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The Highbury Estate in the 50s - Part 9

Author: David Joyce Published: 24th February 2017 09:50


On a radio programme recently, a guest was asked to name (outside marriage, children, grand-children etc) the three most momentous occasions in his life. One of his answers was 'Passing my eleven-plus and going to Grammar School, because it gave me an education that set me up for life'.

I totally agree with that sentiment, having passed my eleven plus in 1956, and the above picture shows me, along with class-mate Roddy Fraser at Highbury Junior School Summer Fete in August that year. Once again, my mother has seen fit to point me out with an arrow, this time however, also appending it the name 'DAVID' - it really was a bit disconcerting. Did she really need that much information on reminding everyone who I was, or perhaps she thought no-one would believe that was ME in a GRAMMAR SCHOOL outfit! Both Roddy and I were wearing our newly acquired uniforms, at the request of our headmaster at that time, Mr Law, and are the subject of some sideways glances from fellow pupils. I must be one of the few people in this world who passed an exam., and got into trouble for doing so! My mother was somewhat shocked, and not a little horrified at this success stating 'People like us don't go to Grammar Schools, David, why can't you go to a decent Secondary Modern School, like your elder brother!' When I objected and said a simple 'well-done' would have sufficed, I got a clip around the ear for being cheeky. I got lots of clips around the ear in those days (I was always too outspoken for my own good)!

Poor mum, as money was tight she had carefully saved all my elder brother's Secondary School uniforms on the premise that, if THAT was where he went, I was certain to follow. When she discovered that the Grammar school outfit was completely different it upset all her plans. 'I'll have to use my co-op coupons now' She said ruefully and that entailed a bus trip down Fratton Road to the co-op store, where I duly got another clip for wanting to go upstairs on the trolley-bus and complaining when she didn't.

Five of Highbury's pupils passed for the Northern Grammar that year; Myself, my best friend Tony Nuttall, Roddy Fraser, Roger Bricknell and Rodney Stafford. Mr Goble announced my success with a degree of incredulity. 'How on earth you've passed Joyce, I cannot comprehend' He said 'Somehow, you've managed to obtain the third highest result in the class, and given your apparent lack of concentration in lessons, I'm astonished that you've managed it!'
It would not be the first time I was to hear this kind of remark. It would crop up again and again in Grammar School where exam results completely confounded classroom performance, a position that was very successfully confirmed when G.C.E. examinations came around. I have always been blessed with a good memory (these essays into my past give proof to that), and in those years, when success was only determined by examination results, it worked in my favour. I still believe my perceived lack of interest in a classroom situation reflected more that I was not as mentally challenged there as I was by exams, and was confident that results in those would redress the balance. Latin, Chemistry and English Literature, however, were notable exceptions. With little interest in my academic progress at Grammar School (as stated earlier, mother was appalled that I'd even passed to go there and would have nothing to do with the place), it was a matter of personal pride to be properly prepared when exams came around as I was determined to prove all my doubters (and in particular my mother) wrong - and, I'm proud to say, I invariably did.
Returning to the 11+ results, the five of us were told that, being the first ever group to process from Highbury Junior to a Grammar School, we would be called up on stage at the end of term assembly to personally receive the headmasters congratulations.
'Except for being in trouble, that's the only time YOU'LL ever be called out, Joyce!' Observed Mr Goble, my form teacher, but that year he was wrong as I also won the school football prize and so got called out twice !

Having collected my football prize,.... and when it was formally announced that the five of us had passed for the Grammar School, out I went for the second time.

So, in September, 1956 I started my senior school life at the Portsmouth Northern Grammar School.


