History – Chapter 6

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D F Williams was the last and the longest serving of Kilburn Grammar School’s five headmasters. He had been since 1932 at Manchester Grammar School as a modem linguist specialising in university scholarship work. This was to correlate happily with the dramatic expansion in “Sixth Form” studies which KGS in common with grammar schools nationwide, was to experience in the nineteen fifties. He left on record his dismay at the sight of the hastily patched-up buildings, shattered by war, which faced him as he walked up Salusbury Road for the first time, and in contrast “the undimmed spirits and standards still high” that he found within. To the school he was “Loppy”, due to his habit of leaning to the side on which he carried his academic cap, under-arm, as he walked into morning assembly. A remote figure to most pupils, he could yet convulse a third form in the absence of regular staff, with impromptu acting of such roles as the porter in “Macbeth”. He was an author and a broadcaster of some repute.

By 1951 rebuilding and repairs were complete. In 1956 biology laboratories were added to cater for new courses and in the same year the dining hall and kitchens were moved from the school into concrete huts in the playground which had served temporarily as classrooms. Growing numbers continued to put pressure on available space and in 1960 the authority provided the use of Crosshill Towers, a large property in Christchurch Avenue at its junction with Willesden Lane. A pleasing amenity installed in these years was the creation of a garden in the small school quadrangle.

The growth in numbers was largely a consequence of the expanding sixth form. In 1953 the school total was 516; in 1959, 550; in 1963, 603; in 1967, 570. Sixth formers numbered 89 in 1960 and 121 in 1963.

In the summer of 1952 the “General” and “Higher” school examinations gave way to the “General Certificate of Education at Ordinary and Advanced Levels”, commonly known as “O”s and “A”s. Matriculation and the intermediate degree exemptions disappeared from schools. The standard of the new examination was to be between the former schools and exemptions level. The new examinations were “subject exams.”, no longer requiring a number of subjects to be passed at one time. Qualifications could be collected piecemeal. For these and other reasons it is difficult to compare achievement under the two arrangements, but KGS’s record continued to be good. In 1965 there were secured 531 “O” levels, 84 of them by fourth year pupils, and 147 “A” levels. In the period 1949-1967, 46 boys gained between them 28 open awards and 25 State Scholarships. Entrance to universities and advanced education increased greatly. The original “University Letters” to be found in the magazine were written from Oxford or Cambridge. Between the wars they came almost exclusively from London. In 1952 they came from London, Oxford and Cambridge, but before long separate letters had to cease. In 1965 the school produced 30 entrants to 15 universities and university colleges, 3 medical schools and 5 polytechnics and colleges of advanced technology. The examination curriculum was also greatly broadened until by 1964 there were 21 subjects taken at “O” and 13 at “A” levels, including four modem foreign languages at the former.

It was also a period when staff were being encouraged to improve qualifications by courses and secondments. Notably in 1961 the Headmaster took up the first school-master fellowship at Nottingham University, for one term. In 1966 J H Beaglehole, the head of a history department which produced many open scholars, himself secured a PhD.

The School underwent its last Ministry of Education general inspection in 1952, the twenty year interval since the last being a consequence of the war. Before the next was due such general inspections had been discontinued.

The pattern of staff careers also underwent considerable change from that of former days. The post-war “Education Explosion” provided far more opportunity and inducement to teachers to seek promotion in other schools. The education service as a whole needed this flexibility if resources were to be fairly spread, but schools which had had a tradition of staff stability, and KGS was one of them, suffered by comparison. Between 1909 and 1939 about 65 permanent staff were appointed, of whom 70% remained for five or more years. From 1946 to 1962 the total was also about 65 of whom 44% remained for similar periods.

A number of long serving masters from earlier days were now leaving for retirement. In 1950 “Sam” Burton and T M Yarwood went. Burton been appointed in 1914. Found medically unfit for the army, he taken over the cadet corps and continued with it until it closed in 1926. He was a notably dedicated house master and enjoyed a Keith triple triumph in 1931-1934. His strident exhortations to “Get it into the circle, Keith” are among my earliest recollections of watching hockey matches. In 1931 he followed Thurston as head of geography had charge of “Home” school when it first re-opened. “Tom” Yarwood was appointed to teach physics in 1926 and became head of when Bowden took up the acting headship. He was a skilful and successful teacher yet, such is the way of these things, he is best remembered for the fine tenor singing voice which he made freely available on every and any occasion when the School had need of him.

