Remembrance of Things Past

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


[110] Dedicated Follower

I’m nearly done. Next on my diminishing list is the subject of Clothes and Fashion and we need a bit of a background summary first.

In the post-war situation of austerity people were relatively poor and choice of clothing was quite limited. It was more a matter of buying clothes than anything to do with fashion. (Of course there was fashion and it may have appeared in the news and the newspapers but it was for the rich. Remember that my blogs are mostly sweeping generalizations about my upbringing.)

I will make my usual comment that the pictures I find are generally too modern but they are the best I can do.

There is always the danger that this could be quite a large list of what we didn’t have then – but I won’t let that put me off. I’ve done it before!


Before I start, this may be difficult for those from the US. I may miss out some but here are some examples of UK clothing terms.

Trousers are pants. Pants are underpants.

Waistcoats are vests. Vests are A-shirts.

Braces are suspenders. Suspenders are … no exact equivalence but suspender belts are garter belts;

Tights are pantyhose;

A Dinner Jacket is a tuxedo (although it generally means a suit not just the jacket.) A tuxedo may be a white Dinner Jacket.

Y-fronts are jockey shorts.

Knickers are panties. French knickers are tap pants.

[Of course Australia, New Zealand, Canada and other countries may use other terms.]


I will start with clothing for men. You will remember way back at Blog [5], which looked at winter clothing. People in general dressed in similar clothes.

For men, we had grey trousers with turn-ups and creases and shirts – often plain white. That was about it. Outside the house men always wore jackets and ties. (I think many men always wore them inside as well.) Jackets were plain and greyish and ties were simple designs, often stripes.

pullover  sleeveless

When it was colder we had pullovers – long-sleeved or sleeveless knitted woollen tops that went over our shirts. We used the terms jumper, woolly or pullover interchangeably. They all looked much the same. Quite a lot of them were actually knitted by housewives. [You will note in one picture that smoking a pipe was a positive feature in advertisements, portraying a relaxed feeling.]

Shoes were black leather laced shoes – what we would now call brogues. Men might have been seen with black or brown leather brogues but never any other styles.

Summer Clothes

As a sort of diversion I do remember sometimes wearing T-shirts and (brown leather) sandals bought for when we went on holiday. I’m pretty sure only children wore T-shirts and my father only ever wore sandals on holiday.

Work Clothes

Everyone dressed much more formally all of the time so suits were more common. You did sometimes see three-piece suits that included a waistcoat. There was a less formal jacket called a sports jacket, maybe a bit thicker and warmer than an ordinary jacket.

(I worked in the Civil Service. Even in the Seventies and Eighties we were still more or less expected to wear a jacket and tie to work and this was true for clerical and similar jobs. Higher grades always wore formal suits and professional men such as doctors and lawyers always wore suits. Dress codes began to collapse in the Nineties and I started to go to work without a tie. I still used to put on a suit and tie when meeting people from other organisations.)

Rain and Weather

There was a thing called a raincoat. It was a long, straight dark grey (or very dark navy blue) coat that stopped the rain. We may have called them waterproof but under modern rules for more accurate labelling they might be considered water resistant. If you had a group of men wearing raincoats they would all look the same.

raincoat overcoat

There was also an overcoat, much the same shape as a raincoat but thicker and warmer (and not waterproof,) generally brown.

As people walked more (or used the busses) it was much more common to see umbrellas. An umbrella was a long, black rolled up device. (Don’t be silly, there was no choice!) For office workers a rolled up umbrella was almost part of the ‘uniform.’ From what I sometimes saw on early television I think that workers in the City of London routinely wore bowler hats but the fashion for hats more or less disappeared around the sixties.


For men, pants meant Y-fronts and there were matching vests, which we all wore. We had never heard of boxer shorts.


(It’s old money. 6s 6d became 32p on decimalization.)

The trend has moved to not wearing vests. This may be a function of warmer temperatures, warmer outer clothing or less walking outside but I think it was supposedly triggered by a film [US: movie] in which the romantic lead male was shown without a vest. I can’t find the reference.

Everything Else

OK, think of some of the things you wear today. These are some things that were unknown in the Fifties.

Jeans were not seen until the sixties and then just for adolescents. I have worn jeans most of my life but I never see anyone older than me wearing them. (Of course we didn’t have denim jackets either.)

Track suits were worn by athletes and you might see them on television. They were plain (definitely without any trace of adverts) and were taken off just before the start of a race. They were not worn by the general public or seen in shops.

Running shoes were presumably worn by athletes. I am not sure what they looked like. They had spikes to help the grip as athletes ran on cinder tracks. They were not fashion items and not available to us. We had those black tennis shoes (plimsoles) from China you could buy at Woolworths – just for PE at school.


Anoraks, parkas and all forms of zipped jackets – no. Just plain woollen button jackets.

[I am struggling with zips. I think there were some but they were not common. None of our clothes had zips. Jackets had buttons. Trousers had button flies.]

Forget most decoration or colour and especially writing on clothing. Clothes were plainly designed, perhaps just stripes or check.


There were fashion shops and I earlier to list the local Ilford shops that I remembered. But we bought basic clothes from department stores.


Women spent much less money on clothes than now and less time in shopping for clothes. There was no such thing as ‘retail therapy’. It has to be remembered that married women did not possess their own money. Most women were housewives. [As far as Income Tax was concerned a married man included any income of his wife as if it was his income. Joint assessment from about the Seventies was gradually replaced by the modern system.] For their clothing women could save and accumulate money left over from a housekeeping allowance, or ask their husbands for money to buy clothes, or rely on occasional birthday or Christmas presents.

So choice for women’s clothes was much less than now. There were fewer shops selling a narrower range of clothing, mostly utilitarian rather than fashionable. Even in the Fifties most of the fashion shops dealt with women’s clothes rather than for men.


As a man I couldn’t tell you much about fashion for women now and I’m even more lost back in the Fifties and Sixties when I have to go on early memories. I do know that Mum wore fairly ordinary clothes at home, often covered with a protective apron or pinafore. Nan mostly wore a housedress, which was far more plain and basic than anything I can find in a picture. She had a red one and a blue one so that she always had one while the other was ‘in the wash.’

