Remembrance of Things Past

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


[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 …


[52] Are You Being Served?

I am going to complete my memories of shops of the fifties with Department Stores and clothes shops, with a special mention for Woolworths. (When I say ‘complete’ that doesn’t mean I can’t change my mind later!)

Rub-a-dub-dub, Three men in a tub, And who do you think they were? The butcher, the baker, The candlestick-maker, …


Before I come to these, I want to respond to some comments on my earlier posts about shops. I want to clarify what happened with supermarkets. They started, slowly, in the early sixties. I think there was a shop called Greens Stores in Beehive Lane that started as a Grocers, turning slowly into a tiny supermarket.

It was a revolution, just after 1960, when a supermarket opened in Ilford. It was the only one then in what was a large town. It was about the size of the tiny modern Metro supermarkets. I think it was called Dysons. Mum went once a week with a shopping list and took Dad with her because there was so much to carry. They only had the smaller trolleys at first.

But for the rest of my thoughts about shops I want to keep back in the fifties as far as I can remember. The earlier posts about shops – butchers, bakers and the others – were my earliest memories from the fifties.


An early picture of Ilford. I can’t be precise about the date.

List of Shops

Department stores came in various sizes. They all sold at least some men’s clothing and ladies’ clothing and some or all of the following: children’s clothing, lingerie (always distinct from ladies’ clothing), shoes, curtains (US: drapes), soft furnishings (sheets etc.) household goods, haberdashery (See below), furniture, carpets and rugs (US: rugs and carpets!) kitchen equipment, ornaments, books and stationery … and food.

Before I look at department stores, the following list shows the shops I remember in the fifties mostly from Ilford. Because the overlap is uncertain this list also includes shops that just sold clothes (and, for completeness, shoes.) I may have some dates and names wrong. Many were chain stores found throughout the area so I may have seen them just outside Ilford.

Since then almost all brands have been merged into others or disappeared. My comments below about the brands say nothing about the actual shops. (I haven’t been to Ilford for many years. I understand that Bodgers is the only one still there.)

In time honoured fashion they are in alphabetical order!

  • Army and Navy – A Popular chain of shops. Merged with Chiesmans. Now House of Fraser.
  • Bodgers – About the only department store still there now in Ilford
  • British Home Stores – Now BHS. Cheaper end of the market. Included food and a café.
  • C & A – A Dutch chain, came to Britain from about early sixties. I loved it for men’s clothes. No longer operates in the UK.
  • Chiesmans opened 1959 Merged with Army and Navy. Now House of Fraser.
  • Co-op – Now CRS, Co-operative Retail Services
  • Dolcis – Shoes, an established chain. No longer with us. Always seemed to be located next to Lilly and Skinner and Freeman, Hardy and Willis.
  • Dorothy Perkins – Established chain for women’s clothes. Became part of Burton group.
  • Etam – Women’s clothes and lingerie. A Dutch firm. Not now in UK.
  • D. H. Evans – Established chain for women’s clothes. (Not sure of current politically correct term – for the ‘fuller figure.’) Now Evans. Part of Arcadia.
  • Fairheads – Included haberdashery. Now seems to have disappeared.
  • Freeman, Hardy and Willis – Shoes, an established chain. No longer with us.
  • Harrison Gibsons – Included furniture and carpets. Now House of Fraser.
  • Home and Colonial – Established chain, mostly food. Now merged into Safeway.
  • Lilly and Skinner – As for Dolcis and Freeman, Hardy and Willis.
  • Maison Riche – Upmarket women’s clothes only.
  • Marks and Spencer – clothes and food. All their clothes used the St Michael brand name in the fifties. Still going strong.
  • Montague Burton – Now Burtons. Then it was an upmarket men’s Taylor. The only place for made-to-measure suits.
  • Moss Bros – Formal dressware and hire.
  • Moultons – Multi-storey shop. The name now seems to have disappeared.
  • Richards Shops – Taken over by Arcadia.
  • Selfridges – Could be late sixties. Now House of Fraser.
  • W. H. Smiths – Now WHSmith. See below.
  • Wests – Included haberdashery. Now seems to have disappeared.
  • F. W. Woolworth – See below.

[Note: Arcadia group now owns Burton, Dorothy Perkins, Evans, Wallis, Debenhams, Selfridges, House of Fraser and many other brands.]


