Remembrance of Things Past

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


[70] ICHS – Part Three

In a fairly random pattern I will continue where [62] ICHS for Boys Part One and [66] ICHS – Part Two left off, looking next at some more subjects and their teachers from the first three years.


As a core subject we had English for one period a day from the First Form to the Fifth Form. In the first year our teacher, Mr Lowe, was known as ‘Selwyn.’ Don’t worry, I’m not going to do every teacher of every subject for every year! I can’t even remember most of them.

Selwyn was in his last year of teaching. He seemed pretty old to us and was a bit absent-minded. He lived in Fremantle Road just a few yards away from the school and it seemed as he had always been there.

English lessons were supposed to come in five categories and unfortunately I can’t remember exactly what they were. They could have been Grammar, Poetry, Drama, Essays and Comprehension but there were also plays and books.

What I do remember is that at the beginning of each term he would tell us which days were which – maybe Monday Poetry, Tuesday Grammar … He asked us to remind him and every day he would ask. Needless to say the boys said every day what they wanted so the mixture was not what it should have been. We didn’t have essays as often as we should have done!

In those days everyone at school took English seriously. We studied grammar and were always expected to use proper English with perfect grammar and spelling. In exams, this applied to all subjects.

I will come back to English Literature around the Fifth Form, for reasons which will become obvious then.


It was always assumed that all the staff at a Boys’ School should be men. As for so many things, perhaps we just assumed it without any evidence.

There were two exceptions. The school secretary, with her own office opposite the Headmaster’s office, was Miss Glasberg. Typing and secretarial work were so much jobs for women that it would have been very unusual for a man to do this. (See [20] Sex Discrimination.)

The other exception was Miss Scott, a French lady who taught us the language in the First Year. Again with no evidence to go on, she was presumed to have been employed in exceptional circumstances in the post-war situation. We had no idea what these circumstances might have been.

Having done a little training as a teacher I now see how our teaching was influenced by the education of the teachers. I think Miss Scott had done a course at University on pronunciation!

We spent the whole of the first term learning how to speak French properly while learning virtually nothing of its vocabulary or grammar. We went through its sixteen numbered vowel sounds in order, picking up just a few French words as examples. We learned some of the vagaries of French spelling, with its accents and cedillas, much easier that English spelling. We must have been taught thoroughly because I can still remember much of it. (It did take a whole term just for pronunciation.)

The first four vowels, numbers one, two, three and four, were approximately as the English vowels in ‘meet’, ‘mate’, ‘met’ and ‘mart.’ Number five is a longer sound, a bit like number four, as in ‘marsh’, then six, seven and eight are heard in ‘mott’, ‘moat’ and ‘moot’ (Not as in ‘mute.’)

The second half were a bit more difficult, starting with number nine, best seen as the German ü. It’s a mixture of numbers seven and eight. Ten and eleven were similar to each other (but different!), both a bit like the first vowel in ‘murder.’ Somehow French ‘eggs’ and ‘ears’ managed to use both sounds. (In the singular ‘un œuf’ and ‘un œil.’ In the plural the vowel sounds changed for ‘des œufs’ and ‘les yeux.’ Don’t ask me which were ten or eleven!)

Twelve is the unaccented vowel of the word ‘the,’ known as a schwa. (I only learned that in studying Russian. We think of it as unaccented and insignificant but it gets accented in Chinese, even carrying different tones.) That just leave thirteen to sixteen, the four nasal vowels sounds.

I remember nothing else of Miss Scott. Perhaps she only taught us for one term, or perhaps we had a whole year of pronunciation. I can say little of her successor, Mr Loeser except that he was Czechoslovakian, with an accent, possibly another refugee from the War. He may have spoken good French but his English was sometimes hard to understand.

He was followed by Mr Stenner, who was strict and taught boringly and rigidly by the book. We worked through the text book by chapters. First we had time to look at the book and learn the new vocabulary listed at the start of each chapter. Then there was new grammar – things like verb tenses.

