History – Chapter 2

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Evan Evans’ last speech day was in November 1909. Sir James and Lady Yoxall presented the prizes and Luke took the chair. Evans made no reference to the circumstances of his departure. He paid tribute to W Hunt’s loyalty over a period of years. Alderman Pinkham said that the Governors had supported Evans but had been overruled. Editorial comment in the local press recorded much astonishment and very considerable displeasure being aroused by what had taken place.

One hundred and fifty three applications were made for the post. Eleven candidates were interviewed and Wilfrid Hunt was appointed, to the reported approval of the School, the Old Boys and the locality, although Lane recalls thinking that Hunt was a weak man and being surprised at his promotion.


Wilfrid Bonavia Hunt

Hunt was a bachelor, a graduate of Keble College, Oxford in 1897. He had a good athletics record and had already served the school well. His support of Evans against His Majesty’s Inspectors may have commended him more to Luke and the governors than his connection with the Founder. It is significant that at his first meeting with the Governors, whilst still Headmaster Elect, he asked for the removal of four of the five full time assistant staff left after his promotion. He spoke of an attitude of treachery which was “unenglish” and not loyal. He could not carry on without the change he requested. The Governors agreed that the four named – E C Monk (joined 1904), W E Upton (1907), B Morgan (1908), and A Shillington (1908) be asked to resign. Not surprisingly they fought back and sought for allies. In March 1910 Hunt reported that Dr Edwards, (the destroyer of Evans) had threatened another inspection of the school if they were dismissed. It was a hollow threat and the Governors protested and asked that KGS be removed from Edwards’ aegis. The four staff appealed to the Board of Education but the Governors felt on secure ground and, probably with some satisfaction, stood firm.

The remaining assistant, forty year old John Ware, had been appointed during the brewing of the headship crisis, to teach history, French and English. He joined in January 1909 and in October 1910 became second master and so remained until his retirement in 1929. During the next few years the staff was joined by a number of masters who were to serve for many “generations” of school life and to be its backbone during the first great period of reputation and achievement. In 1910 J Westbury, W G Bowden, C B Thurston and W H E Bentley were all appointed. In 1911 came W Davies and in 1914 S Burton. Always “Sam” to the school, very few of his pupils knew that he had been named “Sydney”!

The building extensions to the school, projected in Evans’ time, were carried out in 1910-11. The number of pupils was then 150. The Board of Education required county councils to provide 25% of admissions as free places in public secondary schools, open to competition among pupils who were eleven years of age. KGS received its quota and in 1911 there was a brief outburst in the local press on the subject of their treatment in the school. A councillor alleged to Willesden Education Committee that he had had complaints that KGS boys would not “rub shoulders” with them for reasons of snobbery. He drew a strongly (even rudely) worded reply in flat denial from “Ex-Matriculation students” who wrote that they had been among the first scholarship boys. Lane, a scholarship boy himself, has confirmed their correctness.

In October 1911 Hunt reported 190 pupils on roll and 215 in 1912. He had given the staff a dinner when the 200 mark was passed. By October 1914 the figure was 290. The school was virtually full and so remained, even becoming over full in 1918 with 330 boys. This growth was not achieved without some anxious times. In 1913 Hunt was much upset by a comment in Willesden Education Committee that KGS was a failure and that the entry age had been reduced in order to fill it. The argument seemed to be that there was over provision rather than that the school was being rejected, but it was true that in 1910 the entry age had been reduced to ten years and the governors thought even this to be too high in competition with schools which had preparatory departments taking boys at eight years.

