Wilkes Walton (1937) “To us Mr Riley was known as Luke - Thomas Luke Riley
We had our share of aggro - and were quite happy that he should go and terrorise Adolf Hitler after the 1941 Summer term [laughter].
Luke had been good at dinning irregular verbs into us but then we got Miss Kate Goodison, a delightful 30-something (I suppose) lady, also from Sheffield University.
Mr Riley’s daughter Sue remembered: "There was a story that as my father cycled to school, puffing away at his pipe, the boys watched to see whether the puffs were long, slow and contented - or short and sharp. From this they predicted what sort of day lay ahead!
… and I recall an Open Day exhibition where a slipper was displayed with the caption Gospel according to St Luke." [laughter]
I always remember, Peter [he was known as Peter to the staff] Taylor’s philosophy , as far as sport was concerned, was that you tried to win.
Win fairly, but you tried to win - and if you couldn't win, you drew, but you never considered losing, that wasn't part of your vocabulary ... you drew, but you won at all costs.
Now some matches mattered more than others. Yes, Newport.
Newport, for those who don't know, was where Peter's elder
brother Spud Taylor taught and was also head of games. It
was more than a match, it was, I suppose, war!
Unfortunately for him we managed to win that particular game ...
I said “have you had enough”, wanting him to sort of ... "No sir,
I'll carry on." He carried on but it was to no avail, we lost.
He played forward, took an outside edge, and Rosbrook at short leg took a very smart catch.Everybody appealed. Nothing [laughter].
Spud stood at the other end and glared, just stood there. Eventually this lad who was batting said "Am I out sir?"
Spud looked at him, pointed his finger ... "Piss off".
That was cricket at Newport [laughter].
A.T. Tim Leonard in the Summer 1960 Soham Grammarian remembered the accident:
At that time we were in the old school buildings in Churchgate Street and we grew from about 100 to 120 during the five years I was at school. A year or two after I started we moved to the present site, taking possession of a local mansion then called Beechurst.
During the move we lesser fry had to help in carrying things. I remember coming across one unfortunate youth, Rickwood, who was carrying a Winchester of concentrated sulphuric acid. He fell in Church Alley. He was badly burned and was away for months.
We went to the Housekeeper's room, which you would know as Miss Lowe's room, which was the access to the loft.
We called to see who was up there:
"You'd better come down because we are going to lock the room and you'll probably be spending the night up there if you don't come down."
Who should emerge but Mr Day ["I see him over there" said Dick at the 2005 Reunion].
We thought he must have had an accomplice, so we called again:
"If anyone else is up there, come down."
To my great surprise, and sadly to this day [for he died comparatively young] George Willett appeared.
I didn't expect to see him coming down, but there we are.
Mind you, Terence Day had a bit of a penchant for going into spaces in the roofs. I'm not sure but I'm pretty certain it was he who went up in the loft of this Assembly Hall [Beechurst] and knocked a panel out up there which broke Christie's violin ...
Terry Day interjected: "I wish to kill that rumour ... I have a posse of witnesses that I was in Ely at the time" ... "Oh well,” continued Dick “he did spend his life in the police force ..." [laughter]
Over time I had already explored parts of the void and the external inner roof area accessed from a further door in the loft and found those initials. This was casually commented on after we had eaten tea in the Dining Hall. I said I felt that in the 'spare' hour before we were needed I would match my brother's engraving. This fired the imagination of my colleagues rather more than the essential call of homework to be done.
The first task was to ensure that no prefects had retired to their sanctum beside the back staircase, then use that staircase to the Housekeeper's Room above.
The second job was to ascertain staff presence upstairs by creeping onto the main landing to listen at the head of the corridor leading to the Staff Room. Two voices were heard. We were reasonably certain of the whereabouts of the other staff on the premises. (The ACF had taught us a lot about tactics.)
All went well as we ascended the steep stair into the loft. My colleagues were amazed at the size of the space and the apparent complexity of it all.
It had by this time started to rain and I felt it would be unwise to go onto the roof and then leave a tell-tale trail of wet footprints on the floor below as we left. I was interested in the structure of the turret above the Staff roof and I made my way carefully across to that corner.