Then we went round the class one by one in alphabetical order. (For many classes in the early years we sat in alphabetical order as directed by the teacher.) We read the set text of the book, sentence by sentence, getting the pronunciation perfect, and we translated it into English – going over it again until he thought we had the best English equivalent. Sometimes it seemed that it was not so much the literal translation of the words but getting perfect idiomatic literary forms of English.

Mr Stenner will get another mention later.

I don’t think I have mentioned homework yet. We didn’t have it at Junior School but it started at ICHS – carried home in those leather satchels – two or three subjects every night – or each subject once or twice a week. You have to know about it for the next topic.

General Science

We had General Science for the first two years before splitting into Physics and Chemistry with Mr Bown. (He was known as ‘Pinhead,’ perhaps because he had a small, bald head.) He was not popular. He was strict and bad-tempered, sometimes threatening violence in a believable way. We were frightened of him. He may never have actually stuck any of the boys but we thought he might.

He was one of the worst teachers and was notorious for not marking homework. Homework was always collected when due but would be unmarked when returned to us. Every few weeks he would try to catch up, rushing through an attempt at marking the work he had missed. Partially marked books would be returned and he would be in a bad mood – always blaming the problems on us!

I remember in particular what could have been the best lesson we ever had, demonstrating the effects of water on sodium, potassium and other metals. He had tried to mark a few week’s work, gave us back our books and punished the whole class for poor work by saying that we would not have the demonstration. We had to spend the lesson in silence, copying up what we would have seen if he had been bothered to do it for us. (Maybe he didn’t like this demonstration and did the same every year!)

I don’t think anybody liked him and it was a relief to end General Science.


I cannot remember the name of our Latin teacher, perhaps because we never used it. We had the same teacher up to the fifth form. I am told that it was a Mr Morrow, which is vaguely familiar. He was known as ‘Solly.’ (I don’t know why.) We liked him because he spent much of the time talking about things that had nothing to do with school, sometimes about sailing. In those days Latin was a standard part of our education. We learned all the declensions of nouns and conjugations of all the tenses of the verbs, which helped both in understanding grammar in English and French and in the meanings of English words with Latin roots.

He wasn’t very strict and we didn’t behave perfectly in his lessons – but we were never really disruptive.

I remember our first year Latin exam. Exams were in our form room and as we were ready he delivered the papers to the invigilating Mr Jermy. He announced to the class that he had put in a word by mistake that we hadn’t covered yet in lessons. The word SAXUM meant rock, which he wrote on the board. It’s strange what useless things we remember in later life!

We had to study one book of the Gallic Wars by Caesar and went through it chapter by chapter. I think by the time we did ‘O’ Levels we could do many of the chapters from memory without needing the Latin!

Gym and PE

We called it PE (Physical Education) but it was nearly always in the school gymnasium with its wooden floor and all the standard gym equipment. There were wooden ladders at the side which we could climb; ropes hanging downwards; a long wooden vaulting horse; benches, mats and medicine balls.

We weren’t taught much about actual gymnastics. Often it was more like circuit training. Sometimes there was a game called ‘Pirates,’ a sort of tag version of tag, which involved staying off the ground.

I think I was vaguely interested in Gymnastics. Once I went to Gym Club, which did give the opportunity for a little bit of individual tuition. But it was about five o’clock, after waiting around at school, and just wasn’t convenient (or perhaps I wasn’t that keen.) I only went once.

For PE we just wore shorts, vests and the standard black plimsolls that were still the only gym shoes available


Games were outdoor activities (in all weather), for a double lesson each week. The teacher had two classes of 32 together so there was not much in the way of individual tuition. I can’t remember the names of any Games teachers but we didn’t have Ron Pickering. He taught at Wanstead, another Grammar School in Ilford.

Through the winter, games meant Football. We played three separate matches, a first team, second team and third team. I presume that the teacher selected the teams somehow and he looked after and refereed the first team match. Second and third teams looked after themselves. I was third team material so I never had a word of education about football, apart from what I noted in [61] Match of the Day.

I’m not sure why but football wasn’t always on the school field at the back of the school. Sometimes we went somewhere else.

Just once, when the weather was really bad we were told about offside. Perhaps it’s not surprising that I grew up without a love of football. (For football we had to buy football boots and socks.)

