Soham Grammarians - Memoirs of a Moggy Rat

Rev Gwyn Murfet 56

For those not in the know, a moggy rat was the Soham nickname for SGS lads used by those who had not passed the 11+.
I have also included a few appropriate “Current Quotations” from Soham Grammarians

“Well” said my pal Geoff, “I suppose we ought to go up”. We were at the bottom of the Grammar School drive at the start of our first term, September 1956.

Strictly speaking there ought to be an introductory paragraph or two, so let us start at the beginning.

I was born on the 25th October 1944, and Ivan Whymer predated me by 4 days; Barry Lowe by several months having been born in the Spring of the same year. All three of us started at Soham Clay Street Infants School in September 1949 under the guidance of Miss Dollymore, and moved a year later into Mrs Carter’s class.

All three of us went into Miss Brown’s Class J1 at Soham Shade School in September 1951 under the headship of Pop Lovering. In February 1952 we sat and listened to the funeral of King George VI on the wireless – the Death March haunts me still! Having negotiated our way through J2 with Mr Ashby, and J3 with Mrs Lovering (who wielded a mean plimsoll), the three of us entered J4 under Mr Johnson in September 1954. Although we had been together the whole of our school life, fate was about to take a hand in our fortunes – well mine at least!

[Barry Lowe tells me he never went to The Shade School with Ivan and I, but attended Mrs Saunders' Blue Coat "Acremont" School in Ely - strange how the memory plays tricks over the years.]

In the Spring of 1955, someone, somewhere, decreed all those born September to December 1944 were at a disadvantage when it came to the 11+ and entry into Grammar School, in that we would still be only 10 when taking the exam, and still only 10 when starting Grammar School and, after all, 11+ was supposed to mean what it said!


Gwyn Murfet, Form 1T: source Gwyn Murfet

So although Barry took his 11+ in the Summer of 1955, was successful and started Grammar School in the September, Ivan and I returned for another year with Mr Johnson in J4, being joined by the likes of Geoffrey Rouse and Michael and Gerald Pollard. That year’s breathing space gave me time to grow up – my Summer 1955 report said “inclined to play about” (teachers didn’t beat about the bush in those days!). By Summer 1956 my report recorded “Gwyn is working well, and I wish him well at the Grammar School”. Yes, to my total amazement I had passed the 11+, and this changed the course of my life forever.

We lived at 45 The Butts ( the same house had been 19 The Butts, 19 Short Butts, 21 Mill Croft and Red Row and all within my father’s living memory!), and with our front gate being about 3 yards nearer the school than Michael Whymer’s who lived opposite, I was, for several years, the nearest to the school. Geoff Rouse, who lived round the corner in what had always been Mill Croft, had also passed the 11+ at the same time, and we agreed he would call for me on our first morning and go together, which brings me to my opening sentence.

We arrived at the bottom of the drive, there was not a red Eastern Counties double-decker anywhere (Bristol LNG 266 or MAH 937) , nor indeed any other living soul. “Well” said my friend Geoffrey, “I suppose we ought to go up”. (the eagle eyed will already have spotted the corrections Mr Taylor made to my first English essay entitled My First Day at School).

The two of us walked up the curving drive together; then, our first dilemma, with no-one else in sight, where did we go? Surely not up to the huge front door with its imposing pillars? Perhaps to the right and to the door at the end of the long passage where my father had delivered bread to the Morbeys? Just in time, we heard voices coming from the left, and made our way round to the playground – sorry Quadrangle – where we found other boys in equally clean black jackets with bright red piping and matching school caps, all with leather satchels and looking as if they had been mass produced on a factory assembly line.

Although there were many older boys around, nobody told us where to go or what to do. Suddenly a great cheer went up as a member of staff swept out of the Cloisters (in their original position at the end of the conservatory which served as an assembly hall), across the Quad and headed towards the white classrooms in matching style to the long building, which even at that hour in the morning smelt of school dinners and was the kitchen/dining hall.

“Odour issuing from kitchen: - A very ancient and fish-like smell – Shakespeare”.

The master in question I learnt later was Mr Atkinson, the Music Master (how did he get the nickname Amos?). But what enthralled me, and the image remains clear in my mind to this day, was his black gown blowing in the wind. Gosh, the masters at this school dressed like those in the Billy Bunter stories so beloved by my father – this school was a real school!

