Reminiscences of 1909-1912


FORTY years on! Yes and more! it was in 1912 when I left the East Ham Technical College and Day Secondary School, as the School was then called, and as the imprint on certain exercise books still in my possession testifies. I have promised to give my reminiscences of the School at that time and I am glad to do so: but I fear that reminiscences which are really personal memories, rather than a graphic sketch of the School as it was, are likely to obtrude themselves.

My wondering and somewhat apprehensive acquaintance with the School began when within its classrooms on two occasions, I sat for what, as "a certificate of merit awarded to Harry G. Pollen of Kensington Avenue School" reminds me, was then called the Minor Scholarships Examination. May I pause to say that whatever I owe to the "Tech.", and it is a very great deal, I owe hardly less to Kensington Avenue School: but this is not that school's story.

In those days we were a dual School. The presence of the girls added something of colour and interest to the School. I could enlarge on that, but perhaps it is well that I should not except to say my that my interest persisted in returning to the little girl I first saw in the front row of the girls assembled in the hall in my first year at the "Tech." She became my wife.

Songs and Assemblies

Mention of that assembly conjures up a memory or two. It was our practice to assemble every morning for prayers, the boys in front, the girls in the rear (why this reversion of the usual order always puzzled me), masters and mistresses on the flanks. When all was set the Principal would enter. Prayer, bible reading and hymn, and the invariable pattern of our devotion, was over.

Throughout a whole term we sang the same hymn day after day. For this reason I never hear "Oh Jesus I have promised"or "Lead us Heavenly Father lead us" or "The roseate hues of early dawn" or "The king of love my shepherd is", or "Fight the good fight", but I transported back to school days. This method may have had advantages, but I hope that in these days the equipment allowance will run to hymn books and a little more variety in the act of corporate devotion and inspiration.

Another recollection of the hall was the Wednesday periods, given over to singing by half the School, boys and girls at once. For these occasion the girls took the south half of the hall and the boys the north, a decorous no-man's land between them. These occasions were presided over either by Mr. Griffiths or by Mr. Andrews. How lustily, how unnecessarily lustily, did we sing "Hearts of Oak" or "The Campbells are coming" and especially the exclamatory part of the latter. With what skill did the masters just succeed in preventing that excessively large class from getting out of hand.

Mr. Done

The assembly hall reminds me of the enthusiasm of Mr. Done for his subject, History. I long treasured the out-size History note-book which was the product mainly of so carefully planned a series of notes on historical trends and world movements. On the corridor walls of the assembly hall Mr. Done had hung very skilfully taken and enlarged, carefully framed, photographs of period architect such as Thaxted Church. How we must have disappointed him when he realised how little advantage we took of' all this trouble. Disappointed maybe; but not discouraged. I well remember how he went on to extend this hanging of historical records in classrooms and how one day in the middle of holidays when he passed me in the High Street he asked me if could get along to the School to help him, which being done found myself with a chisel knocking holes into classroom walls and plugging them to receive hooks to hang his pictures.
Mr. Done was much liked. He had one quality which in affectionate, respectful remembrance I may be permitted to recount. He was most meticulous in diction and his emphasis of final g's, was bound to excite schoolboy mirth. There was one boy in my form who never failed to respond to that stimulation of his risibility. Why should I not say that I am thinking of Powell. Where is he now? If Mr. Done in dictating to us the terminal hymn said "Yet possessing-ger, every blessing-ger" there would inevitably be sounds of suppressed spluttering at the desk behind mine and if Mr. Done then said "Who's that sniggering-ger" the sounds behind me would rival the noise of ten thousand schweppervescences, and the result one, two or three conduct marks gone, or lines.