In the summer the sport changed to Cricket. The arrangement into teams was as for Football (and again I was third team material) so I was never told anything about the rules of the game or how to play it. I have picked up a lot from watching it on television but it far too complicated. I think if the ball hits the body it should be LBW whatever else happens – much simpler!

You well be getting an idea already of my memories of how we were taught in games. I mustn’t forget Athletics. Once a year, for just one double lesson, in the summer out would come shot put, discus, javelin, hurdles, high jump and long jump and the teacher would do his best to tell some of something about each of them. Yes, without worries about Health and Safety, a few boys would be left throwing the javelin on the school field. I always felt that I might be good at long jump but there were no other opportunities for athletics.


It wouldn’t be the same without a bit of side-tracking and backtracking. This is about water.

My earliest memory is of being dropped in the bath. I think it was my father and I must have been about one. I also remember at a very young age, on holiday somewhere like Margate or Clacton, stepping from a very small seaside pier on to a small boat and falling between the two into the water. I grew up with a fear of water, especially a fear of putting my head under water. It’s not quite so bad now but it’s still with me.


At some time we moved to a sort of rota where a third of us went swimming every week. We had to catch a bus and walk to the swimming pool at Ilford. We took swimming trunks in a rolled-up towel.

Lessons started at the shallow end. All we had to do was glide from the middle to the side to gain the confidence for proper lessons at the deep end. I could never do this. Soon teaching concentrated on the able pupils and a small number of non-swimmers entertained ourselves at the shallow end. I never learned how to swim, never developed the confidence to glide to the side and kept my fear of water. I don’t think the teachers were interested or even aware of me or other non-swimmers.

There was a brand new swimming pool and a new gymnasium built somewhere around the time when I was in the Fifth Form or Lower Sixth. I still couldn’t swim. In the Sixth Form I remember standing at the shallow end while a classmate showed me how to do two lengths underwater!

[At about the age of fifty, I did gradually learn to swim a little. At first I could only swim along the side, now I can manage a length in some small pools.]

 I have made a few minor changes about names and nicknames, thanks to those whose memories are better than mine.

Sorry, it’s been a rambling blog with no pictures. Before you get the wrong idea, I want to make it plain that I loved almost everything about my years at school. I have always enjoyed learning new things. I loved Mathematics and Science and languages (because of the logical structure of their grammar.) I liked reading and writing and anything that didn’t involve too much physical activity. The only times when I didn’t enjoy lessons were when Mr Bown was not in a good mood.

More to come …


[66] ICHS – Part Two


I have many more (mostly good) memories of my seven years at ICHS. While I will try to look at things roughly by years, I also have to look at specific topics and subjects, so it will be a bit rambling. Yes, I know, it’s always a bit rambling!

As now, the school’s curriculum was split into three chronological periods. I will compare things fifty years ago with modern day ICHS, where many basic points seem unchanged.

Curriculum for the first Three Years

ICHS now teaches the following subjects for the first three years: English, Mathematics, (General) Science, History, Geography, French, Music, Art, PE and Games. So far it’s the same as back in the sixties.

Spanish or German is chosen in the second year as a second language. Well, when I was there we all had Latin as a second language from the Second Year. Spanish or German came later as an option. (Not for me. I think I took Additional Mathematics instead.)

They also now have Food Studies, Design Technology, Information Technology, Philosophy and Ethics and PSHEE, none of which came into our education at any time. The nearest thing to Food Studies would have been Domestic Science (more or less cooking) a subject taught to girls only. (See [20] Sex Discrimination.) Design Technology and Information Technology didn’t exist as subjects but we had Woodwork. Instead of Philosophy and Ethics we had Religious Instruction or Religious Education (RI or RE).

Parents could exclude children from RI and from daily assemblies. Ilford had a significant Jewish population and about a fifth of our class had their separate Jewish assembly and religious education. No one then ever indicated any other religion or opted out of Christian (Church of England) teaching.

If you remember [60] Young and Innocent you will understand that Personal, Social, Health and Economic Education (which I had to look up) and, in particular any education about sex, simply did not exist. Anything in these areas would be left to parents, who would probably say nothing.

