Old Monovians; Memories

Robert Barltrop - Teachers and Teaching at the Monoux

Teachers & Teaching at The Monoux

The school conducted itself as if its business were preparing boys for the universities and higher professions, but by the time we reached the third year the position was clear.. A minority had that sort of future; most of us were going to be clerks in banks and offices. Moreover, the labour market was crowded and employers demanded 16 year olds with the matriculation certificate to have a chance, you had to work to secure that. In one of our English lessons several of my form-mates protested to the master, A.G.Brobyn, that we were getting too much Shakespeare and poetry. Were they not a waste of all-important time, when what mattered was passing the examination so that we could get jobs? He answered that this was 'culture' and would enrich our lives, but the boys remained discontented.

However, our teaching was thorough We had to learn basic things by heart and recite them in class. In French, we started with drill in the proper vowel sounds: blown-up photographs of mouths in various configurations, which we had to imitate! The French manual, Siepmann's Primary French Course, was as demanding as it was superbly attractive (I have a copy of it now; the illustrations, done in 1902, boys in sailor-suits and their mothers with Gibsongirl coiffures, were out of date in 1933 but still delightful). The first year's English was dominated by analysing sentences. We divided double-pages of our exercise-books into columns for noun, verb, adjectival and adverbial clauses nouns in apposition -I found it a kind of torture.

We had Twentyman's English text-books. Bud Watson, who took us for English at the outset, would enter the classroom and say imposingly: 'Take out your Twentyman-fold the desk - and sit up straight!' He meant 'fold your arms on the desk', but it caused confusion among us when we were new; some boys believed that he said 'hold the desk' and adopted strange rigid postures. Under my first piece of work Watson wrote: 'This writing is not good enough. Do ten lines of copperplate.' I had no idea what copperplate was, and did lines in the best handwriting I could muster; he seemed satisfied

In the second year we took up another foreign language and started chemistry. The language was a choice from Spanish, German and Latin, but not everybody had the one he chose. Only a small number wanted to do Latin, while we were told that Spanish was the world-wide commercial language of the future because the South American countries were about to become another USA. It was a misjudgement; and the result was a big demand for Spanish compared with the other two. I suspect that the boys who were given their choice were those who had done well at French in the first year, and that the duds and don't-knows were put in the Latin form (we became 2S, 26 and 2L). But the language masters were all outstanding. Tall, silver-haired Dr Edward Lloyd, who 'imparted to us an excellent Spanish accent which came from Cheshire; energetic, spectacled A.E. Hammer, the German master. We nicknamed Hammer "Horace", but he reminded me of "the efficient Baxter" in P.G. Wodehouse's Blandings Castle novels.

As for Dr.Reaney, who took Latin, he was the most terrifying figure in the school. After he retired from teaching he became known as the leading English authority on names; while I was still at school he produced The Place Names of Essex, and in 1958 his Dictionary of English Surnames. He walked slowly, and his facial expression never changed. Even the most daring boys never tried anything on with him, and we had the impression that the other masters were nervous of him too. He was wrong over one name, at least. In the introduction to his dictionary he refers to his Monoux School nickname, 'Kip', and says it came from Skipper. Alas, it did not; it was short for 'Kipper-face'

On the other hand, we took every advantage of one or two masters who were weak disciplinarians. Nice old Mountjoy seemed resigned to being treated disrespectfully, and seldom did anything about it. In the first year he took us for nature-study walks in the forest near the Waterworks. As soon as the walk was under way. boys in twos and threes would dodge behind bushes and make off to catch a tram home, leaving Mountjoy to point out the lichens and fungi to an earnest handful. In our third year we had a weekly biology lesson with him. It was followed by physical training; while he sat at the front desk talking about the amoeba we all gradually removed our clothes and put on our shorts and plimsolls. When the bell rang we were stripped and ready, and dashed straight into the gymnasium.

