Remembrance of Things Past

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


[62] Ilford County High School for Boys – Part One

I’m afraid I am running out of sensible ideas for cryptic titles. This is the first of several blogs about my experiences at Secondary School.

The school is still there and from the outside it hasn’t changed much. You can find it from Google Maps if you search for ‘Ilford County High School.’


It’s still a selective grammar school for boys only and it has its own web-site now at so I will leave it to you to find out about it now. I will take you back over fifty years to how I remember it – from 1958 to 1965. (It no longer calls itself Ilford County High School for Boys. I think the equivalent school for girls, near Gants Hill, was more short-lived.)

I am hoping that I have enough for two or three quite long posts about my school life here, only roughly chronologically, but I have to go back a tiny bit to say how I got there.


Younger readers will need to know this to convert forwards. Oldies like me may need it to convert backwards. Those in between probably know already. But there won’t be a test! OK, we used to have Primary school (Infants and Juniors) then we moved to Secondary School where we had First Form to Fifth Form; and finally Lower Sixth and Upper Sixth.

These are now called Reception, Year 1 and Year 2 (Infants), Year 3 to Year 6 (Juniors), Year 7 to Year 11 (Secondary), then Years 12 and 13 (still, just to confuse us all, sometimes called Sixth Form). This is just for England! Wales is fairly close but not exactly. Don’t try to understand Scotland and Northern Ireland, which have different systems of education – they always have done. In what I write, I will stick to the old designations – so at ICHS I went through First Form to Sixth Form.

Selection at 11 Plus

Selective schools are relatively uncommon now but then they were to be the norm. Back in the fifties there were no comprehensive schools (and none of the more modern versions, Free Schools, Foundation Schools, City Technology Colleges, Academies and whatever else subsequent governments may invent.) The break between Primary and Secondary education was very important, called ’11-Plus’ and it involved selection by examinations for all.

For my early education see [15] Highlands School (1) and [16] Highlands School (2). My equivalents of Year 4, 5 and 6 were at Highlands School. We all knew that the 11-Plus was coming and I suppose that our last year there was intended to prepare us for it.

The test was in three parts – English, Arithmetic and Intelligence.

I think that my parents assumed that we would pass but there was a bit of ‘cramming’ to help us. (Observant readers will note my use of the plural and perhaps remember my twin brother.) I remember two large books, something like A3 size but thin and card-backed, plain greyish brown. They were full of typical IQ questions, words, numbers and symbols with analogies like: ‘Horse is to Foal as Sheep is to ???’. Like all such tests in those days, the intelligence test didn’t only measure intelligence, it also depended on memory, vocabulary and culture.

From 1945 to 1970 in England and Wales there were three types of school. (Wales used to be part of England.) Those who passed the 11-Plus went to Grammar Schools. Ilford had about ten Grammar Schools. Those who failed went to Secondary Modern Schools. (Technical Schools, which were few in number, were alternatives to Grammar Schools. Many local authorities did not have Technical Schools. Ilford had just one, West Hatch Technical High School at Chigwell, now West Hatch High School.)

I don’t remember anything about taking the actual exams but we both passed and went to Ilford County High School. There was a process by which parents had put down their choice of Grammar School. I think they put about six of them in order. With an older brother already there, ICHS was the obvious choice.

Before I continue, here are three short notes about selection. (1) There was then no National Curriculum, no SATs, and nothing like them. (2) Three of us at Highlands were offered the chance to take Scholarship exams to the local Public Schools – probably Brentwood, Chigwell and Bancrofts. My parents declined the offer because even free fees would have left them with extra costs such as uniforms and travel. (3) In those days those with physical difficulties and learning difficulties (not called that!) had separate education. Now Comprehensive Schools more or less have to take everyone. (Sweeping generalization alert!)


Ilford County High School for Boys – School Location and Building

I will say so much about it that I will call it just ICHS from now onwards. The picture above, from the current web-site, is very familiar. (Of course, we didn’t go in through the front door.) On the map now there is a roundabout by the school. That wasn’t there. The triangle of land to the West, directly in front of the school, used to be open land. Now there are blocks of houses. We walked up Fremantle Road from Barkingside, which was as far as the bus took us.

Looking on the satellite view from Google Maps, the buildings have expanded but the original parts are still there. There were two quadrangles joined by the school hall in the middle. Round the quadrangles were classrooms and five science laboratories – two for Physics, two for Chemistry and one for General Science. (There was an option to do Biology, which I didn’t do. There may have been a Biology laboratory.)