Women wore fairly plain dresses or skirts.

For women, trousers were unheard of in the Fifties, except for some slacks for informal wear. Trouser suits for women for formal occasions started to creep in from the Sixties, when they were considered very daring. After a long transitional period, by the late Nineties it was unusual to see women in the streets in skirts or dresses. Those still not wearing trousers were either over about fifty (wearing long skirts) or under about twenty (in attractive short skirts) or obviously in formal attire dictated by their work. Since the turn of the Century most dress codes for working women have changed to allow trousers.

The last to change has been uniforms for schoolgirls. Even around 2000 they wore short skirts but now trousers are usual.

Underclothes and Lingerie

I am doing women’s clothes in a different order because I think some changes in outerwear may have been associated with changes in underclothes. I knew little of this subject as a young boy but I can generalize mostly from advertisements in the newspapers but also from my mother and sisters.


Women wore something called a girdle. Wikipedia is failing me because they no longer seem to exist. Modern girdles are not the same. The nearest equivalent is a corset but they were far removed from Victorian corsets. They were foundation garments that controlled and shaped in a way that must have been tight and uncomfortable – but they were not designed to be seen. As you can see in the picture above the bra could be equally unattractive and uncomfortable and sometimes the two were combined into one garment.

You can also see in the picture that these girdles had suspenders – to hold up stockings. Women wore stockings and in the fifties they were still often those with a seam. Without intimate knowledge of adolescent girls of the time I’m guessing here that those who didn’t need the control of a girdle wore suspender belts instead.

I am sure tights were available but they were not generally worn or cheap. Tights rapidly replaced stockings from around the Sixties with the advent of mini-skirts.


Sometime after tights other variations appeared in various lengths such as pop sox and self-supporting stockings. The picture above is included purely for academic information.

[I can’t speak with any real knowledge of lingerie in the Fifties as opposed to everyday underclothes. I am sure it existed. I think it is much more of a significant market now. Now it is advertised to men to buy for their loved ones at Christmas and other occasions. In many large stores the lingerie department is next to menswear and not by the womenswear. It is also true now that what women wear all the time is designed to look attractive and sexy (perhaps to make them feel more attractive and sexy) and more like lingerie. Of course I only know this because of extensive research done for my blogs! I found the picture below in my research.]


Miniskirts and Hot Pants

Miniskirts appeared in the early sixties and soon became popular, at least for the younger generation who felt able to wear them. It was presumably necessary to wear tights rather stockings for mini-skirts so the change to tights continued in parallel with fashion changes. As with many fashions, more mature women tended to stick with what they knew rather than adopting new fashions. (See above for jeans and trousers for women.)

Dorchester Debs


Short shorts for women also made a brief appearance in the seventies, known as hot pants. Since then shops seem to be selling all sorts of alternative womenswear all the time. Fashions now change more rapidly.


The picture above is from a fashion show. These were reported a little in television, newspapers and glossy magazines (not as early as the Fifties.) Actual clothes available in shops came a little after the fashion shows and were generally less outlandish – but fashions did change.


You will not be surprised to learn that fashion in clothing is much more relevant for women than for men. I still belong to the old school of thought that when I buy new clothes (a rare occurrence) I avoid anything fashionable. I don’t want something that will be out of fashion in a few years and I would never discard old clothing just because it is no longer fashionable. Women are different. They like to be fashionable.

(I think that men believe women dress to make themselves attractive to men. It’s more probable that they dress to be seen as fashionable by other women.)

Since the seventies as women have obtained more equality and more spending power they have become a target for consumerization. There are more shops selling women’s clothes than anything else – and far more than those catering for men.

A quick look at Wikipedia has given me several terms for clothing fashions that have come and gone – and some that are still relevant. But none of these existed in the Fifties. (Not all are for women exclusively – and: Sweeping Generalization alert!)

Boob tube, crop top, hoody, chinos, leggings, leg-warmers, ra-ra skirt, sarong, cagoule, anorak, parka, Duffel Coat (Sixties), gilet, poncho, shrug, flip-flops, crocs.

Finally on the subject of womenswear I am pretty sure that slips and petticoats used to be much more common. I think there is something about clothing technology that has rendered them obsolete.


The picture for children was similar, with reliance on housekeeping funds and the Family Allowance paid by the government as a benefit for children (usually collected by the mother). Children’s clothes were bought by their mothers. They were utilitarian rather than fashionable. With the age of majority at twenty-one, even 18 to 21-year-olds may not have had their own income. The idea of fashion did not exist for children (or babies.)

The other big difference in the Fifties was that boys used to wear short trousers up the age of about eleven or twelve. Nobody would have considered putting a boy or a young baby in full-length trousers.

Black Tie

A final little diversion about formal wear. There have long been the two standards of formal wear for special occasions.

White Tie with a long tailcoat has been reserved for very formal occasions (including the groom and best man at some weddings) and is now even more rarely seen than in the Fifties.

Black Tie goes with a formal Dinner Jacket and is normally reserved for formal evening dinner functions and some weddings. It remains the most formal attire on cruise ships that still have formal dining. I can only comment on Black Tie as I have occasionally attended such functions since the Sixties. (In those days I went to Dinner Dances once or twice a year with my father under the auspices of Freemasonry. More recently I have enjoyed cruises in my retirement.)

Wikipedia gives the standard for Black Tie as: a black dinner jacket of very specific design; an optional evening waistcoat or cummerbund; a white dress shirt; a black bow tie and black dress shoes (sometimes patent leather).

While this remains the standard various alternatives have crept in. I believe that changes started in the early Sixties when Anthony Armstrong-Jones, The Earl of Snowdon was seen to attend a black tie occasion with a heavy woollen roll-neck white jumper instead of a shirt, tie and jacket.

Perhaps the biggest changes are in the tie. Actual tied bow-ties are long obsolete but the tie no longer even looks as if it could be tied. There are various simpler shapes, some with wing-collar style shirts. Often the tie is not black but a dark red or blue. Dress shirts are not always white. And it is now common to see a white dinner jacket (but the trousers remain black.)

