KES ARCHIVE
The Education Act of 1944
King Edward VI School, Stratford-upon-Avon 1945-1963

 

Recollections of King Edward's 1950-1959
by Patrick Adams

 

I arrived at King Edward's as a member of staff on 4 November 1950, only six weeks before the end of the autumn term. The headmaster, Leslie Watkins, had informed me at my interview that this irregular start was because my predecessor, a Mr Price, had suffered a nervous breakdown. Shaken and not the least bit stirred, I began my duties with curiosity as to what the future held in store. It was certainly quaint.

I learned that on 25 September that term, a tame crow, called Znarr and owned by a boy called Gary Sayer, who lived on the perimeter of the school playing field, had caused a considerable diversion by trying to perch on Bill Cross's head during rugger practices. It was the same crow who, by the following May, had been responsible for a serious loss of cricket bails on the school field and later on had pillaged pupils' satchels as they lay on the school playground.

And then there was the miniature bulldog who frequented the school field during cricket matches and snatched cricket balls, no matter how hard they were hit, in his iron jaws and raced off with them round and round the field.

Nevertheless, I started to teach in NC2 (New Classroom No.2), long since demolished to make way for more modern classrooms on the Church Street side of the school. NC2 was situated on the first floor of what had been a barn, above the dining canteen whence rose daily the smell of cooking and the sound of rumbling water pipes.

NC1, under the rule of Horace Horn, who taught history and English and was master in charge of cricket, was separated from NC2 by a thin wooden partition which was removed at the time of school exams. Occasionally, sounds from one room invaded the other.

NC2, like NC1, was lit by gas lamps fixed to the massive wooden beams that spanned the room at little more than head height. Occasionally, on winter afternoons, a tall pupil's head, as he rose to answer a question, would accidentally break a gas mantle, plunge the room into near-Stygian gloom and abruptly foreclose the lesson. Round the walls, in glass cabinets, squatted stuffed birds, which later migrated to Mr John Williams's new biology lab, together with a stuffed badger, whose tail mysteriously disappeared at an early stage. Many years later I received an anonymous apologetic letter enclosing the badger's tail and regretting this piece of vandalism.

In NC2 I also inherited a perfectly wonderful Victorian teacher's desk with a drop lid and side ledges and its accompanying high chair. In the desk was a slim green book with a silver woodpecker on the cover, entitled 'A Year With Nature'. Mr Watkins had warned me that, in addition to the teaching of French, I would be required, temporarily at least, to teach a little natural history to two of the junior forms. It was hilarious. I knew little of natural history but managed to keep a couple of chapters ahead of the boys.

Related article

Patrick Adams' recollections of the 1960s

 

In that autumn term, the school was very much more compact: there weren't more than about a dozen boys in the sixth forms. I hardly ever met them at first; they were as gods in their wisdom and superb all-round athletes. Douglas Curry, newly-appointed captain of school, C J Leefe, Tony Pargetter, John Boyle and Dennis Collins all had trials that November for the Warwickshire Schoolboys Rugby XV and Douglas Curry went on to play for the pre-eminent Moseley Club XV.

At that time, the floor above the physics lab, rooms SH 7 to 12, the art & handicraft rooms, the music block, the staff and sixth-form common rooms, the senior cloakrooms, the dining hall and lecture theatre, the biology and chemistry labs, the gymnasium and the swimming pool were not even a gleam in the architect's eye. In the playground shone the white-domed observatory built by Mr Denis Dyson and his helpers in 1939 outside the present SH7. On the site of the present senior cloakrooms stood a wooden gymnasium from whose murky interior, lined with wooden games shields, came the thud of tennis balls as Mr Tom Barnsley, PE instructor, geographer, conjuror, bee-keeper and ardent opponent of the Welfare State, regularly limbered up; and hard by, across a narrow lane stood a tuck shop adjoining a brick and wood building housing the dining canteen and New Classrooms 1 and 2.

It was in the staff common room, on the ground floor of the old School House that I first met others of my colleagues.

John Evans, the Second Master, who had joined the School in 1921 and who left in 1961, was Welsh, a humorous but stern historian and Latin master. He had been master in charge of rugby football for his first 21 years, which, during the 2nd World War, included the cutting of the school field and the marking of the pitches. He had been master in charge of the Old Vicarage when it housed 12 boarders and was jealous guardian of the book store which issued exercise books twice a week. His influence over past Stratfordians has been cast very wide.

Denis Dyson, the physics master, had joined the staff in 1926 and retired in July 1975. As is well known, he was utterly dedicated to the school and became something of a legend in his lifetime, with an extraordinary knowledge of pupils and many friendships.

