See more memories on “Your Memories 2 and 3” sections

Your Memories 1

A short piece of nostalgia by Eric Hadaway 1953-60

I came across my old school football shorts while rummaging around looking for my gardening clothes, in between snow showers today, February 2013. I have resisted my wife’s requests to bin them over the years: these shorts were bought about the time of the Suez crisis, and are a part of my history. They have changed in appearance since they flapped around in the wind on the HHGS sports field. They are somewhat smaller now because my girth has not increased as rapidly as the fashion for tighter shorts has developed, and they have been taken in a couple of times. I suppose I should be grateful for that! They have also become rather pale in colour after a few washes and a deal of atmospheric oxidation. In particular, the embroidered initials lovingly put there by my mother, in a beautiful yellow and surrounded by a ring drawn around a Gibbs toothpaste tin, (remember those?), was unpicked by my good wife recently – say 25 years or so ago.

You may remember that PE (or PT) clothes were kept, in the 1950s, in reeking cages in the corridor outside the boys’ changing room (also reeking!). To minimise the dreaded crime of using another person’s kit it was decreed that everyone should have their initials embroidered boldly on their shirts and shorts. I don’t know whether it was effective, but it was good for the local shops which sold embroidery materials. I am reluctant to wear them for anything strenuous, then as now, because they are relatively fragile and the elastic has become loose. I never was any good at games anyway.

It has stopped snowing now, and I will put them back amongst my gardening clothes, possibly to bring them out in the summer. I thought about having a 50th birthday party for them but never got round to it. Perhaps they will last until they are 60.

Danger Man at Work! by Raymond Chalkley 1942-1947

I was at the School from 1942-1947. I chose to do German in the third year. Our Form Room was in the Biology Lab which we hardly ever used for lessons. On one occasion on the front bench, in a large glass jar, two frogs were playing ‘ladies and gentlemen’, clinging together as only frogs can (so I’m told) and procreating a new generation of tadpoles and thence frogs. In my schoolboy humorous witty way, I erected a paper ‘privacy screen’ with the caption ‘Danger Man at Work!’ The Biology teacher did not share the joke (as you may not) and asked for the perpetrator to own up. I cannot say that I have lain awake for the last 60+ years with my guilty secret but for any who suffered detention due to my failure to own up may I now put the record straight!

I fluked the 11-plus by Derek Smith 1949-1954

I have been reading the memories of various people and found them fascinating, so much so that I have been prompted to share a few of my own.

To start with, I have absolutely no idea how I wound up passing the 11-plus examination let alone a rather intimidating interview, not being really at all academic. My primary years were spent first at Bury Road school (I think its full name was Bury Mill End) and the infants’ teachers were Miss Garrett and Mrs Parkinson, the headmaster Mr Elliot. Then after a year or so off to St Johns C of E School, Boxmoor under the tutelage of Mr W.G.S. Crook. I seem to remember the school actually bordered onto the HHGS grounds but have not been able to find it on “Google Earth” although there are some buildings that could be the school visible on “Street View” – I guess my memory is wrong. (You are correct Derek but the school has been demolished. – Ed.) After moving to the “you beaut” new Development Corporation estate at Adeyfield I was sent to Leverstock Green primary school headed up by Mr Walter Ayres a sometime Special Constable for the local constabulary. It was from there that I fluked the 11-plus.

So, off to HHGS one fine September morn in 1949 proudly kitted out in all the appropriate uniform courtesy of the outfitters at the top of the High Street the name of which escapes me (was it Scotts anybody?). (It was George Rolph. – Ed.) The memory is a bit sketchy of that time. I know that I ended up in Form 1a with 30-plus other children and had a classroom at the back of the school bordering on Anchor Lane accessed by a walkway.

Some names of teachers I remember are Miss Lancashire who taught English (?), Miss Duncan (French) who insisted on giving each student a French translation of their name. When it came to my turn she was a bit stumped in finding a French version of Derek so I ended up with “Dominique”.  That name haunted me for the rest of my years at the school! 

There was Mr Bundy (Sports), who was a bit miffed at my efforts to shin up the ropes dangling from the gym ceiling, jump the vaulting horse, punch seven bells out of each other on rainy days in a make-shift boxing ring in the changing room or throw a cricket ball any considerable distance. There was Mr (Taffy) Evans who taught German with a Welsh accent, Mr Quarrie (Science of some sort) seem to remember a droning voice and Mr Wolffe (Biology), a pioneer of television for schools. His son Christopher also attended HHGS and was something of a swimming star at the annual swimming sports held at the Churchill Open Air Swimming Baths. This pool always felt just a few degrees above freezing and is the reason I never learnt to swim there. There were many others, some with whom I had no contact  and others I don't at the moment remember.

As for students, I remember a few names – Roger Dickinson (a wiz with figures), Ken Leach, Gregan Scott, Christine Rowe, Raynor Musafia (not sure of the spelling). If anyone has class lists of that time it would be interesting to see as would any photos like the biennial whole school photo taken in front of the school porch. Another memory is the building of the school canteen on the land next to the boys’ playground. A vast improvement from the lunches taken in the back corridor.

And who could forget the school exchange trip to France. This was 1952 or 53. I know we went to somewhere around Versailles, the name Viroflay comes to mind and the exchange family Guenot. I am afraid the trip did not really improve my command of the French language nor did the guy who came to stay at my place improve his English. 

Just a few reminiscences from over half a century ago. If anyone out there remembers a scrawny, fair haired, timorous youth named Derek Smith please let me know at  Would be great to hear from you.

Schooldays at HHGS by David Denchfield 1931-36

In 1928 my father was gradually working up the managerial ladder at the Co-Op stores, and we moved to Glen View Gardens in Hammerfield from Berkhamsted where he had been the manager of the local branch for about a year. I attended Bury Road School, along with my friend Peggy Stevens. Our teachers considered that we might be up for sitting the scholarship exam for Berkhamsted School, so study at home became the order of the day. It wasn’t so clever in winter as we only had lighting downstairs, and that was gas. In those days too, we had to walk everywhere (I didn’t get my first bike until 1931), so had four trips a day to attend school (no school meals). Part of the route lay alongside the cemetery, and on dark nights we didn’t linger! 

Neither Peggy nor I made it to Berkhamsted, so the following year we tried for the newly-formed Hemel Hempstead Grammar School. This time all the study paid off, and I came 3rd with Peggy just three places behind. The staff at Bury Road were overjoyed as Jessie Hemmings also passed. So we formed part of that first intake of 50 in September 1931. And did the homework continue! The English master, Mr Harrison, quite early on set a weekend project for every week, the writing of a novel, one chapter each weekend. For some reason I began ‘The mystery of the blood-stained hand’. After the first lurid episode when I had admittedly dried up, dad decided to take over, and I wrote up his episodes. After about five weeks dad was driving himself stupid trying to complete his new chapters and I was the only one still writing. At this point Harrison wisely called it a day. I’m still not sure which of the two was most relieved.

I can only remember the school years 1931/6 as relatively happy ones. A lot was expected of us scholastically and our workload was fairly heavy but we didn’t have the time to consider that modern attribute so often quoted it seems by my grandchildren: ‘the lessons are boring’. We did obviously have lessons that we didn’t much care for, but we were too busy trying to sort them out to even think of labelling them boring. As well as the classroom work we had a good deal of sport with gym and games afternoons. We were divided into four houses, Salisbury (mine), Halsey, Dacorum, and Tudor.  Every season we had inter-house matches as well as matches against other schools. I can remember during my last cricket season that we played at Leighton Buzzard against the Cedars for whom my cousin Hedley Dollimore played. He was very disgruntled when I gave him a quicker ball that rapped his ankle bone, and he limped for days.

The discipline was firm but fair at the school and complemented the situation at home. We surely benefited from this. We sat alternately boy–girl in most lessons. After school it would be a mad dash home to listen to the latest episode of ‘Umgani the jungle princess’ on the radio, or whichever delight was on, before tea, then typically 2-3 hours study. Summer was better as we could play cricket on the local cornfield (now sadly under housing) and during the holidays we played there all day and every available day. In 1934 we moved again, to ‘Whitfield’, Cemmaes Court Road, built by local builder J. Green & Son. The walk to school wasn’t any shorter, but was at least on proper pavements, not muddy paths across fields. We had a fine view across the valley in which sat Hemel town and could watch the Hemel to Harpenden train puff its way on its two journeys out at 8.30am and back at 5pm, with its two coaches.

This was the time when the flying bug bit, and I read all I could of the exploits of the pilots in the Great War. My schoolwork suffered a bit and aeroplane drawings sprouted all over my school books. I began building models out of whatever I could find or scrounge. It was tough work with no decent glues or paints. During 1935 my school reports were suggesting that if I was to get the School Certificate required to enter the RAF, which was now my dream, then I needed to get my head down to far better effect. So during 1935/6 there was much burning of the midnight oil and I am pleased to say that it all paid off as I gained the School Certificate and exemption from Matriculation. After the exams, and whilst awaiting results, we all reverted to the endless games of cricket and other activities like swimming. Ha! At Hemel we had two pools alongside the Grand Union Canal on Box Moor. One pool was for ‘private’ club use, the other was public. The changing rooms were rough wooden huts with a wooden partition between them containing only wooden benches and clothing hooks. The wind whistled through every chink, including the knot holes that had been pushed out of the partition wall. The pools themselves were very green, and were about 30 yards square. As the canal and pools were all about the same level, there was no cleansing flow of water, so they were pretty ghastly really. Happily the proper open air pool arrived in Hemel in 1937, and during 1938/9 we used to swim there every Sunday morning at 7.30am . . . it was like ice.

In September 1936 having left school with my qualifications and the cricket trophy (a Stewart Surridge bat that I still have today, 2011) gainful employment loomed on the horizon. Parental opposition ruled out the RAF, I think mainly due to what both my parents had experienced during the Great War. Dad served with the Inniskillings from the Somme through Passchendaele to the retreat of March 1918 before advancing back via Ypres before being wounded just before the end. It left an impression and a ‘never again’ attitude. Sadly by 1936, the signs were ominous. I got the offer of an apprenticeship at De Havillands at Hatfield, salary 5 shillings per week, but the family needed a larger wage from me so I turned it down. (I ended up there in 1962 by a circuitous route.) I have been eternally grateful for this, as otherwise when the war came I would have been in a reserved occupation.

