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Photo: P.J. Unwin.
My introduction to King Ted’s was failing the entrance examination for the junior school. The post-war era of nationalisation and equal opportunity either loomed or dawned according to your political viewpoint. An entrance examination and fees denied all but a select few from what was generally considered the best school in Sheffield. I was sent for private tuition to a Mrs. Saville in Broomhill. I believe that her late husband had been head of the junior school. About eight pupils were given intensive tuition sitting round a large table in the dinning-room. We concentrated on Maths and English; fractions, decimals, calculating highest common factors, lowest common multiples, mental arithmetic, spelling and taking dictation. After two terms with Mrs. Saville, I sat the entrance examination again. We took dictation and calculated highest common factors. Mr Baker, the headmaster walked the aisles, “Pens down. In your head, think of a number…multiply by twelve… subtract your number.. etc. Now write down your answer”.
I was accepted into form J2M at Clark House for the summer term of 1945 at the age of 10. My first surprise was school on Saturday mornings. This was later changed to a compulsory games morning at Whiteley Woods. Ultimate discipline in the junior school was the slipper, administered by the head. Only local boys were allowed off school premises during dinner time. For the rest it was a slippering offence not to have dinner in the scout hut at the senior school. The only escape was a letter from one’s parents. I was bribed, “get into the top 6 in class”. By this means I gained my freedom. Once a week, with two shillings each, John Stubbs went with me to the Sunshine Café in town. Other days, there were chips… but don’t be seen eating them in the street, go to the bombed-out St. Marks Church. Other days I explored Sheffield, eating jam tarts while watching the rebuilding of Walshes or walking round Woolworth’s. A cheap and reasonable meal could also be obtained from the “Civic Restaurant” behind the city hall, a wartime establishment intended for the “workers”. Freshly baked buttered bread cakes could be bought in the maze of little streets behind the cathedral, this left more time to brose the shops which sold surplus ex-war radio equipment for my radio and electronics hobby.
The Biro pen had yet to be invented, fountain pens were not allowed. We had inkwells and “proper” pens. Tests were administered several times a week in all testable subjects. We passed our paper to a neighbouring pupil for marking. The teacher would call the roll and record the marks for each pupil. I soon learned the roll-call, “Beighton, Blagden, Braithwaite…. Stubbs, Unwin, Wells, Wills” because I kept my own records. The marks were totalled to give our position in the form at the end of every week.
Moving into our final junior year in the J1’s, we found ourselves being prepared for the Eleven Plus. We were the first year to undergo selection in this way, no longer gaining automatic admission to the senior school. Most of us seemed to pass, our parents being delighted not to be paying school fees any more.
On 10th. Sept 1946, I joined 2C in the senior school. We were all issued with text books which we had to back with brown paper. During morning break, we drank our free milk made available to supplement the diets of all schoolchildren during wartime rationing. We made a copy of our timetable and the classrooms to attend for each subject. Basic School Rules were explained. For example, boys may not use the main entrance unless locked out because they were late and to be dealt with by the deputy head. Classrooms were out of bounds during dinner break.
Prefects, with their own common-room and the power to give a whacking were new to us. I don’t recall any serious bullying by them or by other boys. Most of the teachers wore their gowns. The Head was Dr. A.W. Barton, a tall, fearsome Victorian style headmaster who swept into morning assembly to an upstanding school, wearing his gown and mortar-board. Pupils in the lower school rarely met the headmaster other than by waiting outside his office for disciplinary purposes which was often four or six strokes of his best cane.
Also new to us were Houses for games. Each house had its own morning assembly on Wednesdays when teams were picked to play other houses or to go on the cross-country run. At the end of term, cups would be given for display. Before the organ was installed, these cups were in cupboards in front of what is now the organ loft.
Games, especially football in ice or mud and cricket when I had hay fever, did not appeal to me. I had little of the “esprit de corps” demanded by Dr. Barton where this involved discomfort or possible personal injury. I confess to sloping off where possible, under cover of the river-bank, to visit the pictures in town. When possible I opted for the run, walking the course with as many short-cuts as were not detectable by the prefects posted as checkers.
