John W. Cartwright
I was delighted to find
that the old school had a website and enjoyed reading the reminisces
of Old Boys, particularly those of John Jarvis who was some three
years my senior. I would imagine that I would have known him at the
time but I have no recollection now.
Memories came flooding back.
The war had ended earlier that year. I was one of several boys to
pass the Grammar School entrance exam from Raddlebarn Lane Junior
School and one of four to have selected K.N.G.S. as first choice.
This achievement was to the utter but proud amazement of my parents,
the thought of not passing was never an issue, it just never entered
my head. At that tender age I was unaware of the concept of failure.
I well remember my first day as a ‘new bug’, I was aware of the
likely treatment, that of being used as a pack mule to carry the
heavy bulging satchels of older boys. At the end of the Summer Term
pupils were required to take all their books home for the summer
holidays and return with them at the start of the Autumn Term, hence
the bulging satchels. I had elected to carry the satchels of two
older boys who were in my church choir and so with my protectors I
had a fairly uneventful initiation. I do remember the ‘bird
cage’. Made by swinging the gate to the playing field back on
itself to form an enclosure with the end of the air raid shelter the
caged ‘new bugs’ were encouraged to sing whilst being pelted
Blast walls were still in place at both entrances into the main
building from the playground, a legacy from the war. After I had
been at the school for a year or so I wondered why the urinals at
the lower school end were open to the elements,
whilst those at the upper school end were enclosed. I thought it was
just a seniors and
juniors thing. It was some years later that I discovered that the
girl’s school used to share the same site, prior moving to Selly
Oak Road. I would imagine that segregation was mandatory
particularly as there is evidence that wall ran from the under the
hall windows, down the playground, to the outside wall of the gym.
We were allocated to either form 1a, 1b or 1c and one of five houses
which, if my memory serves me well, were Greves (blue & white),
Jervoise (brown & white), Littleton (green & white),
Middlemore (red & white) and Mortimer (black & white). I
recall my form masters progressively through the school as being,
Messrs. Donelly, (1b): Welburn, (2b): Barker, (3b): Levitt, (4b):
and Wheeler (5Bii & 5x).
Mr. Reynolds was headmaster
and ‘Pop’ Wright the second headmaster during my time at K.N.G.S.
I was put in form 1B with Mr Donelly as form master and allocated to
Mortimer House. It was quite a difference being in a class of just
over thirty boys after previously being in mixed classes of fifty
plus. We regarded the forms to be graded but there was never any
acknowledgement of this. However the theory did seem to be born out
in the second year when form 1a jumped a year and became form 3aii
leaving just 2b and 2c, the intake progressed in the same format
right through to the fifth.
It was a strange new world but we had to adapt. I suppose the fact
that you were with other boys who found it just as strange helped
enormously. The unfamiliar practice of the masters referring to you
by your surname and also addressing your fellow pupils in the same
manner. Having to wear the school cap and touch the peak in
deference to a master when you passed in the street.
A new form of discipline had to be learnt. Detentions and bad
conduct marks, awarded at the discretion of masters for
misdemeanours. A totting up system existed with conduct marks, where
exceeding a certain number of them during the week resulted in an
automatic detention. You also had to be deferential to Prefects,
they also had the power to hand out conduct marks. The ultimate
punishment was the cane, administered by Mr Reynolds the headmaster.
I can only recall one boy in my form ever receiving the cane.
Afterwards we encouraged him to show us the effects, the weals
looked angry and very painful, we were assured in no uncertain terms
that they were indeed painful.
Set home work, was a new concept to most of us, as were Wednesday
afternoons as a half day, that is, unless you were selected for a
representative sporting activity or had a detention to serve.
I do remember the dinner queues. You tried not to be the sixth or
any multiple thereof in the queue. Each dining table accommodated
twelve boys, six per side. The seating was taken up in strict order
starting at the bottom of the table, the six and twelfth places
being at the top of the table. The job of those at the top of the
table would be to collect, scrape and return the dirty plates then
bring a tray of puddings back to the table.
There were four female members of staff when I started, Miss Grant,
Miss Thomas, Mrs Clarke and ’Ma’ Backhouse. Miss Thomas, who was
probably in her late teens or early twenties, took us for French
during the first term as well as P.T., we all had a crush on her.
The ladies eventually moved on and were replaced by those members of
staff who had been called up for active service returning to the
school to take up their former posts.
The masters remain in the memory mainly for their nicknames and
’Sam’ Ecclestone, I can only describe him as being fiery, but
well liked and respected by the boys. For practical work, in the
physics lab, each bench worked as a group when setting up
experiments. I remember on one occasion when we had set up a bench
experiment, to demonstrate some aspect of the properties of
electricity, throwing a switchkey across the physics lab. This was
because one group had left the switchkey in place and when trying to
connect the battery caused a short circuit.
Mr Wheeler was my form master in 5bii, he was also teaching us
English that year. One of Mr Wheeler’s many attributes was to
produce and direct the school play a task which he undertook
extremely professionally as the standard of the performances proved.
