A Heathen Century

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Heath in the Forties

Dark, foggy evenings — rationing — tuppence in the ‘scratching shed’

One of the most vivid memories that I have is of walking from the bottom of Salterhebble Hill, past the Calder and Hebble Inn, along North Dean to West Vale, Burwood and, finally, Holywell Green — approximately two-and-a-half miles. No big deal you might think but I was only ten years old; it was five o’clock on a dark November evening in 1941 and I was walking slowly, two or three yards in front of double decker bus, guiding the driver through thick fog by waving a ‘flashlight’ from side to side. The bus’s headlights were shaded by louvred metal masks which were very effective in reducing our chances of being seen by the Heinkel and Junkers bombers of the Luftwaffe but totally ineffective in penetrating a Pennine pea-souper.

This was the second full year of the Second World War and I was on my way home from Heath Junior School. I was the third member of the Bamforth clan to join Heath Juniors. My cousin Howard entered the school in 1936 and cousin Sidney in 1938. In their day, the Junior School Headmaster was Mr Bonham Edwards and their form teacher was Harry Birchall. Junior School classes were held in two rooms on the downstairs corridor (latterly rooms A and B) which were accessed by the outside ascending stone steps from the playground. Adjacent descending steps led to the basement cloakroom where there was an internal door to a wide passage and the large, stone flagged dining room. This was beneath the study of the Senior School Headmaster, the school office and the ‘Transitus’ classroom. Mrs Henderson — wife of ‘Hendy,’ the Caretaker — was the school cook, renowned for such culinary delights as ‘petrol pudding’ and ‘dead baby.’

An internal stone staircase led from the dining room up to the main school foyer. There was no school hall as it was to exist later and at this time the hall ran alongside the bottom corridor, with a dais at the western end. The woodwork room, art room and upper corridor bridge were still at the planning stage.

Soccer was played by Junior School boys on the lower, sloping pitch at Kensington and PT classes were held in the gymnasium by the cycle shed, opposite the lavatories. For swimming, boys had to walk in crocodile to Warley Road baths and, in later years, to Park Road baths. The route lay via Heath Road, a pathway alongside Shepherd’s Dairy, across Well Head fields, up Love Lane to Swires Road and thence across King Cross Lane to Park Road.

When I joined the school in 1940, Mr Moxon was Junior School Headmaster and my form master was Dr Harry ‘Doc’ Fleet. The Senior School Headmaster was the sartorially elegant D.J.D. Smith, who wore a mortarboard and academic gown throughout the school day. He lived in the Master’s House with its four downstairs reception rooms and five upstairs bedrooms which was built circa 1885 and is today the surgery of an NHS group practice.

Senior School staff included Eric ‘Biddy’ Taylor teaching English; Arthur ‘Tishy’ Holt teaching modern languages; A.D. ‘Phee’ or ‘Stinker’ Phoenix teaching science; Arthur ‘Tough’ Owen teaching classics; C.O. Mackley teaching history; Frank ‘Whisky’ Haigh and Ben Young. Six of these fearless beings, along with a number of senior pupils, were drafted to help Britain win the war and their replacements were a mixture of veterans and juniors.

The veterans included Dr Morel (French and German) whose grace at lunchtime was always Gott bless our dinner; Harry Gornall (classics) and Charlie ‘Chuss’ Place (PT and Games) who was forever ethically philosophising on certain boys’ behaviour. His elder daughter, Kathleen, was appointed school secretary at about this time. The juniors were a mix of newly qualified male and female personae, none of whom stayed long enough to be memorable.

The years of World War Two dictated a few changes in school life. Gas masks had to be carried in their cardboard boxes to and from school and when air-raid warnings were sounded. On such occasions, the Senior School boys had to walk quickly from school, down Free School Lane to the tram sheds at Elmwood Garage where they waited for the ‘all clear.’ The Junior School boys sheltered in the cellar cloakroom.

All windows were lattice-taped to prevent flying glass injuries and enormous black-out curtains were hung in all classrooms. Along with petrol, bread and confectionery, clothes were only available on the production of their respective ‘coupons;’ so the mandatory wearing of school uniform, gym and sports gear was relaxed. Nevertheless, most boys turned up in school caps, ties and home-knitted pullovers and scarves embodying the claret and gold markings.

Public transport was restricted because of petrol rationing, which, in addition to the black-out regulations, meant longer journey times. School timetables had to be adjusted to cope with these circumstances and some away rugby, fives and cricket fixtures were inevitably cancelled.

In 1943, C. ‘Kettle’ Hewson joined the science department. He earned his nickname from his habitual carrying of a kettle of water from the common room to the science block and I remember the occasion when six Oxo cubes were slipped into the kettle prior to his brewing-up. The culprit was never caught.

