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 John Walker (JRGS 1958-65) recalls positive & negative aspects of school life...

I have recently come across John Byford (JRGS 1959-66), who directed me towards the site, which I found totally absorbing. Thanks for all your efforts in getting it up and running.
   I attach below some thoughts/anecdotes/ramblings that The Alumni might find interesting. Some of it is a bit negative – but it’s overwhelmingly positive – so, warts and all, I think it represents what I think of the old school.
   I see John occasionally via CPFC. I’m probably up for The Reunion, but will have to check on other diary and holiday arrangements before committing. I have odd scraps of memorabilia, but nothing that would interest a wider audience too much, I think. I’ll have a rummage around and check out.

Life at JRGS, Upper Shirley Road
I started as a "brat" in Mr. "Spike" Hancock's class in the music room in 1958 and left Ruskin seven years later, heading for Southampton University. The period between was fairly mixed. My recollections are pretty patchy and I lost all contact with former old boys within a few years of leaving, until I came across two, in very different circumstances more recently.
   On the down side, I didn't enjoy my first five years at Ruskin very much, and consequently only scrapped together the minimum qualification to join the Sixth. I didn't appreciate the faux minor public school affectations (masters in gowns, the ACF, Latin carols at Christmas and optional boaters for summer headwear, etc.). My impression is that the school was a cold, bullying institution, unsurprisingly dominated by a strong macho culture. One consequence was that I was determined that no sons of mine would be educated in single-sex institutions!
   I didn't enjoy getting the slipper from the likes of Mr. "Piggy" Graham for forgetting items of P.E. kit, nor did I appreciate the terror regimes of Mr. "Rhino" Rees' and Mr. "Hooky" Maggs' Latin classes, which ended up with the rote learning of such uninspiring tomes as Caesar's Gallic Wars and Flewitt and Pantin's miscellany of Latin poetry.
   I hated cross country runs over Shirley Hills and didn't much care for the aloofness of Mr. "Joe" Lowe. I found the proselytizing evangelism of some of the staff, notably Mr. John Atkins (who I know has his fans on this site) objectionable. I'm not sure whether my lifelong atheism has been a response!
   So much for the negatives.

A Positive Experience in Sixth Form

On the up side, I really appreciated the infectious enthusiasm of some of the 'masters' I experienced in the lower school, notably Mr. "Fred" Field, whose English and Drama lessons were a captivating delight. (I appeared in some of his junior dramatic society productions.) I enjoyed history very much, with teachers such as Mr. "Jack" Rhodes (who I believe got his nickname as an homage to the great Ray Charles number Hit The Road, Jack).
   Life at Ruskin for me, however, really took off in the Sixth, when I felt we were treated with respect and as individual human beings for the first time. I was particularly privileged to have been taught by a small number of staff, who had a lasting influence on me. By far the most significant was Mr. Alan "Ego" Murray, whose love and appreciation of history, but more importantly whose compassion and humanity shone like a beacon in the school (perhaps an echo of 'when the light of truth is fading' etc.). He was principled, kindly and keen to foster and encourage whatever trace of talent he saw in his pupils. I particularly appreciated the 15 Society, which he sponsored and inspired.
   He was supported by a younger historian, Mr. Jones, whose Roman Britain lessons I enjoyed greatly. I was inspired by the economics lessons of Messrs Akroyd and Tucker. This was the first time I felt even vaguely connected to any subject matter I encountered at Ruskin! Mr. Colin Tucker soon moved on to teach economics at the South Bank Poly, where I met up with him for a pint or two a couple of times after we had both left Ruskin. I must say his warm welcome was in very sharp contrast to the cold shoulder I got from "Joe" on the only time I visited the school after I had left.
   One sixth-form recollection was the Mock Election of October 1964. I stood as the Labour Candidate. As luck would have it, the Labour candidate in Streatham in the election proper was Jim Walker - a Croydon councillor (and no relation). I was able to scrounge some posters and leaflets of his and so flood the school with Vote Walker, Vote Labour material. To my considerable surprise, I was victorious in what I regarded as a very conservative institution. For some reason the school election was held the day before the national contest, so my "agent", Alan Clark, and I rushed to Croydon and phoned the news desks of Fleet Street's finest ("Was this a sign of things to come?", we asked breathlessly).
   We dutifully bought all copies of the next day's papers and, unsurprisingly, received no coverage, except a single paragraph in the Daily Worker! In this pre-photocopy era, we promptly bought all the copies we could lay our hands on (about half a dozen) and stuck the newspaper cutting on some school notice boards. I got carpeted by "Joe" for my troubles and threatened with all kinds of sanctions, for having contacted the press without his prior approval.

