Harrow County School for Boys

Reminiscences of Martin Cutter - 1952 to 1959 - Preston House

I’ve visited this splendid site often and, after wallowing in nostalgia and sparking off so many memories, think it’s about time I contributed my 2 cents worth.

I must first say that this internet thing continues to amaze me. Here I am sitting in east central Illinois, writing to an English school site (apparently hosted in New York) whilst listening to a live radio programme from Newcastle, Australia. The world certainly has shrunk!

My earliest memory from HCS days doesn’t actually concern the school itself but a tragedy that took place a mile or so north from there. On October 8 1952, I was travelling to school from my home in Canons Park on the top of a number 18 bus and, just before we turned left at the end of Locket Road, heard a terrific kerrrummp. Shortly afterwards, we passed over the railway bridge at Harrow & Wealdstone and saw that terrible train wreck. I remember seeing what looked like a huge pile of coal with people crawling all over it and saying to a friend ‘ I wonder if that will be in the news tonight’. As we passed down the far side of the bridge, the third train ploughed into the wreckage. My classroom was on the ground floor by Sheepcote Road and that whole day was filled with the sound of ambulances rushing by with their bells ringing. 112 people perished in that disaster.

Most of my other memories I think relate to my later years at the school and are not in any particular order. But first, let’s deal with the staff.

Bill Duke - a kind, avuncular sort of guy who could really convey an interest in Maths. He had a few sayings to help us but I’m afraid I can only remember one - faced with having to raise a number by a power "when it’s up in the air, throw a log at it". Can anyone remember any of his other sayings?

Swanny Amos - a very thin person. None of us could emulate him when he pulled himself up on a beam holding his legs out horizontally. We all swore he had hollow legs.

Harry Mees. I’m afraid History was not my favourite subject and Harry was not able to spark any interest in me. I had chosen to join the scouts rather than the CCF and Harry was one of the masters affiliated to us. Every Friday we were compelled to come to school in uniform which of course included short trousers. Very chilly in the winter for us scouts and it was with a mixture of envy and amusement that we saw Harry wearing skin coloured long johns. The problem was they were a little too pink!

Alan Schofield - Also affiliated to the scouts and, maybe because he was vertically challenged or size challenged, known as Runt. I seem to recall he often had difficulty in controlling discipline in us unruly youngsters and we were forever thinking up new ways to upset him. He had a Morris Minor parked near the main entrance and on one occasion, a few of us decided to place the rear axle on some bricks. Unfortunately, we were spotted (by one G Thorn I think) and we were duly dispatched for a caning by Square. What I could not understand - to this day even- was why Square took his cane and administered a light tap to the butt and said ‘ this is a symbolic caning’. Perhaps he didn’t like Runt either.

A R Simpson - Square. I never had much to do with him and none of us could understand him. I read his valedictory to Bigham elsewhere on this site and couldn’t understand a single word. My sister’s comment was "what on earth was he on?"

‘Killer’ King (not RS but the French teacher - I think!) - He had an interesting way of keeping us alert during class. Occasionally, to re-inforce a point, he would take two rulers and stride down a line of desks alternately striking the desk and then the occupant’s head.

What with that and hurling sticks of chalk and board rubbers at us, by today’s standards we were certainly ‘in harms way’.

Chemistry teacher known as ‘Slipper’ ( his name escapes me) - the slipper being his chosen instrument for beating discipline into boys and always on display at the end of his desk. I remember the first time we met him, he came out of the prep room behind the desk with a pestle & mortar. "Good morning boys" he said, "I am Mr ?? and this is chemistry" .. whereupon he pounded the pestle into the mortar to produce a monumental explosion.

Who was the teacher who always before starting a class had to throw open all the windows? Was it ‘Twink’ Bradley?

And just who was Ross Salmon - the guy who appeared every year at the open day (Gayton Fair?) dressed as a cowboy, riding a horse and wielding a lasso. Supposedly an old boy but what did he do the rest of the year?

Moving on to memorable happenings - again in no particular order.