In October 1936 I started work at John Dickinson & Sons in Apsley at a salary of 18 shillings a week. I was in the ‘print from stock’ section. The work was interesting and required 100% effort, although we had a lot of fun and played many practical jokes. In keeping with the times, there were voluntary evening lectures each week on manufacture, management, salesmanship etc . . . attendance was compulsory! Our social life was pretty good, plenty of sport too. I played badminton at a small club and met a slightly younger and talented Barbara Gregson there. (We had some great seasons in the late 50s and the 60s.) She was still at the School. I got to see lot of speedway at Wembley, a fantastic experience. And the love of aeroplanes was still there, I read ‘Popular Flying’ avidly, and began building better scale models from the early FROG kits and Skybirds range. Some of these look decent today within my more modern collection of nearly 700 models.

By 1938 the international situation was looking serious so once again I began considering the RAF. But that’s another story . . .

Old Bones by David Wykes 1941-1949

The animal skull that Don Barnett dressed up in (see “More memories of 6th Form antics from Don Barnett” below) was found by my brother Peter and me when exploring an enclave of wild wooded territory between a friend’s house in Croxley Green and the railway line. Peter says it was a pig, not a sheep. We took it home on the bus but were made to keep it in the shed. Peter was in the football team and it became their mascot – known as Aristotle – dressed up in a school cap and tie, watching over the goal mouth. The story of its transformation into an idol to be worshipped rings a faint bell with both of us, though it seems to have been after our time.

Peter left in summer 1949 to start the long process of becoming a doctor and I’d gone in April that year for National Service, having stayed on to take a Cambridge scholarship and appear in Pygmalion. I was Colonel Pickering, Peter was Freddy and Don Barnett had the plum Stanley Holloway role of Jo Tewson’s dustman father, Alfred Dolittle. Jo, en route for RADA, was already a star of school drama and fortunately was well matched by the new gym master, Philip Bundy, as her exuberant Professor Higgins. I suspect that Sonia Sully, who played Freddy’s sister – and who, the last time I saw her performing, was being brilliant in Offenbach – was the only one of us who could have coped with a musical version.

One of the photos shows Don being made up in the dressing room (physics/biology lab) by Mr Wolff. I endorse everything said about Wolfie’s approachability and humanity, notably Monty’s tribute. One piece of clowning was ill-advised, as he admitted at the time: his impersonation of a teapot (“here’s my handle, here’s my spout”), when he suddenly froze. His shoulder joint, he explained, was subject to dislocation. He calmed us by saying that he knew how to put it back, and then went through that agonising process. I don’t think he threw any chalk that day.

The local community couldn’t really contain him. An avowed communist, he was involved in early experiments with educational TV and had friends in the wider world; one was the distinguished pianist, piano teacher, writer and broadcaster Sidney Harrison, who he persuaded to come to HHGS – a welcome change from the gruesomely affected lady cellist of happy memory. When he moved from Anchor Lane to a substantial house across the valley, he held garden parties in aid of the Daily Worker. Our geography teachers too, we came to realise, were idealistic communists, believing that the land and natural resources belonged to everyone. At the time, Stalin was still Uncle Joe and Britain was pursuing its own socialist ideal. (In reaction, John Adams, Peter and I – scorning the Young Conservatives – started the Young Liberals, holding Beetle Drives and a couple of New Year’s Eve dances.) Mr Wolff was the only teacher I kept in touch with and visited every now and then, the last time in Richmond, Surrey. Bowel cancer took him, too soon.

“Hardway, never forget that you have been educated!” by Raymond L. Hardway

On the subject of music, I can only conjecture what an education in classical music etc. took place in us as we listened every schoolday morning to the choices of gramophone record made by our Headmaster, Norman Screeton. Remember “Song of the Plains” sung by the Red Army Choir? Dozens of other choices . . .? Remember too a fellow pupil called Abrahams, whose playing (live, on the school piano) was really excellent. Did he become a professional musician, I wonder?

After I had qualified and was serving my National Service as M.O. in 11 Group, Fighter Command (of Battle of Britain fame), one day a lass in the WRAF came to sickquarters to see me and turned out to be Sheila Davies who had been in my first-year class at HHGS! A surprise indeed.

I remember a Summer holiday when the school was open for extra studies to the Sixth Formers; there was nothing happening during the lunch hour and – there being two grand pianos in the school hall at the time, Jean Findlay and I took one each and played hymns from the school hymn book. The problem was that the two pianos were not in tune with each other, and as we played together it all sounded quite odd! Then in walked Mr Shackley (Physics) and he was quite amused at our activity! Thence back to our studies!

A good number of the names mentioned on these on-line pages bring back memories. And how much we owe to the teachers of our time at the school – I suppose we all have our favourites. I well remember visiting the school when I had qualified and meeting Eric (‘Taffy’) Evans – that great disciplinarian, to whose language teaching I owe so much – and he obviously felt that I was in danger of getting too hooked on the scientific field of learning – said to me: “Hardway, never forget that you have been educated!” I believe he meant “Do not forget the other spheres of learning!” I hope I have satisfied him – at any rate in the fields of music and theology.

I could go on and on. Ours was a very good school – and I love to draw on the resources installed in us there.

Underwear Revealed! by Sonia Sully 1944-49

Before I begin, I will refute all suggestions that I was ever smeared with goose fat and stitched into my underwear for the winter! This custom was common amongst farm labourers' families, living in parts of the country, where, each winter, they expected to be snowed in for several weeks, short of water and fuel.

The house we lived in was often very cold, except for the sole open fire in the dining room, where I sat with my feet on the hearth, watching the flames and collapsing fiery coal caverns 'til my eyeballs grew hot. The unheated bedrooms and bathroom were normal, as were the frost ferns on the windows, stone hot-water-bottles and a feather bed piled high with blankets and eiderdown. In lieu of goose grease I was covered with Vick, back and front. A caring grandmother provided a flannel chest protector, with instructions that I should wear it at all times in cold weather. I believed we compromised, and kept it for nights when the Vick was needed, which kept my night-clothes clean. Daytime underwear consisted of a vest, knickers and a liberty bodice with mysterious white rubber buttons.

At the village school we were never required to remove any of our clothes, except for shoes or wellingtons in favour of plimsoles for country dancing, so it came as a shock to me when, aged nine, I attended my first gym lesson at the girls' grammar school. Unfortunately, my caring grandmother had laboured long and lovingly to produce three hand-knitted vests for me. They had short sleeves, a drawstring neck and an all too obvious hand-knitted fancy rib. They were not even white. My grandmother had chosen colours, described as orange, lemon, and oyster. In no way could these garments be mistaken for the vests, worn by the other little girls. Already the odd one out, having been the new girl fresh from a village school, to join a group who had been together from their kindergarten days, were my outlandish vests to make of me an irretrievable outcast? One mystery was solved, however. The rubber buttons on our liberty bodices were now revealed as supporters of suspenders for our black woollen stockings. That, at least, we had in common, along with our uniform navy knickers.

Already disconcerted by having to undress in front of other children, the teasing and spiteful comments had to be endured. I dealt with it by arriving each time in the changing room announcing: "It's oyster, this week!" or whatever colour I happened to be wearing. That had them! I weathered the unpleasantness and was accepted. Fortunately, I grew out of the home-made vests before the following year, and managed to persuade my parents to buy replacements from a proper shop. We were all soon relieved of our suspenders and black stockings due to the onslaught of clothing coupons. We were allowed to wear grey knee-socks, so liberty bodices were also abandoned with general glee.

All this happened before I moved to Hemel Hempstead Grammar School, where bras were the badges of honour, in the changing room, and liberty bodices would have been an object of derision. I have seen many exotic items of underwear in the changing rooms at HHGS, ranging from lace-trimmed suspender belts to frilly panties, but never an orange, lemon, or oyster hand-knitted vest, with or without a drawstring neck and short sleeves!

Come Here, Birnbaum! by Paul Birnbaum 1942-46

Attending the school from 1942 to 1946 I was known to some by my first names Paul or Pinchas but was generally called BIRNBAUM as in: “Come here Birnbaum, I’ve had just about enough of you!”

Teachers I remember? Well there was Mr Quarrie (Chemistry) who looked ill under his Lancashire accent and probably was; “Joe” Attwood (Maths) famous throughout Hertfordshire for his skill in constructing a circle on the board with the aid of his pocket handkerchief and a piece of chalk; Mr Dunne (Biology); Miss Barker (English) young, pretty and blushed. We could generally get her off the subject and onto something more congenial to us; Mr Shackley (Physics) who needed special caution because he lodged with my landlady’s daughter; and then there was “Taffy” Evans (German). It must have been a great trial for him having me in his class as I was brought up in Germany. Finally, the redoubtable Miss Duncan (French). My first French essay gained me 2 out of 10 but even when I had clawed my way to the top she took time off to criticise my handwriting: “Horrible calligraphy, inclined to prolixity”. No wonder my English improved! I note from my reports that I “was a very efficient chess captain”. This meant that I was bad at sports.

Boys I remember? I knocked about with Geoff Hoare, Sidney Asbridge and tried hard to emulate Eric “Jacky” Horner in the class above me. Girls I remember? Marion Benge, Diana Wright (the first girl I went out with), and Mary Henley (a pretty girl I pretended to go out with). Would I recognise them now?

It would have been attractive to continue this enjoyable life of study and daredevilry; to imbibe knowledge, and to ride illegally down Cemetery Hill, or sell Pound notes for Ten Shillings as an experiment in psychology . . . but alas I went on to further education and it all had to end.

David Flint’s Memories of HHGS by David Flint 1943-1948

The normal way to travel to school from Abbots Langley was by bus to Two Waters and then to walk through the brick arch under the Harpenden to Heath Park Halt railway embankment which had been walled off to make an air-raid shelter. But within a few days of starting school, Keith Miles (in the sixth form), led me on the adventurous route across the water meadows, up the same railway embankment, along the single railway track (with eyes peeled for trains approaching from behind), down the embankment at the Grand Union Canal, across the top of the lock gates . . . and so to school. The first homework Miss Reading (who was a former pupil) set us in Geography was to draw a map of the way we came to school. I thought it best to map the orthodox route.

