Remembrance of Things Past

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

[78] ICHS – Part Four


I have done ICHS Part One, Part Two and Part Three (and, of course, I trust you have read these three avidly!) We move on now to the Fourth Form and Fifth Form, but it’s still a bit random in the ordering of topics.

In those days the School leaving age was younger. It was possible to leave without doing the Fifth Form (Year 11) but it was always understood that parents opting for grammar school education for their children signed an undertaking to keep them on to complete GCE studies. (Like many things, I don’t know how this rumour spread. I never heard it said officially.)



The web site today outlines the curriculum for what is now called Year 10 and Year 11, culminating in GCSE examinations. Its core programme includes English Language, English Literature, Mathematics, Biology, Physics, Chemistry, and one from French, German and Spanish. In addition Religious Studies, PSHEE and PE are non-examination subjects. It hasn’t changed that much in fifty years.

Option subjects (under review as at September 2015) are Art, Computer Science, DT Product Design, Economics and Business Studies, Engineering, History, Geography and Music. PE and RS are also available as GCSE subjects.

In our time there was a similar choice to be made for the Fourth Form but I can’t give all the details. I only know for sure what I did. We all continued with English, Mathematics, French (or German or Spanish for some) and History. English Language and Literature continued to be taught as a single subject and the whole school always did History O Level a year early in the Fourth Form. I am fairly sure that everyone continued with Latin but Physics and Chemistry were options. Biology was certainly an option, not a subject I was able to do.

We had never heard of PSHEE and the subjects of Computer Science, DT Product Design, Economics, Business Studies and Engineering were not then available – nor were any of them available at A Level. (Economics and Engineering were University subjects then.)

I think my positive choices were Additional Mathematics, Physics and Chemistry, so that my list of GCE subjects was: English Language, English Literature, Pure Mathematics, Applied Mathematics, Additional Pure Mathematics, Physics, Chemistry, French, Latin and History.

I wish I could remember more about those Fourth and Fifth forms but not much remains. Our form teacher in 4A was Mr Pegrum, who I think taught us English. We had a notice board at the back of the classroom and he sometimes posted clippings from papers or magazines or other things of interest. He once posted something that revealed his Christian name. (I can’t remember what it was.) This was a bit of a shock to us. Apart from the headmaster this was the only time we ever knew the first name of any of our teachers. He was Alan Pegrum so inevitably that became his nickname. I cannot remember the names of form teachers in the Fifth form – or the Sixth Form!


I am doing subjects fairly randomly and have three more to look at – before moving to my Sixth Form subjects later.

I always enjoyed Geography, particularly anything to do with maps, but it just got squeezed out when I had to choose. We covered South America, I think in the last year that I did Geography. We learned of the Amazon rainforest, which has continued its rapid de-forestation since then. At the time the capital of Brazil was Rio de Janeiro. A new capital, Brasilia was being formed in the heart of the rainforest.


I remember the teacher (possibly Mr Evans) once spoke eloquently about population. The World population was then estimated at 2 600 000 000, with China at 600 000 000 and India 200 000 000. The prediction by the year 2000 was for a World population of 6 000 000 000, which turned out to be surprisingly accurate. (In those days 6 000 000 000 was six thousand million. The American use of ‘billion’ has crept in and is just about universal now.) Now it’s over 7 000 000 000. (China, despite its one child policy, now has 1 400 000 000 and India at 1 300 000 000 has nearly caught up China.)

Increasing World population is a problem that has been with us for far longer than fifty years. We knew about it then and did very little about it. Now it is still largely ignored but will continue to become more of a problem.


We started History in the First Form with the civilizations of the Tigris and Euphrates, cuneiform writing, the Phoenicians and Egyptians. We progressed chronologically with Roman Britain, (missing out the Dark Ages,) the Renaissance, Tudors and Stewarts, and the Industrial Revolution – going as far as the middle of the Nineteenth Century. The Second World War and even the First World War were too modern for our consideration (although I think A Level History at least covered the First World War.)

I remember two strong speeches from History lessons. One was linked to the question of population when the teacher was considering why families had so many children. Among other things it came down to the fact that in hard times, with no electric lighting and heating, no radio television or computers there was nothing else to do in the dark winters but retire to bed – with consequent results.

