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JRGS Alumni Society


  Your Webmaster recalls his first day at the school six decades ago...

As I mentioned in a recent email to The Alumni, I started at JRGS in September, 1959 - almost 60 years ago. And what a terrifying experience it was. I was weedy for my age and, with a birthday in August, younger than most of the incoming boys in 1M. Also, the sixth-form lads were larger and more fierce-looking than I was used to at my mixed junior school. And the all-male teachers, with their black gowns, were much more intimidating, I recall.
   I was so spooked after that first day's lunch-time experience and the intimidating atmosphere in the playground - hazing of "Brats" was pretty commonplace, I discovered - that I persuaded my Mother to travel into Croydon on Tuesday and Wednesday lunchtime. We met a the Black&White Café next to Kennard's department store on both days. The experience calmed my nerves to a certain extent. I soon learned that the older boys were simply continuing the school transition of keeping new, younger entrants firmly in their place.
   I had also made a friend in 1M of the late Ian "Iggy" Green, whose brother David was in the sixth form and hence provided some degree of protection for his younger brother. That umbrella was extended to Ian's pals, I learned, and hence my subsequent days at the school were less intimidating. I soon settled into a routine and began to enjoy the new subjects to which we were exposed in that academic environment, including - surprisingly!- Latin, Geography, RI, History and Mathematics, plus Biology, Physics and Chemistry.
   I consider those six years spent at JRGS in Shirley to be the most formative experience of my life, and one that set me on the road to an interesting and - so far - rewarding career.
   How about others? I invited contributions from anybody regarding their first impressions of either the Tamworth Road or Upper Shirley Road locations.

Mel Lambert, Burbank, CA, USA. May2019 Email

Colin Taylor (JRGS 1959-64) adds: I also started at Ruskin in '59 and I'm sure I was in the same class as our webmaster: 1M with Mr. Kenneth Maggs. I was also terribly skinny in those days - I grew up with very little appetite for food. I remember people like Derek Powis and Roger Holcombe who seemed very beefy to me. Also "Robbo" Robertson. I thought Ken Maggs was a lovely guy. (Incidentally I heard he lost his hand during the war when the field gun he was on got hit by a German shell.) I was very much into football in those days but my pathetic body didn't get me very far. I was always a defender and recall usually playing left back with Martin Loveday playing right back. Fond memories.

Mike Beaumont (JRGS 1955-60) adds: My one overriding memory of that first day arriving at the new school on Shirley Hills in 1956 was of being corralled by older boys, who tied my shoe laces to the railings. It was impossible to untie them so I had to snap the laces and walk around with loose shoes! Then there was the threat of the dreaded foaming “lurgy”in the tanks outside the kitchens.
   Character forming?!? Happy days!

Geoffrey Farmer (JRGS 1959-64) adds: Thanks to our webmaster for forwarding all the emails relating to the 1H and 5U class photos; I was busy moving house at the time and never got round to responding. However, the current correspondence was a welcome distraction at a stressful time.
   As to my first impressions of the school in 1959, like our webmaster I was overawed by the masters in their gowns and the size of the building. One thing that comes to mind is the sorry state of most of the text books we were issued, and then instructed to cover with brown paper. I had expected better quality books. I was also taken aback by the intensity of the lessons across all subjects. Other shocks to the system were the amount of homework, discipline, and the high standards expected of us.
   I was very impressed with the organ in the main hall and looked forward to the recitals after assembly, particularly those played with relish by Mr. Field. I didn’t enjoy the sports lessons in the winter months, having to change in those freezing changing rooms at the end of Oaks Lane.
   Considering that we were from differing backgrounds, and most of us had not met each other before the first day, I think we jelled well as a group fairly quickly. I would not have had such a successful and rewarding career had it not been for the education, in its broadest sense, that I received at Ruskin, but I didn’t appreciate it at the time. One other thing that comes to mind is that Mr. Smith’s classroom was the only one in which the desks were not covered in ink and graffiti.