The master to whom we showed inexcusable cruelty was Bernard Bromage, and I feel astonished now when I recall it. He came to the school in 1934 and stayed about a year and a half; he took my form for English. He was a sturdy, appetizing-looking man who wore good clothes; he wrote books on the occult, was widely travelled and had done many things. What he could not do was manage boys. Every period with him was a bear-garden. Boys stood up, shouted, sang and overturned furniture on various pretexts. Of course Bromage lost his temper - he barked at one boy that he had 'a face like a chicken's backside'. We jeered him; but it went beyond simple ragging. His notebook, full of material he had gathered for a book he was writing, was stolen by somebody in my form. The headmaster came and spoke seriously to us about it but the notebook never reappeared. Two boys loosened the wheel nuts of his bike. and it came to pieces and almost threw him as he was riding up Chingford Road.

The curious thing is that we liked Bromage. He was pleasant and interesting to listen to, and we should have been glad if he had kept order in lessons. But the onus was on him. not us; if he did not know how to stop us getting on top of him, he was fair game. One of his accomplishments was piano-playing. He gave recitals to paying audiences in the school hall, to raise money for the school to buy its own grand piano. While he was there the custom was started, and it continued throughout the rest of my time at school, of having a piece of music at the end of assembly every morning. Boys and masters played instruments or sang; some of the pieces we heard are still favourites of mine.
Sports

One long round of sports meant football one afternoon a week, or cricket in the summer term, and two periods of physical training. For football the first and second-year forms went to Wadham Lodge, in Brookscroft Road, and had teams which played one another. The boys who were left out of the teams, and those who would rather not have been there at all, were called 'the odds' and had a game on their own with anything up to twenty a side.

There was not much organization or encouragement. Pairs of masters took turns to supervise the Wadham Lodge afternoons; they walked about chatting and looked after boys' money and valuables. Getting a worth-while game depended chiefly on having played for your junior school's team, and that repute was also the basis of the school teams. It did not matter to me because had I been good enough for a school team I could not have gone to play on Saturday mornings anyway; but there was a feeling of the football teams being closed circles. It changed later, when REHodd came to teach geography at the school. He was a big, fair-haired young man who played at full-back for Wimbledon and then for Ilford; he reorganised football, arranged coaching and put new life into it.

We were taught the tradition that the true sportsman is an amateur and does not make too exclusive an occupation of it, but there were naturally some outstanding players. Len Rose, a senior when I first went to the school, became a professional footballer with Fulham and Queens Park Rangers. Goldsworthy, a forward for Leyton who were then one of the dominant amateur clubs was an old Monoux boy. And I remember specially Ron Barry, whom I went through the school with. He worshipped Walthamstow Avenue; he sold programmes outside the ground on Saturdays, and his greatest ambition was to play for them. I met him near the Waterworks during the war, when he was at King's College and playing for London University. He went in the services. Some time later I saw in the Wa!thamstow Guardian that he had played for the Avenue; and shortly after, he was killed.

Every winter we had an afternoon off lessons to watch the ~ehoo1 First Eleven play the Old Boys, on the pitch beside the school. In the summer there were cricket matches against the parents and the staff. And twice we had afternoons off to go and see Walthamstow Avenue. The Avenue then were kings of amateur football, and had bigger crowds than most professional clubs outside the First Division do today: 3,000 regularly, and between five and seven thousand for big games. That season, about 1935, they beat Northampton Town 6-1 in the third round of the FA Cup. In the next round they played Exeter City, and the game was abandoned through fog. Walthamstow, and the school, were \venue-mad; and the headmaster conceded that we could all go to watch the replay with Exeter on Thursday afternoon. I remember Mr Lloyd in raincoat and beret standing on the terrace cheering. The Avenue were beaten, but their glory continued; later in the season they played Arsenal in the London Challenge Cup and we had the afternoon off again.

One phenomenon of our football and cricket days was the non-games room', the classroom where boys went who were not playing. I went to it for a month in my third year, when I broke my wrist. About fifteen boys sat therewith a master; he read to them, or let them do their homework. A few were there because their parents could not afford football gear or cricket flannels; some had medical reasons, and some were dodgers. If health was the reason you had to take a note. After I became interested in handwriting I was able to do various scripts and scrawls, and my friend Bill Woods got me to write a note for him nearly every week: I said he was unable to play football because he had a cold or was bilious, and signed it 'Mrs Woods'. One week Reaney was in charge of the non-games boys. He read Bill's note, then sorted through a file and brought out a dozen previous ones. In his expressionless voice he asked: 'Why is your mother's handwriting different every week?' I don't remember how Bill got out of it; perhaps Reaney had more of a sense of humour than we thought.