Life after JR Grammar School

As I've said, I quickly lost contact with other Ruskinites, and almost my only connection with Croydon for some decades now has been my regular pilgrimages to Selhurst Park, where I continue to have a long-term season ticket for Crystal Palace. (I sold programmes there for a number of years, while at Ruskin.) I have managed to pass the Palace virus on to my two sons, who join me regularly, despite having no other connection whatsoever with the Croydon area (glory-hunters!).
   After Ruskin, I spent four happy years at Southampton University, where I took a degree in Modern History, Politics and Economics, followed by a Post Graduate Teaching Certificate. I then took an M.A. in Social History at Warwick. Then, the world of work. I headed north and taught Politics and History at Rochdale Technical College, to a range of mature students. I spend rather more of my time there, however, co-editing Rochdale's Alternative Paper (RAP) - which was hard work and a very considerable eye-opener into what makes small town life tick.
   I returned to London in 1980 and spent five years in trade union research and publishing. The pressing demands of (then) two young kids and a mortgage to service lead me to seek more lucrative employment. I spent a decade or so heading up the marketing and communications functions of Haringey and Brent Councils. This stood me in good stead to setup a couple of consultancies, which have been pretty successful and so have enabled me to drift into semi-retirement, now.
   I currently live in East London, a couple of miles from the emerging Olympic Stadium and married (for the first time) last April. I enjoy travel and have spent a fair amount of time in both the US and Africa over recent years, which has enabled me to indulge my passion for blues music, first nurtured in my Ruskin days, when listening to the likes of Howlin' Wolf, Muddy Waters and Sonny Boy Williamson on the juke box at Under the Olive Tree in South Croydon. All a rather long way from "Spike's" music room, both geographically and culturally!

John Walker, Forest Gate, East London. March 2009 Email


 Richard Thomas (JRGS 1957-64) discovers a vintage image from December 1964...

Xmas 1964Here, shown left, is an image that was passed to me by Ian Macdonald (JRGS 1958-65) and a scan of which also was sent to me separately by John Whittington (JRGS 1962-65).
  Taken in December 1964, the picture shows a gathering of school prefects in the Prefects' Room (Division Room "A") along the Sixth Form corridor.
Front Row (seated): John Wheal, Cliff Preddy, Ian Davies, Graham Fentiman, John Whittington.
Middle Row: Ian Macdonald, Stephen Lander, Richard ("Tom") Thomas, Bob Askew, Bob Hawkins, Ian Castro, Paul H. Green
Top Row: Richard (Dick) Marsh, Alan White.
   The "CCC" legend on the cushion refers to Christmas Cromagnon Convention which, according to Ian Davies (JRGS 1958-65), was the name we gave to the Christmas school dance. "In previous years," Ian recalls, "the school dance had been a very stiff and formal affair, with waltzes and fox trots being the order of the day. Formal invitations were only sent to appropriate girls' schools of the right standing in the community - Croydon High, Coloma etc. Music must have been provided by a dance band composed of geriatrics.
   "Growing up in the era of The Beatles and Rolling Stones, and with fellow pupils like John Cobley and Bob Hawkins educating us in the Blues with Sonny Boy Williamson, Muddy Waters, Sonny Terry & Brownie Magee, and Lightning Hopkins, we were all self-styled rebels (to differing degrees).
   "I was determined to break the mould and somehow persuaded the headmaster, Mr. "Joe" Lowe, to support this radical innovation for a contemporary dance (for sure supported by Alan Murray at staff level, and Cliff Preddy amongst my fellow conspirators).
   "The central design theme was a paper mache Brontosaurus, which was made in the art department (about 20-foot long) with Mr. "Vic" Gee's support, and then carried down to the school hall. The dinosaur was then placed in the centre of the room (hence Cromagnon).
   "I think I was inspired by the Natural History Museum display in South Kensington. (In a later life, one of the best parties I ever organised, was for a 1,000-plus architects and designers, dancing and drinking around the Natural History Museum dinosaur display, when I was Chairman of Designers Saturday in London.)
   "Music was provided by a band who were close friends of Cliff Preddy, where one of the musicians was Alan unknown, who was also studying at Ruskin.
   "My main memories of the night were Mr. "Joe" Lowe being quite horrified at the whole spectacle and giving me a very stern talking to - it was not what he was expecting! I was then taken on one side by I think the head of the English Department, (Ron Woodard?) who was always very supportive, and assuring me that this was the first step of taking the school towards popular culture and I was right to have made a stand.
   "Finally, the following week, we walked the paper mache Brontosaurus down the road to Purley Oaks, where at the time, there was a charity school."

