Memories of Mervyn Upton
28th August, 1930 ~ 29th November, 2012
Tales Out of School
Avon Vale Junior Boys’ School:
My classroom did not exist until morning assembly had finished when folding screens were moved into place to create the room. The old-fashioned high teacher’s desk allowed me to look into the next room inhabited by HT. When the sound of smacking was heard, one could observe the event. My class began to request who was the victim and were delighted when it was a bully, lout or similar ‘ne’er do well’. HT would grab the culprit and bring him to the front of the room. Here he would be placed over the knee and smacked, with the hand, on the bottom. When this had been completed, the victim returned to his seat receiving a few more blows on the way with a final few across the head when seated.
Tony Benn was fighting a parliamentary election in Bristol East. He brought a loudspeaker van into Midland Road onto which windows from one side of the school faced. TB asked if anyone had any questions for him to answer. HB stuck his head out of the window to inquire “When are you going away so that I may continue with my lesson?” The elderly female councillor was outraged and rushed around to complain to Mr S.
HT was a naturist. One day he produced a magazine – ‘Health and Efficiency’ – that was regarded as the extreme of pornography when I was at school. Proudly he displayed a photograph of his family lacking in attire. At one time, during the day, the magazine was discovered by BE (our 22year old female teacher) in her desk. She entered the staffroom holding it minimally by the corner and said to HT…“Mr T, I believe this is your property.”
The school walked through the street from Beam Street to the University Settlement in Barton Hill Road. The meals came in containers and were served by two delightful Barton Hill ladies – Mrs Quartly (Aunt Lil) and Mrs Rogerson. They treated the boys and staff as if they were their own children. An odd-job man, employed by the Settlement, was known as Umpty Umpty, He was a former pupil of Avon Vale. One day he failed to light the fires so we ate in a cold room. We complained to Mr T who contacted the Settlement Authorities. The next day UU was angry. He told the dinner ladies Mr T had almost got him the sack and he was going to tell Mr T what he thought of him. The ladies warned him not to be silly – it was all his fault. Dinnertime came and UU was hovering. Mr T arrived and the ladies watched with bated breath. UU walked up to Mr T and said “Sorry about yesterday Mr T – it won’t happen again Sir. Sorry about yesterday.”
FE was a spiritualist. He told us he had previous lives including ones in Atlantis and Ancient Egypt. Occasionally in these lives he encountered his soul mate. He had met her in this life but, unfortunately, was much younger and eventually married someone else.
One day, after lunch. HT was in the staffroom dozing in an armchair. Occasionally, snoring could be heard. Suddenly FE stood up and began to make strange hand movements in front of HT’s face. When he woke up, HT was told that FE had seen death on his face - had any of HT’s relatives died recently? The answer was negative! Once, FE told me that when he once visited Eastville Park Methodist Church the place was full of blue smoke – a good sign indicating genuine devotion.
DB was in-charge of the school football team which was very successful. Before matches he was on good terms with the teacher in-charge of the opposing team. Together they showed disapproval of X, the teacher from rival school Z, After the game they were barely on speaking terms!
One Saturday DB was unable to be with the team so he requested that I should take the team to play Hambrook at Whiteshill Common. I cycled there and met the team who travelled by bus. Bad news awaited me. The goalkeeper was unavailable so they had brought along a rather small replacement. It was soon obvious that the home team was vastly superior. We rarely obtained possession of the ball which seldom entered the opposition half of the field. Shots rained on our goal…but were past the uprights or over the bar. Those on target were bravely stopped by our small goalkeeper. Half time – score O-O. The second half was similar and no goals were scored. At last, towards the end of the game, our right winger brought the ball into the opponents half. Optimistically he centred the ball but none of the team was there to receive the pass. It came to Hambrook’s centre-half who must have thought his goalkeeper might like to touch the ball for the first time in the game. Instead of a gentle back pass, he made a magnificent shot that beat the goalkeeper and entered the net…we won 1-O…a match we should have lost by at least 1O goals!