“After a while, a prefect came and told us where to hang our caps and satchels. Then the bell rang, and everybody ran to the door for assembly” (another quote from the first English essay).

I assume we must have been given our brand new red School Service book at this point (which I still have and used at the 2009 Reunion Dinner), otherwise we would not have been able to follow the service.

After assembly, all the first years were directed to that wonderful panelled room which had been the Morbey’s billiard room and overlooked the drive. Here we were greeted by Mr Armitage and two members of staff who he introduced as Mr Taylor and Mr Saunders “being the kindest members of my staff who will look after you in your first year”. He then read a list of names, the boys being told to follow Mr Saunders and would be form 1S. The rest had to stay in the panelled room and were to be 1T under Mr Taylor. I was in 1T, along with Michael Pollard and Geoff Rouse – for the first time in our school careers, Ivan and I went our separate ways.

Mr Taylor quickly had us sorted into alphabetical order, with Aves, Bailey, Barnett, Baumber just inside the door [there is not yet a full list on our website as the 1956 School List is yet to surface], through to Venney, Warne and Woodruffe seated in the bay window. I was two rows from the window, and two up from the back of the class, in front of Maxwell, and behind Pierce.

Mr Taylor went across to a wooden cupboard behind the roller blackboard and took out a very large pile of National Geographic Magazines which we were told to read. These were quickly found to be of great interest, including a number of photos of naked African ladies and were more interesting than the copies of Health and Efficiency which appeared with great frequency in the windows of Edgar Bailey’s shop in Cross Green, on which boys always reported when returning from school dinners at The Shade and were held in the Pavilion on the Recreation ground!

Exercise books were distributed, different colours for the different subjects: dark blue – English; light green – mathematics (whatever were they? We didn’t do mathematics at The Shade!); mid-blue – Latin; turquoise – French; dark green – Biology (what was that? See maths above); yellow – History; orange – Geography; and pink – Religious Instruction. No prizes for guessing which book lasted all five years and still hadn’t reached the middle – yes, it was the pink one! “R.I. lesson – Christians titter, Shaw, (stage direction)”

My first English essay records “Soon we went out to play (shades of The Shade and not corrected by Mr Taylor to ‘it was time for break’), and as everybody was making for the field we went too to have a game”. At the 2009 Reunion Dinner Barry Lowe reminded me that for at least the first term he spent breaks chasing me round the quad – thank goodness neither of us are able to run far now!!

After break, we returned to the National Geographics, but were also given blank paper timetables. Mr Taylor started to write in his inimitable style, on the roller blackboard, the details of our 1T timetable which we had to copy before his writing disappeared over the top of the board – remember all those year 1 notes for Geography and History which had to be copied at breakneck speed? All this activity took us to Dinner time. (timings for 1956 were:-

8.40 registration/assembly;
9.00 – 9.40;
9.40 – 10.20;
10.20 – 11.00;
11.00 – 11.10 break;
11.10 – 11.50;
11.50 – 12.30;
12.30 – 1.30 dinner;
1.30 – 2.10;
2.10 – 2.50;
2.50 – 3.30 end of school).

The afternoon continued in much the same vein with the trusty National Geographics, but broken by the selection of the 1T football teams. Mr Taylor decided the two team captains were to be Docherty and Tassell - I suspect because both had older brothers who had already proved their worth chasing the flying leather. Being in the next row, Tassell soon homed in on me, clutching his list and asking which position I played in. Which position? What was he talking about? At The Shade, football, played on Soham Town Rangers ground, involved everyone except the person in goal, trying to score, and Ivan’s memories are the same. “I still need a full-back, will you do it?” he asked. I agreed, not knowing what I had let myself in for, but will return to the sequel in a moment. (It was of course only when the initialled fixture list went up the following week we realised why such a nice man as Mr Taylor, had the nickname “RAT”!)

My first essay achieved only 5/10 with the comment “too much repetition” – well what did he expect? The day had been very repetitive. But still, this Grammar School education was easy, and with total incredulity my parents greeted my statement that all of our learning came out of National Geographic Magazines!

And so to Day 2, and reality. How nave could an 11 year old be? At 8.40am the bell rang for registration; as I recall, Register had to take the register to the table at the top of stairs before joining us in the Conservatory/Assembly Hall where the duty master towered above us as the whole school filed into what must have been an incredibly small space!