The other thing I remember was the description of people through the Middle Ages as parochially minded. In early times people had no idea what happened anywhere else. They were either entirely self-sufficient or lived in very small settlements. They may have only visited the nearest town once a month on market days – a journey that could involve hours of walking each way.

English Literature

English Literature gets a special mention because it’s the only subject I found really hard. I could keep up with Mathematics, science and languages (including English Language) without doing much work but I found English Literature hard.

We did poetry, plays (which only ever meant Shakespeare) and books. From school I remember Macbeth, The Merchant of Venice, the Taming of the Shrew, A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream and Twelfth Night. I also have to mention Cymbeline, which was done as a School Play when I was there.

We did Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen, which I like. I have read all Jane Austen’s books a few times since then and can watch television adaptions of them every day.

And then there was Typhoon by Joseph Conrad. It was dreadful, so dreadful that I just couldn’t read it all. (I was not the only one.) As the title suggests it was about a storm at sea but reading dozens of pages about a storm (and nothing else) was just boring. I couldn’t finish the book. I don’t remember detecting anything more in the way of plot

I spent more time and effort revising for English Literature GCE than everything else put together but it still produced my worst grade. I didn’t miss it when we went on to the Sixth Form.

GCE O Level

I ought to say something about the exams. When they were just GCE, there was absolutely no element of coursework. It was all three-hour examinations. For the last term in the Fifth Form we stayed at home to revise except when we had exams. Apart from anything else, it was hard to keep up the physical process of writing with a pen for three hours! French had a separate oral exam and Chemistry and Physics had practical exams. (I’m not totally sure about this. They did have practical exams at A Level, of which more later.)

You may be surprised at how we received the results. We each had to provide a stamped addressed envelope. There was no Internet, no mobile phones and no mass television coverage. I presume that the school received a list of results by post and they produced and sent out tiny slips of thin paper with the individual results. We received them by post. I remember Mum bringing up the sealed brown envelopes to us in bed. While it may have been possible to telephone the school during the preceding twenty-four hours, it was made very clear that no exam results would be divulged before the postal delivery.


We just pre-dated CSE. In those days it was GCE O Level or Ordinary Level. (Now you can see why Hogwarts awards OWLs, Ordinary Wizarding Levels!) Pass grades were A to E with Fail grades F, G and H.

CSE started in 1965, as a separate exam, with grades 1 to 5 and it was said that Grade 1 was equivalent to GCE grade C. Grade C was a requirement for many things, including progression to sixth Form and A Level studies. Later the two systems merged to form GCSE, with exams taken at different levels with overlapping results.

In theory the modern GCSE grades A*, A, B and the top half of grade C correspond to the old GCE O Level pass grades of A to E. (There have been many other changes, including the use of coursework, major changes to Exam Boards, and changes in course content and exam methods, so comparisons can only be very approximate.)

When considering ICHS, because the selection process picked only those likely to find upper levels of qualification relatively easy, we would not have considered CSE or the lower grades of GCSE.


You will remember from [47] Standards that corporal punishment was still used in schools. You may also remember from [13] Secrecy, that we generally respected authority much more. As children we tended much more to respect our elders.

As an example, any teacher (or even any adult) did not have to steer a way through corridors of children. The crowds would make way and open up gaps to allow an adult through. I suspect that not showing due deference would have been taken as punishable disrespect. Later, when I taught at a Comprehensive School in the eighties I found myself ignored in corridors, having to wait for gaps in the streams of children.

Most teachers did not have any problem with discipline because we were basically well-behaved children who wanted to learn. The only exceptions were in RI (Religious Instruction) which was not really of interest to us.

There were school detentions once a week for the upper school (from the Fourth Form) and a junior detention for the first three forms. They rarely had more than two or three pupils. I think I was put into junior detention once but I can’t remember why. (It might have been twice and I may have had a senior detention. Not producing homework when due was the most common misdemeanour.)

Above this was the cane, feared more for the associated entry in the Punishment Book than for the actual event. My understanding was that three detentions in one term (or school year) might produce a caning but this may have been apocryphal.

