Soham Grammarians - 2012 Dinner Talk

On the night even though the talk was longer than usual there was not enough time to cover
everything that contributors had provided. This account rectifies that.
Further memories, photos are welcome.

The following took part in this talk:

Mr Dick Bozeat SGS Woodwork 59-72; staff SVC 72-93
Alan Dench SG67-72, then at Ely College 6th Form Centre
Vince Gudgeon SG66-72; Boarding House; then at Ely College 6th Form Centre
Frank Haslam SG'59'-66; website editor, database
Ian Hobbs SG48-55, Captain of OBs Cricket and Football teams in 1972
Ed Kisby SG67-72, then at Ely College 6th Form Centre
Ed Reed SG67-72, then at Ely College 6th Form Centre
Simon Thornhill SG65-72; Boarding House
Mr Peter Scott SGS Maths 60-72; teaching staff Ely College 6th Form Centre 72-93:
IT team 1993-2010
Mr Gareth Wood SGS Chemistry 64-72; staff Ely College 6th Form Centre 72-93:
Head of Science, Senior Master

Contributing material shown on this page but not present at the Dinner:
Mr John Browning OBE MA SGS History 47-51, Guest of Honour at the last SGS Speech Day/Prizegiving, 18 July 1972
Mike Hawes SG69-72, then at Ely College 6th Form Centre
(sadly we ran out of time to include it on the night)
   Stephen Melton SG65-71


Frank Haslam: this report has the following structure:

A reminder of who was on SGS Staff in 1972

AO Russ - DH Riley - GH Duffett - R Russell - PD Scott - RJ Humphry - J Llewellyn-Jones - AG Cornell - LE Priddle - RJ Abbott - RG Wood - HL Homer -T Abdullah
RJ Makin - Mlle F Pauly - Miss P O'Keeffe - PJ Askem - EH Tabraham - E Armitage - RA Taylor - RGS Bozeat - Mrs M Armitage - Mrs V Laird - LR Hart
Not shown/already left:

Miss AR Dunton, GWT Edwards, Mrs MJ Fordham, Mrs RLB Guyon, Mrs JPH Jarrett, AJ Mason, Mrs AL Smith, Mrs BM Wilkes

Peter Scott: That photo must have been taken on a Friday as I am in uniform!

Frank Haslam: Mlle Françoise Pauly was killed two years later in the crash of a Turkish Airlines DC-10 in Paris.

SGS ethos - a view from the Staff Room.
Comprehensivisation - staff involvement?

Dick Bozeat: My fondest memory of SGS was one of a large happy family working together close harmony under the excellent leadership of Edward Armitage. It was for me very much a way of life, not a job. Wonderful times spent on the playing fields in Cambridgeshire and beyond with Peter Taylor, encouraging and watching  our school teams competing, mostly successfully, in Football, Cricket and Athletics. Dramatic productions would come around and time was spent making sets and ensuring they worked on the night. I don't think I ever saw a production from front of stage, but there throughout them all.

My principal purpose was to teach Woodwork, Games and some Art throughout the school. Over the years Woodwork became an A-Level subject and many boys enjoyed great success and satisfaction from their efforts. I recall one former pupil, now a doctor of medicine, telling how his experience of woodwork and the use of tools was to him a great advantage when embarking on Surgery at university.

I felt ill prepared for the change to the Village College although much preparation had taken place. Few of the old SGS staff remained at Soham, most having taken up posts at Ely in the new Sixth Form Centre created there to serve Soham, Witchford, Littleport and Ely: Peter Taylor (Head of Lower School), Lionel Hart (Head of Modern Languages), Tony Russ (Head of Physical Education) and myself (Head of Technical Studies). It was all very different, a large campus, three times the size of SGS both in area and number of pupils, girls now included and all abilities.

Dick Bozeat, SGS Woodwork 59-72;
staff SVC 72-93

The Principal was one Albert Lawrance (AEL), well known in the area and to the old boys of SGS, having taught at the grammar school in the 1950s and 1960s as Head of Mathematics. He was a complete control freak and found it difficult to delegate responsibility. Strong on discipline, his principles were very much those of a Grammar School with emphasis on academic success. One drawback for the future success of the Federation of Witchford, Ely and Soham and the central Sixth Form in Ely was that Lawrance openly encouraged pupils from Soham to seek their sixth form education away from Ely, in particular at Cambridge Hills Sixth Form College and even further afield. This certainly had an adverse effect on Ely and our relationship with the Federation. 

A year or so after going comprehensive we had an Ofsted inspection and I recall that the main criticism was that "We were more like a Grammar School than most Grammar Schools." This was taken as a compliment by AEL, far from critical.

Under AEL's guidance the most able children were well served and the school was seen to be successful within the local community of Soham and Ely and places were sought after from beyond the local catchment area.

Time moves on, but for me a way of life at SGS became a job at SVC. I feel sure that the rounded and full education given is endorsed by the fact that so many old Boys turn up for the annual reunions some 40 years after the closure of SGS - a testament to SGS, a school only to to be equalled, never bettered.  

Mr Gareth Wood: I saw SGS as a generally happy, purposeful, successful and typical boys' Grammar School which was mutually respected by pupils, students, staff, parents and the local community and was presided over by a highly esteemed Head Master and scientist.

The School was highly regarded by the Local Authority and well supported by them. It had been the only Grammar School outside Cambridge in the old Cambridgeshire Authority and investment in it was 'encouraging'.

The approach was sustained when the merger with the Isle of Ely took place. As Head of Chemistry I was well supported by Mr Armitage and, in addition to the normal departmental allowance, I received every extra allocation for which I applied (and subsequently wondered if I had applied for enough).

