Fifty Years Ago

By A. E. DUNSTAN (Chemistry Master 1905-1915)

I WELL remember that bitterly cold day about the middle of January 1905 when the whole staff of the new East Ham Technical College Secondary School met in the Assembly Hall under the chairmanship of the Principal - W. H. Barker, B.Sc. We were mainly concerned with concocting a Time Table, but actually the meeting served to make us known to each other and to break the ice.

There can be no doubt but that the School was fortunate in its Head - who doubled the parts of Headmaster and Principal of the Evening Technical College. Mr. Barker was a fine figure of a man - tall and well proportioned. He was the picture of dignity, and in the City of London would easily have passed for a prosperous stockbroker. It is not unlikely that East Ham made a singularly happy choice in him. He had been trained at Owen's College, Manchester, and graduated at London.

Round the table in the Hall were my future colleagues. Miss Cross was the acting Headmistress of the Girls' School. Physics was in the hands of W. T. Clough A.R.C.S. He and I had been assistant masters at Owen's School, Islington, before we were appointed in charge of both day and evening work in Physics and Chemistry. T. Ebdell was Art master and was also responsible for evening classes in this subject. A. Sherburn was manual instructor and similarly took Technical College classes. E. T. Andrews, who till recently was Headmaster, and who died a few years ago, taught English - Done, History and - Franklin, Geography. Barton, Mathematics, and J. Weir, French, came later, and then F. B. Thole and E. W. Griffiths to assist in Chemistry, whilst further, Gillender joined the Mathematics staff. It will be seen that the teaching was all carried out by a group of specialists, most of whom took some part in running the evening classes. It was a compact staff, each member well qualified in his own subject and, more especially, well able to teach it. There was never any question as to discipline. Good behaviour and earnest work were assumed as a matter of course. A constant stream of first class examination results followed and a surprisingly large number of Open Scholarships was gained in hard competition with older and bigger schools. It is with considerable pleasure that in a recent perusal of The Esthameian I find that this excellent record is being surpassed today. A school is known and respected by the hard test of results. It is enough to say that our Grammar School justifies itself.

I wish I could remember more of the old boys. Myles won the Victoria Cross in 1914; Perry became a medical man; the two Hunters had distinguished careers; Louis is Professor of  Chemistry at Leicester University College. The two Woods did especially well, the elder became Director of Education for a West Country Authority and the younger is a research chemist at Courtualds. I can just remember two of the girl pupils - one, Miss Enid Harris is the respected and efficient Head Mistress of the Essex School here in East Ham, and the other, Miss McNaught, had a secretarial post in my old Company - now the British Petroleum Co. Ltd. Nor should I omit to pay tribute to two of our Governors Alderman Edwards and Alderman Osborn, both more than willing to come to meetings, to give away prizes and to do all in their power to help the good work of education. The same applies really to all our Committee. Looking back at my ten years in the Borough, I am astonished at their display of public spirit and their astonishing keenness to help on the good work. But then always has East Ham been the forefront of progress, as witness its motto.

Nor should I forget to mention sports activities. Very early in our career we fielded a really good Association XI and more than once pulled off the championship of the Essex Secondary Schools, whilst later on, chiefly owing to the influence of Mr. Barton, we had a Cadet Corps attached to the Essex Regiment. As I have indicated, none of these affairs could have prospered had it not been for the consistent support of the Education Committee and the Borough authorities.

I am sometimes tempted to think that both East and West Ham, so thorough in their determination to foster the training of the young, must be indebted to a powerful North Country element, and 1 have been told that this is more than likely due to the influx of hardheaded mechanics during earlier railroad extensions and of course the development of our major industrial benzol, soap, sugar, fine chemicals, heavy chemicals and acids, paint and varnishes and many others.

What was East Ham itself like fifty years ago? Not so very different from today - its main skeleton was formed and ready for building up into an effective living entity. But of course there was far more space - east of the Town Hall on the way to Barking and beyond was open country. High Street North hasn't changed much but its extension to the South is heavily built over.

The Central Hall was erected after our own College and the main Town Centre block would be a credit to any city.

And so we celebrate our Jubilee - with all due ceremony and also with affection. I cannot end these random reminiscences without bearing witness to the inspiriting and enlivening atmosphere that was and is so characteristic of the place and its people.

"Progressio cum Populo"