City Grammar - Memories - Henry Hinchcliffe

Some recollections from Henry Hinchcliffe CGS 1950 to 57

I started C.G.S. on or about my twelfth birthday in September 1950, in a state of considerable excitement, suitably scrubbed, polished, and accoutred in my spanking new uniform recently bought from the Sheffield and Ecclesall Co-op at the bottom of The Moor.  A sense of excitement remained with me for most of my time at the school.  This cannot have been anything to do with the building itself which was dignified but stark.   Not a blade of grass or a tree in sight;  from inside you could not see the sky.  Tiled walls, stone staircases and corridors, bare boards in the classrooms, asphalt playgrounds and very basic outside lavatories created a spartan ambience.  It was at its best in the autumn term when all the lights were on, and when Christmas trimmings appeared it became positively jocund.

Mr Davies, the new headmaster, was obviously going somewhere in a hurry;  some kind of D-Day landing always seemed imminent.  (In 1951 he put most of the school on the train and took it to the Festival of Britain Exhibition in London;  a very exciting experience).  In retrospect I think that the teaching staff must have emerged from the Second World War with an idealistic commitment to their work.  The fact that the school was co-educational was a real bonus;  girls were awesome and mysterious and well worth having around.  The House system was something quite new to me.  I found myself in Zulu-Rivelin.  To be identified with Zulus seemed exotic and the Rivelin Valley had been a happy hunting ground for me for most of my childhood.  The valley was a safe world of woodland and water where children could wander and go camping without adult supervision. When out there  I half expected Bill Badger or Edward Trunk to come ambling round the next corner.  Zulu Rivelin was fine by me.

As a first year boy, I was required to serve in the girls' dining room carrying meals on a tray from the servery to the tables where the girls were sitting.  A first year girl called Hazel Cooper, who was in 1p, later told me that she had noticed me performing this task and that the sight of my twelve year old knees exposed by my regulation short trousers had moved her in a way which she didn't fully understand until years later.  This duty was an enjoyable one, although I was stunned by how much noise a room full of girls could make just by talking to each other.

I settled into form 1r in the invigorating care of Mr. Etchells and started my journey through the school curriculum, which presented me with serious challenges.
Robert "Bob" Mather Etchells

Maths was a very mixed bag. Algebra was baffling; logarithms were a form of torture.  In the second year I took up residence in the B set for maths and never left it.  However, as I went up through the school, I came to enjoy solving quadratic equations and geometry was a revelation, so I was able to cobble together a respectable "O" level.

Physics was like cod liver oil;  good for you but not very palatable.  I found it difficult.  Mr. Bousfield was not a person whose displeasure you would wish to incur, not least because he had a large bony first finger on his right hand with which he poked you in the ribs when he wished to stimulate understanding.  He had a smile but it put you in mind of the north face of the Eiger.  His lessons were meticulously prepared and presented and our exercise books soon contained a mirror image of the notes and diagrams which appeared on the blackboard.  Writing up the experiments and doing the calculations was the difficult part.  Contemplating the possibility of failure was not permitted.

Mr. Humwas a kind and humorous man whose general conversation I enjoyed very much, but when he talked of Chemistry he might as well have been doing so in Urdu.
Mr Ralph Hum

Eventually I went to see him and explained that for me, attempting to learn chemistry was like knitting spaghetti.  He saw my point of view immediately and indicated that for him I was a teaching challenge too far.  He released me from Chemistry and I went to Woodwork instead.
Mr Arnold Drake

Here, under the gentle but firm guidance of Mr. Drake I learned skills which have been of lifelong value.  Mr. Drake had the knack of creating order simply by being in the room, and it was order without oppression.

English was another mixed bag.  It wasn't difficult but the teachers were not easy for me to relate to.
Mrs. Potter

Mrs. Potter was a brilliant person but I was afraid of her.  At one point I had a blind spot about the word "Burglar" and in a homework essay I spelled it "Burgular".  Without naming me, she singled out this error for special criticism and became almost hysterical.  I wanted to die.  An over reaction on my part, I know, but I was accustomed to approval.