This situation was never to apply again throughout my teaching career! [Incidentally, for the benefit of Frank (Haslam) and Michael (Yeomans) semi-micro inorganic analysis sets and top-pan balances were among my targets].


Much of the Debate passed me by and I suspect most of the staff. 'Comprehension' was to happen and we would have to accept the subsequent outcome.

Mr Gareth Wood: SGS Chemistry 64-72; staff Ely College 6th Form Centre 72-93:
Head of Science, Senior Master

Final Events
I was ill for five of the last six weeks [a possible 'heart attack' which was never confirmed and has not recurred in the last forty years!]. I returned for the last week of the term (era?!) and spent much of it at Ely as the new Head of Science sorting out the Departmental timetables for the forthcoming year. I did not neglect my duties at Soham, however, and was involved in the final ceremony.

City of Ely College (incorporating the Sixth Form Centre)
The new school at Ely did provide an enhanced career structure for me which I had already used [HoScience] and was able to use once more later on. It was, for me, a new mixed-sex environment. In the first week, one lunchtime, Don Riley and I could only find two available seats in the 6th Form canteen - opposite two young ladies; we hoped not to embarrass them but both of us were surprised with the aplomb and maturity with which they took our arrival. Subsequently, I do not think I would have wanted to return to a single-sex school voluntarily.

The school ran smoothly form the outset and there were fewer problems than might have been envisaged - not least because Peter Scott had produced (at the expense of his summer holidays) an excellent, precise and effective timetable. Communication between staff was not as easy as we had been used to and we may well not have seen some colleagues from week to week. I did miss the possibility of teaching all-through (the same students from O-level on to A-level) and, particularly, teaching a whole A-Level group in all aspects of the Chemistry A-level course.

Peter Scott: My teaching career started here in 1960 as Second in the Mathematics Department. Having acquired over time several other responsibilities, I also took on in the late 1960s the major task of producing the school timetable.

This was definitely an out-of-term activity, taking up most of my summer holiday and the whole of our dining-room table.

During the last Summer Term, in 1972, I was looking forward to my first free summer. This was not to be. We were then living, as now, in one of the pair of school houses built in the old Beechurst orchard.

Our neighbour for that term was Peter Thacker, the newly appointed Principal of the Ely Federation of Village Colleges who would have overall charge of the four Colleges of the Federation.

He had decided that he would produce the timetable for the combined college at Ely. I first met him when we received a knock at our front door; he had come across a problem. He had with him the timetable for Needhams School (there was only the one copy, normally kept in the Head's office).

His problem was in finding a curriculum: one class would have 5 periods of RE and one period of Science, another, in the same year would have 4 periods of Science and no RE.

Mr Peter Scott: SGS Maths 60-72; teaching staff Ely College 6th Form Centre 72-93: IT team 1993-2010

It turned out that this was the norm throughout the school; in completing the timetable, Tom Walker would use any staff still available to teach their subject to the classes which still had vacant slots. Peter Thacker started work on the timetable in Bedford House, later to be used as teaching space by the new College. The plan was that he would complete the main school timetable and later in the term, I would go over and add the Sixth Form timetable. The timetabling was done by using small coloured cards for staff, with different colours for subjects and rooms. These were then pinned onto timetable slots on large boards. Simple mathematics will tell us that with 40 periods a week and around 60 staff there would be over two thousand staff cards alone.

All went well, albeit very slowly until, by the end of term, space became available at the school in Downham Road. As the partly finished boards were bundled into and out of the minibus the inevitable happened; a good proportion of the cards detached themselves and, since one pin-hole looks much like another, could not realistically be replaced. At this point I was called upon to complete the timetable for both the main school and the Sixth Form, which I continued to do for many years.

Needless to say I did not use pins and small cards. The unfinished main school timetable was transcribed in pencil onto the 40 inch wide drafting film that I had used at Soham and the whole timetable eventually completed. Copies were made using the plan copier which the Grammar School had been given some years previously by Fisons machinery company in Soham.

It was at the Staff Meeting following the final Commemoration Service in St Andrew's Church that Don Riley and I were thanked by Mr Armitage and, for the first and only time, referred to as 'Don and Peter'. After 12 years of 'Scott' - or 'Mr Scott' if I had done something wrong - I was rather surprised that he actually knew what our Christian names were. This, however, was typical of the Grammar School. Although probably appearing over-formal to the outsider it was in fact a closely knit family of staff and students, united in a common purpose.

The twelve years I spent here began what was to be 50 years in Secondary Education in Cambridgeshire. I could not have wished for a better start.

What the Papers said

Frank Haslam gave this review of what the papers said, in chronological order. The articles can be seen in full here:

Soham Advertiser, November 2, 1967
‘Comprehensive’ plans at Soham

SGS +SVC 11-18 mixed comprehensive
Burwell VC mixed 11-14

Ely Standard, December 28, 1967

Tom Riley ... himself a product of the Grammar Schools, semi-retiring as as they approach end:
“I can almost hear a fat posthumous chuckle from Henry Morris who looks like getting his way at last”

“Grammar Schools are being killed by their own success”

“You have to trust the people who will handle it to make the best of it, so far as they are allowed. The opportunities will still be there, if not quite the same and perhaps not concentrated under this roof.”

Edward Armitage: Old Boys have a statutory right to send sons to the school.

