The Old School Revisited
For this piece of nostalgia I have used some material provided by Mike Russell and Graham Sager for the magazine I edited for the 25th Anniversary of the Hathershaw building in 1980, alongside my own happy memories.
The class of 1959 entered through the Boy’s and Girls Doors respectively on 7th September, 1959 after first being lined up alphabetically on the playground, before being frogmarched to our Form Rooms by a Prefect. The clever ones 1A went to their Form Room in room 6, with Mrs Healey (Kretch) initially their Form Teacher, to be replaced later by Ron (Barmy Armi) Armitage, whilst David Shore marched me and the rest of Form 1 the short distance to Room 1 and our Form master ‘Sam’ Lamb.
1959 was an Indian Summer and the sun shone strongly until well into October, well documented by the photographs on the corridor walls taken by Deputy Head Jim (Nat) Mills of reservoirs at their lowest for many a year. To me what differentiated Hathershaw Tech from other schools was that almost every teacher was a ‘character’ and I think we were privileged, in these important years of our life, to be in the company and care of those ‘characters’. Indeed it was probably these characteristics that are remembered far more, by the pupils, than the knowledge and attitudes they imparted. So let’s explore those characters as we meander through the school starting at the ‘Boys’ entrance.
If we turn left we had the Dining Room where Mrs. Parkey ruled supreme, and Mrs. Robinson gave an extra ‘blob’ of mash to her favourite pupils. I remember meeting Mrs Parkey when she was in her 80’s and her first comment was “Do you remember how I used to give you an extra portion of treacle suet pudding, Nigel, because you loved it so much?” At which other school would the Head Dinner lady be able to recollect such detail? I know that Mike Russell’s recollection in the first year had little to do with food. He was taught Physics in the Dining Room on a Friday afternoon. If you ask him today what he remembers of those Physics lessons he will tell you that it was that ‘Nat’ was absent for 13 consecutive weeks!
The Dinner Queue was presided over by Prefects with the Upper Sixth Girls descending majestically from their Olympian Division Room(now occupied by a Deputy Head) to collect dinner tickets from the grubby fingers of us first year boys.
A glance from Mary Warburton was enough to make any boy wilt; the boy prefects however ignored glances and preferred the old fashioned remedy of a clout round the head. Dave Shore was the only kind one and David Nicholson put the fear of God into me.
As you left the Dining Rooms the milk crates were on your right, opposite the cloakrooms, for 1959 was the year “We’d never had it so good”, and free milk even extended into the Grammar Schools. We were told there was only one bottle per person, so it was a good job some didn’t like milk as Ron Healey, on a daily basis, used to sneak down the steps from his room just before break to pinch a few bottles.
Room 1 was inhabited by ‘Sam’Lamb, of whom Shakespeare said:
“I would my horse had the speed of his tongue.”
Mike remembers that room well as he received ‘Henry,’ the board ruler, there twice. Once for sympathising out loud with Colin Waldron whilst he was being ‘Henried’ and the second time for what a maths teacher considered as poor presentation in an English exercise book. Hard to take for an ex Head of English!
Room 2 was occupied by Peter (Slim Jim) Halliwell who was Head of German and responsible for school productions. We always knew he was dramatic- after all, who else could arrive at school on a moped, dressed in jackboots, leggings, a big donkey jacket, scarf, gauntlets and a goggled crash helmet? His school productions’ however showed no such extravagant clutter and many of us owe our love of theatre, acting and directing to him. Who else would have been brave enough to cast a stammering Nigel Marland as Bottom in a Midsummer Night’s Dream? It worked for, if nothing else, that performance and the hundred and odd since were stammer free.
Upstairs between Rooms 1 and 2 was the ‘Maths Suite’, Rooms 7 and 8. Bert ‘Brick basher’ or ‘Bricker’ Fielding taught in room 7. He was known not to put the greatest effort into things, was always seen with his hands in his pockets, but could remove them with devastating speed and bring the blood rushing to the back of some unsuspecting head. He taught maths from the chair behind his desk, using an extended board compass to write on the board. Like all showmen, he had his trick of leaning his back on the light switches to turn them on. This was much more impressive to pupils than the conventional method.