Physical training was a different matter. The school had a modem gymnasium, splendidly equipped. Alfred Ninnim, the PT master, had started in 1932. He had been in the Army; he was tall, lean, erect and ruggedly handsome, with a sergeant-major's voice. In white jersey and flannells, he was every inch the part; we called him 'the Colonel' and joked about him, but we had to be smart and on tiptoe in his presence. He started a jujitsu team (the name for it now is judo). It was a rare thing for a school to do and often brought newspaper photographers to Monoux. Later there were a boxing club and a gymnastics team, and he built up athletics remarkably in a few years.

For some time the gym was a disaster area for me. I was overgrown and had missed sports. I tripped over vaulting horses and landed on his foot, fell off beams, flung my arms upwards when they were supposed to go outwards; I remember his incredulous glares. Gradually, largely through his perseverance also, I think, because the physical work at greenmeat did me good I learned to use my limbs and muscles properly. The turning point was when I was discovered to be a good runner, and then I joined the boxing club and shone at it.

The running began by a fluke, when classes were out on the playing field one day. Ninnim told four boys to pick teams for a contest on the track, and one of them put me in the quarter-mile race. I streaked ahead of the rest and won by a long distance; I kept looking behind me because I was astonished. In the following weeks I won more races, still looking behind. Ninnim tried to cure me of it. He made me promise that in a half mile, with him and a lot of boys watching me, I would not do it whatever happened. About a hundred and twenty yards from the finish I was in front and he started shouting that someone was gaining on me. They all joined in; not turning my head, I pounded on as hard as I could. I found that nobody had been near me, and I had broken a record. I spent the summer games afternoons and hours after school training on the track.

The Colonel and I were friends for the rest of my schooldays. I saw him in 1978 when I went to a supper at the school: he was in his early eighties, and he died the next year. Standing there, he was still a fine upright figure. I made my way to him, and he said 'Barltrop! You were one of my special boys, weren't you? Still got your straight back: that's what I like to see!'

In my last year I was one of a group of Monoux boys who were sent to a week's athletics course at Whitsun for grammar- and public-school boys in the Southeast. It was held at Bancroft's School - Jack Cater was one of the party. The coaches and speakers were mostly men whose names we knew from the Olympic Games of 1936. Harold Abrahams was in charge, and my group was taken by Geoffrey Dyson. Besides being coached at running, I learned something about long-jumping and even tried the pole-vault. A boy from Bancroft's was outstanding on the course. Tall, slim and dark-haired, his name was Richard Howgill. It was so obvious that he must become a champion that when I never heard his name later I guessed what had happened, and I was right, Howgill was killed in the war.

Some other sports were played a little at school. There was an asphalt tennis court at one side, and in the summer a few masters including the head played doubles there at dinner times. Tennis was allowed as an alternative to cricket, but it was not practised much or seriously. Some of the 6th form boys played badminton with masters in the gym after school. In my last two years, when we were going to the Salisbury Hall fields instead of Wadham Lodge for football, there was a weekly game of Rugby. At the back of the school was a box shaped space between two parts of the building, and the headmaster often spoke of his wish to have a fives court there. It was never taken up, and I think few of us knew what fives was.

And the cross-country run held in January, in the forest. I remember it only in my first two years, so I suppose it was discontinued. Every fit boy had to take part, with a longer course mapped out for the seniors. We went to the Jubilee Retreat on Chingford Plains. The Retreat was a popular p1ace in the summer; it had a tea pavilion and fairground swings and a silver-painted helter-skelter tower, which was a landmark. There were stables and sheds where ponies and donkeys (or rides were kept, and those were our changing rooms. A lot of us put football boots on because the forest was all mud.

The run was two or three miles. From the Plain we crossed Rangers Road and plunged into the forest towards Woodford; then the route made a semicircle to re-cross the road farther on. At Connaught Water was a water-jump, and masters and non-running boys stood round it in a little crowd to ensure that everybody went in - the water came up to our waists and chests. Then, soaked and muddy, a half-mile back to the Retreat. The proprietor had a collection of zinc baths and bowls, and hot water heated on a stove; jostling together in the sheds, we washed ourselves as well as we were able to.