HENRY MELLISH COUNTY SECONDARY (Grammar) SCHOOL
The scholarship I had won was to allow me to attend free of charge what was then called a Secondary School. The school was Nottingham Education Committee’s school, High Pavement, situated in Nottingham City. High Pavement now has an infamous old boy, Dr Harold Shipman. But my father noted that there was a secondary school in Bulwell called Henry Mellish which had playing fields adjacent to the school buildings. Furthermore the school was nearer to my home. Not only was High Pavement further away but its playing fields were not adjacent to the school. The only snag was that Henry Mellish was under the control of Nottinghamshire County Education Committee so I would have to be a fee payer. The total fees for the year were I think £14.10s.0d (£14.50). At the start of every term we had to call out in what capacity we were attending, fee payer, scholarship or Governors’ Special Place. I always thought that to be called a fee payer was to be classed as a thickie, perhaps this was a possibility when the boy lived in the county but to anyone who would listen I loudly said that despite being a fee payer I had passed the scholarship. No-one really cared of course.
Me in the front row immediately above the “H” in “Henry”
4th on my left is P J Ebling and 6th on my right is my cousin C G Green
The Headmaster is 2 rows above the “H” in “Mellish” & the “S” in school
On the Head’s left is “Froggie” Smith and G E Goodall is two to his right
6th to his right is R R S Bennett
Henry Mellish County Secondary School was founded in the late1920’s. In 1920 the Bulwell site of 9.32 acres had been purchased from the Duke of Newcastle at am overall cost of about £6,000. The school was opened in the autumn term of 1929. The first head was a Mr A O Balk whom I never met. Mr Houston was the head I knew. The school was named after Lieutenant-Colonel Henry Mellish CB DL who had been chairman of the Nottinghamshire Education Committee. There was a picture of him in the headmaster’s study. It showed him shotgun under arm, on a grouse moor. Mellish was educated at Eton and Balliol College, Oxford where he obtained a First Class in Mathematics in Moderations and a First Class in Science in Honours. He was a member of the Bisley Committee of the National Rifle Association and was one of the best rifle shots in the world. He died in 1927 two years before the school which he nurtured during many years in the service of Nottinghamshire Education Committee.
Lieutenant-Colonel Henry Mellish
Governors were remote people in those days; they were never seen even on speech days. Their word was law. No question of democracy. It seemed to work well though. Parent governors were the thing of a remote future.
The day invariably started with Assembly. From our form rooms we went in procession to the School Hall where daily prayers were held. We sang from the Public School Hymn Book. I still love those hymns, especially “All saints who from their labours rest” which we always sang on the last day of term. It seemed to me that everybody attended prayers but perhaps there were Jewish boys who were excused. If there were Jewish boys in our form I did not notice them. There were certainly no Muslims or Sikhs at the school.
Whenever G E Goodall who taught mathematics happened to be in charge of our form, before we were allowed to troop into Assembly we were inspected to see if we had cleaned our teeth that morning and cleaned our shoes. C lean shoes for him were a true sign of inward grace Good manners were to him even more important than Pythagoras. He was perhaps at his most eloquent on the subject of The Minor Prophets. He was a great influence for good on us all and especially me. When teaching maths he used to say “I don’t want your best I want what’s reet (right)”. Another habit of his was to ask a boy if he was “Not dead yet?”
The masters all wore gowns. Most had been to Cambridge. All were male in 1936 when I joined form IB. Our form teacher an Ulsterman called Mr Connors. Sadly he was called up in 1939 and soon afterwards was killed. I remember Froggie Marshall and Froggie Smith. All French masters were called Froggie. Of my schoolmates I only remember a few. Pollard, whose father had a lace factory, my close friend Peter (Ebling) who lived in Mapperley, and Northfield whom I admired for his athletic prowess.
Peter Ebling in school blazer but without the regulation cap and house tie
We wore school blazers and white shirts always with a house tie. I was in Blue House. There were a number of school rules. No running in corridors. House shoes to be worn whenever we were indoors. These superficially looked like ordinary black shoes but were of the soft elastic sided type. They were to protect the plaster on the walls. No fountain pens were allowed, we must not walk with hands in our trouser pockets. Shorts were worn in forms I and II, longs after that. School caps must be worn when out of school even during holiday times. If you were seen cap-less during the holidays nothing would happen but you would be told off. Henry Mellish colours were on everything save our underwear. We had gym kits, rugby kits, cricket kits and a swimming costume (not trunks!) all with school colours and all from Griffin and Spalding, Long Row, Nottingham. It is interesting that what I afterwards recognised as the middle classes all played rugby at school rather than soccer. A few schools exceptionally played soccer but not many. The result is that in England soccer is supported by the middle class but not played by them. It results in a reduction in the pool of talent available to the England selectors. Soccer players and also managers tend to come from the working class. Now known as Chavs! This is in contrast to continental countries whose players and managers are recruited from all classes.