Opposite was the aforementioned ‘Ron Healey’ who had just married our Music teacher and the girls PE teacher Miss Kretchmer who had become Mrs Healey. Graham Sager recalls music lessons distinctly, largely because of the way she ‘batoned’ and prompted us week after week, in the Upper Hall (Now a computer suite), into the singing of “My Dame has a lame, tame, crane.” Imagine “My Dame has a lame, tame, crane?” Who on earth could generate enthusiasm for a song with words like that?
As you left these rooms, down the first set of steps was a boys’ toilet, now a Head of Year’s room. The one and only time graffiti appeared on a toilet door here, ‘Nat’ had all the doors removed! Today there would be a fierce outcry but under the laws of the Medes and the Persians in those days, no-one complained.
Moving along the bottom corridor we now arrive at the Library, under the control of Harold(Jap) Wareing , (Now the staff room and reproduction office). Mike Russell recollects that they repaired there period 4 on a Wednesday, in his first year, for’ Prep’. As he explained they never knew what ‘Prep’ stood for as the Needlework teacher, Mrs Jones, who took them for this period forgot to tell them. Mike suggests that people might think it strange and somewhat sad that some 50 years on he can still remember what he had period 4 on a Wednesday. He explains that this is not the case as some wit in the form made up the rhyme:
Baths - Maths - Old Bones - Mrs Jones.
He assures me he has no idea what he had on other days.
Opposite the Library were three special rooms. The men’s staff room - once a remedial room (sic) and now the Library - which always looked and smelled like an air-raid shelter. Next to it was ‘Ron’ Armitage’s little room, now a stock cupboard, with the large notice to remind him daily to:-
“Mark 1 A’s register”
“Take Dinner numbers”
“Take milk numbers (Only on a Friday)”
Ron was one of the main characters and I’m sure we can all remember, as Graham Sager recalls, him “ambling purposefully down the corridor, with that shambling gait of his, a pile of books under his arm, the buckles of his sandals sounding the alarm as he fervently searched for his next class.”
We got into the habit when we heard his approach and he was teaching us of putting our hands up as if we were answering questions of another teacher. On seeing this through the little classroom window he would carry on in his quest for his next class, often not returning for a quarter of an hour or so. If he did open the door and ask “Do I teach you?” an answer in the negative sent him on his way again. The beauty of all this was he had no recollection of this the next time he taught you.
Stories of Ron abound like the one an older boy told us which led to his other nickname of ‘Barmy Armi’ I never forget this when watching England test matches. I’m sure he would have been pleased as punch to hear his name being chanted continuously. The older boy told us he was a bomber pilot in the war and had dropped a bomb on his own house killing his wife. Being gullible first years we believed this until the secretary Mrs Sykes came into our German lesson one day to tell Mr Armitage he had to go home as had locked his wife in the garage rather than taking her to work as he did every day.
Mike remembers that Denise Pennington was adept at killing time by asking why he looked upset and was something wrong, whereon he would wax lyrical about the latest catastrophe whilst we sat back, glad of the extra time to learn our German verbs.
Jim (Nat) Mills office was next to Ron’s and I remember Mike Russell on our last day in the fifth form blackening his door handle with boot polish before our final boys assembly in the Upper Hall. As it happened ‘Charlie’ had gone into the office to get the assembly book. Imagine Mike’s shock when ‘Charlie’ stood with his right hand behind his back for the whole assembly, ending by saying:
“We’ll have no more silliness on your last day, boys.”
Talking of last days at school Mike Russell recollects they were a lot less costly in our day as eggs and flour were not our weapons. We were far more creative. Can you remember ‘Stringy Joe’s’ (the art teacher before ‘Baron’ Entwistle) Bond Mini having its three wheels removed and the body placed on the bike sheds? We stood laughing as burly male staff arrived, full of smiles, to get it down.
But you couldn’t go too far as one boy found out. He’d brought a pair of scissors to school and cut all the hair off a younger pupil. He was brought to the far dining room just as we were leaving school and thrashed by four members of staff with strap, pump, bat and board ruler. As hoped for by the staff we all gathered round the widows to watch. Only later, when a teacher myself, did I appreciate the timing and psychology involved.