I won’t attempt to comment on women’s Black Tie dress codes, which used to include very formal long dresses, except to say that from around the Sixties formal trouser suits are considered acceptable.


Dedicated Follower of Fashion is a 1966 single from The Kinks. It lampooned the contemporary British fashion scene of the Sixties and mod culture in general. It starts like this.


They seek him here, they seek him there

His clothes are loud, but never square

It will make or break him so he’s got to buy the best

‘Cause he’s a dedicated follower of fashion.



[104] You can Drive My Car

I have been a bit slow here because I am working on another blog and planning a third one. But I hope I will finish this one! The original idea was to continue with some odds and ends from [103] One for the Pot but I’ve decided to take a trip elsewhere and look at transport.


You will, of course remember [18] and [19] where I looked at roads but I will give a brief reminder here. As always, there may be some sweeping generalizations which are not 100% accurate. Much of what I say will be a list of things we didn’t have.

There were no Motorways, very few dual carriageways and no systems of slip roads and exits. Roundabouts and traffic lights were quite rare. (Mini-roundabouts did not exist.) Roads did not have lane markings – or ‘No Parking’ yellow lines. Many junctions in quiet areas didn’t even have a ‘Give Way’ to indicate which road had priority. Parking – well, you could more or less park where you wanted. (There were no traffic wardens.)

Some other things we didn’t have – breathalyzers (or blood alcohol limits,) sleeping policemen (humps to slow down traffic,) radar or camera traps.

Apart from the 30 mph limit in towns, most roads had no speed limits.


It was much easier to be a pedestrian because traffic was so low. We walked to school from the age of five (unaccompanied) down streets where we could walk safely down the middle of the road. If a car did come it was so unusual we heard it from a long way away.

The only pedestrian crossings were simple Zebra crossings with flashing Belisha beacons. We did have lollipop ladies just by schools but traffic was very light even there. [Wikipedia calls them School Crossing Patrol Officers but the term lollipop lady will be more familiar. For US and Canada Wikipedia suggests Crossing Guards] There were no pedestrian lights, certainly no cycle lights. [Curiously the Eastern Avenue at Ilford had its own cycle track. It was the only cycle path I knew about. I never saw anyone riding a bicycle on it!]


A Diversion – Traffic Lights

There have been so many changes to traffic lights, most of which people may not have noticed, all presumably designed to make crossings safer for pedestrians. You will have to bear with me because I can’t find good pictures of old lights or new lights to illustrate what I want.

[US readers should note that our lights are red, amber and green. It’s one of life’s mysteries why they are amber and not orange but we were always told at school that they were amber – and that means orange, not yellow.]

Traffic light junctions used to be just simple four-way intersections with no filter lights, no slip roads and no lanes. As you approached the junction you could see the lights at the corner before the junction and also the other side of the junction. So as a pedestrian you just looked round and could see the state of the lights – and cross when you knew you were crossing traffic barred by red lights.

Of course modern Health and Safety standards don’t trust pedestrians to make such decisions and they have done several things to make this difficult.

  • Lights on the far side of the junction have been removed – occasionally causing problems for the poor driver who stops just past the stop line and can no longer see what’s happening.
  • We have surrounding tubes, fairly similar to those in the picture above to make it more difficult to see the light from the side.
  • There are sometimes strips across the light (like open Venetian blinds) further restricting the views.
  • Generally there are pedestrian lights. You used to see these across the road but now you can only see just in front of you.


It’s probably worth starting by saying that my first experiences of actually driving a car came from my first lessons in the mid-seventies. So they were probably even more primitive in the fifties. I did pick up some information from a temporary summer job in the early sixties with a firm that did contract car hire.

Cars were less powerful and less reliable; needed more maintenance and attention; were more complex and difficult to drive; and were much more noisy and uncomfortable. When you buy a car now there are lots of options and choices. Back in the early sixties there were more or less just two optional extras.

A heater was common but it was just a way of diverting hot air from the engine. No fan, no choice of air vents, no temperature control – it was on or off – and certainly no cooling or air conditioning. Most cars had one.

The luxury extra was a car radio and you may want to consider what Radio used to be. It would have been just radio. No CD or any other recording devices. Not much channel choice.

You can of course also forget Satnav, seat belts, airbags, power steering, hazard lights, heated demisters, variable speed windscreen wipers (or rear wipers), any wind-screen washers and any form of automatic locking. A car key looked like a modern Yale door key and you had to open each door one by one with the key.


Instead of the flashing lights we now have, car indicators [US: turn signals] were little yellow/orange arms that flipped out. (I suppose they were amber.)

But let’s look at some more technical details.


The only mirror for the driver was the one inside. You might occasionally see a single outside wing mirror, which was much further forward than what we have now – almost over the headlight. Of course it was not adjustable. [The picture above is much too modern but does show the position.]

Starting was a delicate process. The start switch was separate from the ignition key and it might need several attempts to get it right. You had a manual choke switch that needed careful use – only when the engine was cold. If you overdid it, the engine flooded and you had to wait before retrying. [Modern cars have an automatic choke that drivers may not even notice. You may just detect slightly faster running when starting from cold.]

Controls were on the dashboard, not the complex multi-function sticks we now have on the steering wheel. The switch for dipped headlights may have been a button on the floor operated with one foot.

MOT Tests started in the UK 1960 – testing old cars for roadworthiness. They test many aspects of safety such as lights, tyres etc. but in the early days a common cause of failure was – rust. In those days cars were made almost entirely from steel but even steel will rust when subject to the spray from roads spread with salt in winter. Cars inevitably rusted after just a few years.

You could have your car under-sealed for a cost of about £1000, a very significant addition to its basic cost, and this would reduce the effects of road salt. Wikipedia calls it a thick resilient coat preventing small stones from damaging the paint. [US may know this as undercoating.] Anyway gradually undersealing became better and it became a standard part of car technology that car owners probably don’t even know is there. Cars now easily last for decades without the problem of rust.


