The Past Recaptured

The Background

EAST HAM, in 1905, had much of the lay-out that it has today, though there were still large areas ready for the builder. From 1900 the development had been rapid. The High Street had changed from fields and rows of houses to shops, particularly between the East Ham and Manor Park stations. The street between the Town Hall and East Ham Station has changed very little, but Oak Hall at the corner of Wakefield Street has disappeared, and St. John's Church has been replaced by the departmental store of the Co-operative Society. There were few houses on the land between Altmore Avenue and Barking, and it was still possible to see the trams in Barking Road from the footbridge leading from Southend Road to Shakespeare Crescent. The Bonny Downs, area, which had not lost its low reputation as the parish rubbish dump; the land behind Central Park, and the open spaces towards the docks were still ripe for the habitations now there. The East Ham of 1735 with its 500 inhabitants and ten taverns had grown slowly, but now the ever increasing population of London was overflowing into the new dormitory areas.

The importance of the children had not been overlooked, for even in 1831, a certain William Wilson, a pauper in the workhouse had been granted 3/6 per week to become a parish schoolmaster. Thirty years before our school opened, the population had risen to five thousand; a School Board had been appointed, and it had levied a rate of two pence in the pound for education, There was, however, no doctor in the parish, and Manor Park Station was being built. In 1874, the first East Ham school, the building still to be seen opposite the present fire station, was opened with Mr. John Skipsey as its first headmaster. In 1878 the people were much worried by a gas lamp which had been erected in the High Street. After all, the chief industry of the district was carried on at the great gas works at Beckton. One of our present schools commemorates the name of Winsor, one of the pioneers of the use of gas for lighting.

By 1891 the population had increased to 32,000, and the district was important enough to become an urban district area, which stretched from the station at East Ham to the river Thames. In 1900 the growing masses needed transport. The electric light and tramway system was almost ready, although the first tram did not run until the next year. It was also found advisable to unite the urban districts of East Ham and Little Ilford under one authority. Boys and girls, who have attended the Avenue, Kensington, Salisbury and Cornwell schools, may remember the letters L.I.S.B. on fire-places and plaques about the buildings.

East Ham Receives its Charter

1903 was an outstanding year. The Town Hall was opened and the education committee pushed forward its plans, permitted by the 1902 Education Act. The authority was for the first time in a position to offer the local children secondary education, previously obtainable only at public, private and endowed schools. Until this time there had been a few places granted at the People's Palace School at Bow, The Carpenters' Company School, West Ham High School for Girls, and the Raine's Foundation School. The district then received its Charter of Incorporation, became a municipal borough with Sir John Bethell as the first mayor. The plans for a Technical College and Secondary School were completed, and construction was carried out on a site next to that of the Town Hall.

The First Assembly

On 16th January, 1905, two hundred and fifty boys and girls entered for the first time. The School was not really ready for occupation because most of the basement rooms were unfinished. Builders, decorators and many others had to work steadily until Saturday, 18th March, when the Prince and Princess of Wales, later to become King George Vth and Queen Mary, officially opened the premises.

After the majority had paid their fees and the first scholarship holders had been set aside temporarily, all were ushered into the main hall. This was very decorative, with large cherubs above the doors, heavily panelled walls and stained glass lights above in the roof. It was also illuminated by the "newish" electric light. What a difference there was between this hall and the rooms of the old "barrack" school, from which they had come! There they had been used to large rooms for sixty or more children with six "bat wing" gas burners providing very inadequate light during the dark days. The new School was also fitted with a novel system of heating by in-blown hot air from apertures in the walls. But, alas! it failed so often to supply anything but air colder than that already in the room So the picture was set for the unofficial opening.

The boys were lined up in front of the girls as they faced the rostrum. Was this a suggestion of the superiority of the boys? There was still much criticism of the mixing of the sexes. After all the status of women in this country was inferior to that of the men. It was considered by prim mothers and mistresses that it was unladylike for young ladies to run in public, and most undesirable that girls in the middle or upper classes should go to work. The girls of the working class were expected to fill the factories, or even to become the "skivvies" or domestic servants. Even in this district the fair sex were allowed to use the swimming baths in Central Park two afternoons per week, always on those days preceding the change of the dirty water. The ladies were to wait another thirteen years before the parliamentary Qualification of Women Act of 1918 made them eligible to stand for Parliament, or to vote if they had reached the age of thirty. The wags of the time dared to predict the failure of the Act, because they believed that the ladies would never divulge their ages. It took even another ten years before the brilliant lady doctors, graduates, students of universities and the capable young mothers of families were given the privilege of equality with hosts of ignorant and illiterate boys of twenty one.

The Principal, Mr. W. H. Barker, B.Sc., F.C.S., entered the hall, followed by his staff of masters and mistresses in academic robes. This again was another sign of the "levelling-up" process between men and women. The children present had seen pictures of teachers in such robes in their books of stories of public schools, and it was now their turn to experience the presence of "cap and gown".

Figures on the Staff

Memories of the first days of the "Tech.", as we fondly called our School, are now somewhat dim. We shall never forget the dignified and imposing figure of the "Head". He remained the principal of the dual establishment from 1914 until 1932.

