My life at Beech Hall School from 1952 to 1957

My Life at Beech Hall School 1952 to 1957

My life at Beech Hall School from 1952 to 1957, by Mr Myles Griffiths


I was eight years old when I started at Beech Hall as a boarder in September 1952 (pictured above  far right). My name is Myles Griffiths and during my five years there were two other Griffiths boys at school. I was known as Griffiths J.M. My brother Wynn whose years were 1955 to 1960 was Griffiths J.W. Michael Griffiths was no relation but we knew him and his family. He was Griffiths M.J. and his nickname was Cogitations, shortened to Codge. His years were 1953 to 1956.

My first visit to the school was during the previous summer term when with my mother I attended the annual fathers’ cricket match when a team of fathers played against the school’s first eleven.

In those days there were, I think, about 120 pupils aged between six and thirteen and about half of them were boarders. Boarders were either weekly boarders going home each weekend or full boarders. My brother and  I were both full boarders even though we lived in Bramhall, about ten miles from school. Full boarders were allowed to go home at weekends whenever their parents wished, usually about once every three or four weeks.

It is now quite a few years since the school no longer took boarders and the facilities of the school now have different functions. Mr Allen kindly showed me round the school to familiarise myself with the new layout and other changes so I shall now “walk around” the buildings and introduce readers to the old layout.

I started in the entrance hall, a beautiful hall. On the left as one enters through the front door was the Headmaster’s study. It is now a class room for the younger pupils. To the right was a bed room occupied by resident members of the teaching staff, now the School Secretary’s Office. When I was a new boy, Mr and Mrs Bower had the room together with their dog.

Through the door into the main corridor. Immediately to the right is a cupboard, in my day the Tuck Cupboard. The first room to the left with a doorway through to the entrance hall was the Boarders’ Playroom, also used as a class room. Next on the left was a Dining Room for staff members and day boys. Then came the main Dining Room which it still is. Up the steps at the end of the corridor was a classroom for Form 1b.

Left into the Blue Hall which contained the school library. Above the fireplace was a portrait of Winston Churchill. Under the stairs was the Stationery Cupboard. Thence into the Reading Room, also used as the classroom for Form 1a

Back down the corridor past the notice boards and kitchen and turn left down the corridor. First on the right was the entrance to the Cellar where boarders kept their coats and shoes. There was a suite of toilets with a wrought iron stair spiral case giving access to the Boarders’ Bathroom and Dormitories.  Further down the corridor was the new changing rooms and showers built in about 1956.

Upstairs from the Blue Hall, the first room to the left was a staff bedroom occupied by Mr Forge. The end room was the Staff Room as it still is. Proceeding up the corridor on the left was the Matron’s bedroom and Sick Room. A toilet to the left. On the right there were dormitories which occupied the rest of the upstairs apart from the Boarders’ Bathroom and a bedroom occupied by the kitchen staff. There were new dormitories built above the 1956 changing room.

Outside now

The buildings opposite the front door containing Food Technology and Art did not exist in my day, along with the Design & Technology building and those across the drive from the main building which are used for senior school pupils.  Similarly, the buildings on the right as one goes up to Music Room, now known as Ivy Bank, did not exist but there was a small prefabricated building further up on that side which was a classroom. It looked as though the plot is now a small garden.

The classrooms across the yard, known as the Stable Block, were, of course, there in my time, but the rooms above were the Headmaster’s flat where Mr and Mrs Hunt lived until the house in the orchard which is now the Nursery was built in about 1956.

The barn which is now the Music Room and Assembly Hall was the gymnasium. There were climbing bars along the walls and three climbing ropes attached to a roof beam. The barn was used for the annual school play and periodic film shows. The current gym did not exist as a building.

At the rear of the school, where Tytherington Park is now, there were open fields and a playing field used for soccer. Also in that direction, there were steep hills which made ideal toboggan runs.

There were two playing fields down the hill by the Bollin, one across the river and one round the river bend. They were used for rugby and cricket. In the Summer Term, athletic tracks were marked out there.

Out of Bounds

We were not allowed to leave the school grounds without permission and usually accompanied by a staff member. A beatable offence to go out of bounds, very sensible for safety reasons.