   Ian’s comprehensive background to the School Dance - The Christmas Cromagnon Convention - was very interesting; I had not heard all of that before. The only small correction I would offer was that the dinosaur was a Stegosaurus - the type with two close but parallel rows of plate-like features extending down its spine. (It was otherwise similar in body shape to a Brontosaurus.)
   I am certain that the photo was taken on the last day of school (or perhaps last but one) after the dance had been held and after we had taken the Stegosaurus down to the “Shirley Schools”. I remember that Brian Lee and I carried the Steg in turn with others. We actually “walked it” by carrying it from within the body and the two pairs of legs were carried separately. I think that there were not enough of us available to carry all of the Steg’s appendages and I think the four items in the picture are parts we did not take to the “Shirley Schools”.

ACF Shoot coaching - 1966  Shown right is an image passed to me by Ian Macdonald and which was taken in 1966 at Bisley, where he was coaching the Surrey ACF Shooting Team. Left-to-right: unknown, Steve Collin, Ian Macdonald, Russell and unknown. Click on the thumbnail to view a larger version.
   "I coached both Steve Collin and
Russell - the latter got first place in the National Cadets' shooting competition at Bisley," Ian recalls. "I believe that both of the others were at Ruskin and all were from SW London ACF, having previously been 1st Battalion Queen's Royal Surrey Regiment."

Richard "Tom" Thomas, Shrewsbury, Shropshire. March 2009 Email

Cliff Preddy (JRGS 1963-65) adds: The band that played at the Christmas Cromagnon Convention was The Desperados. The John Ruskin upper sixth-former who played bass guitar for them was Alan Shove. Alan and I have remained close friends since meeting at John Newnham School and moving on to John Ruskin together for sixth-form studies.

Alan Shove (JRGS 1963-65) confides: Yes it was me! As the least talented of the group I was relegated to bass guitar and was never allowed to sing (thankfully). I am still in touch with two other group members who continue to play guitar but many miles apart. Cliff Preddy was a follower only; his talents lay in other directions.

Bob Hawkins (JRGS 1958-64) adds: Whilst on the subject of incidents in that Division Room "A," does anyone remember an incident with the door handle, a recording device and a certain Welsh Latin master? The phrase "Oh my hat!" sticks in my mind to this day.

Richard Thomas comes clean: Having, at that time, long since dropped out of Latin, I was not present at the incident, but I recall being told about another event involving Mr. "Rhino" Rees.
   One of our number had made an explosive in the Chemistry Lab that came out of solution on a filter paper and which, on drying, took the form of “sensitive” crystals. The filter paper was left to dry on the radiator in the Prefects' Room (Division Room "A") and "Rhino" happened to take a lesson in there. As the filter paper dried, it slid off of the radiator and hit the floor, making a muffled explosion. "Rhino" noticed, but I believe that fortunately he thought the noise had come from outside – otherwise a truly monumental explosion would have occurred!
Ian  Davies (JRGS 1958-65) adds:  It may be that my memory is not totally accurate, or has embellished the story over time, but my recollection is that the headmaster was taking prayers at the final assembly in the school hall, and a group of fifth formers, who were leaving that day, staged a schoolboy prank.
   At the time, The Dave Clark Five were riding high in the charts with "Glad all Over", where we would stamp our feet and clap our hands in time with the beat of music.
  As I recall, at the end of prayers and at the close of the school year, someone called out: "Hey, what are you doing over there in the corner?"
   The reply came from a small group of boys who were about to leave "We're... (clap, clap, stamp, stamp)... feeling Glad All Over!"
   The boys were then quickly identified and promptly expelled, even though they had technically already left the school.
   Does anyone remember this episode? Or is it just a good story that some of us speculated about doing, but never actually had the courage to do?