We now generally have automatic windows but some cars still have the manually winding handles for rear passenger windows. All windows used to have these controls apart from the quarter-lights, small triangular windows at the side. [The picture above shows where we had quarter-lights but the rest of the picture is far too modern. As explained above we didn’t have the mirror shown.] These little windows were used to provide ventilation.


Talking of ventilation there was sometimes the problem of cars getting too hot in summer sunlight. (No, we certainly didn’t have air-conditioning.) Apart from the quarter-light your only option was to wind the main side window down a bit. This was difficult to manage at any speed because of the wind problem. One option was a sun-roof, which allowed for some ventilation without the problem of noticeable wind. [As for the others, the picture above is far too modern but it does illustrate the idea of a sun-roof.] I don’t think they were common until the late sixties but at some stage much later sun rooves became almost standard for new cars. They disappeared when air-conditioning took over.

Of course people smoked a lot more and so ventilation may have been more useful. I think ash trays were fairly standard and a cigarette lighter was one of the earlier options. The lighter has gradually changed into the port we now use to plug in free-standing satnav devices and MP3 players.

The other main change you would have noticed while driving was that all cars had four gears. Now five has become standard and some cars have six. [US readers. We have always had stick-shift gears. Automatic gears, standard in the US, may be slightly more common now for us but they are still relatively rare.]

Of course plastic anywhere was unusual. Seats, if not leather, were proper woven fabric.

Garages and Petrol

You have to remember that petrol came from garages that also performed the service functions now done separately. As well as serving you with petrol – they were not self-service! – they would do regular services, oil-checks and anything else that needed attention. And cars needed a lot more care!

(Now service stations are manned by someone who probably knows nothing about cars and doesn’t have to. They act as a shop assistant for the general supermarket that shares the premises. In the fifties and sixties all you could buy was petrol and probably oil. You probably couldn’t even get car spare parts because any car maintenance was a professional job.)

Now most cars need a service once a year and generally need nothing else in between. Back then services were every three months and you had to know enough to check the oil in between.


You had to search under the bonnet [US: hood] for a dipstick, pull it out and you could see the oil level. (Yes, the picture is far too modern but it does show the principle.) You were advised to check oil at least every week.

(You may not even notice that petrol is now lead-free. It used to contain lead, which made it poisonous. The transition in the seventies to lead-free petrol was gradual. All cars now have a catalytic converter to cope with the new petrol mixture. These converters are complex and expensive and run at very high temperatures.)

Car Mechanics

I have to say a little about reliability. Now cars are so efficient and easily manageable that we forget that they used to need care and attention and maintenance. From somewhere around 1960 I remember sometimes being taken out in the car just for a ride in the country. I can remember times when the performance was not good and Dad just drove to a garage. They would do things like checking, cleaning and adjusting spark plugs. Yes, I know, you may be thinking: what’s a spark plug? You don’t need to know now.

I have mentioned starting the car, which was not always easy and one problem was the battery. It was a big heavy thing, handled with care because it contained acid and not the most reliable part of the car. Power from the car creates electricity which is stored in the battery and was used to power lights and the starter motor. If electrical connections were not good, the battery gradually drained and the immediate symptom was a failure to start. I can remember taking the thing out, carefully, and charging it up overnight from the mains supply. And of course there were jump-leads which enabled you connect two cars together. Your battery could jump start another car.

(I won’t go into all the joys of car starting. You could push start it to get it going and start getting power into the battery again. Now batteries power lots more – windows, radio, heating fan, satnav and lots more. But they are so reliable you may never see one.)




The pictures above are fairly typical of cars in the fifties. They show the typical shape, less aerodynamic than modern cars. They were generally black but were available in grey and some blue and green colours that looked fairly greyish. They were mass produced in England and foreign cars were rarely seen. So you only had a few different models to choose between.

Note the wing mirrors, quarter lights, flat hub-caps, (not the decorative modern ones,) and the chrome bumpers and fittings. External running boards had only just disappeared and the top picture has an external door handle!

Cars had two or four doors and a boot, [US: trunk,] a small compartment for luggage. There were no hatchbacks with the large rear doors and folding rear seats.



Here are the two models that emerged in the early sixties, the Ford Anglia and Triumph Herald. Both were revolutionary in their more square shapes and both were very popular. Then we had the Mini.


OK, I haven’t finished Transport yet. I have just done cars! Plenty more to come …







[95] Dyb, Dyb, Dyb

It’s time for more about St Andrew’s after Blog [81] which described the building and Blog [91] mostly about the choir.

In the last St Andrew’s blog I told you about how I started in the choir. I can also remember exactly how we started with Cubs and I can feel a diversion coming.


As you know, plastic was hardly ever used and domestic plumbing relied on metal pipes to carry water. I think they were iron or steel. (There may have been some lead pipes. I know we used to let cold water run for a while before taking a glass of tap-water to drink. I think this had something to do with traces of lead, which is poisonous.)

You also know that we did not have central heating. Houses were heated with coal fires. We didn’t have double glazing and kept windows open for fresh air. In winter we sometimes had frost on the inside of windows. (If you don’t know all this you should seriously consider reading properly from the start!)

Metal pipes were all right in general because flowing water did not freeze. But inside the house there were places where the water did not move overnight. Pipes under the floor were even colder than our cold houses. If the water froze it expanded to make ice and this sometimes led to burst pipes when the ice thawed.

One day we had a burst pipe. (To be honest it happened a few times.) There was water in our bedroom over the garage. I’m not sure of the details but in those days neighbours helped one another in emergencies. A man from two or three doors down the road came to help. I am not sure he actually did anything but he noticed three young boys and had one of a similar age. He suggested to Dad that he should send us to Cubs at the church like his little boy. So that’s what happened.

   British_Wolf_Cub_1960 Boy_Scouts_of_America_uniform_1974

Cubs and Scouts

Cubs and Scouts were in many ways similar to the same organisations today. Cubs were for boys up to age eleven and Scouts for boys from eleven to fifteen. (Girls went to Brownies and Guides although nowadays many Cub and Scout packs are mixed.)

I will treat them together because in places my memories are not precise. They were quite similar.