After the War, a few battle weary fighters returned to the teaching staff — ‘Whisky’ Haigh, ‘Tishy’ Holt, Harry Birchall, ‘Tough’ Owen — and new appointments included Mr Blackeby (junior maths), ‘Honky’ Peace (art), George Littlefair (modern languages) and ‘Taffy’ Watkins (Latin). The latter was memorable for his Welsh tenor voice, often hitting a high C in the choir renditions. The Junior School closed and Mr Moxon left, with ‘Doc’ Fleet joining the Senior School staff.

These post-war years of metamorphosis for staff and scholars culminated in the departure of D.J.D. Smith in 1946 and the appointment of Walter Ronald Swale as Headmaster who quickly imposed his military training and bearing on school discipline and routine.

Sport took on a new fervour as masters trained with the boys at rugby and fives. Teams resumed travel to away matches such as Keighley Grammar School, Skipton Grammar School, Woodhouse Grove and Whitcliffe Mount with Hoyles Coaches replacing Weightmans. Fives players travelled as far as Leeds, Durham and Manchester Universities, with one memorable trip to Dulwich College.

Heath usually fielded three rugby teams at this time. The First XV and Second XV included such eminent players as Keith McDonald, David ‘Birdie’ Brook, Brian Holloway, G.S. ‘Gus’ Walmsley, Brian Whiteley, Peter Jollie and Alan Whitworth. The Colts XV included future stars such as J.P. Horrocks-Taylor, Jimmy Farrar, Douglas Gillett, Trevor Gameson, Keith Johnson and Kenneth Humphries.

The Inter Grammar School Athletics Championships were an annual competition in field and track events with the keenest rivalry always between Heath and Crossleys. Names such as a John Cappindale, Michael Pollitt, Brian Whitaker, Brian Smith and Alan Barker spring to mind for Heath and ‘Star’ Greenwood, Glyn Kitson and Brian Bates for Crossleys.

Music in school became popular and with the appointment of Mr Shackleton Pollard — organist and choirmaster at Halifax Parish Church — as music master came the formation of the Heath School Choir and the School Orchestra. Predominant choristers were: ‘Taffy’ Watkins (tenor) with C.O. Mackley, Arthur Owen and David Horsfall as bass/baritones. Boys from forms 4B1, 4B2, 5B1 and 5B2 provided the treble and contralto harmonies.

In the Orchestra were Malcolm McDonald (pianist) and Philip Hodgson (leader and first violin). ‘Tishy’ Holt played second fiddle and ‘Whisky’ Haigh strummed away on double bass.

As post-war restrictions relaxed so did juvenile extra-curricular activity. Penny teacakes were partaken after lunch, purchased at Mr and Mrs Balmforth’s tuck shop across Heath Road in Heath Lane. Youth clubs became popular — All Saints Youth Club, Park Congregational Youth Club and Holy Trinity Youth Club were three of the more voguish. When puberty kicked in and school finished at 4.15 pm, a few fifth and sixth formers would walk into town to catch buses home (the days of parental chauffeurs had not yet arrived) to meet girl friends from Crossleys, Princess Mary’s or the Modern School to promenade along Commercial Street and Southgate.

Evening and week-end entertainment mainly centred around the family, radio (the ‘wireless’), the cinema, the theatre and sport. ITMA and Monday Night at Eight were two popular wireless programmes and, with a choice of six cinemas in town, four in the King Cross/Queen’s Road area and two in Elland plus two theatres — the Grand and the Palace — there was dramatic entertainment in plenty.

On Saturdays when there was no school match, rugby league at Thrum Hall was the order of the day. Admission to the ‘Scratching Shed’ was two old pence (tuppence), provided one turned up wearing a school cap. These were also the days of the Green Final — a Halifax Evening Courier and Guardian production on Saturday evenings which contained national and local sports results. The paper would appear on the streets around six pm at about the time that the school rugby teams returned from away matches and team members were queuing for the 1/9d cinema seats in the pouring rain.

In 1949 H.C. ‘Nuffer’ Morris succeeded Bill Phoenix as senior science master and Gerald Pilcher took over as master of Heath’s music. A gap appeared in the science curriculum for those who wanted to take Biology at Oxford and Cambridge Higher School Certificate level and Brian Whitaker and myself had to trudge up to ‘Halifax Tech’ on two mornings a week for classes in the subject. We needed passes to earn first Year exemptions at our respective universities. We both made it!

Thus came the end of a stirring decade. Many happy memories and the rest of our lives in which to deliberate on them.

Malcolm Bamforth