Paul Graham (JRGS 1959-66) adds: Thanks for these great memories, especially to Ian Davies for reminding me about Steg and the CCC, as well as paving the way for a new era of annual school dances (as they used to be quaintly called).
   The following year, Xmas 1965, I was School Captain, and it fell to me to help maintain the modernization. I’m sure Roger Searle must have been involved too – is that right Roger? Despite being unmusical and socially backward I remember negotiating with JCL and (if my memory isn't playing tricks) having some arrangement with Coloma Girls School over the road. I'm sure John Turner would remember more, as I am convinced that he arranged for a group called Paul and the Christians to play that year. I remember that the reasoning was that the “Christians” part of it would mollify JCL’s fears of a further slide to moral chaos after 1964. I seem to recall Booker T’s Green Onions being one of the numbers played. I realise some of you would have left JRGS by then, but I’d welcome further memories. I wonder if the event continued in 1966 and beyond.

Maurice Whitfield (JRGS 1959-66) adds: Richard Thomas, Cliff Preddy and Alan Shove have excellent memories. The band definitely was called The Desperados and I thought included me, perhaps on drums or guitar, and also Andrew Jackson on guitar, but memories can deceive. I don't recall the other members. (I still play bass guitar to this day with my band Big Road.) Was there a disco as well?
   The wire and papier mache dinosaur was modeled on a Stegosaurus. and was a large construction, at least seven feet high and visible from the playground in the Art Room windows. It was just like this one shown left. I think it was constructed in parts so it would go through the Art Room door. It required a real team effort to make and I remember myself and Julian Smalley being involved, among others.
   Interestingly, it was my first real attempt at working in 3-D and, in fact, two years later I was doing a Dip.A.D. at Chelsea School of Art specialising in Sculpture. Mr. "Vic" Gee was a wonderful teacher, but even more a mentor and an enabler. His approach remained an inspiration to me over the following 40 years during my own career as a Teacher of Art in London.
   Yes, I recall we rolled it on wheels, perhaps the caretaker's trolley, falling apart somewhat, down Shirley Road. I am certain there was a picture of this in the Croydon Advertiser.
   The dance was probably pretty chaotic and the band amateurish. Many of us no doubt had had a few! But the atmosphere was good and a general sense of achievement was felt among the participants. I remember the event as being hazy and psychedelic! Poor Mr. Lowe must have been on the verge of a heart attack!
   I'd love to hear from anyone who could correct or enhance my recollections of this event.

Cliff Preddy reflects: I rather doubt that many of us had “had a few”. My recollection is that Mr. Lowe had exceptionally strong views on the subject of alcohol, and probably wouldn’t have allowed alcohol or anybody who had been near alcohol that evening onto the premises.

Richard Thomas ends the correspondence: Further to Maurice’s comments I confirm that at least Brian Lee and I stood inside the body of the Steg and literally “walked” it for part, if not all of the way to the “Shirley Schools”. Regarding the “walking” of the Steg and other memories which have been emailed, on page 14 of the 1965 School Magazine, there is a "Prefectorial" article which, I assume, Ian Davies wrote. It includes the words "Many have slept in Div Room A under the auspices of the title, Prefect, although since the departure of Tom and Woxig it has been easier to hear the radio."
   Questions - was I that noisy? (OK, yes) and who was "Woxig"? Also, I think the word "auspices" was deliberately included since Mr. "Joe" Lowe always liked to use it when announcing club and society meetings in assembly. The article goes on to say: "The Dance was also highly successful although reports that a six-legged monster was seen along the Wickham Road are refuted for political reasons." That is a reference to the Steg being "walked" to the "Shirley Schools". The next notable sentence is: "Then over Christmas the handle came loose, and we were proud to record the result." This corresponds to Bob Hawkins’ memory include above, and Ian Macdonald’s confession!


 Maurice Whitfield (JRGS 1959-66) unearths History A-Level papers from 1966...

