by Bob Dobson (Pupil No 5723 1952-57)


Goodbye Girls!

Since 1895 the school had been co-educational with pupils of both sexes learning side by side. Some differentiation had taken place inasmuch as girls had been taught kitchen and housecraft whereas boys had learned about dovetails and tenon saws. (One teacher of the culinary arts from 1920 to 1939 was the appropriately named Miss Kitchen).

Whilst there was not a female head of the school, there was a succession of mistresses who acted as the Head Mistress, a sort of ‘Woman Friday’, to successive heads to help him understand and tackle the girls’ problems. The first of these was Miss Hodges.

Lack of room in the Blackburn Road premises, combined with a desire amongst educationalists and local politicians to provide the best for the town’s girls, made a new girls-only school inevitable. In 1939, with Europe already in turmoil, the girls of Accrington Grammar School moved to their new Moorhead home at Accrington High School for Girls, leaving the boys to their own devices.

A changing world

The coming of war in 1939 undoubtedly affected school life.  Amongst other aspects, it saw off The Accringtonian magazine after 35 issues.

A bombshell was to hit the school the following year when Dr Edkins was replaced by another human dynamo - Bernard Johnson. I like to think there was some wit in the name soon given him by his flock - ‘Ben’ might be a shortened version of Bernard, but there is also the hidden reference to a great English literary figure.

Ben had held a headship at Barrow-in-Furness following his own education in which he excelled in maths, languages and the great love of his life - music. No boy was in school for long before realising that in each daily assembly, if the songs were not to his liking, the school would hear from the platform ‘Turn back to the hymn’ and would be instructed exactly how the tune should and would be sung.

In 1944 the corporation’s schools came under the control of Lancashire County Council and it was enacted that ‘all pupils are to be educated according to age, aptitude and abilities after an 11 plus examination and prepared for the School Certificate.’

In 1951 ‘School Certs’ were replaced by a General Certificate of Education (GCE) at ‘0’ (Ordinary) and ‘A’ (Advanced) levels. Until 1955, only grammar school and public school pupils were allowed to take the GCE. We were an elite body.

Ben, noted for the clarity of his mind, had a determination to seek the best for his school and its boys, but he felt the strain of financial strictures in war-time and the post-war period. He had inherited a well-run, proud school but in poor accommodation. A 1948 inspector told of ‘narrow, gloomy corridors, semi-basement rooms and the effects of use of the building for evening classes and Art and Technical classes.’ The absence of a school library due to lack of space was deplored. The writing was surely on the wall for the school.

In 1950, evidence of Ben’s broom came to light. A school uniform was designed and made obligatory, but there was financial help for any family over-burdened by the extra expense. I remember when I first saw the uniform. It was in August 1950, a few weeks before the start of a new term. Brian Jacques, older than I, wore it at our Sunday School but I thought his parents had bought him a replica of the Accrington Cricket Club blazer and cap. It looked far better than the cap with the silver ‘A’ badge I had seen others wearing over the previous years (Figure 13). The breast badge had a ‘fess’ or horizontal band in black and was meant to carry any distinguishing marks for prefects, captains or other offices - most lads thought it represented the mucky River Hyndburn. The badge as a whole was reminiscent of the Accrington Corporation coat of arms. A couple of years later, I would be wearing one along with my first wristwatch. No new suit since then has given me quite the same pride in my appearance and achievement. It took a long time for me to forget the fantastic feeling I had when, on Ascension Day 1952, I received a letter saying that I had ‘passed my scholarship’ and been chosen to go to Accrington Grammar School.

1950 saw the re-emergence of the re-designed school magazine (Figure 14) ‘though tile paper situation is still murky’. Let us look at some more issues.

1951. School is being repainted for the first time since 1936 - salmon pink walls and sky blue doors! Several ‘bop-cuts’ were sported by boys in 4C, causing amusement and disgust amongst staff and prefects.

1952. Some boys in 4B wore yellow socks, hop shoes, sleek hair style and flashy American ties ‘but not on their way to and from school when blazers and caps will be worn’.

Third year Beverley Rostron took time off from girl-watching and listening to rock records to consider Our School.

The name of our School is the ‘Accrington Grammar’,

Standing by the main road, full of beauty and glamour.

It’s surrounded by railings all painted in red,

And all boys caught climbing them go to the Head.

Its splendour’s increased by a lovely bus-shelter,

Where at quarter to four all the Clayton boys pelter,

Behind is the playground, all tattered and worn,

And in it the cycle-shed standing forlorn,

Inside it is decorated with paint, pink and green,

And from upstairs to down, no more colours are seen.

‘The best of the rooms are the Office, the Hall,

‘The Headmaster’s study and dark-room so small.

For the rest of our School - it’s a babel of noise:

I suppose you all know why - of course, it’s the boys!

1953. A prefect’s tie was introduced. Sports Day was held on Church Cricket Field on 20 May 1953. This date may seem  unworthy of mention, but it was momentous for me in that it was the  first day that I, a tall, gangly second-former just gone twelve, wore long pants for the first time. Some shorter lads only acquired them in the third year.

1955. An election was held to mock the previous week’s General Election. Cynicism was rife. The Conservative candidate, Miller, wore a blue rosette and was referred to by Roberton (Communist) as a ‘Blackburn Rovers Supporter’. That crack won laughs but not as many as the speech of Whittaker (Independent), then known as ‘Wilbur’, who later became a professional comedian called Jim Bowen.

Only prefects could join the Yo-Yo Society and only sixth formers could join the Society for the appreciation of Jazz. A new society was born - The Society for the Appreciation of the Elim Church Posters. An evangelical church had opened almost directly opposite the school gates on Blackburn Road. All good fun. This was the Goon Show era!

1958. Talk of a new school. There were likely to be no ball games after September 1959.

1959. The Head of St Christopher’s School allowed our boys changing facilities after games.

1960. A memorial book and bookcase were dedicated to the memory of the 56 former pupils who had died in the Second World War. The cabinet was made by an old boy and another, Rev Furness, conducted the service at a Memorial Lecture night.

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