As a core subject we had English for one period a day from the First Form to the Fifth Form. In the first year our teacher, Mr Lowe, was known as ‘Selwyn.’ Don’t worry, I’m not going to do every teacher of every subject for every year! I can’t even remember most of them.
Selwyn was in his last year of teaching. He seemed pretty old to us and was a bit absent-minded. He lived in Fremantle Road just a few yards away from the school and it seemed as he had always been there.
English lessons were supposed to come in five categories and unfortunately I can’t remember exactly what they were. They could have been Grammar, Poetry, Drama, Essays and Comprehension but there were also plays and books.
What I do remember is that at the beginning of each term he would tell us which days were which – maybe Monday Poetry, Tuesday Grammar … He asked us to remind him and every day he would ask. Needless to say the boys said every day what they wanted so the mixture was not what it should have been. We didn’t have essays as often as we should have done!
In those days everyone at school took English seriously. We studied grammar and were always expected to use proper English with perfect grammar and spelling. In exams, this applied to all subjects.
I will come back to English Literature around the Fifth Form, for reasons which will become obvious then.
It was always assumed that all the staff at a Boys’ School should be men. As for so many things, perhaps we just assumed it without any evidence.
There were two exceptions. The school secretary, with her own office opposite the Headmaster’s office, was Miss Glasberg. Typing and secretarial work were so much jobs for women that it would have been very unusual for a man to do this. (See  Sex Discrimination.)
The other exception was Miss Scott, a French lady who taught us the language in the First Year. Again with no evidence to go on, she was presumed to have been employed in exceptional circumstances in the post-war situation. We had no idea what these circumstances might have been.
Having done a little training as a teacher I now see how our teaching was influenced by the education of the teachers. I think Miss Scott had done a course at University on pronunciation!
We spent the whole of the first term learning how to speak French properly while learning virtually nothing of its vocabulary or grammar. We went through its sixteen numbered vowel sounds in order, picking up just a few French words as examples. We learned some of the vagaries of French spelling, with its accents and cedillas, much easier that English spelling. We must have been taught thoroughly because I can still remember much of it. (It did take a whole term just for pronunciation.)
The first four vowels, numbers one, two, three and four, were approximately as the English vowels in ‘meet’, ‘mate’, ‘met’ and ‘mart.’ Number five is a longer sound, a bit like number four, as in ‘marsh’, then six, seven and eight are heard in ‘mott’, ‘moat’ and ‘moot’ (Not as in ‘mute.’)
The second half were a bit more difficult, starting with number nine, best seen as the German ü. It’s a mixture of numbers seven and eight. Ten and eleven were similar to each other (but different!), both a bit like the first vowel in ‘murder.’ Somehow French ‘eggs’ and ‘ears’ managed to use both sounds. (In the singular ‘un œuf’ and ‘un œil.’ In the plural the vowel sounds changed for ‘des œufs’ and ‘les yeux.’ Don’t ask me which were ten or eleven!)
Twelve is the unaccented vowel of the word ‘the,’ known as a schwa. (I only learned that in studying Russian. We think of it as unaccented and insignificant but it gets accented in Chinese, even carrying different tones.) That just leave thirteen to sixteen, the four nasal vowels sounds.
I remember nothing else of Miss Scott. Perhaps she only taught us for one term, or perhaps we had a whole year of pronunciation. I can say little of her successor, Mr Loeser except that he was Czechoslovakian, with an accent, possibly another refugee from the War. He may have spoken good French but his English was sometimes hard to understand.
He was followed by Mr Stenner, who was strict and taught boringly and rigidly by the book. We worked through the text book by chapters. First we had time to look at the book and learn the new vocabulary listed at the start of each chapter. Then there was new grammar – things like verb tenses.
Then we went round the class one by one in alphabetical order. (For many classes in the early years we sat in alphabetical order as directed by the teacher.) We read the set text of the book, sentence by sentence, getting the pronunciation perfect, and we translated it into English – going over it again until he thought we had the best English equivalent. Sometimes it seemed that it was not so much the literal translation of the words but getting perfect idiomatic literary forms of English.
Mr Stenner will get another mention later.
I don’t think I have mentioned homework yet. We didn’t have it at Junior School but it started at ICHS – carried home in those leather satchels – two or three subjects every night – or each subject once or twice a week. You have to know about it for the next topic.
We had General Science for the first two years before splitting into Physics and Chemistry with Mr Bown. (He was known as ‘Pinhead,’ perhaps because he had a small, bald head.) He was not popular. He was strict and bad-tempered, sometimes threatening violence in a believable way. We were frightened of him. He may never have actually stuck any of the boys but we thought he might.
He was one of the worst teachers and was notorious for not marking homework. Homework was always collected when due but would be unmarked when returned to us. Every few weeks he would try to catch up, rushing through an attempt at marking the work he had missed. Partially marked books would be returned and he would be in a bad mood – always blaming the problems on us!
I remember in particular what could have been the best lesson we ever had, demonstrating the effects of water on sodium, potassium and other metals. He had tried to mark a few week’s work, gave us back our books and punished the whole class for poor work by saying that we would not have the demonstration. We had to spend the lesson in silence, copying up what we would have seen if he had been bothered to do it for us. (Maybe he didn’t like this demonstration and did the same every year!)