These GCE A-Level examination papers are seven and nine pages long, respectively. The syllabus we pursued then with Mr. Alan "Eggo" Murray, the History Teacher, is all contained within the first three pages of each, as best I remember. Click on any thumbnail to view a large version and here to view a PDF file.
   The doodles are my own. I did badly at History A-Level; but okay in Art - an "A" - and English Literature - a "B".

History IIA  A-Level - 1966 History IIA  A-Level - 1966 History IIA  A-Level - 1966
History III  A-Level - 1966 History III  A-Level - 1966 History III  A-Level - 1966

All material ©1966 University of London, All rights reserved. Reproduced under Fair-Use Doctrine for research.

Maurice Whitfield, Woodside Green, London SE25 Email

John Byford (JRGS1959-66) adds: Thanks for a sight of these. Some of the questions would challenge even the smartest kids on the block today; back in 1966 Mr. Murray's tuition would have guaranteed that Ruskin boys would have sailed through with flying colours. While Mr. Murray taught us British and European History there was no teacher to teach us Roman Britain (or did we have a novice Latin teacher?); it was very much self- taught.. Mr. Murray told me that my Grade "B" would have been an "A" with a proper teacher for Roman Britain. C'est la vie.


 Richard Thomas (JRGS 1957-64) unearths a copy of the 1923 school magazine...

1923 school magAt Christmas, a long-standing family friend, Dawn Platt, sent me an old photocopy of the John Ruskin School Magazine for February 1923.
   Click on the thumbnail left to view a PDF version. [Caution: This is a large 790 KByte file.]
   The photocopy had previously been sent to Dawn by her Uncle Bert (Herbert) Wilson, who attended our school in the Twenties. On page 8 there is a cross that he put beside his name to indicate where his swimming successes were reported.MP + RT + IM at Chesterfield Hotel, London

   And on Friday, 19th December, 2008, Martin Preuveneers (JRGS 1958-65), Ian Macdonald (JRGS 1958-65) and myself met in London at the Chesterfield Hotel, Mayfair. This was the first time we had met in over 40 years. At some time during a good lunch and the following few hours of reminiscing, the idea of the September 2009 Ruskin Reunion was born.
   In the photo shown right are (left-to-right) Martin, Tom and Ian.

Richard "Tom" Thomas, Shrewsbury, Shropshire. February 2009 Email

Paul Graham (JRGS 1959-66) adds: The 1923 magazine is a time capsule from another era. Written only four years after the school’s foundation, much of it now seems as remote to us as Tom Brown’s School Days. Mr. Field, the first head teacher, seeks parents’ support in his aim that “boys should leave this school able to speak their own language in a refined manner … and with an accent free of the cockneyisms which are so prevalent in the neighbourhood”. The number of pupils is up to 400.
   Staff departures are Mr. Palmer and Mr. Mayhew, and newcomers are Mr. H Y Light, Mr. W Reynolds, Mr. A J Oakeley and Mr. Furmston, but I wonder whether any pupils now alive remember them?
   Football is played at the school ground at Lodge Road and also on Duppas Hill. The article on cycling states that “the three-speed gear is gaining in popularity”. A “reliable and efficient (valve) wireless set can be made for £2”. A butterfly enthusiast suggests visiting Banstead or Oxted with a net and an ammonia pot.


 Alan Maynell (JRGS 1957-62) follows the provenance of a book by John Ruskin...

"Sesame & Lilies" - John RuskinMy wife, Ingeborg, was brought up in Kenya, where she lived with her grandmother, Dorothy Hilman Hale. Mrs. Hale was one of the early settlers and later successful ranchers there, and actually bought part of Karen Blixen's farm there - see "Out of Africa".
   Looking through some of the items that have been handed down, to our astonishment we found that we are the owners of a leather-bound version of Sesame and Lilies by John Ruskin. Click on thumbnail left to view a larger version.

   From what I have been able to glean from the Internet, it is an early version since it only contains two chapters.
   The first page states that it is from "The Queens Library of Literary Treasures". The next is the title page, which includes the name: Siegle, Hill & Co 2,Langham Place, Regent St W.
   The book is about as good a condition as could be. It is likely that the book was taken to Africa; first South Africa and then Kenya by Ingeborg´s grandmother.
   What does The Alumni know about such a discovery? Does anyone know about any collection of Ruskin works?

