The Spring Term of 1954 at St Andrews Junior School in Clevedon, was not one I was looking forward to – for it meant the dreaded Eleven Plus Exam. I believe now, that when I first went to St Andrews, the Headmistress, Miss Page, put me in the wrong class – for I was much younger than everyone else. The realisation of this fact came to me when I returned to school after the Christmas holiday – everyone in the class was to take the Eleven Plus on the 2nd of February – but I was only ten years and three months old. If I passed the exam, then I would still only be ten years old when I started Grammar School. I don’t think my Dad was too worried about whether I was the right age or not – I think he felt that Miss Page should know what she was doing.
The 2nd February arrived – the day of the exam – and I was ill. Whether I had decided to be ill to avoid doing the exam or not – I don’t know. I had the opportunity for a retake on the 2nd March, and just after Easter, the results came through. I had passed – subject to a successful interview. I was called for interview at Weston Grammar School for Boys – I can remember telling the interviewing panel that I wanted to be an archaeologist. I was already a member of the Clevedon Archaeological Society, and I was very interested in the subject – I told them that the archaeologist, Sir Mortimer Wheeler, was my hero. They asked me a lot of questions about archaeology – I think my answers surprised and pleased them for I heard a day or two later that I had passed. My Parents were delighted and determined that some of the remainder of the summer term would be spent in “kitting me out” for the Boys’ Grammar School, Weston-super-Mare. In a way, I was proud to have this recognition for my efforts but saddened that most of my friends would be going to Clevedon Secondary Modern School – or “Highdale,” as it was then known.
Because I had passed the Eleven Plus Scholarship, some of the summer holiday was also spent making numerous trips to clothes, shoe and sports shops in Weston and Bristol, to buy the correct school uniform as per the “list of needs” sent out by Weston Grammar School.
There were four Houses at Weston Boys’ Grammar School: St Dunstan, Admiral Blake, King Arthur and King Alfred – I was to be in King Alfred House and so I needed a blue rugby shirt, with a white collar – but I also needed a white rugby shirt as well – though I’m not sure why. I needed black shorts for rugby but white ones for PE. I needed daps and a dap bag. I needed short grey flannel trousers or long grey flannel trousers, grey shirts, long grey socks with one gold and two maroon rings round the top. I also needed a maroon cap with two gold bands round its circumference, a maroon and gold striped scarf, and a dark blue or black long raincoat. I also had to have a black blazer with a pocket badge of the Somerset Red Dragon – for some reason, Mums always seemed to buy blazers that were one or two sizes too big – some boy’s blazers looked so big, that it seemed as if their occupants could walk a couple of paces before the blazer moved !! I was also supplied with a ghastly-looking leather satchel by my Aunts – it was bright orange in colour, and led to much ridicule from other boys – so much so, that I quickly defaced it with biro and pen ink, to give it a “lived-in” appearance.
Weston Grammar School was at the Uphill-end of Weston-super-Mare, bounded by Uphill Road North, Windwhistle Rd., Broadoak Rd., and Devonshire Road. It was a large site, on which were both the Girls’ Grammar and the Boys’ Grammar schools. The two schools were joined by a central clock tower and their playing fields were divided by a long straight drive from the clock tower down to Windwhistle Rd. The Boys were allowed no contact with the Girls – and steps were taken by Staff to see that this rule was adhered to.
Each of the schools was built around a quadrangle – in the Boys’ School, this was a place that only Staff and Prefects could walk. The Boys’ School had five classrooms on the north and south side, the Gymnasium and Main Hall were to the west, and to the east were the Staffroom, Head and Secretary’s Office, the Woodwork/Metalwork Room and Physics and Chemistry Labs. On the first floor to the north, was the Geography Room and another Science Lab. Above that was the a room called The Museum – where Weston Museum kept surplus artefacts and display cases. The Girls’ School was a mirror-image of the Boys’ School – except that the Girl’s side had been extensively damaged by incendiary bombs during the war. In addition to the main school buildings, there were also a number of concrete hutted rooms in each school – we had two such rooms situated between the Main School and the Boiler House/Caretaker’s House. The School had originally been called the “County School,” and was, I think, started in the early 1930’s – my cousin Stuart had been a student there in the mid-to-late 1940’s. Many of the staff who taught him, were still there, when I arrived on the 6th September 1954.
