A Heathen Century

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Heath in the Fifties

With brother Russell having been at school since 1946, for me not to have passed the 11+ in 1952 so that I could follow in his footsteps would have been cataclysmic. My head was filled with the prospect of going to Heath; I had heard about it from my brother; I had read about it The Heathen and I was immersed in the whole lore. I was enthralled by the exploits of the ‘men’ who had gone before — names such as Malcolm Macdonald, J.B. Capindale, K.E. Sewards-Shaw, Trevor Gamson (Head Boy 1952/3) and J.P. Horrocks-Taylor.

Great therefore was the joy when I finally entered the schoolyard early in September 1952.

Brother Russell was then in the Sixth form, a prefect, and a member of the first XV but there was no question of taking me under his wing. My recollection is being left to my own devices. I had heard terrifying tales of ‘initiation’ ceremonies, namely being put in ‘the Press’ by lads from the 4th or 5th form. This was a buttressed area outside the Woodwork and Art block, but the fears were not realised and the recollections of that first day are a mixture of fear of the unknown and overwhelming pleasure to be there at last.

Heath seemed in those days to be a massive place. I realise now that it is really quite compact but there were the new experiences of meeting new friends and the welding of a first new form spirit under the benign tutelage of Frank Haigh. At Junior School the class had remained in one room. The new experience was the change in rooms when the subject changed. I recall the necessary discipline which had to be exercised in keeping noise down and walking on the left on the corridors to attain the new classroom.

Little thought was given in those early days to the fact that you were making friends both in your own form (1A for me) and, despite the burgeoning competition with Form 1B, the boys there who also were to remain friends for evermore.

Learning struck out in wholly different directions — science, maths, geography, history and French with Arthur Holt. I remember his holding the class enthralled with his ghost story about the ugly, cugly bone, the class jumping out of its combined skin with the final explosive line; Latin under the form master Frank Haigh. We were all comforted by his avuncular presence and encouragement throughout that first year. There was universal respect, and not a little fear, of the Headteacher Mr W.R. Swale. All that he had to do to bring immediate silence was to walk along the bottom or the top corridor in his board and gown, cutting a swathe through any boys who were in his path. All stood in morning assembly as he appeared and there was quiet as the prayers, the hymn, the lesson and then the announcements were made before dismissal and lessons.

Boys were also in awe of the Sixth Form — especially those, for me, in the first XV.

Having been ‘blooded’ by my brother before ever going to school, I was looking forward to learning more about the game and playing in a team. We would change in the cloakroom underneath the Headmaster’s study, the Secretary’s room and Room A before walking onto Manor Heath and playing on one of the two fields there. Having been blessed with some prior coaching and being of a robust constitution I was overjoyed to be picked to play in the Under 14 XV in my first year, thus meeting another life-long friend, the then Captain Bobby Lee. I remember also playing in some extremely closely contested House matches for School House against Heath, Kings or Queens. No half-hearted press-ganged affairs these!

The days of the old junior school were not forgotten but they were simply now put out of mind. There was a growing loyalty to the new school and one’s new friends and form mates. Towards the end of that first academic year I recall the prospect of the examinations with the need to revise. The formality of the annual exams and the anxious wait for the results and what position you would be (a) in the exam itself and (b) subsequently what your position would be, academically, in the form. One suspects that such a competitive situation would not now be in favour but in those days it did not seem in any way unfair or unseemly. It was to be expected and speaking entirely personally it was a matter of some importance to me to do as well as I possibly could. I acknowledge that those may be the attitudes of one who did relatively well at this process and these emotions I acknowledge may not have been shared by those at the other end of the academic and sporting spectrum. I am certainly aware from experiences within my own extended family that you would do all right at Heath if you were reasonably bright and you were good at sport — especially rugby.

At the end of the year I had found my feet; I felt safe in a sound environment and I looked forward to the future.