A bad move in hindsight.
I had the torch and the rest followed. At some point a heel went through the ceiling sending a pile of plaster neatly onto a pile of books Mr Rennison was marking at the table below.
Thankfully for some, we had the element of surprise together with forward planning. We made for the trap door at the end of the building that would bring us out at the farthest end of the upper corridor. It was hoped that the staff would know of the stairs but not necessarily the trap.
Messrs Bozeat and Rennison duly reached the stairs as Dick
related. There would have been no answer to their challenge -
except for the fact that George, being large of stature, could not
make it through the trap.
“The first time I visited, Edward was
still firmly in the chair. The Staff Room had become his office. I
was ushered in and as the warm hand of welcome was extended I made
a slight involuntary glance towards the ceiling. It was not
missed, and the greeting was "Well, gone on to other things, but
certainly not forgotten"." [laughter]
"Now, you all remember old Stuart Saunders - Stuart, who did a bit of Latin and a bit of RI was an absolutely marvellous actor, except ..
(a) he wasn’t very good at learning his lines
and (b) he liked to pop into the lav before going on stage.
Dear old Stuart was absolutely perfect, so what we decided to do was to paste his lines on bits of scenery [laughter].
All he had to do was to walk from one to the other, and there
he’d be. It worked, he was word-perfect.
But on Saturdays another gang came and put the scenery up
Experience had already taught me that Mr Armitage wielded a heavy cane. Sid’s short temper was very short-lived and he would be laughing as he told me to sit down and keep quiet.
These were the days when smoking was still considered to be a suitable occupation for a man, and doctors had ashtrays on their desks.
I acquired a lack of punctuality at an early age and often missed the bus from Ely to Soham so would walk and/or hitch hike (if I walked I could get to school in time for mid-morning break).
If I was only just too late for the bus I would usually be in
time for Mr Saunders' Austin Somerset to be passing - he had a
'just in time' policy for morning assembly.
It would usually take me a few puffs to be sure that the
cigarette was properly alight [laughter].
We’ve lost touch with David Clayton so if anyone knows his whereabouts please get in touch.
EA said “What shall I do?”
Somebody, I don’t know who, whose discipline wasn’t up to much, had sent him to EA to be given a couple, which wouldn’t do him any harm.
While EA turned round to get his cane the lad had bolted into
the knee-hole of the desk. Dear old EA was popping at him with the
cane saying “come out, come out” [laughter].
In any other school he’d have got in, grabbed him out and beaten
the daylight out of him.
You can’t conceive of it happening at another school, at that time, which is why he was an absolute gem to be head teacher.
There were people there, Mr Ford, Mr Thomas, Riley, Taylor, Tabraham, Lawrance and many others - they had all been here years. They gave the school a strong foundation I'm sure. It said an awful lot about what the school stood for.
Riley took me aside ... he said "Don't worry about all these others, there's two people you want to keep on the right side of ."
"Who's that?" I asked.
"The Headmaster, that's for obvious reasons. The other is the Caretaker .... you never know when you are going to need him!"
Well I thought that's a strange thing to say.
Some time afterwards - it was Peter Askem that told me this story - Peter said he'd been appointed here and came up to Soham during the summer holidays to have a look round the school. He saw two gentlemen standing out on the lawn out here where there used to be large greenhouses in my day.
They were talking and he went and introduced himself.
"I'm Peter Askem, I'm coming to teach here in September".
One of the gentlemen piped up and said "I'm Mr Hobbs the Caretaker … and this here is Rex, what teaches them Latin"
... so you can judge for yourself.
Rex Waller had another version of this story in which the visitor was George Edwards who had just been appointed as Chief Education Officer:
"Now in those days the Chief Education
Officer was really at the top, next to God.
I couldn’t find a 1960s photo of this establishment but it’s the Cherry Tree pub in Soham, on the Fordham Road.
This story has yet to appear on our website.
