Corporis Non Neglegens

In the late Summer of 1956, using my brand new free travel pass for pupils living more than 3 miles from school, and  having been transported by the tram from Handsworth terminus to Crookes Corner at the top of Newbould Lane, I found myself overawed in the school yard at King Edward VII School for the first time, with 120 or so other boys, “fags” as first year boys were known. It was never very clear at what point in one’s first year career you stopped being a “fag.” We were herded in twos by the prefects and marched up the imposing front steps into the marble floored vestibule and thence to what was known as the Large Lecture Room on the second floor to be allocated into forms for the year. I was allotted to form 1(3) under Mr. P. M. Hetherington who taught English. This was to be the only time entry was permitted to the school in this grand manner until one reached the privileged heights of the Upper Sixth, otherwise normal entry was by the small side doors. There was one exception, the side doors were locked at a certain time, and if you were late you had to enter by the front steps so your lateness was obvious to all the various observers in the vestibule, likely to include the Head himself, Mr. N. L. Clapton, Fat Nat. During the 3 week long Sheffield bus strike of 1959 [Oct 59, mentioned in the Speech day section of Jan 1960 KES Magazine], the observation procedure was completely overwhelmed, and concessions even granted.

Thus started our induction process at KES. Later in what must have been the same week we were all herded into the Assembly Hall to be instructed in the procedure for games by the venerable and extremely portly Maths teacher, H. T. R. Twyford, (Twiff) who I have later learnt also taught French, though I have no recollection of him doing this. KES had no playing field attached, and used Whiteley Woods, about three miles to the west which could handle only 3 football matches, the “pick-ups” and anyone who for some reason was engaged in cross-country instead of football. It was nothing like big enough to encompass all the games. With eight houses, two teams each meant 8 games of football, so 5 games at least plus all the Rugby, were held at the school’s other ground, Castle Dyke, off Ringinglow Road. The third Whiteley Woods pitch between the cricket square and football pitch number 1 was very small and used for minor games only, and sometimes for Under-13 school matches. The “pickups” were those not selected for either of the two house teams, or playing Rugby, and were expected to have an informal kick about on a tiny pitch at the very bottom of the field. In those days there were few if any overweight boys, even amongst the pickups, a far cry from the appearance of today’s youth it has to be said. Everyone changed at Whiteley Woods.

Twiff’s task was to inform us the procedure to be adopted. Junior games for first and second years were on Thursday afternoons (Middle School - 3rd and 4th years - on Tuesdays, and Seniors on Wednesdays- the procedure was the same throughout however).

Twiff informed us that we would be expected to assemble just after 1 pm at the area by the Newbould Lane gate and wait for the Sheffield Corporation Transport buses which would take us to Whiteley Woods, or rather they would not take us to Whiteley Woods, as seemingly they were incapable of negotiating Hangingwater Road. Instead they would take us on what, for us lads from t’other side o’t’ City, was a scenic tour through Ecclesall and environs to Bents Green, discharging us at a height imaginable only by reference to the geography of Sheffield which so alarms its first time visitors but is second nature to us, seemingly hundreds of feet directly above the playing fields themselves. To reach the playing fields, HTRT informed us we would have to scramble down the “precipice”, and cross the stream at the bottom. We fondly imagined he was using a considerable quantity of poetic licence in this description, but as it turned out, and as we were soon to learn, not much! Fortunately the path zig-zagged down the precipice, through what might at one time have been allotments (and possibly still were) until one reached said stream at the bottom, a tributary of the River Porter, across which someone had strategically placed stepping stones. If you were lucky, and there had not been that much rain, the stream flow was not too difficult to negotiate. Once across the stream a right turn led to the gorgeous archetypal Edwardian/Victorian cream painted wooden sports pavilion. The building is no more - it ought to have been listed.

The procedure was to change here, leaving clothes in the wooden slatted lockers, depositing any valuables in a box with the groundsman, Leslie Waghorn (Wag), and his assistant Austin who occupied the central part of the building through the cricket tea room, resplendent with photos of various school teams seemingly dating back to the year dot. (Where are these photos now I wonder?). The next procedure was to scramble back up the precipice in football kit (no one in those days owned such a thing as a track suit of course) back onto the buses which would take us on to Castle Dyke if you were unlucky enough to be playing there - as the second teams nearly always did. It was on this trip I first noticed a fine pub called “The Hammer and Pincers”.