Lines! I was a fairly law-abiding boy. I was engaged in the continual struggle to beat Hillyer and Wright - and one or two more who contested with me the first place in form for terminal marks and for examinations. I could not afford to lose too many conduct marks which were awarded, or lost, at the rate of five a day, and all entered up in carefully kept diaries for the condition for which we received, or lost five marks every week. But I seemed to get mere lines than I could do with and therein began I am sure the deterioration of my handwriting, which is now the bane of typists, and of my staff, not to mention a matter of gentle leg pulling in my home.

Dr. Dunstan

Science, of was of course the most prominent subject in our course. This was to be expected in a "Technical College Day Secondary School". Mr. Griffiths began our initiation into Physics and Chemistry in Forms I and II and III(a) and III(b), and an excellent grounding it was We were then passed on to Mr. Clough and Dr. Dunstan for Physics and Chemistry respectively, and I pause only to express appreciation of their work and to record their dynamic personalities, particularly Dr. Dunstan's. I remember my first lesson with him. I see now a blackboard crammed with chemical equations of far more complexity than had .ever entered our step by step more elementary progress in previous forms. That K2Mn2O8 was one of a seeming thousand formulae of that day is indelibly printed on my mind. I went home in the utmost despair. I could never do it! But of course I did. Dr. Dunstan had an amazing punch in his expressions. One day over some peccadillo or other, with a Bunsen burner he called me a homicidal maniac. I did or then know then quite what it meant! I never knew a master with less regard for an academic gown that Dr. Dunstan. It served I'm sure as an overall, a protection from acids, and was overworked as a blackboard duster.

Mr. Franklin

Next I picture the Geography room, which was Form IV's form room. How often have I stood with the form at its door waiting for the form in temporary occupation to come out so that books might be collected from our desks for the next two or three periods during which this Box and Cox arrangement of forms went on. Mr. Franklin was Geography master, and what genial memories one conjures up of him, though he could on occasion frown as a very God of Olympus, though not quite with such majesty. I recall him standing behind the long bench in front of the classroom and on occasion clambering on it, waving a long pointer, with a sort of backward and circular motion while he faced the class and said, indicating some area near the top of the map behind him at ceiling level "This is what I call the Tundra". I am sure this will recall a clear cut picture of this lovable master to all my contemporaries. He also took Form II Literature and read us stories from Greek history or mythology which we recounted in our own words, and names like Paris, Priam, Menelaus and Achilles can therefore never be entirely erased from my mind.

Mr. Andrews

No nonsense was ever permitted by M,. Andrews, who afterwards became a Head of the School. He had a reputation for severity, but we knew completely where we were with him. I had at Kensington Avenue School a magnificent foundation of formal grammar. Mr. Andrews built on that in a way which still commands my utmost admiration. "Legends of Greece and Rome", "Treasure Island" and other books he dealt with in the clearest and most interesting exposition. His method of testing results of homework, by asking oral questions and leaving each boy in the class to record a mark against himself if he knew (though only one actually gave the answer) that he did not know the right answer, was a searching test of honesty. Seldom, indeed hardly ever, was that trust, so inspired, misplaced Only once I believe did I witness a boy's self awarded marks called into question, and the quiet searching condemnation resulting was an experience to be avoided at all costs.

Mathematics: Mr. Barker in Form II for Geometry: Mr. Barton for Arithmetic and Algebra, and later for Geometry too: Mr, Dean for Trigonometry when in form IV we aspired to his eminence and to those "advanced" mysteries. Not infrequently Mr. Barker was detained in his Principal's duties, and the process was repeated when he took us in Mechanics for one period a week in Form IV. We were expected to get on with the aid of text books, and sometimes we did. When he did take us his exposition was clear and thorough, and his broad smile seraphic, though he could, as could Mr. Dean, call upon what I will euphemistically describe as gentle irony. Mr. Barton bore the brunt of teaching this exacting subject of Mathematics. I am not sure we always treated him fairly. He was a grand fellow, patient and forbearing, who got an enormous amount of work done and laid an excellent foundation for anyone wanting to proceed to still higher fields of Mathematics, as I never did.