Continuing up the few steps towards the main hall, if you turned left there was Mrs. Sykes, the Secretary’s, office and Mr Bell’s office. I have to admit my visits there were usually quite pleasant. By the time I was in the 6th Form the school really ran itself with Mrs. Sykes at the helm and I think ‘Charlie’ used to get a bit bored and he would often see me on the corridor and invite me into is room on some pretext or another. We would spend 20 minutes or so chatting about cricket or rugby whilst he smoked his Piccadilly untipped cigarettes until I was dismissed by
“Well Marland you’d better go now I’m sure you have better things to do than chat to me.”
We were very highly honoured to have Charlie as a maths teacher in our second year, he was a pedant for neatness and presentation, and his own writing on the board was immaculate. We also got repeats of some of his assembly stories when he was bored with algebra. Mike remembers the ones about his mother ‘who is now in her eighties’ or Mrs. Bell ‘who likes to play bridge at the Lyceum’. Our favourite story, however, must be the one which went something like this
“I came back to school yesterday evening to help paint some scenery for the School Play. As I walked in, I heard a boy whisper ‘Watch out! ‘Ere’s Charlie.’ I don’t know who Charlie is. Do you?”
The whole class fell about laughing. As far as I know we were the only class he taught during my time at Hathershaw.
I always respected Charlie for his insistence on his staff wearing their hood and gowns at Speech Night. He was not entitled to wear one as he had been emergency trained at Goldsmiths College, London. Rather than hiding the fact he was rather proud of being one of the few Headmasters of a Selective School in the whole country without a degree.
Up the stairs towards the Upper Hall was the Tech. Drawing Room. This was not my subject and I remember Mr.’Gog’ Gartside expressing his shock and dismay at my poor exam result as my coursework had been so good. It was not a shock to me, for in lessons, I sat next to Les Andrews, who was a genius at the subject. Unfortunately in exams we were at a bench on our own and I didn’t have a clue. Other memories are of ‘Gog’s’ immortal line
“Grey lines are poor lines, boys”
and ‘Des’ Marsden getting his green rubber cut into tiny slices.
As we walked through the foyer past the main hall, on the left was the medical room, now a Deputy’s Office where all us boys went at one time or another and were asked to cough whilst the doctor cupped our unmentionables.
Up the stairs from the medical room were the unofficial 6th Form smoking room (Boy’s Toilets), the Girls Div. Room, which I will allude to later and the Art Room. Mike and I were, and still are, lacking in any talent whatsoever in this respect and we were intensely grateful when it disappeared from out timetable in Year 3. As I mentioned earlier ‘Stringy’ Joe and ‘Baron’ Entwhistle were the two occupants of this room but our lasting memory of this room was of us having a student teacher who arrived dressed in jeans, a lumber-jack shirt and a donkey jacket. Obviously a ‘liberal’ he commanded, “Call me Bill.” As the lesson progressed and we got accustomed to calling a teacher by their first name, we began to think that this was not a bad idea and perhaps we should try it in other lessons. Our egalitarian ideas were soon shattered, however, when Mr Bell walked in and heard one of us call the teacher “Bill”. “Who are you calling, Bill?” he asked, cracking the boy behind the head. “Him, sir”, answered the boy. “And who asked you to call him Bill?” (another crack) “Him, Sir.”
Bill was summoned to leave with Mr Bell and 5 minutes later we saw Bill ambling up Lynmouth Avenue, never to return again. Perhaps that’s why Chemistry replaced art in our third year?
Opposite the Medical Room was the corridor leading down to the gym and changing rooms. Many must be the times I have raced up that corridor in a state of semi attire, fastening my tie and zipping up my trousers rather than arriving seconds late for Geography in Room 3 with ‘Jap’.
Room 3 was occupied by Harold (Jap) Wareing and a room to be avoided if possible. ‘Jap’ had a fearsome reputation and Mike remembers being sent round with poppies when he was in the first form and deciding to by-pass that room.
Next door in room 4 Mike remembers Mrs Hines teaching him Scripture but at times we were less than Christian with that sainted lady. The lesson consisted mainly of each pupil reading a verse from the Bible and so, with all the ingenuity of school children, the first pupil would read his verse at breakneck speed, the second at a snail’s pace, the third in a whisper, the fourth with a stammer. But nothing seemed to exasperate Mrs. Hines. A favourite memory is of her writing the answers to the Scripture exam on the board - before we actually took it.