I don’t remember my schooldays as a happy time – though a lot of it was my own fault, either for not having done my homework or for having done it in a rush. Discipline was imposed, certainly on the boys, through fear. Later, I was pleasantly surprised by the friendly relations between my children and their teachers. When I met up with the classmates at the reunions, my thoughts were a bit uneasy because if I could remember things about them – then they could remember things about me! Like Mrs Green in Geography telling me to stand up at the back and the subsequent uproar (driven by Geoff Herring) because my flies were unbuttoned. Or the boy (it wasn’t me, but it could easily have been me) who on 6th June 1944 put his hand up in Maths and asked Miss Stutter: “Please Miss, what’s the date?” and her reply that he should be ashamed of himself for asking the date on the greatest day in our lives. I have never forgotten the date of D-Day.

Once I smashed the glass of one of the pictures that hung for our subliminal education on the walls of the classrooms. I was the first to enter the chess room in the lunch hour and I slung my satchel with careful aim intending it to land on a back desk. But its momentum took it on an unintended trajectory. I went to Miss Carpenter and thence to Mr Screeton. He went with me to view the picture in front of a spell-bound second form. He didn’t believe that I alone was involved but was nonplussed at me owning up. In the end he said that I would have to pay for the repair. I carried the picture down to a picture-framer’s in Marlowes and then some days later picked it up and carried it back. I think it cost me 12/6 of my saved–up pocket money (2/– a week).

Then there was that awful annual cross-country race (for boys only, of course) in winter – though there was supposed to be a short cut if you were brave enough to take it (I wasn’t). I remember the unintentionally hilarious annual performance by two elderly ladies playing the piano and the ’cello with head movements over which we had to suppress our laughter. Hearing some pieces of music can take me back to the daily assembly where a classical 78 rpm record was played by Mr Screeton. I believe that sixth-formers were encouraged to donate a record when they left school and it was rumoured that a rebellious sixth-former had donated one that Mr Screeton played once only. Nearing the end of our last year, for some reason we were in the assembly hall for a lesson and Mr Boucher offered to play us any record we chose from the school’s collection. Keith Thomson asked for the rumoured record. With a smile Mr Boucher played us George Gershwin’s ‘Rhapsody in Blue’.

In later years I travelled by a variety of ways to and from Abbots Langley. Getting up too late and missing the bus via Leavesden at The Compasses meant rushing a mile down to The Unicorn for another via Nash Mills, or even a further hurried mile to one on the main road via Kings Langley – or grabbing the bike. We were issued with free bus tickets at school and by cycling I could save them up for use to go into Watford on Saturdays and in the holidays. So in summer I often rode by bicycle through Nash Mills and sometimes I walked home along the Grand Union Canal from Two Waters to the Ovaltine Factory at Kings Langley. In my last year Ruth Weileman, a Swiss girl with flaxen braids and long white socks (in the same second form that occupied the chess–room) used to wait in the poplar–tree avenue leading to the back gate of the school. We would walk down Anchor Lane to the bus stops at Boxmoor Station where we went our separate ways.

Roger Flint’s Memories of Winter 47 by Roger Flint 1945–1951

I remember in particular one morning during the month of February 1947! That winter was very severe and snow lay on the ground for much of the month. I caught the 320 single–decker bus that morning, along with several other Grammar School pupils going from Abbots Langley to Hemel Hempstead.  However as the bus proceeded up the hill into Bedmond it skidded on the slippery road surface and slid gently into the wall running down one side of the road. The driver was unable to move the bus which by now was blocking the road. There was nothing to be done but to get off the bus and head back home since Hemel Hempstead was not within walking distance and the nearest alternative bus route was nearly two miles away. Naturally we spent the rest of the day in the nearby fields sledging and enjoying the snow. The following day when we got to school we were summoned to see 'Taffy' Evans who enquired why we hadn't walked to school like the Norbury twins, Peter and David; apparently their mother was also on the bus and she had insisted that her sons walked despite the distance involved and the appalling weather conditions. Fortunately, much to our surprise, Mr Evans did not consider our actions at all unreasonable and let us off without punishment for missing school. Mrs Norbury was not pleased!

In the 1940's the 320 bus went from Abbots Langley via Leverstock Green and Adeyfield to Hemel Hempstead on a route that took it down Adeyfield Hill past the house where 'Taffy' Evans lived. Mr Evans, who was feared by most young pupils at HHGS, cycled to school and as the bus went past him he delighted in noticing boys who were either not wearing their school caps or pupils he suspected had ducked down in the back seat to avoid him. Pupils on the school bus that day were summoned to his study and punishments in the form of lines dished out to those he either suspected had transgressed and to those who owned up. He seemed to get great pleasure from this 'game' and there was little that one could do about it.

Responsible Behaviour by Don Barnett

You would think that being mature senior teenagers in the Sixth Form such pupils would have learned responsible behaviour and discretion . . . or would they? One lunch break, we could not resist the temptation of putting the long, narrow, table in the boys’ 6th Form room to better use than having to sit there and study, as it was obvious to us that this table was there for other purposes. Being resourceful and imaginative, we used a tennis ball and half broken wooden seats from the chairs as bats, to play a new, improved, style of table tennis. The ball hit the window many times but, miraculously, the windows remained intact. We did not consider the fact that our room was above the male teachers' staff room and the constant pounding of the makeshift bats on the table together with the thumping of the ball alerted these illustrious gentlemen to the fact that there was something unusual happening above them which should be investigated. I don’t recall which member of staff arrived to put an end to our activities.

Of course, shelves built against a wall must be there for a purpose other than storing books, so we accepted the challenge and climbed to the ceiling on which we signed our names. I suppose, after 60 years, the ceilings have been painted over and our signatures obliterated. Pity, might have been some famous ones there.

Editor’s note: Who else will admit to signing their name on the ceiling? Answers please to the website address!

More memories of 6th Form antics by Don Barnett

It was 1949 and the first term of the new school year. The skull, nestled between books and papers on one of the shelves of the 6th Form boys' room, fired our imagination. (I think this was a sheep's skull and was used as a mascot by the soccer team.)  We found a  white, large size lab. coat which was then buttoned up from above my head covering most of my body, my socks rolled down and the legs of my trousers rolled up above my knees. The skull was placed on my head and precariously balanced there by keeping my hands at the side of my face and allowing a few fingers to poke out from the top of the lab. coat. I think the dubious honour of dressing up was given to me as I was then head boy (no pun intended). Meanwhile, a few of my colleagues were outside in the school grounds rounding up some 1st Form boys.  The "new" boys were brought upstairs and waited in line outside the 6th Form room.  One by one, they were escorted into the room where they went on their knees and made a low, respectful bow to the sheep's head figure in front of them. Peeking through a hole in the lab. coat I saw the door open and "Taffy" Evans appeared. Confronted by this tall apparition and a youngster paying homage to it, he choked back his laughter, could not say anything and exited the room as quickly as he could. Surprised at seeing Mr Evans, I lost hold of the skull but, somehow, managed to save it from hitting the floor. Later that day, Mr Evans approached me and asked, with a big grin on his face, if it was me under the lab. coat. "Taffy" really was a gentleman, a great guy and definitely my favourite teacher.

Editor’s note: If you were one of the 6th formers or one of the 1st form boys involved in this episode, please let us know.

Riding the "Nicky" to Hemel in World War II by James “Monty” Clark

Living through those pivotal changing times we were so insensitive to all the paradigm shifts around us, the least of which was the death throes of 'branch lines', shrivelling filaments of the great Steam Era that sported a train service to every hamlet. Branch Lines were immortalised in a movie called "The Titfield Thunderbolt", and in the whimsy of Emmett's cartoons in Punch magazine. The Nicky Line was ten miles of irrelevant pastoral railway that never justified its existence, a steam dinosaur – but it took us Harpenden kids (The Harpenden Train Gang) to school.

Before I left school the Nicky was put to rest, and we had to take a stinky old green bus. We were so sad to lose 'our' train that we chipped in to give 'Art', the guard, a parting gift. Art, old and thin, he of the bulbous beetroot nose speckled with blackheads – or possibly engine soot – turned many a blind eye to our shenanigans in the single antique Victorian coach. The compartments were adorned with sepia–toned prints of Scottish lochs. We unscrewed the frames and replaced all the pictures upside down. The two middle compartments were connected to a shared toilet. The hot tap of the washbasin therein emitted only steam, and we wedged it on until the coach was filled with fog, and swore we had lost speed as a result. Rarely did ordinary mortals (i.e. adults) dare to venture on our transport.

Our travel schedule did tend to exclude us from many school activities; we had a train to catch, and there was only one train each way per day. Its schedule was so arranged that us Harpenden heathens missed morning Assembly prayers. The train home excluded us from many sports activities but allowed just enough time for a penny currant bun at the cake–shop. From Joyce Walmsley's memoire* – of our fellow travellers Ginger and Nibs I remember well, Pud, Jean, Kate, and especially Lizzy. But Joyce did not mention my first teenage crush Daphne Hogbin, the Ramsgate refugee (though perhaps she was known as Val?). Out of our whole train gang, it is surely 'Jo' Tewson who became the most famous. Who could ever forget her Eliza Doolittle? And the ruckus the "b" word caused?!

I remember the school dinners (lunches) on a tressle the length of the building. My mates hated haricot beans, I loved them and several helpings landed on my plate. But the culinary delight of the week was Spotted Dick. I've never had it since. I well remember Miss Carpenter like a 'secretary of state'. Petite Miss Duncan, always wore her black gown like a crow, who assured me my French was so bad I was bound to fail Matric. (She was as surprised as I was to prove her wrong!) Miss Dale, the only teacher who ever gave me 19/20 for a history essay. I always liked writing but a bellicose Mr Harrison caned me for trying to start up a class newsletter. I was far from being an ideal student, each term vying with the twin Rickett brothers for bottom of the class. I passed through the grammar school as a non–entity; I didn't smarten up until my sixth year.

The teacher I best remember, who taught me most – about biology and life – was Leslie Wolffe. Ahead of his time and a bit of a rebel, he was my idol, probably shaped me more than any other single person. He was my 'Mr Chips' . . . "Monty, you're slacking. Too much wine, women and song. Cut out the song." Slapping each other at the school's beehives when the bees got angry with us. Secretly his discussion of 'Lady Chatterley's Lover' with us, a tatty contraband copy of which had found its way through our changing rooms. (It was banned in Britain in those days.) His biology went way beyond the Birds and the Bees. He was a tower of humane wisdom. Little wonder there was a local scandal to have him removed, as a Jewish Communist!