Stepping off the bus at the Uphill Road North end of Broadoak Road, and into a huge throng of noisy boys and girls of all different shapes, sizes and ages – was a most daunting experience on that first day. The noisy mob swept along the pavement – the girls turned off through their entrance gate, and the boys milled through their entrance gate a few yards further on. Several hundred boys, collected noisily around the cycle sheds and at last, the Main Door opened to let us into the building. I found myself shoved into a large coat-hanging area with avenues of hooks and benches with wire open baskets beneath. None of us new boys knew where to hang our coats – you just picked an empty hook and hoped that your coat would still be there – at the end of the day – when you wanted to go home.
There were masters and prefects hustling us new boys through – past the entrance to the P.E. changing room, past one of the toilet blocks and on into the tarmac area between the side of the gymnasium and the large square grassy quadrangle. After some minutes of bedlam, we were quieted down and one by one, our names were called out for us to assemble outside our allocated classrooms. Mine was one of those on the south side of the quadrangle near – what I learned later – were the Physics and Chemistry Labs. My career at Weston was just beginning.
School photo from September 1954
Old Masters” and some Very Good Influences
The staff at Weston Grammar School for Boys were a strange collection of men – with some real characters amongst them. The nick-names of some of them conjured up incredible pictures in the minds of quite a few of us new boys – “Killer” King, “Chunky” Pope, “Ernie” Roue, “Windy” Walters, “Speedy” Harris, etc etc.
Some of the Staff were old-fashioned academic types who’d probably started their teaching careers in the early 1930’s, and may have spent much of their early teaching years in private or minor public schools. Others were a newer breed of teachers, who had been in the War – and had taken up teaching soon after. Then, there was another group of much younger men – probably in their first few years of teaching who were not much older than some of those students in the Grammar School’s Upper Sixth. As with most Teaching Staff in any school, there were those who could teach – and those who could not. Some Students got on well because of the quality of the teaching at Weston – others got on well in spite of it.
The Headmaster was Mr D. C. Whimster, who, because of his rather large red-veined nose, had a reputation amongst the boys, for liking his drink – it wasn’t just his nose that gave him that reputation, but also the fact that one of the boy’s fathers was the publican of the Anchor Inn in Bleadon – and Mr Whimster was a known regular.
All the boys were known by their surname, and I started in Class 1S – the “S” was for Mr Simmonds (our form-teacher) – we knew him as “Soapy” Simmonds. We sat in single desks – with tip-up seats, in regimented rows, in lines facing the wall blackboard at the front, with the teacher’s desk at the front and slightly to one side. In our first year, most of our lessons took place in our classroom – with a succession of teachers coming in to teach their subject. It was all very formal and largely uninspiring. We used to do Geography, Art, Woodwork, General Science, Music and P.E elsewhere in the school.
Prior to going to St Andrews Junior School in Clevedon, I had previously attended St Nicholas School – and there, had made only very limited progress with French during almost two years tuition. We “covered the same ground” in French in the first two weeks with Fred Trapp at Weston Grammar School. “Feud” Hill took me for History – I remember being praised for my drawing of the cross-section of a pit-dwelling and also going on a class visit to the Iron-Age Camp on Worlebury Hill – but his History lessons were never as interesting as Miss Page’s at St Andrews Junior School in Clevedon. “Dad” Rees took us for Geography – in the first year, this subject seemed to consist mainly of drawing a cross-section of a coal mine and drawing pictures of the different types of fishing nets use by North Sea trawlers. “Willie” Davis – the great Welsh International fly-half, both at Rugby Union and Rugby League – was our P.E. Teacher. “Willie’s” Physical Education lessons were mainly the sort of Physical Training done in the armed forces, or consisted of playing “Pirates” – but his rugby tuition, as one would expect, was superb. In my First Year, Mr Whimster took us for Literature – though all I remember of his lessons was, that they seemed to often consist of us writing limericks.