In 1951 departed W H E (Bill) Bentley. He was the last of the pre-First World War staff, indeed the last of the remarkable 1910 group. He was then only twenty years of age. The top-hat he bought for the interview became a part of KGS history. Save for two years as a pupil teacher in an LCC school, he taught only at Kilburn and he taught for a record forty-one years. He had originally taught mainly music and scripture. A fine musician (I quote Hughes), he prepared the way for the latter as a specialist. When Henley left for the army Bentley took over his responsibility for mathematics and retained it throughout his career. He was second master to both Bowden and Williams. He was the original housemaster of Ratcliff house. Formed in 1917, it had only one championship before 1935 when there was a run of three. Before “Bill” retired there were three more. Seven victories in 35 years in a five house competition. A mathematically tidy par ‘score!

Staff 1958

Staff 1958

Back row: C V W Williams, D T Anderson, D E Sparkes, D J Robinson, C B Moller, J Mathew, S A Corrin, E Wolheim
Middle row: D Merlyn-Smith, A A Warner, A J Toley, A J W James, A E E Minchin, D McGinty, P K Wright, B H Adams, V Callaghan, J H Beaglehole, E W L Leavey
Front row: Mrs Chirgwin, G L Walters, R I Cox, W H Williams, D F Williams (Headmaster), H E Gould, W B Rhodes, R Whitmore, W Isaacson

1958 saw two more such departures. W H Williams was the last assistant appointed under Wilfrid Hunt, in 1924. A modern linguist, he became head of department in 1942 and second master in 1951. From 1931 he was Saxby’s house master. His great height led to him being “Lofty” in the staffroom but to the school was “Wee Willie”. With him left H E Gould, senior classics, one of the first two masters appointed under McLeish in 1925. A noted producer of school plays, he took over Curtis house after Westbury. In the immediate pre-war years he was closely associated in cruise activities with Field, both having had sea service in the first war.

Next year went E W Rhodes. A Yorkshireman, “Bunny” took his nickname at second remove from “Wilfrid”, the rabbit in the strip cartoon, “Pip, Squeak and Wilfrid”, via Wilfrid (“Bunny”) Rhodes, cricketer for Yorkshire and England. He taught French and German and pupils sometimes “led him a dance”, but he was a striking example of a teacher who never achieved any significant academic status yet made himself a “king-pin” in the life of a school. He was house master of Ellis for many years. He coached strong pre-war athletics teams, he introduced Rugby into the school and he could sing and entertain in school concerts to the enjoyment of all present.

At the same time left G W WaIters appointed in 1935 and head of mathematics after Bentley, when he had also, become careers master. Careers departments were very much a “growth industry” in post-war schools! Walters left for a post in a teacher training college.

The Kilburnian paid merited tribute to Charles Hicks-Bolton who died in November 1959 at the age of ninety. Ex-headmaster, councillor, alderman, Mayor of Willesden, he succeeded Luke as Chairman of the Governing Body and so remained until it was abolished under the 1944 Education Act. His interest in the school, always active, was especially valuable in the emergency, with his visits to Northampton and his close concern for the home school.

The prefect system was, as always, a potent element of school life, dealing with much routine business and freeing staff for more constructive work. A sub-prefect office was introduced by Anthony. It was discontinued in 1951 but reappeared by degrees with an increasing number of “Senior Prefects”. With the growth of the sixth form there were many more boys available for prefects’ duties who also had a claim to the office as part of their education.

Prefects 1956-57

Prefects 1956-57

In 1949 there was a head boy, a senior prefect, nine prefects and ten sub-prefects. In 1966 there was head boy, deputy head boy, four senior prefects and forty-two prefects. In 1967 all sixth formers were doing prefect duties.