The Teaching Staff

The School belonged to the Headmaster, Mr J.D.M. Hunt, known as Jock. He taught me French and History. The next most Senior Teacher was Clive B Forge. He taught me Greek, Latin and (I think) English. He had fought at El Alamein in 1942. Mr Hunt’s son-in-law, Hugh Worthington, taught Mathematics and Geography. When Mr Hunt retired in about 1970 he became Headmaster. Other teachers I remember from 1952 included Mr and Mrs Bower, David Martin who was known as the Dynamic Mouse or dynamite after his initials, Miss Cudimore who taught class 1a, Mrs Ellis who taught class 1b and Mr G. B. Jay whose subject was Mathematics. Mr Jay spent the rest of his working life at Beech Hall and was there when I left. Many other teachers came and went during my five years. Amongst them I remember Mr Rapaport who taught French, Mr Davies whose subjects apart from Art I cannot now remember and a Mr Gilham, famous for his ancient cars. There was one very unusual teacher who stayed for one year, an ex army man called Major Herrick. I think he came from an agency. He was put out that he was not allowed to beat the boys which was restricted to Mr Hunt. He did introduce boxing which did not survive his departure after one year. There were no science teachers or specialist games teachers. Many of the staff were expected to run around on games fields refereeing.

The Hunt family

Mr Hunt had purchased the school before the war and continued as Headmaster until about 1970. His wife “Bunty” (name unknown) in effect ran the school administration with their daughter Penny Worthington. Penny married Hugh Worthington during the summer holiday just before I joined the school. Hugh then became a member of the teaching staff. It was some years before they had a family, I think only one child. Sadly, Mr Hunt died shortly after retirement. All four are now deceased.

I have always felt very grateful to Mr Hunt and Mr Worthington who were very inspiring teachers to whom I owe much. The same applies to their colleague Mr Forge.

The Matrons

There were always two matrons, one of whom came from a nursing background. I would say that the other was principally involved in our day-to-day care and looking after our clothing. In 1952, the Nurse was Mrs Robertson and the other matron, Miss Coventry, the latter seemed old enough to be my grandmother. During my five years, there were a number of other matrons to replace those who left. There was a Miss Auldren whom Mr Hunt told us was the only employee he ever had to sack. Those I particularly remember were Miss Doughty and Miss Findlater, known as Miss Fish. They both were there for at least the last two years of my five years. Miss Doughty was active locally in the scouts and I remember meeting her with her scout troop on a steamer on Windermere when I was in the Lake District with a fellow old boy, Roger Jones. Miss Fish was a very nice and kind lady. Years later, I read a reference to her in a biography of someone whose name I cannot remember. He was referring to his school days (not at Beech Hall) and wrote very appreciatively of her. At his school she was called Fishy Findlater, it must have been the same lady.

Other staff

There were the kitchen staff led by a man known as Chef. He had a team of kitchen porters including an eccentric called Jim Simms. They all slept in a dormitory near the Boarders’ Bathroom.  Sadly Chef managed to fall down a flight of stone stairs leading to the kitchen. He suffered a serious head injury from which he died. This was after my time in the school. There were also groundsmen, but I can only recall one called Ken whom I met when I was working as a solicitor in Macclesfield.

Girls

In my day, the School was for boys only. I do not know how long ago it was that it became co-educational. I remember once I was in Kendals store in Manchester when I saw a child in Beech Hall uniform. I said to the mother that I used to wear that uniform but the difference was that I wore trousers, not a skirt!

Uniform

The uniform in my day is as it is now. There were, however, no black blazers, just red. We also had school woollen sweaters, grey with red collars. Boarders were allowed to wear denim dungarees after lunch at the weekends.

Social structure

The School was divided into four “houses”, in quotes because they were not in any way residential, they were divisions for competitive and sporting purposes. They were Oak, Ash, Elm and Yew. Each house had a House Tutor and a Head Boy. There were inter-house sports competitions for rugby, soccer, cricket and athletics. We were rewarded for good work and other contributions with good marks and punished with bad marks. These were recorded on a house by house competitive basis.

My life as a new boy

I have to say that I did not look forward to separation from all that was familiar to me and my family when I knew I would be going to boarding school. My ten year old sister, Branwen, and I started boarding school in the same week, Branwen at Cheltenham the day before my term started. My mother took Branwen down to start her career there, leaving me with my father. Many years later when I was going through his papers after his death I found my father’s 1952 pocket diary. I looked up the day in question and saw he had written “At Myles’s disposal”. A great treat for me in those days was a trip to Liverpool. It involved an exciting (!) drive down the East Lancashire Road where father could put his foot down on the accelerator. Then a trip through the Mersey tunnel, a ferry ride and best of all a journey along the old overhead railway along all the docks where I could see all the ships. That was what we did!