Discipline at Henry Mellish was maintained by a number of punishments, Written Lines, Saturday Morning Detentions and exceptionally, the Cane. This latter was always administered by the Head. Prefects could also punish. Prefects were very grand people. They were allowed a special cap and the Head Prefect had a tassel in the school colours. At first I confused the word “prefect” with the word, “perfect” and hence regarded them with more respect than they deserved. I never had the cane or a “Saturday Morning” even though I earned them!
A big change for me was the school dinners. A two course hot meal was provided at a cost to the parent, or boys could take sandwiches. But my parents would not allow sandwiches and I think they were right. Cooked food is better and it is also good to eat with other people. Table manners are learnt by example. I was always hungry and at first rushed to eat my food. I was told off by a boy about this. He pointed out that the others always waited until the salt and pepper were to hand before wading in. I think the food on the whole was excellent. I retain a liking for school food to this day.
Scrooge and Bob Crachit
Lunch was always served by the school caretaker whose wrinkled face and constant severe expression had earned him the nickname “Scrooge” (A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens). Even the masters called him that rather than calling him by his proper name of Mr Wilson. It was Scrooge who, serving ladle in hand, standing at the entrance to the kitchen, always gave the signal for the serving ritual to start. Then each table in turn went up and queued to be served by the kitchen staff including Mrs Wilson who was a very nice woman. Scrooge himself always served and it was he who signalled when second helpings were available which occasionally they were. Boys are always hungry. In the six years I knew him I never once saw Scrooge smile, let along laugh.
Geoff Green and Hilda at their wedding
My first cousin Geoffrey Green from Gedling a few miles away joined the school at the same time as I did. He was in form IC. I tried and perhaps he also tried to get into the A form stream but neither of us got anywhere. The A forms did Latin and I think, French, we in the B forms did French and German. I don’t think the C form did French but I am not sure about that. Surely they would need a foreign language for the School Certificate? But one boy said to me “what’s the use of learning French? I’ll never go to France.” I pointed out to him that there had recently seen a school trip to Rouen but he remained unconvinced. Little did I know at that time how much time I was to spend in France.
We progressed up the school gradually acquiring new privileges. About form IV we were allowed to put our hands in our pockets when walking and to use fountain pens. Two years on form VI was permitted to wear the school tie and most were appointed sub-prefects but I was not one of them.
I was only to spend two terms in the lower sixth form. Interviewed in 1964 the Headmaster said that in his time at the school (1935-640 the greatest change had been in the growth of the sixth form. The strongest reason for a school of this type is the sixth form where, I think more is done for boys than at any other stage in the school Pupils are becoming young men and mature people and they begin to organise their own work and their own activities. During my brief spell I did biology and chemistry. The biology mistress was Betsy Norman who had been a medical student at Edinburgh but never qualified. She had an unfortunately exaggerated idea that the veterinary course was easier than the medical course. In reality they are much the same standard. Her husband was an RAF Group Captain.
The metalwork master was a Mr Pomfret. He took us for religious knowledge. He was not very good at that so taught us a few political truths. He did not indoctrinate us in any way but rather enlightened us to the political realities. His way was to initiate a general discussion avoiding giving his own opinion until the very last. He had been a machine gunner during the First World War. We thought that must have been awful but he said they were mostly firing at unseen targets.
By early 1939 things in the country had got into in a rather poor state. It was obvious that Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain was to be replaced. Mr Pomfret asked us each in turn who we thought would be the replacement. I think I said Lord Halifax. All round the class people gave different answers but nobody mentioned Mr Churchill but after we had all had our say Mr Pomfret said he thought it might be Mr Churchill. We were amazed. Who was Mr Churchill? Mr Pomfret also enlightened us on things like the Thermite bomb which would be used to great effect by the Luftwaffe in incendiary bombs. We did not learn a lot of theology from Mr Pomfret but his lessons were very valuable.
