Childhood and School Days

Memories of Mervyn Upton

28th August, 1930 ~ 29th November, 2012


Early Years

When I was 3 or 4, I was given a splendid pedal motor car, far superior to those other machines owned by boys in Marlborough Street. It was not deemed a suitable toy for girls! I was not allowed to take it into the streets lest one of the more dubious characters would wreck it or remove the wheels for the construction of a trolley. When father took me into the park with it, my little legs soon tired and he would grumble at having to wheel the vehicle home. There was not much scope for playing with it in the garden. An expensive toy did not bring satisfaction and was not often used.

Like all small boys, I was fascinated with trains and, at the age of about 7, was given a circular track, engine and goods wagon made by the famous firm, Hornby. I was particularly proud of the engine which cost 18s 6d (92 1/2p), a considerable sum in those days. Gradually, more rolling stock and accessories were added. Again, there were snags…the track layout took some time and much space to assemble. With no fire in the front room (no central heating in those days), it was too cold to play with it. However, there was one, unforeseen, advantage. One load for an open truck was 100 small wooden bricks. They were excellent for constructing small buildings and walls and many happy hours were spent imaginatively engaged with them. They cost 10d (about 4p)

Father was a member of the Labour Party and a Pacifist, probably because his brother, Harold, was killed in World War I. I was not allowed to have toy soldiers or toy guns. Instead, I had a toy farmyard that continued to grow until I entered the model railway era.

We were on holiday at Weymouth, staying with old Mrs Penny in Terminus Street (alas, destroyed by wartime bombing). Returning from the beach for lunch one day, I was promised a penny sheep if I walked all the way. The collection grew and included two-penny cows. Ethel Wright came to stay with Mrs Penny and she annoyed me by attempting to place her handbag on the pot stand that was the home of my animals. Later, a farm house was purchased at a shop at 173 Fishponds Road owner by Sheila Summer’s father.

In 1939, with the outbreak of the war, I was allowed to obtain Hornby’s Dinky Toy soldiers and military equipment. Woolworth’s sold soldier sets (at a larger scale) at 6d (21/2p) each. The farm animals were retained but did not last very long when they came into the hands of my nephews Sean and Jason.

Eastville Infants’ School

In my first week at Eastville Infants’ School, when aged 5, I learnt one of the great truths of life. One of the ‘big boys’ took me to one side (possibly in the toilets – a roofless urinal) and told me “There ain’t no father Christmas.”

I was five and had not been very long at Eastville Infants’ School. Going home with Mother and other parents, I had some vital news to impart to one mother…

“Mrs Watts, your Brian is a dunce.”

She was not well pleased and complained to the headmistress about me. I was told not to say such things.

Curious, as I spent my working life making similar statements to parents – however, more diplomatically!

I had learned to read and write before attending Eastville Infants School and there were plenty of books at home. Father and Mother frequently read to me and I enjoyed making words with alphabet blocks. At school we read in groups with readers of varying ability, best reader being the leader. I was always a group leader.

Eastville Junior School

Reading at home declined when aged 8 to 10, there were other things to do eg: collect stamps. Then came a change. In the top class at Eastville Junior School, I was appointed School Librarian. I do not remember the first girl to serve with me but she was replaced by Betty Jenkins. I began to take an interest in my charges and discovered the words of Percy Westerman and similar adventure books. Auntie Frances and Uncle Bert loved books, especially those of Charles Dickens. Birthday presents and Christmas presents from them were always books – some good (The Four Feathers by A.E.W Mason) but some were Dickens.

When attending Cotham, pocket money increased and 6d (later 9d and Is) and books were regularly purchased. Those of H.GWells were particularly appreciated.


Miss Katherine Houghton was probably straight out of college and in her Probation Year. She was a pleasant, able young lady. She encouraged the keener stamp collectors with various foreign stamps she received and we brought in our collections to show her. She was keen to teach overseas and, after a few years, departed to teach at St Mary’s School, Kuching, Sarawak.