In the second year 2A were in Room I. The form master was Alan Carter and for some reason the House system became part of my being with a growing loyalty to School House. Its House prayers were held once a week in Room I under the benign influence of Eric (Biddy) Taylor. Brother Russell had by now left to join the army. He had been School House Captain and I felt somehow that the family tradition had to be carried on. I was drawn into the sport but also into participation in the ‘Bentley Trophy’ competition involving essays and presentations involving the natural sciences. School House never seemed to do particularly well in that area as opposed to sporting matters.

Alan Carter, apart from being Form Master, was also the Latin Master and he would bowl us his daily over of searching questions on Latin. This was a daily ritual and I certainly felt that I profited from his enthusiasm, although one could sense that his enthusiasm was not universally shared. Whatever one’s burgeoning abilities were, clearly note was being taken for the ‘setting’ which would take place at the beginning of the third year.

There was also the weekly trip to the baths at Park Road involving being released by the teacher of the preceding lesson some 10 minutes early so that the class could go by a preordained route up Free School Lane, down Bell Hall, along Arden Road and down King Cross Lane. There were the enthusiasts who would run there to be first and have the longest use of the bath before the return journey with the matching allowance of being 10 minutes late into the immediately succeeding lesson. Not all were as enthusiastic to follow this regime and this somehow translated into a school attitude towards swimming. There was the annual gala held at Woodside Baths but, quite unlike the corporate enthusiasm to take on other schools and excel at rugby, that annual one swimming event was never matched by competitions against other schools. There were nonetheless some very talented performers, namely John Stoddart in the plunge, Albert Coward who subsequently became a long-distance swimmer and gained fame by swimming across the Bay of Naples; Mike Bingham was proficient, as was John Payne.

Just like swimming, the store of cricket was never very high at Heath. There was, of course, encouragement to practice both at Spring Hall in ordinary games lessons and also by taking a cricket net at the top of the school yard, but that was always a rather unnerving experience, particularly if you had an elder boy who was trying to emulate the senior stars of those years, namely Fred Trueman and Brian Statham because the ball had an unnerving tendency on the coir matting, overlaying the tarmac playground surface, to rear off a good length and fly about the unprotected head. General enthusiasm for this occupation took rather a knock in light of the History Master Dick Rees being floored by a bouncer by the, then, opening quickie bowler for the first XV, Tony Hamer.

The impression of some lack of success at competitive cricket however was not reflected in the (a) inter-house sports at Spring Hall and subsequently (b) the inter-grammar schools sports at the same venue. Competition took place at junior, i.e. first and second years, intermediate, i.e. third and fourth years, and senior, i.e. fifth years and upwards. The recollection is clearly erroneous but the impression is of constant success in all groups at the Inter Grammar School Sports and inevitably the accolade of the ‘champion school.’ Participation by the now second formers in the inter-grammar school sports was rewarded by being champion school — an unsurprising fact when it is recalled that there were such talented individuals as Malcolm Bussey, subsequently in his Sixth form days to represent England Schools at Rugby on the wing and to be the England Schools’ quarter mile champion.

The competition would take place over two days, the first involving the jumps on the arena area at Crossley and Porter’s and then subsequently all the track and throws (for intermediates and seniors only) at Spring Hall.

At the end of the second year (July 1954) life was interesting.

With growing confidence the third year started under the guidance of Form Master Dick Rees. At this stage there were new disciplines to be learned as ‘sets’ came in. Abilities were assessed to put you into the upper or lower sets for Maths and French — all with a view to possibly taking ‘O’ levels at the end of the fourth year but with further refinement by way of options to specialise in Art, Geography, a further Modern Language namely German or the Classics by taking on Greek.

As third years there was growing confidence. There were two years of juniors below us and there was a feeling that we pretty well knew the ropes and the senior ‘men’ were characters that we had known over the previous two years and did not seem so much now like ‘gods.’