Sefton Park School:
I was appointed to the Junior Department. The Secondary pupils were in the original building but the Juniors were in two Muller’s Buildings. Later, all the Juniors were housed in a single Muller’s Building on the west side of Ashley Down Road.
Sefton Park Junior School:
Sefton Park divided into two schools. The Junior School returned to the original building, the Secondary School reformed in the Muller’s Building. Two new Heads were appointed. Mr G was in The Juniors. He caned boys who made too much noise in the playground during breaks. Dinners were eaten in the school hall in absolute silence. He ate his meal in his room down the corridor. The door was open and, at the slightest sound, he was in the hall to investigate the origin. Staff were not allowed to talk to parents unless he was present. Numbers fell so two members of staff had to leave. The last two to arrive were selected. Instead of informing us privately, the first we heard of it was when it was announced at a staff meeting.
Sefton Park Seconary School:
The school was expanding so I obtained a post there teaching Maths, Science and Games.
The school’s life was coming to an end so I asked Mr G, then Acting Head, if Camera Club could have a day out. He agreed and a coach was booked to take us to Stonehenge and Old Sarum. The cost was 6 shillings and a list of those attending still exists. It was necessary to have a female member of staff with us so the girls chose SW who was delighted to join us. An information sheet was prepared, typed and duplicated by club members. No work was required, the group were out to enjoy themselves.
Each summer, a party from school visited a camp - usually Exmouth – led by EH. At Easter 1961, KE planned to take a group to Snowdonia. EH, his brother C, BW, EM, a friend of EH and me were the staff who volunteered. A coach drove us to stay at Dolfrag Hall, near Nantmor and Beddgelert. During our stay we visited Beddgelert and climbed a nearby ridge, Borth-y-Gest, climbed Cnicht (2265ft), visited Caernarfon Castle and Menai Bridge.
Wednesday was a ‘free day’ and various activities were devised. I wanted to do some local filming so a group was assembled with the promise of fancy cakes at Beddgelert.
Thursday was a big day – the ascent of Snowdon (3560 ft). We chose to use the railway path from Llanberis. Some did not attempt the walk but those who did succeeded. A very memorable trip recorded originally on film and now on DVD.
It was the last Monday of the Summer Term. The school would finally close on the Friday. Mr G, the Acting Head, before school, summoned JD, RS, AS and me into his room. He said nothing but took out the school Logbook and, with us looking over his shoulder, began to write…’During the weekend I was contacted by the police to inform me that GD and ____ had eloped and they were seeking them.’ It was my duty day and, no sooner had I drawn the bolts on the playground door, a group of girls led by PM rushed towards me. Excitedly they blurted out “Sir, sir, D’s eloped!|”
The final Thursday was special. A fleet of coaches had been booked to take the whole school to Stratford–upon-Avon free of charge. Before arriving at the final destination, my coach made a stop at Tewkesbury to enable us to visit the Abbey. After telling the pupils to stay in groups, we let them loose. I wandered around the town, filming pupils at various locations…and keeping an eye open should behaviour problems occur. Noises–shouting and laughter-were heard emanating from the River Avon…a group on the bridge were watching a happening in the river. It proved to be WG and her friends struggling with a rowing boat–more filming!!
The coaches departed with full loads. A short stop was made at Bourton-on-the-Water on the return journey.
Wick Road Secondary School:
There were some very good boys in this class but they were outnumbered by louts and ‘ne’er-do-wells’ so the school ‘tone’ was not good…a lot of caning!
Glenfrome Primary School:
At Glenfrome Primary School, I introduced a new activity that was reluctantly approved by Mr R (Headmaster )…educational visits to places outside Bristol. He would have liked to stop them but I had the trump card – Mother was a School Governor! He always accompanied me on these trips but, as everything was well-organised, he had little to do.
Places visited included Stonehenge, Glastonbury, Avebury, Wells and Tintern Abbey. These visits ended when NP was appointed and began to take the class to camp.