I received occasional letters from her until December 1941, when the Japanese invaded. What happened to her? The television series ‘Tenko’ possibly indicated her fate.

Miss Ford took us for singing and geometrical drawing. At singing she sought out the tone-deaf children (the growlers) and grouped them close to the piano so they were in easy range. She drove an ancient wreck of a car with broken windows.

Miss Lovell was a very fashionably dressed lady of mature years who sought for correct speaking from her pupils. Her nickname was Fanny. She never used the cane but her high-pitched shrieking was an effective deterrent.

Miss Millard never smiled or laughed. She demanded good writing and general neatness and some of us struggled to reach her high standards.

She was an expert with the cane. With one stroke, she would hit the palm, bounce the cane off the floor to wrap the knuckles and then hit the palm again!

Eric Benham was an evacuee from London and thought himself ‘Jack the lad’. Soon came the day when the ‘cane boy’ was sent to obtain the whacker. Eric was amused and so was the class. His grin disappeared when he saw the cane and shortly afterwards he was removing his glasses to wipe away the tears. He didn’t want to receive a second dose.

Miss Doris Porter taught the ‘Top Class’. She and her mother lived locally and were keen members of the local Labour Party (as were my parents).

Miss P was a very able teacher, one of the best who taught me, and her aim was to ensure all her class passed the scholarship exam enabling them to attend a secondary school.

Bryan Jones, who lived in Greenbank, was a bright, cheerful talkative friend at Eastville Junior School.

One day he talked at the wrong time – during morning service. He was sent out and, later, he came into the classroom accompanied by the headmaster and the school cane. He received one on each hand as punishment and to deter the rest of us from committing a similar crime.

When he left school, BJ became a vicar so then he could talk in the morning service without punishment!

IP felt he needed a break from school so he played truant. When he returned the required note was produced signed ‘Mr P…..’

Mr Pulsford (class teacher) and Mr Edwards (Headmaster) were very suspicious and the note was sent to Greenbank Senior Boys’ School asking the head if he could recognise the writing. He could so there was a caning for IP and the writer.

One afternoon, IP surprised the class and Mr Thor, his teacher, asking if he could be caned…he was!

DM and MB, pupils at Eastville Junior School, were not like other boys. I’m sure today’s psychologists would find a suitable name to describe their condition. They were loaners who attempted to find refuge in a quiet corner of the playground during breaks. When approached by smaller boys with the words “Dance or I’ll hit you” they danced making strange semi-musical sounds. MB was fascinated with trains. One day when his class was lined up in the playground, IP, at the front, suddenly shouted “Electric train!” and sticking out his fist at head height, ran down the line. Everyone quickly moved their heads except MB who, hearing the word ‘train’, stuck his head out and received the full force of the fist – another caning for IP!

TT was caned for playing conkers…with RC’s head!! A ‘big boy’ asked ML and me to open our mouths and to close our eyes for a surprise. I refused but ML obeyed and received a fowsty turnip in his mouth. He was surprised!!

EG was a bully and many small boys suffered from his evil ways. One day, coming home for dinner, I was attacked and told he would be waiting for me when I returned to school. I didn’t want to go back that afternoon and I cried but my parents forced me to go. Sure enough, EG was waiting for me on the other side of the railway bridge (since demolished) that separated Edward Street from Greenbank View As he came towards me, suddenly, Father appeared. Without my knowledge, he had followed me. EG was on the receiving end of a few blows and he was the one who went back to school crying. My friends and I never had trouble from him again.

About aged 8, I was invited to the home of KB for tea. Instead of saying K’s grandparents were dead, K’s mother said they were in the ‘pity hole’. Not having heard this expression before I burst into laughter. I was never invited there again!

At Eastville Junior School (1940-41), John Cook and Alan Griffee formed a secret society called The Crown Organisation. They would produce, as evidence of membership, a small brass button inscribed with a crown and anchor (ex-Royal Navy?) The organisation was so secret that they would impart no details. At last I was allowed to join and was given a button. Now I could impress friends who were not members. The secrets?...There were none and the organisation had no activities. A spoof to impress the gullible!