One master had a profound effect on us all. This was George Ernest Goodall, GEG to us. I have already written about him above. He too had been in the First World War as a private I think. Before coming to Henry Mellish he had been a schoolmaster at an Elementary School which is where those who had either not passed the scholarship or who had rejected it went. He was a maths teacher and very fierce. Nobody dared not do all of their maths homework. We were expected to do our maths prep in 20 minutes. We had two other subjects each night making a total of one hour’s work. I took at least three hours to do my homework. If your maths homework was only partly done his response was “double it” in other words do two problems in place of the one missed. I used to sit up very late sometimes doing my homework. My father was marvellous. The radio would be switched off whilst I was working. In the winter there was only one room which had a fire so that meant only one room was in use. My bedroom was far too cold to work in. Combination of my fear of GEG and the diligence with which I pursued my homework meant I became very good at Maths and eventually was awarded a distinction in the School Certificate Examination which I took at age 15. It was all due to GEG.
We did geometry theorems on the blackboard and GEG would ask if that was the shortest way to prove that theorem. Twice I went up to the blackboard and solved the theorem with one less step. An exasperated GEG said “Jackson, you like pulling rabbits out of hats don’t you?” It was true, I did!
The prophet Hosea
GEG was a biblical scholar and an expert on the prophet Hosea who I am ashamed to say I have never read. A leading freemason GEG was Chairman of Hucknall County Council. He lived at 22 Derbyshire Lane, Hucknall, and an address indelibly in my mind. He was very enthusiastic about another Bulwell boy, Raymond Foster who went into the Anglican Church and got a Bachelor of Divinity degree (BDiv) from Durham. “They don’t grow on trees” said GEG (referring to the BDiv). I do not know why Raymond became an Anglican for everybody in Bulwell appeared to be a Methodist, but who am I to talk? Older than me by several years Raymond did very well and eventually became an Archdeacon in New Zealand where he was very popular. Years later I had lunch with his widow, Myrtle. She showed me a beer mat for Foster’s Lager which had been adapted to show Raymond’s head on it. I am proud of my slight acquaintance with no less a personage than an Archdeacon. His father, Sam Foster, was a friend of my father. The Fosters had a decorating business a few yards away from our house.
At Henry Mellish annual camps were held. I went to two of these, both in Derbyshire, held respectively at Hulme End and Hartington. We were in bell tents. My mother equipped me with a kit bag with lock, a sleeping bag and numerous other things in preparation for the camp. I enjoyed the camps greatly. A favourite activity was the damming of a stream, swimming in the pool thus created and floating on it various rafts. After breakfast, cooked and served by Scrooge we were free to stay in camp or go for a walk. Scrooge had his own tent and Methodist as I was I was horrified to see crates of beer in there. I think it was only one crate and we were there for a week, but oh! The depravity!
I remember remarking to one boy that the rice pudding they served at camp breakfasts wasn’t bad once you got used to it. “Rice pudding?” he said, “that was porridge”. I had never had porridge before. We were set chores every day. Once we were buttering bread and one boy asked “Who has buttered this bread?” “I did,” I replied. “Well who has scraped the butter off? He asked.” I was brought up to be frugal.
I loved the walks, some with a master leading and some on my own. The Dove and Manifold valleys were favourite places. I began a liking for exploration and map reading which has never left me. On the last walk of the camps the master leading that walk used to issue bars of chocolate. It was only one bar but that was attraction enough! He always got a good turnout.
Next time no more “Mr Nice Guy”
In 1939 it was obvious to me a boy aged 12, that Hitler had to be stopped. It is hard to justify any war, for wars, as my father said, never solve anything. My father could remember the terrible effects of the Great War 1014-1918. But in 1939 I was convinced our actual physical survival depended on fighting Hitler. I said as much to my Sunday School Teacher as on 3rd September 1939 we awaited the 11.00am broadcast by the Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain. The Sunday School Teacher was appalled at my view of the situation. He too would be remembering the 1914-18 war in which two of my uncles served in France, the diminutive Samuel Richard Martin in the Bantam Regiment and William Albert Martin. When Chamberlain announced we were at war I had already seen it was inevitable.
Chamberlain, just back from Munich
Churchill, he loved to pose!
There were many repercussions due to the war at school. We all had to carry gasmasks everywhere. At first these were kept in the cardboard box in which they were issued. The advice given by the government (The government advised on everything in great detail) was to bore two small holes in the box and thread a piece of string knotted inside so as to make a handle to enable the box to be suspended from our shoulder. But soon gas mask cases were on the market.