The uniform was important. Shown above are a British Wolf Cub of the sixties and a US Scout from the seventies so they are approximately right. Both uniforms included short khaki trousers and woollen socks held up by gaiters. (In those days all boys of Cub ages wore only short trousers.) Cubs had a thick, dark green woolly jumper that was rough and uncomfortable, a scarf with its woggle and a cap. Scouts had a khaki shirt with pockets and a similar scarf. I think the scout hat was different.


We met once a week in the Church Hall at 7:30 pm. Each Cub ‘pack’ was led by a leader called Akela with assistants named from other characters in The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling. All the Cub leaders were women. Cubs were divided into ‘sixes’ each led by a sixer.

(In the Scouts, leaders were men. Instead of sixes we had patrols with patrol leaders. Much of the structure and activities were similar for Cubs and Scouts.)

Meetings started with a sort of parade where we were inspected. We stood to attention and were asked to “Dyb, Dyb, Dyb,” to which the response was: “We’ll Dob, Dob, Dob.” [That’s Do Your Best and Do Our Best.] Scouts must have used different terminology. Although it was like military service in some ways, there was nothing related to combat or the use of rifles. There was a Cub Promise and a similar Scout Promise which amounted to: “I promise to do my best … to do my duty to God and the Queen … and to obey the Cub/ Scout Law.” Nowadays these has been modified to allow for more widespread political and religious opinions!


Scouting activities were based on the ideas of Robert Baden-Powell and his book Scouting for Boys. It was about fieldcraft and living outdoors so we learned about camping, cooking on camp fires, knots, using axes and the identification of different trees.

Sometimes it was more like playing games – such as British Bulldog. Occasionally in summer we went outside. I remember at least once being taken to Wanstead recreation ground, one of our local parks. (This was before they moved the North Circular Road and put it in the way.)

I am not sure how it ever happened but I have memories of sometimes taking the 3d subscription money to the fish and chip shop. It was just enough for a portion of chips – served in newspaper. (In modern money that’s about 1p.) I don’t remember actually playing truant from Scouts. Perhaps that forgot to collect it and we went on the way home.


To encourage us in our progress there were lots of tests leading to badges. All the badges had to be sewn on by hand by Mum. There was a series of tests leading to a Second Class Cub and more for First Class. I always knew I would never achieve First Class status because I couldn’t swim.

I can remember two tests for these awards. As a Cub there was something called ‘Cleanliness.’ It was a routine test and consisted of a chat with one of the leaders. (I think they assumed we would all pass so there was no preparation.) To me the tester was an older woman but she may have been quite young and easily embarrassed. We got almost to the end and she started fishing. She wanted me to say something to pass the test but – for me to pass – she could only hint. I didn’t know what she wanted me to say. In the end she came out with it – “Of course, you always wash your hands after going to the toilet.” This was something I had never heard of but presumably I agreed to pass the test. (I was very young.)


There was also a badge for ‘Hand Axe.’ Even as Cubs we were expected to be able to chop wood. We had to name the various bits of an axe and learn how to chop wood. I took the test at the home of one of the leaders. I was failed immediately for taking the axe out of its leather cover without carefully checking that no one was nearby! I got everything else right and passed the test later!



We went camping as Cubs and as Scouts. Sometimes it was the whole troop, sometimes just our patrol. I remember camping with our patrol at Haverering-atte-Bower, where we more or less camped in a field. In those days the Central Line Tube went out to Ongar so places in Essex were easily accessible. With the Scouts we usually went to Gilwell Park, which is still used by the Scouts.

Modern tents are framed and easy to assemble. The picture above shows a modern reproduction of our traditional Scout Tents, which took six occupants. We had wooden tent poles and lots of lines which were fixed to the ground with tent pegs. It was a difficult operation to erect it or take it down. If it came down in the rain – as it often did – we would have to unroll it in the Church Hall to get it dry and properly folded away. All the Scouting equipment went under the stage in the hall.

The tent did not have a fitted groundsheet. We each took our own individual one. We took sleeping bags and everything we needed in a rucksack or kitbag.

Camping was primitive. We used our skills to find and cut appropriate wood, light camp fires and cook over them. Water for drinking and washing up came from a large (possibly plastic) container filled from a cold tap somewhere. We dug holes in the field for latrines. We probably didn’t bother too much with keeping clean.

There were no Health and Safety concerns as we know them today. We used axes for chopping wood for the fire and knives to make little gadgets. Scouts routinely carried an open sheath knife in its sheath.

I can also remember a weekend camp with our Scout patrol, without adult supervision, where we spent most of the time smoking. I didn’t inhale and never learned to do it properly. I gave up smoking after that – at the age of fifteen.

Church Parade

It was a time when the military aspect of life was still more prominent with post-war patriotism. Conscription and National Service only ended in 1960. We had CCF (Combined Cadet Force) at school. Scouts were not military but they were patriotic.

Every month on the first Sunday of the month we had Church Parade. All the Cubs and Scouts (and Guides and Brownies) paraded in uniform and processed into the normal Church morning service of Matins. We were led by proudly carried national flags.

I tried to find suitable pictures but I don’t want Scouts in long trousers with their hands in their pockets. (We were never allowed to do that even at school.)

I think there is just enough left for one more about St Andrew’s …




[81] Fishers of Men

I need to start a series of posts about St Andrews Church, which I have been putting off because I wanted some pictures of the building. I have found some on the Internet and it’s clear that the outside of the church now is virtually unchanged – and probably much of the inside.

It may help to read [3] Religion first, especially for those more familiar with modern worship.


This picture shows the main church building, with the very distinctive dome at the front. Even the noticeboard and fence railings look exactly how they were in my time.

To the right in the picture you can see the Church Hall. In the following description I may talk of the past but I think much is unchanged since the sixties. I will use a whole blog post just to describe it as it was – as background to what was a significant part of my life for about ten years.

Church Building

The inside was the same as most churches of the time, a large single room with a high roof. As is traditional, the altar is to the east. [It’s not an altar, it’s a communion table or the Lord’s Table, but everyone always called it the altar.]