Singing Practice

Every Friday morning, after break, the school assembled in the hall for singing practice. Mr Pulsford (Pussyfoot) was in charge and Miss Lovell (Fanny) played the piano. A popular song, sung regularly, was ‘Linden Lea’.

Most weeks, Mr P flattened a few boys which terrified us at first until we realised he only hit the boys in his own class, the less bright fourth years that contained all the ‘hard’ cases.

The Scholarship (later, Eleven Plus)

In the final year at Junior School, everyone sat the Scholarship exam. It was in two parts. First came the Preliminary exam – the boys went to ‘Pussyfoot’ Fulsford’s room and the girls to Miss Porter’s. To assist us, a clock-face was drawn on the blackboard and one of the more intelligent younger girls had to indicate every five minutes. The task was ably performed by Barbara Jay (now Barbara Parsons). The Preliminary exam was easy and all of the Top Class was expected to (and did) pass. A few from the second class, including my friend Desmond Shaddick, also passed and were immediately promoted to Class One. Then came lots of hard work ~ arithmetic, problems, comprehension and composition with little time for any other subjects.

Came the day for the Final exams and we boys went to Greenbank Senior Boys School for the tests. (The girls went to Eastville Senior Girls School). Pupils from other Junior schools were also present. Four papers were set ~ arithmetic, problems, comprehension and composition. Perhaps it was a warning to us that, if we failed to pass we had to attend Greenbank!

Several weeks later, the results were published in the Western Daily Press and Evening Post. My name was there but, surprisingly, not those of several of my friends. Next school day there was an inquest and those who failed were questioned about their performance. Those who passed visited the Headmaster’s room to sign his special book.

Fizzy Lemonade

Pre-war, there was a luxury item that we rarely had at home but, sometimes appeared at parties or in the homes of others – fizzy lemonade. (Mr Blakes of Marlborough St called it ‘spooter’!).

At that time there were four producers of the product in the Bristol area:

  • MAPS Newfoundland Road
  • TIZER Kingswood
  • KEYSTONE Victoria Park, Fishponds
  • CORONA Robert Street, Eastville

The first three disappeared during World War II but Corona survived for many years afterwards. In those latter years, a door to door sales service was established. The firm originated in South Wales and was owned by Thomas & Evans Ltd. The first Bristol factory manager, Mr Soley, lived in Cemetery Road (later Oakdene Avenue). He was a games enthusiast and, in summer, regularly played cricket in Eastville Park with his son, Ken, who was a year or so younger than me. Other boys, including me, were always welcome to join the pair. Many years afterwards, an encounter with him was less pleasant. At that time, I was responsible for the Old Cothamians RFC Junior XV (boys under 16yrs of age) and he was in charge of Cleve Juniors. During a match, when the Old Cots were winning easily, he accused me of playing over-aged boys. Because we recruited from the school, my boys were definitely under-aged – possibly, we were the only team in the Junior Combination that obeyed the age rule!

Cigarette Cards

Before World War II, most children collected ‘generals’. This was the word the older generation used for cigarette cards - partially used as a packet stiffener and partially as an advertising medium.

Uncle Ern House worked as a machine minder for Mardons who printed these cards for Wills.

Amongst the subjects featured were:

Aeroplanes, cars, ships, film stars, radio stars, flowers, birds, prehistoric creatures (when very young I found this series frightening), army uniforms, silver jubilee 1935, Coronation 1937, kings and queens, road safety, air raid precautions, dogs and speed.


Marbles were not made of marble but were small spheres of coloured glass. The red and white ones, blood alleys, were considered to be the more valuable and greatly prized.

In those days (1930s), money was scarce and one’s wealth was indicated by the number of marbles owned. I suppose they were gaming tokens as they were eagerly played for. There were two main games…

In ‘Follows’ they were bowled along the gutters (beware of the drains!!) until one marble struck the other and was therefore victorious.

The other game, played on a drain inspection cover, involved accurate finger movements to propel the marbles into an indentation.