I kept a large map of Europe on my bedroom wall with coloured pins outlining the moves of war. One night I remember seeing the red glow of London burning in the Blitz. In retrospect, except for the doodlebugs, we were strangely insulated from the horrors of war, our frequent trips to the school's air raid shelters excused a bit of fun. I do remember a long stretch when we were kept in the shelters when the first V2 rocket hit Luton. My family was very lucky, we lost no–one in either war. My father was a bomber pilot, a founder officer of the RAF in World War One. My grandfather was in the trenches.

My most poignant memories of World War Two, which still haunt me, occurred on the way home from school. They are not about Hemel per se, but they are about Humanity and therefore worth sharing . . . There was a Prisoner of War (PoW) camp close to Harpenden, and my home was a one mile walk from Harpenden station. Walking home from school one day during the Italian campaign, I watched squads of Italian prisoners marching to the camp in their brown uniforms with big yellow patches on the back. They were laughing, singing, waving to us, so happy to be alive and out of the war. Before long they were in our village, collecting garbage, shovelling snow, sweeping streets, working on the farms, and always friendly – especially with our Land Girls! After D–Day the Italians were moved out – I don't know where they went.

Soon I watched squads of German prisoners being marched in from our offensive in France. Some were still in (stripped) SS uniforms. Sullen, morose, fearful, and some still arrogant and distainful. Sure enough, some were soon allowed out–and–about to do menial tasks and help with the harvesting. The last Christmas before they were repatriated, a few were invited into Christian homes to share a rationed Christmas dinner.

Some of those PoW's returned afterwards and married local girls. Our town was 'twinned' with one in Germany, and my father, as our Mayor, was royally entertained there. Whenever there is talk of war today, I remember those prisoners.

  1. *Joyce Walmsley’s memoire entitled Travelling on the “Nicky” was published in one of the final editions of The Magpie and latterly in Colin Hollick’s publication A Brief History of Hemel Hempstead School published to celebrate 75 years of the school.

Editor’s note: There is a reference in the book The Harpenden to Hemel Hempstead Railway – The Nickey Line to the fact that before the closure of the passenger line in 1947 there were only six customers who used it to get to school.

Having to Wear School Uniform by Geoff Leggett

On joining the Grammar School in the autumn of 1945 I went straight into the Second Form as a latecomer to the school. The first event which gave me a shock was the necessity to wear the school uniform – it was the first time such a thing had happened and I hadn’t even thought about it beforehand. During the war, the original full uniform was not required but it was compulsory to wear at least the tie and the cap – and that is what I settled for. I had to wear ties every day without fail and cycled the several miles to and from school every day wearing these items and was always wearing them during walks out into the town and other more official trips. Another surprise was the daily attendance in the main hall of the school which every pupil had to attend every morning before starting the actual schooling activity. This was largely religious in nature although the business of the school was occasionally brought to the pupils’ attention at the same time.

Due to the inadequacy of the bus service I usually rode to school on my bicycle which presented its own problems. One morning in winter there was a much more severe frost than usual and the road was covered in a film of water so that there were large areas of ice in places. One such was just over a bridge in Water End where there still is a sharp left–hand bend on leaving it and, on this morning, this was covered in a continuous sheet of ice which appeared to be a film of water to me. I should have known better! Both wheels slid sharply sideways and I ended up sitting on one side of my bike as it slid along the road. Fortunately, there was no traffic coming and I ended up on the grassy verge still sitting on one side of my bicycle with no significant damage to cycle or myself!

On another occasion, I had an accident on my bicycle whilst on the way through the streets of Hemel Hempstead. This arose because, being used to empty streets in the early morning, I often went round right–angled corners by taking a short cut and transgressing on to the wrong side of the road. I never had a problem with this technique until one day when, on the wrong side of the road, I met a motor–cycle with sidecar coming the other way and the two of us struck a glancing blow. The motor–cyclist was fine but I came off and struck the street fairly heavily. As it transpired, apart from some abrasions on arms and legs, I was fine and carried on to school without any serious problems.

Michael Putnam was a very pleasant lad about a year younger than me, and in the same class, who lived much nearer to the school but cycled there every morning just like me. He lived in a very attractive old mill building in Piccotts End. I used to stop there every morning so that we could accompany each other to school. One morning we noticed that the local chapel door was open. Neither of us had any interest in religion as such and had never been in the building so it was of passing interest. However, we looked with great interest at the lighting which was by gas instead of the usual electricity and, highly curious as we were, contrived to turn one of the lights on and, with matches from Michael’s pocket, lit it up. We never saw that door open again!

The school lunches in the corridor gave us an opportunity for misbehaviour, one such being the deposit of unwanted semolina in one of my jacket pockets. In fact, this rapidly became more typical of the japes performed at lunchtimes and I contrived to do much the same to my pal Stanley Miller. Nobody liked the semolina!

Towards the end of my time at the school, my class was told to be prepared to visit the school’s beehives which were kept in the gardens. Now I had visited beehives previously and received a limited amount of punishment from the bees for getting too close. In my case, “too close” meant within about twenty yards. So, nervously, I did approach and, almost instantly, a bee started circling my head. I waved at it and it disappeared but another landed on my head and became entangled in my hair. I smacked it and presumably killed it but another was already in my hair and there were several more circling around me. Soon there were two in my hair and I had been stung once on my head and then there was another sting, this time on my face. By this time the teacher had noticed the problem and dragged me speedily away from the hives, slapping my head at the same time. Soon I was free from bees but had a sore head from a total of three stings. The teacher was convinced that I was extremely attractive to bees. I afterwards wondered whether it was more to do with the hair lotion I was using!

One of the pleasures of the classroom was the interval between the appearances of teachers. One would disappear at the end of her session and there was sometimes a gap in time before another one came into view to take up the activity again. This provided a natural gap in the tension of teacher class control which kept them in order. During these gaps, I took up for a while the teasing of the young girl sitting in front of me who was already growing substantial breasts which were rendered less attractive by a plump waist appearing below them. One of my approaches was tickling her with a ruler thrust between her arms and chest from behind, an activity which amused the rest of the class as she was tempted to settle scores by swiping me with her ruler. Although of limited pleasure, this activity at least provided a relaxation between lectures for the rest of the class.

Wonderful Teachers by Kevin Ellis 1949–1955

I arrived at the School in September 1949, and left at Easter in 1955, having spent just two terms in the sixth form. My arrival coincided with that of a new PE teacher, Philip Bundy. I could not have dreamed then that, years later, Philip and I would become good personal friends. I recently had the pleasure of attending Philip’s 90th birthday celebrations, a lovely occasion marred only by the absence of his dear wife, Barbara, due to ill health. (Sadly, Barbara died only a few days later.) Although I made a good start academically in my first year, from then on my progress declined year by year and it came as a bit of a surprise to me that I ended up achieving six GCE’s. At that time I was very keen to follow in my brother’s footsteps. Brian – also an ex–Hempsteadian – had joined the Fleet Air Arm and had become a pilot whose career had already included air–to–air combat in the Korean War. I became rather disillusioned when I was rejected by the Navy due a minor problem with my vision, and so I decided to leave school in the Spring of 1955, and get a job.

We had some wonderful teachers in those days, and I recall with genuine affection people like Mrs Thacker, Herbert Doggett, Mr Harrison and, later on, Doug Cox. My friendship with Philip Bundy was, however, severely tested when I told him many years later that I had never in my entire time at HHGS taken part in a Sports Day. He was even more distraught when I confessed that during ‘cross countries’ I and a couple of my mates used to nip through the gate at the bottom of our garden in Bargrove Avenue, have a quick drink and a biscuit innocently provided by my Mum, and rejoin the rest of the runners who had covered the full course.

Oh What an Embarrassment! Una Potton 1946–1952

I actually was at the school for six years from 1946 until 1952 but never graduated to the 6th form. On our intake year some of us weren't 11–plus, and so when most of my year graduated in 1951 some were not old enough to take what had then become GCE's and so we had to stay on another year. Some went into a new form called 6th remove and the less clever like myself merged with 5th year classes. (What a boring year!)

At the time of Christmas parties the 5H class made some, if not all, of the refreshments for the parties and my "speciality" was puff pastry and so in the week running up to the big days I made loads of the stuff which were then crafted by others into delicious cream horns. 

The other memorable thing (and my kids often laugh about this) was to do with sports. I was never an athlete, but could swim fairly well, and almost at the end of my years there I was persuaded to try out for the swimming team for my House, Halsey. I was good enough to make the relay team, but woe is me I didn't possess a suitable swimming costume and so I borrowed one from a friend. It was a nylon costume and some bright person had lined it with a heavy material as it would have become see through. Imagine diving in for my leg of the relay and becoming almost totally waterlogged. Oh what an embarrassment!

Boys Will Be Boys! by Jon Wexler 1940–1947

Things could have been easier sometimes for Chemistry teacher Mr Quarrie with our class of ’45. One time he rashly taught us how to identify a primary amine, which he exampled by heating aniline with chloroform and potassium hydroxide. The result was a product called phenyl isocyanide, instantly identified by its revolting, sickening, rapidly spreading, unbearable stink. The Chemistry Lab was off the same corridor that the school served the wartime lunches. Not many days passed before miscreants penetrated the lab stockroom, and put the foul brew together. It’s poisonous breath first drove out the innocents from their lunches, then wafted its evil way through the whole school until every inmate ran for refuge outdoors. A truly triumphal prank. To my knowledge the criminals (not including me!) were never identified.

We had a classmate by the name of Potter who was not too well favoured by fortune. One day before chemistry class, when taking seat at the high bench, he casually said to his neighbour: “Gee, those’re big cupboards under there. D’ya reckon a bloke could get into one?” “Yeah. Why not?” said big ‘Dingo’ Dean. “Go on, Quarrie’s not in class yet. Try it.”  So Potter scrunched up and squeezed in, Dingo said “Well done”, shut the doors, jammed his stool against them and sat on it. “OK, let me out now” muffled Potter through the doors. Started banging from inside. “Shut up you fool!” hissed Dingo. “Quarrie’s come in, he’s looking this way!” Presently the teacher did arrive and called the roll. No answer from Potter. “Anybody seen Potter today?” asked Mr Quarrie. “Yes sir, he was here last period.” came the chorus. “We don’t know where he’s got to”. “Very well, I’ll attend to him later.” Mr Quarrie gets on with the lesson. After 20–minutes of subdued thumping, Dingo says, “OK come out he’s looking the other way”. A badly rumpled, red–faced Potter emerged, just as Mr Quarrie turned from the blackboard.  “Potter! What the dickens? Where have you been?” “I d–don’t kn–now, sir” said Potter. “Well in that case you can take a detention, see if it helps you remember” said Quarrie.