Mr. Wier

And what more shall I say concerning the remaining masters of my day. A space must be given to Mr. J. L.Weir, who taught French with the aid of Heath's French Grammar and two volumes of French by the Direct Method; not to mention certain texts of which I remember "Le Tour du Monde en Quatre-Vingts Jours" and some extracts from "Les Miserables". I learned little more French than he taught but it served me to get through the French translation, of my Honours subject in later years. Somehow I remember that in those cyclostyled terminal examination papers - invariably French into English, English into French, a few grammar questions, and a few sentences to translate - there was several times repeated "Ayez patience mais n'en ayez trop". This is good advice though I doubt if I keep it. Mr. Weir was a good teacher of my day: he did observe this "bon mot" in both respects.

For two whole periods a week, half a morning, I endeavoured to do art under Mr. Ebdell; but art is not my line. Whatever good results Mr. Ebdell achieved he had no luck with me. I seldom, if ever, got more than three out of five for my repeated attempts at drawing butterflies or ivy.

There only remains, I think, Woodwork and Metalwork and Gym, all of these conducted in a detached building tucked away behind the Methodist (Wesleyan in those days) Central Hall. The handicraft in those days was very much to standard and followed the same pattern in almost any school. I never got farther than making an inlaid key rack in woodwork and filing a straight edge in metalwork. Gym came round once a week and is chiefly recorded in my mind by the frustration of never being allowed to climb more than halfway up the ropes, though there was always the attempt to speed up higher before one was stopped, or lost a conduct mark for not stopping.

I do not believe that in those days there could have been more boys and150 girls in the school. There must have been many premature leavers. The School obtained excellent results. There was a certain intensity as Form IV built up throughout the year to the junior Oxford Local Exam, in July, and an attenuated Form V to the Senior Exams.

Prizes and Plays

Prize-days! The great hall I the Town Hall completely packed with boys and girls of the School and their parents. On the table as I write there lie two books received by me as prizes -Success in the Annual Examination ": "Lamb's Tales from Shakespeare" bound in blue leather and "Nicholas Nickleby" bound in red leather. The latter plunged me into an appreciation of Dickens which was not satisfied till I had all his books. I suppose that those prize-days were like most schools' prize-days, but they had something of glamour for me. There was, as is usual, some classical drama. I recall extracts from " As You Like It" one year and from "The Merchant of Venice'' another year. I recall to this day the Gratiano of the latter. The gusto and the expression he put into-

"A Daniel, still say I a second Daniel!
I thank thee, Jew, for teaching me that word''.

were magnificent. Then there was the trek to the School, which was ablaze with light, and especially to the laboratories where every gadget and colour to attract the interest was displayed.

The scene in that play of my school life is clear and vivid. The principal actors, if so I may describe the masters, stand out as if I were still there, and I find it difficult to realise, so vitally are they present in my recollection, that probably not one of them is still in the School. They were a grand team. In the midst of all the educational clamour and theory of today - the common entrance exams. or junior leaving exams., the general certificate of education, intelligence tells , the grammar school, the comprehensive school, parity of esteem and what you will the sine qua non of a devoted and inspiring teaching service remains. Such teachers were those in the "Tech." I my day and I owe them much.

It disturbs me that I cannot recall many members of the "chorus", the boys, though doubtless if I met any of them I should at once remember. Of my form companions I recall Hillyer, Wright, Dale, Booth, Powell, P.S, Smith, Hunt, Green, Othick. I recall still fewer of the girls. How far apart have work and home, war and peace flung us; and shall we in this year of the School's jubilee, link up at all again to recall forgotten faces, to make the old schoolboy jokes and to acknowledge that it was good to have been there? I would that as old boys we might feel the inspiration of the hymn, which says:

"Then, as the trumpet call, in after years,
'Lift up your hearts,' rings pealing in our ears,
Still shall those hearts respond with full accord:
'We lift them up, we lift them to the Lord'".