“Bill” Davies took us for Science – in my first term, I can remember drawing a section through a Bunsen burner to show how it worked, and also doing a diagram of the cross-section of a Bessemer Converter – but not much else in my first year. “Bill” was also the Deputy Head – a fearsome individual who spread terror into our lives – he carried out the school’s official corporal punishment on behalf of Mr Whimster. “Robbie” Robinson took us for Woodwork – he was reputed to be an ex-wrestler and was built like a gorilla. If you as much as glanced the other way when he was explaining something – you got a “clip round the head” for not paying attention. “Tommy” Thomas was the Music teacher – he had a room just off the Main Hall – he was a heavy smoker and appeared to have little or nothing to do with the other staff. He was a friendly chap, and well-liked by many of the boys. In my first couple of years at Weston, “Windy” Walters was the Biology teacher – a man with a rather strangulated voice. He used to prowl round the classroom – and the school building, when on duty – with a human femur gripped in his right hand. The femur was a weapon that “Windy” used to clear a pathway through any crowd of boys in his way – it was also used to great effect poking boys whom he thought were misbehaving in class.
The Latin master was “Mike” Lawrence – a man very much immersed in his subject. I never had much idea about the subject and it was with great relief, that I was able to drop it after a couple of years of futile progress. I thought I had left learning Latin far behind me, when for timetabling reasons (when I was about fifteen), I was “forced” to take it up again. I don’t know who was more dismayed – “Mike” Lawrence or me ? After a couple of years lay-off from Latin, I had forgotten most of what I’d learnt previously – I’m not sure whether my results in the end-of-term exam that year, were a reflection of my abilities or Mike’s teaching – I came 3rd equal out of a class of thirty-five students – having scored a mark of only 12% !! Common sense eventually prevailed and I was able to drop Latin for good.
“Mike” had a very ancient bike – a death-trap – which he used to ride to school every day. He would always put it in the first rack of the cycle sheds, adjacent to the Broadoak Road Main Entrance used by the Boys. The police used to come round from time to time to do a bicycle inspection – and on those days, “Mike” would not ride his bike to school. There was one occasion however, when he obviously forgot about the impending police visit. His bike was selected by the police officer as being the most dangerous machine he had ever seen – and demanded it be taken off the road immediately !
There were, however, some great teachers at Weston – who were well-organised, knew their subject and could put it across in an absorbing way. Notably Mr Forbes, who took me for Geography in both Fifth and Sixth years and who organised fascinating Field Trips to the Mendips. Don Brown joined the Staff about half-way through my time at Weston – he introduced the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award to the School, and he was also instrumental in introducing the opportunity to participate in the newly-formed annual Somerset County Youth Camps – both of which caught my imagination, and both of which I was involved in for many years after. My favourite teacher however, was Ian Sutton – he was the Art teacher – and a very good painter in his own right too. He and I became good friends over the years that I was at Weston – an d the only teacher who ever called me by my christian name. I spent many lunchtimes in the Art Room – painting or making pottery.
I know that I was not alone in concluding that the Staff were a rather disparate group – for when I was about fourteen years of age, some of the older boys got together and financed an advert in the “Weston Mercury.” The advert stated that there were some “Old Masters for Sale” and gave the school telephone number. I don’t know how many would-be purchasers made enquiries, but there must have been some, for there was certainly an inquisition at School to find the culprits – without success !
The Weston Grammar Schools took students from a very wide area. Those from Portishead and Pill went to Temple Meads on the train and then changed trains for Weston. Living in Clevedon, I went on the train from Clevedon to Yatton and caught the commuter corridor train that already contained youngsters from Portishead, Pill, Long Ashton and Backwell – and on to Weston. Youngsters from other localities – such as Banwell, Hutton, and Cheddar went to school on the service bus. The transport costs for Somerset County Council, to ferry all these students to and from school in Weston, must have been considerable.