I believe there was another variation in which marbles were knocked out of a chalk circle.

Although possessing marbles, I never wished to play.

If a marble was dropped in class it was thrown out of the window. After school there was a rush to attempt to find it.

Guppy’s sold them in cardboard tubes


When I was a child, visits to the cinema were rare treats. We always went once when on holiday at Weymouth and, in my early teens, Ruby took me more often.

Locally we usually visited His Majesty’s and The Vandyke but I remember visiting Eastville Hippodrome (a bug house), The Metropole and The Regal. Ruby also took me to the Odeon, The King’s, The New Palace, Whiteladies, The Grenada, The Globe and The Embassy.

There were free annual shows for the members of the Bristol Evening Post Pillar Box Club at The Olympia. Two of the cinemas changed names – His Majesty’s became The Concorde and The Olympia became The Tatler.

Other cinemas, visited later, include The News Theatre, The Orpheus, The Gaiety and The New Bristol Centre.

I remember few of the early films viewed but some titles were ‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs’, ‘Gulliver’s Travels’, ‘Jane Eyre’, ‘Hellzeppopin’, Boys’ Town’, ‘The Shadow of the Thin Man’, ‘The Moon and Sixpence’, ‘Bitter Sweet’ and ‘Gunga Din’.

There were also a few Shirley Temple films.

The ‘B’ films were often Westerns with stars Buck Jones, William Boyd (Hopalong Cassidy) and John Wayne.

Radio Days

My early days were the radio era. More people obtained a reliable set for their home by the time of the outbreak of World War II. My parents’ first radio was constructed by Reg Crew, a neighbour. It required accumulators to provide a source of power. In those days I was not particularly interested in the programmes but I remember frightening news items about the bombing of Spanish towns. Early in 1938 we moved to 336 Fishponds Road and acquired a ‘real’ radio, operated by mains electricity, bearing the name GEC. Now I began to become interested in radio programmes. The set was in regular use each evening except when visitors were present. Programmes remembered include:

Children’s Hour: Larry the Lamb / Dennis the Daschund / Mr Growser / The Mayor / Captain Higgins / Ernest the Policeman / The Inventor / The Magician / Mr Goose and the Enemy / The Mayor of Arkville in ‘Toytown’ by H.G Hume-Beaman / Norman and Henry Bones (boy detectives) / Uncle Max (Derek McCullugh) - he was disabled and ugly when I saw him at Bristol’s Theatre Royal but he had an excellent, kindly voice and was universally loved and respected.

Between 1938 and 1950, the following programmes are remembered:

  • Bandwagon: Arthur Askey and Richard Murdock
  • Monday Night at Eight: including quizzes and ‘Inspector Hornleigh Investigates’
  • Henry Hall’s Guest Night
  • The Billy Cotton band Show ‘Wakey, Wakey!!’
  • Troise and his Mandoliers
  • Paul Temple Gentleman amateur detective with his wife Steve
  • In your Garden: by C.H Middleton – most boring programme
  • ITMA Tommy Handley – topical – rapidly dated
  • Workers’ Playtime: lunchtime variety programme from factory canteens
  • Garrison Theatre: Army based variety with Jack Warner
  • Ack, Ack, Beer, Beer Variety programme for anti-aircraft troops
  • Saturday Night Theatre: Series of quality plays
  • Appointment with Fear: The Man in Black (Valentine Dyall) – Mother did not like!!!
  • Football Commentaries: especially the cup final
  • Cricket Commentaries: pre-war: Howard Marshall (excellent)
  • Post-war: John Arlott (over-rated alcoholic)
  • In Town Tonight: chat show
  • The Kentucky Minstrels: black men from the South of USA
  • Serials: those remembered:
  • The Four Feathers / The Man from Mars
  • Take It From Here: Jimmy Edwards, Dick Bentley, Joy Nicholls later – June Whitfield and Alma Cogan
  • Up the Pole: Jimmy Jewell and Ben Warris
  • At the Black Dog: chat show with Howard Marshall
  • Theatre Organists: Sandy McPherson, Reginald Foorte, Reginald Dixon
  • The Brains’ Trust: Intellectual discussions – Professors Joad and Huxley…’It depends what you mean by…’
  • Hi Gang: Bebe Daniels, ben Lyon, Vic Oliver
  • The Grand Hotel: Music – Albert Sandler
  • Much Binding in the Marsh: RAF comedy – Richard Murdock, Kenneth Horne, Sam Costa
  • All Hale: comedy – Sonny and Binnie Hale
  • The Happydrome: Mr Lovejoy, Ramsbottom, Enoch…’Let me tell you…!’
  • Dick Barton, Special Agent: Noel Johnson
  • Carol Gibbons & the Savoyards music
  • Educating Archie: Radio ventriloquist