Bob Hyslop (JRGS 1953-60) adds: I have three memories of my first day at Tamworth Road in September 1953:

1. I felt VERY lonely and miserable in a corner of playground dominated by much larger boys charging about in front of a rather bleak and unwelcoming building.

2. I cheered up tremendously when I secured my place in the back row next to a large window. So? I quickly realised I could look down at the site of the murder in November 1952 of a policeman by Christopher Craig. Even then the case had already leaped into notoriety. Craig (16) pulled the trigger but it was his partner, Derek Bentley. who hanged in January 1953. Why? Nobody under 18 could be hanged then, but anyone involved in the crime ran that risk. The case caused controversy for nearly 50 years, producing several books and a film, Let Him Have It.

3. I nearly forgot. Just in front of me sat Pete Grey, and we've been friends for nearly 70 years.

Quite a day, I would say.

Bob Wane (JRGS 1945-53) adds: Here are some of my recollections of early days at JRGS.
    After five+ years of war not knowing whether the next bomb was going to be yours, whether your father would return from fighting, rationing of everything still in full swing - a banana, what is that? Orange, a colour in a book? - we survived to become the first year of the school with a newly enhanced [grammar school] status of what was to be JRGS in 1945.
   I passed my 11-Plus in Sheffield, where I was having some respite. Clad in our new school uniform from Hewitt's (perhaps they were coupon free) we assembled in the playground at the front of the school awaiting our form master/mistress. I seem to remember short trousers were still being worn!
   Early recollections that stand out include Mr. Chinnock trying to teach us the rudiments of woodworking with exercises in making dovetail joints. and Mr. Gee patiently inducting us into the world of art painting using copious amounts of poster paint. School lunches in the Gym were possibly the main meal for some; not bad value at 6d.
   In today’s age, it is difficult to properly describe the anxiety and deprivation that many of us had experienced at that time. I am sure were very grateful to have had this opportunity to regain an orderly, if disciplined, routine that JRGS provided.

Peter Baron (JRGS 1959-66) adds: I too started at Ruskin in September 1959 and was in 1G with the art teacher Mr. "Vic" Gee. (What did he do all day? I don’t recall Art being high on the agenda of learning at Ruskin!)
   I remember we were seated in alphabetical order and as far as I recall it started something like this: Baron, Boyes, Brigden, Bush, Byford, Charles, Chiswick, Dyer, Ead, Gerlach, Graham, Hollidge, Horner ... That’s where the memory dries up! Would be interested to know if any other 1G alumni could correct or add to the list.
   I also recall first encounter with the fearsome Mr. Smith by The Windmill when we were all us first formers were gathered together, and our names called out by "Smut" to see if we had played football at primary school. Weren’t we known as “Brats” to the second years upwards?

John "Jack" Jackaman JRGS 1951-1953) adds: My arrival at JRGS was a transfer from the Heath Clark Central School in Thornton Heath. I passed my 11-Plus examinations but had been evacuated to Perth in Scotland, and was hence unable to attend the usual associated interview. As a result, I ended up at Heath Clark where I passed the Oxford School Certificate and met my future wife.
   Arriving at JRGS to continue my education was a sort of parachuting into a school at age 16 and adjusting to a somewhat different environment than I had been used to, and to make new friends. JRGS, an all-boys school was different, but I appear to have adjusted well. Although a newcomer, I was appointed in my final year as captain of my house and vice captain of the school.
   Unlike many of my contemporaries, I was not a scholar. But the regimented system of houses and prefects must have appealed to me and it certainly helped when I joined the RAF for my National Service. My memories of events and people mention in other contributions to these early memories are still vivid in my mind. I got to know [secretary and general matron] Mrs. Vera Garwood well, as she eventually came to Canada with her naval Captain Kidd, and we met many times at various military functions in BC. I also remember the notorious Bentley and Craig murder of a policeman at the nearby confectionery factory. I knew Lucy Craig, as she was a member of a swimming club I belonged to.
   I am now 86 years old in my 31st year of retirement, and continue to travel widely. I look back on my British education as happy times and one that prepared me so well for my future life. For those who may be interested in my JRGS experiences and my life details can be found in a submission I made to The Mill in June 2010 on page 62. I appreciated the efforts being made by our Webmaster and those organizing reunions as labours of love. We can learn so much by keeping the past alive.