The Portsmouth Northern Grammar School. Main entrance is centre picture with the boys portion to its right (looking at the picture) and the girls half on the left. The two sets of pupils NEVER met, they may as well have been fifty miles apart and we boys were not even allowed to socialise with the girls outside the school gates.
School life was quite strict, there were clear sets of rules and breaking them was instantly punished by lines, detention or the cane. I was once caned for being seen coming to school without my cap on. My defence, that I was on the back of my elder brother's motor-bike at the time and to have tried wearing it would've resulted in its blowing off my head, was instantly rejected. 'Don't come on a motor-bike then boy' was all I got in reply.
On another occasion, I was sent down to the office of Mr Manson, the deputy head, and he immediately said 'Hold out your hand boy' and gave me two strokes of the cane - standard punishment !
'RIGHT .... what have you done?' He then enquired.
'I haven't done anything sir' I responded 'I've been sent down to get some books'
'AH' He retorted and picking up a piece of chalk wrote JOYCE +2 on his blackboard. 'You're two strokes in credit, boy'.
'Thank you very much sir' I replied.
'Don't thank me lad' Came the response 'I'll have those cancelled out before the days up !'
And he was right ... when the afternoon session bell rang after lunch, I was walking down the corridor when the familiar ring of Mr Manson's voice rang out. 'JOYCE ... running in the corridor .... that's one of those strokes of the cane forfeited'.
'Sir' I protested 'I wasn't running!'
I should have known better.
'JOYCE .... arguing with a master ... that's the second one gone .... now boy .... anything else to say ?'
'NO sir' I retorted and catching his eye, couldn't resist a grin ... I knew when I was beaten.
To his credit, he grinned back 'You're learning lad' he said.
If ... as I was ... you were in the school or house rugby or soccer teams in winter (goalkeeper) or cricket teams in summer (wicketkeeper), caning on the hand was never carried out on a Friday. It was often postponed to the following Monday when your performance on the field was taken into account
Only two masters caned, the deputy head (on the hand) and the head himself (on the backside). Other masters issued either lines or detentions. Being someone who just couldn't stop talking, and apparently didn't know how to whisper, I had frequent detentions (especially in maths). Indeed, I often think I leaned more maths in detention than in class, it was certainly a good way to get personal attention.
Maths, English Language, Art, Technical Drawing, Geography, History, Physics and Sport were my strong points at school, Biology was fairly neutral, but French, Latin, English Literature and Chemistry were very weak. I could just about manage spoken French, but written aspects of it, with all its accents and flexures, left me cold and I was completely useless at Latin. Chemistry, with all its complex formulae, was another area where I struggled, and whilst I liked reading, the books, poetry and plays we were set to study in English Literature were really boring. On various school 'year-end' reports, there are observations like :
'How he achieved the exam result he did is remarkable as he never appears to be paying attention in class.'
'Joyce seems to think that lessons are a means of passing the time between soccer matches in winter and cricket in the summer'
'He seems to respond much better with one-to-one tuition, hence his numerous after-school detentions.'
'Joyce obviously learns something, somehow, as he seems to combine very low classroom output with very high exam results. Thank goodness his future will depend more on the latter!'

I only got caned on the backside once, after an incident involving Portsmouth football club and the F.A. Cup in early 1959.
Pompey were drawn away to Accrington in the fourth round of the F.A. Cup and the game was drawn 1-1. The replay was scheduled for Fratton Park on the Wednesday evening and my class mate Arthur Shaw and I had got tickets, However, Accrington objected to a night game as they did not possess floodlights and stated it would be an unfair disadvantage to play beneath them. The F.A. agreed and ordered an afternoon kick off instead.
This presented Arthur and I with a problem, but we decided to go to the game anyway and pretend we'd been sick the previous day. As my mum wrote all my sick notes, I wrote one from my dad explaining that I'd been struck down with sickness and diarrhoea that afternoon.

Off we went to school next day and, at assembly the Head said 'I want all those boys who were off school yesterday outside my study with their sick notes after this assembly finishes'.
I duly joined the small queue and when my turn came, in I went.
'Well Joyce' observed Mr Hancock after reading my note 'Sickness and diarrhoea eh ... are you fully recovered now?'
'Yes sir, thank you' I replied.
'Good' He said 'What about your twin brother ... is he o.k. ?' I was completely taken aback by this comment. 'My twin brother Sir?' I enquired
'Yes boy ... you know how these things go through families' he responded 'Is your twin brother alright?'
'But I haven't got a twin brother Sir' I exclaimed
'REALLY' Came the very stern reply 'Then ... WHO is THIS?' And he pulled the local evening paper out of his drawer and showed me a picture of the crowd queuing to get into the ground. There, right in the middle was me.
'Bend over boy' he instructed 'One stroke for every goal scored'.
Portsmouth had won 4-1, and he was unerringly accurate ... HOW I wished it had been a 0-0 draw.
To make matters worse, Arthur's note was accepted !

Despite the scrapes I got into, I had a very happy time at Grammar School, gaining colours for both football and cricket, and I was the first boy in the school to study and take G.C.E. level examinations in Technical Drawing, as the Northern Grammar School had never offered that subject in the 1950s. Just why the school decided to provide education in a technical subject such as Engineering Drawing, I have no idea, nor do I recall just why I was selected for the exercise, but Mr Fry, who took my class for metalwork must have seen something in the design drawing I produced for the manufacture of an adjustable clamp that told him I was an ideal candidate. Maybe, of course, the fact that I so useless at Latin helped as every time my class went off to study that awful subject (four times a week), I went in the opposite direction to the Metal-work room and studied under the watchful eye of our Constructive Arts master in the small back room that doubled as his study. I took to the subject like a duck to water and (almost for the first time) the year head wrote in his end of term school year report for 1960 :
'In Technical Drawing, Joyce has at last found a subject into which he throws all his energies - what a pity it seems to be the only one! However, as usual, his other exam results are excellent, and confound all my fellow members of staff engaged in the day to day struggle of keeping his attention focussed in class.'

When it was time to leave school, I had passed all the G.C.E examinations I needed for my desired career as an Engineer. There were three jobs on offer, all of which were in Engineering; Marine Engineering design at Vospers boat-builders, Naval ship design at H. M. Dockyard design office, and a Civil Engineering trainee post on British Railways. With my liking for railways, the latter option was always going to win out and, in August 1962, I joined B.R. at the District Civil Engineer's Office, Woking, Surrey for what was to become a very successful, and much loved lifetime career.



