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


My first day at School, 1953
by Graham Cooper


Boys cycling to school in Church Street, 1950s Boys cycling to school in Church Street, 1950s

On that first morning I arrived in good time, dutifully reported at the Church Street entrance, and was puzzled because no-one else was going in. Across that entrance was a hinged barrier forbidding entry and I accordingly obeyed it and waited outside. This main entrance was reserved for sixth formers only, and I was unaware of the Chapel Lane entrance. Eventually there was nothing else for it but to risk entry via the sixth formers' entrance, soon after which the bell sounded at nine o'clock, and I followed the flow of boys back out of the School on to the pavement to enter the Chapel via the north porch.

Every face was that of a stranger. The Chapel entrance led into the dark west end under the large balcony which extended over the font. I must have been somewhat disorientated, because I neglected to remove my cap, a fact which the towering head boy was quick to point out. The new intake sat in a column of moveable benches which filled the wide nave aisle. In a few minutes, the headmaster, Leslie Watkins, made a grand entrance in his flowing black gown with mortar board and prayer book in his hand. His deputy, Mr J L T (Jelly) Evans, followed, also in gown, but without a mortar board. At the side of the organ, then on the south side, behind a low curtain, a pressed or volunteered individual hand-pumped the bellows for the hymn, "Lord, behold us with Thy blessing".

The whole congregation then transferred to Big School to receive instructions and various notices from Mr Watkins and, horror of horrors, my name was read out together with that of all the other new boys. The next port of call was the chemistry lab, long since demolished, but which should have been the subject of a preservation order. Our form master was waiting for us and wrote his name up on the blackboard: "Mr Lawes". It was explained that we were to be housed temporarily there until our permanent room, the biology lab, was ready for us in a week's time. Each boy had to provide his own dictionary, "Songs of Praise" hymn book, and bible. Apart from these, all text and exercise books were provided and were handed out on that first day, together with sets of geometry instruments with which we were extremely impressed. We tended to keep our hymn books in a jacket pocket which inevitably caused undue wear and tear on book and pocket alike. However, the same hymn book lasted me during the whole of my time at school, and it still exists. A weekly timetable was announced and I think we all wondered what faces lay behind the names we were given: Evans, Barnsley, Horn, Adams, Tuckey. The room names were strange, abbreviated to such as "SH4". That was fairly straightforward, relating as it did to the Shakespeare Block, but NC2 was not so straightforward, indicating "New Classroom 2" but looking like a barn which had stood there for more than a hundred years, and the even more intriguing "P1" which was Pedagogue's House.

What ever was a pedagogue? That was beyond all understanding until a later day. In due course we found ourselves in NC2 where Mr Pat Adams introduced us to the French language from between shelves of stuffed animals and birds, including one labelled "Puffin", after which someone had handwritten "Billy". Much as I dislike the idea of stuffed animals today, I rather hope that the collection still exists somewhere; however, I expect it was consigned to oblivion in the 1970s. The room was lit by gas and, being immediately above the dining room, the smell of that day's food was always apparent. Next door was NC1, where Mr Horace Horn taught us English language and literature, and where we spent many hours on Shakespeare and syntax, parsing and poetry. He made it plain that he would give us a month to settle down, after which we must expect no concessions. The school bell hung on the outside of the wall of NC1 and we became used to the creaks and groans of the mechanism when Sergeant started to pull the long, knotted, metal chain.

Next door was the 1899 gymnasium built, we were told, as a temporary measure which had a very rough, wooden floor, splintered as a result of the boots of the Home Guard during the war. On shelves at the rear were boxing gloves, from many of which the horsehair protruded and which had obviously seen many years of use. On arrival, without exception, Mr Tom Barnsley practised with tennis racket and ball, bouncing the ball again and again against the end wall. I marvelled that he did not tire of this practice. Over the years our favourite exercise game was Red Pirates, which involved avoiding being eliminated by the boy wearing the red sash until the one with the green sash performed a liberation, pending the elimination of the Liberator himself by the Red Pirate. Some people climbed up into the very rafters of the building to evade capture, where the thickly dust-coated timbers formed precarious perches, of which present health-and-safety experts would not approve. Mr Barnsley had invented his own versions of football, which he called "brick ball" and "log ball" in the school yard.

Soon, we were with Mr Evans, learning amo, amas, amat and how to decline a noun with the help of Caesar's Gallic Wars. There was one English Literature lesson a week with the Headmaster where the objective was to read aloud, learning correct pronunciation ("Do not say anythink, say anything") and discussing the ideas to which the text gave rise. One of the books was Masefield's "Jim Davis", a maritime adventure set in the days of Nelson's Navy.

I find it fascinating to recall such inconsequential matters, because too often the mundane is ignored as not being worth the record, but perhaps such matter just could be of great interest to posterity. Edward Young (1683-1765) wrote in Love of Fame: "Think naught a trifle, though it small appear; Small sands make mountains, Moments make the year and trifles life".


Graham Cooper, pupil 1953-1960
writing in 2002


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