It was not only part of the third year phenomenon; there is no doubt that the three following aspects of the school were a constant feature, namely:-

  1. School plays and concerts. The latter were under the baton and guidance of Mr Pilcher who was a music teacher outside school but came in on the required occasions each week to try and cajole some interest in music into the class, some of whom were less than committed to the task. However, parents were invited with guests and other visitors and concerts were always packed out. There was usually a sales drive on a form basis as to who could sell most tickets and when the evenings for performance arrived one’s impression is of great success, enthusiasm and applause. The school choir performed with appropriate solos. I recall particularly renditions of As Torrents in Summer and The Trout.
  2. As far as I am aware from time immemorial the school regime had been to work on a Wednesday morning and then take Wednesday afternoons off, the full school week being achieved by attendance on Saturday morning. Maybe once or a maximum of twice per year a Saturday morning would be given over to a feature film. I recall at least twice and maybe three times during my seven years at school seeing the Disney tear-jerker — Bambi — with tears welling up and being supressed by some 350 tough young men as the old stag died. I have never tired of that film.
  3. Attendance on a Saturday morning would now I feel be regarded as an imposition and would not be likely accepted but in those days it was accepted without further ado. It was part of the tradition and its later passing was a matter of some regret to the die-hard traditionalists.

In rugby teams the Under 14s, having only had two or three fixtures against other schools in the previous year, now enjoyed an enhanced list including against local rivals at Crossley and Porter — the school from ‘up the road.’ There was the first contact with lads who were the, then, sworn enemies but out of the then bloodlust and fierce competition were once again born friendships which last to this day. The Under 14 team of 1954/55 played 8, won 6, drew 1 and lost 1. School House were the rugby champions and both the senior and junior teams went undefeated. The Under 14 cricket 11 played 7, won 5 and drew 2.

There were feelings of foreboding in the fourth year because some of the intake of 1952 were due to take their first external/public examinations, namely the ‘O’ levels at the end of the year. A certain proportion who were judged to have reached the appropriate standard would sit their ‘O’ levels in both Mathematics and/or French.

Early in 1956 there were the mock examinations which filtered out a few. Some intensity was felt as the academic year wore on and eventually came the first trial, namely the French Viva Voce in the library. By this stage one had to demonstrate a rather greater degree of sophistication than was available through the medium of En Marche with its simplistic French of Qui est Toto? By June of 1956 we were as ready as we were ever going to be and along with the fifth year who were taking the same subjects and several more, we all trooped into the main hall to occupy one of the desks in the serried lines with a deathly hush to descend and the imprecation — you may begin.

For me the form room by now was Room J on the top corridor and this time the Form Master was the good-humoured Maths teacher Louis Jackson.

Room J had something of a fluid quality about it because it was stocked with, instead of double desks, single desks and single chairs that were so easy to move about or re-arrange — sometimes even in lessons where the pedagogue had less than perfect control of his pupils.

It can be said also that by the fourth year confidence had grown to such a pitch that there was a degree of over-confidence displayed. Conflict with the school rules came naturally to some resulting in serious retribution at the hands of the Headmaster and sharp reminders — for instance when the whole class was ‘pumped’ at the end of the gym PE lesson. Rowdyism was the cause.

On the sporting front School House maintained its hegemony on the rugby front and were champions for the third year running — undefeated.

I managed to break into the first team as a fourth-former. Keith Hartley was the Captain of the first XV and, honour upon honours, he both played for Yorkshire Schools and was the Captain. Ian Copeland was his Vice Captain and Head Boy of the School. The rugby VII lost in the final at Ilkley.

On the cricketing front there were difficulties when in a game against Hipperholme Grammar School there was some ill-discipline and perceived lack of loyalty leading to the senior members of the team being disciplined and after that first XI cricket at least faded for the rest of that season. Again the school excelled on the athletics front with several more championship shields from the inter-grammar schools sports. It will be recalled that all boys had to undergo standard tests with a view to gaining house points if the particular standard in running and jumping were achieved. The facilities for athletics were of a rudimentary nature compared with present day provision since all the sports were held at Spring Hall with the sloping grass track and cinder run-ups for the jumps into a sand pit for the high jump. There was even less satisfactory vision for throws, namely from a grass circle for the discus and the run-up across the driveway for the javelin.