Among the HMI’s criticisms of Evans was the lack of school societies. He was given little time for correction, but Hunt took note. In a prospectus of 1910 there are references to debating, scientific, rifle, swimming, photographic and Old Boys clubs and a fire brigade. Later came historical and geographical societies, a chess club and a cadet corps. Most of these continued to function over long periods. The first number of the school’s magazine, The Kilburnian, was mentioned in December 1898. It was 1902 before the second number was mentioned. Number 10 was produced in 1908. Covers to this and other early numbers were at first in grey, but this was changed to the Cambridge blue which was used with little variation for almost sixty years. Style and taste changed greatly over the course of years but for much of its life the contents were basically of a pattern. Reports and comments on school activities, literary and artistic contributions from pupils and occasionally from staff, photographs of office holders and school teams, and Old Boys notes were the basic ingredients. The editorship seems usually to have been with pupils.

The office of head boy existed from the start of the school, and he seems always to have been elected by the boys and not appointed by the Headmaster, which is an interesting comment on Evans’ reputed authoritarian attitude. Also of interest are some of the roles expected from the holder. In 1909 Evans requested the governors to pay the head boy for teaching classes during staff absences, an arrangement hitherto regarded as normal. They agreed payment but said that the practice must cease. Another HMI criticism had been the lack of a proper prefect system. It was not until 1911 that Hunt could report the system as organised and the prefects issued with cap badges. There is no doubt that the prefect system during the rest of the School’s history played an important and beneficial role. The declaration made by a prefect when inducted by the Headmaster at morning assembly was a good summary of the ideals which lay behind the office.

Prefects Declaration

Prefects Declaration

Hunt, before he became Headmaster, had begun another very important feature of KGS life, the “House System”, for competition in games. It was based on his schoolboy experiences at Westminster School and he claimed that Kilburn was the first outside the “Public School” system to adopt it. Its origin there, as the name implied, was the provision of board and lodging establishments for pupils. Incidentally, Kilburn’s first scheme of government under the· county council included the article “No master shall, without the consent of the Governors, receive boarders.” It was a consent never given and probably never sought!

In 1908 the school was divided into four houses, each under a leading athlete, namely L V Curtis, J C Ellis, A J Keith and E Y Saxby. It was not until 1911-12 that a full “Cock House” championship was organised. By that time each house had its own master, who chose its distinguishing colour. Westbury selected Oxford dark blue for Curtis, Bowden Cambridge light blue for Keith, Henley Trinity College Dublin, green for Ellis; Thurston took for Saxby the still available red in preference to London’s purple. By the war years the school numbers had risen to 300 and it was felt desirable to add a fifth house. S W G Ratcliff, briefly head boy in 1908 before his family emigrated to Australia, had there distinguished himself as a medical student. Commissioned in the RAMC, he visited the school in 1916 and agreed that a new house should bear his name. Bentley, first housemaster, chose his own London University purple as its colour.

The House Championship, whose first winner was Keith, in 1911-12, was for sporting competition, but house rivalry was keen in other fields. The champion house for each year had its name placed on a board in the Creighton Hall. Hunt had asked the Governors to provide one, but in the end paid for it himself. House colours for athletes who distinguished themselves were first awarded in 1921. House competition undoubtedly contributed much of interest to school life, particularly for those who could not aspire to the membership of school teams. It was to survive as long as KGS lasted and almost every number of The Kilburnian included “House Notes”.

From its inception the School had played other teams at cricket and association football and under Hunt these sports continued to flourish. Athletic sports were annual events, interest sharpened by house competitions. They were often accompanied by entertainment by “The Gas Light and Coke Company Band” and similar bodies. By the war years such events as egg-and-spoon, sack, and three-legged races had disappeared and the programme consisted of flat races from 100 yards to 1 mile, throwing the cricket ball, high and long jumps and relays. In the spring of 1914 a letter from Benjamin Gott, secretary of the Middlesex Education Committee, notified the Governors of the formation of a Middlesex Secondary Schools Athletic Association and requested them to grant a day’s holiday in July so that pupils could compete or watch. The idea had been born in the KGS staff common room and was largely the brainchild of C B Thurston, who was the first secretary. The first contest was held at the Kensal Rise grounds and seventeen schools took part. Before long the venue was settled at the Chelsea football ground at Stamford Bridge, where it remained until 1932. KGS won the Junior Shield in 1915 and 1916.