Comedians not mentioned above, but heard regularly on the radio, include:

Bennett & Williams / Nan Kenway & Douglas Young / Old Mother Riley &

daughter Kitty (Arthur Lucan & Kitty McShane) / The Western Brothers /

Forsythe, Saeman & Furrell / Suzette Tarri / Elsie & Doris Walters / Harry

Hemsley / Ronald Frankou / Max Millar (banned!) / Claude Dampier &

Enid Trevor / Will Hay / Gilly Potter / Randolph Sutton / Rob Wilton /

Cyril Fletcher / Jeanne de Casalys (Mrs Feather) / Gwladys Morgan

Cotham School

When I was a baby in my pram, a master at the school, who was known to my father, said that when I went to Cotham he would be retired. He was wrong because he was there until his 70s, because of the war, and he taught me. He was a fine, much respected man and an excellent teacher.

The scholarship results indicated that I could choose any school on the list, except Bristol Grammar, so Cotham, always my choice, was selected.

I was taken to school, on the first day, by a neighbour, Kenneth Amesbury, who was entering the Sixth Form. We caught the Number 3 bus to Stokes Croft and ascended Hillgrove Street. I was amazed to see so many boys in the playground all wearing identical school caps. Later in the war, the Headmaster announced that school caps were no longer available and boys not able to obtain one were excused from wearing the garment. Curiously, within a few weeks, most boys came to school beheaded!!

I did not enjoy my first four years at Cotham. There was physical and mental bullying and disruption of lessons. Staff favoured class punishment instead of dealing with the trouble makers. When I entered the school, my favourite and best subject was Geography. The incompetent Cambridge graduate who taught the subject soon changed this and, sadly, I failed the subject in school certificate exams.

A new Headmaster created a reign of terror with his fondness for beating boys. Between lessons, he haunted the corridors looking for unfortunates who dared to talk or move too quickly. There was always a beating session after morning service. If none were available, he would stand outside the hall to find victims. As one long term member of staff described it…”Please Jesus make me good. Whack! Whack! Whack!” If particularly annoyed during service, he would leave the hall clicking his fingers. Instantly, clicking would break out from the school and he would angrily look for any boy laughing or smiling so we stood to attention looking to the front.

For my fifth year, things improved in the classroom. The approaching School Certificate exam brought an improvement in conduct and attention. We also had an excellent form master, Mr E.R (‘Ernie’) Cook. A fine teacher and a kindly, approachable man.

No choices were possible in the subjects taken in the School Certificate exams. I had to take Art and Woodwork, two subjects I had no possible chance of passing and Physics with Chemistry instead of two subjects.

At physics I was good and at Chemistry I was very good. I wished they could have been taken as individual subjects with RI as another subject. The results were predictable…failures in Art and Woodwork, highest grade in Physics with Chemistry (and also maths).

Like many other boys, I wished to represent the school at a sport and to become a prefect. Neither seemed likely as a clique dominated sport and I did not appear to have the personality to become a prefect.

To the Sixth Form where the work was much harder but at least you were better treated. It was now possible to attain places in school cricket and rugby teams in the absence of the old class cliques.