The picture above shows Fairhead’s in Ilford

Note the orderly queue (for a Sale)

And the use of shop windows for display.

Big Department Stores

When I first did my notes, I said that department stores can best be seen as like Grace Brothers in the Television series ‘Are you Being Served’. I now realize that this program was last shown in 1985 so you may not all have seen it! It started in the early 70s, so by then the stereotyped department store was already an obsolete figure of fun.

They were much larger than the basic shops we have seen already – butchers, bakers etc. – at least twenty times the floor space and normally at least two or three storeys. I think Harrison Gibsons, with five or six storeys, used to be the tallest building in Ilford.

(The Harrison Gibsons building was destroyed by fire in 1959 and Moultons, next door to it, was damaged. Flames lit the sky and we could see them from our house two miles away.)

What was fundamentally different about these shops was their internal architecture. There were lines of counters making up large elongated rectangular areas. Several shop assistants inside looked after all the merchandise, which was either on the counters or in drawers under the counters (or, at the outside of the shop, behind the assistants.) Customers stayed outside the area containing merchandise. If what you wanted was not visible – it probably wasn’t – you had to ask the assistant to find it and show you. Items of clothing appeared carefully boxed, not hanging up. There was relatively little that you could touch or even see.


The picture above from the BBC series shows a cash register

Showing 3s 6d (That’s 17.5p)

Also, clothes were arranged in departments by type of clothing rather than by fashion designer. If you wanted a white dress shirt, you went to the counter selling white dress shirts and asked to be shown the range. (There was probably only one brand anyway.) There may have been one or two on display, but most were kept neatly in drawers and cupboards. You would have a small range from which to make your choice and finalize the purchase. If you wanted an overcoat at the same time you went on to the overcoat department (perhaps on another floor) and repeated the selection process with another shop assistant. For a large department store there would be perhaps hundreds of staff where today a staff of about half a dozen may sell just as many products.

Generally, department stores had grown from drapers, selling textiles – clothes, curtains, sheets etc. but the range of goods depended on the shop. At some stores there were some counters selling food but there was nothing resembling today’s supermarkets (or hypermarkets or superstores).

Some included basic cafes providing tea, coffee and biscuits and not much more. (Tea and coffee will come later.)


Many had quite large areas selling haberdashery – equipment and goods to enable customers to make their own things – knitting needles, wool and knitting patterns; sewing needles and cotton thread; patterns for dressmaking; hooks, buttons, zips and beads. In the relative austerity after the war a lot more people knitted or sewed at home as a cheaper way of obtaining clothes.


Clothes Shops

There were some shops, as indicated in my list above, which only sold clothes. They were structured in the same way as department stores. Over more than fifty years, most chains have changed their ownership, branding and clientele several times in what is now a fiercely competitive business. It was probably better to think of them in the fifties as clothes shops rather than fashion shops.

WH Smith

Smiths were slightly different in the way they changed. They started a bit like the small newsagents that generally became corner shops. But Smiths shops were larger, almost department stores. They sold newspapers, stationery, some confectionery, books and magazines, but also records, (later CDs, computer accessories, electronic games,) playing cards, board games and small gifts. It is still a large chain successfully filling its own niche market. What was left of the Post Office is now similar.


F W Woolworths was aimed at the cheaper end of the market. I probably saw more of this shop because there was one at Gant’s Hill as well as one at Ilford. It sold cheap clothes, kitchen utensils, toys and games, food and many other things. They picked things not for sale elsewhere and sold them in large quantities. I have memories of a few things sold there.


School plimsolls came from Woolworths. They were mass produced in China and only sold at Woolworths. Everyone at school had shoes like these, which we carried to school in our PE bags with our shorts. They cost a few shillings. As far as I know they were the only form of sports shoes available.


As well as other food, Woolworths sold loose peanuts by weight. They would be scooped and put into a paper bag and weighed – the assistant just kept adding a few until it skipped over the 4oz marker. They were not the peanuts of today, not roasted and salted. You could either get them in their shells (above) or without shells – they still had the red skins. Both were about 6d for a quarter (4oz).


Finally, apart from photographs, I possess just a few treasured items from over fifty years ago. I bought these at Woolworths. They were unusual then as we had little contact with African craft. Now there are shops selling all sorts of decorative craft goods from Africa, India, Asia and South America. I still love these little antelopes.