Terry White (JRGS 1951-57) recalls school life in the early Fifties…
I was born in Woking, Surrey, on December 2nd. 1940 - my Mum having been
sent down there because of the Nazi Blitz on London. Wentworth Road,
Broad Green, West Croydon, off Canterbury Road, was where my Mum and her
family lived, and Zion Road, Thornton Heath, for my Dad and his family.
We moved to Wentworth Road when things questioned down a bit. After I
passed my scholarship from West Thornton School (Boston Road), my Nan
gave me 10/- - a huge amount, considering that I was paid the same
amount for my first weekly wage five years later at Allders store in
Croydon. Two of my Mum's brothers had been to John Ruskin School, so my
going there was viewed with interest by them, to say the least.
My first-year 1R form master at the Tamworth Road site, was Mr. Richardson ("Bon"), one of the French teachers. He always called you by your French equivalent, where possible. I was called "Blanc' - but that was later changed to "Blank" when my lack of aptitude came to light. I can remember the difference in school uniforms - the better-off boys' had gabardine worsted blazers and trousers; the less well-off had woolen ones. The latter wore well but were a pig when wet. I lived less than 10 minutes away from the school by bike, so I cycled to and from on most occasions. Later, after friendships were established, we might meet on the bus for a change. There was also the annual Oxford versus Cambridge Boat Race scrap in the playground, and the occasional Conservative versus Labour "do's".
For the first three school years we were referred to as "Brats" by the more senior boys. When was the shape of the school badge changed - the original was much more attractive?
The teacher I took most to was Mr. Warne, who taught French and PT. He was always relaxed - hardly ever out of his track suit - and used to throw bits of chalk at anyone not paying attention in class, whilst he sat there with his feet up on the desk! Mr. Chinnock, the woodwork master, had a favourite saying: "Now, boys, come round my bench", which we did - to the awful smell of wood glue bubbling away. What a gentleman he was. My Mum thought that my attempt at a teapot stand was waste wood and nearly chucked it on the fire!
I remember Mr. Fisher, dark and mysterious, not one of our French teachers, and Mr. "Spike" Hancock, our music ("tadpoles on lines") teacher. To my parents' dismay, I had given up piano lessons before I got to JRGS; I was very good but for some reason I never showed any interest at the school. Mr. "Wally" Cracknell, was our English-language teacher; we thought that he was a dead ringer for "Chalkie", the headmaster in the Giles cartoons. He used to try and catch us not working by wandering out of the classroom and then suddenly appear looking through the door window at the rear of the room. Mr. "Smuts" Smith took us on our games trips down Coombe Road when the school moved to the Shirley site; at Tamworth Road the games field was a trek to Duppas Hill. I never saw Mr. Smith in his gown and mortar at school events. He always seemed a bit uptight, but put on ballroom dancing lessons during lunch break, which were great fun. Mr. "Puncher" Pearce was our Maths teacher. He knew my old headmaster at West Thornton and brooked no slacking from me. He referred to us as "scallywags". Mr. "Egghead" Murray, was our English History teacher, another personable chap.
Our European History teacher was Mr. "Chico" Culcheth; he had a sort of mid-Atlantic accent and I loved the subject. His gesticulations when explaining something on the blackboard, resembled a modern-day TV weather person. Mr. "Rhino" Rees was our Latin teacher, heavy-set and smoked like a chimney. Mr. Badcock was our science/physics master and also the Commander of the Army Cadet Force which, to his chagrin, I declined to join. Mr. "Percy" Pearman was the Chemistry teacher. Mr. "Knacker" Neale was our English Literature teacher - a good man, but we teased him a bit. Mr. "Vic" Gee was our Art master. At Tamworth Road, if the weather permitted, we used to trek down to Wandle Park for some of our lessons. "Vic" was a brilliant artist and a real friend. There was another, younger, Mr. Murray, who took PT. He also established an after-school jazz club where we could bring records along and discuss the merits thereof. He was a fan of Dennis Lotis, I believe, and also married to Patricia Bredin, the UK's first Eurovision Song Contest representative. She came to the school on several occasions which, I must admit, caused the hormones to rumble. Mr. "Dad" Peacock was our Geography master and also brooked no slackers. A great teacher of his subject, field day trips out into the sticks around Caterham were terrific.
In fact, Mr. Peacock, Mr. Gee, both History teachers and Mr. Neale contributed the most to my post-JRGS interests and activities.