In the Summer of 1947, Jeff Wright was given the task of forming a 3rd XI to play Bristol technical School XI at their Portbury Ground. I was selected as wicket keeper. We were outplayed and our opponents scored about 150 for 3. I managed to stump one off the bowling of Des Smith. Our batting was worse and when I went in at Number 9, Jeff implored me to stay. I did and played out the last over with my left foot to the pitch of the ball. We closed at 28 for 8 but had drawn the game – I scored 2 not out. Two years later I returned to the ground and we bowled out the opposition cheaply and I stumped two. One poor lad was broken into pieces by one of Phil Gorin’s faster deliveries. His cap went one way, his glasses another and his bat a third. He fell and completely flattened all three stumps. We picked him up, put him back together and helped him off the field. My batting services were not required. Two seasons were spent in the 2nd XI with one game in the 1st XI, keeping wicket to the bowling of John Mortimore – later to become an English Test Match player.

Mt first game for the 2nd XI was a disaster. We were away to Marling School, Stroud and batting first we were all out for 15 (nought for me – opening an innings for the first time!). They made a good total and we batted again. Another duck – all out for 45 and we had lost by an innings.

However, the next game against Weston County School was different. On a dry wicket I took a catch off the bowling of Barry Richards and made some useful runs. My place in the team was guaranteed.

For two seasons I played rugby for Cleve Juniors as a ‘wing forward’. Next year, I was selected for a school trial match at ’wing three-quarter’. To my surprise and delight I was selected for the 2nd XV. In our first match we beat Bristol Cathedral School 1st XV 24-3 and I scored a good try. The team went from strength to strength under the leadership of Ray Jarman and we won all our matches. I scored 6 tries. Early in the season, against our 1st XV, we were well beaten. Half way on we held them to a draw and at the end of the season we beat them 6-3.

One day, in my final year, at the end of assembly, Woods announced the names of new prefects and I was included. After Woods and the staff left, Billy Hinton remained to dismiss the school. Out came the glorious words

‘Prefeths dithmith’ and proudly I left the hall to be congratulated by John Porch, the school captain.

Eventually, I left with Higher School certificate as a school prefect.

‘Spike’ Jones

Any music teacher surnamed Jones was, automatically, nicknamed ‘Spike’ after the famous American musician, Spike Jones, whose band was called The City Slickers, in the 1940s. Cotham was no exception.

Somebody thought the Science Sixth lacking in culture so we had to take ‘Greek Civilisation’ as a subsidiary subject in Higher School Certificate and the First Year Sixth was forced to have singing lessons with Spike.

The first lesson, in the music room, was a disaster so, the next week, as the school hall was not in use, we assembled on its stage. This was the showdown.

We were asked to sing the hymn ‘Come down, O love Divine’ and the word came round ‘sing the first verse heartily, but not the second one.’ We sang with gusto so Spike must have thought he was winning. How could a mere music master take on the intellectuals of VI Science I? The second verse commenced… ‘let holy charity…’ and only one voice could be heard. KI sang it loudly in a raucous cockney accent. The piano stopped and Spike dismissed us. He was a beaten man. Later, we heard we would have no more music lessons and, instead, have an additional period for private study.


Buck, a Cambridge Graduate, was the worst teacher I had at Cotham and certainly none of my colleagues descended to the depths of his incompetence. He was moved from the Geography room on the upper corridor to a classroom on ground level. One day the class in-group decided on a disturbance during his lesson. Someone would crack a weak joke, everyone would laugh. ‘G’ in the front row would hold up a ruler bearing a sheet of paper inscribed ‘joke over’ and the laughter would cease.

This was done several times and attracted the attention of Woods who frequently roamed the corridors looking for victims. He looked into the window at the moment ‘G’ was raising his ruler. He bounded into the room saying “Meester Buck, send this boy to me at the end of the period and I will beat him.”


E was a bully. In my first year he was caned for bullying me before school when he was caught by the school caretaker and sent to the Headmaster.