One outstanding memory was a trip to Avebury. I had very good adult support from PW, SMcK and Janet. SE asked if her mother could come. Knowing I had excellent support, I agreed. It was pointed out that most of the time we would be walking on grass so sensible shoes and clothing would be necessary. Mrs E turned up in high heels wearing a very smart, high-quality suit!
I was a class teacher and had no desire to obtain the administrative powers of a headteacher. It seemed to me that the Heads I knew had little desire to spend much time, if any, in classroom teaching. A curious situation because they were, presumably, promoted because of their ability in the classroom.
After IH obtained a Headship, I was prepared to apply for the post of Deputy Head at Glenfrome Primary School. The job was not advertised. I was informed that Mr S, the local inspector, wanted X to replace IH. Once, I had briefly encountered him when he said ‘Good morning’ to me in the corridor. He had never entered my classroom, seen me teaching or discussed educational matters with me.
Soon I found myself doing various tasks normally done by the Deputy Head – taking charge of the School Fund, organising Sports Day and Swimming Galas, taking the Junior daily assembly, occasionally at very short notice as my class were entering the hall. When the Head and Deputy went to the annual camp, I was left behind to take charge of the school.
After retiring, I was surprised to find so many parents had thought that I had been Deputy Head…’You did so much’ was the usual remark and they were surprised to find who had held the post.
Nobody ever discovered, not even Janet, the industrial action I took. From the day of the appointment of X, I never attended another PTA Committee meeting. Previous to this I had rarely, if ever, missed one.
Glenfrome and Bad Weather
It had snowed hard all night but I had no difficulty in walking through Eastville Park to school. Most of the pupils had arrived and were excited by the snow. At 8.55 no other staff members had arrived so I had a problem. A few thoughtful parents had offered to stay until staff arrived and I selected a few sensible children from Class One to assist them in the infant classes while I patrolled the Junior corridor. JC (Class One) thought it a good idea to go outside to collect snow to throw around the classroom. He was taken to my room to meet ‘Charlie’!! Between about 9.30 and breaktime, with one exception, all staff arrived and went to their rooms with a cup of hot coffee. All was now normal. The exception was Mr R, the Headteacher, who lived in Clevedon. He arrived about noon. No thanks were given to me for ‘holding the fort’.
1968 - July:
The previous evening and night, torrential rain fell and we experienced prolonged thunderstorms. I walked through Eastville Park, avoiding large puddles, to discover that the Rover Frome had overflowed and Stapleton Road was flooded. I walked to Muller Road and crossed the river by the bridge. The water level was near to it. Glenfrome Road was flooded across the bottom of Sir John’s Lane so I walked via Kirtlington Road and Heyford Avenue. School was emptier than usual as those children in the Avery Road and Welsford Road areas were cut off by the floods. Things were chaotic at school. Some children who had arrived, decided to return home walking past Mr R who was bewildered. Eventually, he decided the water supply was contaminated so he closed the school retaining the children whose parents were at work and who had no-one to care for them.
I was left with one pupil. At hourly intervals we checked the water level on the steps leading to Glenfrome Road. Gradually it fell. At lunch, no cooking was permitted so the cook had to do the best she could to provide a meal. The only drink was school milk. The staff had a day to tidy and prepare. At the close of school Mr R was still bemused continually saying “There was nothing wrong with the water, why did someone say there was? The school shouldn’t have closed.” Had he received a rocket from the Education Department?!
At that time, Janet was teaching at Sefton Park Infants School. She was not happy. That afternoon, after school, I phoned her to tell her that, with the present conditions, I should not be making my usual visit to her that evening. The Headmistress answered my call, informing me that she did not allow her staff to receive personal calls. My answer was succinct “This is Glenfrome Primary School.” She then allowed Janet to answer the call. Returning home revealed that the floods were rapidly decreasing so I changed my mind. Janet was delighted to receive the surprise visit!