Mervyn Pamment SG53 wrote:
This happened two years after I left
SGS in 1959, but I remember it well. I was a junior reporter
on the Ely Standard at the time and, while I heard about
it from an informant, my editor decided it was not the kind of
story for the local rag.
So I turned to Chris Jakes SG56 then at the Cambridgeshire Collection, for local coverage of the story. Chris replied: “We have no press cuttings on the Cherry Tree story - it may have been too shocking for my predecessors to consider!”
So Peter and I walked across to George who was standing on the apron outside one of the tractor sheds which was his domain.
He was dressed in his Sunday best, with a cap with a button on top ... and his Norfolk jacket … and he'd got a large kipper tie.
It wasn't the kipper tie, it was the biggest nude lady on the tie ... [laughter]
Peter had to prevail upon him to do something about the tie as it was offending certain people!
Frank Haslam: I’ll end with what Edward Armitage considered was one of the most celebrated Soham Grammar School stories.
I suggested that it was about time the incident of the 'cricket
box' passed from legend into historical fact, duly attested by the
participants themselves. To my delight they readily agreed. Alan
Frost duly undertook the compilation of the 'Frost Report',
dated January 25th, 1965, but referring the Summer of 1959.”
It would, however, have been extremely unusual if a Form harbouring criminal names plus several reserves of note could not have risen to the occasion.
Sure enough, someone saw an opportunity to make use of the earth-levelling equipment - forks and spades - in an extremely useful manner
… and at the same time to score off a redoubtable enemy who had inflicted many telling blows in the past. The result you know, of course.
One of Mr. Taylor's cricket boxes was solemnly borne by four mourners from the old Games Hut to a large hole which had been lovingly prepared for it.
I must apologise for the looks of glee on the faces of one or two of the mourners: but this is understandable from people who had such a love of games as to have their own points system on sports day.
Points were awarded for being told to leave the games field … and even more points for actually being kicked off … while the skilled athlete who could manage to put the shot actually onto a certain master's head was to receive not only the Victor Ludorum but also the Frost-Cornwell Memorial Prize [laughter].
The look of sadness on one or two faces may be due to the fact that only cricket had equipment that could be buried; cross-country running involved no such accessories.
Alan continues: The story had an interesting sequel some weeks later when Mr. Taylor burst into one of our Chemistry periods just before the start of the lesson. He glared around the room then pointed to Cornwell and myself and said, 'I don't want to know who did it. Frost and Cornwell, find it and dig it up'.
We did manage to find the box after some exploratory digging and recovered it in a state of ill-repair, Phelps having driven the tractor over the ground several times. Mr. Taylor's comment was, 'Repair it and no more will be said'.
He was as good as his word and after being treated to the sight of Cornwell knocking screws in with a mallet (Mr. Tabraham would no doubt be happy to explain the significance of that [laughter]) the incident was closed.
Edward Armitage added:
"Alan Frost went on, with four others mentioned in the escapade, to University to become engineers or physicists or chemists.
The physics master of the time was the headmaster, the chemistry master was the deputy head and the mathematics master became the Warden of the Village College, into which rather astonishing series of facts no doubt much can be read.
Two others are teachers in the service of the Cambridgeshire and Isle of Ely Education Authority, and one is an officer in the Army.
All were highly intelligent schoolboys whose individuality merged on occasions into a corporate spirit of adventure against authority that gave a certain spice to life.
It needed schoolmasters of the calibre of R.A.T. to deal with such 'criminals' in the forthright manner described which ensured a quick return to law and order while leaving no ill-will on either side." [also see Alan Frost's addendum below]
For example, before we continue we'll unmute Alan Frost, who’d like to chip in here about The Cricket Box Incident - forgive the carpentry metaphor.
Alan Frost: I'd like to say thanks to Frank and John Dimmock, who must have worked wonders to put this together. But that's apart from the hours they put in along with Chris Bent, in keeping the Old Boys Club going and the lunch for 48 years after the school closed. So I think we all owe them a vote of thanks.
The Cricket Box Incident. There are a couple of questions arising from the photos.