Frank Haslam: SG'59'-66; website
editor, database

Cambridgeshire Times, December 4/5, 1969
Comprehensive Education finds favour at Ely; rejected at Soham

Plans by now revised: no sixth form at Soham, only Ely
Needhams meeting: 11 attended, all in favour

SGS meeting: 152-6 against
Edward Armitage: “children attending the new 11-16 school at Ely would be part of the larger 11-18 school, with a Sixth Form attached. Therefore the children of Soham, Haddenham, Sutton, Fordham etc will be at a disadvantage compared with Ely children: -

" .. no child likes changing schools”

“ .. whilst Ely children would be encouraged to stay at school, many from surrounding areas would be tempted into the permissive atmosphere of local technical colleges at the age of 16.”

“If these proposals go through, and a parent from one of the villages concerned in these proposals came to me for advice, it would be, 'Move to Ely by September, 1971'."

Newmarket Journal, Thursday, February 12, 1970
Soham Head slams new proposals

George Edwards, the Chief Education Officer for Cambridgeshire and the Isle of Ely gave details of the new scheme at a teach-in at SVC: -

Edward Armitage: “I'm all for the comprehensive system at the proper time. The scheme at present is a mess. If you add the size of my sixth year and that of Ely you get 154. I prophesy that if this scheme goes forward the sixth year at Ely will be down to 100 or even less.“

55 for the proposals, 49 against.

Cambridge Evening News, Wednesday, April 29, 1970

Mr Albert Lawrance, former Head of Maths at SGS & Senior Mathematics master at the Cambridge Grammar School for Boys is appointed Warden of Soham Village College. [He succeeds Mr PH Riggulsford who is to be head of a Bristol comprehensive)]

Cambridgeshire Times, July 9/10, 1970
Parents renew fight against all-in schools

Proposals on May 24: amendment for sixth forms at Soham and Ely defeated by 31 votes to 22.

So Federation will be:

The Final Soham Grammar School events


Wed 10 May – as O level preparation, travelled by mini-bus to see Julius Caesar at Theatre Royal, Stratford-on Avon, trip organised by the colourful and fiery Don Riley. I remember his short temper flaring in negotiating busy traffic in an unfamiliar vehicle!
Don ran the school choir for many years and it once appeared on Anglia TV. We travelled far and wide, including a weekend in Sheringham, Cromer (slept on Church Hall  floor on the Friday night! ) and Walsingham. The choir’s last event before disbanding was at a church in Chippenham when we sang an emotional The day thou gavest as a finale. 

We also sang at popular Maths teacher Christopher Batman Wain’s wedding in Chrishall.

Wed 24 May – German O level Oral exam.  German had been taught by the Headmaster’s wife May Fanny Armitage, the wonderfully charismatic Lady of the Moat House, who delighted in engaging  the class at length  in her Scots lilt with tales of her family holidays abroad, often involving the unexpected mishap, which made Spricht mal Deutsch much  more fun!. Her unforgettable catchword for keeping order: Steady!!

Ed Kisby SG67-72
then at Ely College 6th Form Centre

Mon 5 June – Main O levels began.
Tues 6 June –English Language exam.   

Fri 9 June – French 1 and Geography 1 exams. The culmination of Lionel Dalai Hart’s tutoring us in French. Many a lesson when chairs would be cast across the classroom in anger at poor marks. He was an obsessive with league tables, with essay books strewn back to pupils in order of position in class marking. The top five in French were usually Gregson, Glover, Hill, Hardiment and me. Woe betide any who slipped below their average slot!  I had earlier been taught by Mr Rees when back in 1A, and was told by 1 Alpha how lucky we were to avoid the wrath of Slug Riley’s class.  

Mon 12 June – English Literature and French 2 exams
Wed 14 June – Maths 1 exam.

Thur 15 June – Chemistry theory exam. Back in 1A our first encounter with the bunsen burner had been overseen by Chas Ford who frequently left his 'dribble' mark on our books.    

Fri 16 June – History and German exam. John Turge Abbott, History teacher, had also been my form tutor and I was pleased that he was to transfer to Ely when I studied History A level. He later went on to excel as Chairman of East Cambs District Council.

Mon 19 June – Maths 2 exam
Tues 20 June – Geography 2 and German 2 exam. John Humphrey exuded Oxfordian authority in Geography but I could never remember all the correct crops and products generated in those  Canadian provinces!

Wed 21 June – Chemistry theory – Gareth Basil Wood forecast I would fail. I managed a grade 5 pass!
Tues 27 June – Additional Maths exam – last one – thank goodness!

Thur 6 July – returned to school after post exam break and handed  in old books! Scored for tennis tournament.

Fri 7 July - received 6th form timetable for Ely 6th Form College. First of many choir rehearsals for Final Commemoration Service.

Mon 10 July – started 6th form timetable – still at Soham!

Tues 11 to Fri 14 – choir practices every day!

Tues 18 July – Speech Day! A formal occasion with Ted leading. He was of course legendary and we revered him. My favourite memory of him remains his grand entrances into the hall at school assembly, when piano maestro Alan Steele was deputed to select an appropriately orchestral warm-up fanfare style symphony on the sound system, and kept us guessing each time as to whether the climax would arrive just as Ted burst triumphantly through the doors and approached the stage in regal fashion.

Wed 19 July – saw dress rehearsal of HMS Pinafore

Thur 20 July – choir practice – and watched cricket match (beware the strains of rebuke “Sonny!” from  the tractor-loving Charlie [George?] Phelps with his famous shed, towards any boy who strayed into an out of bounds area )

Fri 21 July – another choir rehearsal – then saw performance of HMS Pinafore in evening

Mon 24 July – you guessed it – another choir practice!

Tue 25 July – choir rehearsal number 9

Wed 26 July – watched Old Boys’ cricket match

Thur 27 July – …and again – the last rehearsal, followed by watching staff cricket match. Almost the last lunch in the famous canteen where RAT and Dalai would preside, those sturdy metallic food  “troughs” and the formidable “Mona” the dinner lady who would keep all aware of their clearing up duties regardless of whether staff or pupil, and exert power through wielding her famous trolley at great  speed!