We were drilled as to how when and where to take shelter against air raids. Shelters were built in the school grounds. A nearby cellar in a neighbouring institution was also utilised. At home we had a shelter built in the back yard. And many a night I spent in that doing my homework by the aid of an electric torch. Just before the war there were a number of private air raid shelters on the market, many quite elaborate. I used to ask the salesman if their model was bomb proof. The answer was always the same, “It will survive anything save a direct hit”.
Soon everything was in short supply, especially number eight batteries. These were the most popular size for hand held torches. Blackout was strictly enforced. I helped make shutters for our windows and in front of these we put sandbags so as to give us maximum protection. Lights of any kind were blanked off so as to show only slits. Greaseproof paper was also used to dim the light of torches. Getting about at night soon became hazardous and of course there was also a great deal of shrapnel falling from our own Anti Aircraft Guns (Ack Ack). My father was issued with a steel helmet because at my insistence he had become a member of the Civil Defence. I wore this sometimes as protection against shrapnel. It was safer. We had a few raids but I only heard I think three bombs actually fall. On Nottingham Forest a smoke screen was put up. This consisted of a long line of burners emitting black smoke and also emitting an awful smell of paraffin.
Mum & Me at Burgh August 1939
My mother fell ill shortly after the start of the war. She was diagnosed as having neurasthenia. She was admitted to a hospital where she underwent Electro Convulsive Therapy (ECT) which was fashionable at the time and is still used in a small proportion of cases. My mother’s illness meant my father and I had to live with relatives, or at least I did. I stayed with my Aunt Florrie and Uncle Samuel Richard (Dick) in Henrietta Street, Bulwell. A fellow lodger was my cousin Albert. He was working at Paynes a Nottingham printing firm which was non-union so could never lead to an apprenticeship for him. Pity for printers after the war became a power in the land and indeed held the country to ransom before being beaten by modern technology. Albert joined the sea cadets. He wore the naval uniform very proudly but did not want to join the Royal Navy. He was told there was no commitment to join up but later when he was due to go to camp with them he was told that immediately after that camp had ended all the campers would be in the Navy. He resigned.
I had watched him press his naval uniform and learned a lot about the use of electric irons. My school work had to be done every evening and as I was always late up in the mornings at that time everything had to be got ready first. Shoes were polished every day. If not it meant lines from GEG (George Ernest Goodall). The habit stayed with me for many years. Uncle Dick used to go down to the cellar to take shelter during air raids. He took with him a crate of ale. I was shocked to see the next day that most of it had been consumed which once again rocked my Methodist sensibilities.
Meanwhile the school set up the ATC the Air Training Corps whose commander was the headmaster Mr Houston, resplendent in RAF uniform. His rank depended on the number of recruits and he became a squadron leader. I never joined but many boys did and many were killed mainly as bomber crews. By the time I was 18 the war was virtually over and so I never did national service apart from my years in General Veterinary Practice which counted as such for we were part of the agricultural industry. Oh I forgot I served in the Civil Defence as an ambulance driver. Six weeks after I joined the Civil Defence Hitler gave up. Very wise of him I thought!
But several well loved masters went into the forces and were killed. I have already mentioned Mr Connors but there was also Mr R R S Bennett who taught us Nature Studies. He was very good at it too. All the masters who had special skills were drafted either into the forces or into war work of some kind. Both the Woodwork Master and Mr Pomfret the Metalwork Master went into the Ministry of Supply. French and German speakers were in great demand. We did not lose any of ours presumably they were too old but there was an interesting knock on effect in that French Oral exams were abandoned due to lack of examiners. Thus my knowledge or spoken French suffered and does to this day. My written French is up to Matriculation standard (or was) and so I write all the letters for my elder daughter but it is she who rattles off French very fluently and so speaks for me. My two elder Grandsons in Canada are bilingual I am proud to say.
Then, horror of horrors, the Masters began to be replaced by women. Betsy Norman arrived to teach biology. She had been a medical student in Edinburgh and was married to a Group Captain stationed in the nearby Hucknall Aerodrome. Their pre-war home was in Croydon which I afterwards came to know very well. She was a good teacher but very much biased in favour of the medical profession and Scotland. I learned a lot from her. Afterwards all her star pupils failed at University but me, and I think she regarded me as the poorest student. Her cleverest student, Jack Ritchie, went to Edinburgh and failed at medicine.