I don’t think anybody liked him and it was a relief to end General Science.
I cannot remember the name of our Latin teacher, perhaps because we never used it. We had the same teacher up to the fifth form. I am told that it was a Mr Morrow, which is vaguely familiar. He was known as ‘Solly.’ (I don’t know why.) We liked him because he spent much of the time talking about things that had nothing to do with school, sometimes about sailing. In those days Latin was a standard part of our education. We learned all the declensions of nouns and conjugations of all the tenses of the verbs, which helped both in understanding grammar in English and French and in the meanings of English words with Latin roots.
He wasn’t very strict and we didn’t behave perfectly in his lessons – but we were never really disruptive.
I remember our first year Latin exam. Exams were in our form room and as we were ready he delivered the papers to the invigilating Mr Jermy. He announced to the class that he had put in a word by mistake that we hadn’t covered yet in lessons. The word SAXUM meant rock, which he wrote on the board. It’s strange what useless things we remember in later life!
We had to study one book of the Gallic Wars by Caesar and went through it chapter by chapter. I think by the time we did ‘O’ Levels we could do many of the chapters from memory without needing the Latin!
Gym and PE
We called it PE (Physical Education) but it was nearly always in the school gymnasium with its wooden floor and all the standard gym equipment. There were wooden ladders at the side which we could climb; ropes hanging downwards; a long wooden vaulting horse; benches, mats and medicine balls.
We weren’t taught much about actual gymnastics. Often it was more like circuit training. Sometimes there was a game called ‘Pirates,’ a sort of tag version of tag, which involved staying off the ground.
I think I was vaguely interested in Gymnastics. Once I went to Gym Club, which did give the opportunity for a little bit of individual tuition. But it was about five o’clock, after waiting around at school, and just wasn’t convenient (or perhaps I wasn’t that keen.) I only went once.
For PE we just wore shorts, vests and the standard black plimsolls that were still the only gym shoes available
Games were outdoor activities (in all weather), for a double lesson each week. The teacher had two classes of 32 together so there was not much in the way of individual tuition. I can’t remember the names of any Games teachers but we didn’t have Ron Pickering. He taught at Wanstead, another Grammar School in Ilford.
Through the winter, games meant Football. We played three separate matches, a first team, second team and third team. I presume that the teacher selected the teams somehow and he looked after and refereed the first team match. Second and third teams looked after themselves. I was third team material so I never had a word of education about football, apart from what I noted in  Match of the Day.
I’m not sure why but football wasn’t always on the school field at the back of the school. Sometimes we went somewhere else.
Just once, when the weather was really bad we were told about offside. Perhaps it’s not surprising that I grew up without a love of football. (For football we had to buy football boots and socks.)
In the summer the sport changed to Cricket. The arrangement into teams was as for Football (and again I was third team material) so I was never told anything about the rules of the game or how to play it. I have picked up a lot from watching it on television but it far too complicated. I think if the ball hits the body it should be LBW whatever else happens – much simpler!
You well be getting an idea already of my memories of how we were taught in games. I mustn’t forget Athletics. Once a year, for just one double lesson, in the summer out would come shot put, discus, javelin, hurdles, high jump and long jump and the teacher would do his best to tell some of something about each of them. Yes, without worries about Health and Safety, a few boys would be left throwing the javelin on the school field. I always felt that I might be good at long jump but there were no other opportunities for athletics.
It wouldn’t be the same without a bit of side-tracking and backtracking. This is about water.
My earliest memory is of being dropped in the bath. I think it was my father and I must have been about one. I also remember at a very young age, on holiday somewhere like Margate or Clacton, stepping from a very small seaside pier on to a small boat and falling between the two into the water. I grew up with a fear of water, especially a fear of putting my head under water. It’s not quite so bad now but it’s still with me.
At some time we moved to a sort of rota where a third of us went swimming every week. We had to catch a bus and walk to the swimming pool at Ilford. We took swimming trunks in a rolled-up towel.
Lessons started at the shallow end. All we had to do was glide from the middle to the side to gain the confidence for proper lessons at the deep end. I could never do this. Soon teaching concentrated on the able pupils and a small number of non-swimmers entertained ourselves at the shallow end. I never learned how to swim, never developed the confidence to glide to the side and kept my fear of water. I don’t think the teachers were interested or even aware of me or other non-swimmers.
There was a brand new swimming pool and a new gymnasium built somewhere around the time when I was in the Fifth Form or Lower Sixth. I still couldn’t swim. In the Sixth Form I remember standing at the shallow end while a classmate showed me how to do two lengths underwater!
[At about the age of fifty, I did gradually learn to swim a little. At first I could only swim along the side, now I can manage a length in some small pools.]
I have made a few minor changes about names and nicknames, thanks to those whose memories are better than mine.
Sorry, it’s been a rambling blog with no pictures. Before you get the wrong idea, I want to make it plain that I loved almost everything about my years at school. I have always enjoyed learning new things. I loved Mathematics and Science and languages (because of the logical structure of their grammar.) I liked reading and writing and anything that didn’t involve too much physical activity. The only times when I didn’t enjoy lessons were when Mr Bown was not in a good mood.
More to come …