By the entrance to the main hall were the Headmaster’s office and the Secretary’s office. Above this we had a Library. The picture shows lines of classrooms, with the office and library section in the middle.

Outside, the school still has a playground and a large school field. It looks as if some additional buildings have now encroached into the playground area but the large field behind it looks untouched.


As new First Form pupils we came on our own the day before term started for an introductory day. This was a useful, calming experience. We had sometimes heard tales of bullying of new boys by older pupils on the first day but I think these were apocryphal. We were told not to worry. We were shown round the buildings and told a little about procedures. My older brother, four or five years ahead at the school, had already given me some useful information and an annotated map.

School Rules were always prominently displayed on every class notice board. The thing that always struck me was that they also covered the journey to and from school and any time we were wearing school uniform. There were rules against smoking and we were expected to be polite and well-behaved on busses. (Yes, of course we were!)

In those days the rules about school leaving allowed pupils to leave at the end of the Fourth Form but at Grammar School we had to stay to complete our studies for ‘O’ Levels (GCE, the precursor to GCSE.) As a requirement for acceptance, parents signed an agreement to keep us on to the Fifth Form.

There was also the ‘School Fund,’ which was not exactly compulsory but I don’t think any parent ever refused to pay it. Five shillings a term (25 pence) was collected to cover extras such as transport costs for school teams in sports. We paid reduced rates as a family with more than one boy at the school. I have just checked my receipts. Early ones were for 2s 6d, and later 4s. (Yes, I know, I am a bit of a hoarder.)



I think Junior Schools like Highlands School had uniforms but they were pretty optional and I don’t remember ever seeing them. Grammar School uniform was compulsory and each school had its distinctive colours. For ICHS it was grey creased flannel trousers, white shirt, school tie, maroon blazer, grey socks and polished black leather shoes.

The modern uniform has the same badge and is almost unchanged but there are two differences. In the First Form we all wore short trousers. There was no precise age rule but we moved to long trousers around the second form.

In the uniform list, which we took to the appropriate shop in Ilford, was a school cap. I think it was plain maroon to match the jacket. Most boys bought them, some wore them for the introduction, but it was soon evident that nobody at school wore caps any more. The one boy in our year who wore one after the first day was severely mocked for it.


On a daily basis, we reached school in time for Assembly at 8:40. There were seven periods each day, many of them taken as double periods. In theory there were five minutes between lessons to allow us to move round the corridors and line up outside. From 9:00 to 10:30 we had two periods, then a break with two more from 10:45 to 12:15.

In the afternoon three periods without a break lasted from 1:45 to 3:50.

I cannot remember whether the classrooms had clocks but pupils generally did not have watches. Watches were expensive luxuries. My first watch was a present from my godmother on my confirmation at about thirteen. Time in the school was regulated by a prefect. At the appropriate time, the bell prefect went to the Office and pressed the button to ring the school bell in the corridors.

When the bell went we continued working. It was a guide for the teacher. He would stop the lesson and tell us to leave. We never went into the next lesson uninvited. We lined up outside and waited.

[OK, a diversion about time. We never used expressions like 8:40 or 10:45. They were ‘twenty to nine’ and ‘a quarter to eleven’ respectively and the school day ended at ‘ten to four.’ In general conversation, I don’t believe anyone used more accurate time than the nearest five minutes. Before ‘ten to four’ no one would ever say ‘twelve minutes to four.’ It might be ‘just after a quarter to four,’ or, perhaps, ‘nearly ten to four,’ or ‘between quarter to and ten to.’ Train timetable and bus timetables might have been more accurate – but I don’t want to imply that public transport ran on time!]

Hall and Assembly

The hall was an impressive room with its stage at the front (used sometimes for school plays) and gallery at the back. It could just about seat the whole school of 800 pupils and we came in by classes, in silence, for Assembly every morning. Classes sat in rows with the form teacher at the end. The gallery was for the Sixth Form.

I have talked of formality in an earlier posting ([40] Formality.) Schools have always been relatively formal and Assembly was the most formal point of the day. Some teachers had their gowns from university and those teachers always wore their gowns in Assembly.

When we were ready, the Headmaster, HS Kenward (known to the boys as Harry when no one was listening,) came from the back of the hall and we would always stand in silence for his entrance. (The class always stood if the head came into a lesson.) He would mount the stage with the Deputy Head, Mr Taylor and ask us to sit down.

