Harrow County School for Boys 1952-58
by John Runnicles
I started at Harrow County School in 1952 in Form 1B, with a newly-joined Form Teacher, Mr Marchant, who we also had for Latin. On the first day he appointed me Form Captain, for which the principal duty appeared to be to get blamed when the class failed to show up for a lesson in the right room at the right time. Given the convoluted geography of the school, this happened quite frequently in our first few days. On one of these occasions, for Biology, I had my first terrifying encounter with a certain Major Bigham. Mr Marchant also set us our first homework, to learn some basic Latin nouns. This was my first experience of homework – but most certainly not my last, by a long way! We had actually been advised of this forthcoming activity by Dr Simpson at a new boys and parents evening some time earlier, and had been considerably depressed to hear the size of the burden we were to expect to take on progressively over our time at the school.
I don't recall much of the day-to-day sequence of events of the next few years, during which I progressed through 2A, 3A, 4A, PVIA and AVIA, but certain characters do stand out:-
- The Headmaster, Dr Simpson (Square). A remote figure, the headmaster doesn't really bring back much in the way of specific memories – probably because I had little direct contact with him. Of course, I remember his harangues on various subjects at assembly, and his interminable discourses at Speech Days, but I don't recall having the sort of strong personal feelings about him that some other correspondents appear to have had. I do know I disappointed him greatly by choosing not to try for university at the end of my schooling.
- Chemistry with Mr Devenold, aided and abetted by Mr Carr, his laboratory assistant. Discipline was enforced vigorously by means of a plimsoll, marked 'DEV' on the sole. The inscription was in red paint, although many pupils claimed the coloration was actually blood.
- French with Mr King, who to enliven a lacklustre response from a class used to stride up and down a line of desks striking any boy in range with a pair of rulers or a cane, which he kept in the sleeve of his gown. He was also a mean shot with a piece of chalk or a boardrubber at longer range. Despite this, he was generally liked by the pupils, who rather enjoyed dodging these attacks. It certainly kept us on our toes – and made the time pass more quickly!
- Latin with Mr Pritchard, a diminutive person with a tendency to set impositions at the drop of a hat, usually only to cancel them as he left the room at the end of the lesson. However, woe betide anyone who assumed his punishment had been cancelled on those occasions when it wasn't. I had a friend, RP Thomas, whose name Mr Pritchard couldn't seem to remember correctly, so my friend was expected to respond either to 'Thomas', 'Thomson', or, for some unaccountable reason, 'Walker'.
- English with Mr Yelland – nicknamed 'Skull' as a result of his somewhat gaunt appearance. A very likeable man, who managed to make English Language and Literature actually interesting, as did another English teacher, Mr Golland (who features extensively elsewhere on this website).
- German with Mr Attridge, another likeable person, but whose lessons were so dry that the word 'arid' comes to mind. Many of us had an unfortunate tendency to doze off, which did cause something of a problem when occasionally he asked a direct question.
- Music with Mr Thorne (George). I vividly remember the embarrassment of each boy being required to attempt to sing in his first lesson – apparently an audition for the school choir. Those who were selected were thereafter required to attend weekly choir practices at lunchtimes, so failure at this audition tended to be something of a relief.
- Biology with Major (as he then was) Bigham. After our first biology homeworks had been marked and returned, anyone with less than a certain mark was taken into the back room one at a time and caned - hard. The standard of homework certainly improved thereafter, although caning remained the standard punishment for any other failures to meet his expectations, and there were many victims. Biology lessons were filled with tension, and I don't recall any other teacher being so universally feared and disliked in my whole time at school.
- French with Mr Kinkaid – a younger teacher who joined the school during my time. Hi lessons were like a breath of fresh air, as was the man himself. He also played the guitar, a skill which was much admired.
- History with Mr Mees (Harry). His failure to inspire me at the time with an interest in history certainly was not due to any lack of enthusiasm on his part, rather, I suspect, to the syllabus that he was required to follow during my time with him. An energetic and forceful character, he was still at HCS (or rather Gayton High) when my sons attended, and apparently asked if he had not taught their brother at one time!