This happened at the 1946 annual school expedition to the Royal Academy, Burlington House. In those days it was a strictly school uniform affair involving train to Euston and then walking the approximate two miles in crocodile all the way to Piccadilly. Your distinguished 6th former was a Londoner, he knew his way around there alright, it was drizzling with rain, walking in a school crocodile was just not his scene, so he hung out at the back, and at a handy corner said: “C’mon, there’s the Goodge Street tube, who’s taking a short cut with me?” About three others, including one Jean Findlay, were stupidly up for it, so we sneaked off down the Underground, heading for Green Park station. The aforesaid London expert got the line change wrong which caused more than some misgivings to the delinquents, but the group managed to hit Burlington House fractionally before Mrs Thacker and the rest of her damp charges, and moved to blend seamlessly back in. Some hope! Mrs Thacker was hopping mad, said she’d have our guts for garters or like imprecation, and for us to report to the staff room next schoolday. I was mercifully absent and so escaped the shame of public rebuke on stage by Mr Screeton at next morning’s assembly, but news of the flak got through to me at home in no uncertain way. I tried my best to soften the impact by humbly apologising to all, but my deserved crunch came with the appointment of Ray Hardway instead of expected me, as Head Boy for the year. Next year all was forgiven and they let me have it for returning for a third year in the 6th form, waiting for University entrance.

The School ATC Squadron by Peter Hodgson

The ATC Squadron was formed in 1940, Mr Screeton was the Squadron Commander with two of the other masters, one of which was Butcher (chemistry), as officers. We had quite a number of cadets and I remember that while I was a member we went on two summer 'camps'. (See photographs on Old Scholars page.) The first was to RAF Halton, the RAF Apprentices base, and the second to RAF Upper Heyford which was an OTU (Officer Training Unit) for Bomber Command at the time flying Wellingtons. I remember the excitement when the uniforms arrived and I remember thinking that they resembled WWI uniforms with no collars and ties.

We met once or twice a week after school and had lessons in aircraft recognition, navigation, meteriology etc. together with drill on the playground. Those of us who had been selected for aircrew training were allowed to wear the cherished white 'flash' in our caps and we also had the opportunity to go to RAF Halton on Sundays for training in glider flying. All of this served me well since I was eventually able to go 'solo' when I was in the RAF after just 7 hours dual–control training, a fact of which I am still quite proud.

After I left school in 1941 I continued to return to school for the ATC sessions until I joined the RAF. I remember returning once more and gave the cadets a lesson in drill – RAF-style complete with the accent I had picked up from our drill corporals in the service. (See Peter’s RAF photograph on Old Scholars page.)

Editor’s note: Does anyone have any further information on the ATC Squadron at school. Were you in the Squadron? Who was the other officer? Did you attend either of the camps which Peter talks about?

The Roll of Honour by D.R.S. Collier 1935-1940

One of the saddest memories of my life comes from one winter’s evening around 1952 or so when I returned to the school with my wife, Mary (née Yiend), also an old scholar, for the first time since leaving in 1940. We were there to play badminton in the gymnasium which was an arrangement made by the Old Hempsteadians Association. We used the front entrance and there ahead of us was the Roll of Honour dedicated to those who did not return home from active service in World War Two. There were ten names on it. One of them left the school before my time, but I knew all the others and five of them were in my year. As I stood there, it was so hard to believe. They were my friends and we had spent five years of our youth together. One of them, Ivor B. Slade, Brian to his friends, was my Tudor House vice-captain and his story is a remarkable and heroic one which must be fully recorded in the history of Hemel Hempstead Grammar School.

Brian, not a big chap but a clever little footballer, sat his School Certificate examination in 1940 and that year, at the age of 16, left school. Immediately – without his parents permission – falsified his age as being 18 and volunteered for flying duties with the Royal Air Force. He was accepted, trained as a bomber pilot and, a little over the age of 17, he probably became  the youngest Allied pilot flying on operations. There is a story, not confirmed, that on one occasion he flew a Wellington bomber in a tight, low circuit around the pointed  spire of St Mary’s church in Hemel Hempstead to say “hello” to his parents and sister who lived close-by. He was an outstanding pilot, was commissioned, awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and flying Lancasters joined the Pathfinders Group which was set up in August 1943 to pinpoint targets and mark them for the main bombing force flying behind them.

In his book “The Berlin Raids” published in 1988, Martin Middlebrook wrote, “Another Pathfinder loss was Flight Lieutenant Brian Slade, DFC, a courageous young pilot known on 83 Squadron as  “The Boy Slade”, who had set himself the task of flying the “double Pathfinder tour” of 60 consecutive operations. He died flying his 59th, just starting his bombing run.” In the short history of Hemel Hempstead Grammar School those names of the ten men on that Roll of Honour must always be remembered and revered.

In August 1939 there was much talk of war between Germany and Poland and if it happened Britain, by virtue of a treaty with Poland, would be involved. It did happen and this country went to war. Bombing raids were expected and shelters were a priority. And, so it was at the grammar school. The open area below the girls’ changing rooms overlooking Heath Lane which they used as a “bike shed” was designated as the school’s air raid shelter. Boys, who lived locally and were due to move into the Fifth Form for their last year, were mustered and called back to school before the start of the September term to make the conversion. We filled sandbags, and with them neatly barricaded the open archways. Hey Presto! The school had its air raid shelter. Then, and this is hard to believe, a number of us went to West Herts Hospital where we clambered onto the glass roof of the operating theatre and covered it with sandbags as protection against bomb blast. Laughable in these modern times I know, but true and I have no idea why we were asked to do it.

War was declared on 3rd September and I cannot recall a single daytime air raid warning during my last year at school. Apart from the normal first-year intake about 60 evacuees joined the school during that time which took the number of pupils beyond the 300 mark but day-to-day routine in the classroom remained unchanged. The only curtailment in school activities for boys and girls was on the sports side when long-standing fixtures with other schools were cancelled. In the winter terms, football, hockey and netball suffered badly but in cricket, the boys’ first eleven side with the aid of two popular masters, Herbert Doggett, a solid opening batsman, and Jack Dunne, a canny slow left arm bowler, took on local adult sides with considerable success.

In the early years, entry to the school was based on an intake of pupils at the age of 11, made up by those from local schools who had passed an examination based on arithmetic and English and received free places while fee-paying pupils, who also sat an entrance examination, were drawn from a wider area outside the town, which in my day took in Abbots Langley, Harpenden, Redbourn, Tring, Wigginton, Berkhamsted, Kings Langley and Bushey. Pupils were divided into two forms, 1 and 1a, and in tandem moved through five years which culminated with both forms sitting London University’s General Schools Certificate examination with its matriculation exceptions. There was a sixth form for those pupils of outstanding ability who wished to continue their education by taking the Higher Schools Certificate with a view to “going to university”. But this road was the exception and in my year no-one took that route. For school leavers, the choice of a career was down set lines, the Civil Service, the railway companies, local government, articled to a solicitor, an accountant or a surveyor.

When my father told Mr Screeton, the headmaster, that I wanted to be a journalist, he quickly pointed out that it was an unstable profession and he didn’t recommend it. I ignored the advice and got off to a bad start. Mr Needham, then the proprietor of the Hemel Hempstead Gazette, turned me down after I failed to spell “differential” correctly. Undaunted, I answered an advertisement in the News Chronicle for applications to join a national newspaper's editorial training scheme and I was invited to go to London for an interview. On the last day of my last term at school I went to the Daily Sketch offices, walked out with a job and the following Monday started work as a “copy boy” in Fleet Street. My life there in an “unstable profession”, including four years in the Royal Air Force, spanned 48 years and I believe I was the first Old Hempsteadian to enter the Fourth Estate and walk down the "Street of Shame".

“Phamily Photographs” by David Windsor

This is an amended extract from my auto-biographic book of “Phamily Photographs” which I produced in 2007 at the tender age of 73. I culled hundreds of pictures from albums going back as far as 1885 and naturally I included some from my formative years at Hemel Grammar which are shown in the website page “The Scholars”.

It all happened in the Fifties. I rejected exhortations that I should go to University and left school at 16, started work, had three years in the RAF and then got married. One of the photographs shows me in “Chips” Boucher’s woodwork class at Hemel Grammar in 1950, putting finishing touches to the mahogany Hall Stand which, even as I write, now adorns the hall in my current bijou residence, “Chiltern Edge”.

Nicknames abounded in those days. “Shaver” was so-called simply because he sprouted a black fuzz on his chin at an early age and had to start shaving before everyone else. I have no idea what his real name was. For some unaccountable reason they called me “Duchess”. Others I can remember were “Prodder” Smith (he had a big nose), “Prof” Johnson (the studious swot), “Isaiah” Clark (he had to write out the whole of the book of Isaiah as a punishment for talking in class), “Polly” Parrott, “Buckwheat” Elliott (no idea why), “Agger” Field (a joke in Latin I believe), “Goff” Foster (Geoffrey or Godfrey, he hated this and insisted on our calling him “Goff” so we did – he was bigger than us), “Tubby” Hoare because he was, and not forgetting “Pooker” Holden. I felt sorry for Ron Shaddock and Ray Shadbolt, they were only known by their Christian names. You will note that all these nicknames I mention are male. I can only remember one girl with a nickname, Olive Mason, who often got called “Moggie”.

I remember one inglorious occasion on Sports Day when I was last on the penultimate lap of the mile. To avoid the shame of finishing last I didn’t take the final bend but ran straight into the crowd and applauded the winner. It’s a relief to finally admit to this after all these years!

The “Famous Five” from Ranelagh Road by Barrie Chiverton 1946-51

My recollection of HHGS starts at home in Ranelagh Road, part of Brock's Estate, Leverstock Green. There were five pupils from Ranelagh Road who moved from Leverstock Green Primary in Pancake Lane to HHGS within two or three years of each other. Strangely, all came from the odd numbered side of the road. Apart from myself there was my best friend Jimmy Allard who was in the '46 intake with me, and the Anthony sisters, Eileen from '44 and Margaret from '47, and Thelma Smith also from '47, I think. 

