Many thanks for sending the information I asked for.
Your request of me to write down for you my school day recollections came as a surprise as my time was earlier than yours and mainly at Robin Hill. Nonetheless I will do as you request and attempt to put down here what few memories I have of, originally, Robin Hill School and the very early weeks as it was starting to become Hathershaw Technical High School.
The Early Years at Robin Hill
by Keith Hernon
I am not sure what year I started but believe it was just before the beginning of the ‘Tech’ moving to Robin Hill on a temporary basis, until it could make its final move to Hathershaw.
What I am more sure of is that the decision to allow students to take GCE ‘O’ level examinations (preparation for Hathershaw I think) was taken, or at least we were told about it late, and there was only about one and a half years to change syllabus and go for it. I believe in 1954.
My class were the first, the guinea pigs so to speak, and we were taught almost exclusively and intensively, by a group of teachers who are still on your website photograph of the staff in 1958.
They were - Mr. Feilding (Maths) Mr. Wareing (Geography) Mr. Kerrigan (Chemistry) Mr. Mills (Physics & Mechanical Science I think it was called) Mr. Armitage (English) Mr. Grimshaw (History) and of course, all driven by Mr. Bell (Headmaster.) There was also another Mr. Mills who took Woodwork and who was in charge of the school cricket team. He was a delightful, gentle man close to retirement I think and nothing like the fearsome Mills the Physics.
There were others of course but I cannot remember them except for Mrs. Humble who tended to have more to do with, ‘the girls’.
You will note this segregation.
Again I’m not sure when girls were introduced but back then, most classes were either all boys, or all girls.
When the first GCE year was formed it was initially a class of a dozen or so, boys only, until one day a lone girl was introduced. Her name was Elizabeth Arthurs (Betty.) On looking back she must have been a girl of some courage I think, for we were a motley crew. However she soon seemed to settle with us. Now this may come as a surprise but Mr. Kerrigan was particularly gentle and supportive towards her and on a number of occasions I can remember him roaring ’Betty get out of the room so I can really tell this scruffy lot what they are’. However it was all made into great fun and I do not believe anyone who took the chemistry ‘O’ level, including Betty, failed. I think that was more than any of us would have dared to do.
This brings up the point just made of it all being great fun. It was. I have the impression that in later years things probably became more serious.
I cannot recall a single instance of any pupil being physically punished during my time and the staff were respected, admired and even held in awe for their idiosyncrasies, of which there were many. For example, having no car parking at the school it was not unusual for teachers to park their cars in the nearby streets, and thus not unusual either, for the whole form to have to go out searching for the car of Mr. Armitage, who regularly forgot where he had left it; or Mr. Grimshaw commencing a history lecture speaking Chinese. It doesn’t sound much but it seemed to weld the staff and our form, into what might be called a small family.
To my mind a school is not only about what is taught but how. I can hardly remember two plus two equals four, or even five if one is a creative accountant, but little stories about China, appreciations of Chippendale or Hepplewhite, or Mr. Armitage recounting his being at a Hitler rally before the war and how difficult it was not to become mesmerized and join in the applause, are as fresh in my mind today as they were fifty years ago.
I have just read this through and I am beginning to ramble so if you don’t mind I will put down a couple of other memories as side headings and double underline them. That should stop the rambling.
School Trip to Stratford on Avon (1953 I think.)
Organized and run by Mrs. Humble and another lady teacher this trip was hugely successful, at least as far as the students were concerned. By this time there were a number of girls classes in the school and both boys and girls were encouraged to go.
We visited the famous Theater, Blenhiem Palace, Ann Hathaway’s Cottage and all the other places tourists go; we boated on the Avon and had a wonderful time. I still have a photograph of a few of us in front of the small hotel we stayed at. Unfortunately I cannot attach it as it is in my house back in the UK.
I recall it was summer and the weather was beautiful, the sun shone every day, the staff were very unobtrusive and for many of us who had never been away from home it was a taste of freedom and being grown up we had never experienced before.
One evening, because it started to rain, we all decided to go to the cinema in Stratford and were allowed to do so without a chaperone; somehow, as if by magic, on the way there, we seemed to sort ourselves into boy and girl pairs, then sat in a large group during the picture, ate ice cream and held hands in the dark; very sophisticated. We all then walked back to the hotel and resumed school life as before. (Dear, departed, innocent days. It seems so different now.)
By the way, the film was called ‘Angels One Five’ and starred John Gregson who I got to know in later years when he lived close to me in Shepperton. I never said anything but whenever I saw him my mind always flew back to that trip to Stratford and the evening out at the cinema..... I’m starting to ramble again.
One positive effect this school trip had was, it seemed to bring the classes, both boys and girls, still separated, into a more cohesive group, I suppose shared experiences always do.
For me there was a small sequel to the Stratford event. Apparently Mr. Bell was debriefing Mrs. Humble on our return. I was told that, at some point she was heard to say, ‘and I was surprised at Hernon, he’s a real dark horse.’ I never understood what she meant; maybe it was some sort of ‘teacher speak’ or maybe, considering my future life, she was a witch. We will never know.
I am only able to comment on two sports as they affected me during my time at School; they were, cricket and golf.
The school had put together a cricket team of which I was captain, (not sure why) under the guidance of the woodworking Mr. Mills and we played evening matches against most other schools in Oldham. Charlie Bell never missed a match standing on the sidelines and encouraging and advising all our players and me in particular. We did quite well in the league table and played hard and practiced often. I believe Mr. Mills saying ‘the headmaster is here lets not let him down’ (which he said often) had a lot to do with this. My tenure as captain ended abruptly when I got hit in the head by a fastball and spent a week in bed towards the end of the first season.