A tennis club for staff and sixth formers was instituted in 1910 and the office of school tennis captain in 1921, but the game was played principally at house level. Hockey may have been introduced when the asphalting of the school playground made it unsuitable for football. It was first mentioned in 1911 and the next year was included in the house competition. Even after the acquisition of the school field the hockey team played few matches compared with the football programme. Boxing appeared in 1910 and again in 1919 but did not secure a place in the house championship. A school rifle club was formed by Bowden in 1910 and from 1911 to 1923 shooting had its place as a house contest. In 1923 appeared a note in The Kilburnian on “The KGS Harriers”, the voluntary precursor of much compulsory suffering in later years! For one term in 1921 Rugby football was played but it did not at this time become permanent.

It has been observed that from the beginning KGS entertainments almost always included extracts from Shakespeare’s plays. Yet even when plays were described as having been presented this can scarcely have been in full in view of the number of other items on the programme. The traditional numbering of the years of the annual Shakespearean production dated from Richard II in 1908, but this again cannot have been other than a condensed version.

The Merchant of Venice 1912

The Merchant of Venice 1912

Full-length plays had to await the productions of John Ware. Productions continued through the years of war, but it is recorded that King Lear, 1917, was at one point accompanied by the sounds of an air raid. Starting as a single play night, later periods saw productions of as many as five nights with additional matinees. During the years when J Lodge was producing (1918 -1924), the celebrated professional actor Ben Greet attended most of the plays and in 1925 gave a performance solely for the school. The tercentenary of the Bard’s death in 1916 was marked by a lecture given to the school by W B Luke.

The war years 1914 -18 were inevitably a period of problems and disturbances for the school. In 1914 and 1915 some Belgian refugees were admitted. By the end of 1914 J Lodge, E H Parr, and J F S Nash of the full time staff and part timers J Paterson and P T Horsley had joined the armed forces and the school caretaker, a regular army reservist, had been recalled. They were later joined by F L Henley, T Beach, W Davies, C B Thurston, W G Greaves and J Westbury. Paterson was twice wounded, Lodge was severely injured and Henley was killed in October 1916. Their replacements were men too old or otherwise unfit for military service, or women teachers. Five ladies were so employed at KGS, the last being Miss Crowle Ellis, sister to two head boys. Miss P L Rickards was obliged to resign in May 1918. She had been arrested during a pacifist meeting at Marble Arch and bound over. The report in the press was seen by a vigilant parent who complained to the Headmaster. In the prevailing climate of opinion the Governors had no option but to offer her the choice of resignation or dismissal since she would give no undertaking to refrain from addressing public meetings. In 1916 they had already been required by Middlesex County Council policy to dismiss G D Millar, who had been exempted from military service on conscientious grounds. Ironically this exemption was on condition that he remained in the teaching profession.

The lady teachers at KGS were neither welcomed nor successful. Hunt complained that numbers of parents were withdrawing their sons, partly because of dissatisfaction with female teachers and partly because of financial strain. The staff meeting minute book, which has survived for the years 1909 -1924, contains a 1915 entry which is startlingly unprofessional and childish. In John Ware’s barely legible scrawl it records a formal resolution of appreciation to the women assistants for detention lists of magnificent proportions, no dullness or apathy in classrooms, but animated conversation by the more ardent spirits, a suggestion that they address themselves to the arduous feat of marking registers, and more in the same strain. The minutes were as usual signed by Hunt. Needless to say the ladies were not recorded as present.

Other events and problems in these years may be traced in the Governors’ minutes and in the School Magazine. There was no speech day in 1914. The one held in 1915, with Bishop Winnington Ingram present, was the last until 1919. Parents’ evenings were held from 1912 to 1915, with the school present in form rooms, an address by the Headmaster and refreshments and conversation with staff. In 1915 the Middlesex Education Committee decided that “in the present exceptional circumstances” certificates would be substituted for prizes in schools. The Headmaster reported a loss on school dinners because of rising costs. “Zeppelin drill” was instituted in case of air raids; (Hunt had always taken fire drill seriously). Various war charities were given support, beginning with “Princess Mary’s Fund for Gifts to Soldiers and Sailors”. In 1917 Ware and Bentley started a National War Savings Group. Periodically the magazine published lists of Old Boys serving, wounded and killed.