Fri 28 July – THE LAST DAY OF SOHAM GRAMMAR SCHOOL.  I’ll never forget the formidable procession  through the streets of Soham  to St Andrew’s Church for the Commemoration Service. Solemn-faced Headmaster Ted Armitage  was flanked by Deputy Tabby Tabraham  and Head of Lower School  RAT Taylor.”My word” indeed – what a formidable last stand! Much emotion  as we sang our hearts out with Peter Scott on organ to remember a wonderful school and end of  life as we knew it!  


- - - -

Speech Day, 18 July 1972

John Browning OBE MA (History 1947-1951)
Guest of Honour, at the last SGS Speech Day, 18 July 1972

(read on his behalf by Frank Haslam)

My reactions on reading Edward Armitage’s invitations to be guest of honour and speaker at the last Speech Day of Soham Grammar School were emotional, not rational - surprise and pleasure but deep sadness and utter disbelief that an ancient grammar school with a fine record of achievement and service to the community was no longer to continue as a grammar school.

The welcome on the day to me and my late wife was warm and unstinting from Edward and his wife May; from George Edwards, Cambridgeshire Chief Education Officer; and the two dear colleagues surviving from 1947-51, Peter Taylor and Ed Tabraham.

I never write down my speeches but I do recall setting out the achievements of the School, fond memories of colleagues, regret at the impending closure of what I valued - in Wordsworth’s line Once did she hold the gorgeous East in fee.

Perhaps this evening it is appropriate to recite the last four lines of that Sonnet:

Yet shall some tribute of regret be paid
When her long life hath reach'd its final day:
Men are we, and must grieve when even the Shade
Of that which once was great is pass'd away.
[from On the Extinction of the Venetian Republic, 1802]

I also particularly recall Ed Tabraham’s dramatic - even theatrical - crumbling up and throwing away his prepared speech of thanks.

This was a return to where I had my four years of apprenticeship, thankful for all I had learned.

My pleasure is tinged always in my memory with the sadness of that day.

I assure you I think long and fondly of my time at Soham and of my days under the leadership of Edward Armitage.

1972 Prizegiving: Simon Thornhill - John Browning (speaker) - Bruce King: source Mrs Armitage
Simon was awarded the Stubbs Cup and Bruce was awarded the Bacon Cup.
The programme for this last Speech Day can be seen by clicking here 

- - - -

Wednesday 21st July: Staff vs SGS 1st XI

Robert Wiseman - Edward Armitage, with cut-down bat.
For the 1st XI photo, please see later.

Alan Dench has provided the score-card for this match:

SGS 1st X1

Batsman How Out Bowler Score
Mr B King Ct B RGS Bozeat 61
Mr M Curtis Bowled RA Taylor 17
Mr I Cox LBW RA Taylor 15
Mr PW Peachey Bowled RA Taylor 0
Mr MR Allen Ct AJ Mason AO Russ 18
Mr SJ Martin NOT OUT
Mr AG Simpson

Mr SL Murfitt

Mr TM McHugh

Mr RS Walker

for 6 wickets
SGS Staff

Batsman How Out Bowler Score
Mr RJ Humphry Ct Martin I Cox 61
Mr DJ Kilvington NOT OUT
Mr RA Taylor

Mr G Phelps

Mr RG Wood

Mr LNE Priddle

Mr RJ Abbott

Mr AJ Mason

Mr JEL Jones

Mr RGS Bozeat

for 1 wicket

 - - - -

HMS Pinafore 20-22 July

The cast list can be seen by clicking here

- - - -

26 July: Cricket – 1st XI v Old Boys

I started with reference to an incident when I was in the 6th. Form. For some reason I decided to have a crew cut. Mr Armitage was in the middle of repelling 'These silly Americanisms'. I had to visit the office and be told off.

Tonight, as I came up to the lectern to speak, a picture of a long-haired Bruce King was on the screen and it reminded me of the type of man Mr. Armitage was. Many years later, probably in the 1970s  he wrote to me to apologise and said he would rather have crew-cuts than the then prevalent long hair!

It was my privilege, and I was proud, to captain the last School v Old Boys, both in cricket and football – probably because I was resident in Soham, not for my ability in those sports.

In the football match we had a very strong side with  Eric Simper, Jonny Fretwell and Ian Booth who were playing for Ely, Soham and Newmarket in the then Eastern Counties League. As we were all playing in local leagues it was no surprise we ran out winners 8-0. The school did well to keep it at that level.

The cricket match was played on a brilliant Summer's day for a change. Once again we had in the OB’s team very strong local cricketers - Norman South, Brian Leonard, and David Bailey who played for Littleport-Ely and the Pimpernels.  Most of the team were playing at a local level.

Ian Hobbs, Captain of the OBs
- "we thrashed them"

As was the custom the OBs batted first and although few wickets were lost the School did manage to curtail the run rate and I did not consider we had enough runs to chance it. I decided to bat for a few overs after tea - not a popular decision - but I had no idea of the School's batting strength. I knew then that at the worst we were unlikely to lose.

I gambled on the bowling strength of Norman South.

I and Norman opened the bowling and it was apparent that the length & pace of Norman, the ball coming at an awkward height to the batsmen, was going to be a challenge. And so it proved to be,  Norman bowling throughout the innings, keeping the screw on, taking wickets at a regular intervals.

The school was overcome - bowled out - for yet another OB’s victory.

- - - -

The Last Assembly

Stephen Melton SG65-71: [There were a couple of times in my college years when I was home for the vacation (long vacations at Oxford), I took the bus and paid an individual Old Boy visit. I don't think I was responding to any general invitation. I've got no memory of meeting others.]

