Soham Grammarians : Late 20s recollections

[Editor: I wonder what certain members of staff said about the howlers in these two articles?]


from the Summer 1960 issue of the Soham Grammarian

The editor's plea in the Summer Number, 1959, cut me, so to speak, to the quick and, although I have no pretence to literary talent and nothing of an epochmaking nature to impart, yet I cannot forbear to send him this. If, after reading it, he consigns it to File X and if, meeting an O.T. character, shakes his head and says "Job, old boy, I know just what it felt like" - if that be the result, all I can say is that I did my best.

It is unlikely that the undermentioned will interest present-day Soham Grammarians; when I was in their shoes any mention in the mag. of the O.B.'s Club bored me to tears, and even now I seem to see those dear little youngsters nudging each other and saying "Watch out - he's going to tell us what they did the day they had a half-holiday for the Battle of Crecy". Boys!

Nevertheless there may be an O.S.G. here and there who, having read as far as this, will be murmuring "Surely the fellow will say something soon - he can't keep this up". For them, therefore, I will preserve a decent anonymity having regard for those particularly mentioned herein.

I was born, then, at a very early age (though still in this century) not far from Soham itself and must have been eight or nine when I realised that there were other boys in my village who did not go to the same school as me and who wore different caps. We knew them as "moggies" or "mog-rats", a term of reproach, contempt or whatever, which I have not heard since leaving the county. Is it still in use and does anyone know how it originated? In due time I joined them at their distant seat of learning and, although in the many years that have since elapsed I have met fellows from all sorts of schools, I have never once regretted it.

It will not give much away if I say that the Headmaster during the whole of my school life was the great J. Clement Pratt. [Platt - but was he also nicknamed Pratt, partly inspired by the street of that name nearby?] Known secretly as Clem, he was a prince among men, I have always thought; he was feared by not a few and certainly respected by all. He made it plain from the beginning that he not only expected a high standard, he proposed to get it - or else (and it wasn't usually else).

At that time we were housed in the old school buildings in Pratt Street or Churchgate Street (which is it?) and the strength grew from about 100 to 120 during the five years I was at school. A year or two after I started we moved to the present site, taking possession of a local mansion then called "Beechurst". During the move we lesser fry had to help in carrying things and I remember coming across one unfortunate youth, Rickwood, who carrying a Winchester of concentrated sulphuric acid, fell with it in Church Alley. He was badly burned and away for months [? - a less corrosive account is given from Mr Ford in Ch. X of the School History].

With such a small roll, each of the six or seven masters was the sole member of his department, though the Head took advanced maths, chemistry and physics. The French Master (and deputy head) was a bit of a Martinet and few escaped his strictures; the best possible work would elicit no more than a good-natured grunt as if everyone, whatever his bent, was expected to get 100 %. He left (to teach English in France, I believe) and was succeeded by a mild, middle-aged man whose punishment was "cubes"; you just had to find the cube of such numbers as 98765432. Of course, we soon knew all the answers, but it was a fag to write the whole thing out. He stayed a year or two and was succeeded by T.L.R. who I am delighted to know is still with us; he came fresh from college and was soon at home.

I should have said earlier that L.G.J. celebrated the cubes in the Mag. with a parody of "J' aime le son du cor". It began something like this:

"I love the sound of a cube, especially given in nines,
I think they really beat a troop of seven-footed lines."

Another unusual type of punishment was "rolling"; the new playing-fields were far from ready and the new sportsmaster, R.A.T., [presumably R.L.T. - Taffy arrived in 1928; R.A.T. did not arrive until just after WWII] was keen to get some decent pitches. He therefore coerced, begged or sentenced sufficient gangs to keep a heavy roller going five evenings a week.

Old men tend notoriously to ramble; time would fail to tell of Soham Amateurs, the bare-knuckle fight between two prefects, Geoffrey Johnson, Cox and Box, scorching Sunbeams, Pygmalion and a host of other things. In merciful consideration of the editor's ulcers I call a halt, but not before sending fraternal greetings to all S.G's past and present and especially those in their forties. S.G.S. has been a great school, still is, and, God willing, will long so continue.