“Staff’s entry into Assembly:- They glide, like phantoms into the wide hall – Keats”;
“ But hush, my sons, our tyrant Lords are near – Goldsmith”

At the appropriate juncture, the Head duly appeared out of the classroom to the left, staff arose (boys were already standing). If only I had taken note of that assembly – the theme – COURAGE with opening words from I Cor. 16 v 13 “Quit ye like men and be strong”. With vigour we sang hymn 39 “Through endeavour, failure, danger”, accompanied by Mr Atkinson on the piano. Lessons from Eph 6, and Bernard Shaw’s play Joan of Arc followed, with prayers led by Mr Armitage “O God, who knowest us to be set in the midst of so many and great dangers……”. We returned to our form, Mr Taylor ignored us and sat writing. Why on earth didn’t he bring out the National Geographics? The door opened and Mr Lawrance entered…

“My Word” said Mr Taylor, “take your writing instruments and ruler, and follow Mr Lawrance who will look after you for the next period”

Like lambs to the slaughter, we followed up the stairs, round to the right, and down the long corridor to the room at the far end on the right above 1S. I have often wondered the purpose of those two rooms in the days when as Beechurst it was lived in by the Morbeys – they just didn’t seem to blend in with the magnificence of the rest of the building and were in full view as one came up the drive.

But to return to this first period. I quickly learnt the meaning of Mathematics!! They were what at The Shade we called “Sums” or “Arithmetic”. I had hated them there, and quickly found I hated them at SGS as well. My first entry in my maths book on September 13th, were for fractions, the first one being: -
+ + 1/6, and to my amazement I find I achieved 10 out of 10. It didn’t last long, the following day with such horrible fractions as 2/21 + 1/14 + 5/42 it had dropped to 6 out of 10, and by 26th October with 1/3 x ( + ) x 1/5 not surprisingly marks had dropped to 5 out of 10!

This homework also included the cryptic word BODMAS which in 2010 I had completely forgotten, but the modern technology of Google tells me is an acronym for Brackets, Order, Division, Multiplication, Addition, Subtraction – a secret code enabling us to tackle the right sequence of doing things mathematically which electronic calculators do automatically! Of course, if one had parents who had not had a Grammar School education, you really were on your own when it came to homework.

We survived our first lesson, at the end of which we were led to the classroom below to Mr Saunders for Latin. Here we heard about vowels and consonants. We had “done vowels” at The Shade, but what on earth were consonants? It took several lessons before I plucked up courage to ask. After this period, Mr Saunders led us back up the passage, through the hall, down the conservatory and into the room at the far end which looked out across the lawn.

Here we met Mr Riley and our first French lesson. On learning my name, he said “Wuh… I know your father”. Yes, father delivered bread to the Riley’s three times a week – there was to be no escape! “After French lesson: Mangled, and flatten’d, and crush’d, and dinted into the ground – Tennyson”

After this baptism by fire, the rest of the day was lost in what I believe is called shell-shock! For those who are wondering what we were doing wandering round the school, I will try and explain. It was what I understand to have been an experiment at the start of that term, one in which masters stayed in their own rooms, and classes moved to them. By half term, it had been decided that having 300+ boys on the move along corridors and up and down the stairs every 40 minutes, had not been a good idea. For one thing, there was the wear and tear on the building, and the sheer noise had penetrated to the inner sanctum between the Geography room (under the clock) and the French room. At half term, Mr Armitage decreed the experiment was at an end, and that boys would stay in their classes, with members of staff moving to them. At least we no longer had to endure those awful chairs with canvas backs and seats in the Maths room.

Later that first week, whilst we were in Latin, Form 1S was observed charging up the metal staircase diagonally opposite (remember the wonderful sound those steps made?) – Where were they going? We found the answer the following week, art with Mr Askem, of whom Geoff Rouse remarked “he looked so young I thought he was a prefect!”

“In the Art Room: Once more within the Potter’s house alone I stood, surrounded by the shapes of clay – Omar Khyyam”

During that first year, from the Art room, we looked out across the largest building site I had ever seen, as the new Assembly Hall and Laboratories took shape. Before the superbly curved rear wall of the hall went up, I remember looking down as the stage area was built with its two doorways leading from the back passageway to stage right and left and thinking “One day I will act on there” which I did in The Word, The Sheriff’s Kitchen, and The Bartered Bride, and prompt for Twelfth Night.