The two main entrances, seen in the picture above, were used for weddings. To the right hand side. Not visible in the picture, is a smaller entrance, which we usually used. Just inside on the wall was a metal box to take donations towards church expenses.


This quite modern picture shows inside, facing the altar, and is very familiar to me, almost unchanged. I used to love that ceiling with its wooden beams. At the far end the altar, stained windows, pulpit and lectern look the same. (You will need to click on the picture to enlarge it.) The choir section is not clear from this picture. The boxes along the sides (lights, heaters or sound?) are new.


This view shows the other end. One main door is open and in the centre is the font. Again it’s very familiar.

The main nave of the church was full of pews, which used to be very common in churches. It was said to hold a congregation of 800. It was only full for the last Sunday before Christmas – the Nine Lessons and Carols – and sometimes one or two chairs were added to seat everyone.


The pews had hassocks, kneelers for prayers, like those in the picture above but embroidered to indicate St Andrew’s Great Ilford. (This was the only context in which I heard it called Great.) Hassocks were kept under the pews. They were used during services.

[There was a group of ladies, with a name I can’t remember, which met for sewing and embroidery. They probably did other things as well but they did some of the hassocks.]

Service Books

In the back of each row of pews was a rack to hold books and Orders of Service. Two sets of books were kept right at the back of the church, to be handed out by sidesmen as we came in.


We used the Book of Common Prayer. It was virtually standard then with no alternative options. This was a little black book, most of which was never used. It had the liturgy for Matins and Evensong, also Holy Communion, and the words of all the Psalms.

But for those of us with nothing exciting to do during the sermon, there were pages of useless information to leaf through – several tables detailing the incredibly complex process of working out the date for Easter; the list of close relatives not allowed to marry; and various other services including the Churching of Women – already obsolete then, this was a sort of ritual blessing and purification for women after childbirth.


We always used Hymns Ancient and Modern, with its archaic language. In spite of its name, the hymns were mostly of Victorian origin. This was snother small, pocket-sized book – with a maroon cover. (Pictures are almost certainly more modern versions.)

Church Hall and other buildings

You can see the Church Hall to the right of the first picture. It was used for many activities and was ideal as a theatre with its large stage. I suspect that this building has also changed little since I was there. Apart from the actual hall there was a smaller hall behind it, the Wilson Room, and toilets. Upstairs, above the Wilson Room were two smaller rooms – the Chamberlain Room and another smaller room now known as the Office. I am pretty this other room used to have a name (the Erskine Room?) and was used sometimes.

The Church Hall building was linked to the main Church through the vestry – where priests and choir put on their robes.

Behind the church was the vicarage, where the vicar lived.


In those days services were defined inflexibly. For Sunday morning it was always Matins and in the evening Evensong, both as in the Book of Common Prayer. There were also Holy Communion, and Weddings, Baptisms and Funerals, all as per Common Prayer. I will look later at services through the Christian year.


Vicars and Curates

I remember Rev Samuel Erskine for the early part most of our time (1952-60) He was Irish, with an Irish accent. With his first name he was amused by the existence of the SAMS, St Andrew’s Men’s Society.

After him, as shown in the picture above, were Charles Porter (1960-66) and John Martin (1966-76), who officiated for my wedding. [Porter left suddenly in circumstances best not described here.]

We also had curates coming and going. It was long before the time of women priests.

The Church Today

I have not been back for fifty years but there are some changes. They now have a woman priest and regularly have services in Urdu. I my day the only minority ethnic groups of any significance in the area were Jewish.


Lots to come about my early life and St Andrew’s but I have to end with this picture again, drawn just over 500 years ago by Albrecht Dürer. I remember it from the wall of the Chamberlain Room – not the original! I am told that is no longer there.

The title of this blog comes from the Gospel according to Saint Mark, Chapter 1 (Authorized Version):

Now as he walked by the sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and Andrew his brother casting a net into the sea: for they were fishers. And Jesus said unto them, Come ye after me, and I will make you to become fishers of men. And straightway they forsook their nets, and followed him.











[71] Another Picture Blog

Another blog post just based on a few pictures, found mostly on Facebook. They will illustrate Blogs Past and Blogs to Come!

You have, of course, already read my first picture blog: [58] A Picture Tells a Thousand Words

These, again, are fairly random as I just take them as I find them. As always, you can click on a picture for a larger view.



This is quite an old portable electric fire, typical in design of the fifties. We certainly had these. This one has one bar – so it was 1 Kilowatt. Similar ones could have two or three bars, thus allowing different heat settings. The grill prevents children from having accidents with little fingers, but it didn’t prevent inquisitive boys from doing experiments with melting and burning things. (There were, of course, always matches around.)

(Health and Safety note. Please treat all fires carefully and don’t use your electric fire on the lawn outside!)


A more modern gas fire, typical of the sixties. I am sure we had one like this. They were still free standing and portable from room to room. But one like this would have stood in the fireplace, perhaps in front of an unused coal fire crate. You could turn off the gas, disconnect and move to another room. If you waited too long after turning it on before lighting (with a match) you could have a little explosion of gas. The gas, as now was poisonous.

Modern electric and gas fires look better, now usually looking like real coal fires. When they came in, ‘coal-effect’ fires were (You’ve guessed it) for the rich and posh. Nowadays, safety regulations apply and they are fixed, sometimes in an old real fireplace. Chimneys and flues control smoke and gas emissions. Only registered, professional engineers now deal with gas installation. Gas fires light automatically without matches.

(My best friend at school went to Cambridge University at the same time as I did but we went to different Colleges so I didn’t see him. College rooms, mostly small bed-sits, were heated by gas fires, smaller and simpler than this one. As people could easily do in those days, he turned on the gas in his room deliberately without lighting the fire and killed himself. It was said that he had difficulty with his height, especially with girls. He was the same height as me. We were both very short. This used to be an easy and common means of suicide.)


A paraffin heater of the fifties or sixties was just as dangerous. The clip at the front enabled you to lift up the top to fill up a container with paraffin, a highly inflammable liquid that could easily be spilled. A wick had one end in the liquid, its other end was lit with a match.