The next day, my parents got me to Beech Hall at about 6 p.m. We met Mr Hunt who led me to a boy called Downs (no Christian names in those days) who showed me round before bedtime. I can still picture the crowds of other bigger boys, all strangers to me. I was in Dormitory 6, the Dormitory Captain was a boy called Waugh. He was in someway connected to the Hunts as was Simon Frazer, also in the dormitory. There were six boys in the dormitory including Downs, those two and three new boys, myself, David Livingston and David Newlove. David Livingston and I were firm friends throughout our years at Beech Hall and for a long time afterwards. We have lost touch but perhaps the Alumni Association will lead to our meeting again. I think Waugh came from Newcastle-upon-Tyne and Frazer from Silverdale in Cumbria, Downs subsequently emigrated to Australia with his brother. Rather than fly there or go by sea they drove to Sydney in the London to Sydney car rally!

I was homesick and when Mr Hunt came to turn out the lights at 8 p.m. I was in tears. He just looked at me and said nothing. I remember starting my first letter home at the weekend stating that I was very happy although that was untrue as I was still homesick. I did not want my parents to know that.

The next morning, we had to run once round the school building before breakfast (the regular custom) and then we queued up to find our places in the dining room. This was the first time I came across Mr Forge as he was the Master on Duty.

After breakfast, I was faced with two things I had never done before and for which my mother had not prepared me, cleaning my shoes and making my bed. At half term, my mother showed me how to do hospital corners which made me a much better bedmaker.

Then assembly in the dining room conducted by Mr Hunt. I cannot now recall what form of assembly took over all the years I was there, i.e. what religious element there was. There was a roll call with the names in class order from the top class (fifth form) down to the bottom form (1b). I can still recite the first few names which for some reason have stuck in my mind, Myers (who was head boy), Doggart, Jewison ... There were also any announcements. I recall later in the year Mr Hunt telling us of the deaths of Joseph Stalin and Queen Mary who was George V’s widow and the end of the Korean War, all in 1953. Anybody who had lost anything or found anything would tell Mr Hunt and he would announce it.

Next, off to the class room. I was in form 2b and the room was that small annex at the bottom of the slope beside the door up to the flat above the classrooms. (We used to race our dinky toy cars down that slope.) The teacher was Mrs Bower who brought into the class her smelly old dog who used to lie at the front scratching himself. We sat at old fashioned bench cum desks for two. Each had an inkwell. I shared my desk with David Livingston. I think Mrs Bower taught every subject which did not include French.

Then lunch, the daily dose of over cooked cabbage which I hated. Nowadays if I am invited out for a meal and the hostess asks if there is anything I do not eat I say “Do you serve English prep school cabbage?’

Next an audition for the choir. Those who could sing were recruited for the choir at Prestbury Church. The new boys were all lined up outside the staff dining room and called in one at a time to be tested by Mr Worthington at the piano. He played a note which I recognised as middle C from its place on the keyboard. I did as asked. He said “Thank you. Next please.” End of my singing career! My brother, Wynn, was and still is a chorister. I got jealous because every time the choir sang for a wedding they were paid half a crown (12.5 pence).

Then off to the classroom again.

My Promotion to Class 2a

About four weeks after the start of the term a further new boy joined us, his name was Shepherd. There was no room for him in 2b so I was moved up to 2a. I shall always remember this. The Head Boy, Ronald Myers, came to the classroom and told Mrs Bowers that he was to take me to see Mr Hunt who was in the stationery store in the Blue Hall. I was very nervous of this big boy who was 13 who accompanied me to the Head. Mr Hunt then told me I was going up to 2a with immediate effect. I think I was chosen because I had already started Latin and French at my Primary School, Hillcrest, in Bramhall. 

There is an amusing aspect to this event. Ronald Myers became in later life a prominent solicitor in Manchester where I worked as a Judge. One morning he had a case before me. When the hearing was over I asked him to stay behind which he did. He seemed as nervous as I must have seemed to him all those years before. Why did the Judge want him to stay behind? What had he done wrong? He relaxed completely when I told him that we were both old boys of Beech Hall and about the incident all those years before. No more nervousness.

The daily routine for Boarders

I think getting up time was about 7.15 a.m. Downstairs, run once round the house, then breakfast, bedmaking, shoe cleaning, assembly and lessons. The day boys would have arrived before 9 a.m. After school ended there would be the evening meal followed by a time when we were expected to sit and read our books. We all knew what time was our bedtime, it depended upon seniority. Bells would be rung at quarter hour intervals indicating it was bed time. Bath night twice a week. 7.45 p.m. there rang the toilet bell, we were all in our pyjamas by then and had to queue up to go to the toilet. The lights out bell went at 8 p.m. when Mr Hunt came round the dormitories saying good night and turning out lights. No talking allowed after lights out. 