 Richard “Tom” Thomas (JRGS 1957-64) meets Martin Preuveneers for lunch...

I was very pleased to travel down from Shrewsbury to London on Saturday, 18th May, to meet for lunch with Martin Preuveneers (JRGS 1958-65), pictured below on the right. Martin was over in the UK for one of his periodic visits from the USA. We first met for coffee and a chat at his London townhouse in Mayfair, before going to Corrigan’s in Mayfair for lunch.

We had an excellent meal and were able to put the World to Rights over a glass of red wine. Following that, in brilliant sunshine, we walked around Grosvenor Square to see the complex conversion works underway on the former American Embassy Building, which is Listed, as well as similar such works on several other buildings around the Square. It seems the ongoing rate of development and conversion work in London remains very high.
   After tea at Martin’s place I returned to Shrewsbury, but not before a short visit to The London Transport Museum in Covent Garden.

Richard "Tom" Thomas, Shrewsbury, Shropshire. May 2019 Email


 Karl Smith (JRGS 1946-51) recalls life and schoolrooms at Tamworth Road site...

It was most interesting to read a report on the 2019 Lunch Meeting and to know that there are plans to mark the centenary of the John Ruskin schools in Croydon. And also note that the Tamworth Road building drawings are still around.

JRGS Tamworth Road   I attended JRGS from December/January 1945/46 on my return to Croydon following my father's displacement to South Wales from October 1940 to November 1945 when he negotiated his return to Croydon Airport. Hence I attended the school from shortly after its change from Central to Grammar and was in the first year to sit the London General School Certificate Exam that superseded the Oxford ones; that was in 1948. I was also in the last year to sit these at Higher Schools Cert before the introduction of GCEs. During the later part of this time there was much interest in the feasibility of a new school to be purpose built at Shirley incorporating the old windmill into use.
   I've not been back to Croydon for at least 30 years but believe the old building, pictured right in 2001,  is still there; during my time it used three floors. On the ground floor were four classrooms, only one of which was used as a classroom – Form 1 under Miss "Fanny" Hickmott; another was the school kitchen. The others were used for Music and Woodwork, this latter under Mr. Chinnock. The centre of the building was a replica of the hall above on the first floor. This was fitted out as a Gymnasium with wall bars and turned into a Dining Hall for daily lunches. Since I lived only a mile away just the other side of Purley Way both I and my father cycled home for lunch every day, me from school, he from Croydon Airport, much about the same distance. Thus I never sampled the cuisine that emerged from that kitchen!
   Continuing my time there, Mr. McLeod was head initially and, although he retired not long after my arrival into Form 4 (where, like the Gym, Mr. Charles Smith reigned). I remember him as a fair man but, not being of any great athletic ability, was among those who, as he put it himself, thought him well to the right of Attila the Hun! Nevertheless, he did produce some very good Football and Cricket teams among whom I did not appear!
   In my years at JRGS Mr. "Joe" Lowe arrived as Mr. McLeod's successor, and I know that many of us did not exactly welcome the new, after all we had grown up with the older man and here was a young upstart from, I believe, somewhere 'Oop North - was it Southport? Doubtless we felt that we knew where we stood with the long serving Mac. [ML adds: Born in
Shrewsbury, John Christopher Lowe graduated in 1930 from the University of Birmingham and, prior to joining JRGS, served at schools in Derby, Willesden, Birmingham and Wallasey.