[I have been juggling with possible timetables on a spreadsheet. I can make the First Year add up to 35 periods, as it must, but I’m not sure what happened in the Second and Third Years. We added Latin so somewhere we must have lost five periods. Maybe Art and Woodwork were just for one year.]

The First Year

We were the post-war ‘Bulge,’ which caused some problems. (See [46] The War) Until we arrived, ICHS had worked on a four-form intake but when we came they had to take six classes of 32. Initially, there was no attempt at streaming so that the first year could be used to sort us out. Classes were named from the form teacher. I was in 1J and I always assumed that Mr Jermy was in his first year of teaching. He was learning what it was like to be a form teacher. I have no idea what subject he taught!

(Some Facebook chat about ICHS suggests that Mr Jermy taught Mathematics, so he probably did. That means that he almost certainly taught us Mathematics. I can’t remember everything!)

They say that ‘boys will be boys’ and inevitably there were those among us who tested the limits to see what we could get away with. But Mr Jermy did learn to cope. We were more or less kept under control and we all survived the first year.

There were also other pupils who suggested that 1L was the class for those expected to form the ‘A’ stream, with the others being generally mixed. As one of the top pupils from Highlands I was disappointed not to be among those in 1L. It was said that Highlands was not one of the better streaming schools and so their pupils were not expected to do so well. I felt the challenge to prove myself capable of doing well. (I suppose I was a bit of a swot. I have always liked learning.)


At the end of every year term we had formal examinations in every subject. Marked papers were returned to us. As well as a percentage score, everyone was given their position out of 32. (Always exams in first and third term, not sure about middle one.)

We had reports, which we took home in a sealed envelope. The report listed every subject with a very short comment, the exam result and position. Then there was a section marked ‘Conduct.’ Dad was always much more interested in our conduct and expected ‘Good’ or ‘Very Good.’ Sometimes it was only ‘Fair.’

Second and Third Years

I remember the transition to the next year, which was unusual because of the bulge. From the Second Year onwards we would always be in streamed classes by ability (and in some subjects, in sets, over-riding class streams.) But for the bulge year this would be difficult. Nobody wanted to be put in the bottom stream of six streams. They invented a new structure with 2A, 2B and 2C for the top three classes. The rest went into 2X, 2Y and 2Z, which were treated equally. We were all called into the Hall and class lists were called out. I went to 2A. Classes for our cohort kept to this structure as we moved up to the fifth form.

I can’t remember all the names or details of teachers but my old Latin dictionary has been useful. This was also pocket-sized, like the hymn book, always carried round with us and my receipts for School Fund were stuck in the blank pages at the end. One for April 1960 is signed by Mr Cully, so he must have been the form teacher in the Second Year. I think he taught History. That’s about all I remember of him. He probably taught us History.

Unfortunately the teacher for the third year just put his initials ‘JE’ on the receipts. I think he was Mr Evans and taught Geography

[It was only long-standing teachers who seemed to come with established nicknames. The headmaster was ‘Harry’ and his deputy was ‘GAT,’ which we all assumed, wrongly, was from his initials. My older brother assured me that it came from an allusion of him with his gown, which he always wore, looking like Batman. I will come to a few other nicknames later but Mr Jermy, Mr Cully and Mr Evans did not have nicknames.

Our respect for authority meant that we always called teachers ‘Sir’ and referred to them as Mister. But when the boys talked about teachers Mr Jermy would become just Jermy.]


From the Second or Third Year some subjects (Mathematics, French and Latin and, later Physics and Chemistry) were taught in sets rather than streams. So, for example, 2A, 2B and 2C had Mathematics lessons at the same times but were taught as 2 Set 1, 2 Set 2 and 2 Set 3.


I am going to end this post with a look at all the subjects we only did in the early years.

I can’t say I remember much about Religious Education. We were growing to the age where we questioned things and no longer took what the teacher said as necessarily true. So belief in God was beginning to waver. Lessons were still effectively stories from the Bible. (Religious Education meant Church of England education. We were never told anything about other religions.)