The beginning of the following week saw our first visit to the Biology lab with its stools, benches and gas taps, and cupboards containing all those dissected specimens - this was a world away from The Shade where the subject would have been “Nature Study”. Our first Biology lesson defined the difference between “Living things and Not Living things” – you can’t beat starting with basics! I don’t think I ever reached the end of a Biology lesson without jumping, as the bell, fixed on the lab’s outside wall, marked the end of a period.

In Geography and History, both taken by Mr Taylor, we were introduced to those two stalwarts of ancient times who accompanied us the first year – Nick Shaw and Widow Bampton – remember them? It was Nick Shaw who lived as Old Stone Man whose main concerns were food and safety. He was there in Neolithic times growing grain, and a few pages on in the exercise book in ancient Egypt working his shadouf lifting water to irrigate his fields! In Geography, in the “two experiments to prove the world is round”, Nick Shaw was the man sitting on the shore looking out to sea and watching the ship come over the horizon, and he was the man placing his three poles in the Bedford Level.

On the first Tuesday afternoon, the last two periods were Games and, being the Autumn term, football. I had been dreading it, not only as I had discovered as a full-back I was supposed to stand around and do nothing until the opposing side approached and to prevent them from scoring, but more so because it had been made clear that after the match, everyone was expected to strip naked and shower!

I was surprised to find that only about half the players went for a shower, and the number rapidly decreased as the weeks rolled by. But as 45 The Butts not only had no electricity but no running water either, and as one whose only bath was once a month with the water heated in the wash-house copper and carried through to the tin bath in front of the kitchen fire, the copious amounts of hot water in a shower at school was next to heaven! But let us return to my position as full-back.

I think it was about the third week of term, and how I had missed it the previous weeks I don’t know. The game was going well and there was little happening at our end of the field when at 2.50pm, a low whistle wafted across the fields near the Horse Fen level crossing. I stood transfixed as an elderly Great Eastern E4 2-4-0, almost certainly 62785 and now part of the National Collection, made its way towards Soham. Whilst gazing at this wonder, the opposing team charged past and scored a goal! At the end of the match and near the Memorial Gates, Tassell ran across to me, his face blazing with anger “You’re sacked” he shouted, “if it hadn’t been for you, we would have won the match”. And so for the next five years my football career was in the “Remnants”.

PT over the five years was conducted out of doors in the Quad, even in the depth of winter and with frost hanging everywhere. Mr Thomas only started taking us in the third form when exercises extended across the lawn, now under a road! “P.T. Classes: The misery in fit magnificence; Heaving in pain and horribly convulsed – Keats”; “Stranger, pause and ask thyself the question, cans’t thou do likewise? If not with a blush retire – Dickens”

Early on, Stuart Poole had landed his role as Mabel in The Pirates of Penzance. I in my role as Patrons’ Secretary for our local Barrow Savoyards I spent 2009 wondering as adults performed the opera how an earth Stuart mastered this incredibly difficult and demanding musical role whilst coping with his first term at SGS. As a result, music lessons under Mr Atkinson, saw 1T singing the ladies’ chorus parts, such as “climbing over rocky mountains”. As he walked amongst us, he suddenly hit me over the head with his tuning fork and told me to shut up as I growled. How I eventually came to be part of The Bartered Bride will have to be told later! “Music lesson:- Hear those tuneless numbers wrung By sweet enforcement – Keats”

First period Monday mornings was either History or Geography and was always interrupted by Miss Lowe, the House-keeper, collecting Dinner Money. Miss Lowe conducted her business at a speed appropriate to her years, and you could see Mr Taylor becoming increasingly agitated, hopping from one foot to the other as the precious minutes were wasted and he was unable to scribe the appropriate notes on the blackboard. As for us it was a very welcome interlude!

Returning to Latin. I don’t remember the text book we used, but each lesson included a block of basic grammar such as declining a noun eg: Mensa (why should anyone in their right senses want to address a table “O Table”?), or conjugating verbs eg: Amo – I love, along with some basic vocabulary. Why, oh why did the compiler of this excellent work think 11 year olds after only 3 lessons needed to be able to translate the sentence “I love nude girls on islands”?

Was I the only one in 1T who in that first year dreaded Thursday afternoons? Latin and double Maths. As the year rolled on, Thursday Latin sessions were spent construing a classical work (The Iliad?). We worked round the class in alphabetical order; as the period progressed I hoped – no prayed – that the bell would ring by about the time it was Norman Long’s turn. Sometimes I was lucky, I had escaped, and spent the next week realising I was not going to escape next time. All of this anxiety was compounded by being followed with 80 minutes of Maths with Punch – need I say more….. for who could forget his instructions regarding punishments - “in ink, on paper and by tomorrow.”