I have one vivid memory of this occasion.

The Head had a pile of papers on the table in front of him. He explained that these were the various speeches that he had given at the end of each year that he had been at the school. Instead of giving a new speech, he proposed to take the previous speeches and read them all through, one by one.

There was a short pause as he turned over a paper or two, allowing just enough time for the shock wave produced by this idea to pass through the Hall.

Then he “changed his mind”, and read out a few extracts instead.

The collection was genuine, because I went up to his study afterwards and asked to see the speech for 1970, which I had missed.

- - - -

The walk to Soham Parish Church for the
Commemoration Service Friday 28 July 1972



for the full order of service and report click here

Peter Scott: My last, and altogether more pleasant task at the Grammar School was to produce, with Don Riley the Order of Service for the final Commemoration Service in St Andrew's Church, with its three anthems sung by a hastily formed and trained choir. Frank Haslam will know that one of the newspaper headlines was on the lines of 'School ends with Halleluja', referring to the last anthem, the Hallelujah Chorus [Frank: I haven't seen that one but Dick Bozeat provided one headlined 'Messiah' closes Soham school's final chapter] .

It neglected to mention that the first anthem, by Josef Haydn, was Insanae et vanae curae - translated as 'Senseless and futile cares assail our minds; deprived of hope, they often fill our hearts with madness.'

- - - -

Edward Armitage's last letter to
Soham Grammar School parents, 29 July 1972

… Now comes the last letter you will receive from me as Headmaster. I hope it too will be up to standard.

…Your help in throwing your support behind us has been invaluable not only to us on the staff but more importantly to the boys who, generation after generation, have grown up with a respect for the ordered liberal society in which English men and women habitually thrive.

To the boys, including, indeed particularly including, those who have needed occasional correction and punishment I say "Remember Soham Grammar School and walk tall for you are the last of the line".


Staff who stayed at Soham

Dick Bozeat: Woodwork
Lionel Hart: French
Tony Russ: Games/PE
RAT: History, Geography

Staff who went to City of Ely College Sixth Form Centre

John Abbott: Head of History
Edward Armitage: Director
Peter Askem: Art
Tony Cornell: Physics
Gerald Duffett: Biology
John Humphry: Head of Humanities
John Lewellyn-Jones: Biology
John Makin: Science
Les Priddle: Maths
Don Riley: English
Ron Russell: English
Peter Scott: Maths
Gareth Wood: Head of Science

 - - - -

Alan Dench SG67-72, then at Ely College 6th Form Centre

What do you recall of the information your parents received about what was going on?
A leaflet was issued and distributed by Education Authority at the time. No recollection by my mother or me of any other direct communications. However I am now aware that Edward Armitage sent a final letter to all parents at the end of the school term, though the copy that my parents received does not seem to have survived.

What were their concerns?
We were all more concerned with upcoming GCE O Levels. It made it even more important to do as well as possible to have the widest range of options post-16. As a boy from Cambridge one of my options may have been to continue my sixth form studies in Cambridge.

After the changes Cambridge was no longer in the catchment area for the Federation, however we were guaranteed continuity of education within the appropriate Federation school if we had already started. The fact that Edward Armitage and most of the Grammar School staff moved to the Sixth Form Centre was a key determinant in my decision to attend Sixth Form in Ely.

Alan Dench

What were you told at SGS about what would happen in the new school year 72-73?
For our year (Vth Form) our options were to either move to the Sixth Form Centre at Ely, or move to another higher education college, or get a job! Whatever happened at Soham Village College was of no concern to us, as it had not been really for all the years that I was at Soham Grammar School.

The only time when we had more contact with the Village College was during the time that we were engaged in raising funds to build the school swimming pool. This was a joint project with Village College around 1968-69, I think?

What was the 'atmosphere' like in that last Soham Grammar School year?
Variable. Rather like going through bereavement. But there were some great moments of joy and celebration of all that was good about the Grammar School. In the words of Jodie Mitchell, "Big Yellow Taxi" - "... you don't know what you've got 'til its gone".

Did you feel that the change affected the attention given to teaching/preparation for exams?
Probably not ... And if it was, the staff was too professional to let it show.

What was the funny side of things that you recall?
Nothing comes to mind.

Alan continues:

The academic year 1971-1972 was the last year that Soham Grammar School existed as a grammar school. When we were told that this was to be the case, as a result of the proposed reorganisation of secondary education in the county, my personal feelings were probably similar to those experienced after bereavement – from sadness and tears to happiness and smiles together with anger, annoyance, and confusion, uncertainty and anticipation. It was my Vth Form year, having started at the Grammar School in 1967. Therefore my primary focus was on the GCE Ordinary Level examinations as the next step towards aspirations of sixth form and university. For most of the year 1971-1972 it was business as usual.

However there were several notable events during 1972 to ensure that the last days of the school would be memorable:

16th - 18th March: School Production of The Taming of the Shrew. This was a joint production with Ely High School for Girls.

19th April: The last Soham Grammar School Group photo.

16th May: The Last Soham Grammar School Sports Dayprogramme

RAT's last flourish in the programme read: Enfin tout est fini. Consummatum est! All good things come to an end, not the least being Sports Day at the Grammar School. We faced the changes from miles to metres with regret and from pounds to kilos with annoyance but now we are faced with the ultimate. Come then, let us to the task and make this day, the last, the best.

Famous names are recalled today - Norman, Sargent, Darby, Willett, Houghton, Neate and many others too numerous to mention - and particularly that little band led by Dick Houghton who in 1964, immediately after Sports Day, went on to win three Shields out of four at the Fenland Sports, including that of Champion School.

