Episcopal School was and is located, in the St David’s area of the city. I was appointed to attend there from 1952 onwards. I remember the Head-teacher, Mr Dinham, as a very frightening man even to this day.
The school was on two floors on two sides of a rectangle, with the schoolyard occupying that rectangle outside. My first friend there was a Norwegian boy and one day he invited me to a party at his house. Once there, I discovered a sort of corner cabinet with all the ‘goodies’ for the party laid out. I began to choose what I would have when suddenly his sister – 18 years or more – descended upon me, gave me a right telling off and sending me back to where the other children were gathered. I suppose that in those after-war years the sight of real food was too much . . . even for me!
I had changed from Newtown Primary School to Episcopal Secondary Modern School between the funeral of George VI and coronation of Elizabeth II. As the coronation day approached the country was in a buzz. One day we had an afternoon assembly, immediately before finishing for the day. We trooped up to the front of the assembly hall, one class at a time and were presented with coronation mugs. They bore images of the new Queen and her consort, Prince Phillip. I suppose that giving out the mugs just before the end of the day was a way of ensuring that most arrived home un-chipped! I managed to preserve mine until about a decade ago ... but then it got broken!
The winter of 1953 was quite harsh with snowfalls and ice. On a particular day the playground was covered in a thin sheeting of ice with snow on top. It didn’t take us long to make a 20 yards skating rink across the surface. When it was my turn I ran to slide along its length . . . when some stupid person put out his foot to stop me. I didn’t see it and came crashing down with my ear to the ground. I was in tears and was shown to the staff-room with blood dripping from the wound. Following this incident we were all forbidden to slide on the ice and the caretaker was instructed to put sand on our slides. I never did hear what happened to the person whose foot got in the way but I hope he was seriously reprimanded.
One teacher, whose name I have forgotten, used to take us for ‘Arts & Crafts’. He was a kindly sort of man, one of whose important jobs was to watch over any boy who fainted during assembly . . . there were always one or two! He would assist in taking them out to a changing room, getting them seated, loosen there collar and tie and get them to bend forward with head between their knees.
One particular day he was teaching us how to make one of those sheets of paper, covered with swirly oil patterns in different colours. I of course, had been mucking about all afternoon. When he caught me up to my usual tricks he forbade me to take part in the lesson so my book was the only one without a fancy inside sheet.
I remember vividly one particular assembly we had, when we were all gathered, and the head teacher and other staff went up on stage, followed by the prefects. The head called for a particular prefect to come up and then launched into a terrible assault on us all, because this prefect had been found to have some drugs on his person. Without further ado, he made the prefect remove his ‘prefects’ badge, handing it to the headmaster, and then go and join the ordinary ranks . . . us!
Another assembly that I remember was the one to choose those going to camp! Every year there was a camp about ten miles outside Exeter and we were allowed to have it for two weeks. The problem was, how to choose those who would go? Well I listened with baited breath as each person’s name was drawn from a hat. At last . . . my name was called out . . . this was to be something I had waited for, for some time!
In the January or perhaps February of 1954 I became aware that a few boys were being selected to take the entrance exam for the Exeter Secondary Technical Grammar School, which was out on the Exeter bye-pass. I happened to mention this to my Mum at tea-time and ‘Swooosh’ . . . she was on to that story like a rocket from Hell. She phoned the school, spoke to the headteacher and made an appointment to come and see him.
Within a few days, I was on the list of boys who were destined to take the examinations at the school itself and, with my brother in attendance, queued up at the bus-stop, waiting for the bus.
Suddenly I realised that my favourite T-square had been left at home! My brother set off at pace to go and get it . . . a mile there and a mile back but all done before the bus arrived (a different bus-stop from the one that I eventually chose).
Within a week I was staying behind twice a week to have a private mathematics lesson with him (headteacher – no messing about!) and later in the early summer I attended the school and took the examination. Thank God I passed!
Later in September I started my school days at this new school, bringing my schooling to an end in June 1958.
© 2010 Robin Wills
This article is an extract from Robin Wills memoirs entitled Memories of an Exeter Childhood - 1941 to 1958.
The author aged about 8.
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