When at Tamworth Road, we used to meet up with the girls from Old Palace School in Croydon, and try to avoid the "enemy" from Whitgift Boys' Grammar - not always successfully. By the time we moved to Shirley, friendships had been cemented; some boys had left and others joined. I travelled to school more often by bus - the 130 - rather than bike.
As a youngster, I used to walk up to Shirley Hills with my friends and play on and in the ruined Windmill - our Mums would have had a fit if they'd seen the antics we got up to. The Hills themselves had those places where we could eat our sandwiches and not hear any traffic. Great days. So, seeing the renovated Windmill in the school grounds - which was utilised for the school stores - was really interesting. We were allowed out at lunchtime to "train" on the Hills but, in fact, we used to look out for girls from Coloma Convent Catholic Girls School that had moved from Croydon to a site opposite JRGS at Shirley. We were soon caught, though, so that little escapade soon came to an end; no St. Trinian's there.
One unfortunate aspect of my surname was that the form was divided into groups of three and, on a rota basis, we had to take measurements and readings from the weather station at the end of the field behind the school. We, being "W", always copped the Winter months and the mud.
I enjoyed the games and gym periods, some of which were held in that field where we were encouraged to try things like discus throwing, shot putt and pole vault - a danger to anyone nearby! We were allowed to practice tennis down at the Shirley Park Hotel courts ... once. Apparently, we didn't leave a very good impression. The trek down Coombe Road to the games field opposite Lloyd's Park, was always a laugh and those with 'bikes had it easy.
Despite our headmaster, Mr. 'Joe' Lowe, not being a very enthusiastic promoter of sports, JRGS had some very good sports personalities - "Hairy" Pike being one - a brilliant swimmer. I did manage to make it into the school football team as goalie. We got to the final and played on Crystal Palace's ground at Selhurst Park. We lost 2-1 to Ashburton School. Gamma was my House, (Yellow) and along with Beta House, (Blue), we usually came third or last in any school sports activities. Alpha (Red) and Delta (Green), were always vying for first place.
When reaching the hallowed heights of the fifth form, the sixth formers allowed us to partake in some of their extra-curricular activities - one of which was being let up, on occasion, into their hideaway 'den' in the roof above "Wally" Cracknell's English Language room. I can distinctly remember one of our form members - Freddy Robello - playing happily on his ukulele to our "seniors". Did "Wally" ever find out? About a month before we finally left JRGS, there was a "future employment selection meeting" with a number of local firms on the lookout for suitable employees: solicitors, bankers and the like. How privileged we were to be given that opportunity.
Well, there is much more I could relate but at this point it's worth winding up with my last couple of days at JRGS. Some members of our class (5R), decided to make a "show" on our last day. We hatched a plan to make a life-sized stuffed dummy and a couple of flags, with which to decorate the school buildings. Three or four of us met in the school grounds late in the evening of the penultimate day. The windmill was unlocked - a sign of the times - so we went up the stairs inside to the top of the mill and out to the rear of the wooden wagon top. Tying a bucket handle to a rope around the dummy's neck, we threw out the handle, which caught on a metal strut of the windmill sail. Gently letting go of the dummy, it swung out and hung from the sail. The flags - rather unkindly in hindsight - we fixed to a pole on top of the roof of "Vic" Gee's art room. Someone rang the local newspaper early next morning - either The Advertiser or The Times, letting them know that a "body" was hanging from the Windmill. Headmaster "Joe" Lowe jumped onto it immediately and any cameras spotted were confiscated, film removed and the press informed of the "scam". I don't if any photographs were printed, because school pride was at stake. It was a treat, therefore, when we were all gathered in the school hall for the last full assembly, watching through the windows at the school grounds man trying to get the dummy down with a window pole!
I am to be found in the 1956 school photograph shown right, standing in the back row, eighth from he fold, strangely without a tie.
If any of the "Team" are out there, or any of 5R, I'd love to hear from you. As a footnote, I moved up to North Shields, on the River Tyne, in 2000 and our local pub, The Magnesia Bank, was/is directly opposite from my old workplace. I was in there on New Year's Eve, 2002 and got chatting to a friend. He said, "Let me introduce you to Richard, the proprietor." To cut a long story short, his name was Richard Slade; he was from Croydon and he went to JRGS - two forms below me! And so did his older brother. Now, how small is the world?
Terry White, North Shields, Tyne and Wear; January 2021 Email