By then the need of a separate school for the girls, and the importance of an independent technical college had become urgent and possible. Mr. Barker had built up from the small school of 1905 a very progressive institute, giving excellent day and evening service to the Borough. When he retired, only Miss Cross, the first headmistress of the Girls' school, Mr. E. T. Andrews, his successor and the first Headmaster of the Boys' Grammar School, Mr. Clough, who took charge of the separate Technical College, and also Mr. T. Franklin, the Geography master, remained of those members of the staff who had entered that hall in January, 1905.

And what of the others? Perhaps one vivid memory is that of the first French master. To-day boys no longer refer to the French master as "Froggie". In 1905 the average Englishman was probably influenced by thoughts of Trafalgar and Waterloo, and usually despised the foreigner. Edward VIIth, the Peacemaker, was, however, on the throne, and his mind was set on peace in the world. The "Entente Cordiale" had been signed and that union with France, once the traditional enemy of this country was to be of great importance in the next fifty years. So we met Mons. Jean de la Cecilia, aristocrat and gentleman. The door opened, and a portly but dignified figure entered. Suddenly he pointed to various parts of the room, at the same time uttering such phrases as "Voilą la porte'',''Voici le plafond ", "Voilą le mur". We felt a desire to titter, despite the new and unfamiliar surroundings. The short soldier son of France checked us with a fierce glance. We then knew that we had to settle down to this new work. He stayed for five years and then unexpectedly left us, much to the regret of those who had grown to like him.

Mathematics was under the direction of Mr. Dean assisted by Mr. Barton. The former came from Lancashire and the reedy cockney accent, then so common among East Ham children, seemed to be a perpetual irritation to him. None the less we, who came under his instruction, are thankful to him for the groundwork that he gave us. Later he left us to become the Headmaster of Tiffin's School at Kingston on Thames. "Bill" Barton, as we called him, was of the gentle type, a good footballer and a keen cricketer for many years. Maybe we did not find him a stern disciplinarian, but he left us with a desirable appreciation of the sportsman and gentleman, to last longer than the facts he tried to instil in us. He remained with the School until the Second World War, and after much ill health he passed away.

Perhaps to most boys the greatest excitement was entering the "Chemmy lab" for the first time. The desire to experiment wisely or otherwise was strong with them. The fun of such "stinks" as that obtained by spilling some ammonium sulphide was soon sternly checked by Dr. A. E. Dunstan. Brilliant chemist as he was, he had little time for the dirty bench and test tube, and even less for those who spluttered cut silly answers. His method of testing the homework, by going round the class five times as he read through the chapter that be had set for study, was rather frightening. To get five marks one had to be extremely lucky or well prepared in the work. A silly attempt to guess was met with a shrivelling remark about our capacity to drivel. It was good training; one either knew or did not. You were wiser to admit the fact. We liked him and admired his capacity for work, which ultimately carried him to a place of great distinction in the oil industry. He is still alive, well over seventy, and still an accepted authority on matters concerning oil.

Below in the basement was Mr. W. T. Clough, in charge of the Physics Department. He had been associated with Dr. Dunstan at a previous school, and they had produced some very factual but somewhat "dry" books on elementary science. Both believed in the need of a sound basic knowledge of the subjects. This belief is somewhat discredited to-day in favour of a scrappy knowledge about too many thing,. He was a quiet man, capable and respected by us all.

In the English Department were Mr. R. Done and Mr. E. T. Andrews. The former gave many a deep interest in history. His witty style and twinkling eye will be long remembered by most of his pupils. Later he became the Principal of the Wakefield Central School. During the last war, despite his age, he was a very active air raid warden. He passed away a few years ago. Mr. Andrews was always popular, but stood little nonsense from those not prepared to work. The writer recalls the great pleasure he received when "Andy" took him and other, to see that great actor, Lewis Waller, when he revived Shakespeare's "Henry V" at the Lyric Theatre. He could always be relied on to turn out for the earlier staff matches. He proved a very worthy successor to Mr. Barker. Unfortunately his days of retirement were very short.

Geography was taken by "Tommy" Franklin in a very small room in the basement. The days of regional geography had just arrived and children were no longer required to store up masses of facts. Those who followed his efforts were left with an abiding interest in man and his affairs. He was the first editor of the School magazine and he remained associated with it until he left.

The School had two art rooms under the care of Mr. T. W. Ebdell . He is still alive. A recent letter from him told us that, at the age of 75, he has abandoned his motor-cycle and taken to a "good old car". He boasts of doing 230 miles in nine hours, including stops. He had one memory of a certain boy named Austin, who had wired up the handle of the woodwork shop to the electric light switch. He expressed his pleasure that Charlie Brickell, the caretaker, had spotted this foolish affair in time to avoid an accident.

One other remains - Mr. Sherburn, a craftsman who tried to make us regard wood with more respect. We often produced more shavings than successful articles. His attempts to teach us metal work were too often spoiled by the infinite variety of schoolboy mischief. He was very likeable, and it would have been a source of great pleasure if he could have known how much of his teaching really remained with us when we again turned our thoughts to making things in later life.

Of the ladies, Miss Cross must be best remembered by the boys. She was a pleasant lady, deeply respected by all who met her.

The story of our School is long, and I have confined my account to the earliest days. Many old friends will remember with gratitude the "Tech.", where we learned that hard work was the sure way to happiness and success.

B. G. PAYTON (1905-1909).