The fire was portable. You could carry it round the house, even when alight!

fireplace advert

This picture shows a lot more than the fireplace, which was very sixties. The chair is typical of the time as is the lamp. Note also the carpet, much like the ones we had, just a rectangle – not covering the whole floor. The rest of the floor was probably lino.

If you look closely at this advertisement you can see the Valentine telephone number, followed by: (20 lines). This meant that there was a telephonist able to take up to twenty calls at a time.


This is how she would do it, a switchboard. She would wear headphones for incoming and outgoing telephone calls and use cables connected by jack-plugs. (Yes, I did say ‘She.’ It was a woman’s job!)

FB_IMG_1432922084062  pram


Babies used to be transported in prams like these, even in the seventies. Our children were pushed around in something like the one on the right. They were good for walking but not useful for car or bus transport.

The Maclaren Baby Buggy revolutionized baby and toddler transport. It was foldable and easily portable. Designed in the late sixties, it has been produced worldwide.

Like so many other companies, Wikipedia reports that the Maclaren Company went into receivership in 2000 and was taken over a family based in Monaco and Switzerland. Production moved to China. Many other similar buggies are now available.



This may be an early shop or a more modern reproduction. It seems to be selling groceries and sweets, which was not typical of the fifties. But the sweets are typical, in large glass jars. They were carefully tipped into the scales until the 4 oz mark was reached. (That’s four ounces, a quarter of a pound. They were not sold in any weights only per 4 oz. That was about 6d or 9d, in modern money 2-4p.)


This is obviously a large metal plate that would have been fixed outside a confectioner’s shop for advertising. Fry’s Five Boys was just a small bar of milk chocolate, moulded into five pieces with the faces of these boys. The last one is so happy because he realizes he is being given Fry’s chocolate!



The desks are typical, with their inkwells and space for keeping books. They were usually arranged in pairs. Teacher’s desk and chair are also typical. I always remember them on a raised daïs.

Both black boards shown here are also typical. One is fixed on the wall, one can be moved around and has a circular black writing space that can be wound round.


This is a blackboard rubber (eraser) about 20 cm long. Some teachers were said to throw them at errant pupils but I don’t remember this actually happening.

They would fill up with chalk and had to be taken outside and beaten with a ruler to remove the dust.

(Yes, I can remember doing that with carpets!)


We called this a pair of compasses. You could draw circles with a pencil using it. We all had our own box of geometrical instruments – compasses, two set squares, pencils, pencil sharpener and ruler.


Food and Drink

A key mechanism opening a tin of something like Spam. Corned beef came in a tin a bit like this (but they were not cylindrical tins, they were rectangular with rounded corners so that the key could turn the corner.) The key was stuck to the top of the tin. Sardines had something similar.

They were difficult to use and didn’t always perform perfectly. The sharp metal edges were as dangerous as they look!


I’m going to use that word again. These revolutionized home consumption of beer. Before these, there was just bottled ale. These provided something similar to the draught bitter available in pubs and it was cheap. It started the trend towards drinking at home rather than in pubs.

Opening was as easy as … as easy as using a key for corned beef!


When fruit squash was relatively cheap, sold in concentrated form to be diluted, Lucozade was expensive, undiluted, fizzy, with its bottles wrapped in something like cellophane.

Its upmarket image was based on advertising as a tonic: ‘Lucozade aids Recovery.’

Later it changed its image and became a sports drink (when sports drinks became fashionable!)


Typical knives of the fifties, before stainless cutlery came into common use. There was a time around the late fifties when Dad gave up his job and started a small business selling stainless steel cutlery, when it was new and trendy.



This ingenious device was common. It sat on the telephone table. You set the slider to a letter and it opened to reveal a page or two of telephone numbers, with a surname beginning with that letter. The slider was the only automation. Entries were handwritten on lined paper and you had to keep them up-to-date yourself. It was an early version of our Contacts app!


We had a sewing machine like this, trestle driven with the feet. (Sewing machines were always Singer.) I remember Nan using it sometimes, threading bobbins and sewing. This was not as dangerous as it looks. It has a protected piece of metal to prevent you from sewing your fingers.

It could fold down and convert into a small table and we used it like that a lot. Many later had the sewing machine removed and were used just as tables in pubs.

A really typical dressing table with the stained, light brown wood and large mirror. Mum had one like this. (We didn’t have painted walls. It was always wallpaper.) Furniture was always stained wood, sometimes dark mahogany, sometimes lighter like this.


I cannot claim to speak from experience as a young boy when describing women’s underwear. Going by all the adverts in newspapers and magazines, all women wore these tight, controlling girdles. I will say nothing more about underwear. (Maybe later.)


Inside a London Underground train with its plush seats. I’m not sure if this is a Central Line train. You could open the doors and move between the eight carriages. Some, but not all, carriages were Non Smoking.

Seeing an empty carriage like this was not unusual.


I end with a picture of the Beehive Lane shops from the Cranbrook Road end. This picture could be from the fifties. The corner shop is the grocers, Greens. That clock was always there. The Post Office would be a couple of shops to the right. Notice the absence of traffic.

Thanks to all those who have provided these pictures.


[67] One, Two, Three …

When I was at school we had to do Mathematics so we had some quite difficult ‘sums’ to do – without mobile phone apps and even without calculators. How did we manage? (I will get to computers later but I have to start back at school.)

I should be honest here. I like Maths. I did ‘A’ level Pure Mathematics and Applied Mathematics at school, then ‘S’ level Mathematics, then I went to University and did a degree in Mathematics. Now I play around with spreadsheets for all sorts of things. But like everyone else, back in the fifties and sixties I had to do it the hard way. (If you read on you will see that it got easier in the seventies.)


Mental arithmetic at school was important. From very early days at school the times tables were taught by rote – from two times two is four up to twelve times twelve. We did these back in my days at Grange Hill from the age of about seven.