We were all encouraged to join one of the extra-curricular activities. I joined the cine club. This gave lunchtime film shows. The Invisible Man and old slapstick comedies were popular. The club was planning to make a film. They were short of a cameraman. Having used my father’s cine camera a few times, I volunteered. I was the most junior of the production team which included Finlayson, Dawson, Bingham and Roedel. The location was Symonds Yat near Ross-on-Wye. We were to camp in a field behind Goodrich Court (Now demolished or taken to USA). We set off by train, putting a sack containing a dead dog into the guard’s van. Being summertime this stank. A large bottle of dettol was poured over the sack. It still stank. As a matter of urgency it was decided that the death of a dog on a railway line was to be filmed first. The older boys drank more local cider than was good for them, arguing endlessly about the making of the film. After taking the required shots of the said dog, supposedly found dead on a nearby railway line, no further progress was being made. We ate badly and argued endlessly. Cows tripped over our guy-ropes at night. I lived on bramble seedless jam and bread. I passed the camera to Roedel and left after a few days. I never learned what happened to the film.
Our form master in 3D was “Gerry” Woodage. He kept good discipline by throwing a wooden board-rubber at an offender. I suspect that he only did this when they were looking and able to duck. We had “Spiv” Bramhall for French, immaculate with bow tie, spats and slightly scented. His preferred punishment was press-ups in front of the class.
These were the days when Biology was considered little more than advanced Nature-Study. It was not considered a “proper” subject. Latin was. We had no choice about this, we all studied Latin and at least one modern language. We learned physics with large wooden voltmeters, galvanometers, and optical benches. Teachers and pupils did a lot of practical work in physics and chemistry. Health and safety rules had not been devised to curb this valuable activity. I and several others did practical work at home. It was easy to buy six pennorth of almost any chemical except the most poisonous at Prestons the Chemists. We made ammonium tri-iodide (explosive!!), oxygen from red oxide of mercury or sodium chlorate and silvered copper coins with mercury. One boy did need hospital treatment after sealing dry-ice in a bottle but serious injury was in fact very rare.
It is hard for those born into the permissive society to appreciate how things have changed. “Sex” and “Condom” were forbidden words. A boy was caned when a master discovered “Sex” in large letters on his blackboard. Gay meant what it means and not Good As You, an unfortunate acronym reputedly coined by American homosexuals. All girls, except what the older boys called “Wenches” or “Tarts” said “no” to improper suggestions. Rare magazines, such as “The Red Light Book”, “Health and Efficiency” (with the interesting bits brushed-out) and certain exploits of a window cleaner, circulated. Wild claims of sexual exploits were made, but in fact we were mostly incredibly innocent. We dreamed of nymphomaniacs, knew nothing about lesbians or that women had orgasms.
“Clarence” Helliwell with his unruly hair, reputedly self-knitted tie and explosive temper, taught us art and woodwork. Offenders in woodwork were bent over a bench and whacked with a large T-square which often broke. At the end of our woodwork lesson, Clarence would shout “ tools away boys”, causing much concealed sniggering. My artistic ability was and remains that of a two-year old. In every art lesson I delivered nothing but drawings of fish (side view) and few strands of seaweed. Clarence made no comment, clearly recognising an artistically challenged pupil.
N.J. Barnes “Barney” was my third music master at KES. He believed in free discipline ( see page 145 in “Tha’ll never gerr in theer”). The result was that apart from a few gifted pupils who sang or played in the orchestra, for most of us our musical education ended. I was interested in music and did once try the orchestra, but left-handed violinists do not integrate well. A group of us enjoyed “knocking” a few tunes out of a piano by “ear” as they say. We were left to our own devices which meant finding an unlocked classroom with a piano, either in the school or by hiring a practice piano at Wilson Peck’s during lunchtime. On one occasion we got into the music-room (top floor) by way of a nearby window. Barney unlocked his classroom to find us inside, playing his piano. We would undoubtedly have received six of the best had he told the Head but he didn’t. After this he sometimes allowed us to play the grand-piano in the assembly hall.