The quarrel between Bonavia Hunt and Luke had long since dissolved in the respect felt for each other by two good men. In 1912 Hunt distributed the prizes at speech day and Luke described the school as a permanent and imperishable memorial to Hunt’s courage and devotion to the cause of education. In 1917 No 36 of The Kilburnian recorded the celebration of the school’s “Vicenary”. It is to be noted that it reckoned the twentieth year of its existence from the Deed of Foundation in 1897 and not the actual opening of classes in January 1898. The Jubilee (1948) and Diamond Jubilee (1958) were otherwise reckoned. The Vicenary magazine included a photograph of the Founder and articles by him, by Luke and by Wilfrid Hunt. In September 1917 Dr. Hunt died. On the day on which he was cremated the school held a special assembly and heard an address from Luke in which he told them that they might and probably would have, in the course of time, many headmasters, but that there could never be more than one founder.

Other activities at this time were a week under canvas near Strood in Kent, organised by Thurston for the Geographical Society in 1912 and in the next year a tour of Germany accompanied by Beach, Bentley and Thurston. This was followed by the first of many “Camp Lectures”, illustrated by photographic slides, which Thurston was to give. The war put an end to foreign tours. Cadet camps were held but the only domestic one on record was a “Land Camp” for harvesting near Horsham in 1918. The cadet corps had been formed in 1912, probably in response to the urgings of Field-Marshal Lord Roberts that the nation should take home defence seriously. The Governors gave permission on the understanding that there was no charge on school funds. Commanded first by Bowden and then by Burton, the corps flourished through the war years and continued until 1926. It had a very creditable record in marksmanship competitions. The 1st KGS Scout Troop, formed in 1909 had only a brief existence. Hunt was keen to revive it and in 1918 the 11th Willesden Troop was formed under C H Hughes. It only lasted for two years.

C H Hughes (“Bobby”) was priest-in-charge of St Francis’ Church, Dollis Hill, when in March 1917 he was appointed temporarily to replace Thurston, absent on war service. Seldom can a temporary appointment have led to such permanent satisfaction for both sides! He was already forty-one years of age and had taken a modest degree in modern history at Oxford and a theological course at Cuddesdon College. His subjects were scripture and music, but he found himself initially teaching both of them and geography, Swedish-drill and history as well. In his time at KGS he always taught scripture and to me made it more than interesting, but he lived music. He seems to have had no special qualifications for this until he persuaded the Governors to help him financially with a series of courses at the London Academy of Music. In 1921 he started a school orchestra and organised a series of public instrumental lecture recitals. Next year there were three chamber concerts to raise money for a new school organ. In 1923 took place the first of what was to be a long series of annual house music competitions for the “Founder’s Memorial Bowl”. The adjudicator at this first concert was Geoffrey Shaw, “one of England’s best known educational musicians and composers”.

W Hunt had been faced with the task of establishing the school’s academic organisation on a sound basis. In July 1910 he gave the local press an interview in which he said that the existing curriculum led only to the University of London matriculation examination. Numbers of senior boys, whose parents did not wish them to sit this examination, were leaving the school. He therefore proposed to introduce specialisation at fifteen years of age by providing a commercial side, including modern languages, a development which he claimed no other school had yet made. This is puzzling because in 1898 a school advertisement had claimed for KGS a commercial department, and in 1903 it included modern languages, bookkeeping, shorthand and “all the essential subjects”. Perhaps these provisions had never existed in reality or had lapsed. Hunt had a slight problem with the Board of Education before the course was approved, but he persevered and fostered the department. He arranged a series of business lectures by local traders such as B B Evans, by London businessmen such as Gordon Selfridge and by Luke on the Civil Service. A Commercial Form club was started and continued for several years. Hunt was also able to begin “Manual Training Instruction”, in this case woodwork, in response to the Board’s criticism of its absence.