The school had two tarmac playgrounds, the larger facing Tamworth Road which afforded access to the building at two doorways. One of these was at ground level, between Music & Woodwork rooms, the other via a flight of steps to an intermediate level leading (a few steps up again) where the School Secretary’s office was located (Mrs. Vera Garwood for most of my time), through which two smaller rooms overlooking the rear yard. One of these was the Headmaster's Study, the other being used as Lower Sixth Common Room. In my year there were 13 of we lads using it. Being so close to Mr. Lowe meant that our misdeeds there were carried out quietly.
   Here my memory is a bit vague; I think of those rooms as being at a sort of intermediate level with yet more stairs up to more classrooms and the main school hall. Both upper and lower halls had windows facing the rear playground. The shaded location of this and the overlooking by the Head's study meant this was little used except for waste bins and service access to the kitchen etc at that lowest level. I’m not sure now but it may have housed cycle sheds as well. Anyway, continuing, it was here that a good sized pre-fab concrete building appeared in my time. This was to house a new Chemistry Lab for Mr. "Percy" Pearman, who was well known for cycling to and from Mitcham every day, usually with a raincoat slung over his shoulder and puffing on his pipe! The other end was the Biology Lab where the late Mr. Reg Whellock reigned supreme from the commissioning of the building until long after my departure from the school. He didn't teach me but I was a frequent visitor to that lab because, as a Sixth Former, I wasn't necessarily kicked out of the building at break times and a few of my colleagues gathered in that lab at those times. My memory of Reg is a little mixed because I never really got the measure of him, he could be somewhat disconcerting unless you knew him well it was hard to know if he was being serious or humorous! With hindsight he was simply treating us as more adult than perhaps we really were. I've left it too late to find out.
   In between those labs was the Prep Room where apparatus was kept and the Lab Steward, Mr. McGrath, served two masters. The worst of my memories there stem from his activities on behalf of Reg Whellock, the most invasive of which was the boiling up of a cow's head in a tin bath that seemed to go on for ever, smelling awful the whole time!
   On the top (attic) floor were two Physics Labs, both under Mr. Chaundy. The larger of these was used entirely by the lower school, while the smaller one had its main use as Sixth Science Form Room, being occasionally used for teaching purposes with smaller groups, Sixth Form Arts lads had to use the library - a classroom off the Main Hall as their form room. Obviously, we Sixth Formers had to vacate our "private spaces" when they were needed by others, so for most of our lessons were used other rooms whose occupants were either in the Gym or at the Duppas Hill Playing Fields. Some of our Science Group sometimes left the odd surprise behind, such as an induction machine wired up to a brass door handle or a treacle tin filled with coal gas lit on top via small hole in the lid. This would be placed in one of the under-eaves cupboards to explode several minutes after the visiting lesson began. The Physics Lab steward, Mr. Ford, had a tiny room at one end of this level. Just outside of the smaller lab entry door was a landing area with a small sash window affording forbidden access to a roof valley; obviously lads would occasionally nip out there at lunchtimes only to discover that one of their classmates had closed – and locked the window!
   This may present a picture of life at Tamworth Road that was a bit earlier than most of the Alumni. I hope it proves of interest. For the record, I recall seeing a mention of a Mr. Baldwin as a short-term teacher at Shirley. That was the late Roy Baldwin who was in my years in the Sixth. He, in common with the practice at that time, moved from Archbishop Tennyson School in South Croydon to JRGS, because they could not be taught their chosen subjects at that level. Among others were Peter Heath and Anthony Nye, the latter last heard from about a year ago as Father Tony Nye, a Jesuit Priest based in London. Roy Baldwin and I had met before his arrival at JRGS, having begun our primary education at Waddon School on the same day in 1937 as rising five-year olds. After our reunion at John Ruskin we remained in contact until his sudden death a few years ago

Karl W. Smith, CEng., FRAeS, Heckington, Lincolnshire. May 2019 Email


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