Prefects 1960-61

Prefects 1960-61

The original prefect insignia had been a metal badge worn on the school cap. This was altered as early as 1918 to a broad yellow band round the back of the cap.  In the post-war school the wearing of caps was allowed to lapse and in 1958 a prefects ‘tie’ was introduced.

1950s cap

1950s cap

In 1961 came an addition to sixth form life which was partly the result of pressure on playing field accommodation. At the initiative of R K Hands, the Deputy Headmaster, social service was started. It began with help to the Willesden Green Senior Club and the collection of money to provide that institution with a record-player. This expanded to the doing of shopping and odd jobs, and visits just to listen and talk. By 1965 over 25 sixth formers were so engaged as an alternative to organised games. The school also had other charitable (in the best sense of that word) endeavours, such as the sponsoring of children in underdeveloped countries.

Under David Williams’ headship KGS was again to experience an old problem. A new secondary school was needed in the area and in 1952 the Willesden Education authority decided that the most suitable site was the KGS field, only recently returned to the school from war time uses. It was a tragedy for the school and its roots went far back in the history of KGS. The original field, which Middlesex bought for the school in 1921, was in 1927 extended by two acres, purchased with another six acres which were for “the erection of a Secondary School in the Avenue, Brondesbury”. The intended school was not then built, but the land was retained as a playing field for BKHS. When, a quarter-century later, a school actually materialised its requirements had grown to absorb the whole site of some thirteen acres for fields and buildings. In 1956 “Aylestone Secondary Modern School” was opened.

The consequences for KGS were serious. Alternative fields in the borough were unobtainable. Use of the field was lost in March 1954 and it was not until the end of that year that the authority got even as far as entering into an agreement to purchase a replacement at Marsh Lane, Stanmore. It was not available for use until the following May. In the meantime makeshift arrangements had once more to be endured. Instead of taking place on a field within walking distance of the school provided with a good pavilion, which itself was a significant part of school history, games now required time for a coach journey.

Rugby Team 1960-61

Rugby Team 1960-61

Changing accommodation, initially miserable, never reached the old standard. In 1958 the magazine complained of the noisome mud at Stanmore and six tin baths on a windswept verandah with inadequate canvas screens and a hot water boiler which had been broken for several months. It was “a piteous return for the loss of adequate facilities at Aylestone Avenue” and therein lay the rub. One other unfortunate result of the greatly increased distance between School and ground was the practical impossibility of house games after school and the need to reduce the number of houses to four, as it had been before 1917. Curtis and Keith were amalgamated under their hyphenated names.

In the face of adversity, to which KGS was no stranger, school and house sport continued. To the traditional activities were added badminton, table tennis, basketball, skittle ball, golf, and right at the end, sailing on the Welsh Harp at Neasden. In 1952 and 1953, under the guidance of D McGinty, the Bowles Cup, the senior championship in the Middlesex Secondary Schools Athletic Sports was at last won, for the only occasions in the school’s history. A feature of school life in these as in earlier days was annual matches between school and staff at cricket, tennis and rugby. Whereas staff rugby teams needed strengthening by Old Boys, their soccer predecessors had been pure staff! There were also Old Boy v. school games in various sports and parents v school cricket matches recorded over long periods of school history.

The Shakespearean tradition of school plays was unchallenged until in 1960 the “Oedipus Rex’ of Sophocles was staged. In the next six years the Bard was displaced on three more occasions: by Ibsen, by Gogol, and by Beaumont and Fletcher. In 1957 there was the second production in school history of “Hamlet”. This was taken on tour to Brussels and North Germany. Next year a part of “Loves’ Labours Lost” was used in schools’ television. These were the last two productions of P K Wright. In the opinion of some who had recollections of very many years of school plays, Wright’s productions were the best that they had seen. It became customary to produce a play from among those set for public examinations and matinee performances were given for audiences drawn from other schools. Whitmore’s backcloths and stage sets attracted visits from students from drama schools. A major innovation of the 1961 “An Enemy of the People” was that women’s parts were cast from BKHS pupils. This working together had already become more common in other activities, such as music, societies and excursions.

