Robin Woolven memories (joined 1949)
I started at the Southern Grammar School, at the Highland Road site, in September 1949 as a member of form 'One Green' whose form master was either Mr Hitchens (French) or Mr Ruoff (Geography). French was taught by Mr (CCF Major) Cummings. The only other boys I remember in that class were one Scudder (remembered, as Scudder was the American newspaper man murdered in The 39 Steps) and Peter Knight? - a South African lad who was good at all sports. For that first year I travelled by trolley bus (no 3 or 4) or a Southdown from St Mary's Church, Kingston to Albert Road then I walked to school past familiar shops, even sparing time to gaze in the windows of the smart Swiss Cafe where they sold cream cakes - rationing was still in force so they looked luxurious. From year two I took to my bicycle when the weather was reasonable. This meant negotiating Fratton Bridge four times daily as I invariably went home for lunch and only very rarely had school dinners' in the main hall.
I was on the week-long trip to Paris in 1952 - my first experience of the channel crossing and "foreigners". I have strong memories because there was a general strike of transport workers and we moved around the city on army lorries manned by Foreign Legionnaires in cloaks and Kepis. Naturally we 'did' the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, the top of the Arc de Triomphe and the novelty of shopping for unrationed chocolate in Bon Marche and a large cigar I bought for my Grandfather - he never smoked it! Accommodation was in a hotel by the Luxembourg Gardens where we sat and sipped from small bottles of nasty red wine.
I am also in the Bruges Trip photograph on the website and I particularly remember the Beguinage complex by the water in Bruges and how much I enjoyed the day in Bouillon where we exploring the castle up on the hill. On that holiday photograph on the website I recognise my friend John Parkyn next to me in the rear row, the fair haired boy named King and the well-built Tony (Simmonds?) who later joined the Navy. Of the staff I recognise Mr K Thomas (Maths), Mr Dwerryhouse (Maths), Mr Cummings and Miss Cook(e), the school secretary whose office was next to the of the rather severe Mr H Mills, the headmaster. Mr Mills was held in great awe. He seemed to spend break times standing at his mezzanine level office window commanding a view of the whole of the "playground" from where he would indicate with a pointed finger the unfortunates who would then have to report to him. For safety reasons my mates stood out of sight directly below his window - and we were generally law abiding chaps.
In my third or fourth year I was in Mr Pallant's (Biology) class in the new single storey building to the right rear in the 1953 school photo. 'Don' Pallant was a young teacher known for his liberal use of a length of rubber Bunsen burner hose. On the chemistry side I remember Mr (and Flt Lt in the CCF) Chatterton who, like the rest of the science staff, urged us to join the "Physical Society" (or similar name) which met monthly in Portsmouth Polytechnic lecture theatre - the lectures there were a revelation of fascinating things beyond school curriculum and I still remember the talk on the history of the measurement of the speed of sound.
I remember an "Open Day" in the Biology building which I spent 'demonstrating' the dissection of a bull's eye. Other teachers I remember well are the Music master Mr 'Harry' Steed whose music room was above that of the Art Master Mr Jeffries. On that point I remember being in an art class whilst Mr Steed, at the piano, was leading his class above us in a rousing song and tapping feet which caused the art room ceiling to vibrate. Mr Jeffries was furious (not an unusual state) and shouted loudly complaining of 'that damned fool Steed.' I was no budding artist but I do remember two occasions on which my work was acknowledged. The first was when Mr Jefferies gave us the subject of "A Beach Scene" and, incapable of a masterpiece, painted in watercolours the beach as seen from the top of a cliff above it - so sand, waves and circular coloured umbrellas were depicted. On the second occasion I thought I was risking Mr Jefferies' ire when issued with green plasticine which I rolled into crocodiles of various sizes which were then exhibited in the art room glass case for a week or two.
Music teacher Mr Harry Steed who was organist at a church just "over the hill", had taught at the school in the pre-war years and my two cousins (Dennis and Raymond Gibbons) remembered him producing their annual Gilbert and Sullivan productions performed in the old building on Fawcet Road. Both cousins joined the navy as Engine Room Artificers, Dennis losing his life in a submarine attacked by the Japanese - I have checked his and his ship's details in the RN Submarine Museum at Haslar.
In February 1952, due to the shortage of classrooms, I remember my class working in the upper hall (outside Dr King's geography room and Mr Steed's music room) when chemistry master Mr (and Sub Lt RN CCF) Westwood entered to announce, in solemn tones, the death of King George VI. For the 1953 Coronation celebrations, for which we all received a souvenir mug or similar and a message from the new Queen, I was on duty in my Queen's Scout uniform, selling celebration programmes in the Guildhall Square - Scouting with the 21st Portsmouth (St Wilfrid's, Ewart Road off George Street where I went to Primary School) was my main extramural interest - until certain girls of the SGS in Fawcet Road entered my life. I was also a member of the St Anne's church choir in HM Dockyard although I had no musical talent - but they paid 6d a week plus certain bus fares and extra for weddings etc.