To get to school we all used the Route 314 Sandridge to Hemel bus that passed the end of Ranelagh Road. We would scramble up to the back seats of the top deck to chat or finish homework before getting off at the Plough Roundabout, walking across Aeroplane Meadow, under the railway bridge, along Cotterells, up Charles Street, a little right/left and we were there, about a three mile journey from home. At the bottom of Charles Street, on the south corner was a baker's where we could buy bread rolls either on our way to or from school. I think the rolls cost 1/2d each, that is 1/5th of today's new penny!

We were blessed with good teaching staff during our time. I got on well with all but Mr Harrison (English).  He disliked me for some reason best known to himself. I remember one episode when I thought I would win him over. This would have been in the first or second year. He set us the task of composing a poem. I was very proud of my effort which was about floating a matchstick down a rain-swollen roadside gutter on it's journey to the drain. The last verse was my 'pièce de resistance'...

                        "Now what's the good of playing there,

                        when I ought to be at school,

                        probably getting a hundred lines

                        for playing like a fool"!         

Mr Harrison read it, tore it up and binned it in one fell swoop. As far as he was concerned the matter was over and done with, but he had discouraged any further attempt at creative writing on my part!

I enjoyed working with all of the science teachers, and unlike most, I looked forward to the many class tests we were set. Mr Wolfe, who lived just outside the school's west entrance in Anchor Lane, was a favourite of mine. He was an 'odd' joker. On one occasion he said: "I have to say wapsies because I can't say wasps"!

School for me was really a House affair. I was lucky to be in Salisbury that was enjoying a strong period during my time there. Sportwise Salisbury had Graham (Curly) Lake, John Perrin, Brian (Blackie) Wharton and myself in the same Sciences class. Graham excelled at cricket, spending several seasons with Gloucestershire after his school years, then moving to the premier London club Barnet, and ending up at Wheathampstead where I was delighted to meet him again last April, 2009. During recent years he has been their coach. My hero at school was Colin Wood, who was two years ahead of me. He was a great all-rounder and created records in the swimming pool in Park Road, the pool being a great asset to Hemel. We also had Nancy Langston for the girls. She was a fine athlete and, alongside Colin, contributed much to the Salisbury cause. However, Nancy had to contend with Barbara Foster (Dacorum) on the racetrack. Barbara was good enough to be included in the trials for the 1948 Olympics. My efforts for Salisbury were confined to swimming, football and cricket, although I did contest 'throwing the cricket ball – longest throw' with John Dunne (Dacorum)! 

It was a tradition for the boys’ 1st XI football team to play an annual field hockey match against the girls’ 1st XI hockey team. After our match in 1950 the fixture was cancelled, no doubt due to the boys rough play while breaking too many rules. It was always a very competitive affair. I had a couple of crushes on girls at school. My first 'love' was Wendy Sexton when I was in the first and second years. I don't think I ever spoke to her and clearly remember the excitement welling if I saw her during break/lunch periods. Later on, my second 'feeling' was for Jeanette Nightingale, whose parents had a shop in the High Street. I did actually take Jeanette to the pictures, at least once!

My Musical Memories by Neil Freeman

The conductor, Eric McGavin would bring along his chums to talk and play with us. There was the famous clarinet player Jack Brymer. Another was a trumpeter Bernard Brown. I had no idea he was a principal tutor at the Guildhall School of Music. The whole school was entertained by the percussionist James Blades who gave his highly entertaining talk on his life and experiences. It is only in later life you realise how lucky we were. I know that Phil Doggett still plays his clarinet in a jazz band, and I still play the flute from time to time in a band.”

“With a Baby in her Arms” by Don Barnett

Psychologists tell us that the mind tends to forget unpleasant happenings and recalls only the good events in one's life. Perhaps that is why I remember just one unpleasant occurrence during my years at HHGS which made such an impression upon me that it has remained with me for over 60 years. My grasp of the French language was probably below average and I did not devote as much time to learning as I should have done. A couple of months before matric I decided that I had better take more interest in the subject and apply my mind more effectively so when we had homework and there was a passage to translate which contained the words "with a baby in her arms", it struck me that it would not make sense to translate this literally using the French word dans but rather use sûr being "on her arms". When Miss Duncan returned our homework a few days later she said that I was the only one in class to get this correct, but imagine my feelings when she added that there was no way that I could have figured this out for myself and that I must have cheated by getting someone to do my homework for me and gave me no marks for my translation. When I told her that that I had worked this out for myself she accused me of lying. I never forgave her for that and I lost whatever interest I had in learning French. Fortunately there were not too many French lessons left as we took the examination soon after but in deference to her standard of teaching I did manage to obtain a credit in matric even with my lack of enthusiasm.

“Anyone for cricket?” by Don Barnett

One lunch break, a few of us set up stumps on the field with the batsman facing the boys' entrance of the school building. We were using a tennis ball, not hitting for runs, but practising to defend the wicket. Mr. Chapman appeared and invited himself into our practice session, taking over the bat. Who were we to argue? I was bowling at the time and, with a short run up, bowled a very slow ball to Mr. Chapman. I remember the look on his face as he watched the ball, took a pace forward and lifted the bat to give one almighty swing... if you are thinking that he missed... you are very wrong. He smacked that ball with such gusto that it went flying towards the school building, smashing through one of the first-floor windows. Mr. Chapman put down the bat, retired from the session and went off the field. I don't know who paid for the repair but we never heard anything further about the incident.

”Wolfie” by Elizabeth Hossack  (now Liz Seabrook)

Funny nobody has so far mentioned "Wolfie" (or I've missed it). Joining HHGS from Harpenden in 1945 I had the pleasure of travelling on the old "Nickey" line with other much older students for a couple of years, until the route was axed and we had to use the old 307 bus. In the winter of 1947 we were treated to a "shuttle" which consisted of one bus to the top of Redbourn hill, walking as best we could down the hill to board the bus waiting to ferry us to Hemel.

Yes the staff were fantastic and I well remember Miss Dale (later to become Mrs Gurton) and the others already mentioned by many... although some may remember me as a bit weird the only teacher I remember playing up was "Wolfie" and well remember having the blackboard rubber chucked at me on many occasions! He was fun and had a great sense of humour.

Looking back I remember that my father borrowed a car to take me to my interview with Mr Screeton when I was only 10 years old (I came into the gang unable to take School Certificate because of the new Government ruling) and, once offered a place my parents told me that I'd only got it because I looked intelligent with my glasses and tooth-band ... what a way to boost confidence!

“Making out” an interesting memory from Monty Clark!

I don't know exactly when this was – probably around 1944-46. I note that very few of the 'less-memorable' events are dragged out of our memories. Try this one. A rumour flew around that one of our girls in the 5th was expelled for 'making out' with some boys behind the cricket pavilion (i.e. that shed at the bottom of the soccer field). Needless to say, the boys were not expelled. Any guys out there “fess up” to being a party? All I know is that I wasn't one of them.

“Acronyms” by Don Barnett

Very often, when seeing a rainbow, I recall my science master, Mr. Robinson, telling us "VIBGYOR" so that we would remember the colours in order from violet to red. After some 60 years of non-use I don't know why I still picture Mr. Wolff watching us labelling the cranial nerves and muscles of the dogfish and saying "IVVI SORE" to remind us that IV SO = the 4th, superior ophthalmic and VI RE = the 6th, external rectus (hope I got that right). Another, which comes to mind, is one which Miss Duncan gave us in our matric year to help us utilise most parts of speech in our essays. It went something like this, "pappasqatbags" and I do recall that pp = pluperfect. Perhaps someone reading this can give me the correct acronym with the translation as I'm sure that Miss Duncan would have given this to all her matric classes over the years.

Which acronyms do you remember from your days at HHGS? I would be interested to know. Kind regards to you all.

“Three routes to school” by Bob Lawrenson 1943-48

I had three routes to school, as I kept moving farther away. For my first year, I walked from Pixies Hill Camp, Chaulden Lane, Boxmoor, where my father was manager. He then left home, so my mother, my sister Jean (HHGS 1941/46) and I moved to Redbourn where Mum was the pharmacist. Jean and I travelled on the famous ‘Nicky Line’ with friends like ‘Pudding’ Walmsley, Ginger Simmonds, Nobby Clark, Josie Tewson, Mavis Robb, etc. Great fun, especially when the train hit a cow or the driver hit a rabbit with a lump of coal. Pud’s dancing lessons in the guard’s van before the Christmas dance were something else! Clambering outside from one compartment to the next whilst the train was in motion was a good challenge.

So that I could go swimming after school, I often cycled in the Summer. Good training for a 100k race around Baghdad in 1954 – another story. After three years, we moved to London Colney and I travelled by two buses for my last year.

“My first memory” by Bob Lawrenson 1943-48

My first memory is of being a junior and having snow stuffed down my neck by seniors. Among so many others are: ‘Titch’ Dennis Bayliss was very proud of his Sea Cadets Guernsey sweater, which rolled down to below his knees; Miss Duncan’s teaching of French gave me a head start when I went on to technical college in London, though at one parents’ evening, my mother passed my request for less homework to Miss Duncan, who replied that, ‘I didn’t do a piddles-worth already’; Mr Harrison insisting that the word ‘nice’ should only be used to describe rice pudding, and also would tell us that some matters were so important that they should be ‘underlined fourteen times in red ink’; lunches in the corridor with competitions as to which side of the table could flip over a jam tart the most times – the poor soul at the end had jammy crumbs; Mr Quarrie (physics) got married and his good wife produced a baby. At the first lesson after the announcement, ‘Titch’ Fisher asked loudly, to us all: ‘I wonder what formula he used?’ I recall a wry smile from Mr Quarrie. Mr Joe Attwood’s first action on entering the classroom was to write the date in numerals at the top right-hand corner of the blackboard. On 12th March 1945, he wrote 12345 with great aplomb. By arrangement, we were silent when he turned round and then burst into applause. In later years, we had form cycling outings in the Summer, mainly girls I remember! Then there was ‘Wolfie’ whose biology lessons came true when a well-built 5th former emerged from the swimming pool to find that her white nylon swimsuit had become transparent.

I was so glad to go to a co-ed school, and a very good one. My eternal thanks to my classmates for putting up with me.

“Standing in the middle of a muddy field” by Pat Smith

I was one of the Scholarship boys of the 1930’s who life was transformed for by my experiences during those five years 1935 to 1940. On reflection I know that being able to go HHGS enabled me to go beyond the confines of Hemel Hempstead. I have realised too what a privilege this was to have received the education that was offered to me.

