The Prescotian Webzine

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When I attended my first Reunion last October, Professor Taylor kindly asked me if I would 'volunteer' to give a talk on my impressions of school life at PGS during the early 1920's. With some trepidation therefore, I offer you this essay and hope I have not been too self-indulgent.

My father had the idea that I might profit fron a Gramnar School education because I had shewn signs of promise in the infants' school I had attended. Mare importantly, his brother had decided to send his boys to Cowley School, so family honour was at state. Had I known all this at the tine, I might have worked a bit harder.

I suppose my first impression of PGS came with the interview with the Headmaster, Mr C W H Richardson, HA (Cantab), BA (London), who has gone down in history as one of the great pedagogue eccentrics. My fatter, who was not a well-off man and had no business experience, took me along for the interview which took place in one of the classrooms in the old school in High Street. To a boy of eight relatively tender years, the Headmaster could present a terrifying prospect with his mortar board and black gown, beetling eyebrows and devilish smile. Some years were to pass before I realised what a kind man he was and how well regarded by all. Apparently, I must have given the right answers to the oral questions: I remember saying that there were eight half-crowns in one pound and thirty pence in half-a-crown, but I've forgotten what followed except that my father intimated I would start after the holidays and it would be necessary to buy cap, blazer and books. If my memory serves me aright, the cap and blazer were sold by the Johnson family and the books came from Quicks, both in Kemble street. At this point, I ought to mention that the cap was black, encircled with a narrow blue band which earned us the sobriquet o f'Blue Band Margarine' from the local yobos, until the design was changed to black and blue alternate quarters with badge. We then suffered the indignity of being called the 'High Street Jockeys'. The badge was an impressive affair and carried the latin inscription 'Floreat Prescotia'. Eton was a few years earlier with 'Floreat Etonia'. (Geoff Dixon reminds us that Eton was our sister foundadtion. Ed.) The black blazer originally had piping round the edge, later replaced by royal blue tape. Sundry stationery was provided by the School, including the ubiquitous 'scribbler', I wonder whether they have them now!

Ite School, in 1921, was expanding rapidly following the Great War due to its growing reputation and title efforts of the Headmaster. The High St premises were quite unable to house all the pupils and, in consequence, I found myself in the Parish Rooms where Forms I & H were established on the first floor. This outpost of junior scholarship represented the nursery end of the Grammar School and was presided over by two very able, dedicated and delightful ladies, Miss Buckle and Miss Milburn. Looking back in later life, I am amazed at the ground we covered with virtually zero facilities, our reading was comprehensive and by the age of ten I had read Lamb's Tales From Shakespeare, all the Norse gods and the Greek legends, and A Shorter English History besides dabbling in Art and Nature study. We had a good basis for more detailed study later on. In Arithmetic we got as far as decimals. You just had to know your Tables. Weekend homework included a General Knowledge paper which was alright if you had a Pear's Encyclopedia - but some of us didn't.

I recall one occasion when we were asked "Who was Robin Goodfellow?" The expected answer was, of course, a character or knavish sprite in A Midsummer Night's Dream, but in my ignorance I could only think of the racing correspondent in the Daily Mail. The howls of laughter which greeted my reply did nothing for my self-esteem. Apart from the two teachers I have mentioned, I have a vague recollection of a Miss Burton. Mid-rooming break was sometimes held 'in situ' but in fine weather we could go into the playground at the High St school. On one such occasion, when I was first out of the classroom, I slammed the door which locked itself.

The unfortunate class was 'confined to barracks' until I returned - no amount of pleading convinced them that I had not done it on purpose. Lunch was a bit of a problem unless you were local and could go home. During the whole of my schooldays there was neither canteen nor dining hall, cne had to go back to the High St school where a small back room was allocated to those staying dinner. Here, one could sit at a desk to eat one's sandwiches. In cold weather a coal fire was lit and this enabled us to boil water in an enormous kettle: the wherewithal to make our cocoa or tea. These primitive facilities were presided over by a senior boy, who, dressed in a little brief authority,brooked no nonsense. Argumentative or rebellious types like myself were unceremoniously ejected down the steps. I remember Goulding and Sam Rawlins being seniors and responsible for keeping order. Boys with an expense allowannce greater than mine patronised Ray's shop which did a roaring trade in meat and potato pies, Tnis taught me that, although all men are equal in the sight of God, some are more equal than others in the sight of man.

During my two years in the 'junior school', I cannot recall attending any organised sports.These came later with the new school. I do remember having 'Drill' or P T sessions. They took place under the eagle eye of Mr Handley who was probably an ex-army instructor. Some years later, I met Mr Handley again when he was forming the Local Defence volunteers, afterwards the Home Guard.