Somerset County Council did attempt to cut costs one year. Their plan involved putting all of us from Clevedon and Portishead, on two ancient coaches run by Empress Coaches of Portishead. The Clevedon contingent used to wait noisily outside the Constitution Club in Kenn Road for the coaches to arrive in the morning. They were often late, sometimes broke down and were extremely over-crowded. The drivers found us to be an undisciplined bunch of passengers – they frequently had to stop the coaches partway through the journey, and climb out of their cabs, to remonstrate with us. Travelling by coach also meant that you couldn’t stay after-school for clubs or detentions. After a couple of terms of mayhem, with late arrivals at school, travel sickness etc – we were all glad that Somerset County Council saw good sense, and put us back on the train to travel to and from Weston.
I, and about thirty-five other youngsters, used to catch the 8.00 am steam train from Clevedon Station to Yatton, cross over the footbridge and wait for the 8.17 on the down line. In 1954, this was likely to be one of the “Castle” Class engines pulling eight to ten carriages. The train was usually so crowded that there were insufficient seats – and so the 15 – 20 minute journey to Weston General Station (stopping at Puxton & Worle and also at Weston Milton), would be spent standing in the corridor, or sitting on the floor and taking the opportunity to copy homework, or having a last look at material that should have been learnt the night before – for a test later that day. At Weston, you flashed your season ticket at the ticket collector on the gate, tore up the steps, over the footbridge and down the steps on the other side, and ran across the Station forecourt towards the no. 90 or no. 163 bus stop. If the buses were there, you ran as fast as you could to get on first. If they were late, then a huge noisy rabble developed round the bus stops until the buses arrived. It cost tuppence to travel on the bus from the station to Broadoak Road (just outside the school entrance). If you were lucky, you arrived at school at about ten to nine – if unlucky and were later, you got your name taken – three times late meant a detention for one hour after school.
The day began with registration in your classroom, then Assembly in the Main Hall. All four hundred and eighty-or-so boys would troupe in class by class – the youngest at the front and the oldest at the back. The staff came in one by one, mounted the steps on the stage and stood in a semi-circle glaring at the assembled boys. Mr Whimster stood at the front of the stage, behind a small table on which was a small lectern. To one side was a larger lectern upon which was an open bible – one of the older boys (usually a prefect) would read the lesson during the service.
Mr Whimster would welcome everyone, announce the hymn and “Tommy” would strike up on the piano and we would all join in. The reading would be given, a few prayers said, a second hymn sung and then more prayers – sometimes followed by one or two School Notices. We would all troupe out to our first lesson, whilst “Tommy” played some stirring music on the piano, or some symphony music was played on the School record player.
Break-time was at 10.30 and everyone was expected to be outside – prefects and patrolling staff made sure that you were. Free third-pint bottles of milk were available for those who wanted it, and there was a tuck-shop (run by fifth and sixth-formers), selling doughnuts, “lardies,” Chelsea buns and currant buns. Break finished at 10.45 and the second half of the morning’s lessons resumed.
Before the new school kitchen and dining hall were built beyond the caretaker’s house, the morning would end with a bell at 12.10 and we would all line up in a noisy disorganised rabble outside the Main Hall – ready to devour our school lunch. By about 12.20, the teacher on duty would arrive, quieten us all down and let us file into the Hall. We stood behind the benches at our allocated tables and Grace would be said. After sitting down, the boys would be sent up – table by table – to get their food. There was no choice of menu – main courses might be roast one day, salad the next, fish the next and so on. Puddings seemed to consist largely of milk puddings (sago, semolina or rice) with stewed fruit – usually prunes. We occasionally also had fruit salad, jelly and blancmange, apple pie and custard, trifle, chocolate sponge and peppermint sauce.
As boys left their tables to line up to collect their food, their absence provided an opportunity for others to sabotage the vacant table – either by salt being poured into someone’s drinking water or the removal of eating implements.