The special commercial course was mentioned in a resumed school advertisement in 1910. Advertisements had been discontinued six months after the county took over the school, but the difficulty in filling places must have led Hunt to urge resumption. They continued until 1922, by which time the school had been full and over full for some years.

The HMls reported a gradual improvement in school organisation and by 1911 were saying that such satisfactory progress had been made that special care should be taken to help in the development by the provision of a fully adequate staff.

What was described as “The University of London School Examination (Matriculation Standard)” was first taken in the school in 1910. Four candidates were entered, of whom only one passed, in the Second division. It later became the “Senior School” and subsequently the “General School” examination, with a pass standard lower than that for matriculation but with the possibility of securing exemption from “Matric” if a sufficiently high standard was achieved. They were all “Group Examinations”, that is to say a candidate had to satisfy the examiners in a number of subjects drawn from different groups, and this had to be done at one time. Thus began a system which continued until after the Second World War and by which it became usual to assess a school’s academic standing and reputation. In 1924 there were 28 candidates and 20 GSC passes, but only a disappointing 7 matriculations. The next year, Hunt’s last, produced a blaze of success with 42 entries, 42 General Schools, of which 5 were with Honours and 25 matriculations. By this time pupils were also taking the “Higher Schools” examinations and securing exemption from London “Intermediate” degrees. The latter were recorded on a board in the Creighton Hall headed “University Successes”. Hard by was another board headed “University Scholarships”, which began with “1910 Crowle Ellis J. Historical Exhibition Keble College. Oxford”. When the school ended in 1967 there were over ninety similar scholarships recorded on this and other boards in the school hall. Between 1919 and 1922 there were no fewer than nine scholarships and exhibitions gained at Oxford and Cambridge, but in 1924 Hunt told the Governors that scholarships to the ancient universities were now out of the question because parents could not afford the fees for residence. Between the wars the normal university for Kilburnians was London and the “University Letter” in the School Magazine was usually sent from one of its common rooms.

D Crowle Ellis, the younger of the brothers, had won a scholarship to Cambridge in 1914 but did not then take it up. They are both in the first list of serving “Creightonians”. In 1918 D Crowle Ellis was invalided out of the army and he returned briefly to School as a member of staff. He was not the first Old Boy to teach in the School; in 1906-07 J C Miller, who had been head boy in the previous year, was a student teacher and remained as a non-graduate member of staff for another year. He was one of those killed in the war. W J F Hiller, Head Boy 1914-16, taught lower forms from September to July 1918 before going into engineering.

Lack of a proper playing field was a perennial problem for the School’s first twenty years and more. As early as 1906, before it had bought the School, Middlesex resolved to purchase five acres to serve KGS and a proposed new school in west Willesden. In 1914 it was decided that a similar acreage was needed for KGS alone. In 1915 the School had the use of a field in the Avenue, Brondesbury, formerly used by the London Scottish Cricket Club. In 1921 the county purchased this ground and the School undertook to renovate the dilapidated pavilion with labour from classes under D R Hounsell, the manual training teacher. The field had its shortcomings. During the winter months no tap water was available. Even normal rainfall put it out of action for several weeks each spring season. There were some very poor grass tennis courts and some of the cricket pitches had to be prepared in football areas. It was calculated that fewer than half the school could make use of the field in anyone week. In 1923 Thurston submitted a scheme for improved drainage but no action was taken.

