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School in Transition

Other Grandma bought my Monoux School uniform for me. We were sent a list of the things obtainable only from Henry Taylor's. The whole lot - blazer with the school crest embroidered on its pocket cap which also had the crest, grey short trousers, knee length black socks with red rings round the tops, and black and red tie - cost just under 27s. The most expensive item was the Melton cloth blazer; that was 14s. There were other things which my father had to get: a new white shirt, football jersey, plimsolls and shorts for PT. The list said a white singlet for PT as well, and he forgot that; on the first day my mother rushed to a shop and bought one (1s.6d, and then it was not required after all).

As the family prepared for me to become a Monoux boy, the school was in a transition. Before the first world war admission to it was simply by paying - it advertised on the front of the Wakhamstow Guardian every week; five guineas a term. Three of my great-uncles had gone there, although one, Donald, ran away at 15 and went to the South African War. For some years now scholarship boys had been admitted in increasing numbers and by 1933 most of the new boys had come via the examination. A good many of them knew one another because they were from Selwyn Avenue. The others were handfuls from junior schools scattered about the district: Maynard Road, Winns Avenue, Chapel End, Coppermill Lane and so on. Some boys came from Chingford and one or two from Leyton. My two companions from Gamuel Road went into different classes, and I saw little of them.

The change to all scholarship entrants was as great an upheaval in the school as its becoming 'comprehensive' thirty to forty years later; and the same things were said. In the old order, Monoux boys represented the well to-do section of Walthamstow. The school had had 'tone', and the scholarship boys were reckoned to be the ruin of it - Without doubt some would have come to the school as paid-for pupils - but too many were little monkeys from back sweets, who had passed an examination but had neither money nor manners. The scholarship boys raised the school's academic standards considerably; we and Monoux did each other good, but until that became clear the time was traumatic for both.

Places at the school were not free to all scholarship boys. The full fee of eight guineas a term (£190 might be the present-day equivalent) still had to be paid by parents whose income was above a certain level; and proportions of it down to £4 a week, below which the place was free. This was the purpose of the form about income that my father received. On the first day of each term the Clerk to the Governors came to the school and toured the classes collecting fees. It is a little strange now to think of boys going to school with fairly large sums of money in their pockets, to take out to the Clerk who put it all in a cloth bag; the thought that it was unsafe never occurred to us. About a third of the boys paid fees, and the public collection of them was a standing reminder of social status.

At the beginning of September 1933 I was on the brink of a new world. There was an evening for the families of new boys, to look round the school and be addressed by the headmaster. The walk from the gates to the arched entrance was an experience in itself. My parents wore their best clothes, and talked in low voices as if it were a church; but a sudden burst of animation came when they saw the caretaker in his uniform - his name was Ernie Ames, and he and my father had played football together. In the lofty panelled hall the head was every inch the part and used words like 'idiosyncrasy' which we never heard at Gamuel Road. (He advised parents not to over-feed their sons with Cornish pasties for lunch; I had never seen one, only mentions of them in books.) Our anticipations were prolonged because Monoux had longer summer holidays than the other schools. I saw my friends going back, to Markhouse and the Central, and waited in excitement mixed with apprehension.