In the Summer Term, we were allowed to play out after the evening meal and bed times and lights out were all half an hour later. 

On Saturday mornings we had to do our weekend prep. On Sundays before church we had compulsory letter writing to our parents. I remember we had to show the supervising teacher that we had covered at least two sides of the paper! After that it was off to Prestbury Church for the service. We were all given one copper old penny for the collection which subsequently appeared on the school bill at the end of term. What the Church did with all those pennies I do not know. 

A popular activity was train spotting as the school was close to the main line. We would stand in a place off the drive to watch the trains and record the engine numbers. Mr Hunt called this “Spot the Puffer Spotters’ pen”. In my last year I was given responsibility for ringing the school bell, e.g. at the beginning and end of lessons and in time for assembly. I remember being very unpopular with my fellow spotters when an express train was late and I rang the assembly bell before it came past so they missed it. I remember an occasion when the school was at the playing field watching a school match when for the first time a diesel train went by. It seemed the whole school cheered it. The driver must have been a bit surprised.

What were we taught

Almost every boy who stayed at the School until they were thirteen years old went on to a Public School. Admission was by passing the Common Entrance examination, an exam set centrally for all Public Schools. Exceptionally, some boys were admitted having passed Scholarship Exams. I cannot remember anybody failing the entrance exam. The curriculum was designed to meet the requirements thereof, including French, Latin and Religious Studies. There was no Science paper. An optional paper was Ancient Greek. We started French and Latin in form 2a. Boys in the fifth form had the choice of Greek or General Science. The latter was entirely theoretical with no practical teaching as there were no laboratory facilities. I chose Greek which I pursued all the way to A level.

Dormitory and House Captains

Each dormitory had a Captain, a boy more senior than those in the dormitory. Usually it was someone from the top year but I was an exception. My brother who joined the school at seven was so homesick in his first term that the next term I was made a Dormitory Captain a year early and he was in my dormitory. 

Each house had at least one House Captain, Captains of the individual sports and a House Master, i.e. a member of staff. Being a House Captain gave a boy little special status apart from a badge to wear on his blazer. 

Traditionally Dormitory Captains were allowed to go into town on Saturday afternoons. I was very excited about that but disappointed when Mr Hunt decided to ban us from doing so, I suspect that I was seen as too young

Television and Films

In those days, children’s television was mainly limited to one hour commencing at 5 p.m.  There was no such thing as CBBC. We had a TV set in the Reading Room and were allowed to watch children’s TV on Saturdays and Sundays. I remember there were cowboy films like Champion The Wonder Horse which we watched. There were also magazine programmes with people like Humphrey Lestoq and Peter Butterworth. We did not see programmes like The Flowerpot Men as these were after lunch on weekdays, the TV equivalent of the radio’s Listen With Mother. 

In those days, there was still post war rationing. One of the last things to come off rationing was sweets in about 1953. I remember the excitement when the news of this was announced on children’s television one Saturday. 

Perhaps three times a term there would be a film show on, I think, a Friday afternoon. This took place in the gym. I recall comedy films like “Oh Mr Porter” and war films like “The Wooden Horse” and “San Demetrio London”, the first being a POW escape story and the second about a convoy battle.

Music

Apart from the church choir, the only music was optional piano lessons. A woman called Mrs Haigh came to the school one afternoon per week to give piano lessons which were entirely voluntary. I had lessons at first but when my brother joined the school in May 1955 he took over. I learnt quite a bit about the theory of music and I could read it to an extent. After three years as far as playing was concerned I think all I could do was Good King Wencelas, God Save the Queen and Tippy Toes.  Mrs Haigh retired and piano lessons were taken over by the maths teacher, Mr Jay. At least he was on hand to ensure that his pupils practised.

Games

I cannot now remember how many days per week we had games. Games 1 and 2 (older boys) played Rugby during the Winter and Spring Terms and games 3 and 4 played Soccer. In the Summer Term, it was cricket. There were inter-house matches in all these games. If it was too wet for games we would go for walks in crocodiles around the town. 

In the Summer Term, there were two tennis courts on the main lawn in front of the main building. In my last year, something called padder tennis was introduced, a sort of soft ball tennis to introduce younger boys to tennis. This was played on a lawn where now the technology room has been built. 

