I have many happy memories of my time at “Brid school” from 1971 when I was 11 years old, all the way to 1978 when I turned 18 when I left home to go university in London.
To gain admission to grammar school I had to pass the “eleven-plus” entrance exam, but I don’t remember any pressure or revising for it while a student at Hildethrope Junior school in Bridlington. I do remember though one rather strange exam question (was it multiple choice?) asking – what noise do cows make? I pretty sure I answered “low“…
Sadly I lost my best friend Graham Green as a result of this selective education as he went to Headlands secondary modern school and as I made new friends we didn’t keep in touch. I believe he became a fisherman operating out of Bridlington harbour later but I’ve not been able to trace him and see how things turned out for him.
I do remember Graham’s father drove a very distinctive black Ford Zephyr 6 which seemed huge with large wings at the rear and that his mother used to buy salmon bones and trimmings to boil and then pick out the flesh as it was such an expensive delicacy in those days.
“Vitai Lampada Tradunt” was the school motto which means “They Hand on the Torch of Life”. I am also a paid up member of the Old Bridlingtonian Club, but alas have only made two annual reunions in December over the past 39 years which I regret.
The old main school building looked a little like Harry Potter’s “Hogwarts” and the teachers also wore hats and capes when I first started! New pupils were allocated into vertical houses, two of which were exclusively for boarders who largely came stemmed from service families as the school fees were largely covered by the allowance. Living at 4 George Street Bridlington I of course was a day pupil.
There was a lot of focus on sports (cricket and rugby but not football) but I was a dead loss at rugby so focused on cross-country running instead, training in “Franks field” part of the extensive school grounds, I even represented East Yorkshire at a run over Beverley Westwood during my time coming somewhere in the middle of the line-up at the end.
There was also a .22 rifle range on site and a very popular Combined Cadet Force, who’s army section wore WW2 type khaki battledress with .303 Lee Enfield rifles stored in the armoury for drill!
In 1971 as a new intake pupil I was allocated to a relatively youthful master called Mr Bradshaw, or “Benj” for his nickname, who’s subject speciality was Classics including teaching Latin.
Alas “Benj” despite being a very well qualified subject matter expert, found it impossible to keep control of nearly 30 unruly 11 year olds, and the classroom chaos he engendered made it look more like a male version of St. Trinian’s!
I found myself allocated to the top rated set or stream within the year which was pleasing, however I was always pretty much at the bottom of class. This was largely due to the fact my short-sightedness had not been diagnosed. I found it next to impossible to read the blackboard unless I was sat at the front row of desks or screwed my eyes up and tried to copy notes of my neighbours further back.
I do remember when I finally got prescription spectacles the shock of seeing individual leaves on trees took my breath away. My scores in tests started to improve too and I eventually became an academic exam machine.
I gained 10 “O” levels in all, seven in the fifth form – English language, English literature, maths, physics, geography, French, German; two in the lower sixth – geology & biology. I took 4 “A” levels in maths, physics, biology & art in the sixth form although I was only awarded an “O” level in art “A” level in my final year!
Most of the teachers had nicknames used by the pupils and generally known to the teachers themselves. The ones I remember the most were:
The headmaster Mr Charles (Blinker) Coomber was very important to my eventual academic success. He had a habit of blinking his eyes frequently as he talked which led to his nickname, but he was highly respected. Although he retired in 1975 he was involved in my father’s concern about me bunking off school to play with my “Flying Scotsman“. I still have his letter to my father assuring him it was a passing phase and highly likely to me a temporary reaction to my parents divorce.
Eddy H. Desmond (Bopper) Charlton. Bopper was in charge of the CCF which I joined in order to get my battledress uniform and shoot rifles, but as I found out later when I joined the TA I was terrible at square bashing which lead to a premature & rather dishonourable but swift voluntary exit.
John Hargreaves was another master indelibly linked to the CCF and had served in WW2 as a radio operator I believe, he looked like Jack Hargreaves from the TV program “How” I seem to remember when he smoked his pipe.
Mr John (Chippy) Wood was the PE master and a strict disciplinarian. He used to punish anyone misbehaving with “50 lines, 9 in the morning” shouter at the poor unfortunate. I can’t remember what the lines said, but i do know he terrified me. Amazingly when I met him at a later school reunion in the 8o’s I couldn’t believe how short he was!
William (Snorker) Brown was my French teacher and we had a language lab set up with individual sound proof booths and reel to reel tape recorders with headphones. Despite having learned decent conversational French at junior school and learning a lot from French exchange trip too I found it very difficult to learn from his rote learning style as I have such a poor memory.
As punishment he made me come to his form class one morning each week after register and try to regurgitate “aller, arriver, monter, venir, entrer, rester, retourner, sortir” & more irregular verbs in front of him. He had garlic breath which put me off and I have to admit to feeling rather bullied at the time. Although I do recollect that when I called on his home during “bob-a-job” week as a cub scout he gave me half a crown to clean his car, which was quite generous at the time as that was five shillings or five bob!
Things looked up somewhat when the first female teacher called Susan Richards I had ever seen at school joined the school to teach French. Sadly my corrected vision meant that I wolf whistled when she came into class and I was told to stand in a corner with my head bowed over a waste paper basket in punishment! She later married my physics master (see later) and became Mrs Shilladay! 🙂
Why I decided to study German O level I have no idea, Frank (?) Watson was the master who delighted giving me an end of year score of “negative infinity” which would have wiped me out from the form rankings had it not been disregarded. Once when he was in a more generous mood he awarded me “negative umpteen” which unnerved me as my oral exam approached and the examiner asked me (in German) “which books do you read?” to which I answered monosyllabically “Biggles”!