For "O" level English we were brought together with Mr. Horn who was a highly intelligent man but unfortunately he had been born without the class-control gene.  Our behaviour in his class was shameful and I blush at the memory.

Geography was another subject which presented few difficulties but which did not make my heart beat faster, (although I can become quite excited by Ordnance Survey maps).  A new young teacher, Frank Hulford, arrived and took us through "O" level at a canter.  He was in the same league as Mr Bousfield in terms of lesson preparation and marking, but he was friendly and approachable, so much so that three of us, Malcolm Yorke, Philip Wood and I were able to persuade him to come with us to France for a holiday in the summer of 1955;  his role was that of responsible adult.  We explored the Seine Valley, camping and staying in youth hostels.  It was my first trip to France and was the beginning of a life-time's enjoyment of that country.
Henry Hinchcliffe (top) and Mr Frank Hulford

I returned from this holiday to find that I had failed French, which was not unexpected.  After five years of copying down verb tenses from the blackboard, I just hadn't connected with the subject.
Miss Cole

Miss Cole was my French teacher and she employed the basic teaching technique which dominated the whole school;  namely, "chalk and talk" plus a text book.  There is much to be said for this approach but it does carry the risk of some pupils falling by the wayside.  By the time I entered the sixth form, I realised I needed French for higher education so I retook the exam in November and succeeded this time.  I also needed Latin and, with the help of Mr McMahon, I completed the course in one year.  I discovered that I enjoyed learning languages and had a good ear for accent.

History was my favourite subject.  Mr. Withington was an inspirational teacher.  His "chalk and talk" technique was nearly all talk.  Political passion bubbled to the surface all the time.  He also introduced me to rugby which I enjoyed very much.  I could not run very fast but I managed to develop enough skill in handling the ball to gain a place in the rugby team at scrum-half, especially as there was no competition.

Music was a disaster area.  At that time I had the musical sensitivity and talent of two square metres of cavity wall insulation.  To benefit from Mr. Taylor's classes you really had to have had piano lessons.  There were many like me in the class and as Mr. Taylor could not control us we became a rabble.  One of his standbys was "Hidden Tunes".  We were asked to identify a tune which was embedded in a jumble of other musical notes designed to hide its presence.  This seemed to me to be perverse.  I was amazed at the skill of Mary Cousins, Rosy Speight and the Clarktwins whose hands shot up within fifteen seconds of Mr Taylor's starting to play these beautiful concoctions. They had the answers; they must have had piano lessons.  The rest of us talked amongst ourselves and when this drowned out the piano Mr Taylor rose in a fury and silenced us by shouting.  He than talked to us about his task in trying to teach us and invariably used the expression "pearls before swine".  This made me wince.  I was split between sympathy for his predicament and resentment at being placed in the category of swine.  I wanted so much for him to turn me into a silk purse.
Mr Taylor

However, all this changed in the sixth year when I joined the Choral Society, where I came to appreciate Mr. Taylor's talents.  I found that I could hold a tune when supported by other voices and that I really enjoyed singing;  I still do so, but my family prefer me to follow this interest when I am alone. I sing along to Mozart's top tunes and at Christmas I can be heard having a go at the base line in "Once In Royal David's City".  So, Mr. Taylor, you did good in the end.  Thank you.

For me, R.E. was a complete waste of time, and this is not a comment on the way it was taught.  I objected, and still do, to the presence of this subject in the curriculum.  I wish that the framers of the 1944 Education Act had introduced Moral Philosophy rather than Religious Education to deal with their anxieties about children's moral development.  This would have saved the nation's children sixty years of boredom, bewilderment - and, in the end, cynicism.