When my sojourn in the Parish Rooms ended, we moved into the Assembly Rooms, 1st floor, at the other end of High St. Close by, was the office of Henry Cross, solicitor, who was responsible for collecting the School Fees. To me, the word 'cavernous1 describes the Assembly Booms -I never liked them. The Parish Rooms had an air of 'Gemutlichkeit' or cosiness about them which was now lacking. Gradually, new subjects were introduced,- French, Latin, Algebra, Geometry etc. News of the building of our new school filtered down to the ' lower deck'. New faces among the masters began to appear and the school population was visibly increasing. Following a disastrous start with French and Latin, my School Reports assumed a downward trend to the despair of 'Wee Willie Whitworth' and Joe 'Egg' Hammond. The latter, I am pleased to say, made me more familiar with the wooden side of the blackboard duster, and my Latin became respectable, though French remained a mystery.

Came the great move to the new school in St Helens Road; an occasion much overdue and to which the Headmaster had been working since 1913, the year of my birth! The Dickensian premises of High Street and the other outposts were left behind without regret. At last, all the pupils were under one roof. It was 1924, I was 11 years of age and felt a mixture of apprehension and exhileration as the tempo of school life began to increase.

The transition from the Ridiculous to the Sublime generated a new sense of purpose - the ship was now on course. He had decent laboratories, toilets, cloakrooms, new classroom furniture and a bicycle shed. He also acquired a Caretaker, the unflappable Mr Beesley, whose presence must have proved invaluable with some 240 boys on site and many acres of playing fields to maintain. The 'House1 system was inaugurated. The four Abuses were for many years, Alpha, Kappa, Lambda, and Onega.

Such are my impressions of the School up to the opening of the new building.

There was Mr Robinson, a most extraordinary gentlemen who travelled daily from Hallasey to teach at PGS. I remember his saying that no boy should be without a piece of string, a penknife and a sixpence - an early form of insurance. Mr Stevenson, who died only recently at a great age, came to school on a motor cycle when mechanised transport was comparatively rare. In vain did he try to teach me the theory of Music. Mr Dixon, whom I am glad to see here this evening, taught me the joys of English Lit. and I credit him with the introduction of 'set books' for study during the summer holidays. Mr. Chant taught history - more specifically for those who were interested. Much later in life, I developed a keen interest in the subject, so perhaps his efforts did not fall on stony ground. Mr Drewry I remember as the Chemistry master.

He encapsulated the subject in an easily remaitered form and for a brief period I moved up into the top half of the Form league Table. Mr Hawthorne was a Riysics specialist and had lectured in the subject at University. I remember bringing him a real bull's eye from our village slaughterhouse to help illustrate the tfteory of Light. It was a pretty odd thing to carry in one's school bag alongside the egg and bacon sandwiches. Mr Wood was a nice man, a lover of Mathematics with a Bolton accent. Affectionately known as 'Eddie', he helped me with many facets of his subject, save only Mechanics and logarithms which fortunately I did not need until later. Mr Bailey, 'FAB', I remember as a gentleman of undoubted scholarship, most amiable and helpful, who found himself at times in a class of phillistines. They were a highly professional staff and I am glad that some of the wisdom they dispensed rubbed off on me. Unlike the present, there was no difficulty in distinguishing staff from pupil.The cane had not been abolished. The Headmaster wielded it whilst the staff used the board duster. Minor peccadilloes involved detention or lines, Today, it must be intolerable to be a Headmaster.

Before closing, allow me to indulge myself in recalling the names of some of my friends from those far-off days, and whom I have not seen since. Saunders who lived with his widowed Mother and sister in Bainhill - I spent many happy Saturday evenings with them. Page from Eccleston Park whose mother would give me a second breakfast when I called for him in the mornings. Conning was always top of the class. The Craik brothers who went into law. Jim Robinson who became an accountant and whom I met when we worked for the same firm in Liverpool. Large, Bird, Hailwood, Hewitt from Moss Bank and Big Hewitt from Knowsley. Underwood, Errington, the Turtills and many more. There were eight Taylors at one time. Bruce Marshall, Kitchen, Adoock........the list is endless and reminds me of a magic lantern showing names and faces from another world.

Perhaps 1 have exceeded my brief here and there, do be tolerant........ now I am of the age when looking back can be more satisfying than looking forward. The influence of The School, staff and Friends is immeasurable and I am happy to acknowledge my indebtedness.

My final recollection is the prayer which the Headmaster often used at Morning Assembly, (which, incidentally, was always a bit of a shambles)...... It went something like this:

"May He support us all day long, till tie shades lengthen and the evening comes and the busy world is hushed and the fever of life is over and our work is done. Thai, in His mercy, may He give us a safe lodging and a Holy rest and Peace at the last."

Remember the 'Old Man' searching in his pockets for, say, a pencil and producing buttons, string, large bent penknife, coppers, chalk, cough sweets, pipe, matches, nibs, a drawing pin ... no pencil.


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