At the time you had to decide which O levels you’d specialise in at third form which meant that I dropped history and chemistry which in retrospect was a shame. I enjoyed learning about ancient Rome and the Egyptians but what I really was interested in was WWI and WW2 which weren’t offered. The rational for dropping Chemistry was due to fear of John (Bugsy) Blythe who used a long ruler for corporal punishment and practiced a “late cut” cricket shot on the rears of miscreants as well as chucking blackboard rubbers. Discipline was never a problem in his class…
DP (Dippy) Davison & WJ (Bill) Shipley both attempted to teach me Maths which I found easy at O level but really hard at A level. My first choice university had actually been Edinburgh but I got one grade lower in Maths than their offer of BB so QMC which was my reserve with a double EE offer led me to the East End of London instead! I had to work hard at my maths in my first year doing my BSc, others didn’t and as a result half the years intake had to leave their degree studies…
Mr (Ken) Burkitt or “Chin” was one of the elder statesman on staff and head of biology, however I was taught by Mr (John) Dibb who was one of the new younger breed of schoolmasters who dressed in a much more relaxed modern style with long bushy hair. He had a great sense of humour and probably explains why I decided to study Biology relatively late in the sixth form.
Mr Blackburn taught music and although not an academic subject was enjoyable listening to LP records of classical music like the “Carnival of the Animals” by Saint-Saëns. He had a rather swept back blond hairstyle and had as a result a nickname of “Billy Whiz”. I heard at one lesson that people wanting to learn the recorder should volunteer and I was so uneducated about musical instruments that when I realised it was of the wind instrument variety as opposed to a “tape” recorder I stooped the extra lessons after learning only “pease pudding hot“..
Mr (Lawrie) Greenwood taught me art at A level in the sixth form however I only got an O level grade due to my preponderance to try and draw girlfriends past and present using a ruler! Alas I hadn’t picked up the obvious talent my architect trained father possessed. I think he also taught woodwork in my early years at school and my only attempt at making a tent peg was a complete disaster. It resulted in my decision to opt out of most practical subjects and concentrate on science.
Chris Shilladay who taught physics was probably the most influential schoolmaster during my time there. He looked a little bit like a clean shaven Professor Calculus from Tintin, but his enthusiasm & knowledge for the subject inspired me to take my A levels in science and go on to university.
There was also an older physics & chemistry master namely Frank (Blowers) Thompson who taught me some lessons & I remember put on my school report that “Peter needs to concentrate on the basic laws of physics like Boyle’s law, not just the glamorous topics like relativity that interest him”. His nickname came as a result of his habit huffing and puffing as he moved his rather portly frame about rushing around the school and he was a very kind master with a twinkle in his eyes & a smile hidden under a large moustache.
I actually won the Thornton prize for physics as a leaving present in 1978 thanks to these two wonderful teachers of the subject, which comprised a book called “Black Holes the End of the Universe” by Professor John Taylor of King’s College London.
In September 1975 while I was starting the lower sixth the school went co-educational by merging with the High School for Girls.
Now up till then I had never found it a problem getting girl friends and was going out with the Head Girl of the High School Elaine Wood who eventually married one of my best friends Simon Carson who became a maths teacher. Subsequently I dated Kathryn Horner who was the daughter of a wealthy farmer in Wetwang who ended up going to university to study medicine and became a GP.
Strangely after the two schools joined together though, I never managed to get a girlfriend again whilst at school, nor indeed at university, something I put down to the incredible strain of taking such a mathematics heavy subject like physics at “A” level. Indeed half my first year intake at university actually failed the course due to the difficulty of mastering the maths.
In terms of schoolmates, my best friend was Timothy Shields, who’s mum Dorothy or Dot became my surrogate mum after my parents divorce when my father got custody of the three children. Tim’s father, Peter, was a reserved fireman who tragically passed away I think in our first or second year at school and Dot had to bring up her four sons on her own with me making up an occasional fifth. She was a lovely lady and passed away a few years ago.
Justin Craggs parents owned an electrical shop and they were amongst the first of my friends to source a colour TV where I remember watching Princess Anne’s wedding to Captain Mark Phillips. There was a large overgrown yard at the back of the shop where we used to fire air guns at old light bulbs and let off fireworks too. One one occasion I decided to extract the gunpowder from a number of roman candles to form a larger “bomb” which accidentally exploded and blew off my eyebrows. They’ve been rather bush ever since…
At one stage I was elected chairman of the school chess club which met in the common room at lunchtimes. When mum and dad reconciled and we moved to Hornsea about 15 miles south of Bridlington on the coast I continued at Bridlington catching a school bus each way, an hour each way as it stopped off at numerous villages on the way. I became an expert whist card player as a result.
While still a boys only grammar school once a year at the end of the Christmas term there would be a “Master’s Concert” which had lots of humour, dressing up and songs including the whole school singing the school song called “Now No More” who’s first verse started as follows:
Now no more through Hall & Dormy
Rings the sound of clattering feet
Now no more the noises bore me
And I find the silence sweet.
It was a special place, a special time and the making of who I am today. My thanks to all those teachers who had the patience and calling to do such a fantastic job, but special thanks to Chris Shilladay who was truly inspirational.