Arthur Whitfield, who taught history and Spanish, was one of this world's eccentrics. Although an English graduate, he taught himself Spanish and introduced it to the school in 1929, after joining the staff in 1926. He was a hard taskmaster, who continually achieved great success. He rode a very high bicycle on his way to the school field, wore very thick, black boots, read the Times in chapel before prayers started, watered and rolled his own Colts XI cricket pitch and covered the wide blackboard in SH6 with every conceivable rule of Spanish grammar and syntax in multi-coloured chalks that were never rubbed out. At his death the usable space left was about a foot square. He died in the old school pavilion in 1958 shortly before he was to supervise rugby one cold autumn afternoon.

Wilfrid Puddephat, the calm and kindly visiting art master, joined the school in 1940 and from the early 1950's carried out intensive and beautifully illustrated researches into the appearance and use of the Guild Chapel, to accompany the renovation of the Chapel by the Friends of the Guild Chapel in 1954. His early death in 1974 was a great shock.

Harold Wilmut, known as 'Ben', was chemistry master from 1940 until 1975. He taught in the chemistry block with its separate lab and lecture room. He was the supremo in administration of school societies, dinner money, tickets for school plays, house points for athletics and National Savings. He was a modest man but very clear thinking and a firm socialist.

Alan Wood had joined the staff in September 1950 as senior English master. He was chairman of the dramatic society and debating society and introduced the beginnings of a school orchestra. His yearly Christmas productions of Shakespeare plays, vast numbers of the school population, became famous. In 1950 he produced 'A Midsummer Night's Dream', in which no fewer than 40 boys took part, including a new boy that term, Charles Mulraine as Titania, Queen of the Fairies. He did well on the stage, as elsewhere. By December 1957 he was playing a declamatory Henry V, while J A Rimell was a subtle and effective Chorus and Richard Tracey, later to be a government minister for a short while, was an amusing and authoritative Fluellen.

The plays were presented in Big School, for which the indefatigable Denis Dyson had constructed a unique stage. During these productions the neglected and crumbling fastness at the rear of Council Chamber saw a display of electrical wizardry by Denis Dyson, who dimmed and brightened stage lights and manipulated curtains by remote control.

Bill Cross, head of French, had come to the school in 1947 and was master in charge of rugby. To hundreds of boys he was known as 'Bing'. He acquired a name for firmness, kindliness and imperturbability. Although it is said that he threatened to punish boys by "tearing out their sweetbreads, liver and lights", he actually liked boys and appreciated both their qualities and limitations. He must have been very satisfied that one of his pupils, Tom Pargetter, was later selected to play rugby for England. Bill retired in 1973 and on taking up bowls he represented the county and won the Open Singles at the Stratford Club.

Ken Maggs, who had lost an arm on active service in the war, arrived in 1948 and taught Latin in SH2. He was a captain in the cadet corps and assisted Douglas Tuckey with the boat club. He left for Croydon in 1957.

Philip Taylor regulated the fortunes of VA1 in SH3 after his arrival in January 1949. Mathematician extraordinary, talented baritone, commanding officer of the CCF and choirmaster. He was deputy head from 1968 until his retirement in 1977.

Douglas Tuckey had preceded me by a year but was already housemaster of Shakespeare House, assisted with rugby football and was master in charge of rowing. Having served in the RAF, he commanded the Air Force Section of the CCF as a flying officer. His all-round enthusiasm achieved especially successful results for the school's boat club. The club's financial needs could be met only by the organisation of enjoyable raffles and bring-and-buy sales at which Douglas was a pastmaster in the art of salesmanship.

Mr Holleron was the tight-lipped school Sergeant until his death in 1957. His assistant was Mr Lucas the boilerman.

The school field was cared for by Mr Holtom, who was a very experienced and knowledgeable gardener. When he retired in 1961, I asked him what he would like as a retiring present from the school. He sucked on his pipe, removed it from his mouth and answered "A ton of manure, please." Leslie Watkins laughed when I told him but obligingly arranged for a ton of manure to be delivered to Holtom's bungalow in Wellesbourne.

Leslie Watkins, after his arrival in 1945, engineered the transition of the school to "aided status'", expanded the curriculum, began a programme of building new classrooms, SH 7, 8, 9 and 10, completed by 1959, and was an ardent member of the executive committee of the Friends of the Guild Chapel. It was he who wrote the first history of the school in 1953. In an epoch still scarred by the aftermath of war (some food was still rationed and house building was strictly controlled) it was he who saw the emergence of a new school until Mr Pratt continued the task in 1963.