As to Golf, Charlie Bell was also involved in a manner I do not believe anyone else has been aware of until now.
My father introduced me to the game when very young and I was quite taken with it. However there were two major problems. First the only public course at that time was Heaton Park, which was a long way away and second I could not afford golf balls, which were very expensive. To get around the second problem I would regularly wander around golf courses to find lost balls.
One day while ‘lurking’ on Werneth golf course I stood to one side to allow a lone player to pass. When he got closer I recognized Charlie Bell and tried desperately to look the other way hoping he would pass. He did not; after the interrogation and explanations as to what I was doing and why, he suggested I walk a couple of holes with him, which I did, then left to continue my search, and that was that.
Two days later I was called to the headmaster’s room, a rare event and I went with some trepidation. On arrival I was presented with an application form for Junior Membership of the Werneth Golf Club duly proposed by one Charles Clifford Bell and seconded by two people I had never heard of. Mr. Bell explained that if I was prepared to pay five shilling per annum, which could be paid in two tranches of two and sixpence each, he would present my application. I filled in the form, signed and one month later I was in.
It is worth saying that it was never mentioned again, I never played with Mr. Bell the whole time I was a member of Werneth and that he assiduously kept away from me on the course where I always played with my own age group - some of whom were not to his liking I think.
This kindness to a boy he did not even know very well at the time, I have never forgotten. I think it is a real mark of the man and the type of fingerprint he put on the whole school during my time there.
This started me on a game I have played ever since, introduced my wife, children and grandchildren to, and played all over the world. It has been one of my great joys and still is. I have even played in an earthquake, a volcanic eruption and a hurricane, at different times of course.
I am really not sure this should be included here but somehow it seems inextricably tied up with the time, it was during school days and being in the engineering stream we believed we knew what we were doing. It is also indicative of the more freewheeling attitudes that prevailed at the time in our group that we decided to start up a business.
Money was always scarce with us, or, so we thought but how it all came about I am not quite sure. Maybe as we were approaching the age where we could kill ourselves on the road, and constantly on the lookout for cars and motorbikes that were appropriate for the job, it started there. As that may be, we decided to start renovating old MG motorcars. At the time these were readily available in scrap yards, were small, light enough to be pushed away by us and were cheap.
The business model seemed to be five pounds to buy, five pounds to spend on doing up and a sale for twenty pounds (if we were lucky) leaving us with a profit of ten pounds; a not inconsiderable sum in those days.
The main protagonists in this venture were Ken Beech, Geoff. Ibbotson and myself and our workshop the drive of Ken’s parents house on Broadway. This was because it was the only one of our houses with a drive and Broadway was an excellent test track; what his parents thought about it we never knew. Ken had far the best engineering skills of the group and did most of the nitty-gritty works. Other class members called in on an ad hoc basis, no doubt to watch the performance, which at times it was, and offer advice.......... not always appreciated.
It would be wrong for me to say I remember exactly how many or which types of car were given the treatment but I seem to recall two MG ‘TC’s and a ‘K Type’ (A Canvas bodied saloon with a straight six engine, very fast.) The latter was completely rewired in yellow wire which we were given for free and gave no thought to any future requirement for fault tracing.
We eventually gave up this activity when we became sixteen and old enough to ride motorbikes, but that is another story.
Can you imagine this sort of thing happening today?
Our guinea pig group dissolved after the ‘O’ level exams, the same time the school moved to Hathershaw for sixth form work. What happened after that you surely know better than me.
I have written this at one sitting, without editing, and have to say found it quite difficult. The facts are as right as my recollections will allow, the opinions you may take with a pinch of salt.
Having lived most of my life by the first rule of Italian motoring, when we first spoke on the phone I had no intention of having to remember anything.You made me realise that I had not thought about schooldays for a very long time.
You will have noticed I mention few by name and have tried to say as little about my life as possible. This is because I cannot remember them all and rather than relate my own story have tried to give the flavor of what it was like in those early days as a student of the, ‘seven samurai.’
Should you feel that what is here is someone looking back with rose tinted glasses to an earlier time when “the sun shone every day and all the girls were pretty” you are entitled to that view, but I believe it not to be the case and I offer no apologies. All the girls were pretty and the sun shone most of the time.
I contend, my age group was lucky to have a window of opportunity where, in theory, all was possible. We at Robin Hill at this time, were doubly lucky to be taught by a group of characters, who whether by design or accident, it matters not, gave us more than just the three ‘Rs’. They gave us something more; a practical belief in ourselves, maybe even conceit, but much more valuable I believe, something which seems sadly lacking these days, something without which the human spirit eventually dies.....
Hope for the future.
(Bangkok 29th Oct. 2010)
PS. The people I do remember by name who were in my group were:
Geoff. Ibbotson, Ken Beech, Brian Tate, DD Guest, Harold Mason, John Wolstencroft, Harold Thomson and two others -Garside & Cowling. The only girls I can remember by name are Betty Arthurs (of course), Majorie Pullar (little sister of Geoff. Pullar, left hand opening bat for England at the time) and I think a Patricia Jones.
With the exception of one brief half hour meeting with Geoff. Ibbotson, some thirty five years ago, I have not seen anyone from this time, since the first few weeks of the move to Hathershaw.
Many, many thanks for this invaluable, interesting and informative article. This complements Ray Oliver's recollections and with Harold Wareing's own memories we have a perfect picture of life just prior to the founding of HTHS.
PS Keith can be found on http://trwasia.net/ . For a quick view click here.