- Art with Mr Oliver. An unconventional member of the staff, he never wore a gown, and his corduroy jacket was something of a sartorial trademark. He constantly tried (unsuccessfully) to wean me away from the sort of precision in my artwork that I preferred. He also ran the 'Afro-American Music Society', which I eventually discovered meant jazz.
- PT with Mr Amos (Swanny). Being decidedly un-athletic by both build and disposition, I never rated highly with him. My reports were always either 'Weak' or 'Fair', and the height of my achievement was one occasion when I got an additional comment of 'Tries'. Games afternoons were also an ordeal for me. In winter I spent a miserable hour or so on the rugby field, preceded by an equally miserable trek in the cold along the Watford Road to the playing fields, and likewise on the return. In summer I was bored silly standing around doing nothing very much on the cricket pitch most of the time, relieved only by (very brief) spells at the wicket while some maniac hurled a red leather-covered projectile at me.
- Physics with Mr Rawnsley (Spargo). A mild, likeable, and undoubtedly knowledgeable man, whose unfortunate inability to control an unruly class regrettably denied many of us the opportunity to benefit from his teaching. He was not a member of the CCF, but it gave us considerable pleasure when he donned uniform on Remembrance Days – and was seen to outrank everyone else, including the self-important CCF Officer Commanding, Major Bigham!
Which brings me on to the CCF ...
Unlike, it seems, many of the contributors to this website, I actually enjoyed much of my time with the CCF. I started, as everyone did, wearing army uniform in the Basic Section, and after passing my Certificate A Part 1, I transferred to the Royal Naval Section, commanded at the time by Lieutenant 'Bert' Morshead. Here I progressed over the course of my school service to the rank of Cadet Petty Officer, and attended a number of 'camps' and courses. Sub-Lieutenant Goff took over command towards the end of my time in the section, and was promoted to Lieutenant.
In those days the CCF was a major part of school life, and every boy was expected to belong either to the Scouts or the CCF. We wore cadet uniform to school every Friday, and CCF activities occupied the last few hours of the day. CCF rank was taken very seriously – and as a senior NCO ('senior rate' in the RN section), one might actually be recognised as an individual by Major Bigham! The Annual Review was quite an occasion, with the salute being taken by a high-ranking service officer, who also inspected the massed ranks. The Pipe Band played, and we marched and performed various displays for the audience of parents and other invited guests – all very stirring stuff!
The school Army contingent was originally affiliated to the Middlesex Regiment, but later this was changed to the County of London Yeomanry. The main reason for this appeared to be to enable Major Bigham to be promoted to Lieutenant-Colonel – but no doubt there were other sound reasons ...
My period at HCS was marked by some significant external events. In October 1952 I was on the first train to be stopped outside Harrow and Wealdstone station, following the horrific crash. Had I caught my usual train, I would have been part of it. When our train was stopped no-one knew initially what the reason was, and my main concern was that I was going to be late for school. Eventually we were all told to get down out of the carriage, and then we saw the devastation just a short way ahead up the track. My parents had apparently checked with the school, and being advised of my non-arrival, naturally feared the worst. There was considerable relief all round when I eventually showed up.
The Coronation in 1953 was also somewhat exciting, and I recall watching it on a 9" black-and-white television at my uncle's, along with about twenty other members of the family, none of whom had a TV of their own at the time. At school I remember us all being presented with a commemorative propelling pencil – which unfortunately I no longer possess.
At another time we also had the excitement of a London Transport strike. Travel to and from school during this period was accomplished by thumbing lifts, which could be anything from a motorcycle to a luxurious Jaguar in my own case. Many of us also took the opportunity to use the same method to go on local expeditions during lunch breaks, and the uncertainty of getting back in time gave these an added spice.
Having decided, apparently much to the dismay and disgust of Dr Simpson, not to go to university, I left HCS in 1958 and went to Stoke-on-Trent to take the Pottery Manager's Diploma course at the then North Staffs Technical College. I emerged from this with a Dip. Ceram., and started my first real job at the Doulton Fine China works. I stayed with Royal Doulton for nearly ten years, moving via Work Study and Training roles into Personnel. During this period I also married a wonderful Stoke girl, and we had two sons. In 1970 I moved back south to join the Training Department of British European Airways (subsequently British Airways), and I remained with BA until my retirement as Human Resources Systems Consultant in 1996.