Schooling in another era

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The other week I wrote an article about Wheelwright Boys’ Grammar School and showed a photograph kindly loaned by Graham Nicholls who started at the school in 1963.

At the time, I didn’t have space for all of his happy recollections but this week I am able to finish where I left off.

It was a wet September morning 50 years ago when Graham started at Wheelwright and he remembers sheltering with many other pupils under the overhanging tree branches in Birkdale Road. He recalls that the main entrance doors had stained glass panels and when he walked through them for the first time he found a different world emerging.

In putting together his memories, Graham enlisted the help of some of his old school friends to find out what they also remembered.

The following is a combination of their memories, written by Graham, starting on the first day he arrived at Wheelwright:

“Some sixty-odd new pupils were shepherded into the hall supervised by the ‘prefs’ (school prefects) who were much older and clearly recognised by their distinctive tie.

“The school leaving age was 15 but when entering Wheelwright you stayed until you were at least 16 and would sit the GCE O Level examinations, and possibly until 18 or 19 having taken “A” levels.

“The ‘prefs’ were the latter, and there was a huge variance between a new boy who had recently passed his 11 plus and a prospective university candidate.

“After a short introduction, the school secretary, Miss Mills (Nancy as she was known), read out the names of boys who were then divided into three classes and shown to their form rooms by the prefects.

“First year forms that year were; Form 3 situated in Classroom C4 with ‘Gobby’ Smith as its form master; Form 2A in Classroom C6 with “Knuckles Newberry” as its form master, and Form 2B in the Manual Room with ‘Killer’ Kaye as its form master.

“That first day pupils were given their timetables for the forthcoming year and lessons began in earnest with text and exercise books being issued promptly.

“Homework was new to all of us, and usually homework during the first week began with ‘backing’ text books.

“Everyone was issued with a Bible, dictionary and hymn book which they kept throughout all their school life.

“Fountain pens were the only writing instrument allowed instead of pencils, previously the norm at Junior School. The new biros were strictly forbidden.

“For the very first time pupils had separate masters for individual subjects with core subjects being English, Mathematics and French. Other subjects studied were Geography, History and Art with Scripture, Games and Gym being compulsory.

“Form 3 – the fast stream (they took their O Level examinations a year early) also started Latin and Physics, not normally started until the second year.“Form 2B in addition took handicrafts on a Saturday morning.

“You were now in the system, and it didn’t take very long to familiarise oneself with the surroundings and rituals of a school steeped in tradition.

“Newcomers had their caps ‘christened’ by having them thrown on the floor and stamped on and then being given a name – usually by second-year pupils, as was the custom.

“Early on pupils were equally divided into houses, first year boys joining the Junior House of North, South, East or West House. This created a competitive environment throughout the School and one stayed in their given House until leaving.

“Life at Wheelwright in 1963 was a Spartan existence with building work being carried out and rubble and dust all around.

“Entry for the main school was via the cloakroom in the basement with only Masters and Prefects allowed to enter via ‘The Pref’s Walk’

“Every form had an absentee monitor and homework monitor. Lessons or periods were ended with the ringing of the alarm bell.

“Discipline was the norm and detentions were held every night for any minor misdemeanour. You valued your liberty and many a pupil had that taken away when he ‘got a Thursday’ – a Thursday afternoon detention.

“With Saturday morning being compulsory, Tuesday and Thursday were theoretically allocated to sport although for first year boys, games and gym were part of the timetable. ‘Lippy’ Moss took games and Dennis Evans gym lessons.

“Mr Grimes took the swimming class on a Thursday afternoon, Mr Moss was famous for his saying ‘stab the ball boy, stab the ball’.

“Many a lad ended up in the gym in his underpants having forgotten his kit. No one was excused and Dennis had the ultimate deterrent for unruly pupils – an oversize plimsoll named ‘Percy’.

“Everyone had to enter the school cross country – a shorter route for junior boys up Healds Road along Staincliffe Road towards the Dewsbury Moor Crematorium and returning via Stockhill/Reservoir/James street/Park Road and down Birkdale Road.

Some other pupils who started the same year as Graham at Wheelwright have pooled their recollections of life at the school.

Malcolm Thompson remembers his first Physics experiment with a length of cotton and dividers, and Mr Stansfield Snr (“Mr Pastry”) his Physics master.

The bus fare to School from opposite the Commercial at Earlsheaton was 2d to Dewsbury and 1 and 1/2d from the old Dewsbury bus station to St.Mark’s Church. Graham Dunford recalls his Form 2B carrying out handicraft lessons on a Saturday morning with his form room, the Manual Room, doubling as the Handicrafts Room.

He also recollects Mr Rhodes carrying out vigorous trade at exam times when pupils would buy a new pen/ruler/ink and the like.

Jim Trafford remembers the week before starting at Wheelwright, walking all the way up Halifax Road with the whole of his family to find out where the school was located.

He also remembers the old toilets and ‘Konga’s Bog’ and the prose adorning the walls and ceiling especially “Please do not throw your cigarette ends into the urinals as it makes them soggy and hard to light”.

David Heeley has memories of catching the No 10 bus down Ravensthorpe/Calder Road on its way from Thornhill to Dewsbury before meeting other pupils.

He also recollects older pupils purchasing cigarettes and a match from Mr Rhodes’s shop at the corner of Newsome Street.

On the Form 3 photograph shown on this page is Larry Hirst, who later became Chairman of IBM in Europe, Middle East and Africa and David Archer who is deputy head of Earlsheaton High School. Other pupils who attended Wheelwright along with Graham was Desi Whitehead, whose family ran the Talk of the Town sweet shop on the corner of Dewsbury Market, and Stuart Wrigglesworth who currently runs K.D.Wrigglesworth haulage, Mill street East, Tony Scargill, Safety Manager at Dewsbury Rams, and Martyn Kelsey, Chairman of Wheelwright Old Boys A.F.C.who holds the record 975 appearances for the Old Boys.

Former pupils of that era recall how the 60s counter culture was setting in, inspired by The Beatles etc, and many of the older pupils wore non regulation Cuban heeled or Chelsea boots with hair becoming longer, copying the pop groups of the time.

Many activities were recorded that first year in the school magazine, The Wheel, including the party of first year boys trip to Ingleborough, House Notes, School Societies and Clubs, news of Old Boys, news of tennis, swimming, cross country, gymnastics, athletics, football and cricket, the production in St Mark’s Church Hall of ‘That Was the School that Was’ and School Speech Day and academic achievements.

By the end of that academic year the headmaster, Mr Bolton, retired just as the school’s appearance was changing and the new hall taking shape.

Mrs Ellis the cook passed away.