School woodwork and metalwork classes were held in Reginald Road School out at Eastney, the former by a young teacher who, in his spare time, built a harpsicord (or similar instrument) in Iight oak; his wife taught at the SGS Girls' School. I still have, because my parent kept it, the small coffee table I built/threw together, not a thing a beauty but still in use in my study. Metalwork was taught by the splendid Dickensian Mr Trout who I recognise is sitting on the right of the staff row in the 1954 school photograph, next to the gentleman who was the experimenter (or whatever he was called) in the Science Block, with Miss Cook(e) at the end of "the staff", such was the social order 60 years ago. Under Mr Trout's direction I made and decorated a small copper ashtray whose main advantage was that I appeared knowledgeable when purchasing much larger copper trays in the bazaar in Tehran in the days of the Shah in the early 1960s - needless to say my little ashtray is still somewhere in my study.
Sessions at Reginald Road School were not the only school activities that required mobility as the sports facilities were up on the Eastern Road between the harbour and the (then) Portsmouth Aerodrome. 'Sports afternoons' were no real pleasure as a long bicycle ride preceded and followed any 'games' played in the wind blowing off Langstone Harbour. I was coached/harassed on the sports ground by a Mr Hobson, a small and very fit sports master. But top of my complaints list would have been the gym for our weekly half hour of PT way up on an "island" at the junction of Francis and Devonshire Avenues (the site on Google maps seems to be a Co-op store). So, a rapid walk or run was essential both before and after the gym work - nothing beat a quick shower (if you were lucky) then a trot back to the Highland Road site to get one sweating again. Perhaps these experiences of sports and games was the reason why I never developed any real interest in sports or much physical exercise other than squash and hill walking, but they did provide ideal training for dealing with PT and sports afternoons later in the RAF.
Francis Avenue was also the route from my home in Manor Road, Kingston (subsequently demolished to provide a sports field for a girls' school), over Fratton Bridge or the pedestrian footbridge at Fratton station, past the Danish Bacon and the Fyffes banana warehouses and down Francis Avenue. If Mr 'Tish' Tilney - in his grey spats striding down from Fratton Station (I think he commuted from Hayling Island or somewhere equally exotic) overtook you - or you, him - he would engage you in "improving" your conversation for the rest of the walk. He was, of course, a very nice but rather intense gentleman, a senior French master who spent his lunch hours hosting either his Bible Class or the weekly Stamp Club. I remember in one of my years a pale and frail boy named Peter Meyer (?) who was, I assume, from a German refugee family. His English was good and he coached me in my few words of German - all picked up from British prisoner of war films.
Other teachers that I remember include Mr R M White (English - his wife taught at the SGS Girl's School) and my Maths teacher Mr George Spraggs, on whom we had informal social snippets from one Appelby, the boy that delivered the Spraggs' daily newspaper. Dr King the geographer was an excellent teacher - he must have been as he liked the maps I drew! He, like Mr Jeffries, had a very short temper so was known to shout frequently - Dr King may have been somewhat disabled and in frequent pain, which would explain most things. Mr J Thomas taught history and I remain most grateful to him for explaining the essentials of our world to (I think) 1918 when history ended! I thought of Mr J Thomas quite recently when, in the course of writing an article for a London local history journal, I had the opportunity to use 'antidistablishmentarianism' - the longest word in the language Mr Thomas told us. The other Mr Thomas was the maths master Mr K Thomas who is on the left in the Bruges trip photograph. Mr K Saxon Walker (English) impressed me in those boring sombre grey-suit days by wearing blue corduroy suiting and through his vast knowledge of Shakespeare. He once challenged us to give him a line and he would respond with play, act, scene and line number. I made up a line and after a moment or two he rightly told me not to be silly. I admit that I never really 'got' Shakespeare although I was peripherally involved in some of the annual school plays then performed at the Teacher Training College opposite the White House at Milton. I do remember that my father made or had made by his ship's handyman, the gold painted throne (made out of an old steel stacking char) for Julius Caesar one year.
I have a strong memory of lining with my classmates, all caps on and straight, the roadside outside the Odeon Cinema, round the corner from school to cheer as Mr Churchill drove past from the South Parade Pier then turned East along to Eastney, waving his hat and/or cigar. I see from The Times Digital Archive that the date was almost certainly 11 December 1950 when the former (and subsequent) Prime Minister that day had been presented with the freedom of the City of Portsmouth.
As the examples on the website show, school speech days were held in my time with honoured guest speakers including the (female) Nicaraguan Ambassador in London and the thriller and occult novelist Dennis Wheatley - of whom I had never heard and whom I have never since read.
Robin Woolven (July 2015)