After lunch, if fine, it was “out on the field” – if wet, then “back to classrooms” – prefects were allocated to each classroom. If it was wet, they would report any breaches of order to a patrolling duty teacher. The prefects had the power to issue detentions for minor problems – which meant an hour after school in detention – after 24 hours notice. Three prefect detentions in a half term meant one “Master’s Detention” – still an hour after school following 24 hours notice – three “Master’s Detentions” in a half term apparently meant having the cane from the Deputy Head (“Bill” Davies).
Afternoon school began at 1.30 with registration, and then we would begin a new round of lessons – Games lessons were usually in the afternoon. In the Autumn and Spring Terms, Games would take the form of either Rugby or Cross-Country – if it was Cross-Country, then that meant leaving from school, crossing Uphill Road North, trekking across the golf course, through the sand dunes to the beach, along the sands towards Uphill, round the sea-wall, back along the sands, through the dunes, across the golf course and back to school. Some boys who didn’t like cross-country, used to hide in the sand dunes on the way out, and rejoin the stalwarts on the way back ! In the Summer Term, we played cricket – though my particular area of interest was Athletics.
I had always been a pretty good sprinter and a moderate high-jumper. I could already long-jump quite well, but the arrival of Dennis “Doug” Field to the Staff of Weston Boys’ Grammar School in 1959, was a godsend for me.
Weston Boys’ Grammar School Athletic’s Team – I’m in the middle of the middle row
Dennis W. Field had represented England in Triple-Jump at The Empire and Commonwealth Games held in Cardiff in 1958 – he must have seen some talent in me and I spent many hours with him after School, learning new techniques to improve my long-jump and triple-jump – in fact I became Somerset Triple-Jump Champion in the County Athletics Championships at Taunton, and, a few weeks later, was placed Second in the South-West Championships held at Sherborne in Dorset.
School used to end officially at 3.50 pm. Those boys who lived in Pill or Portishead had to catch the 4.02 train, to make the necessary connection at Temple Meads – or they wouldn’t get home until half-past seven ! To enable them to catch the 4.02, those boys were allowed to leave around three-thirty to catch the earlier buses to the station – some unsuspecting teachers could be tricked into thinking that you also had to catch that particular train. It was not unusual, therefore, to see as many as double the number of those who actually lived in those “far-off parts of the world,” departing early from school.
Sometimes, if you left school at the proper time, it was possible to be lucky with the buses to the station and after a sprint across the station forecourt, you could get through the barriers onto the platform just as the 4.02 whistle was being blown. Once or twice, I’ve even managed to get on it – after running down the platform – when the train was already moving and one of your obliging friends, already on the train, would open a door for you. If you managed to get on the 4.02, there was always plenty of space, and with the connection at Yatton, I could be walking out of Clevedon Railway Station at four-thirty – according to the Clevedon Triangle Clock.
Clevedon Railway Station entrance
The train that we usually caught was the 4.35 to Paddington – “The Merchant Venturer.” Sometimes our homeward train ride was enhanced by celebrities being on board – one afternoon I remember, in late 1958, just ten minutes or so before the 4.35 was about to pull out of the station, onto the platform came Billy Wright (Football Captain of England) and his fairly new wife, Joy Beverley (of Beverley Sister’s fame). Joy (without her sisters) had been performing in Weston and she and Billy were going home. The excitement amongst the boys was considerable and most of us took the opportunity to shake hands with Billy, once he was on board – I would imagine he was very grateful when the train finally got to Yatton and nearly all of us got off, leaving him and his wife in comparative peace for the rest of their journey.
No 6026 “King John” Castle Class engine – “The Merchant Venturer”
Once or twice there were incidents on the 4.35 train – perhaps the most memorable was one time when, within sight of the approaching signal box at Yatton, the train should have started slowing down – but it didn’t. Everyone realised, as it thundered on towards Yatton, that we would not be getting off. Someone pulled the emergency communication cord and the tremendous de-acceleration that followed – as we careered through the station – caused lots of passengers to fall over. The train screeched to a halt somewhere between the Bristol-end of the platform and the road bridge. The Clevedon contingent – realising that if we didn’t get a move on, our connection to Clevedon would leave without us – opened the doors and jumped out onto the grassy embankment with our bags and satchels, and began making our way back to the Station. Members of the public who lived in Yatton, also jumped out. The Station Staff and the Guard on the train were extremely unhappy at what we’d done – especially as the “Merchant Venturer” was now stranded with all its doors open on one side – and about fifty or so youngsters and members of the public were now straggling along the edge of the track back towards Yatton station. We made the connection to the Clevedon train and got home to Clevedon at our usual time – we never found out quite why the 4.35 train hadn’t followed its correct timetable and stopped at Yatton.