My memories of the school start before I became a pupil at that grand building in Heath Lane. I had passed the written part of the scholarship examination and was told to go to the school for an interview. I went with a friend who had also passed the written test; neither of my parents came with me. I remember arriving and going in through the front door. Miss Carpenter, the school secretary greeted me – she was a relative of my mother – and we were told to wait. Eventually I was shown into this impressive room containing a very big desk and several armchairs. Two very serious looking gentlemen in suits with black gowns greeted me and asked me questions. One of them asked me to spell “biscuit” which I got wrong. I really did not know what was expected of me, after all I was just a scruffy ten-and-a-half year-old from Two Waters elementary school, and this was a very posh place. I must have done something to impress the two gentlemen, who I found out later to be Mr Screeton and Mr Harrison, as I was accepted and started at the beginning of term, September 1935.

I was a happy boy for most of my time at school. Boring would be the term used to describe me today. Nothing much bothered me except sport which I hated, after all what was the point of standing in the middle of a muddy field on a cold winter’s afternoon trying to kick a ball about. I preferred to stay indoors with a good book. I could never understand why my classmates got so excited about it! There was one aspect that I did however enjoy, cross-country running, even in the winter months. I was an average scholar, described in my reports as “could do better if he tried harder”. My one failing though was my handwriting. “Atrocious” said Mr Harrison who sometimes refused to mark my homework. “Taffy” Evans my French teacher went even further and resorted to putting a red line through most things that I wrote. I am afraid that the passage of time has done nothing to improve its legibility, as my family will tell you!

In June 1940, despite the war, the time came to sit our School Certificate examinations. I can’t remember being particularly bothered and I just got on with it. I do know that I really enjoyed my French Oral exam which was held in the library and French wasn’t my best subject by far and I passed with a Credit!

“It’s a Blenheim I tell you” by Keith Miles

The first reaction to the outbreak of war was the appearance of sticky brown paper crosses on all the window panes. This was followed by walling up the cloistered arches of the girls’ cycle shed with sandbags to form an air raid shelter. Of more immediate impact on the pupils, however, was the disappearance of Mr. Boucher into the RAF with the result that, instead of woodwork, we had to suffer extra Maths, English and French. The summer holidays were also curtailed to three weeks, the theory being that with the children at school, everyone knew where they were. The remaining pseudo holiday weeks were largely spent on leisure and sporting activities. It was on one such occasion when, with the whole school out on the sports fields, a low-flying, twin-engined German plane passed over – I believe that it went on to strafe a train in Boxmoor station. While everyone dived for cover, Mr. Harrison, who was refereeing a football match at the time, remained standing, declaiming, "It's a Blenheim, I tell you!" Extra sports were also taken by sections of the school from time to time while classes from a London evacuated school made use of the form rooms.

A general instruction was that if, whilst on the way to or from school, an air raid warning should sound, pupils were to proceed to the nearest air raid shelter until the “All Clear”. One morning the sirens wailed as a dozen or so of us were leaving Boxmoor station. After the briefest of discussions, we wended our way along the A41 towards Box Lane, through the double skew arches and onto the moor to reach a tunnel-like occupation bridge under the railway embankment that had blast walls across either opening to serve as a shelter. After over half an hour kicking our heels (or a football) the “All Clear” sounded and we resumed our journey to face interrogation from our teachers. Finally, I only appear as a young first-former in the 1938 school photograph as none were taken during the hostilities.

“We were so fortunate” by Pat Bowers

I have just discovered the HHGS website and am throughly enjoying the memories that it is bringing to mind.

My brother, Bob Bowers, was in the first intake to the school in 1931. He certainly excelled in the sports field rather than in the classroom and left with little regret on his part but, perhaps, with sighs of relief from the teaching staff. I think that the relief at his departure resulted in a blind-eye being turned as regards my age and ability as I entered the school before the age of 10 with very little basic education. I spent two years in the first form and then another two in the third year by which time I think I had caught up with my peers. One problem I have now is that there are three sets of names from 3 different years roaming around in my mind and I am not sure where they fit! I left in 1944 having spent half my life travelling between High Street Green and Heath Lane on foot or by bicycle.

These are some memories I have of those years.

War time: Gas masks and identity cards always to be carried; sharing the school with St. Ignatious College; the machine-gunning of the school field; studying for the School Certificate balanced on a small camp stool in the air raid shelter under the girls' changing rooms; Miss Duncan's expression of doom as she looked over our shoulders during the French school certificate exam (thankfully the marking standard was lowered that year and the majority of us were given a pass mark!); raising funds for the Lord Keith comforts, especially with our impromptu choir on a carol-singing expedition; and friends made with those evacuated to our safe area.

Through the years: The School summer uniform of dress and tie, lisle stockings and panama hats; no cycling down Cemetery Hill into Bridge Street after a bad accident at the Cotterells crossroads; Sports Days and House Matches; Swimming Galas in the town swimming pool; Verse-speaking competitions; School dinners eaten with the fumes of ‘bad eggs’ from the Chemistry Lab (the combination of stew and rice pudding is firmly in my mind, was it on Thursday's menu?); and finally, all the teaching staff of that era who gave us such a good grounding. We were so fortunate!

“Late again!” by Sonia Sully

Were you ever late for school? I was. Several times I arrived at HHGS to find the outside doors locked, forced to go in through the main entrance to face the Late Prefect, who sat in wait in the front hall. I suppose it was all caused by a reluctance to go to school. All the incidents took place in my first term there. I had come from an all-girls grammar school in Cheltenham, and found the co-educational form strange, and the different syllabus often bewildering.

The routine was to report to the prefect on duty and offer a credible explanation. At the time I was still riding a bicycle, bought for me on my eighth birthday, and I had now become a leggy 12-year-old. The steep hills on my route, did little to help, and standing on my pedals often resulted in my chain coming off. However this provided me with an alibi. I would display oily fingers, and the prefect would excuse me from losing a house point. He was in Salisbury, like me, and easily swayed by my performance. One day, however, even he turned nasty. Judging my story had worn too thin, I decided to change my tack and came prepared.

“Don’t tell me your chain came off again!” “No, my pedal!” and I produced one of them from my coat pocket. I never risked being late again.

Years later, I volunteered to be the Late Prefect, a job which had been ‘kept in the family’ to the advantage of Salisbury! As House Captain, it was the least I could do!

“The full seven-year sentence” by Peter Bennett

I was at Hemel Grammar for the full seven-year sentence, from 1954-1961 and, notwithstanding the fact that I fiddled and farted my way through most of that time, languishing in the bottom three or four every year and only staying on in the sixth because my ‘O’ Levels had turned out to be much better than I, or my teachers, had imagined possible and, when push came to shove, had nothing better to do, I have, almost from the day I left, looked back on those years and that establishment with an enduring fondness and nostalgia. I was very much a foot soldier, hardly raising my head above the parapet except for an acting/singing role in Papageno (a cut down version of The Magic Flute) when I was thirteen.

For one year (4th form I think) I flirted with danger as I allowed myself to be dragged across the line of reasonableness by a classmate who was destined for Reform School. I got the cane twice that year from Headmaster Robinson, once along with three others for disrupting Marge Starmer’s French lesson and reducing her to tears and once for taking the afternoon off and missing the other Mr Robinson’s Physics class. I wasn’t bright enough to have realised that, whilst my insignificant presence wouldn’t be missed, my fellow miscreant’s certainly was. I got sent home for wearing fluorescent socks! Do you remember those? I didn’t actually possess any but when Headmaster Robinson told Assembly one day that anyone coming to school wearing the offending hosiery would be sent home, I acquired some the next morning, on the way to school, and made sure we (yes, the same bad company) were both spotted by a prefect before we got to the Heath Lane gates. 

If I’d known then what I quickly realised very soon after, that my schooldays really could have been the best days of my life, I would have tried much harder, might have gone to university and, as a consequence, have had a completely different outcome. As it was I ultimately, at aged 26, joined the Inland Revenue and had a moderately successful career. I was fortunate to be able to take early retirement on excellent terms at 53 and it was only then that I did what I always wanted to do, study for an Arts Degree. Today I am one of that batch of retirees who thanks his lucky stars that he doesn’t have the upcoming problems that those currently in the world of work will confront as they approach retirement, whenever that might be with the position of the goalposts continually under review.

With school days behind me I didn’t set foot inside the place again until about five or six years ago when, together with an ex-classmate (Rod Hughes) we boldly strode in during the Easter break. With the school in recess builders were about and it was all pretty wide-open. At that point, it seemed to me, they were building on the last remaining bit of flat ground on site. The Assembly Hall had become a dance studio and the gallery was full of computers. As we exposed ourselves to officialdom in the vestibule we suddenly found ourselves, not treated as impertinent intruders, but welcomed with open arms. The little girl who was so personable turned out to be a dance teacher. We were each given a handful of coasters (only HHS, not HHGS but very acceptable nonetheless) and the fate of the hardwood bench that was dedicated to my dead sister that had been in the swimming pool area was investigated.  It was a very pleasant interlude in a day which was devoted to Rod (who has lived in Canada for many years) having a nostalgic guided tour around the area. The School Secretary was charm itself and the icing on the cake was that Rod and I go to use Mr Robinson’s private facilities. He would have hated that and I suppose that thought is some small recompense for those eight strokes of the cane that I received 53 years ago.

“My sincere thanks” by Gaynor Sharp

I was fascinated to come across the website and it has prompted me to write. I attended HHGS from 1966-73 and would like to express my sincere thanks to all the fantastic teachers I had during that time but in particular the A-level teachers Mr Sandiforth (Biology), Mr Shaw and Mrs Hodge (Geography) and Miss Pass (Chemistry). I left school and have never really looked back, living very much in the moment, but seeing the website has given me the opportunity to thank the above teachers who influenced the direction I took in life. I gained a 2.1 in Physiology and Biochemistry and PhD in Neurophysiology at Southampton University then went to Germany for a Post-Doctorate Fellowship. The encouragement I received from my A-Level teachers made this possible. THANK YOU.

“Impressions of My Visit Abroad” by Keith Johnson

In 1949 a small group from HHGS was involved in a school exchange with Strasbourg, being the second exchange after the war, and was led by Mr Williams and Miss Barker. We travelled by train to Dover and crossed to Calais on the open deck of a ferry and then by train to Strasbourg arriving in the early hours. Most students were met by their hosts but my family had confused the dates; I spent the night on a hard-seated platform before Mr Williams took me by tram to my hosts. I spent five days in Strasbourg and among the outings visited the Orangerie and the Cathedral and walked across the River Rhine into Germany. I met up with several other pupils including Olive Brinkley, David Windsor, Ishbel Dornan, Frances Johnson, Dickie Knight, John Mowatt and others.