The air raid shelters came in handy later on in the war after the threat of air raids receded. Part of our later war effort was to grow potatoes. The dark dank atmosphere in the shelters was just right for seed potatoes to sprout. But we had to try to plough up the playing field or part of it first. Someone got a plough and a shire horse. One poor boy who said he could plough, his father being a farmer, tried valiantly to get the plough going but to no avail. Somehow the area was turned over and furrows made in which seed potatoes were dropped at about a foot or so apart. Then we filled in the trench. I got bored with this to my shame and devised a game whereby a fork was poised over where the gamester thought the potato was. If you were right and forked the potato you won. Mostly you lost for it was quite hard to position the fork exactly over the potatoes once the trench had been filled in. But it passed the time. A Master came along and said, “Look you must be more careful, one of these potatoes is forked right through!”
Still later in the war I volunteered to go potato picking. This meant setting off very early to ride to the farm which was at Bielby south of the Trent some six miles away. It was hard and backbreaking work for which I was paid sixpence an hour (2.5P). But potato picking was war work. My hourly rate has gone up since then.
I ought to mention a few other activities at school. First of all there was the orchestra. I joined this on entry to the school, playing in the second violins and eventually in the first. It is a mistake to think the first violins are necessarily better than the second violins; it is a different technique rather like the difference between sopranos and altos.
The teacher was a Mr Pinkett. He was no disciplinarian and boys always take advantage of this. So one day we had a visit from Mr Houston, the headmaster. “You will attend rehearsals whenever they are called,” he said “Otherwise you will end up playing the double bass!” (For the uninitiated double bass players always stand up when they are playing) We got the message.
In fact I have always enjoyed playing in an orchestra and did so until very recently. The Henry Mellish orchestra used to perform at the school plays. I was very fond of many of the pieces of music we played. In particular the Edward German dances and Mozart’s Eine Kleine Nachtmusik. There were four performances of the plays. It was always a thrill to me to play the introduction and we would play quieter and quieter as the curtain slowly rose. We would then noiselessly place our instruments on the floor and watch the stage, entranced. I remember particularly Goldsmith’s “She Stoops to Conquer” it has always been a favourite of mine. I remember the performance on the last night in which the boy playing the main part amended his line to “And Katherine Neville can go to the devil” A more frightening play was “Liquidation” all about the Nazis. And that was before we learned about the holocaust.
“Alas poor Yorick”
We were not taught drama at school as I recollect. We were from time to time encouraged to speak in public but we never had any formal teaching in the rib swinging technique. There must have been talent there in the school for the Drama Society flourished. Once only did we have a school concert. Everybody was asked if they were willing to perform. Boys do not willingly do this sort of thing and only a very few agreed. One boy sang “Here a poor hulk lies poor Tom Bowling”. I think the same boy, a chap called Bettany, also read one of his own poems. There was also a fancy dress parade and that was greeted with more enthusiasm. My cousin Geoff Green had been given or perhaps had made a Zulu shield. He blacked up and ran round the hall with his shield and an assegai beating a rhythm on the shield as he ran. He was very good. Another boy dressed himself as a crippled miner. I think this was a form of political protest. If so it was quite unnecessary as we all knew about mining and so did the masters. He shuffled round the hall taking a great deal of time to do it and causing many of us to feel rather embarrassed. When he got to where the headmaster was sitting he produced a bottle and asked the head, “do you want a swig?” Afterwards we asked a master what he thought of the boy’s performance. He made no comment except to say that the boy had left an awful mess in the dressing room. The boy had used real coal dust to blacken up.
My technique on the violin was faulty so I thought I would like to try to also learn to play the piano. My parents dutifully bought me an upright overstrung Bechstein and arranged for lessons from a very good teacher, a Dr Henniker. All went reasonably well until I contracted scarlet fever. My mother insisted I be nursed at home for the four weeks it would take. I had to be in strict isolation. During the latter part of that time I was a tyrant to my poor mother. I think she was right to keep me at home for in those days children would go into hospital and whist there were quite likely to also contract diphtheria. Deaths from either of the two diseases were quite common.
At the conclusion of my time in quarantine I made a decision to concentrate on my school work. I realised that I had to get School Certificate preferably with Matriculation Exemption. I felt it would be a struggle so after 18 months at the piano I gave it up. Dr Henniker was annoyed for he had done his best and I think thought me a promising pupil. I knew I was a slow learner and needed to really concentrate on my school work if I was to be successful.