Catching the 4.35 train usually meant arriving in Clevedon at 5.00 pm. If you had the misfortune to have an after-school detention, then you would obviously miss the 4.35 and have to catch the 5.15 non-corridor train from Weston – if you were lucky. If you weren’t lucky, then the next train was the 5.40. If you made the 5.15 from Weston, it meant you’d arrive in Clevedon just before 6.00 pm.
There was much “larking about” on the train in the evenings – and even a certain amount of minor vandalism – usually consisting of what you could find to unscrew in the train compartment – ashtrays, pictures from the walls, luggage racks etc – all used to be removed or loosened, and a fair number of light-bulbs would go out of the window. The homeward journey also provided an opportunity to sample the “cookery delights” made by the girls from the Girls’ Grammar School – many a macaroni cheese or shepherd’s pie met its end on the railway track somewhere between Weston and Yatton – we were a most discerning group of tasters !
As I progressed up the school, the lure of the coffee bars in Weston – with their thunderous juke-boxes, the maturing girls from the Girls’ Grammar School, visiting the Open Air Swimming Pool in the Summer Term – particularly when it was the Miss Modern Venus Finals, and “chatting up” French girls who had come for a month on the
“Bristol/Bordeaux Exchange” – or staying for Athletics Practice after school – meant that I often caught the 5.15 train from Weston.
Hard Lessons and a Satisfactory Outcome
Academically, I did not do well at Weston Grammar. I had always found difficulty with tests and exams – and because of the varying quality of teaching at the Grammar School, lack of motivation on my part, and through not taking life seriously enough – I found most subjects quite problematic.
September 1958 found me embarking on O’Level Studies in the fifth form. I did badly in the “mocks” in February 1959, and badly in the actual examinations in June and July – I passed in only one subject (Art) – and failed in eight or nine others.
Class Vb (1958/59) – I’m second in from the right, on the top row
It was suggested that because I was the youngest in my year, there was an opportunity for me to stay in the “fifth year” for another year, and do retakes at Christmas and in the following June/July.
As you can imagine, it was quite hard to return to school in the Autumn Term 1959 to be in the “fifth year” again, with boys I didn’t really know. It was also quite hard because my friends, with whom I had come up through the school, were now entering the Sixth Form ahead of me. Failure again would mean leaving school the following year, with hardly any qualifications and having to get a job. I “knuckled down” in my second-year-fifth and worked considerably harder to overcome the precarious position I now found myself in.
In preparation for possible failure however, I applied for training as a Navigation Officer with the Alfred Holt Shipping Company in Liverpool. By the end of the year however, I had passed most of the O’Level subjects that I had earlier failed – and even a quite a few new ones too – though English Literature, Chemistry and Physics continued to elude me. In September 1960, aged sixteen years and ten months, I went into the Lower VIth.
A SATISFACTORY OUTCOME
Going into the Lower Sixth at Weston Grammar School for Boys meant a completely different uniform – a black cap, and a black tie with a thin gold and maroon line running through it. There were two types of Sixth Form courses we could do: an Arts Course or a Science Course – I was in the Lower VI Arts, doing three A’Levels and a few additional O’Levels.
Swotting for A’ Levels
We began the academic year with a residential week away at Dillington House (near Ilchester) – where outside speakers introduced us to a wide range of topics ranging from Cybernetics, the workings of the National Grid, and the importance of Industrial Growth to the Future of Britain. On the whole, not the most scintillating programme for a group of sixteen and seventeen year old lads – some of whom were more interested in the young ladies who served us our meals. The highlight of the week for me however, was a visit to – and an extensive tour of – the partly-constructed Hinkley Point A nuclear power station site.