Athletic glory was not however confined to that single year for this very present year - 1972 no less - saw the success of our teams in the Fenland Schools Cross Country Event in winning four Shields, including that of Champion School.

Le roi est mort, vive, le roi and Floreat Sohamiensis.

The track's not all, a breathless hush has often descended on the cricket field. At 90 not out would Reg Quiver make a 'ton' against the County Club? Alas 'twas not to be, but David Bailey made a hundred against King's Lynn to be surpassed by his 87 out of 103 for 1 against the Perse. Bob Barber just a short time later made 100, against King's Lynn and Martin Shalders won the match with 6 for 10.

In winter we played Soccer. Goals galore! We shall not forget George Peacock's six against the King's School while suffering from concussion, nor Alan Parish's four against Huntingdon - his nose broken early in the match. John Fordham played for Oxford v. Cambridge and 90 of us went to see him play at Wembley. Geoffrey Burton got a Falcon at Cambridge but no 'Blue' there. Did I say no 'Blue'? I almost forgot David Bray's for Boxing.

Eric Simper has played for Cambridgeshire for some time and has been captain recently. Lester Newell still heads the list for goal scorers in the Eastern Counties League. Our thanks to all those of many talents on the field, good allrounders. Neates, Whetstones, Coxes, Souths, Leonards and a host of others all laid a good foundation - ready for a superstructure?

22nd May: School Visit to the Treasures of Tutankhamun exhibition at the British Museum in London. I remember being part of the whole school group that went on this excursion to London. As I recall a convoy of coaches departed from the Grammar School and took us to the British Museum. We travelled in form/class groups and went into the exhibition in these groups. The arrangements were structured and organised to ensure that no one was lost or left behind.

From the 5th to 30th June it was heads down for the GCE examinations.

18th July: The Last Soham Grammar School Speech Day.

On 28th July: Commemoration Service. A fitting end to Soham Grammar School and day filled with emotion and memories that have endured.

During the summer of 1972, while Soham Grammar School was making much noise to finish with “a bang rather than a whimper”, the Cambridgeshire and Isle of Ely County Council Education Committee was preparing us for the 'brave new world' that was to come. A brief guide was issued for parents, students and friends to explain the Ely Federation of Village Colleges.

This informed us about the Federation and its facilities. It advised that in future children would attend one of four Village Colleges – City of Ely (Needhams), Littleport, Witchford or Soham (which included the former Grammar School). Enrolment was comprehensive and mixed/co-educational based on equality and catchment area not academic ability. There was a common school uniform at all colleges for pupils up to 16 years.

For those wishing to pursue sixth form studies (including A-Level) they could attend a Sixth Form Centre at the City of Ely College. This was a dedicated building on the City of Ely College site in Ely, which had been the former Ely High School for Girls. The Heads of all the colleges within the Federation had been appointed. The Federation had 14 Governors, of whom 7 were previously Governors of Soham Grammar School.

Alan Dench's Memories and memorabilia of the Sixth Form Centre, Ely, 1972-1974

With the demise of Soham Grammar School at the end of the academic year 1972, I transferred to the Sixth Form Centre at Ely in September 1972, together with 25 other boys from the Vth year.

We represented about half of the intake of Soham Grammar School Vth Form classes A and Alpha. Also transferring were about 30 members of the Soham Grammar School LVIth. And of course there were girls from the equivalent years of the former Ely High School, plus a few students from Village Colleges.

Edward Armitage was the first Director of the Sixth Form. Half of the Governors of the Federation were former SGS Governors. All except two members of staff who taught me were from Soham Grammar School. The two exceptions were Peter Thacker, the Principal of the City of Ely College, and Mrs Jones, a former Ely High School teacher. Even the location of the Sixth Form Centre was the former Ely High School. So, to me, it had a perceptual feel of a Grammar School 6th Form 

Having never attended a Sixth Form in the Grammar School how would I know? But I felt that Edward Armitage did try to maintain many aspects of the Soham Grammar School ethos:

There were many things that were different:
- - - -

Boarders: Vince Gudgeon SG66-72
and Simon Thornhill SG65-72

Vince: Like Simon I was a boarder. I was very comfortable with my lot. The move to the Sixth Form Centre at Ely came mid-way through my Sixth Form years. I would have preferred to have been able to complete those at Soham.

I think the change, merging with the Village College, might have been more of an issue for the younger boys. That last term, Summer 1972 may as well not have existed. I do remember taking all my stuff to Ely.

We were changing from the staff we had known for years to some new faces, some of them more competent than others.

And of course we would be working with girls. The atmosphere was more lenient and there was no longer any uniform.

Boarding House: Simon Thornhill and Vince Gudgeon

Simon: I had my head down doing exams as it was my final year - I wasn't going to be affected by the change.

The Moat was Mr and Mrs Armitage’s home while he was Headmaster at Soham. However, it didn’t actually belong to him and for reasons that I don’t recall was owned by the Education Authority. There were 4 largish bedrooms which we called dormitories and each room could take up to 3 or 4 boys. At most, I think that we had 16 boarders but there were normally around 12 boys. Vince, James Roberts and myself were the senior boarders and, as the one in the oldest year group, I was head boarder.

The Boarding House remained open for boarders right up to the end of Soham Grammar School in July 1972. There was no special event or party, as I recall, to mark the occasion but, as with all the other boys in the school, we took part in the final church service in Soham Parish Church on the last day.

After that, Mr and Mrs Armitage moved out and bought their own house in Cambridge Road, Ely. The Village College did not take boarders. The Moat was subsequently used by the Education Authority for extra-curricular activities, youth club groups, games and the like but rather fell into disrepair. Eventually was sold to Anne Jarman (née Ford) and her husband, who, of course, live there to this day. [Editor: The Moat had belonged to Ann's grandparents, the Morbeys].