I was caned twice and I suppose I have to tell you about them …

You will remember, from [70] ICHS Part Three, about our Latin master, who we called Solly’. He was easy going, chatted about many things other than Latin, but generally taught us well in an enjoyable manner. I never felt that we were disruptive but we did mess around a bit. He obviously complained at one stage to our form master – I think it was Mr Cully. Probably during lessons with him, or perhaps in form period, he took us outside, one at a time, and had a quiet almost man-to-man chat. I had to accept that we were less than perfect in behaviour in Latin lessons although I never quite understood why I had apparently been picked as one of the ringleaders. Some of us, (I’m not sure how many) were given one stroke of the cane each, on the hand. I don’t think it hurt that much. We were ‘bound over’ to behave better but continued more or less as before.

The other incident was in a French class of Mr Stenner, while the lesson was being taken by a student teacher. As I remember it, my crime was being a little overactive while sharpening a pencil at the back of the class. It was reported to Mr Stenner, again with two or three others. He was known to be strict and supported his student teacher without question. We said nothing when asked to admit guilt or provide a defence. This time it was two strokes and it hurt a lot more. With two strokes you knew what was coming next as you kept you hand out for the second one.

There was no malice in any punishments and no sense of disliking the teachers for what they had done. We just accepted that the teacher was always right.

School prefects could give out Impositions, which were along the lines of: write 1000 words on a specified title. I suppose we more or less respected prefects as well. As long as you did the imposition (generally by writing a lot of rubbish at speed) you could avoid referral onwards.

schooldinners1950s  School meal break

School Dinners

With apologies to ICHS, I have to come to school dinners, a subject that seems to have slipped the net somehow, and it’s mostly very early memories, from the days of Grange Hill Primary School.

When I first went to school, in the early fifties, everyone had school dinners. There was no alternative. They cost a shilling each so we took the equivalent of 25p to school each week. The price was unchanged when I left school! (Memories of paying are a bit unclear for Junior School.)

With a break of just over an hour at lunchtime it was always a regimented procedure. But, of course, we did what we were told and behaved perfectly for the whole procedure. (Well, most of us, most of the time.)

We lined up and went in by classes and sat down on long tables by classes, with supervising teachers everywhere. (At ICHS prefects were involved.)

When we were all there we said grace, generally much more common then, always the simple: “For what we are about to receive, may we be truly grateful.”

We lined up and received the first course and took it back to our tables. When we were ready we lined up, took our plates back, emptied what was left into a slops bucket (where, supposedly, it was fed to pigs) and received afters.

The first course was awful stuff, normally a slice or two of meat, gravy, a scoop of mashed potato and a dollop of green vegetables of some description. The meat, often mutton, had a lot of fat and gristle, and the potatoes had unsavoury lumps. (I always had an aversion to greens that was probably not helped by school dinners.) We ate what we could as there was nothing else. Afters was either a square of jam tart or treacle tart or rice pudding (or other milk pudding) with a dollop of jam. Maybe there were some days when things were different, perhaps liver or sausages. Memories of school dinners are not my favourite memories.

When we went to Highlands there was an option to take our own sandwiches, which we did. (Sandwiches were never anything other than plain white bread with cheese or ham.)

I’m not quite sure what happened when we moved to ICHS. The option for sandwiches was there but for some reason we reverted to school dinners. Every week we presented five shillings to the form master for it. That was the theory. After about a year we stopped going to lunches. Mum and Dad gave us 5s:0d every week which we kept for our own use – all the way through to the Sixth form. We just didn’t eat at lunch time. By then, we generally skipped breakfast in the rush to get out on time, so a ‘doorstep’ with jam was quite common on arriving home.

School dinners have changed a lot since then. The quality was awful, quantities were fixed and there was never any element of choice. We may have had tap water in jugs on the table but there were definitely no other drinks.

Sorry but ICHS blogs don’t go well with illustrations.

One more to come …

Author: Alan

Retired, currently living in Cheltenham.

5 thoughts on “[78] ICHS – Part Four

  1. Pingback: [82] ICHS – Part Five | Remembrance of Things Past

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  5. Pingback: [114] It’s only words, and words are all I have | Remembrance of Things Past

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