Memories of the Fifties

[by Michael Smallman, 1947-1952]

     I started my school life at Shelthorpe Primary School in 1941, and at that time lived in our family home in Tuckers Road, Loughborough. I would walk to school each day through Burton Walks and look with envy at the boys who attended LGS, and further looked in awe at the wonderful school buildings, for even at the tender age of 8 or 9, I felt that the buildings were steeped in history. To see the school masters walking around the grounds with their gowns flowing in the wind made me think to myself, would I ever have the chance to attend such a school. My parents certainly could not afford the fees to send me privately for our family consisted of Mum, Dad and four children. However, because, thank God, the elevn plus system was in being at that time, it turned out that my sister, my brother and myself gained an 11 plus scholarship and the three of us attended the Endowed Schools.

     My first experience of meeting the then Headmaster, Mr. S.R.Pullinger, was while I was still at Shelthorpe Primary School. I was ordered to attend an interview with SRP as part of the process of selection for 11-plus candidates. I remember going into Tom Fielding's office, the Head of Shelthorpe School, and standing before this man about whom I had heard so many stories of his strict discipline and how he ran LGS and commanded so much respect from his staff and schoolboys. I thought how could this be, he was so small in stature, so thin, his complexion was sallow, he was wearing rim-less spectacles, and at my tender age of ten years old, and the war having just finished, he reminded me of the photographs of an SS officer that I had seen in the newspapers. This memory is so vivid of meeting this man for the first time, whereas previously I had only seen him at a distance from my daily journey through Burton Walks. However, within minutes I felt at ease, his quiet gentle reassuring manner of conducting the interview made it appear that I had known him for years. He asked me a variety of questions about my interests, my hobbies, my family life and my ambitions. I answered those questions in a plain and simple 10 year old schoolboy manner, said thank you Sir, and left the office. the next time I saw SRP was the day I started at the School in September 1947, when he addressed all the new boys in H1 and told them what was required of them, and that all members of the School were at all times ambassadors of the establishment. He said that boys of the School would be smartly dressed at all times, and although clothing rationing was still in being, the Head expected shoes to be polished and, wherever possible, grey trousers and coats were to be worn, and grey shirts with a School tie. The tie would be knotted with a standard knot, and 'Windsor' knots would not be allowed. Appearance would be clean and tidy, and whenever out of class, the School cap would be worn. A great deal of the clothing, tie, caps and school kit in general was available on a second hand basis through the school shop. Whenever a boy met a member of staff out of the school, the Headmaster informed us that we would "doff" our caps, greet the member of staff accordingly, and we would never eat food when in the streets. The school assembly each morning was held in H1, and when SRP entered the Hall and walked down the centre aisle the whole school was absolutely silent, you could hear a pin drop, the Headmaster was held in awe and respect.

     My first form master was Mr. Trowbridge, my form room 3C in the Barrow Block. 'Honest Troe' as he was known was a kind, gentle, sincere man who taught mathematics with so much patience. He gave all his boys nick-names and always referred to them as such ; he would rarely call you by your surname as was the practice in the rest of the school. He always referred to me as "Small", and I felt a glow of affection when he called out, "Well, Small, what is the answer to the problem ?" It sounded so much more friendly than "Smallman".

     I remember in my first year or two that the school had a number of new teachers who had come straight out of the Forces and returned to their chosen profession after the war. Such names as Harry Bowen, Bill Redden, Don Wood and Johnnie Boston spring to mind. Johnnie Boston was as mad as a March hare. He had just been de-mobbed from the RAF as a pilot. He had a large 'wizard prang' moustache and a completely bald head, he was over six feet tall and constantly spoke to us in RAF slang. He was a total character, he taught geography and the highlight of his classes was that he would occasionally issue out the National Geographical Magazine. In those days photographs of scantily dressed foreign ladies was a sight to behold.

     My second form master was Ernie Foxon. You could see your face in the toecaps of his shoes. He insisted on a shoe parade each morning, and I remember on many occasions polishing the front of my shoes on the back of my trousers, but forgetting the heels of my shoes. Ernie Foxon never missed looking at the heels. If they were dirty more than twice a week, then a detention followed.