The last period on a Friday afternoon alternated between a Form Period and a Club period. Everyone had to sign up for a club – I looked in vain for a Model Railway club, and it was my mentor Geoff Rouse who drew my attention to the “Junior Dramatic Society” under Mr Saunders. “Come on Gwynie (my name was never shortened) it’s acting and that sort of thing”, so the two of us joined. I shall always remember the afternoon “Sid” produced the school tape recorder and for the first time I heard my own voice – as others heard me – I cringed then – I cringe now!

At Remembrance-tide, my mother dutifully gave me money “to buy a poppy”, and was far from pleased to find it had to be left in a plot near the Memorial Gates. Every year, last thing on the Friday afternoon, the whole school made its way to the gates, Mr Armitage would come across complete with mortar-board (the only time we ever saw it) to conduct the Act of Remembrance, Brian Halls played The Last Post, we then laid our poppies in a square marked on the lawn. Did we ever reflect that those men remembered had been boys not many years before us and known to some of the staff? I suspect not.

In the first two years, the Summer term was marked by swimming in the Open Air Pool at Newmarket. We arrived on the ‘bus (Eastern Counties or Fordham & District?) just after 9am confronted by a chalk notice hanging outside which read “temperature of the water today 42” ie: just 10 above freezing. The changing rooms were dark, dank and smelt of stale water and sweaty bodies. Did anybody actually learn to swim in those lessons? I certainly didn’t, nor at teaching training college some 10 years later. It was only in my last parish and in my forties when we took the Youth Group – plus younger brothers and sisters – to the local leisure centre, that a five year old girl came up to me with her swim-ring and said “Vicar, I think you need this more than me!” that I was goaded into learning.

I entered the mile for Sport’s Day, and as expected was knocked out in the heats which were always run off during morning lesson time – I don’t recall which second-year had put me up to that one! But my essay on “Sport’s Day” records the following:-

“In several races M. Pollard from 1T came first. The cups and certificates were presented by Mrs Thomas, and for the first time that afternoon the sun came out really warm. J. Laycock and M. Whymer walked off with many of the cups and certificates. Laycock had been in training for months, so we all expected him to do really well”.

Being in a room on the front of the building, we were able to watch all the comings and goings, including that dreaded white caravan in October which heralded the annual visit of the school dentist. Several of us were convinced that with his crew-cut and rimless glasses, he had been trained in a German SS camp! We also saw staff cars. Mr Taylor’s Ford, registration “LMX 126” – why does this one stick in my mind and today I can hardly remember my own? The Head had a black Standard Vanguard, which I thought looked cheap and tinny, whereas Mr Thomas drove not just a car, but one which strictly speaking should be called a “motor-car”.

I remember his dismay in our fifth year when with great reluctance he changed his beloved “Lanchester” for a modern car. “Mrs Thomas is too embarrassed to ride in the old one” he reflected sadly. Ivan has reminded me that at some stage the Head bought a luxurious grey Armstrong Siddley Sapphire – yes now that was a car!

With today’s concern about passive smoking, how on earth did masters survive their staffroom? “Occupants of Staff Room:- In a circle round the doorway, with their pipes they smoke in silence – Longfellow”

So to the second year when 1T became 2F under a newly arrived English teacher, Mr Frampton. Our classroom was the white one at the end of the dining room. Life was pleasant over there. For one thing it was quiet, and we quickly found staff took longer to reach us between periods! The only disadvantages were the ill fitting windows, which not only let in the draft, but also copious amounts of fen soil when “the blows” were on. The afternoon periods were also re-arranged starting 15 minutes later and finishing at 3.45pm – Soham boys were not allowed out until 4pm, once the ‘buses had cleared, but it allowed us time to retire to the Library and read The Manchester Guardian!

In some ways the timetable continued as before but with selective staff changes. Maths split into 3 sets, I was in “B” under Mr Housden; Latin now came under Mr Waller; History being taken by the newly arrived Dr Grassi, who at that stage had not achieved his doctorate.