Retribution was a-waiting E. During end of term exams, our form master, Mr ‘Fred’ Bullock, well known for his humour, said “I think somebody’s cribbing.” We all laughed. Shortly afterwards he said “Stand up E.” He stood up and a book crashed to the floor. It was a French book in a French exam. He was dispatched with a note for the Headmaster. A little while afterwards the door opened and in came the head and a tearful E. “Mr Bullock, I have beaten this boy. Give him no marks for this exam and write a suitable comment on his report.”


B was tough, very tough. Not a bully but someone to be respected. In the playground E swore at B and there was to be a fight. We rushed to form a ring to obtain a good view. Duty prefects did not rush forward to stop it when they saw who was fighting. It was not a very good fight, in fact only one blow was thrown. B hit E on the chin and down he went. We joyfully counted him out and then the prefects came forward to pick up E and carry him into the washbasins where he could recover.


Very occasionally (fortunately), we arrived in the gym to find the boxing gloves were out. Boys, picked at random, would be chosen to fight. Quickly, some of us found ways of avoiding unwanted combats.

GM, a pleasant, quiet lad from the North and I had a pact – no hard hitting, no hits on the face – so we would volunteer to box each other. We pranced around punching the air and soon the PE master tired of the spectacle and chose two others to take our place.

E was chosen to fight W, a mature, intelligent boy about his own size. W began to chase E around the ring, landing many blows. A tearful E escaped from the ring and ran around the hall with W in pursuit, landing blows regularly. ‘Jack’ de Lancey, the PE master joined in the laughter until tears were rolling down his cheeks. After a couple of circuits of the hall the fight was stopped.

I wonder what happened to E?


‘PG’ was the fastest bowler in the school but, unfortunately, was often erratic, so he remained in the 2nd XI. This I knew well as I had to keep wicket to him. He was a fine centre forward and scored many goals for the Ist XI.

He was very bright and excelled at Chemistry. Mr Rigg allowed the sixth form pupils to attempt private experiments during practical periods provided there were no smells, fires or explosions. Occasionally, PG managed to provided theses manifestations. One day he discovered something interesting…when mixed, two basic chemicals produced an explosive. This he had to attempt and finished with a dark residue on filter paper. Initially it was too damp for any effects, so he took it into the next lesson – Greek Civilization, with ‘Eggo’ Coleman and placed it on a radiator to dry. From time to time he tapped it with a ruler without any results but, eventually, there was a loud bang. ‘Eggo’, without turning a hair (he didn’t have any) quietly said “G, go outside.”

MW had acquired a new lab coat and was very proud of his possession. It was ‘Persil-white’ and pristine. PG decided to attempt an experiment. He boiled concentrated sulphuric acid and as MW passed he threw it into a sink. The spray of acid droplets covered the coat and produced black spots. Mr Riggs attempted to reduce the damage by dabbing the spots with ammonia. For the rest of his stay at school, MW wore a black spotted white lab coat.

After he left school and university, PG emigrated to Canada where he became a Professor of Chemistry.


EJ was a tall, genial lad with fair wavy hair and a large nose. He was a keen member of the St John’s Ambulance organisation. He was a Jew and known as ‘Ted the Yid’. He was a good friend in Cotham’s Sixth Form. There are three stories to relate:

During his Fifth Form year he had a serious fight with DB in which his nose was broken and he had to go to hospital f for surgery.

In the Sixth Form he wrote his study notes on toilet paper!

During a Biology lesson the class were gathered around the demonstration bench when burning was smelt. EJ’s jacket had come into contact with the pilot light and was ablaze. The class threw beakers of water over EJ to extinguish the blaze.

I last encountered EJ in Park Row (near the Synagogue) in the mid 1950’s. He was about to marry a Christian girl and his parents were displeased.


‘MG’ was a pyromaniac. He enjoyed igniting the frayed bits of curtains during Geography lessons (with Buck). Another time he was enjoying himself dropping burning pieces of paper from the window of the Chemistry laboratory. Unfortunately, he forgot that the paper would fall past the windows of the headmaster’s room. Woods noticed them and quickly ascended to catch MG in the act and to take him away for a beating.