Mr McClelland and Kenny ‘Wilbur’ Wright arrived in our fourth year to occupy Rooms 4 and 5. On first sight we decided that Mr McClelland would be a soft touch, as he wore a bow tie and ‘Kenny’ with his permanent 5 o’clock shadow looked a tough nut. Never could we have been so wrong. McClelland, who only stayed a year, was an ex Jesuit priest and wielded a strap as only Jesuits can. The incident I can remember is Clayton in the year above us being severely punished for spitting through the window at pigeons. He went on to be Professor of English at Dublin University, Mr McClelland that is, not Clayton.
‘Kenny’ in Room 4 was Head of English and rumour had it that he had been a Japanese P.O.W. and if anyone shouted out ‘Kamikaze’, he would go berserk. It was only in our Lower Sixth when Michael Russell had the confidence to casually drop the word into an English Literature discussion, to no effect, that we realised we were still as gullible as in the first form with ‘Ron’ dropping bombs on his own house.
Opposite Room 4 in the ’Girls’ End’ of the school was Miss Moorhouse’s Office. I can still see ‘Minnie’ Moorhouse “bust akimbo” sweeping down the corridor
“As stately as a galleon.”
She took us for English Lit. for ‘O’ Level and I can still remember her reading from ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’:
“….and of Ariadne whom he ravished.”
Before anyone could ask what ravished meant she quickly added, “Carried away.”
I’ll never forget, in the 6th Form going to her room for a book and discovering her smoking. ‘Minnie’ was one of those people you imagined had no vices. Mike and I were once behind the curtains in the Main Hall painting scenery when a Girl’s assembly was called. ‘Minnie’ was obviously outraged and Mike and I remained anonymous as we were eager to hear of the serious misdemeanour some poor girl had committed. We had to stuff our hankies in our mouths as she announced-
“Gals, I’m appalled someone has left a sanitary towel on one of the hooks in the Gal’s cloakroom.”
With the girls now in fear and trepidation she moved in for the kill announcing in that resonant and dramatic voice,
“Gals there is no food for Dinky! Dinky will starve.”
Dinky was the school cat, adored by Minnie, and if any animal was less likely to starve it was Dinky. But by the next morning Dinky had enough tins of cat food to keep him fed for the rest of his life! Opposite ‘Minnie’s’ room was the Lady staff’s Common Room, always quiet, neat and tidy in sharp contrast to their male counterparts.
Room 5 had many occupants over my time at the school: Mrs Haughton, Mr McClelland and in my last three years Ron Jackson, who taught History and unlike many others made it fascinating. He was later to take a group including Mike and I for ‘A’ level British Government. One of our lessons was scheduled in the Dining Room after lunch. Ron was having none of that as in his words “it stunk!” We then tried the Boys Div. Room but this had a similar problem emanating from the lockers containing rarely washed PE kit and ‘God knows’ what else. We finally ended up in the Girls. Div., which was far more pleasant. One afternoon, however, our lesson had been interrupted several times with messages about this and that and Ron was getting more and more frustrated. When Irene Davies walked through the door (as she had every right to do, as it was their common room), he exploded and threw the waste paper basket at her yelling, “Get Out!!”
Room 6 was the domain of ‘Tizzy’ McPartland, the Head of History, who replaced Miss Moorhouse when she retired as Senior Mistress. Mike, on a recent visit to the school passed the hitherto Room 6 and was sure he heard her ghostly voice echoing
“Peel repealed the Corn Laws in 1846.”
He adds that in the Upper Sixth we had History all Friday afternoon and the drooping lines in his exercise book remind him of the many times he almost fell asleep.
Up the stairs was Room 10, ‘Taffy’ Foster’s German room. ‘Taffy’ was, to us, the symbol of the rich teaching profession. In year 1 he arrived at school by bus, in the second year he had acquired a push bike, in the third year this had progressed to moped, in our fourth year he had bought ‘Stringy’ Joe’s Bond Mini and in our 5th year he arrived in a large, white ‘Jag’.
When I taught at Hathershaw I often used the following story on Parents Night for forthcoming students to Hathershaw. It always got a laugh. I claimed to be the first form boy involved and claimed ‘Killer’ Kerrigan, who we will discuss later, had slapped me about the head and told me to not be so silly, and get to my lesson. That was apocryphal, however, here’s what really happened.