Castle Dyke was another mile or so away, and reached by a long cinder track after the bus deposited you on Ringinglow Road. At this stage there was still a certain amount of naivety in us. Twiff had omitted to inform us about the Castle Dyke climate. It must have been one of the highest points of Sheffield, and could be relied upon for one thing only, noting that its use would be largely, though not entirely, through the winter months. It would be akin to playing football in the arctic. I remember one afternoon particularly when we (Arundel) were to play Haddon in what was going to be the deciding match of the House championship as we were in first and second places. As the fixtures had panned out we had been preordained to be at Castle Dyke, rather than on one of the favoured pitches at Whiteley Woods. I remember I opened the scoring to put Arundel 1-0 up, on an already cold day. By the time the second half wore on, and Haddon had equalised and gone ahead, interest in the game flagged as the wind blew and the temperature plummeted, and boys froze near to death in spite of all the running around to little calorific effect. By the time the end of the game came nobody cared a damn. Haddon scored twice more in the closing minutes, the final whistle being followed immediately by the sprint back to the cinder path and down to the haven of the furnace like atmosphere of the buses, which might have been as warm as 6 or 7 degrees, with their open backs. The buses took us back to Whiteley Woods for another scramble down the precipice and over the stream, where on arrival you would find the Whiteley Woods contingent already changed, and only if you were lucky would there be much water left for a warm shower. As one grew older, or if you were lucky enough to be selected to play for the school on a Saturday, the favoured changing area was the cellar part on the “City” side of the pavilion, known as the “Duck Pond” presumably because of its communal bath-like shower area, in which it was quite possible to swim as it filled up. (It doesn’t bear thinking about nowadays, does it?) This cellar changing area had no equivalent on the other side of the pavilion, owing to the prodigious slope on which the building was constructed.

Having changed it was then a matter of retrieving your valuables from Wag’s enclave through the tea room. Here could be found Wag, at the sink by the back window dispensing drinks, and Austin invariably sitting by the stove, with Wag’s cat usually in attendance. Wag would dispense various flavours of drink, usually orange was requested, at a penny, tuppence, or even threepence a time according to the strength required. He would meticulously measure out the appropriate quantity in a little glass measure at eye level before transferring it to a glass (or was it a plastic cup?) for dilution and consumption. This must have been a welcome perk for Wag, from the captive clientele 3 times a week, not to mention school and Old Edwardians’ games on Saturdays. As far as I remember nearly everyone partook.

Then it was a matter of negotiating the stream and precipice for the fourth time back to the buses which would return you to school, and thence for your usual journey home, unless of course you lived in the Whiteley Woods area anyway, as many boys did.

Choosing to play Rugby, and in later years hockey was added, condemned you always to the mercies of Castle Dyke. “Character forming” would be one description of the process.

I have seen recently on the web some photographs of HTRT with his classes, and he somehow does not seem so gross as he appeared to us then. If he was refereeing your game (and HTRT always remained at Whiteley Woods) he would do it by padding around the centre spot, dressed in an old brown raincoat, smoking his pipe, and never leaving the sanctity of the centre circle, even if he ever neared the edge of it.

I visited Whiteley Woods from the Whiteley Woods Road side about three years ago and was saddened to see the magnificent pavilion gone (other contributors to Friends Reunited are apparently happy to see its demise). It was a splendid example of that age of sports architecture, complete with central scorebox above the front verandah overlooking the field. The fields themselves however were little changed, and there was even a cross-bar hiding in the grass by Whiteley Woods Road. As a field, the Whiteley Woods grounds were in truth not a very good standard for games. Both major football pitches there sloped at a level which would be unacceptable to boys of today, though some pitches in Sheffield were actually even worse. I remember one pitch, it might have been against Owler Lane, where the centre spot was at least 10 feet lower than either goal - and it might have been more! On arriving at the pitch, I remember Charlie Hall (WCH, Physics and Chemistry) in charge of us that day comment to a parent or someone with us to watch. "Ridiculous expecting lads to play on pitches like this". Charlie Hall would always refer to 'lads'. Another (Firth Park?) sloped at angle seemingly approaching that of the precipice itself. Even the Whiteley Woods number one pitch sloped away sharply at one end to the stream beyond. In use at the bottom of a valley 3 times a week and with 2 more games on a Saturday, they quickly became a quagmire which would be an alien landscape to today’s young player. I remember often playing in conditions which could only be described as liquid mud, with appropriate implications for showering and washing of kit. The small third pitch, being less used, was actually one on which grass could at least be found. We were totally unaccustomed to playing at the excellently grassed and flat pitches at such places as Mansfield or Chesterfield Grammar Schools. As for cricket, at least the areas of the two major “squares” were flat though the outfields were of course subject to all the gradients, and the unevenness of the football pitches. This was just the school pitches however; for house matches Wag and Austin would have prepared several wickets at various places in the outfield, leaving the teacher umpiring the game to judge the boundaries.