We used our knowledge of tables to do relatively simple sums. At junior school we learned about decimals, subtracting large numbers, long multiplication and long division, all done just by using pencil and paper methods. I won’t go into the details but before Secondary School we knew how to work out: 3456 x 789, and we knew how to find 3456 ÷ 789 as a decimal. (We didn’t do sums quite that hard but we knew the method.)

LogTables SMP%20Tables


At Ilford County High School we needed a quicker way to work out arithmetic. (Of course the same was true at all other schools.) Probably in the Third Form, we did logarithms, a relatively easy and quick way to multiply by using addition. I have considered at length whether to try to explain the way that logarithms work – and I have decided against it. It would take quite some time to do it clearly and I suspect that WordPress would fail with the mathematical notation.

I will show you an example. The oldies can sit back, reminisce and gloat – thinking: ‘Yes, I remember those books. We did that. The young generation have it too easy nowadays.’ And the youngsters can just think: ‘What! Surely no-one actually had to add up three-digit numbers!’

I will give actually give two examples.

A printed list in a little book allowed you to look up every number from 1.01, 1.02, 1.03 all the way to 9.98, 9.99, to find the logarithm of that number. Ok we will call them just Logs. (The battered SMP booklet in the picture is probably from the eighties but the numbers inside were the same!)

Here are the first ones. Log(1.01) is 0.004, Log(1.02) is 0.009, Log(1.03) is 0.013. (I have simplified it by using three figures. The tables coped with four. The Log of 1 is 0.000 and the Log of 10 is 1.000. You don’t need tables for them.)

If you wanted to know 2 x 3, you looked up 2.00 in the book of tables. It’s 0.301. Then you looked up Log(3.00), which is 0.477 (Believe me, I knew both of those. They were part of what we learned at school. I didn’t have to look them up!) Then you wrote down a little sum and added them up:

Number Logarithm
2 0.301
3 0.477
???? Total     0.778

Now we have to get the answer by looking up anti-logarithms. We want a number with a Log of 0.778, so we turn to another page in the book, look up Antilog(0.778) and the answer is – Surprise, Surprise! – 6!

So we complete the table.

Number Logarithm
2 0.301
3 0.477
6.00 Total     0.778

Because we always show our working, we write 2 x 3 = 6.00 (using logs) and put the table by the side.

That was easy. You all knew that 2 x 3 was 6, so here is just one more example, not quite so obvious.

12.34 x 567.8 = ???

Number Logarithm
12.34 1.091
567.8 2.754
7007 Total 3.845

You add the right hand column first, then look up 0.845 in the Antilog tables. So the answer is 7007. [You will either know, or will have worked out by now, that the bit before the decimal point in a logarithm tells you whether its 7.007 or 70.07 or 700.7 or 7007. It gets more complicated for 0.7007 or 0.07007!]

We did everything with those books of Log Tables. As well as multiplication (as shown above, by adding Logs) we could do division, (subtracting Logs) powers (multiplying Logs – using Logs), and sines, cosines and other trigonometry (using other tables in that little book).

It was the way calculations were done in a world without calculators.


Slide Rules

A year or two later we learned to use slide rules, which were just physical devices using the same methods as logarithms. You can see in the picture three wooden graduated rulers fitted together. The middle one slides along. In the diagram it is set up to multiply by two – so you can see how it shows that 2 x 2 = 4 and 2 x 3 = 6. For points in between you count along subdivisions, so you can also read 2 x 1.5 = 3.0 or 2 x 2.3 = 4.6 . The method was not quite as accurate as Logs but it was easier and quicker.

(It doesn’t matter if you haven’t followed the last few paragraphs. If will give you a sense of wonder at how clever we used to be.)



We come now to something I thought at first would be simple – just mention calculators. They were non-existent in the sixties; appeared in the early seventies; were cheap enough for general use by the mid-seventies; and were allowed in schools by the late eighties, replacing all that work with log tables and slide rules.

But then I realised that these cumbersome machines are now so outdated that most youngsters have never seen one and wouldn’t even recognize one! You probably have a Calculator app on your phones. The picture above shows an early calculator. It’s small strip of LED (light emitting Diodes) at the top was all you had then to show what was happening, with physical buttons to enter data.

The picture shows a scientific calculator, which could do trigonometry and other functions. Early basic models just did addition, subtraction, multiplication and division.

All you really need to know that these things just didn’t exist in the early sixties. At schools we had to manage with pencil and paper methods, log tables and slide rules.


A Diversion about Tractors

Why am I talking about tractors?

Well, for about six months after I left school, in 1966, I worked in the Accounts Department of Ford Motor Company at their Tractor factory at Basildon, down the road a bit from Ilford. Looking back on that period now, it is amazing that businesses ever managed their accounts with such primitive technology. Most of the time I was sorting through bits of paper, matching invoices to delivery notes so that we only paid for goods actually received.

In theory, every invoice was matched by its proof of delivery and that happened some of the time. More often numbers and dates did not match and there were all sorts of bits of paper to split, rearrange and match. Difficult situations were referred to ‘the Auditors,’ always said with an air of trepidation. I was just a humble clerk – not even that, just a ‘temp.’

[For those who want to reminisce about tractors, there were four models then of different sizes: Dextra, Super Dextra, Major and Super Major. They were bright blue. The one shown in the picture is a Dextra, the smallest model. Every part that arrived at the factory had a part number. Most started C5NN, which meant they were painted bright blue. Engines just had a long number. Delivery notes always seemed to include part number EZE 35, wooden pallets, which were returnable and free.]


Calculating Machines

At the Ford Tractor works, I dealt mainly with internal transfers from Belgium. If I remember correctly, the turnover just for this was about a million pounds a month, a lot of money in those days. It was before the hand-held calculators shown earlier so all we had were some slow, bulky adding machines and these ‘Facit’ machines for multiplication.

You had to manually set up both numbers, then wind the handle several times to get the answer. It was entirely mechanical and so the machines were noisy. It was a miracle that accounts were published every months with figures bearing some approximation to what had actually happened.

Most people in businesses through Britain would not have ever seen something so technologically advanced as this.

They did have a computer – just one for the whole factory complex at Basildon – and I will come to that later. This was going to be blog about computers … Maybe next time.


[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 …