In my day, there was no swimming pool but thereby hangs a tale. It was decided that there should be a swimming pool and a plot was chosen between the present pool and the woods. The boarders were encouraged to spend some time at the weekends digging out the plot in preparation which we duly did. The trouble was I think that it was too near to the trees and would therefore get clogged by leaves so nothing came of it. The present swimming pool was built years after I left. 

There was a boy called Curtis who lived I think in Disley. His family had their own swimming pool at home and one very hot Sunday afternoon they invited the boarders to their home for a swim, an invitation which was very happily accepted.

Bicycles and toboggans

In the Summer Term, senior boys were allowed to bring bicycles to School to ride around the grounds at the weekends. I got into a spot of trouble for organising a cycle race which I think Mr Hunt saw as dangerous to the non-cyclists. 

In the Winter Terms, we were allowed to bring our sledges to school to take advantage of the nearby hills if it snowed. 

Food and meals

Nothing special to comment on apart from haggis and ice cream. Mr Hunt, being a Scot, decided we should have haggis once per week on Friday evenings. I do not think any boy had even heard of haggis when it was first served and nobody seemed to like it! I did not have it again after leaving for many years until I was on holiday in Scotland and took a fancy to it. I still enjoy it. 

We all had our set places at tables at meal times and there was a Table Captain. At lunchtime, however, there would be a staff member sitting in the Captain’s place. 

Once a week, a Walls’ ice cream van would come to the School during the afternoon. We were given sixpence (equals two and a half pence now) to buy an ice. This largesse appeared on the school bill.

The School Play

Every year, there was a school play produced by Mrs Hunt and her daughter, Mrs Penelope Worthington. The performances were in what was then the School Gym, now the Assembly Hall. They usually took place in the Spring Term, but I remember one year when they were postponed until the next term because of sickness. I am not sure how the cast was chosen, but many of us were given the chance of taking part. There were no drama teachers as it did not form part of the curriculum. 

My first play was a Chinese one called Lady Precious Stream. I played the part of an Aide de Camp to the lady. My name was Ma Ta and the other ADC was my friend, David Livingston, who played Kiang Hai. The next year, the play was Jonah And The Whale. I was the Purser on the ship from which Jonah escaped. The third play was 1066 And All That, a bit musical in parts. I had three roles: St Ives in a bit about St Augustine, in which I, of all people, had to sing a couple of lines. I was then a soldier in a Tudor scene and finally King William IV in which part I entered the stage back to back with arms locked with Queen Mary. The final play I was in was Treasure Island in which I played the part of Israel Hands, one of the pirates.

Outings

From time to time, the older boys were taken out to places, usually factories owned or managed by parents. The first was to Oil Well Engineering Ltd in Stockport where the father of my contemporary, David Dawson, was the owner. Oil well components were made there and sold worldwide (no North Sea Oil then). Next was Cussons Soap in Salford. Nick and Simon Cussons were pupils at the school when I was there. It was their family company. Finally there was Mirlees, a factory manufacturing ships engines in Hazel Grove. 

After I had passed to Bromsgrove Mr Hunt took me and other fifth form leavers to Oxford to visit the city and encourage our interest. He had been a student at Worcester College and he showed us round. We travelled in his famous Austin Atlantic (see below).

The School Bus and other vehicles

I see that the school now has two minibuses emblazoned with the name of the school. In my day, there was Mr Hunt’s ancient pre-war American Ford V8, registration number DVM1. He could cram the entire first fifteen or the School Choir into the back! Eventually it was replaced by a yellow Bedford mini bus. Mr Hunt also had what would now be a valuable classic car, an Austin A90 Atlantic coupe. 

Mr Gilham, whom I have mentioned before, liked very old cars. I remember an occasion when at the weekend he took a few of us out to Macclesfield Forest in his very ancient Rolls Royce.  It was in such a state, that it seemed that the body was about to fall off the chassis, when we went round bends it would lean into the bend. No M.O.T. tests in those days. 

Miss Cudimore (Form 1b teacher) drove to school every day in a pre-war Austin 7.

The School Dogs

I cannot let them go unmentioned. So far, the only one to whom I have referred was Mr and Mrs Bowers’ mongrel. Mr and Mrs Hunt had a Scotch Terrier called Mark. He was sometimes allergic to the school bell and would get upset by it, yowling at it. They then bought a Golden Retriever called Caesar. Mr and Mrs Worthington had a Boxer called Lottie.

Finally

If any reader wishes to contact me about this or to renew former companionship, please feel free to email me.

 

J Myles Griffiths

November 2016