Who on earth had a camera and took the photos? I mean, no one had a smartphone in those days. Well, that's not too interesting, but you could work it out if you look at the faces, it was probably Mark Gregory who had the camera and took the first photograph, which was in focus. And probably Gordon Duffield who took the second one, not so much in focus. [Editor: John Cornwell and Gordon Duffield can't recall who took the photos and Mark hasn't yet replied to my query on this]
Now, the other question that struck me was Whose idea was it? Well, it certainly wasn't mine. I've got enough self importance to know that if I had thought of the idea, I would have remembered it. I think it was, as Ted said, a bit of a corporate thing, it just arose in conversation.
Having got a letter from Armitage ...
... and I mean no disrespect, I was Frost, that's what they called us: we called the guys we respected Armitage, Lawrance, Riley, Hemmings, the guys who ran a disciplined class and were good at teaching. We knew Armitage quite well, because he took the Physics lessons with the Upper Sixth, he did theory and Lionel Fleet did the practical. We liked him and admired him very much. And he had a great sense of humour ...
... when he asked me for the report, I knew I had to write a fairly accurate report. But I knew what he was after, he wanted something amusing, that made him laugh.
Judging by his reply I think I succeeded, but I had a regret for years. I could have made the report a lot funnier.
I was at Nottingham University when [Armitage] asked me to write this. Peter Deasley, some will remember, was also at Nottingham University. When I showed Pete the letter he said "Yeah, that's about what happened".
What I should have said to Pete, who was very humorous, he usually exaggerated a story just a little bit, "Pete, is there anything else we can put in here to make it funnier, more amusing to Armitage?"
[My other regret was that] I covered the woodworking bit in one sentence. I just said I was treated to the sight of Cornwell knocking in screws with a mallet, Mr. Tabraham's equipment.
John and I delighted in showing off to each other our ignorance
of Woodwork: we were part of the L stream and then we went into
Science, we could do Mathematics. Woodwork was foreign to us, we
had no skills at all. Of course we had to improve when we got
older and got married. When you when you have a boss or lady you
have to be better at woodwork and doing jobs.
AF: "Hey John, I'm 'aving trouble getting these screws in for these ruddy 'inges."
"We 'aven't got any glue, 'ave we?"
[the box had been damaged]
JC: "Let me 'ave a look mate. "
"Oh, glue's no good. Glue won't 'old them 'inges. "
"I can see what yer problem is."
"Yer using the wrong tool, knocking screws in wiv an 'ammer."
" 'Ammer's fer nails, mallet's fer screws."
"Remember that. 'ammer fer nails, mallet fer screws."
AF: "Thanks, mate, that's a lot better. You can get a really good whack at 'em wiv a mallet."So we repaired the box. Anyway, I just wished I'd included that and one or two other things and made use of Deasley's sense of humour to maybe make it even a bit better. That was it.
Chris Bull: Do you want an addendum to the Cherry Tree?
Well, Folks, the snitch.
I duly went up to King's College, Newcastle upon Tyne, which was then part of Durham University [but soon after got its own Charter and became the University of Newcastle: Chris added later it could not become King's University Newcastle-on-Tyne because of its unfortunate acronym.]
I started rowing as soon as I got there, in the crews.
One of the events was our annual match against Durham. On the occasion I was rowing there we trounced them. And as victors do, we drunk some beer and peed on the lawn in front of the Refectory, to which we were denied entry. We hammered and hammered [the door involved was a massive mediaeval construction] until it was opened.
And who do you think opened it, but Andrew Folks! [laughter].
Unworthy thoughts of violence? He was after all a man of the cloth.
I refrained. My proudest moment. C'est la vie.
Chris has also added: We thought the Cherry Tree Incident was blown up out of all proportion. We didn't think that we had done much wrong and that there was more than a whiff of pour encourager les autres about the proceedings.
To comment on these stories or to add more to those shown, or to add new stories for our website, please contact the editor.
These are the source pages:
Cricket Box - Dick Bozeat/2005 talk - Terry Day - Mr Ford/School History - Mr Riley - Mr Saunders - Rex Waller/2006 talk
last updated 24 Oct 20