My reading at that time was mainly the William books of Richmal Crompton, a maiden lady who had the ability to get into the mind of a boy. My English teacher was appalled at my poor taste, which was shared by most of my fellows. We read Pickwick Papers as a school exercise, and I never recognised it as the very funny book it is. That came later and I have now read Pickwick many times. I was always quite good at English Grammar but for some reason we were never introduced to the work of the redoubtable H W Fowler. We studied the works of Addison and Steele and tried to model our work on them. My writing at that time was heavily criticised. I suppose the problem as that not having much experience we wrote in a derivative style. The master said don’t worry, style will come later. That proved correct save that my elder daughter thinks my style is medieval!
I was never good at games. For one thing due to my astigmatism I had to wear spectacles. I don’t think spectacles are safe when playing cricket but I played anyway. But I was never picked for the house side never mind the school side. Similarly with rugger. I was small and could run quite quickly but never fully understood the rules. I remember playing full back. I was the only boy between a boy called Northfield and the goal line. “Nougat” Northfield was a very good player and was in Yellow House. I stopped him and felt the pain for a long time. He was quite a big chap and was running very fast. Otherwise I made myself very unpopular by catching the ball on my chest before getting it into my hands. That always resulted in the whistle blowing and a scrum down which the chaps hated. I never realised that that counted as a “knock on” perhaps it doesn’t?
After the game which in my case was always a practice game we went into the communal bath. We had become accustomed to seeing each other naked because after gym we had to go into the communal shower. In after life I noted that boys who had not had a secondary education, or attended Grammar School or Public School were very shy. At camps it was hard to even get them to take their shirts off to wash themselves.
Coming back to rugby, the communal bath was a very smelly affair. The water was dirty with the mud from the field and it was hard to see how we would be any cleaner coming out than when we went in. But miraculously we were and of course the hot water relaxed our muscles.
Gymnastics I liked at first but afterwards thought they were a waste of time and did my best to get out of them. The slightest cold or nose dribble was enough and of course in the Bulwell of that day the air pollution meant quite a bit of nasal discharge. I used to take in notes to get out of gym. My father was amused when I got these duplicated on his typewriter leaving blanks for the date. But of course I could do my homework during the gym period so it was not so stupid.
Athletics we never took seriously. Practice was minimal and techniques were never taught. We all had to taker part though and enter for at least three events. I used to do the 100yards, the long jump or the hop skip and jump and the shot putt. The only one of these I did any good at was the shot putt where I usually achieved a low standard which meant three points to the house. Events such as the Discus and the Javelin we were not encouraged to do. But certain selected boys proudly threw the javelin or spun round and round and threw the discus.
I mentioned Northfield above. I never knew his Christian name. The same with PHB May who went to Oxford and was a cricket blue (not to be confused with PBH May Captain of England. He went to Charterhouse). Boys never used Christian names. It is odd but it is a fact. Rather like in the Civil Service where I was often called Jackson. But I did know a great friend called Peter (Ebling) who lived at Mapperley as did many of the Mellish boys. The great advantage and disadvantage of that place was that Mapperley was on a ridge and to get to it meant a fearful hill climb by bicycle. But once there, in winter especially it was a super area for sledging of which I became very fond. Years later it was a favourite activity. The only way to avoid the hill climb if I was on my way to go fishing with Geoff Green, my cousin who lived in Gedling, was to go via Colwick, picking up maggots on the way from a shop which sold them.
Very few Mellish boys lived in Bulwell so bike rides to meet friends had to be made. We were all busy with homework during the week and weekends we went to Papplewick so my social life was not marvellous. As an only child I do not think I had very good social skills. If they came at all they came later! But even now I would rather not meet someone than meet them. But ice once broken I become excessively gregarious “like a puppy” someone once said of me.
In form V we sat the School Certificate. Long before that, in form III about the time I gave up my piano lessons (see above) I had had a look at the careers section in the Charles Letts diary and saw that School Certificate certainly and better still, London Matriculation, were needed to pursue the sort of career I wanted. I reasoned that I would need five subjects and from then on deliberately concentrated my efforts in passing examinations rather than merely just learning. Quite wrong of course but everybody does it.
I decided that I was not good enough to become a doctor, that idea was re-enforced later by Mrs Betsy Norman who thought me inferior to her other pupils. In fact in the end I did better than any of them. And now of course medical students are often there because they have failed to get into a veterinary school. Veterinary schools now have higher entrance requirements that any of the other University Faculties.