At the bottom of the stairs leading up to ‘Taffy’s’ room was a broom-cupboard and on the first day of our final year at Hathershaw, Mike was walking down the corridor towards room 6 when he saw a first former standing outside this self same cupboard, ten minutes after the lesson has begun. Mike asked him what he was doing there and he told him tearfully that this was his first day and he had German in Room 10, but couldn’t find it. He had asked a big boy where it was and he’d told him to wait here for the ‘lift’ to arrive to take him up but it hadn’t come yet.
Opposite Room 10 was Room 9 where for the first three years Geoff Rayson was the occupant. Geoff was a fascinating teacher and many a pupil’s lifelong love of history was down to this man. He was my form teacher in the third year and when I finally arrive at the metalwork room in this tour of the school he will figure in another story. When he left Mr Chandley took over in this room and I can still remember the time he asked ‘Sanch’ (Graham Sager) to recite the Lords Prayer, never again have I seen such panic on a face.
At the far end of the corridor were three rooms alien to the boys, for it was here that Domestic Science and Needlework were taught.
If you turned right after Room 6 you left the school by the Girls’ Entrance and facing you was the Science Block. The first room on the right was occupied by the one and only Cyril ‘Killer’ Kerrigan. By the time the third year came and Chemistry appeared on the timetable we were all frightened to death of the first lesson. The man was a legend in his own lifetime and everyone, staff included, knew this was a man not to be trifled with. As we lined up outside the room for the first time this small and portly individual appeared and uttered in that menacingly guttural voice,
“Line up in alphabetical order.”
This is something we had never done before but in mega seconds we were in perfect alphabetical order. At some time in that first lesson he uttered those memorable words that none of us have ever forgotten, and, even though we were now 14 year olds, totally believed:
“Do you see that spot on the wall? That was the last boy who forgot his Chemistry homework.”
He ruled with a rod of iron but I can’t remember him ever hitting anybody. Mike Russell vividly remembers Friday afternoons in the fifth year. “Triple anything is bad enough but triple Chemistry was enough to make any pupil deranged.” The format seldom changed: homework was given back, the test was given, you muttered your marks to him and received a withering glance, he dictated notes on an experiment you seldom did, you copied them down in rough, he gave you your homework, it was break, you returned from break, he told you to turn to a particular topic in your exercise book, he remarked “Begin”, he went into the prep room to smoke thick twist in his pipe, you chanted out loud all the notes on that topic, you got to the end, a voice emanated from the Prep Room, “Again”, you started chanting again…….
In three years we did one experiment. No-one could alter ‘Killer’. Who can forget the General Inspection the school had in our fifth year? Period 7, Friday afternoon an H.M.I. appeared at the back of the Chemistry Lab as we were chanting Oxygen notes. ‘Killer’ appeared from the Prep room,
“Royales, get up and give him your stool. Turn to the beginning of Oxygen, Begin.”
He then returned to his pipe and mug of tea in the Prep Room. After ten minutes the H.M.I. went into the Prep room and our chanting dropped in volume as we listened to the conversation. All I heard was
“I’ve never had a failure; the headmaster wants results, that’s what he gets. If you don’t like it go and see him.”
Needless to say nothing changed.
The next lab on the left was where we were taught Physics by Denis ‘Thumper Tom’ Townley and ‘Nat’ Mills. Mr Townley was a nice man until he lost his temper, then anything that came to hand; tennis balls, board dusters and chalk were hurled at the guilty party. He also had a great sense of humour and as Sanch recalls, “when he taught us magnetism he would often joke about ‘Every couple having their moments’ and would also express his reluctance at us using the abbreviated form of Vapour Density in our notes.
As to ’Nat’ he was one on his own. His physics knowledge was vast, which we all appreciated, but never listened to, and he was also responsible, in the absence of a Biology teacher, to teach us the ‘Facts of Life’ in our dinner hour. Who attended was down to Syd Jolley and Mike Russell observing our genitalia in the showers and reporting back to Nat. Who can ever forget his opening line in the first lesson?
“Why do dogs sniff each other?”
As you can imagine hoots of derision and laughter ensued along with a few suggestions as to the answer, but all out of earshot of Mr Mills.