Music under D Merlyn-Smith from 1947 onwards maintained its high status. The house music competition expanded in 1961 into a “Festival of Arts” involving a large number of boys in music, verse speaking, drama and painting. The best items were presented to over two hundred parents at an open afternoon.

Music 1955

Music 1955

The school had successes in the Willesden Music Festival. School concerts continued and some major orchestral and choral works were produced. Three members of KGS reached the high altitude of the London Schools’ Symphony Orchestra. In November 1954 a new two-manual electric organ was inaugurated in the Creighton Hall with a recital by Dr O H Peasgood, an Old Boy to whom reference has already been made. This organ was purchased from the former swimming bath fund, which had been “killed” by the Willesden Education Committee in 1950.

As already noted more than once, clubs and societies waxed and waned according to the spirit of the time. The Christian Fellowship, originally one of Woodman’s interests, might have seemed a superfluity in earlier days when Sunday school and church attendance was far more common. The sketch club had grown into the arts and crafts society and the school now had equipment for pottery making. There was a jazz club, an angling club, a cycling club, railway and aeronautical societies, a sixth form society and a film society. A rather sad comment is that in more than one report appears the apology that meetings had been restricted because no suitable films were available on that society’s particular interest. Secretaries in “the olden days” had no such resources on which to rely or the absence of which to bemoan! The chess club seems to have had a stranglehold on the Willesden Chess League trophy in the earlier nineteen-sixties. In 1955, 1959, 1965, and 1966 mock elections coincided with General elections, on the last two occasions being a joint activity with BKHS.

The library was restored to use after rebuilding in 1952. The whole of the existing stock had gone and it was years before adequate replacements were acquired. Thereafter, to judge from frequent reports in the magazine, it had a more organised and professional image than ever before.

A new feature of the era was the holding of school religious services in Christ Church or in St. Anne’s, Salusbury Road. There were carol services at Christmas, joined by BKHS in the nineteen-sixties and an end of year or “Founder’s Day” service in the summer.

Another growth activity of post war times was the extra-mural educational visit or journey. To these KGS was no stranger, one example being the series of trips made to the Royal Shakespeare at Stratford-on-Avon. There were camps and parties in Devon, Warwickshire, North Wales, France, Italy and other places. In 1965 there were two separate parties to the USSR, so great was the demand. For a succession of Easters parties led by R I Cox and his wife visited Switzerland. They usually included some pupils and staff from BKHS. “Reg” Cox had come to the school in 1943 from Pound Lane Central School. He took over the geography department from Burton in 1950. He was a well-loved figure and one of the true pillars of KGS in his day.

Issues of the magazine continued at the traditional rate of three per annum until 1943. This dropped to two and by 1947 to one a year. Between 1954 and 1963 termly issues reappeared. For the remainder of the school’s life they were again biannual. The 1948 “Jubilee” number had a special cover and was followed by ten years of a redesigned cover in traditional blue. The “Diamond Jubilee” magazine had a commemorative cover in yellow and red. There followed another design in blue until 1964. The last six issues were in a variety of designs and page sizes. The lean periods were the result of soaring production costs. There were attempts to deal with this by subsidy and even free issue through a school “Extra-amenities Fund” and the inclusion of advertisements.

Although the average length of staff stay had greatly reduced, KGS still had its core of long serving masters. They were, as always, the very backbone of the school. R I Cox (1943-1960) has already been noted. S A Corrin, appointed to teach French temporarily in 1942, became permanent in 1946 and was still at the school in 1967, having had the satisfaction of presenting its first candidates in “O” level Russian. Also at the school in 1967 with ten or more years of service were C V W Williams (P.T. 1947), A A Warner (physics, 1947), D Merlyn-Smith (music, 1947), A J W James (Chemistry, 1948), A J Toley (English, 1948), J. Mathew (French and German 1951), A E E Minchin (mathematics, 1953) and J. Roscoe (mathematics, 1957). Other long stayers who taught for a minimum of one decade at KGS were Dr W Isaacson (German, 1942-1963), J W Stewart (science, 1942-1953), E W L Leavey (physics, 1950-1966), C B Moller (geography 1950 -1962), E Wolheim (handicraft, 1951-1961), and J H Beaglehole (history, 1954-1966).

