The Prescotian Webzine

Mr. Hawthorne was a local JP, hence his nickname, 'Judd'. When I started at Prescot Grammar School in 1957, Judd was head of physics. This small, black suited chap rarely taught the younger forms and, only occasionally, did he stray far from room 7. Even then, the odds were that it was only to collect an odd piece of equipment from the other and bigger physics lab. As regular as clockwork, he headed home each day for his lunch, his pipe emitting sparks and clouds of smoke as he strolled purposefully across the playground. I was in 4b1 before I had him as a teacher and first became aware of his wicked sense of humour.

"Have you seen Arthur?", he asked one day.

"Arthur who?"

"Our thermometer!"

By then, he was very hard of hearing and his humour was sometimes unintentional. One boy had his hand up. "What is it now?" Judd asked with his usual feigned impatience. Could the boy be excused? Judd thought the he was asking if he could sharpen his pencil. "Do it in the basket - and don?t drop bits around!"

It was rare to find him in a bad mood but I remember Battersby and Spencer being "thrashed" (his word) with a half metre rule - doubtless they deserved it. I too overtaxed his patience but not until I was in the lower sixth.

Judd was walking up and down the aisle of room 7 dictating notes ("Every body shall persevere in its state of rest or of uniform motion except insofar as it be compelled to change that state of rest or of uniform motion......." Funny how you remember such phrases years later!) Andy Parker landed the first - a sticky bud right in the middle of the back of the gown which was hanging loosely off Judd's shoulders. Within a short space of time, it had been joined by several others. My own contribution was already on its way when Judd turned slightly (or maybe I was just a rotten shot) and the sticky bud knocked his hearing aid for six!

I owned up at once, of course, and was despatched to, "report myself to the headmaster" who told me what a silly boy I'd been, announced that he would be writing to my parents and dismissed me with a single word, "Go." I should, of course, have gone, but it was neither the outcome I had been anticipating nor the punishment I was mentally prepared for. Halfway to the door, I turned back. "Please Sir. Can I have six of the best instead?"

I'd been whacked often enough but I'd never had the cane before and, frankly, I had no desire to rectify that omission. I had an inkling that it would be rather more unpleasant than Joe's slipper - but anything was better than a letter to my parents. The Old Man reminded me that I was in the lower sixth - but seemed more favourably inclined when I pointed out that I'd got there via 5R and was only really a fifth former. With hindsight, I reckon it occurred to him that beating me was the easier option for him too.

The cane was altogether longer and thicker than I had expected. It bent easily as he flexed it. My suspicion that it was going to hurt was heightened by the discovery that the back of the armchair was just the right height for its secondary purpose and by the well rehearsed way in which the tail of my blazer was folded clear of the tightly stretched seat of my school trousers. What came next was indeed worse - considerably worse - than Joe's slipper. It stung like the devil and it was a relief to escape to the relative sanctity of the corridor for a spot of vigorous bottom rubbing before returning to room 7 trying to appear as nonchalant as I could and wondering why I'd requested six and not simply asked to be caned and left the tariff up to him. I hope nobody noticed the cringe when I got back to my place and sat on the wooden stool! After the lesson, Judd got the unrequired and unexpected apology he richly deserved.

Mr. Hawthorne chivvied me through A level Physics before I went to university and he retired. Not long after, I heard that he had died. Tom Tyson and I went to his funeral. We wrote to his widow and family but fond memories live on. Mr. Briggs too passed away about the same time. He wasn't the sort of person you could like as such but he was universally respected. The mortar board he wore for assembly exemplified his status. Otherwise, you rarely saw him unless he was on a anti-fag mission to the bogs.

He once came down to Hope Street (in his gown) after school. Never did the Crosville buses fill so orderly. On another occasion when I was in the fifth form, he stood in to cover a French lesson and it was the best French lesson I can remember - something about a grammatical football team. Mr. Briggs never married. He lived in the large house on the west side of the playing field north of the school and his garden frequently supplied the rhubarb and apples which made their way into the pies and crumbles we consumed with (not always) lumpy custard in the canteen.

He was precisely the kind of headmaster a large boys school needed. He knew how to respond to the steady stream of detention defaulters, truants, petty thieves, toilet door artists, smokers and practical jokers, not to mention those who were sent out, sneaked out (at lunchtime), upset bus conductors and the real villains who dared to come to school not wearing a cap or to interrupt the Old Man?s assembly ("There's a boy there laughing - yes you.") - if only they still made them like that! It was mentors like Messrs. Hawthorne and Briggs (and others, especially Mr. Lathom and Mr. Harvey) that lured me into a career as a teacher.

When I was appointed head of a grammar school in the seventies, headmasters were still expected to get down to the bottom of things when it came to enforcing good behaviour so I saw both ends of the proverbial stick! I was only one of countless hundreds, maybe th ousands, of boys who got their just desserts in the old man's study - but there can't have been who were foolish enough to ask for it!

See also Dr. Willmott's research on J.E.Hawthorne

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