During Hunt’s headship a number of prizes were established to be won in open competition among the boys. Miss Lupton, locally prominent for her interest in education, founded the Lupton Kitchener Memorial Prize when Lord Kitchener was lost at sea in 1916. A Crockett Memorial Prize commemorated an old scholar killed while serving in Italy. In 1917 Evan Evans renewed his links with the school by providing a History Prize and in 1918 the Bishop of London’s Prize for Divinity. There were science prizes from Dr Bridges and County Councillor Turner and a Reader’s Prize for the best reader among the prefects in morning assembly. There was also a series of sporting trophies such as the Last Cup for tennis, the Ratcliff Shooting Cup, the Athletic Championship Cup, the Mullen Challenge Cup for swimming and the Temple Cole Junior Athletic Cup.

The War Memorial

The Memorial is now in the care of the Mayor of Brent. It is installed in the Kilburn Library Salusbury Road.

The original Old Boys Club had petered out during the war, although Hunt at the 1915 speech day said that some of its members had held a dinner near the front in France. It was re-formed in 1919 as the Kilburn Grammar School Old Boys Association and has since had a continuous history. It chose as its first “Patrons” the Governors (ex officio) and Evans. Hunt was “President”. Its first concern was to provide a fitting memorial to those former pupils who had died in the war. Under the chairmanship of G W Sexton this was achieved in December 1921, when Luke unveiled and Bishop Winnington Ingram dedicated a memorial clock and inscription in the Creighton Hall. The list of names totalled fifty-one, among them four head boys.

Other activities of the Old Boys Association may be traced in the pages of The Kilburnian. Football, cricket and tennis are to be found, together with the annual dinner, whist drives, dances, smoking concerts and a dramatic section. In 1923 the football club began the custom, later adopted by all sports and in the end by the association as a whole, of referring to itself as Old Creightonians

In 1919 there took place the first full HMI inspection of the school for ten years. The report stressed the need for increased provision for both physical education and for science. The hall, smaller then than later, was used as a gym and was no longer suitable. The staff were found generally to be satisfactory, discipline was good, the prefect system adequate and the corporate life of the school commendable, special mention being made of the cadet corps and the scouts. It was a great contrast with the strictures of the previous report, but Hunt’s leadership was not without its critics in other quarters. He found administrators uncongenial, especially “the man Gott”, (from 1924 “Sir” Benjamin Gott, Secretary to the Middlesex Education Committee 1898-1928). In 1918 there was a suggestion that an increment in salary for headmasters be withheld but Luke and another governor interceded, admitting that Hunt was not a strong head and that the governors had often had to deal with the consequences, but feeling that it was not fair to single him out in this way. Happily, they were successful. He was frequently handicapped by ill health and he certainly lacked a proper grip on many aspects of school life. The condition and sometimes the contents of the staff meetings minute book show signs of poor leadership.

The Governors’ Minutes for 1919 give an interesting glimpse of the concerns of a staff common room. There can have been few periods when teachers, or for that matter any employees have considered themselves other than underpaid, but from time to time matters boil over. In July of that year the local press reported a meeting of the Incorporated Association of Assistant Masters representatives from a number of secondary schools in west Middlesex, including KGS. They made formal protest at low salaries. Two weeks later a letter from John Lodge, the wounded war veteran was published. Lodge also wrote to Luke from the staff common room. This letter was brought before the governors, who took exception to its tone, but probably realised that this had been provoked by a piece of official ineptitude. They appointed a sub-committee to investigate. The matter was overtaken by a Middlesex IAAM deputation which met Gott. It was likely that in consequence the Middlesex Education Committee in 1920 resolved to adopt the Burnham Scale for Teachers’ Salaries – a step which shifted future disputes on to the national level.

Another development in these years was the extension, by the 1918 Education Act, of school medical inspections to secondary schools. Hitherto they had been confined to elementary schools.

At the end of the summer term in 1925 Wilfred Hunt retired. He was only in his fifty-first year and for twenty-two of them he had been at Kilburn. His resignation was on the ground of ill health. The School’s reputation was not at the time high, and there would be much for his successor to do. But he had seen KGS through difficult times and left it firmly established with three hundred pupils and sixteen-staff. A humorous and modest man and a dedicated fisherman, he had won its undisguised affection.

Next: Chapter 3 – James McLeish 1925 – 1932

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