Somehow we knew that talking in assembly would be dealt with severely. There was the possibility of … having your name announced in assembly with an order to see Mr Taylor afterwards. (That happened occasionally. The deputy head was feared, in quite an affectionate, respectful way. We didn’t know what would happened if called for an interview with him and we didn’t want to find out!)

As at Highlands, assembly was a primarily a short Christian service. For many years the only legal requirement in the school curriculum was that it must include this religious act – a requirement that gradually came to be bent or ignored in the eighties and nineties.

It started with a hymn from a pocket hymn book which fitted neatly into a blazer pocket. I suspect it was Hymns Ancient and Modern as used at church. Unfortunately I threw mine away about two years ago as part of a long term project to declutter, so I can’t check.

There was a small orchestra of about half a dozen instruments at Assembly, teachers and pupils. Not everyone sang enthusiastically but there was enough support to produce the tune and the words.

After the hymn there would be reading, not always from the Bible, and a few words, perhaps ethical or philosophical rather than religious.

Then we had prayers, always including the Lord’s Prayer, in the archaic language described in [3] Religion.

Finally, there were normally a few notices, including internal and external school events. We stood as the headmaster made his exit, then we left to return to our form rooms in preparation for the first lesson.

Classrooms and Teaching

Teaching was very formal using the old-fashioned ‘chalk and talk.’ Classrooms had desks lined in rows, four by four pairs of desks making room for the normal class size of 32 pupils. We lined up outside the classroom until asked to come in.


We did actually use desks like the picture above for all of our school work. Moreover, we used the desk in our form room to store all our text books and exercise books. We would take with us just what we needed.

The teacher’s desk at the front was on a raised platform and most teaching was done with the help of chalk on a blackboard. I may comment on individual teachers and their teaching styles later. (I have done a few years teaching so I will be a bit sympathetic.)


It was more or less one text book and one exercise book for each subject, issued by the teacher at the start of the year. Exercise books, between A4 and A5 in size, had 80 pages. When they were full you could take the full book to the office and get a new book, issued by a prefect.


All of our written work, especially homework, was in an exercise book using fountain pens. The only ink I ever saw was Parker’s Quink SOLV-X, normally blue-black.

We had to write clearly and neatly, so we had rough books, then copied work out neatly. We could write what we wanted in rough books, in ball-point pen or pencil. The paper was poor quality and you could not use a fountain pen.

Although it was never mentioned, we changed immediately from the printing style of Junior School to ‘joined-up’ cursive writing from the beginning of the First Form.


Before I end this introductory ICHS blog I have to show you this. It looks very similar to the satchel we all had, but very new, probably still smelling of leather. (The picture may be imitation plastic but ours were leather.) We all carried one to school with our homework and it came round with is to each lesson, at least for a few years. My memory is uncertain and I think we may have changed to duffel bags later on.


I still have a lot more to say about ICHS, maybe another two or three postings …















[15] Highlands School (1)

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It’s time for a serious look at part of growing up in the fifties. I am going to start on Education.

[Don’t believe the picture above. Being left-handed was not acceptable.

I can’t believe that a teacher would have been allowed to do it then.]

Primary Education

In those days it was straightforward – Infants, then Juniors, and then Seniors. Infants (First, Second and Third Years) were combined with Juniors (First to Fourth Years) into a Primary School. Then we had the Eleven Plus exam and went to Secondary Schools (First to Fifth Years, with optional Lower Sixth and Upper Sixth). I have no idea how the years fit into the modern system of Years and Key Stages.

I will start with Primary Education, up to age eleven. I went to two Primary Schools. The first, believe it or not, was called Grange Hill. It has long since disappeared. I spent two or three years there and remember a Mr Grey as one teacher. (We never, ever knew or wanted to know the Christian Names of teachers. Such a level of formality was unthinkable. We called them ‘Sir’ or ‘Miss’. At primary school, the teachers used our first names. They were ‘Christian’ names, not forenames or anything else.)

Then we moved a mile or two and I changed schools to Highlands, still an active Primary School. All my Junior education was at Highlands and I particularly remember Mr Adlam. (Everyone ever taught by him remembers Mr Adlam. I will come to him later.) Everything in this post will combine my thoughts on both schools, mostly from Highlands. All of my primary education was within the fifties.


School Day

I was going to say that the class size was 32, formally arranged in pairs of desks, four rows of four columns. But I have found an old class picture, which shows me I was wrong. It was bigger than I thought. There were 40.