Two new subjects were added to the curriculum, Woodwork under Mr Tabraham, and General Science under new staff member Mr Parrott, who managed to twist his huge form in and out of his Austin 7! We were, of course some of the first boys to use the new Science labs, opened formally on 4th October 1957, and what a delight to be able to look across the fields, especially as the double period took place first thing in the morning and at the time when the Harwich to Liverpool boat train went over to haulage by a Stratford “Britannia”. Even Mr Parrott would stop, listen and comment on its melodious chime whistle giving its warning to Angle Common Crossing and the Soham signalman ready with his key-token to Barway Siding.

In woodwork, it was a surprise to learn “the most dangerous tool in the workshop is sandpaper – months of hard work can be ruined in seconds by its overuse”. It was also a shock to find that “English” carried over into Woodwork!
“Can I plane this piece of wood now, sir?”
“I have no idea whether you can, Murfet, but you may”.

Which year was it that the Head agreed, but later regretted, to allow sixth formers recite poetry they had written about members of his staff at an end-of-term assembly? The only one I remember was:

“Who does Mr Tabraham think he’s trying to deceive,
Hiding his handkerchief up in his sleeve?”

I think it was the Autumn term 1957 the school was hit by ‘flu, so much so that even RAT succumbed and things were so desperate Punch was drafted in to “ref” the Remnants game of football. He loathed talking in class, and quickly made it clear he wouldn’t tolerate it on the field either. I still remember his “The next boy caught talking will be off-side”!

As in the first year, the Winter term saw football give way to cross-country running. The usual route being down the field, about to become The Village College playing field, out through the meadow at the bottom (now a coppice), across the Horse Fen level crossing, over the Horse Fen to the middle drove on the far side which we always knew as Gault Pits Drove and now almost inaccessible, eventually turning left up onto the main Wicken road, left again to the railway bridge, down the drove (where in the third form smoke could be seen betraying the presence of Taffy with his pipe, and his stick to encourage walkers) to the Horse Fen and back to school. The usual weather meant we were really in need of a shower, but few boys bothered. “Non-shower-takers after a cross-country run: - I wish You were conducted to a gentle bath And balms applied you – Shakespeare”

On one occasion, there was a blinding blizzard all morning and into the afternoon. We gathered in the conservatory to be told by RAT that because of the weather, the cross country was cancelled, only to be greeted by a cry of dismay. Seeing we really were keen, he agreed to see if he could staff it. He returned to tell us it would be a shorter route – along the path by the tractor shed, across The Butts, down Allotment Lane, left into Cherry Tree Lane, “Turn left again at the Cherry Tree, Mr Saunders has agreed to be there (great cheer)”, and back up Fordham Road. Running in those terrible conditions was a real experience!

I thought it was only Mr Waller who had put me in detention - for major Latin grammatical errors, but examination of my Maths book under Dicky shows otherwise! On one page of homework, the extensive working of algebra has “ROT” written across it, the one below has “RUBBISH”, not surprisingly the next page had written in red - “detention next Thursday”.

The big event of the Summer Term was fund raising for the much longed-for Cricket Pavilion. I can do little better than jog your memories, as it did mine, by quoting my essay on the subject, although a better version may be found on page vi of The Soham Grammarian Christmas 1958 written by John East! But here is my offering………

HOMEWORK
“Before the Summer Fair”
For weeks before the Summer Fair, the whole school – forms, masters and boys – were busy trying to raise 30 each form before the day, and making plans as how to raise a further 20 on the day itself. Every form and master tried to beat their rivals in raising the most money.

Before the great day, 2F tried several ways to raise money because for weeks the total never seemed to get much over 1. Then suddenly the total began to rise. First there was the wool collection which for weeks consisted only of 2 pairs of socks, and it was through Mr Frampton’s frantic efforts we all looked through our bottom drawers and raise a grand total of 22/6.

Clay helped us raise money by bringing a bottle of beans and letting us guess the amount at 3d a time. Pollard and Barnett organised Chess and Draught games, and it was great seeing who would get through to the next round.

The best workers in the form were Warne, Sandham and Daly. Warne and Sandham stuck to the harmless occupation of selling stamps, whilst Daly dieted (or so it seemed) the whole of Wood Ditton on cress.

If I were to tell you of all the things 2F did on the day, I would be here all day! Probably the best item was our Raffle which consisted of five very good prizes. B. White, a new-comer to the school, did very well bringing a dog-racing game which raised a lot of money. We also had an exhibition consisting of Meccano models (mine was a lightship with flashing light), Aeroplanes and Robots. Daly also brought his wireless set that he had made, which at times made noises and others kept silent!

