The Boarding School
King Edward VI School, Stratford-upon-Avon 1914-1945


Denis Dyson recalls the years he taught at the school, 1926-1975

The Staff 1929 - Denis Dyson, standing second from left The Staff, 1929 - Denis Dyson, standing second from left

KES was my first job, though it was very difficult to get a job in those days. Initially, my intention was to do astronomy but there was nothing doing there except possibly in Australia. Then an alternative was the Meteorological Office but nothing came of that. So I turned to teaching, which I think was my real wish although I think it was a secret one. I applied for job after job and, eventually, this one came along suddenly.

They'd actually started school at the time and the man who was teaching physics was taken ill and couldn't come back. So, in desperation, they advertised for someone to come for a month. So I came and, at the end of it, they asked if I could stay on longer; this other man wasn't coming back. I almost lost heart because the lab was a very unsatisfactory place. I remember the chemistry master, who was the senior science master, warned me the night before I went into it. He said he thought I'd be shocked. Well, he didn't prepare me enough for what I was to see. It was absolutely dreadful! It was a room, 15 feet by 30, with no heating except for a little fire like you'd have in a bedroom and ventilators all the way round which rattled when there was a gale. On one occasion, the ink in the wells was frozen for a whole week, which gives you some idea of the arctic conditions. In addition to that, the place was full of apparatus which didn't work and an enormous number of rock specimens which seemed to have been accumulated over the years for some reason. By half-term, I'd lost heart almost completely and was nearly thinking of giving it up but I stuck it out and there I was, forty-nine years later, when I retired.

I remember I also taught geography to the first form. When I first came here, I had MMI for Mathematics. Mr Turner told me MMI meant Mostly Mugs but, in fact, it was Middle Modern. I had them for seven periods of maths. But I was so new to all this that I thought you'd only got to show someone a thing once and they'd know how to do it. So I finished the entire arithmetic syllabus in one week and at the end was surprised to find that they didn't know anything about it. Now it so happened we had a Mr Riddle here. He taught these young boys geography and hated it. I said that I'd love to teach them geography too. I used to read them folk tales all about different parts of the world.

The Staff

When I came, the senior science master was Mr Turner, a very nice man indeed. He was about fifty and had come from Mill Hill where he was an assistant chemistry master and he stayed here until he retired at the beginning of the war. When he left, I became the head of science, though there were only the two of us doing science at the time so it really amounted to very little except that I suppose one got paid more.

The headmaster at the time was the Rev Arthur Cecil Knight. I think he was on a "high horse" occasionally. He used to ask, "who's headmaster?" if you made some suggestion that he didn't like. He was a very good sort and I think that the boys absolutely worshipped him. If anybody was in trouble, he was amazingly sympathetic and helpful. I don't think I can do anything but praise him. He had a Victorian outlook and I remember we had a very odd marking system - well, it wasn't so odd in a sense but it was a very exacting one. We had ten marks for a period and ten marks for a homework for each boy. Then we had a form order every week and the headmaster used to go through these form orders and then he sent a report book round with the sergeant. It might say, "Jones - gone down five places - why?" and then we had to say why the marks weren't as good. The staff didn't like it but I couldn't see anything to complain about.

There are various members of staff during my time who stick out in my memory. Mr Webber was here seven years before I came. He'd got a degree at Cardiff. He was a very pleasant man indeed; a man with a heart of gold. He had a considerable sense of humour and was a dab hand at billiards. He was a keen cellist and very skilled at music; he used to conduct the choir before Mr Wood came.

Miss Bell came at the same time as I did. She taught the younger boys in most subjects. They were little gentlemen by the time she had finished with them. It was she who stopped me using the twenty-four hour clock. After she had retired, she used to invite me to tea. Once I wrote to her to accept an invitation and said I would arrive at 14.30 and when I called in at 4.30, she had been waiting two hours; I had subtracted ten hours instead of twelve from the continental time.

Then there was Major Marsden, who had been British military attache in Tokyo. He taught French and was very pleasant but also very military. All the boys, when they came in to the room, had to sit to attention or sit easy and everything was done by military commands, He had a passion for fresh air. I remember one occasion when he was in one of the classrooms on a bitterly cold day and he had the door wide open and his jacket off, sitting in the doorway with all the boys shivering. On another occasion there was an influenza epidemic in the school with classes reduced to half-size. He asked me if I wanted to go with him for some exercise. So with some trepidation, knowing he used to get up at five o'clock in the mornings and do exercises, I said I would go. So I did but, fortunately, it was less strenuous than I expected - we only walked as far as Wilmcote and back again.