Staff 1964

Staff 1964

Old Boys who taught where they had in former years learnt were B H Turner (left 1933, classics 1958-1960) and M L Schmeising, (left 1957, mathematics 1963-1967). With the staff in 1967 and for one year more was R. Whitmore. His thirty-seven years in KGS, including war service, made him the third longest stayer of all, giving place only to Bentley and Bowden. As housemaster of Ratcliff in post war times, he presided over two unprecedented runs of “Cock house” victories from 1955 to 1960 and 1962 to 1965. When Bowden died the Old Boys Association chose Whitmore as their Patron.

It is perhaps indicative of both a change in public attitude and the flexibility which staff shortages were forcing on the educational world that, before 1967 the first women staff in peacetime were being appointed to the school.

For some twenty years “The Old Creightonian” news sheets had been published separately from the magazine but in 1957 the Old Boys’ news was again incorporated in The Kilburnian. The major feature of this time was the acquisition and development of a playing field, for the Old Boys had suffered alongside the School from the loss of Aylestone Avenue and they wanted no repetition. In 1956 a project for securing a field was launched and, with much courage and more effort was brought to reality in 1960, at Tentelow Lane, Southall. Twelve acres of ground were bought and in course of time a fully equipped pavilion was provided.

Under D F WiIIiams speech days continued to be held normally in the Michaelmas term. The principal speakers were headmasters, directors of education, high officers from the BBC, college principals, newspaper editors, suffragan bishops, university professors, authors, actors and MPs. WiIliams was the first headmaster to invite distinguished old scholars and he began in 1949 with F R Poskitt, headmaster of Bolton School. The others were E W M. Potts, headmaster of Hendon County School and a former member of staff, J W Blake, professor of history at Keele university and J A Camacho, head of planning for the Light Programme of the BBC. The vote of thanks to Camacho was proposed by R D J (Richard) Baker, then in 1957 a television news reader. He had been Head Boy in 1942-43 and became perhaps the most widely known “Kilburnian” face of all time.

In the post war era parent/staff evenings were so regular a feature in the school calendar that they attracted no mention in the magazine. On the other hand Kilburn never formed a “Parent-Teacher Association” and in this respect it was unusual.

Secondary education in state schools in the post-war years was long the subject of argument. The 1944 “Butler” education act laid down that there should be free secondary education for all, according to “age, aptitude and ability”. It set out as the norm a division into grammar, “Secondary Modern” and technical schools. The grammar schools were to be attended by the top 25% of achievers in an “Eleven Plus” examination. This arrangement was from the first challenged by those who said that any selection was unfair. The matter rapidly became, at both local and at national levels, a party political concern.

The Labour Party espoused “Comprehensive schools’ and the Conservative Party stood by selection. Throughout the period Labour controlled Willesden Borough Council but were unable to proceed with a comprehensive scheme without the co-operation of the Middlesex County Council, and this they were never able to secure for sufficiently long to achieve their aim. The consequent uncertainty was most unhelpful to the school (and KGS was not alone in this respect). Argument seemed at times to proceed from social rather than from educational considerations. It even intruded into speech days, when everybody was traditionally supposed to be on their best behaviour!

KGS could do little to determine its own fate, which was clearly not going to be settled in isolation. Ironically it was a Conservative government’s measure which in the end decided the issue. In 1964 “Greater London Boroughs” were set up, autonomous in, among other things, education. One such borough was a “shotgun marriage” of the old Middlesex boroughs of Willesden and Wembley. Labour secured political control and promptly introduced a comprehensive scheme. “Kilburn Grammar School” was to become “Kilburn Senior High School”. David Williams, who had suffered a heart attack in 1966 and been absent for a term, decided that the problems of the new school were best left to a successor and he laid down his office. As far as Kilburn Grammar School was concerned, there was to be no successor.

Next: Chapter 7 – Epilogue

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