Once back in school, I settled down to work. Because I was now considered to “have turned myself around,” I was made a Sub-Prefect towards the end of the first year in the Sixth Form and a Full Prefect in the Autumn Term of 1961 in the Upper VI. All Prefects and Sub-Prefects wore a small enamelled badge with maroon and gold stripes. The difference between a Sub-Prefect and a Prefect was that a Sub-Prefect could give an after-school detention, but counter-signed by a Prefect – whereas a Prefect could give a detention in “his own right.”
Complete with enamelled badge
Prefects wore a black tassel hanging from the top of their black cap. Being a Prefect also meant that you had the dubious privilege of being able to read the lesson at School Assembly in the morning – because of the reluctance of many of my peers, I found myself being a regular reader in the School’s Morning Assembly.
One of the Staff (Don Brown), had advertised in School, details of the newly-formed Somerset County Outdoor Activity Camp. Basically, this was a mixed Mini-Outward Bound Course for about thirty youngsters, held during the first seven days of the summer holiday, run by members of the Somerset County Youth Committee.
I went on the first camp in 1959 – held at Charterhouse, on the Mendip Hills. There we experienced potholing in Burrington Combe, rock climbing on Haytor, and a two-night three-day canoeing expedition on the River Avon involving overnight camping and portaging canoes up and down weirs and paddling about twenty-odd miles. We also completed a British Canoeing Union Competence Course on our travels.
I enjoyed it so much, that I applied for the Camp the following year. It was on this camp (also at Charterhouse), that I did my Duke of Edinburgh’s Silver Award Expedition of about 35 miles. This involved locating hidden tins at given map references – each tin contained a new map reference to the next tin and so on.. There were about six tins on each full day and three on the last half-day. The last tin of the day gave your campsite location – you were expected to be in camp with the tent pitched and evening meal under way – all by 6.30 pm. Staff would visit about 6.45 pm to make sure you were settled in, and would give you the first map-reference for the next day.
The following year, when I applied to be a participant, I was invited instead, to attend as member-of-staff – to act as a canoeing instructor – the camp venue was to be at Kilve Court, at the foot of the Quantock Hills. That year activities included sailing Enterprise dinghies on Clatworthy Reservoir, canoeing, using the climbing wall at Kilve, a two-night/ two-and-a-half day Expedition on Dartmoor, and Pony Trekking on the Quantocks.
At Weston Grammar, Don Brown also introduced the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award Scheme – I participated in this when I was seventeen and eighteen years of age – I got my Bronze and Silver Awards and I was invited to meet with Prince Phillip, and Sir John Hunt (leader of the successful 1953 Everest Expedition) at a Duke of Edinburgh’s Award Scheme Meeting at Taunton.
It was assumed by School, because I had passed so many O’Levels by now – and seemed to be doing quite well in my A’Level Studies – that I might now wish to consider going to University – I had other ideas however !
My Mum and Dad had been secondary teachers for a number of years in Bristol – and were both pretty successful at their jobs. Indeed I had been in both their schools on numerous occasions over the years, and had come into contact with quite a few of the youngsters there. Mum and Dad had sometimes let me work with students from their classes – either as individuals or in small groups. Mum, in particular, had allowed me to teach her class of Special Needs youngsters for the odd morning or afternoon – whenever the opportunity arose.
Whilst the pay for teachers was not particularly good at that time (starting at £520 per year and rising by annual increments to £1200 per year after 10 years) – the length of holidays had a certain attraction for me – so Teaching became my chosen profession. I needed at least two A’Levels and, as I was doing three, I decided to apply for a place at my Mother’s old college in Bristol – Redland College.
I applied for, and was called for interview, at Redland College, during my last Summer Term at Weston Grammar School for Boys (1962) – I would have been eighteen years and eight months old at the time. I remember catching the bus from Clevedon to Bristol and walking from Hotwells on a very hot and sunny afternoon, up to the part of the Clifton Downs between the Brunel’s Clifton Suspension Bridge and the Zoo – to where the College was then situated. It seemed strange to be coming to “Felixstowe” – the same building that my Mum had come to as an Emergency Trainee-Teacher back in August 1949.