The boys at the boarding house generally did not come from great distances and so when the boarding house closed, the boys who remained at Soham would have come in on a daily basis on the school buses. Cambridge was about the furthest that we came from. I was a Cambridge boy and a boarder because my dad thought that it would do me good. I thoroughly enjoyed my time at The Moat so had no complaints!

see also Boarding House History

- - - -

Ed Reed: Turning up to 6th Form at Ely in September 1972 was a real culture shock with the ultimate and very welcomed distraction of being amongst an equal number of girls, mostly but not all, from Ely High School. I often wonder what they thought of us. I was going to school again with some girls I had last been at school with at the village primary school in Fordham.

It must have been  a real struggle for the staff to try to maintain the standards of both the previous two schools with the huge amount of change going on. I was lucky as we were the first year to complete both years at the Sixth Form but I felt sorry for the year above us that were 'half and half' between the two schools.

Sport was optional and on the first 'games' afternoon several of us ex-Grammar School boys naturally gravitated over to, what we thought, was the 5- a-side football pitches with the small goals. Over came several of the girls with hockey sticks and we thought that they would be absolutely no good at all at 5-a-side.

Of course they were hockey pitches so we went and grabbed a number of hockey sticks and one of the teaching staff, Mr Astbury, who played hockey for March, taught us all how to play mixed hockey. We ended up playing a few inter -chool matches and did quite well. I ended up playing at University and at club level till very recently and I know that Nigel Tunnel, who became one of our best players, played for Ely Hockey Club for a number of years.

Ed Reed SG67-72,
then at Ely College 6th Form Centre

As part of, I suppose, what was the ideal of the Comprehensive system at the time, we were offered the opportunity (with a bit of obligation I recall) of taking on a couple of “liberal studies” subjects. I had a go at cookery (I thought it would be a good way to avoid starvation if I went to University!) and motor mechanics, which having an interest in engineering I really enjoyed.

Horror of horrors and unthinkable these days but we also had a smoking room! Mr Armitage purposely chose the most spartan room in the school and furnished it with the worst and most utilitarian furniture he could find. None of this though  seemed to deter the hardened smokers.

As you will see from our Grammarians' website there were some joint musical and drama productions between Ely High and Soham Grammar and this continued at Sixth Form with a very good production of Gilbert and Sullivan’s Mikado as I recall.

There was no uniform and dress was very casual. During the first winter green Parka coats were fairly fashionable but Ian Allen came to school in one of the first, much more stylish, Afghan coats that we had ever seen. After bumping in to him, Mr Armitage commented later that “I have just come in to school and you will never believe this but a have just seen a Yeti!”

We were taught by many familiar faces. In the subjects I took to A level, Mr Armitage (who held the position of Director of the Sixth Form) and Tony Cornell taught us for Physics. Gareth Wood and Mrs Jones (ex-High School deputy head) taught us Chemistry. Peter Scott did his best to save our bacon in maths during the second year after a difficult first year.

I think most of us ex-Grammar School boys have good memories of Ely Sixth Form Centre. We matured quite a lot and many of us got involved in our first romantic relationships. I think academically things inevitably took a bit of a backwards step with the huge changes that the education system underwent. The former SGS and EHS staff  I think worked very hard to get things on a firm footing. I understand that the link between Ely and Soham schools weakened shortly afterwards which I think was a little sad.

- - - -

Michael Hawes SGS 69-72, then at Ely College 6th Form Centre

I believe there was an attempt made to get Margaret Thatcher, then Minister of Education, to halt or reverse the decision to close SGS and create a comprehensive, but she confirmed the change. My parents were not involved in that, as far as I can remember. In those days, people just accepted things much more they do now - I’m sure there would be more fuss made today.

I think my parents were reassured by the promise that our curriculum would not change, and that we would be kept in the same forms as before. The main concern was that Soham would not have its own sixth form, but the provision being made at Ely sounded acceptable, especially as Mr Armitage would be heading it up for the first few years until his retirement.

Before the changeover, it was pretty much “business as usual” right up until the end. I remember Mr TL Riley telling us that Mr Armitage had asked him if he would carry on teaching at the comprehensive, but he had replied “I will be there at the death, but not at the funeral.” I suppose he felt he was too close to retirement age to adapt to the huge changes that might be involved.

There was of course, a sense of sadness that a long era was coming to a close, but the overall mood was quite positive. I think it would have been better, psychologically speaking, and possibly more honest as well, if the new school had been given a completely new name. Among other things this would have avoided the perception that we were being “taken over” by SVC. This perception was rebutted somewhat by Mr Lawrance’s visit to an assembly in our final year, when he spoke of his previous time at SGS and how he intended to preserve the traditions and ethos of the school when he became Warden. Also, he caused SVC to be known as The Village College, Soham, so maybe that was his attempt to “re-brand” the new school within the limits set him.

I remember the closing ceremony at St Andrews Church, especially the masters standing in line to shake our hands as we came out of the church, which was very moving.

The teachers virtually emptied the library in the final weeks of the summer term, with the books earmarked to go over to Ely. I suppose they were deemed to be more suitable for sixth formers. It left us with largely empty shelves for the first year or so of the new school. When we came back to SVC in the autumn term, the front section of the library area had been bricked off and turned into office accommodation, which was a pity as it meant that the window seat in the base of the tower was no longer available for reading at. So there were few books on the shelves, and now quite a cramped space. The Lodeside (former SVC) library was for “lower school” use and of no benefit to us.