Mr Stevens, I can recall the name, see him in my mind’s eye but
cannot be sure what he did. I have a feeling that he may have been
an assistant in the physics lab.
Mr Rogers took us for art during the first term and was replaced by
Mr Welburn after being demobilised from the R.A.F.
’Claude’ Levitt, my form master and teacher in 4b. He always
rode a very upright bicycle to school with a leather suitcase
strapped on the rear carrier.
’Fido’ Faulkes, who had a habit of talking out of the side of
his mouth, would also from time to time, write on the blackboard
behind him whilst facing the class. To do this he would hold the
chalk between his thumb and forefinger so that it protruded to the
back of his hand.
’Ron’ Coultas, took us for French in 4b. When he wanted to get
your undivided attention, he had the nasty habit, of grasping the
short hair on the nape of the neck with his thumb and forefinger.
That really hurt! We did find that he was susceptible to being wound
up and could become rather irate, this was much to the form’s
amusement. He was also a chalk thrower.
There was ‘Holy Joe’, I can only remember his nickname, he was
with us for a short time in 3b and took us for R.E. He would loose
his cool from time to time and inform us, in no uncertain terms,
that he had been a Major in the army, had had men in his charge and
would not be beaten by the likes of us boys where discipline was
’Pinnochio’ Hughes took us for woodwork, ably assisted by Mr.
Ward. He told us that he was fortunate to be blessed with eyes in
the back of his head, therefore he claimed that he could see what we
were doing when he had his back towards us. He was extremely canny
and you could believe his claim to be true as he caught many boys
taking advantage of the turned back.
’Ned’ Cooling with his cry of “Wake your dozy self up!” I
did not have the privilege of being taught by Mr Cooling.
’Sniffer’ Ellis, I always will remember his opening introduction
to us in form 1b, “I am Mr Ellis and I will be taking you for
geography this term, I am also suffering from a terminal illness.”
It was years before I realised that that was his sense of humour,
and I used to feel really concerned for him.
’Daddy, Jokeover’ Barker, was my Form Master in 3b and took us
for mathematics and chemistry in 2b, 3b and 4b. He was one of the
old school of masters, not as exciting as some but well respected by
the boys. I remember him relating his strategy in bowling Bishop, a
renown first team batsman, in the annual Masters versus the Boys
cricket match. The ‘jokeover’ reference is to his repeated
calling “joke over” to quieten down the form’s over the top
reaction to one of his jokes.
There was ‘Killer’ Cole, who I believe taught English, he was
very much involved with the school football and cricket teams. He
was known to place a sixpenny piece on the top of each stump to
encourage a boy to bowl him out, the bowler keeping any of the
I can vaguely remember ‘Hagger’ Hargreaves. He had us one games
period forking over parts of the cricket square with table forks.
Mr Blundell took me for mathematics in 5bii and 5x, I feel that
without his inspiration I would not have obtained a Credit in the
subject for my School Certificate. He is a master for whom I still
feel I owe a debt of gratitude.
’Dickie’ Dalton was our history master in 3b, I felt that he had
a peculiar way of instructing his pupils in what I considered, at
the time, rather a boring subject consisting of names, dates and
places. He would walk into the classroom place his books and gown on
his desk and with the minimum of preamble would commence to dictate
whilst at the same time writing on the black board. It was up to us
to copy this down in our ‘pads’. This would continue for the
whole period and he would leave
as I recall as abruptly as he arrived. We were required to transfer
this to our history exercise books and learn the facts for homework.
One of his other duties was to issue new exercise books to boys when
their current one was full, the book store was off the hall next to
the headmaster’s study.
I remember ‘Splasher’ Wareham, he taught mathematics as far as I
recall. He appeared to us young boys to be extremely ancient. He
lived in the house next-door to the school, one removed from the
’Piggy’ Hindle was, quite literally, one of those larger than
life characters. He took us for biology in the last two years. He
would recline in his chair at the end of one of the lab benches and
lecture us on the particular subject for that lesson. Some of us
learnt the hard way. We were waiting for the points of the lecture
to be explained on the blackboard so that we could copy these down
in our ‘pads’ and write them up for homework. Not realising in
fact that it was up to the individual to make these notes as the
lecture was proceeding. Mr Hindle would on occasions take us to the
bottom right hand corner of the playing field. This is where the
school garden was established. He would then split us up into
groups, allocating each a plot of ground. We had explained to us the
ways of trenching (digging) and then had to dig our allocated plots.
As careers master, he would interview us individually to help
establish the type of job to which we would best be suited. Another
of the jobs he did as careers master was to organise trips to
various local companies to get an insight to working environments.
