarrassment and always danced with a girl called June. We had to practice for the Country Dance Festival at Chigwell. Our teacher loved it -she was the only one!


    • Hi Colin
      I loved country dancing with our very strict teacher Miss Luscombe.
      I was in Forest house with the colour Green for our banner
      Enjoyed my time T Grange Hill Primary.


  25. I am/was a paediatrician in Canada but not a vicar’s son.


  26. I Went to Highlands School in thw 1970s. In the infants I had Miss Barnet, a grey haired old lady. Then I had Miss Jones, when i went to the primary classes. She was Welsh and loved to sing, and i think played the piano. Mr Adlam was still there when i left at the end of the 1970s, including when we all got given our jubiliee mugs in 1977, which i still have. I also remember the country dancing and him dressing up at Christmas and singing. We also used to go to the church in The Drive , every so often, espcially during harvest festivial. The dinner ladies were great, and one took a shine to me and used to really spoil me. When i left, we had a book , so that teachers etc could write comments in about you etc. The one from the dinner ladies was very nice and i think i still have the book to this day.


  27. Does anyone remember cricket with Mr. Cumming during playtime? On one occasion I hit the ball high in the air and nearly broke a window. Mr Cumming banned me from batting. Shortly afterwards, I broke the stumps which had seen many summers of action. I was the unlucky person who happened to be bowling at the time. Mr Cumming was not best pleased!
    I well remember playing football and cricket for the school team (Mr Johnson) against Redbridge, Christchurch, Mossford, William Torbitt Newbury Park and Downshall schools among others.
    Happy memories from my time at Highlands 1949-1955.
    Regards to all.
    John Nation


    • I too remember cricket in the playground -there was a net at the Lennox Gardens end. The games master was Arthur Johnson.
      I recall country dancing with the appalling Mrs Weatherdon- a very nasty piece of work.The music I particularly associate with it was a folk tune- The Dargason, by Gustav Holst.


  28. By the time I was in Mr Adlam’s class in 1972-73, the streaming had stopped but I’m pretty sure that he continued teaching exactly the same material that he always had and which even now I remember so well. I still have the Biology exercise book (as well as the topic book from Mrs Brown’s Third Year class, for which I got 3rd prize in the class – a 50p WHSmith gift voucher!). I too remember ‘Moonfleet’, the cardboard skeletons, the bell on his desk , the list of kings and queens on the wall, the poems learnt from memory, his singing in assembly. It has also just come back to me that he was off work sick for a long time in the autumn term when we were taught by a supply teacher called Mrs Dawson (who was a friend of my mother’s) and in the Christmas party at the end of term, he came in in disguise – possibly as Father Christmas, I can’t remember . I do remember the Head Mr Thirsk saying that a very important visitor was about to arrive. The only other memory I have of Mr Thirsk was that he taught us about the new decimal currency when I was in the First or Second Year. Even in 1973 we were still dancing the Gay Gordons!
    I also feel fortunate to have had Mrs Brown in the Third Year. She was also to be feared – her wooden spoon was legendary – and I think that she and Mr Adlam were the only teachers to still retain their old fashioned high teacher’s desk. Mrs Brown read The Hobbit to us which led to my life long love of Tolkien.
    The other great teacher I had at Highlands was Mrs Frew in the First Year, in one of the ‘new’ classrooms at the top end of the minor building. The only lesson I remember though was when it was my turn to take in a record from home and I took ‘Back Home’ – the England World Cup song of that year – 1970.
    Incidentally re a previous post from Peter – the choirmaster and organist at St Andrew’s during the sixties was Mr Frank Winter – not Winston.


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