That was the main negative thing that I remember. The exercise books also changed. Previously they had had a stiff cover, with a bespoke SGS label on them. Now, they were generic, with a flimsier cover and lower quality paper inside. Apparently, Village Colleges did not get the same level of funding as Grammar Schools for items of this kind.

Initially, Cambs CC had conceived SVC as being part of a four-school “confederation” feeding into the central sixth form at Ely - there was a new tie, common to all the schools. Mr Lawrance slowly but surely “declared independence”. I think this lay behind his introduction of many new ties (eg the “scarlet” for sporting achievement, the fleur-de-lys design for the fifth form, and then the reintroduction of the SGS lower school tie featuring the pupil’s house colour).

There was some continuity for us, in the midst of change. We would have become form 4 Alpha; instead we became 4R, with Mr Russ continuing as our form teacher. Form 3A became 4H, with Mr Hart looking after them. Our first year of ‘O’ level work continued unchanged from the previous curriculum, with subject options coming at the end of the fourth year.

A small number of other teachers came across from SGS - Mr Bozeat comes immediately to mind. There was a great feeling of optimism. Quite a few new teachers had needed to be recruited; many of these were attracted by the chance to work at a brand new school - Mr Dolby, our English teacher, was one of these, as was Mr Burroughs who taught us history.

For me, the best thing about SVC in many ways was being taught history by Miss Roberts (who became Mrs Ennion during my time there). She had been a senior member of the SVC staff for many years. The two-year course in social history that she taught us was superb. Mr Lawrance’s maths classes would be a close second for me. In the fifth year, the “A and alpha” forms were disbanded and we were put into small groups determined by subject choice. Mrs Sanigar looked after our group; she treated us like adults, which was really good.

There being no sixth form, fifth formers had the prefect responsibilities, and generally enjoyed being the senior year of the school. In fifth form biology, our set entered the Young Scientist of the Year TV competition, which was a new departure for the school.

Of course, a huge change was - the girls! What teenage boy would complain? The fairer sex changed the whole atmosphere of the place, on the whole for the better. There were practical adjustments needed - incredibly (by today’s standards), the main toilets had been virtually open to the corridor before. Now, they had to be bricked and screened off.

There were other, more subtle changes that softened the décor and facilities, and there was a blending of sweeter voices into the break-time hub-bub. I enjoyed having some female school friends, and it was good for us I think, as they often brought a different perspective.

In retrospect

Gareth Wood:

Where do SVC leavers go?

According to the SVC Prospectus available in 2012 about 60% of SVC leavers went on to a traditional academic A Level course mainly at Hills Road or Long Road Sixth Form Colleges, but also at Ely College Sixth Form, Impington Village College Sixth Form (IVC) and at Netherhall School Sixth Form.

Those students who wished to pursue a more vocational course tended to go to Cambridge Regional College, also to West Suffolk College, where they could take a modern apprenticeship, and to the College of West Anglia (COWA) in Milton.

Frank thanked all who contributed to this talk. Our patient audience showed their appreciation

2012 Dinner Report

Alan Dench SG67:  It was fascinating to read the contributions from everyone, especially those who did not get time to speak on the night.   I was struck by the comment from Mike Hawes “The teachers virtually emptied the library in the final weeks of the summer term, with the books earmarked to go over to Ely”.

The library at the Sixth Form in Ely was under the charge of Mr Don Riley.   He was assisted by Ed Kisby, Richard Smith, Allen Batchelor and myself.   I recall that the original library at the former Ely Girls High School building which became the Sixth Form College was considered too small for the collection of books.   This may have been in part due to the large number of books taken from the Grammar School.   As a consequence the library was moved to the Assembly Hall which made for an impressive location.  The former library was converted into the Sixth Form Common Room. 

Frank Haslam SG'59': Whilst searching for something else in August 2020 I came across this letter provided by one of those in the Armitage address book, sent by Edward Armitage at nearly the end of his first term as Director of the new Sixth Form Centre in Ely. It was a typed letter sent to all, to which he added written personalised comments. Here is the typed text :

"My change of job and our change of home, after twenty seven years at Soham Grammar School and The Moat, which occurred in August last, necessitates the appropriate information being disseminated to so many friends that a duplicated letter seems the only way of ensuring that the task shall ever be accomplished. True the Post Office Telephone Service supplied us with appropriate cards which we could have sent but how could we send a mere change of address and telephone number without a letter of explanation, too? So they were never sent at all.

Comprehensive reorganisation overtook Soham Grammar School in September and the school over which we (for May had the boarding house) had presided for twenty seven years closed its doors as a selective grammar school in July and reopened in September having joined up with the adjacent secondary modern school and became Soham Village College - an 11-16 comprehensive school with evening adult facilities.

The sixth form (boys) of Soham Grammar School moved to Ely to join up with the Ely High School sixth form (girls) to form the Ely Sixth Form Centre which caters for the sixth form studies of all the boys and girls who formerly attended, or would have attended, the two former schools both of which then became 11-16 non-selective comprehensive schools.

My job is to run the new Sixth Form Centre and my official title is Director. It all sounds very grand but as yet (and the first term is nearly over) I can't see much that is grand about the reorganisation. Nobody, neither the bright children nor those less bright, seem better catered for and everybody seems slightly worse off, including the staff because they are now teaching across a wider ability range for which some have neither the experience nor the patience.
Besides moving job we also moved house. We saw this move of job coming two or more years ago and prepared accordingly by buying this 17 Century house with oak beams and a walled-in extensive garden only 300 yards from the centre of Ely. We moved in on August 8th. and spent the Summer holiday (and the time since then) getting both the house and the garden to our liking and I am bound to say the result pleases us both very much indeed. "    

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