I remember on one occasion he was overseeing the detentions on a
Wednesday afternoon when I was unfortunate to be serving one. He had
us all standing in the hall, well spaced out, with our right arm
extended to the side, level with the shoulder. We were informed that
this was an experiment but not given the reason behind it. Sothere
we stood, arms out to the side at right angles, dipping one by one
as the painintensified. We all succumbed until no arms were
extended. What was Mr Hindle doing? He was timing the endurance with
a stop watch, exactly how he was evaluating it wasn’t revealed.
Other masters who come to mind are ‘Licker’ Graham - Biology;
‘Percy’ Pickering - Physics; Mr Hawkins - Physical training; Mr
Love – took over music and the school choir when ‘Plum’ Thomas
As far as I can remember the following were my form mates, not all
of them went all the way through the school and some others joined
at various stages.
Aldhouse; Appleton (Pip); Ashton; Austin; Bamfield; Barrett;
Crooker; Fessey; Garrett; Gibbons; Hobbs ; Holmes; Hurcombe;
Kingsnorth (Kingy); Knowles; Latimer; Lawrence A.; Lawrence K.;
Maddox; Marlow; Mellors ; Pritchard; Rimmer; Saunders; Sharpe;
Singer; Southgate; Steele; Tarling; Whitehouse; Wood (Darcy); Yates
The Tuck Shop was popular at dinnertimes. A queue would be formed at
the lower school side entrance and overseen by a prefect who would
regulate the number of boys going to the shop at any one time. Lemon
buns 2d and cream buns 21/2d, I forget now how much the bottle of
lemonade used to cost.
There was the time when rugby football was introduced for a trial
period. This was my chance to shine and I duly made the school
fifteen. Since none of the boys had experience with the oval ball it
wasn’t too difficult. I believe that a couple of masters augmented
the side, even so we suffered some horrific defeats which was only
to be expected as we were playing schools who had rugby on their
curriculum. I must say that I would have liked the school to have
persevered but then I was biased.
Sports Day was eagerly anticipated by most boys and I suspect by
parents who love to see their offspring competing. In the weeks
immediately prior to Sports Day, during lunchtimes, there were a
number of boys who would continually pound round the running track.
I don’t know whether it was just because the track was there or
whether they viewed it as training, I rather suspect it was the
former. I remember ‘Ned’ Cooling was very much involved with the
organisation of the Sports Day, and as far as I can recall started
the running events with his own starting pistol. I can still
see his navy blue blazer with the Olympic rings on the breast
pocket, he was entitled to wear it having been an official at the
There was a great cricketing occasion for the school one year. I
can’t remember which, but probably 1947 or 1948, when the first
eleven won through to the final of the Docker Shield, played at
Lords, and won the trophy.
Another annual event was the Schools Choir Festival staged in
Birmingham Town Hall. ‘Plum’Thomas, who was the Music/English
Master was responsible for honing the voices of the school choir of
which I was a member. It was pretty boring listening to all the
other school choirs do their test piece, the real excitement came
with the performances by the two schools who were able to support
orchestras - King Edward’s who were quite accomplished - St.
Philips who were not - the discordant sounds of the latter provided
the young audience cause for mirth, somewhat constrained with the
stern gaze from masters around the auditorium.
I was pleased to read that the War Memorial has been refurbished. It
was during my time at K.N.G.S. that the War Memorial was constructed
and unveiled. I can’t recall being at the unveiling ceremony,
maybe it was just for the relatives of the fallen. I do, however
remember that a competition was initiated for boys to take
photographs of the Memorial and the winner’s photo would be
reproduced in The Eagle.
In June 2002 I made a return visit to the school where I was
welcomed by the current Head, Ian Sonley. I also met several members
of staff with whom I had ‘then and now’ comparative discussions.
Two young lads were allocated to guide me through the seeming maze
of corridors to visit various departments, all new since my day!
It may have been a mistake to return after fifty years. I fondly
remember the school as it was when I was a pupil there and I viewed
the inevitable structural changes that have been made with mixed
feelings. I am so glad that the facade remains the same except for
enclosing the upper and lower school side entrance porches.I very
much regret the removal of the wood paneling that used to be a
feature of the main hall and also the Headmaster’s study. The loss
of the library to the reception office.
The extension, of what used to be the Art Room, taking in the tiered
seating at the opposite end of the hall to the stage, looked most
The stage, which allowed
many a boy, under the direction of Mr. Wheeler, to make his stage
debut, thankfully seemed intact. To find that the gym had been
gutted to make extra dining facilities didn’t seem right, it was
such a fine gymnasium.
I think one of my biggest disappointments was to discover that the
old cricket pavilion had been burnt down. On reflection it could
have caught fire ages ago, with potentially tragic consequences. The
loft space was regularly accessed during lunch times by boys for the
purpose of smoking a cigarette or two. I was delighted to see what
appeared to be the original groundsman’s hut still there.
Why did ‘they’ mess
with the house system, the five houses were such a tradition of the
school, with each boy being proud and partisan towards his
Having expressed some of my disappointment I will also express
appreciation of the advancement that has taken place in facilities
now available for subjects such as Music , Art and of course IT.