Mr Walpole, the brother of the writer Hugh Walpole and the son of the Bishop of Edinburgh, took over from Major Marsden in 1927. His real bent was history but he taught French. He had been in the war and suffered very much from shell-shock. Unfortunately, some of the boys, who had no sympathy and no appreciation of a true gentleman, took it out of him because they liked seeing him get into a temper. He ran the cadet corps and rowing club for a long time and left about 1947 or 8.

Mr Ferguson came about three years after I came and stayed until about the same time as Mr. Walpole. He was an Irishman from Northern Ireland. It was he who introduced the school plays for the first time. He taught English in SH5 and the odd thing the boys used to laugh at was the fact that when he rubbed things off the blackboard, he would cover his face with a large handkerchief. Also, if anybody had a cold, he had to sit at the back of the room and blow his nose away from him. The boys laughed at it but it was because he had spent a large part of his early life in the tropics and had picked up malaria and so catching a cold would be worse for him than others.

Mr Horn came principally to take cricket and history with English and became senior history master when Mr Evans retired. They called him 'Trader' because of the book 'Trader Horn'. I remember when he gave up the main cricket, he used to take just the first forms. He did it superbly well. He taught them all sorts of graces and in the summer term, at the end, he held a special cricket match and he always invited me. The little boys were immaculately dressed and they used to come round with trays of tea afterwards. Then he used to take groups of boys to places like Mary Arden's House or Compton Wynyates for a day-trip. Once he could have murdered one of the boys. This boy threw a bottle out of the coach. I've never seen anyone so furious as Mr. Horn was.

Mr Cross taught French and did the rugger when he first came but that's a subject I know little about! He came about 1945. He was very slow and deliberate and always used to say that if you were in a hurry, you should slow down and he certainly took his own advice.

Then there was Mr Tuckey who left and went to the NFU Mutual and retired over a year ago. He was second maths master and came after the war. He taught maths to juniors and up to 0 level. He also ran the boat club and was in charge of the air part of the cadet corps until it was closed down; they had a glider up at Manor Road.

Mr Whitfield was a real character. He taught history and Spanish. When he agreed to take on Spanish, he didn't know any at all but offered to learn it and so went to Spain for a few holidays and came back very knowledgeable on the language until he was very skilful at it. He died on the sports field just before refereeing a match. He was talking to the groundsman at the time about plants and things.

Mr Barnsley was the gym master but he also taught geography. He came from the north of Warwickshire and so spoke with a certain roughness of speech. The boys got the impression that he wasn't very intelligent and they couldn't have been more mistaken. One boy told Mr Barnsley that he suffered from hypochondria. He was under the impression that Mr Barnsley didn't know what the word meant but of course he knew perfectly well.

I always remember going to see Mr Wood, the English master, at his house. They lived at Ettington in a cottage which was so small, they had to take the light-bulbs out in the day-time otherwise they would bump into them and they slept on a mattress because the bed wouldn't go up the stairs. He introduced a new school orchestra to us very successfully. It was he who wrote and produced the much-acclaimed play in the Guildhall Library (not then a library), "Playing Day at Stratford" about the young Shakespeare seeing the travelling players at Stratford.

Mr Taylor was very involved in the school. He came to us from Sidcup Grammar School where he was an expert at lacrosse. He taught maths like Mr Shiers and then Mr Marchand all the way up the school. When he came, he took over the cadet corps at once. He had a lot to do with the choir and used to go carol singing with them on Christmas Eve.

The School buildings

In the earlier part of the century, they had the youngest boarders down at Trinity House where we had four classrooms. The boys walked to and fro between lessons along Church Street - an excellent opportunity for taking up time!

The present physics lab was originally going to be two classrooms to be converted into a laboratory later and that's why there are two doors. Then they pushed to have a physics lab straight away because they realised the inadequacy of the existing one. It so happened that the director of education at the time was a Mr W H Perkins and he was a scientist. So he was absolutely on our side and he said we could have exactly what we liked. This was unheard of - the idea of the person who's going to use the room having any say in its construction appears to be completely alien to modern practice. When it was opened, it was nothing like it was when I left but there was every reasonable facility there. What happened after that was really a hobby, making the blinds work electrically and having the vacuum cleaner for cleaning the blackboard.

The observatory was originally just outside where SH8 is now but when they built these rooms along to Mr Holland's room, that hid the south sky which is much the most interesting part of the sky to look at. So it had to be built on the new roof between the music block and second physics lab.

In the Pedagogue's House, the upstairs room, now the headmaster's office, was the sixth form room. The downstairs room, when I first came, was Mr Knight's classroom where he taught Latin and English. I think I occasionally took a class there. Mrs Marson's room was reserved for especially naughty boys and we occasionally had an exam there.

