By W. A. ADKINS
IN endeavouring to record reminiscence, of a period which appears on reflection to be terribly far distant, one is tempted, of course, to use the method of comparison. Even when such direct comparisons are not committed to paper, they are made mentally, and because the whole aspect of secondary education appears to have changed it becomes difficult to be purely objective.
In 1921 the thoughts of a 12-year-old attending a new school, were not, I suppose, any different from those of a similar person in 1955, but I remember very vividly the feeling that I was entering a new world, which was correct, peopled by entirely different and vastly superior beings, which was incorrect.
Numbers were very much smaller than at present - something like 200 boys and 200 girls in the one building - and it is still a matter of eternal surprise to me that we managed to pack ourselves in the Assembly Hall. The number in form varied between 25 and 30, and there was much less specialisation in the higher forms than at present. The examination taken was the Oxford School Certificate, and all subjects were included, whether one had any inclination or not. French was the only language, although possibly Latin was taken if necessary in the Sixth Form. Progression to a university was not, however, considered as a normal goal, and from my recollection the Sixth Form was very sparsely inhabited, and those who attained this altitude were to the ordinary beings, obviously these whose brain power was something out of this world.
The every-day running of school sport and entertainment was, therefore, to a great extent, the prerogative of the Fifth Forms, and from these forms most of the teams were drawn. Association football was played during the winter with fixtures against the neighbouring secondary schools - Ilford and Leyton County High Schools, West Ham Grammar, Palmer's School at Grays, Clark's Modern School, Ilford, Barking Abbey School. Cricket, of course, during summer, and the School always had a high reputation in athletics. The main event in this held was the contest between Essex Schools for the Champion Russell Cup, always contested at the Drapers' Company Sports Ground at Leyton; and, if I remember aright, we won the Cup on two occasions during my time at school. This was of course, during the time of Arthur Gray, who was jumping six feet whilst still at school and later became the A.A.A. high jump champion. Despite the close proximity of the swimming baths, swimming was non-existent.
I cannot, however, remember any coaching taking place in any sport, and our pitches left much to be desired.
The lower forms played football on the Barking Road Recreation Ground and I remember trespassing on vacant land opposite on which then stood the old Mill, as our own pitch was under water. The old Mill land is, of course, now the site of the present School playing field and I understand trouble is still occasionally experienced with water!
The School football pitches were in fact at the side of the level crossing at Beckton and our dressing room was a disused railway coach! There were four pitches, getting progressively worse, and if you were in the fourth team you had a half-mile walk and the pleasure of chasing a ball in a sea of mud.
We played cricket in Central Park, and our sports meetings were held in the Barking Road Recreation Ground, although in my last year I remember we moved to the Rectory Field for this event. Relay teams were sent to invitation races at other School sports, and I remember in the Fifth Form, four of us taking French leave down the fire-escape one afternoon to attend a sports meeting after we had been forbidden in view of the amount of work on band.
We ran, what was I think called a General Purposes Fund, to which each boy contributed 1d. per week. Each form had a representative on the Committee which administered the Fund, and from it were met the travelling expenses of the football and cricket teams (these had previously been paid by the players themselves) and donations were made to charities, wreaths purchased, etc., instead of collections being made throughout the School.
My recollections of the masters are happy ones, and the only fear, or rather trepidation, which I experienced, was during those periods of subjects in which I was hopeless. Corporal punishment was not used, except I think by the Headmaster (or Principal, as he was then called) in extreme cases, but this did not prevent certain masters from belabouring their pupils with drawing boards, blackboard pointers, and pieces of chalk! A weekly "diary" was kept showing marks for homework and a maximum of five conduct marks each week from which deductions were made for misconduct.
Each master was a distinct "character", and the apocryphal tales handed down through each year were no doubt as plentiful as at the present time. A cadet force was in being up to 1922, but this was discontinued after this date, partly through lack of support, and possibly through a certain pacific reaction following the 1914-1918 war.
The C.O. was "Bill" Barton, the Junior Mathematics master, and although he was singularly unsuccessful in exercising any control at all over his forms, his appearance on parade in riding breeches and leggings introduced an entirely new character, and one was much better behaved on these occasions.
One could reminisce endlessly, of course - the bun shop in Barking Road (Vardy's?), the woodwork and metal work shops with "Bowie" and Albert (whose dismissal caused a minor revolution), prize-givings in the Town Hall, at which the annual play was presented, ranging from "She Stoops to Conquer" and "Oliver Cromwell" to one-act plays by Arnold Bennett and A. A. Milne.
Scholastically, although the curriculum was limited in comparison with the present, the standard was high and failures in the School Certificate examination were unusual and frowned upon.
Facilities for out-of-school activities were severely restricted, possibly almost non-existent, but for myself my days at school were happy ones, and that seems to me to be as good a recommendation as any for a school!