My Dad was, I think, quite pleased that I wished to follow in his footsteps and become a teacher. He had always thought that I would make a good Art Teacher and had advised me to consider going to Art College at Corsham, near Bath, and gain an Art Teacher’s Diploma (A.T.D.). I however, saw my future in primary education rather than in secondary – after all, the fifteen months that I was a pupil at St Andrew’s Junior School in Clevedon, were amongst the happiest of my school days. Corsham would have prepared me only for a secondary school career and I wanted to be a primary school teacher – so Redland College was my choice.
Arriving at Redland Teacher Training College, all of us would-be students were told that we had just about thirty-five minutes to write a five hundred word essay on “The place where I live” – I wrote about Clevedon being built on seven hills and about it’s history and personalities. Following the essay writing, I was interviewed by a small dumpy bespectacled lady wearing a tweed suit, by the name of Miss Saywell – I remember my Mum previously describing her to me, as “a bit of an old dragon.” It was obvious that she knew Clevedon quite well and we chatted about the town and its place in history for about twenty minutes – we got along fine – she was not the “dragon” I had expected ! The outcome of all this was that I was offered a conditional place to do a Primary Teaching Course in the September – subject to me passing at least two A’Levels that Summer -which I did.
Changes and Final Thoughts
Between September 1954 and July 1962, there were great changes both structurally and staffing-wise to the Boys’ Grammar School at Weston.
It was apparent right from the start, that overcrowding was always going to be a problem. In my first year, many specialist rooms in the school, were used for basic classroom teaching – my classroom (1S) and the adjacent first year classroom (1D), had additional locker units placed just inside the classroom door. These lockers were for the books and personal items of lads who were being taught in any available vacant specialist room in the school – such as the Geography Room, etc.
To alleviate this problem, a large building project was begun towards the end of my second year, to increase the teaching facilities within the school. This long concrete and glass single-storey building on the south side of the the main building, was to contain a Biology Lab, the School Library, and additional classrooms. It was proposed that the area between this new structure and the main building was to be used initially as a horticultural area with a greenhouse – and later this area was used as the site of additional Pratten classrooms. At about this time, another single Pratten classroom was erected just beyond the Boiler House.
Back in 1954, when I first went to Weston Grammar, our school lunches – which we ate in the Main Hall – were cooked elsewhere and delivered in large aluminium containers. With the increase in the Grammar School population from 1955/6 onward, changes were also being planned for the provision of school meals – culminating eventually in the construction of a large new onsite canteen and kitchen. This facility was situated on the school field between the Caretaker’s house and the detached building used by the School’s Air Training Corps (159 Squadron). However, the site chosen for this new Dining Room and Kitchen’s had one drawback – it was a long walk from the Main School to get to it – especially in snow or heavy rain !
The increasing population in the school was due in part, I think, to growing numbers of youngsters passing their Eleven Plus, or being transferred from local Secondary Modern Schools having passed their Thirteen Plus – as well as an increasing demand for a Sixth Form education.
These increases in pupil numbers also meant considerable staffing changes too. Having neared or reached retirement, many of the “old guard” quietly disappeared – to be replaced by a younger, more vibrant, professional team. This new mixture of both experience and youth amongst the staff, made a positive impact on me. Certainly by late 1959, the staff who most influenced me – Messrs. Forbes, Brown, Symes, Anderton, Moody, Sutton, Cooper and Boyce – were all “in situ.”
Since leaving Weston Grammar in July 1962 – getting qualifications, marriage, children, a long career in education, and now retirement – have all come to pass. From time to time, I sometimes think back over the sixty-four years since I first went to Weston-super-Mare Boys’ Grammar School – and my eight years spent there – and wonder whether I did quite “Well” because of it – or in spite of it ?
Jubilant lads photographed in front of the School War Memorial