2F did very well and raised the largest total, not only on the day, but the largest all round. I think Mr Frampton should be congratulated on doing a very fine job.” (why didn’t I record the total raised??)

I do remember the exhibition, which was held in the room over-looking the lawn and in which we had had our first French lesson. I recall Daly’s total embarrassment trying to explain the workings of his, by now silent, radio to Mr Bacon, Chairman of the Governors. A few minutes later it was my turn to try and explain the workings of the flashing bulb in my lightship – that such things could work automatically seemed beyond him! “Mr Taylor’s comment on Pavilion builder – Many and many a day he thither went, And never lifted up a single stone – Wordsworth”

When the Hall was used for exams, assembly took place in the Dining hall, usually last thing on a Friday. We sat lengthways with the table in the centre for the Head and Mr Ford. On one occasion I was on the front row opposite this table. Mr Riley as Duty Master ordered me to swop places with the boy in the row behind so that Mr Armitage would not have to gaze at my very muddy knees and trousers!

The third year marked the Great Divide – the separation of the Sheep from the Goats. Those good at Latin went into 3L (Latin), those good at Woodwork into 3T (Technical). What if you didn’t shine at either? In July, my parents received a letter informing them that after consideration, their son was to go into 3T. If only I could find my reports I could confirm this, but I think it was under Mr Parrott but cannot recall the room (unless it was Mr Riley’s old room over-looking the lawn)

In Maths, I continued in Set B, this time under Mr Saunders, where I maintained a steady 24th out of 24. Subsequent years saw Mr Scott in charge and the position rose to 3rd out of 24! English became divided into three sets; again I was in Set B under Mr Frampton – a keen exponent of “Ridout” and its mysteries of the English language. “A” sets were always held in the “L” room, the “C” sets in the “T” room, with the “B” sets wandering to find a free room, which is probably why I can’t recall our Form Room! French in 3T came under the charge of Mr Hart who as I recall “longed for his revolution”. Woodwork continued under Tabby, remarkably I still have the holder for 4 eggs which is still in use, as is my last effort of a tray, of which on seeing one of the joints caused the comment “What do you plan to keep in this hole Murfet, chickens?”

Two new subjects were added for those of us in Technical side – Technical Drawing with Mr Tabraham in the TD room which in 1956 had still been Mr Ford’s Chemistry Laboratory. (Where had the TD room been before this?) Under his guidance I learnt how to set out drawings and still use the skills when designing buildings for my model railway.

The second subject was Rural Science, and for the first time I came under the wing of Mr Ford. This was a very much watered down Biology course, but with practical work outside in the garden and our very own plots. Mine was in the lee of the high wall looking straight down to the new Assembly Hall. Whilst we enjoyed the fresh air and freedom of being able to talk during lesson time, Chas was able to enjoy an extra “Manikin” cigar! He taught us how to propagate geranium cuttings, and I have kept my late uncle’s variety going now for nearly 30 years. We learnt how to grow tomatoes – and had to pass the information on to my son a few years ago who still thought it was quantity not quality that counted.

Geography now came under the control of Mr Thomas. If RAT wrote on the board at high speed, Taffy dictated notes at equally high speed – no wonder my hand writing deteriorated! Much that we learnt is now history eg: the coalfields; but the list of rivers flowing out of the Pennines still rings true “Swale, Ure, Nidd, Wharfe, Aire, and Calder”. And who could forget the wonderful lists of a town’s products “nuts, bolts, pins, screws, locomotives, china tea pots – put ‘em all down” – where on earth could that have been? – will have to re-read the notes! “Entry of elderly Geography master: - He entered, but he entered full of wrath – Keats”

1959 saw G. Murfet in The Bartered Bride – yes look at the photograph, I am there as the bear! A wonderful non-singing, non-speaking, non-dancing part! The costume was then “stolen” by Vasek trying to make his escape.

It was in the third year, I was introduced to a lad to whom I had never spoken – he had always been in the “other class/set”. His name was Robert Powell and had a great interest in railways including the late lamented Midland & Great Northern Joint Railway which had straggled its way from the Midlands to Norfolk, and had closed Feb ’59. From then on, every break was spent in majestic perambulations around the quad and field discussing the future of railways and our joint hopes of working for British Railways.