My hosts then included me in their annual holiday to the Vosges mountains where we stayed in a new farmhouse at La Hoube near Dabo and Wangenburg. On the journey we passed many graves at the side of the road marked by a simple cross with a German helmet. All roads passing through hamlets were cobbled and life was very primitive. Farmhouses were divided into three: the family occupied half of the ground floor while the animals and chickens the other half. The loft was used for the storage of hay and straw. Human waste was spread on the fields, I think undiluted. Cow dung was stacked outside the back door under the kitchen windows. In the towns the poorer children ran the streets barefoot and without proper clothing. It was all a great experience for people from a relatively affluent Hertfordshire. At home we still had full rationing but in France the only items rationed were cooking oil, sugar and coffee. My passport records that I took £6 in foreign currency out and returned with £4 – not extravagant!

I still have all the postcards and letters I sent home which aid a vivid memory. Some months later at a morning Assembly there was an announcement that Keith Johnson should attend Mr Screeton’s office in the morning break. I went with some fear and trepidation. (In four years I had not previously spoken to the great man and thought it would relate to some misdemeanour on the 302 bus that morning.) In the event I was presented with a prize from a Herts County essay competition regarding our visit, and I have used that as a crib for this article 62 years later!

“Johnny’s van” by Eric Hadaway

In 1959 I was in the Lower Science 6th form, and one of the fashionable ideas at the time was, and one hopes still is, that we, as hard cold scientists, should be exposed to culture in order to round us off as decent citizens. One of those given the task of carrying out the policy was Kenneth John, a very musical and very Welsh teacher of English, and doubtless other cultural subjects. He would devote a period a week to the study of literature and music – a welcome relief from chemistry, physics, maths and biology.


Now Ken John had a Bedford van with side windows, with which I was familiar, being a friend of his son, Peter (a.k.a. Wilf, for some totally obscure reason) who was also a member of our science class. It had sideways seats in the back and could hold about 10 people at a pinch, and although his wife liked to euphemistically call it “The Brake”, it was popularly known as “Johnny’s Van” in the school. Periodically Mr. John would arrange visits to Watford Town Hall, where internationally acclaimed performers appeared in concerts of classical music, and the van would be crammed with eager teenagers, (no seat belts or elf’n’safety nonsense then) who would enjoy the concerts usually from cheap stage seats behind the orchestra. Nevertheless, the acoustics of the town hall were such that one could still appreciate the concert with the added advantage of being able to see over the players’ shoulders. I remember one occasion when the music was slightly marred by the conductor’s rattling cufflinks – we were that close! Alas, I gather that such concerts no longer occur, and the large and excellent hall is now run down.

Much of my love of classical music was rooted in these occasions, and still, when listening to CDs, I am often reminded of happy times with friends, thanks to Mr. John and his van!

6th February 1952 I remember it well; at least part of it – by Liz Hossack

Some time during the morning I was upstairs in the art room where I was painting scenery. No idea which production it would have been but no doubt somebody will be able to hazard a guess. Looking out of the window I noticed that there was a flag flying at half-mast. “Oh,” said I: “somebody has remembered that I’m no longer sweet sixteen”. It was my seventeenth birthday. A short while afterwards Mr (Science) Robinson, in his smart suit and probably gown, came in and had a word with Mrs Thatcher. We were then told that King George VI had died and his daughter Princess Elizabeth was now Queen Elizabeth. I had been planning to go to the cinema in Harpenden with three friends that evening but of course the cinemas were closed so we could not go out. We were all rather peeved! How insensitive were we teenagers.

The Retrogressive Catabolites by Raymond Hardway

I remember that the Biology/Chemistry/Physics Upper Sixth group (Jean Findlay, Monty Clarke, Alan Pannell and myself) started a new political party in 1947. It was The Retrogressive Catabolites – and our main policy was The Prevention of Cruelty to Elderly Cockroaches. Anyone else out there remember it? I don't think we got elected, though.

The School Jazz Band by Bob Jacobs

I was very interested to see the photo of the school jazz band (Music & Drama page). I wasn’t aware that there was a photographic record of it. Indeed when I exchanged emails with the late Phil Bundy a few years ago, his memory of it was very confused. Anyway, if anyone is interested the band was certainly Phil Bundy’s idea. I think he had just acquired a trombone and fancied himself as a latter-day Tommy Dorsey. The letter “B” stands for Borderers which was the name of the band democratically chosen by Bundy against the wishes of the majority of band members. The rationale was that Brian Boarder was the trumpet player and probably the most accomplished musician of all members of the band and we had in our very limited repertoire “Song of India” – recorded by Dorsey among others. The borders of India were reasonably prominent in world affairs back then.

The band line-up as shown in the photo was, from left to right: Brian Boarder (trumpet), Geoff Rogers is hidden behind Brian, Bob Jacobs (guitar), Graham (“Teddy Bear”) Ouseley (clarinet), Phil Duncan (double bass), Robert Bundy (clarinet), Phil Bundy (trombone) and John Nansen (tickling the ivories). We played about half-a-dozen shows including the highlight of our career – a set at a John Dickinson Social Club event at Shendish. Our showbiz career was cut short when Bundy decided to bring a tape recorder to a rehearsal. Nothing was ever the same again after the recording was played back!

“Rough Notebook” by Don Barnett

On our first day at HHGS in1942 we were given some text books and a soft covered ruled A4 notebook. This, we were told, was our "rough notebook"  in which we had to keep notes as instructed by our teachers and also to record our allocated homework. In conformity with wartime austerity measures, everything written in the book was done in pencil and once the book was full we had to go back to the beginning and write over our previous notes in ink. No ballpoints in those days, just simple wooden-handled pens with nibs. It probably took a year to completely fill the book after which it had to be taken to Miss Carpenter for a replacement. I do believe that she kept a record of when and to whom a new book was issued. This practice carried on after the war but for how long I do not recall. If there is anyone who joined the School soon after 1945 who can remember, please let me know.  Kind regards to all.

“Miss Duncan” by Pam Truett

Have just been catching up with the HHGS website – keep up your good work. I remember Miss Duncan doing her best to make our French accents something that would be understood in France. I have forgiven her for stopping me running along the corridor by catching hold of my long, thick plaits, swinging me round and then "stop running"! I never had a sore head from the plait stopping and really liked her as a teacher. Other favourites were the Misses Newman and Dale and of course the late, much-lamented, Mr. Shackley.




Passing the 11-Plus by Philip Sugden, 1953-1960

I have no recollection of actually sitting the 11-Plus examination but I do have a few memories of certain parts of the exam and the subsequent interview at HHGS. I seem to remember that some part or parts of the exam were a bit like what subsequently became known as IQ tests and computer programming aptitude tests. I do remember having to write an essay. The subject must have been “A Recent Journey” or something similar. A few weeks earlier my mother had taken me, probably unwillingly, to the Wallace Collection in London. She would have been interested in seeing the paintings. I would have been less than interested in looking at paintings and have no memory from that visit of any of them, even ‘The Laughing Cavalier’. What did rouse my interest were the downstairs galleries with their collection of medieval weapons and armour. Boys will be boys! I was particularly impressed by the knight in full armour seated on an armoured war horse. The armour was ornately decorated and was probably a parade set rather than serious fighting kit. I waxed lyrical about this and the other items in the collection. I know that what I wrote was structured badly. I was part way through the description of the armour before I remembered to write anything about the train journey to London.  The handwriting would not have been very good and the spelling would have been worse; it is a pound to a penny that ‘sword’ would have been spelt ‘sord’. 


Despite all this I made it through to the interview stage and my next recollection is of sitting in Miss Carpenter’s office, along with other hopefuls, waiting to be called for interview. I was not exactly enjoying the occasion. All my previous experiences of waiting to see a head teacher had been to explain why I had done what I should not have done and/or why I had not done what I should have done. I was called in eventually and confronted by Messrs Robinson and Harrison, a fairly daunting prospect. I remember being asked to do some mental arithmetic and eventually ended up with the number 2240. I was then asked what the numbers reminded me of and it seemed to take an eternity before ‘pounds in a ton’ floated into my brain. This was followed by a vocabulary test which I found quite easy and allowed me to relax a little. The relaxation came to an abrupt end when they said that they were going to test my spelling. I distinctly remember them asking “how would you spell” a succession of words. They received a truthful answer in every case but not necessarily the one they were looking for; ‘plow’ for ‘plough’ was one that I clearly remember. The last one on the list was ‘sphinx’ which, for some bizarre reason I knew, and they nearly fell off their chairs when I spelt it correctly. HHGS obviously needed students who could spell sphinx even if they could not spell sword and plough and I was offered a place. At the time I was blissfully unaware of the significance and consequence of this offer. I think that my parents were mightily relieved by the outcome as, apart from arithmetic, I had shown precious little academic talent up until that point.

My School Interview by Brian Woolcott 1948-1955

I vaguely remember Sugden as he was younger than me, and probably still is. Nevertheless his recollections brought forward some very similar shadowy memories of my own. My interview was with Norman Screeton, who was headmaster at the time, so it would have been 1948 I suppose but he was attended by Harrison at the interview and they asked me about an essay I had written earlier at Coombrook House School for Girls (and little boys) in which I had apparently noted the difference between alligators and crocodiles and used the word "decay" in describing how crocs managed to eat whole cows/goats at one go. The trick was to swallow as much as possible and then hang around until the horns dropped off. It seems that these observations were noteworthy in a 9-year old but passed right over my head as I had simply remembered these points from a popular book of the time called Biggles in Africa – I still have it now.

Sadly, such literary highs were thin on the ground and early promise in that field withered on the vine. Having received the unexpected letter of acceptance I was duly kitted out in regulation blue and grey and installed in Form 1a with the delightful Miss Barker as form mistress. Miss Barker, in many of our eyes at the time, was a dish, and after the end of the second term my fellow admirers and I were dashed into the pit of despair when she announced her engagement to Mr Williams, a Welshman, who taught French. When the engagement was called off the following term we cared not one whit as, by then, we had moved on to History with Miss Seymour, who took most lessons sitting in her chair, with her legs propped up on the desk – riveting stuff for 11-year olds.

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