The teacher had a much larger desk at the front, raised on a platform by about twenty centimetres, and the front of the class had a large, fixed blackboard. Teaching was mostly by writing in white chalk on this blackboard. Sometimes coloured chalks could be used. A board rubber, made of a felt pad attached to a wood block, was used to erase writing and make space for what came next. (We used the word rubber. Now they are called erasers.)

There was an additional wraparound type of blackboard, which was portable. [Imagine a horizontal piece of wood at about two metres from the floor. Hang a flat sheet over it. Join the back of the sheet to the front a few inches above the floor. Now put this in a wooden frame on wheels so that the sheet can be rotated. Turn the sheet into blackboard material. As you turn the blackboard, writing on it, line by line, what disappears at the top eventually reappears at the bottom.]

As you know, we walked to school. (If you didn’t know, go back and read the earlier blogs!) The teacher always called the register. As each name was called, you answered, “Here, sir,” or “Here, Miss.” Names would be ticked off in the large book on the teacher’s desk at the front, collected later by the school secretary.

We went into the school hall and the day always started with an Assembly, taken by the Headmaster – a short religious service with formal prayers and a hymn.

Our class teacher taught us for almost everything. My memories are there might have been exceptions sometimes for music and Physical Education (PE – We also called it PT), but I am not sure.

We had a break, mid-morning at which we all drank free milk, provided in a third of a pint bottle, with a straw. Bottles had a metal foil top, pierced by the straw. The milk, like all milk then, had a thick, creamy layer on the top. We called the break playtime. [US: recess] I may come to what we did at playtime in another post.

I will also leave lunch and School Dinners for another post. (I may just try to obliterate School Dinners from my memory.) The mid-afternoon playtime break came without milk. School ended at about half past three. (I can’t remember. For Secondary School, it was ten to four.) We never had any homework.

At a child, dates and time were not important. There was probably a clock in the school hall but we were never aware of what the time was. None of the children would have had watches. (Watches were an expensive luxury. Perhaps some children would be given one at Secondary School.) At appropriate times, like the beginning and end of the lunch period, a large, brass hand bell would be rung. We kept working until the bell rang and we were told to go.

Teaching Aids and Printing

While the methods and procedures of Secondary School are quite familiar to me, I have difficulty in remembering details of exactly how we were taught before that, at Primary School. It certainly involved a lot of use of the blackboards and chalk. (Even up to the 80s, it was just blackboards. Later, gradually, coloured felt-tipped pens came into use and blackboards became whiteboards.) We wrote in exercise books but I cannot remember the extent to which we may have used text books.

It was before the automation of computers and computer printing so that it was almost impossible to produce paper worksheets. I remember two specific processes.

Stencil printing allowed a sheet of paper to be printed in just one colour. I still used it in the early eighties when I was a teacher for a few years. It was slow and messy with wet print, and involved turning a large drum once for each sheet. (In offices, this was the only practical way to produced typed letters and documents – if you wanted more than the two or three you could manage with carbon paper.) By doing the same process twice, you could overprint in two colours. It was the only way to produce exam papers.

Even more primitive was the way that pictures were produced at Highlands. An inked pad and a rubber stamp could be used to stamp one word or a small picture on to a document. (Mechanical devices could do dates or one-up numbers.) At school, they had a large engraved roller, which enabled them to print an outline of the World map on to a single sheet of paper. That was the best they could do for Geography.

No Hobgoblin nor Foul Fiend

Before I leave this topic for now, there are two things that I remember clearly about Highlands School. Firstly, its motto, proudly displayed with its coat of arms: ‘Manners Makyth Man.’ I never heard anyone at school refer to the motto but it is something I try to follow. I was also struck by the archaic language, as also found in hymns.

In assembly and in class we sang hymns and songs by following the words shown on a screen ahead of us. Not all of the hymns were familiar elsewhere and my favourite was ‘To be a Pilgrim,’ taken from Pilgrim’s Progress written in 1684 by John Bunyon. I can’t say that we understood all of the words, which were rather obscure, but it was great fun singing them:

Who would true valour see, Let him come hither;
One here will constant be, Come wind, come weather
There’s no discouragement – Shall make him once relent
His first avowed intent – To be a pilgrim.

Whoso beset him round – With dismal stories
Do but themselves confound; His strength the more is.
No lion can him fright, He’ll with a giant fight,
He will have a right – To be a pilgrim.

Hobgoblin nor foul fiend – Can daunt his spirit,
He knows he at the end – Shall life inherit.
Then fancies fly away, He’ll fear not what men say,
He’ll labour night and day – To be a pilgrim.

This is quite a long topic so I will split it. More to come, including Mr Adlam

Highlands Picture