The last lab on the right belonged to Ben ‘Yawn’ Vaughan. He had the habit of closing his eyes as he spoke to us, sitting round his front bench. At which point boys would quickly change position, confusing him when he came to ask a question.
Going out of Science by the bottom door was a path that led us to the Woodwork and Metalwork shops. When we entered the school the woodwork teachers were ‘Jock’ Collister and ‘Stan’ Firth. The first year seemed to be a case of ‘Plane the face side’, ‘Mark the face side’, ‘Plane the face edge’, ‘Mark the face edge’, and reading Autocar magazines. In the second year I was very jealous of the other group who had Jock Collister as they used hardwood for their folding stools, whilst those of us with Stan Firth used red deal. Peter Hodgson replaced Stan Firth in our third year and I made a box, which I still have to this day. I must say there is a surfeit of plastic wood around the dovetail joints but I’m still very proud of it.
During Peter Hodgson’s lessons we watched him build the stairs for his new house in Saddleworth, clean and repair his car, all why comparing car prices from ‘Autocar’ magazines. Now comes a confession: at the end of the third year Peter Hodgson read out our exam results and I had come top with 84%. The prize I chose, which I still have, was ‘A Dictionary of Quotations’ which I thought might be useful for the English Lit. course I was going to take instead of woodwork.
It was 18 years later when I was a member of staff at Hathershaw that I plucked up the courage to tell Peter that when he gave us back our exam papers to check I realised I had got 44% and not 84% but said nothing. He had added up my marks incorrectly. Imagine the shock when he retired to his stock room and produced those self same exam papers and on adding up mine realised he had indeed made that mistake. I am sure there is a quotation within that Woodwork prize that sums up my dastardly deed.
The metal work room for me is the room with the worst memories. I was hopeless and burnt everything. I was constantly told by Norman ‘Nori’ Clegg,
“There’s a burr, there’s a burr, go back and draw file it.”
Whereupon I would return to my bench, chat for a few minutes, take it back and be told “Much better, much better.” A sense of amusement was a gigantic file hooked on the wall with a title of “Bastard Rasp”. ‘Nori’ was always telling us he had a strap in his desk for chewing, I really wish I had had the guts to say well have a chew then. But the incident that all the boys who did metalwork in form 3 will remember is our penultimate day. We had Metalwork in the afternoon and our reports were delivered to ‘Nori’, who gave them out in their envelopes. After about 5 minutes Brian Navin opened his in the full gaze of ‘Nori’, who said nothing. We, all, therefore thought it was all right to do the same. At the end of the lesson ‘Nori’ asked all of us to hand our reports in.
The next morning, the last day of term, we were told to all report to the Metalwork room at morning break. ‘Nori’ had reported us for opening our reports and our Form Teacher, Geoff Rayson, was made to give us all 6 of the best on our backsides. This must have been difficult for him as it was his last day at the school, but he didn’t hold back. He was, however, a little embarrassed when those same boys presented him with a leather wallet as his leaving present.
All that remains of my tour round the school is the P.E. area. Dennis Taylor was for me a superb teacher. He had a talented bunch of lads in our year but I always remember the encouraging words he had for the less gifted, like me. In a football game the shout of “Good pass Barrel,” filled me with pride.
And so our tour ends, but it would be remiss of me to omit those other aspects of school life like the school productions which were always of an incredibly high standard, the Christmas parties, which meant that from November onwards we were herded into the gym to learn the Barn Dance, the Gay Gordons, the Military Two-Step, under the eagle eye of Dennis Taylor and Mrs. Healey. What a thrill those parties were to pubescent teenagers- being able to go home at lunch time, change out of your uniform into you best clothes. The party started at 3 o’clock where you would hold hands in the progressive Barn Dance with some Sixth Form Goddess. All this was in the days before the word ‘disco’ had been coined and when the Beatles were still wearing suits suits.
As I bring this diatribe to an end I cannot help but wonder if other schools evoked such memories. I do not lie when I say this article could have been twice as long, so clear are those memories. My guess is that the answer to this is in the negative.
Hathershaw Technical High School was one special school and our year one special year.
Nigel Marland (With a great deal of help from Michael Russell and Graham Sager.)