In the Summer 1961 issue the story was taken up ...
Last year we published the amusing reminiscences Far Off Things. It appears that the writer , who signed himself T.I.M. was in fact A. 'Tim' Leonard. Here an anonymous contributor takes T.I.M. up on some of the topics he mentioned in his last paragraph.

Thus said Hamlet; and a little later
"Yea, from the table of my memory
I'll wipe away all trivial fond records."

Well I won't actually. The Prince of Denmark may here be laying claim to be the first disc jockey but Tim Leonard's article and an editor who can't take "No" for an answer impel me to add a footnote to what T.L. was saying about the anti-diIuvian [sic] period in the school's history, that is to say the late thirties [? - actually mid-late 1920s].

For years after leaving school amnesia cast a a decent pall over scholastic life but T.L,'s.remarks stirred up some half-forgotten debris in the subconscious and if you will forgive an old man's babblings (the half century being less than a triennium off) I will add to what was for me a stimulating string of recollections.

He mentioned a bare-knuckle fight between two prefects. When I first began in work in an office I soon resolved not to get involved in arguments about three matters which usually bring out the beastly in men (and the others), namely (i) politics, (ii) religion, (iii) whether to have the window open.

It was on this last point that prefects Tabeart (I.) and Porter got to grips during one luncheon interval. (Here I should mention that school meals were not available except for the boarders - strictly haversack rations for those, the majority, who could not get home for the nosebag). Tabeart (I.) had to remove his spectacles for the fight, and it was this that led to his receiving a well-directed blow about the left temple which, although it did not knock him out, was sufficient for him to cry "Hold, enough" (or words to that effect) and thus deprive the intrigued spectators of a welcome diversion from "getting each other down" in the matter of French verbs.

Pygmalion was another evocation. When Mr CW Crouch joined the staff circa 1926 his ideas on music, painting and drama were soon felt, in the town as in the school. In due time he helped in getting together a drama group formed of like-minded Soham people, excluding SGS pupils. Their first production was Chas Hawtrey's The Private Secretary, a farce which delighted the full houses in the Conservative Hall and exploited a rich vein of comedy in Messrs. Crouch and Peet whose performances must still be remembered.

Mention of Mr Peet reminds me of an incident in the fourth form when a swallow found its way into a geography lesson. After a good deal of aimless darting about it found its exit through the window but not before leaving a visiting card on Mr Peet's gown.

Emboldened by the Hawtrey success the Soham Players put on Pygmalion which although it was better drama was not nearly so successful in that particular locale. It should be remembered that the typical Soham audience of those days had not had the opportunities of acquaintance with radio and television plays which is theirs today. The six-lettered word did not go down well with the chapel-goers who formed a large part of the audience.

The disadvantage of these goings-on from the point of view of the boys was that in the next few Art and English lessons we were required to draw and write (respectively) our impressions of the plays.

T.L. mentioned "Scorching Sunbeams"; one of the masters, still happily with us, had bought a Sunbeam motor-cycle combination (secondhand as I remember). During Lent we always had the A. and M. hymn Forty days and forty nights. The second verse begins : "Sunbeams scorching all the day .... The reference was too much for most of the school and the Headmaster would look up in pained surprise at the unexpected drop in volume of the singing.

Another similar matter which invariably puzzled the Head was during the hymn Through the night of doubt and sorrow. Several lines in this hymn begin with the word "One". This same master (he of the Sunbeam) habitually pronounced this word in the Liverpool manner "wonn" and it was this, accented, that the whole school positively shouted.

Well, there it is. Happy days!

[1. Confirmation sought that these were CJ Tabeart and SH Porter - website editor]

If you can identify Senex or the Sunbeam owner, please contact the Editor
last updated 23 Aug 2004