In the fourth and fifth years a group of us became very interested in physical fitness.  John Joel, Malcolm Yorke, Charlie Slack, Ken Rose and I went to the school playing field on Saturday mornings to train in field athletics.  A good side-effect was that we decided we would never smoke.  Unfortunately, we did not place a similar ban on alcohol.  On Friday evenings three or four of us (Keith Oates was in this group) would meet in Walkley and go for a stroll in the Rivelin Valley.  We picked up a quart bottle each of Bulmer's Woodpecker cider at the corner shop and spent the next two hours walking, kicking a tennis ball about, gossiping, arguing.  On the way back we bought fish and chips from The Bole Hill Fisheries, ate them in the street and ended the evening at John Joel's house, where his Mum laid on tea and biscuits.

Henry Hinchcliffe (top) with Malcolm Yorke - Health and efficiency in Wyming Brook.

In the summer of 1956 we got up a party to go on a fruit picking holiday in March in Cambridgeshire.

01 Ken Rose - 02 Gordon Delamore - 03 Jeff Kelly - 04 Terence "Tex" Herbert
                                                05 - Philip Wood

In school I joined the Dramatic Society and enjoyed the play readings which took place in the school library after school.  In our sixth year Mr Bailey produced "A Winter's Tale" in which Malcolm Yorke played  Leontes , Hazel Cooper played Hermione, Pam Harston  played Paulina, Anne Duke was Perdita and I played Florizel.  The part of Antolycus went to a lad called Michael Wolstenholme.

During rehearsals in the school hall four of us discovered that it was possible to enter the roof space behind the panelled walls and from there to reach a small flat-roofed area behind the stone balustrade overlooking Leopold Street.  We decided that this was an ideal spot for practising the art of what we referred to at the time as "snogging".  One day we were so engrossed in this delightful occupation that we failed to notice that we were in full view of the offices on the upper floor of the building opposite, which was occupied by the city's Education Department.  On that day two of the school's P.E. teachers were attending a meeting in one of these offices and were treated to a view of four young people on the school roof honing their inter-personal communication skills and disadjusting each other's pullovers.

We were summoned to meet with our respective P.E. Teachers.  Mr. Mawe stepped smartly from the pall of blue smoke which was a permanent feature of the men teachers' staff room and informed us that, should there be any repetition of such degenerate behaviour on school premises there would be consequences which he would not specify, but which he was sure we would be able to imagine.  We also had to meet with the headteacher, Mr. Harvatt who stated that he wanted there to be no more "below stairs and back door work" in his school.  I think this was a quotation from the play and he smiled as he said it.  Message received and understood.  We played three nights to packed houses and it was generally felt to be a success.  It was certainly enjoyable.

The sixth form was small and so the subject classes were very small too, especially on the Arts side.  I took History, English, Art.  The art was a wild card really because I had no measurable talent in drawing and painting, but I loved pictures, art history and the history of architecture.  I had lots of ideas.
Miss Johnson

Miss Johnson was a really interesting teacher who encouraged us greatly.  She once took us out for the day in her small car to look at Hardwick Hall.  I finally scraped through with a Grade E.

History was taught by Derek Walker who was excellent, enthusiastic, conscientious and, again, always encouraging.  Incidentally he was one of the teachers who taught us dancing lower down the school when we prepared for the Christmas party.  He was a beautiful dancer, gliding effortlessly round the YWCA gymnasium with his partner.  Our efforts to copy him were a shambles of bottle green and grey;  but what fun.
Mr Derek Walker

English was taught by Mr. Bailey and Mr. Johnston.  Again, we were in the hands of the best professionals.  The course was absorbing and stretching.

So it came to an end, and with my bag full of "O" levels and three mediocre "A" levels, I slipped out of the City Grammar school  into higher education and thence into the middle classes, for which I am grateful.  I have not distinguished myself in any way since leaving school, but life has been enjoyable and fulfilling, built on the foundations laid at the C.G.S.  Although I lost contact with almost everybody I knew there, three people have remained part of my life in varying degrees: Ann Reynolds (nee Joel), Jeff Kelly, and Frank Hulford.

And what of Hazel Cooper ?  Reader, she married me and has spent the last forty years dis adjusting my pullover, for which I am even more grateful.

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