In the 4th year, we were allowed to wear long trousers for the first time, wear black school jackets without the red-piping and became Seniors instead of Juniors The 4th year saw a further shedding of subjects and concentration on those we wanted to take at “O” level. I don’t think Tabby missed me in Woodwork - dropped for History. I was sorry to drop Art for Geography, but a hoped-for career on the railway told me it was the better option. Although I don’t have my last painting which was of Soham station (!), I still have one of “The Fishmonger”. No, it wouldn’t win the Turner prize! The 4th year saw a steady improvement in my Form position – I think the last, that Summer, was either 5th or 3rd.

So on to the 5th Form. Here we were allowed to go to school without the school cap – I still have mine, and the last jacket (also red and black football shirt – it didn’t get that much wear and tear in the Remnants!) For the first time, it was decided the top half-dozen or so in General Science should drop both that and Rural Science and take the “O” level Physics instead. I was one of those, and we had to complete what the Latin side had taken 3 years to do, in essentially 1 year. For the first time in my school career I came under the tutelage of Mr Fleet, and remember the occasion he had incorrectly wired mains powered electro-magnets “The atom darkness in a slow turmoil – Keats”.

Mr Tabraham taught the Mechanics side of things, and we suspected at times he was only about one lesson ahead of us! I had dropped TD on entry into 5T to escape Tabby (there is no justice) and opted for Agricultural Biology instead under Mr Watts. “I always get the refugees from TD” was his response. This subject and French were taken in the Lower 6th, so my “O” level list was: Maths, English Language, English Literature, History, Geography and Physics.

There has been no mention of cricket. How was it that standing in rows in the Quad with a bat and rehearsing forward defensive, back defensive, and all the other shots, everything went well, but as soon as one was on the field at the crease and that wretched red ball hurtling towards one, it all fell apart? Yes, you’ve guessed it – 5 years in the cricket Remnants as well!

I have little memory of this last year apart from attending an interview with the British Railways staff officer at the newly opened Great Eastern House in Cambridge. He informed me that “A” levels would serve no purpose on the railway, and I would be better, given good “O” level grades to start work the coming September. He was most disappointed when I told him I didn’t want to work in his shiny new office, but at a station – I think Robert had said similar.

In those days, once exams were over, one didn’t just drift away as students appear to these days, but were “Rosy terms in idle languishment – Keats”, soaking up the sunshine on the lawns and wishing it could go on for ever!

So to the last day. Our form room was the one at the top of the stairs, overlooking the lawn. Just before going down for our last assembly, a few of us were leaning on the balustrade on the landing taking a last look, when Taffy came up. “If we feel odd, think how he must be feeling”, said Geoff Fuller. Taffy was retiring the same day, after over 100 terms. For the last time, I sang “those returning make more faithful than before” and realised unless I had totally stuffed-up the exams, it would not mean me. So five years came to an end!

One morning in the holidays, there was a knock at the door, and there stood Mr Riley clutching pieces of paper. I wondered what he wanted. “They are your exam results, boy; and quite good ones they are too!” So they were, and to my amazement I had passed all 6, and the following Summer was awarded a prize – The Midland Railway by Hamilton-Ellis and I find, under the paper dust jacket, the school crest is emblazoned in silver.

Just for the record, I started on the railway 2nd October 1961 in Ely Parcels Office. In the Booking Office were two other SGS stalwarts, Tony Payton who retired last year after 50 years, and Stan Harley whose job I took over in March 1962 when he moved to Cambridge.

In 1956, space travel was still in the future. The Edwardian era was as remote from us, as we are from today’s pupils in Beechurst, and I have been retired nearly as long as I spent at SGS! It was a very different world.

These paragraphs sum up life at SGS in the late 50s-early 60s. Yes, there is much already forgotten; yes, perhaps there is not as much use of adjectives, descriptive writing etc as the English department would have liked. But as I reflect on having been retired nearly as long as I attended SGS, I recall the words of Corporal Jones out of Dad’s Army after a difficult experience “………, Ah, but it was a good life!”

Yes, thank you Soham Grammar School.

B - Gwyn Murfet - first long trousers - this is a surprise, as it is dated August Bank Holiday 1958 which is just prior to entering 3T. I thought long trousers only came in when one entered the 4th form. I also note that the jacket is black, piped red, so this must be just before the third form. This is the photo I had in mind as the summer prior to the 4th form, but then the jacket would have been wrong!
Does anyone have a better memory than me on this issue?

page created 23 Apr 2010: updated 19 Dec 2010
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