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richard t
At 11:53 on 26th February 2017, richard t commented:
Yet another great article David. I also went to Northern Grammar and hated it !!! Played cricket with Arthur Shaw and do you remember Dave Wymark?
At 09:42 on 27th February 2017, davidjoyce commented:
Yes Richard I certainly do remember Dave - do you know where or how both of them are ? Hope you like the next part (10) - its my favourite recollection of all time.
richard t
At 16:26 on 8th March 2017, richard t commented:
I have no idea where they are nowadays David. Not seen them for probably 50 years!!
Moira R
At 16:56 on 16th May 2019, Moira R commented:
From Moira Riley b. December, 1945 so probably sat the 11+ before going to the Northern Grammer (the Gramma) as we, the prefab. dwellers called it. I remember clearly Mr Law who always called me something that sounded like Rothamadoilan(???) I think he was Welsh. For the first time ever today after reading David Joyce’s article, I tried various spellings to find its meaning. No luck.
Mr Law took what seemed a special interest in my big brother
Adrian, b.1944 because he thought we were clever! Mr Goble detested me. Called me an "officious little beast". I was. Am. But he was a bully. This said he sometimes played classical music records, I recall my first hearing of "Eine Kleine Nachtmusik" in his classroom.
Mr Caddy taught the 4th year, a small, kindly man always dressed in a beige linen jacket. He used to stand on his desk to address the class.
The Northern Grammar School was the making of me with its impressive brick architecture, apparently with some nods incorporated into its outside walls to the Roman Palace at Fishbourne (brick was posh to the prefabbers) Draconian discipline (which oddly failed to constrain my 1950 style hooliganism) and astonishingly high economic standard of teaching and concentration on daily sport. Yes, we were separated from the boys by adjoining doors in the hall and by and by a 10 minute time stagger to avoid inter-sex collisions outside school hours. Needless to say our febrile teenage hormones found ways.
I went on to Birmingham University following my brother to the Medical School. I have taught, examined and inspected secondary schools all over Europe. Without doubt the Northern Grammar School was the paradigm of the ideal secondary school. After it became a Comprehensive school in the seventies I made the mistake of going back to see the place. I was shocked and sad at all that had been destroyed.
Anyone remember Moira and Adrian Riley?
Moira R
At 16:56 on 16th May 2019, Moira R commented:
At 19:08 on 5th July 2019, SAABMAN commented:
From Mick Dryer b Sept 1945
Do I remember Moira Riley, oh yes, very much so and about 75 other names from the Highbury Estate of the 50's and 60's. I too was a 'Prefabber' and started my education at St Philips Church, followed by the 'Electricity Club', Goodwins Youth Club and finally a real school the newly built Highbury Junior School. Les Law was an overbearing ex naval person who did everything at the top of his voice. Phil Goble was a big, loud and slightly scary person. Here I must really disagree with you about Don Caddy, he was, in my opinion, a nasty little man who used his position to bully the kids and suffered from short man syndrome. I don't remember much about the others which probably means they were OK.
Passed the 11+ and went off to The Northern Grammar where I learned how to learn even if I didn't practice it whilst I was there. Incidentally Don Caddy was a Captain in the CCF (Cadets) where in real life he had been a Corporal Cook in the army. I left school under a bit of a cloud and without any qualifications to work in the Dockyard. I took a promotion exam in 1966 and much to everyone's surprise came 3rd in Portsmouth Command. Took up a position at NATO POL Depot Loch Striven (Look it up)
Almost 4 years later I emerged from the Scotch Mist and spent 4 mostly miserable tears at The Naval Store Depot. It was me versus the Old Guard, nothing should disturb the Status Quo but I was part of the Rock'n'Roll generation and things must move on, so I did. Back to Portsmouth until 1996 where as Assistant Property Manager to Superintendent Portsmouth I took early retirement. All that without any qualifications although plenty of on the job training, thank you Dockyard and of course the 'Gramma'.
Although sometimes I have difficulty remembering what I had for breakfast I have a fairly good recollection of times passed.
I have a list of names but because of privacy laws and stuff I have not included it here. Yes Richard T and David H you are both on it
At 19:13 on 5th July 2019, SAABMAN commented:
Sorry that was meant to be 10 years at RNSD Woolston not 4. Haven't worked out how to make alterations.
Dave T
At 18:31 on 4th August 2023, Dave T commented:
I had a rather schizophrenic education attending both a grammar and secondary modern school.
I passed the 11+ in 1955, went to the Northern Grammar school and couldn't adjust to the authoritarian atmosphere. I was moved to North End Secondary Modern(Drayton Road) a few months later where I stayed for four years.
I was then transferred back to Northern Grammar in 1960 to take G.C.E. 'O' & 'A' levels and started in class L5D. My memory for names is fading but seem to remember a boy called 'Joyce' in the class.
An incident that does stick in my mind was when a boy(Penfold, I think) came top in R.I. and donned a dog collar and clutched a bible to his chest much to the hilarity of the class and the teacher(his name escapes me) as he entered the room!
If anyone remembers me or this incident I'd be pleased to hear from them.
Sad to say that the grammar school's beautiful brick building has now been demolished to make way for a new school with 'modern' architecture.

Dave Taylor

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