For Athletic Sports, a quarter mile circuit was marked out round the oak tree at the top of the field. Some quarter mile! Up the gradient one way, and down it the other! Times for the mile were impressive in the circumstances.

I was a good enough runner to be in the school team from the outset (under the woodwork teacher, Mr. Green), and consequently a frequent Saturday visitor to Whiteley Woods too, reaching it on those occasions off the public transport bus from the Fulwood side and down the path past the old convalescent hospital. The delights of the junior course began by a short dash downhill to Wire Mill Dam, through Whiteley Woods themselves as far as the bottom of Porter Clough where the senior course with “Jacob’s Ladder” stretched ahead through the Porter Valley and its mud. The junior course turned left here (pointed out by a marshal if you were lucky) up the seemingly vertical Wood Cliffe, turning first anti-clockwise and then clockwise to the top. The relief of reaching this particular summit was to be tempered by confrontation with the apparently endless slope of Hangram Lane receding into the distance with Ringinglow Road at the top barely visible. Running up these hills was actually my forte, and I often found myself well placed by the time the pack reached the top of Hangram Lane for the left turn along Ringinglow Road, where with the relief of running on the flat at last there was all the feeling of being jet assisted to the left turn at Common Lane and downhill to the finish at the bottom of Whiteley Woods Road. Curiously this so-called cross country course was virtually all run along well surfaced paths through the woods or on roads and pavements. About 25 years ago, I did some training for some local runs in Tyneside, and on a visit to Sheffield actually ran the old junior course, timed and photographed by my brother. I actually did it in the same time to the second as I had run it to finish third in the school championships in 1957, a race won by Arundel with our 8 finishers being 3rd, 5th, 6th, 7th, 8th, 11th, 13th and 20th, with Lynwood’s first runner coming in 22nd.

As Philip Robinson has commented Wag is now rolling the wickets in the Elysian Fields, but I remember my brother’s school magazines from the late 1940s (which I shall try to retrieve) contained a cartoon of him, together with a poem referring to his efforts then, and fields old and new, such as Furnace Field, which I understand was the opposite side of Whiteley Woods Road (does its name relate to the activities of Thomas Bolsover?) -

Whiteley Woods, Bents Green
Furnace Field and Ringinglow
Rain, Hail, Frost or Snow
First to come and last to go.

“Penny orange please Wag!”

David Cook, April 2003

PPS (23/06/03)

I was in Sheffield at the weekend, attending the 50th anniversary event at Athelstan Primary School. I took the opportunity to visit Whiteley Woods, arriving from the Whiteley Wood Road side. In contrast to my visit three years ago I had time to have a good look round, and did so.

My first impression was how small the place was. How could it have housed three football matches at once, not to mention the pickups at the bottom? I had the benefit of knowing it had been a playing field and where the pitches had been. Nobody without that memory could possibly imagine this rough meadow grazed by horses was, not so long ago, the playing fields of one of the major schools of England's fourth City. As Philip Robinson said there was not a trace of the pavilion, not even the path that had surrounded it. Or at least I didn't feel like diving into the brambles behind the new fence to search minutely for evidence. And how on earth would 4 cricket matches at once be fitted in - and how would it be possible to have a first XI and second XI square. Where?

We went along to the stream, now protected by a fence and style presumably for the horses, and the precipice beyond. We ascended the precipice by the old familiar route, now overgrown with trees, the last zig-zag leg to the top almost impenetrable because of nettles. At last we reached Trap Lane to find the new houses mentioned by Philip Robinson, where the buses had parked.

To someone with a memory of playing there, the place was remarkably little changed once the imagination was switched in. There was the Oak Tree round which the quarter mile running track was marked. Surely there couldn't have been a football pitch just to the east side of it - but there was. The clinching piece of evidence was the remains of the goal posts still lying in the grass at the edge of the field by Whiteley Woods Road.

We drove up Whiteley Woods road to Common Lane, Ringinglow Road, past Castle Dyke playing fields and to the old cross country course down Hangram Lane and what I now know is Wood Cliffe, not Quiet Lane. There is a lot more traffic now than 40 years ago. It wouldn't be conceivable for Wood Cliffe and Hangram Lane to be part of a road running course twice a week. The police would have to know about it. How did we manage?

David Cook, June 2003