Paul Graham (JRGS 1959-66) adds: I used Google.co.uk and found this entry and this one. Interested Alumni can read the whole of Sesame and Lilies here. The book was first published in 1964/65. There is also an entry about John Ruskin on Wikipedia. If Alan’s book only contains two chapters, I would have said it’s more likely to be a later edition, a sort of sampler. The German-language website URL above says that the Siegle, Hill & Co edition was published in 1910.

John Byford (JRGS 1959-66 - formerly with the British Library): I am minded to agree with Paul that the item is "a sort of sampler". The British Library has some items from "The Queens Library of Literary Treasures" series, including Alan's Sesame and Lilies, all bar one published in 1910, suggesting that it was a short lived and unprofitable venture on the part of the publisher. I have located copies for sale [for $150 and $192, respectively].

Alan Maynell, Sierra de Bedar, Almeria Province, Spain, February 2009 Email


 Norman Day (JRGS 1960-66) recalls a school trip in 1961 to Spain...

I took these pictures during a school trip to Spain in 1961, when I was 12. They are not very good quality, although they're evocative for me at least! It was an amazing trip in many ways – mainly I think due to the "liberal" tendencies of that excellent master, Mr. "Jim" Crowe, and another whose name I don’t recall but who, I believe, also came from the English department. We were given what now seems a surprising amount of freedom. For example, a blind eye seems to have been turned to all the wine we openly consumed! However, no one actually got drunk and abused that privilege that I remember. Click on any thumbnail to view  a larger version.

School trip to Spain - 1961 School trip to Spain - 1961 School trip to Spain - 1961
Bob Dixon, R. Stokes and unknown, the mystery occupant of the hotel room. R. Stokes about to go native
with a flamenco.
Some heavy criticism meted out
by R. Dixon on R. Stokes.
(They were good friends really.)
School trip to Spain - 1961 School trip to Spain - 1961
A cultural excursion with Mr. "Jim" Crowe taking
the lead. Odd isn’t it, how we called each other by
our surnames but were on first name terms with
some of the teachers!
The audience: Mr. "Jim" Crowe is on the far right.
Yours truly is sitting to the left of the curiously
overdressed women (who she?), with - I think - Golding
on my left (apparently boozing). The other faces are
familiar but now nameless to me.

From the evidence of the photos there was also a female chaperone (possibly one of the master’s wives?) but I don’t really remember her - perhaps she was actually a guide? I certainly remember a woman taking us round the cathedral. Anyway, no one stopped Dixon, Stokes and I sneaking out of the hotel in the evening to drink Muscatel in a cafe on occasion – though we were a bit wary of Franco’s heavily armed police! As far I know, we were not breaking any contemporary Spanish law (nor indeed were the ones looking after us) with our consumption of wine. Also we bought the wine ourselves quite openly, so there couldn’t have been that much.
   I suppose we were treated very much, as if we were on holiday at a time when foreign holidays, particularly to Spain, were just taking off. However, we travelled by ferry and the famous Blue Train across France after an overnight stopover in Paris (with a coach tour of that city). There were many educational aspects to the trip, of course. As well as trips to the Costa Brava and a gory bullfight, there was an excursion to the astonishing Barcelona cathedral, to a Montserrat monastery and other cultural future tourist traps.
   The most unexpected (and enlightened) idea, however, was when the masters took us to see a "real slum". It was optional and we were warned. Sometimes I can still see that naked suffering as I can smell that open sewer running down the middle of the street. This experience must have done that grubby lower-middle-class soul some good and some others I think! What the poor residents thought of us though can only be imagined of course.
   These photos were originally put up on FriendsReunited.co.uk (before The Mill site grew up) and these captions were adapted from the ones I appended there.
   Perhaps some of my fellow travelers might care to comment on these images.

Derek Charlwood (JRGS 1958-64) adds: In the photo with the rather elegant lady above right, I believe that the boy sitting second from left as we look, leaning forward, wearing a blazer, is Derek Chase. However he would have been a year or two older than Norman Day, joining JRGS at the same time as me, in 1958.
   Also the photo in the school library with Martin Nunn, the boy at the back with the big quiff of blond hair is, I believe, Richard "Humph" Humphries.

Norman Day, Markyate, near St. Albans, Hertfordshire. January 2009 Email.


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