I felt I was not good enough to get distinctions in History or Geography. History I loved but never got good marks. In Geography the exasperated master, seeing some good work I had done said “not another one with artistic temperament! Only work when you feel like it eh?” He was right.
In the end I got Matriculation Exemption because I did well enough by way of credits or distinctions in Maths, Physics, English Literature, English Grammar and French. That made five subjects which were just enough. In fact my French was not quite good enough but the examiners were allowed to award bonus marks to someone who had done well in other subjects. So with two bonus marks I just scraped through. In fact only three other boys that year did as well as I did. I may say I have never had any illusions about my ability. Other people think I am clever but I do not think that at all. When my cousin Bill Shipside said years later to my elder daughter, “Clever chap this” meaning me. I was very proud. It is a tradition in the north that you never praise anyone. Fathers never praise their sons. I think that is a pity. But what I really wanted to be is good at games and that was certainly denied me.
I had decided in Form III that what I wanted to be was a veterinary surgeon. This was after perusal of the Charles Letts diary. Later on we were given careers advice from a master. I found it less than helpful. Many masters have little knowledge as to what is available or what is required from a person joining that trade or profession. I remember one master who had been told the boy wanted to be a civil engineer said to the boy’s father “but he is no good with his hands”. At this time I was obsessed with flying. I thought I wanted to be a pilot. I read a lot of magazines about flying in the First World War and knew all about things such as the Immelmann turn. In the press such boys were referred to as being “air-minded” so I told the careers master I was air minded and he collapsed with mirth. At least he did not write about me as a master reported on a boy who was similarly obsessed but with NASA and Cape Canaveral but was also very dim. The master wrote “His head is full of space”.
Post matriculation I entered the sixth form. With no school examinations ahead of me it was a strange time. We were allowed to use the staff room and virtually could take any class we thought might help our future career. I took biology because Betsy Norman said that at college there would be much making of microscope slides and it was important to be good and quick at that. So I became adept at the use of coverslips dehydrations of tissues and the mounting of specimens. I also did a bit of work in the chemistry lab. I remember we used to make tea there in laboratory beakers. The glass of these was so thin that when they contained hot tea they could only be held after several layers of paper had been wrapped round them.
I never got the hang of calculus
I also attended higher mathematic classes but never got anywhere with calculus. The woman teacher seemed to have a perpetual cold and talked all the time about something which sounded to me like “dota Y”. It was long afterwards I found out it was delta Y. So my final two terms at Henry Mellish were not very productive.
My cousin Geoff Green on the other hand was in his element. He was given a free hand to work in metal or wood. He turned out some wonderful work which went on exhibition. His use of wood lathes to produce beautiful wooden bowls won my admiration. Some other boys in the sixth made a motor car. They had an old Riley chassis and built up a new car from that. Renovating the engine and producing over quite a long period a very nice motor car. By this time some of this motor car team were aged 19 years and one had a fine moustache.
The Old Boys’ Committee 1954
Front Row second from left is Peter Ebling.
The Headmaster, Mr G F Houston MA is in the middle
Subsequent History of the School
I left in 1943. The 1944 Education Act though ground breaking, made little difference to the school except with regard to the abolition of school fees. The school had started out in 1929 as the Henry Mellish County Secondary School with 214 boys on the register of whom the majority were transferred from existing County secondary schools at Hucknall and West Bridgford. The remainder were new entrants from both the County and the City.
Sometime between then and 1954 the school became a Grammar School. Grammar schools are not popular in left wing circles and as such were then as always, under attack.
In 1954 Mr G F Houston the Headmaster wrote that, “The fears then i.e. in 1949) expressed about our future have receded, and we can go on without the nagging feeling that the next year may be our last. Wiser counsels have prevailed, and it seems certain that we are fortunate in having friends who are both strong and wise.”
Also in 1954 Mr L W A White, Chairman of the Governors wrote “Our boys leave us as young men of fine, upright and sturdy characters; they can be picked out anywhere”. Again in 1954 Mr J Evans (clerk to the Governors since 1929) wrote, “These notes could hardly be complete without a tactful reference to what has been likened to a shadow falling across the future prospects to the school. Changes are inevitable and while at the moment these changes appear to be delayed – perhaps indefinitely – this may not always be the case, and if those who regard themselves as being justified in attempting to influence the future of the school still hold the views they so vigorously expressed, it behoves them not to let themselves be forgetful or apathetic.”