There were broad window-sills on the main corridors. Dinnertimes on wet days, we used these sills for playing shove-halfpenny, hangman or other games. Behind the school, near the bike sheds and “backs” as the toilets were called, was the Tuck Shop in a small hut. “Fatty” McGrath kindly opened this at dinnertime. Sweets and chocolate were rationed for several years after the war; it was “Victory V” lozenges or liquorice-root unless we had any sweet coupons. Liquorice-root, as might be expected, was very woody … but given a good chewing, the soggy end had a distinct flavour of liquorice.
“Trotsky” Redston took me for maths for a while. Trotsky did not believe in free discipline. We stood to attention when he entered the classroom, not a shuffle or a whisper. Dry, sarcastic and readily dispensing punishment to fit the crime, nobody risked pranks with him in school. We were learning how to use logarithms. I sneezed, he glared. I sneezed again, one hundred lines. I explained that I had hay fever. He didn’t believe me, two hundred lines. I truly did my best but collected over a thousand lines by the end of the lesson. Whether we were interested in logarithms or otherwise, every one of us learned how to use them for multiplication and division of large and small numbers and for the calculation of square and other roots.
“Curly Harper” was both well liked and respected. He taught me chemistry. His most memorable practical demonstration was electrolysing water to fill a special thick-walled glass bottle with an optimal explosive mix of hydrogen and oxygen.
He then held a lighted match to the open top of the bottle. The whole school heard the bang when he did this experiment.
He would chat with us, could be teased when he stood by the window watching the girls playing net-ball at the nearby High School and still teach us chemistry to a very high standard.
The “Clapton” era began in my time at the school. Established traditions seemed to slip away or lose their emphasis. Dr. Barton had answered to fee-paying parents who had certain expectations. Gaining entrance to Oxford and Cambridge, classical studies, sport, rigid discipline, esprit de corps and social activity in extra-curricula pursuits were what the fees paid for and what the previous head, Dr. Barton, delivered.
Boys need firm boundaries. It was “Sam” Carter who kept these in place when Dr.Barton left. Sam wasn’t popular but he was respected. He disliked me greatly, I had once corrected him in a physics lesson on a minor point in electromagnetic induction. Ever after, my usual good marks in physics fell dramatically. He once told me plainly “ I don’t like boys like you who don’t like sports”.
So why do we wrinklies grumble and rumble about education not being what it was and what was special about KES ?
Because something is crazy about education and it’s beginning to be mentioned by many employers and universities. It is also becoming obvious that we are short of plumbers and vital skills such as roof repairing to prevent our computers getting wet. No need to rabbit on about this, these problems will be corrected as the pendulum of change swings from idealism to pragmatism - hopefully without destroying the sound idea of equal opportunity.
KES was special because it collected academically promising students together, had clear aims and freedom to run itself. Let me put it this way; collect or link a lot of criminals together and you get better criminals, collect academics together and you get better academics.
King Ted’s undoubtedly gave me confidence, knowledge and discipline, all of which have been of value in a rewarding and varied career. Agnostic I may be, but the lessons read at morning assembly taught me to appreciate biblical prose and wisdom. Gathering around the War Memorial on Armistice day, hearing the dedications and last post was moving and unforgettable. It was much more than the teaching that made King Ted’s what it was. It may be that caning is brutal and that masters should not tweak ears or throw board rubbers. It may also be that the baby has been thrown out with the bath water during the idealistic experiments in education that were to come. We were prepared for a realistic world that can be unfair, is competitive and has to be disciplined.
Without Trotsky’s teaching, I could not have understood floating-point numbers and used them to write low level computer code for a numerically controlled machine. Thanks to “Curley” Harper I have been able to understand etching and electroplating solutions. KES gave me the background skills which lead to starting my own company operating in the electronics industry. Clearly, in my case, KES was special.