Roger Bates (I think) on a Sixth form society meeting and introducing a very famous celebrity who had come to talk to us. Roger went on at great length giving us all the details of this guy’s achievements and how privileged we were to have him with us .. ‘and without much further ado I have pleasure (face getting redder and redder) in handing over to....... I’m sorry but I’ve forgotten your name’.

During winter, the school field was normally out of bounds. However, we were allowed on after a good snowfall. On one occasion, we decided it would be good fun to hurl snowballs at busses passing down Kenton Road. We were just beginning to get bored with this when one bus stopped and the crew got out to remonstrate. You can imagine the sort of response they got!

At the top of the outer quad, near the arch, used to be parked a giant grass roller. One day some crazy kid removed the chock and set it rolling down the crowded playground. How no-one got hurt we will never know.

We scouts generally viewed our friends in the CCF with some pity. Why anyone would chose to join a club that forced you to march up and down in squads being barked at by the RSM was quite beyond us. Our life, although regimented to a certain extent, seemed a lot freer. I recall a couple of incidents involving the CCF which gave us some amusement.

In preparation for the annual field day, the army division was practising their assault demonstration. The attacking platoon was positioned at the Sheepcote road end and the defending group were stationed right alongside the swimming pool building - both groups heavily camouflaged with small shrubs etc. In order to impart a good degree of realism but without actual bloodshed, the attacking group would mortar fire thunderflashes up to the defended end of the field and this practice session was to get the range right. Unfortunately one launch charge was a little too generous and the thunderflash flew right over the defending group and into the swimming pool. I believe it nearly decapitated a boy standing on the top diving board! After that, they decided this method was a little too risky so they resorted to the defence group throwing out the thunderflashes in front of them at the appropriate time!

The RAF division acquired a glider that was launched by means of a giant catapult. Many times they amused us by trying to get this thing airborne over the school field. About ten boys would pull both ends of the elastic rope at an included angle of about 60 deg as far as they could and then the glider let go. Often it would land on the hallowed cricket pitch which would have upset a few people! I did hear that it once overshot the field and landed in the sports pavilion.

One extra-mural activity I was involved in was ballroom dancing - yes, we were encouraged to meet girls from HCSG. One of our teachers was married to one of theirs and they organised a regular visit to Lowlands Road after school to learn the rudimentary elements of the waltz, quickstep and fox-trot. Needless to say, being in the 1950’s, these occasions were somewhat tense affairs. All the boys down one end of the room, the girls at the other and that dreadful moment when we were asked to pick a partner!

Some of the girls came to the sixth form society meetings and one of them told me their headmistress had a ‘traffic light’ system installed in her office. The lights were outside the door, control on the desk. After knocking on her door, red meant ‘go away’, amber meant ‘wait until you’re called’ and green meant ‘enter’. On one dance evening, I was lead to the office and found myself transposing the red and green wires. Apparently the good lady was not amused when girls entered her office at inappropriate times (I remember the word ‘gin’ being mentioned a few times). One never escapes the consequences - someone split on me and I had to write a personal note of apology to her.

There must be many more memories locked up in my mind and may come out when I re-visit the site. After all, seven happy years of ones life is a sizeable chunk. Happy? Yes, most of the time - particularly the sixth forms. They were certainly carefree years - we were on a conveyor belt and only had to worry about passing exams. Mum & Dad provided everything else ’til the time you fell of the end of the belt and had to earn a living.

After leaving, I served a student apprenticeship at Jaguar Cars and then pursued a very interesting career with London Underground. I was mainly responsible for purchasing capital equipment like rolling stock, escalators, signalling systems etc. I ended up as Senior Contracts Engineer (M&E) on the ill-fated CrossRail Project. At the end of the design phase, the government decided to cancel the project. Which was fine for me as by that time I had met and married my second wife who is an American lady, a farmer’s daughter. Ever since my first visit, I have been drawn to America’s vast spaces and so the offer of a severance deal and early retirement was a no brainer.

We now live on the farm and are spending all our time on restoring and adding to the old farmhouse.

Kind regards to all,

Martin Cutter


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