Interviewed in 1964 by “The Centaur” the school magazine, the Headmaster Mr G F Houston, was asked
There was once the possibility of this school coming co-educational. Why was the idea abandoned?
To which he replied “I do not think it ever existed, actually – not in that form. There was a proposal under the County’s development plan, when the Education Act came in just after the war, that a number of new, co-educational, grammar schools should be established in the area which we had served and that this school should close about 1951 or 1952 but here we are still, in 1964. There was a good deal of opposition organised by the Governors, Staff and Old Boys; we sent a deputation to meet the members of the Education Committee who were dealing with this aspect of their policy and they abandoned the idea and eventually decided that no limit could be put on the life of the school.”
Also during the interview he said he thought extracurricular activities were very important. The school as a social centre has always had the difficulty that all the boys and the parents have to travel to the School. He pointed out the disadvantages of the GCE which came in 1951. Prior to that we had the School Certificate Examination which boys took after five years and which could not be obtained unless they passed in English Language and at least five other subjects, so I should say it is an advance for them to obtain a certificate for the subjects for which they have passed; to some extent this has tended to encourage boys to think they can just work at subjects which interest them and ignore the others.” How right he was!
Sadly (from my point of view) the future of the school proved to be even bleaker than had been envisaged. The erstwhile Grammar School, under the 1974 Education Act became a Comprehensive School and hence co-educational. The High Pavement Grammar School became a Sixth Form College, so there was no sixth form at Henry Mellish. After 1974 the Henry Mellish School was never remotely the same as it had been in its halcyon days. The previously flourishing Henry Mellish Old Boys Association is now merely a rugby club although proudly exhibiting the much loved school colours of yellow and green at its playing fields in Mapperley, miles away from the school.
There was a definite ray of sunshine when my first cousin (and ex High Pavement) Ronald Martin AMIME, JP became a member of the Governors of the school in 1996 and in 1999 its Chairman. Ron had also served in 1974 as Vice-Chairman of the Governors of High Pavement Grammar School. But even Ron, strong, resourceful and wise character as he was and still is, was unable to stop the rot. He lived at that time not very far from the school and according to Margaret, his wife; once he became Chairman he had to pay visits to the school almost every day to resolve problems that had arisen. New science labs were opened in 1999 and Ron invited the Lord Lieutenant to open them. The Lord Lieutenant was a nephew of Alderman Henry Mellish and was delighted to attend the school named in honour of his uncle.
In 1996 the examination results at Henry Mellish were abysmal with less than 10% getting 5 A-C passes. It was decided that there was no point in entering some of the scholars into the GCSE exams but that it would be beneficial to enter them into vocational subject exams. The Governors were assured that these would qualify as GCSE passes in the league tables. This was however misleading and they were informed later that this would not be the case. The percentage pass rate was based on the numbers in year 11 and although the pass rate improved it was divided by the number in year 11 and not the numbers taking the exanimation. The pass rate had improved to about 15%.
The school was in Special Measures for just over two years. A New Head Teacher was appointed in 2000. He thought he was god and would not accept advice. Ron resigned in 2002 because he could not work with this Head Teacher. A few months after Ron left it was discovered that the school had overspent the budget by over £400,000 even thought the information provided to the Governors indicated that the budget was in balance. The Nottinghamshire Education Committee to avoid embarrassment allowed the Head Teacher to retire. This was in 2003. The Deputy Head was appointed but she left in 2005. In 2006 yet another Head Teacher was appointed but in 2007 it was decided to close the school in 2009 when it will join the Leen Valley School (formerly the Blenheim Girls School prior to being renamed the Alderman Derbyshire School after Alderman Derbyshire was discredited) to form the Bulwell Academy at the current Leen Valley School at the bottom of Squires Avenue, Bulwell. The school still has between 700-750 scholars.
I am afraid this Henry Mellish Old Boy just cannot understand how the school was allowed to go from the sublime to the ridiculous. I gained so much from the school and its subsequent history makes me very sad. The story provides a very good example of the truth of the saying “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. People like Mr G F Houston and Mr G E Goodall will be turning over in their graves. I also feel sorry for the remaining 700-750 pupils who will be deprived of the education their forbears had. It is a story of an excellent school ruined by a combination of political dogma and the theories of the educationalists.
I am delighted to acknowledge the great help of Ronald Martin for taking the time and the trouble to provide me with a great deal of inside information.