When I first came, the staff room was in Trinity House, but when this was vacated in 1931, we used an upstairs room in the Old Vicarage, while Miss Lupton had a lot of little boys in the downstairs room to the left of the door, as a school for six to eight year-olds. The rest of the house was derelict but earlier it had had half a dozen or so boarders.

In the Guild Chapel, all the pews faced the east end. It consisted of box pews, when I first came, with little doors on them. The boys were naturally irreverent and they used to go into these pews and slam the doors. It was just like a train; you expected someone to blow a whistle and wave a green flag and away you'd go! The first thing they did was to lower the pews because I think too many boys did their homework on them since they were beautifully concealed.

The first modern additions to the school buildings (apart from the Memorial Library and the original Chemistry and Physics Labs.) were the SH Block as far as SH6 and the cloakrooms completed in 1931. The post-war additions were the SH extensions 7, 8 and 9 and the Geography room in 1958. The general science, chemistry and biology laboratories followed in 1961; and then the 1931 cloakrooms, the old chemistry and physics laboratories (which were next to the fives court) were demolished. This didn't cause any trouble except to me, who tripped over one of the piles of debris and got a great gash on my leg. The staff room, sixth form rooms, dining room and gym. were near completion in January 1968. In about 1975, the Music Room, extra Physics Room and Computer Room, although this last room was not originally such a room, were built. The Swimming Pool was dug at the time Mr. Watkins left in 1963 and School House came down.

Wartime at the School

First of all, we had another school stationed on us from Birmingham. They couldn't have chosen a worse school to come to. It was Bordesley Green Junior Technical School. When they got here they were absolutely horrified because we didn't even do woodwork then as the woodwork master, Mr Leeson, had left to do war work. I think they did a little woodwork because they'd got the room at least. So they muddled on as best they could. I must say Mr Knight was not very co-operative because he hated having them here. There was a very nice man in charge of physics, Mr Jones, whom I got on very well with. Well, this went on for some time but they obviously found it very unsatisfactory and eventually they trickled back to Birmingham where they had shelters built. But about twenty boys stayed behind with one master, Mr Nicholas, who was really a geography master, and he taught them everything.

We had a funny staff in the sense that masters came and went during the war period. Mr Puddephat, the art master, was a replacement for Mr Foster who was called up to the Air Force. Then Mr Horn had to join the Air Force half way through the war. Mr Moore, the French master, was called up to the Army. We had a whole succession of French masters, about seven or eight. Then there were a number of assistant maths masters, including a man they called the 'funny' Mr Jones who spent his time going from one school to another. He'd been to about fifty schools in the course of his career.

A number of the boys belonged to the ARP messenger service, which was a sort of bicycle affair in which they were supposed to bring messages of incidents or were supposed to go to incidents to report on what was going on in the event of telephone failure. I helped to run that for a bit and then I spent a lot of time in the report centre where one took telephone messages down about air-raids and reported what had happened at intervals during the night.

There were two shelters about where School House was, where the swimming pool is now. There was one near the present physics lab and the one near my office can still be seen. I remember the seats inside were all joined together and once an unfortunate boy sat down and a whole length of seating collapsed.

School plays and teaching

My first involvement in school plays was really rather funny. I can't tell you exactly when but when I first came, they didn't do any plays though they did some sort of a concert. Then Mr Ferguson came. The head of english before him was away ill and subsequently died. He was first replaced by a Dr Wisdom who used to drink milk out of a bottle half way through the period and I don't think got on very well with the boys. But then Mr Ferguson came and he produced a few scenes from 'A Midsummer Night's Dream'. Now, it was either the head boy or one of the high-ups, a boy called Douglas Price, who subsequently became lecturer in history at Oxford, who asked if I would do something about the lighting. Well, there was no lighting in Big School at all except gas lamps but I said I'd do what I could. All I could do was to put reflectors behind the existing lamps, which didn't make much difference. However, Mr Knight came round to me in a towering rage and wanted to know what this lighting was going to be. He had visions of the whole place being set on fire. They rightly had a real phobia about fire amongst the old buildings and, indeed, not only fire but everything else. You couldn't knock a nail in without asking Sir Archie Flower, who was the chairman of the governors. But, considering that the place was heated by two enormous coal fires from which great boulders, the size of one's head, would drop out at intervals, it seems to me that they were straining a gnat and swallowing a camel. Anyhow, I calmed the headmaster down and all I did do was put these reflectors up. He came to me afterwards and said that it was absolutely magnificent! The lighting made no difference at all but it was nice of him to say so.

Related articles

"Playing Day at Stratford"

1930s Physics lab

Douglas Price recalls drama in the 1930s

Denis Dyson remembered



Denis Dyson, physics master 1926-1975
talking in 1983 to Michael Hampel and Philip Sawbridge


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