Soham Grammarians - A 1952 Burwell boy remembers the good, and the not so good

Peter Pryke 52 writes from Florida, USA: Your contact [about the Awards Boards for the Burwell Schools] brought back many memories, some good some bad. I went to St Andrews in Burwell, and went on to Soham Grammar in 1952, leaving in 1957, after taking O Levels (six not very distinguished passes).

Your list of names brought back lots of memories. Until I came to Naples, Florida in 2001 I often went back to Burwell (my home village). We had a reunion in the Five Bells in I think 2000, including Malcolm. I don't see Joe (Michael?) Levitt [MS Levitt] on your list, who was a year or so older than me, an excellent sportsman, who I think won the tennis cup with a borrowed racket and shoes.

Burwell boys Len Coe, Charlie Phelps, and Malcolm were excellent runners. I think Burwell boy Alan Taylor was Head Boy, that is if he was the son of the postmaster.

I have been sorting out family archives, and the other day found a form photo. I could name every fellow student of 2A, plus where they came from. Just me and Reggie Fuller from Burwell.

I visit the Burwell websites from time to time. They bring back floods of happy memories of a super upbringing in a lovely village. I came from local stock (Bowyers) and my grandparents lived in a clunch house in Reach. I left in 1965, but would go back to retire there if my dear wife would agree!

St Andrews was the primary school down near the end of North Street, near where the buses turned round. Infants were housed in the church, taught by I think Miss Claydon and Miss Pollard. The Headmistress was Miss Winnie Wheeler, a tall, rather formidable spinster who taught to 11 Plus four or five age groups in one classroom in the school hall. She did a pretty good job. She lived in a house by the side of the school hall with her mother. We had no interaction with St Mary’s School. We played and stayed around the northern end of the long thin village, except for forays into the Spring Close and the Meadows. I did not meet Reggie Fuller, who joined me at SGS in 1952 from St Mary's, until we went to Soham.

Incidentally, my mother went to St Mary's, although how she got there from Reach I don't know - walked probably. I don't know George Pryke, although there are other Prykes in Burwell (Pryke is a not an uncommon name in East Anglia - my Dad came from Brandon/Mumford).

I suppose that SGS offered what was, for those days, a pretty good basic education, especially for those who were either very bright and/or very sporty. If you were, like me, one of the 'average' kids, (mid-way up the A stream, all over the place academically, fair at sport, patchy at both), you got a poor deal. No/none/zero advice on further education or career choice, no encouragement of our strengths, no help except a clip round the ear or detention with our weaknesses.

I left when I was just 16 without anybody asking if I was going to do sixth form, and got a job in the office of the box factory at Burwell, where my Dad was a mechanic. I was encouraged to study finance by some super people, and made a good career in the box business that took me all over the world, including time in Toronto in 66/67 with Malcolm Brooks, and latterly, eleven years in Saudi Arabia.

I had some good teachers, and can link my continuing interest in history, travel, sport, reading and writing to men like the superb Leon Kitchen, and others like Joiner, Thomas, Phythian, a good art teacher, a good French teacher (not the awful Slug Riley). 'Rat' Taylor was my first form master, and he was good as a geog teacher, and of course a good sports coach.

I had some lousy teachers too, but the one who stands out was Punch Lawrance. I think Punch arrived to teach maths at about the time I started, and I had him for 4 years. I was weak at maths, and a timid kid, and Punch's bullying, intimidating style frightened me, and many others. I loathed him. Some he almost destroyed, like C.... in my class. He used the slipper on non performers, doubled homework, all the while mocking our dopeyness. Punch seemed to delight in being rude and ignorant, barging in to other classes, and interrupting teachers finishing a lesson. He was a bullying moron, and should have been fired. I was amazed to learn, when I attended my one and only old boys dinner in, I think, 1972, that he had become the Headmaster of the new village college that had absorbed SGS. I had become a bit more confident by then and voiced some criticism, and was told to shut up.

Teddy Armitage was a far from inspiring or effective Head, at least for the broad mob of kids, although I guess he did set a pretty good general standard of academic and sporting performance and appearance (I got caned for wearing my greasy cap on the back of my greasy hair).

Glad to know that Leon Kitchen is still going strong. A Yorkshireman, I think. He used to wear a beret. He was a super teacher, and a good soccer player. He took us for history and civics (tape recordings of Alistair Cooke's Letter From America). Even the thickest kids passed history. He used to write headline notes on the board left-handed in a good hand. He could coax performance out of anybody - "what do you know about Henry the Eighth?" - silence - "Oh come on lad, tha must know sumthing".

Lots of memories, mostly good ones.

Peter died on 5th August 2011.

page created 20 May 2006: last updated 29 Sep 2011