It was the subject where pupils had little interest and teachers found things like discipline most difficult. I can remember quite well-behaved boys testing the teacher with a bit of messing around and I think several teachers did not last long.

It was one of the first subjects to disappear. It may have been an option for GCE but I don’t think anyone did it.



In today’s world, where Health and Safety concerns permeate life, it may be hard to believe how we did woodwork. With just the supervision of a single teacher, a class of 32 were let loose in a room equipped with hammers, saws, planes, chisels and other pieces of equipment. At the front of the room there was a circular saw and the only safety measure was that we were sent outside when this was in use. (Facebook chat suggests that the teacher may have been Mr Noakes. The name is familiar.)

There were no serious accidents but I do have a line across one thumb, which many years ago was a blood-marked line following over-vigorous use of a chisel.

We learned to measure accurately and to construct in the old-fashioned way – with dovetail and mortise-and-tenon joints and strips of wooden dowel. Measurements were, of course, sixteenths of an inch, not millimetres!


I have to squeeze in Art, which stopped in the lower school. To be honest I can’t remember whether we had one, two or three years of Art. It was more or less a single drawing or painting in a double period every week but we did learn some of the techniques – light and shade using highlights and vanishing point perspective.



Music was a subject that we only did for two years. I wish I could remember the name of our music teacher because it was a subject I enjoyed. I did have the advantage of having had a short period of piano lessons. (See [44] Boars and Antelopes, Craneflies and Earwigs.) We had Music in the School Hall where the teacher could use the piano that lived there for assemblies.

There was no attempt to teach us to play music or to read musical notation.

For the first year we sang. We had song books with the words – usually the sort of song with several verses and a repeated chorus. I suppose the books had the music (or perhaps we just picked up what the teacher was playing.) To be honest, I have no idea whether we sang in tune but that was not the point of the exercise. We enjoyed singing heartily.

There were familiar English folk songs like Barbara Allen, Scarborough Fair, Clementine, Heart of Oak, Early One Morning and the Lincolnshire Poacher; and sea Shanties like the Drunken Sailor.

The Second Year marked the beginning of puberty for most boys, when voices broke. Our music teacher felt that with our changing voices boys would be self-conscious and less keen to sing. So there was no more singing. Instead he played us classical music on an early record-player.

He picked pieces that he could use to illustrate musical topics and would explain everything about the piece before playing it, so that we had something to listen out for. Some of them told stories through music, like Peter and the Wolf.


Danse Macabre

I am sure that you all know that Danse Macabre is an artistic genre, dating from the Fifteenth Century, portraying by analogy the universality of death, showing a personified Death calling those from all walks of life, typically the Pope, an emperor, a king and a labourer, to dance among the graves – to remind us of the fragility of life and its vain glories. (To be honest, I have had a little help from Wikipedia.)

Camille Saint-Saëns wrote a song in this genre for voice and piano and later re-worked it for an orchestra as a piece of music that I will always remember from our music lessons. It uses various instruments and musical tricks to paint a picture of the dance of Death.

I can’t recount exactly what the teacher described to us, but here are some notes, again helped by Wikipedia. The legend is that at midnight on Halloween Death calls the bodies of the dead while he plays the violin. (I will say something about Halloween in a later blog.) The music starts with a single note repeated twelve times for the chimes of midnight. The solo violin is tuned down a semitone so that it can use two strings to make a harsh dissonant sound to call out the dead.

There are then two themes, played on separate instruments through the orchestra, gradually becoming more energetic. After a direct quote from the Gregorian Dies Irae, it returns to its two themes in a full orchestra crescendo.

The ending represents the cock crowing at dawn (with an oboe) and the skeletons scuttling back to their graves. As in another piece by Saint-Saëns (Fossils from the Carnival of the Animals) a xylophone is used to indicate the rattling bones of the skeletons.

This is still, definitely my favourite piece of music, and it always reminds me of that lesson. (More about music in [26] Music (1) and the two follow-ups.)


Although I have lots to say about ICHS, it’s going to be a series with unexciting titles and few pictures. More to come …