Although Leslie Watkins was a strict disciplinarian, he had a keen sense of humour. That humour surfaced at Speech Day in 1950. "I would not say," he said in his report, "that we consciously try to educate a boy for life, as the modern phrase has it. This is too glittering a goal, and, in any case, it is very difficult to educate the normal healthy English boy for death . . ." Again, in thanking all who had worked for the well-being of the school, he mentioned "the prefects, 'so precariously poised' ", he quoted, " 'with one foot in the realm of sin and the other in the realm of authority.' "

In 1952, the year that King George VI died and Princess Elizabeth succeeded to the throne, the school numbered some 243 boys. Of these, four were in the Lower VI and nine were in the Upper VI and all were in the charge of Denis Dyson. VA1 and VA2 contained 17 and 19 boys respectively and the average numbers in each of the remaining forms was about 21. It was a tight squeeze to accommodate forms then. In that year it could hardly be envisaged that the school on the eve of its quatercentenary, would undergo the physical, academic and organisational developments resulting in the school of today. Nor was there any hint of the wide-ranging developments in the social life of Great Britain in the 60s and 70s.

The school lived in an atmosphere still faintly suggestive of the 1930s, with the weekly appearance in the playground of the borough dustcart drawn by 'Captain', the most famous shire horse in the district, and with the periodic arrival of the antique brown lorry and its consignment of coal for the boilers, that was shovelled down a hole in the playground, while the lofty iron chimney belched dark smoke over what is now the music room. The atmosphere had the whiff of recent war in the appointment of an Old Stratfordian, General Sir Richard Gale (a KCB in the New Year Honours) as Officer Commanding the British Army of Occupation on the Rhine.

The years began to fall into a pattern and I began to immerse myself more and more in the life of the School. I enjoyed every minute of it. The school was like a large family and the boys then, as I'm sure they do now, had impeccable manners.

The summer terms, of course, brought sixth-formers face to face with the reality of public exams. In those days the French oral exam was always conducted by an outside examiner and in May 1956 five sixth-formers had to travel to Birmingham for their oral exam. Bill Cross was always solicitous about his students' performances, of course, and the story, which must be apocryphal, has it that after the exam Bill asked one rather weak candidate how he thought he had got on. "I think it went quite well actually, sir, but the examiner seemed to be a very religious man." "Oh,'' said Bill, "what do you mean?" "Well, sir," the sixth-former replied, "once or twice he put his head between his hands, gazed upwards and said, 'My God, my God' ."

As master in charge of cricket I pestered the headmaster to fill in the large bomb crater on lower side to provide an extra cricket pitch, and to enlarge the changing space in the school pavilion. Leslie arranged with a friendly farmer to level the bomb crater but Ellen Wilkinson, then minister of education, dug her toes in and would allow no cash to build new accommodation on the school field. Many boys had to change for rugby on the cold veranda of the old pavilion. It was built in 1928 and it wasn't replaced until 1971.

Among other activities, I liked to take parties of boys abroad. I was introduced to school travel by Bill Cross. He invited me to accompany a party to St Malo in, I think, 1951. I remember that most of the 1st XV took the chance to practise passing skills on the beach; that we always had to cross a railway line to return to our 'pension' and the rails were always festooned with enormous snails.

In the summer of 1953 Bill Cross was to lead a school party on his own to Norway, and from Bergen the party performed an arduous fortnight's walking holiday of over 50 miles, stopping the night at tourist hotels en route.

On 16 August 1957, with the help of my wife Jean, I took a group of 6th, 5th, 4th formers and a 1st former to Switzerland. The oldest boy was Keith Taylor (18 years, 9 months); the youngest was Paul Hodac (13 years 4 months). The sum required from each boy for the 12 day holiday was 25-11-8d. We went by train, by coach, by air in a Viking aircraft to arrive eventually at the Hotel Villa Victoria at Clarens, a suburb of Montreux.

School travel in those days was not nearly so widely practised as it is today. The objective, of course, was to show young people that French and other languages were actually spoken by other human beings; to widen their ideas about Europe; and to develop relationships with classmates and staff through new experiences in an informal atmosphere.

Teaching is a profession that lends itself easily to ridicule. In 1918 the American journalist H L Mencken wrote, "The truth is that the average schoolmaster, on all the lower levels, is and always must be ... next door to an idiot, for how can one imagine an intelligent man engaging in so puerile an avocation?" His words are so laughable as to leave me quite unfazed. I'm glad I chose the job and I'm very glad I chose King Edward's.

 

Patrick Adams, French master 1950-1988, and deputy headmaster 1977-1988
edited version of a talk given in 1998

 

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