To advance my Classics career, together with Bruce Jagger, I did not go into Year 5 but advanced straight to the Lower Sixth and thus came under the influence for my last three years at school and the safe pair of hands of Arthur Owen. He, together with the Deputy Head Mr C.O. Mackley, Arthur Holt the Senior French teacher, Mr Morris, Mr Hewson, Mr Haigh, as well as the successful Harry Birchall (sports teacher) had all been at school for many years and had thus created a climate of competence, steadiness and enthusiasm which served the school’s reputation in both academic and sports fields tremendously well.

The three years in the Sixth Form were tremendously enjoyable with a growing sense of responsibility (a) for yourself, (b) for younger boys in the school and (c) for the growing reputation and good name of the school. You were required to work more as an individual taking responsibility for your own learning and success but without in any way being left by the tutors.

In this seemingly rarefied atmosphere the form model was lost. Lessons were taken round a table. Certainly in the Classics group there were only four or five — the fifth in our case being a girl, namely Judith Holt — the daughter of Arthur Holt (French) who came from Princess Mary High School to advance her Classics career. We also benefited greatly from the very considerable scholarship of Alan Guy who had always been a clearly dedicated and knowledgeable teacher in the lower school but now he began to be appreciated on these accounts.

This was the start of the ‘A’ level course. While my colleagues in the 5th Form were each pursuing their chosen subjects, because of the concentration on the Classics, Bruce Jagger and I would attend upon Dick Rees (History) after school or across lunch breaks for history tuition with a view to an ‘O’ level. We both in effect were self-taught for the ‘O’ levels achieved in Religious Education and Greek Literature in Translation. We did participate in the mainstream lessons for English Language and English Literature.

As a Sixth Former, I was now able to participate in that well-known debating society, the Favorites. The overseer of this supposedly witty and sharply intellectual pastime — once per month — was Mr C.O. Mackley, the Deputy Head. The object was to put up a particular proposition for debate with speakers in the usual course both for and against the motion. The object was to be as entertaining as possible but with an underlying serious input and the recollection is that it was usually met with good attendance contributions from the speakers and from the floor.

Prowess at rugby continued to prosper. Bobby Lee was the Captain with Stanley Watkin as the Vice-Captain — both School House members — a fact which continued to underpin School House supremacy in House rugby. In the first year under Bobby Lee’s captaincy the school could not capitalise on its famed abilities at seven a side which had been established in the early years at school but that was soon to be corrected in the next year when that prize was carried off and over a further successive three years, first under Bobby Lee’s captaincy, the next under my own and then thirdly, after my departure to university, under the captaincy of Malcolm Bussey. They were palmy days of rugby football at Heath with five Yorkshire schoolboys Lee, Watkin, Terry Ward (scrum half), Malcolm Bussey and your co-respondent.

The later fifties saw further responsibilities in the shape of first, sub-prefecture and then the full office of both public and private standards within and without the school to be met, observed and, to some degree, enforced.

The relationship with members of staff seemed to relax.

There was clearly pressure to succeed academically and the overriding impression is that the School established some pre-eminence in that respect.

Because I married a girl from Crossley and Porter School I can vouchsafe an impression from there that the School was regarded as very good academically with a strict Headmaster and with a tremendous enthusiasm for rugby football.

For me advanced and scholarship level public examinations were sat in the summer of 1958. Because of pressure on space in the main school hall, these exams were sat in St Jude’s Church Hall on Clover Hill. For me these were achieved with reasonable success, which meant that my last year (1958/59) was to a degree relaxed. I was able on the strength of the results to obtain a place at university. My attempts at Oxbridge came to naught and indeed my attempts at Oxford were abandoned because the exams clashed with the build-up for the last Ilkley seven a side tournament in which I was to participate and win — 1959.

So — I was a pupil at Heath Grammar School from 1952 to 1959. No doubt there were difficult moments during those years but I have little recollection of them. Overwhelming are the feelings of friendship, advancement, participation, fulfilment and respect — for the teachers who unswervingly helped me, for the friendships I made and retained and for the sense of tradition which I took on and have ever since retained.

Grayham P Smith [Heath 1952–1959]