     Then Harry Bowen became my form master, in the Lecture Room of the Chemistry Block. Harry and his famous 'rubber tubing'. He taught chemistry and physics with a threat of a wallop round the ears with his length of gas tubing, but the percentage of G.C.E. passes were high as a result of Harry's wonderful talent and teaching methods. I became a great friend of Harry Bowen many years after I had left school. He was an amazing man. I realised when I had left school that Harry taught me self discipline, he taught me to be self confident and above all, he taught me to use commonsense in approaching problems. I saw Harry and had a drink with him only three or four days before his death. When we had finished our four bottles of cold Pils I said to Harry, "Well, I must be going home now, I will see you soon." Harry was obviously not well, but with his smiling face and Welsh accent he said, "Yes, God willing, if I am still here." I never saw him again but I attended his funeral and felt proud that I had known such a great man. It was Harry who brought rugby football to the school, and, along with Dai Williams the P.E. teacher, the two Welsh wizards converted the school from soccer, and in a few short years produced rugby teams of which the school was proud.

     Then there were the lady teachers. We had three from my memory, Miss Topping, Mrs White and Mrs Mulcahy. The first two were kind and considerate, the sort that you could talk over problems with, especially Miss Topping who treated her boys as almost part of her family. However, I am glad that I was not in the clever stream who were taught Latin by Mrs Mulcahy. She was even more feared than Colin Tivey. They were great friends and probably the best customers at the White Horse at the town end of Victoria Street. Good friends and good teachers.

     Even in the years so soon after the war the sporting activities at the school were equally as good as the academic side. Rugby, cricket, athletics, swimming, gymnastics and tennis were all taught at the school. Whether the boy being taught was good, bad or indifferent the opportunity of taking part was there. In the Gym the favourite pastimes were 'pirates', 'British bulldog' and boxing, where everyone had to take part. Sometimes, of course, the boxing match was between best pals, but the idea was to teach not only how to look after yourself but gain the benefit of discipline. I recall that the swimming pool was open air, unheated, the edges of the pool were rough concrete, and the water almost filtered. But come what may, the pool opened on 1st. April each year, and everyone had to attend swimming classes from that date. If costumes were forgotten or lost as an excuse not to go in the pool, then you had to swim in the nude.

     Tennis was played on the quad in the summer, cricket played on the 1st eleven square for the school teams, and for us lesser mortals, played at Ten Acre. The perimeter of the first eleven pitch was used for athletics, and rugby played at Ten Acre. Cross country running seemed to be about every two or three weeks as part of a P.E. class. The sporting facilities were excellent during my time at school, and the competition between the School Houses, North, East, South and West, was severe but friendly and sportsmanlike. My Housemaster was Harry Murray who taught biology, and again my friendship with Buddy Murray lasted until the day that he passed away.

     The school also provided an extraordinary facility in the woodworking department. Bill Elloway was the teacher and his teaching methods relating to woodwork were second to none. I still use certain skills taught to me by him in woodwork and general household jobs. The standard of woodwork at the school was very high, and the design and workmanship was regularly exhibited at local craft shows when Mr. Elloway would proudly show off the skill of his pupils. On the Arts side of the school I recall two teachers, Mr. Pryer and Mr. Major. I regret that Art was not my forte, but I do remember that Len Major was an eccentric, but a fantastic artist. His life was dedicated to passing on his talent to his pupils wherever possible.

     Don Wood created the cadet force at school, and although I was never a member of his famous squad, I do recall the parades taking place in the huts adjacent to the South Block, and that the cadets seemed to look forward to the annual camp under his command. Don was my form master for one year, and the form room was T2 in the Tower Block. I was dared by some of my form to climb out of the window on to the small balcony facing Leicester Road. I took on the challenge, but just before Don came into the room, one of the form members closed the window and I was left out on the balcony and remained there in hiding for the whole period when Don was teaching the class German.

     My time at school was enjoyable although we had to attend on Saturday mornings. Sports periods were on Wednesday and Saturday afternoons, and so we were at school six days a week. Even so I always felt sad at the start of the school holidays and a sense of excitement upon the return to school and meeting the form members.