In the Sixth Form he tried a new trick in the laboratory, placing a burning sheet of paper into a drawer, which, when opened and closed produced smoke signals. Of course, he overdid things and, instead of smoke, flames emerged…at the moment ‘George’ Statton entered the room!

Beakers of water extinguished the blaze and MG was despatched to encounter Woods who promptly suspended him for a week.

The School Dentist

About once a year, the School Dentist and his nurse would appear and he would examine your teeth, speaking in code to his nurse who would record something on a chart. The parents of the unfortunates who required treatment received a letter giving details of an appointment at Speedwell Clinic. On the fatal day you could have no breakfast. On arrival at the Clinic, a large room was entered with benches filled with children and parents. At regular intervals, children with handkerchiefs held over their mouths appeared and named children went into the same doorway. At last your name was called and in you went to the dental surgery. Inside was the dentist, a doctor and a nurse. There was a large chair and various pieces of apparatus including one containing the gas cylinders. The nurse tied a reddish-brown rubber apron around you and sat you in the chair. The dentist examined your mouth and kept it open with a rubber plug on which he asked you to bite. The nurse then held your hands under the apron and you were given the gas. The doctor told you to blow up his balloon and a mask was placed in front of your nose and mouth and the brown rubber balloon began to inflate. You breathed the gas that smelt strongly of rubber and off you went to sleep. The next you knew was that you felt dizzy and the nurse was helping you from the room. Then you were placed before a sink where you washed out your mouth and spat out blood.

Not a pleasant experience.


At Cotham School there were, frequently, home-made entertainments at the end of the Autumn and Spring terms. On this occasion the school orchestra was in place and the stage curtains closed. Nobody told us what was to happen and the curtains opened to commence Gilbert and Sullivan’s ‘Trial by Jury’. Suddenly, something happened for which the school was unprepared…a bevy of attractive young ladies suddenly appeared. The school reacted…whistles, hoots, yells. A voice was then heard from the back…”Meester Philips, stop the music!” Woods, absolutely livid, strode forward and warned us that the performance would stop and we would return to our form-rooms. The remainder of the operetta was performed in silence. Whenever I hear a recording of ‘Trial by Jury’ something seems to be missing…Woods interruptions.

Potato Picking

In September 1944, Cotham’s forms 4C and 4D were selected to go potato picking in South Gloucestershire.

We went alternate days and earned 9d (4p) per hour for our labours.

Departure from school was between 8.30 and 9.00 in an ancient motor-coach.

A packed lunch was taken and we were suitably clad in old attire. Farms visited were at Cromhall and Charfield. We worked from about 10.00 to 13.00 and 14.00 to 16.00. A member of staff was with us and I remember the presence of Messers Kitchen and Hiller. One day the 4D group was taken by Mrs Ware who caused much comment by wearing trousers! (lady teachers were not permitted to wear them at school until the mid-sixties). A rotovator would circle the appropriate field pulled by a tractor to reveal the potatoes which we would gather and place in sacks. On the first morning some of the form thought it was fun to throw potatoes at other form members. An angry farmer soon stopped this by threatening to return the offenders to the coach. At 13.00 we returned to the coach to eat our sandwiches and drink tea from an urn provided by the farmer. Three things seen for the first time were…

A land girl (member of The Women’s Land Army)

Two Italian prisoners of war who worked on a farm without the presence of armed guards

A peculiar whistling noise was heard overhead and the first jet-propelled aircraft seen - a Gloster Meteor - flew low over us. Out came a scrap of paper to attempt to draw its outline. Later, the so called class experts told me I was incorrect but, when silhouettes were published, my sketch was reasonably accurate.

One day we travelled with a form from Fairfield School. This enabled certain members to take out cigarettes hoping the teachers in charge would think the offenders came from the other school. After a while, the teachers realised what was happening so it was stopped. Then came singing until our master said he had heard enough about the Parson of Mobile.

On our final afternoon, the farmer, obviously pleased with our toils, allowed us to pick apples in his orchard so we all returned home with bags and pockets full.

During the fortnight we worked about 24 hours and each earned 18shillings (90p) – the first wages I ever earned!