Sunday, 28 September 2014

Our new book

I'm not really reviving this blog -- not at the moment, anyway -- but have reawakened it (hoping that some people will get the message) to say that the research project I've often mentioned ('Social Change and English: A Study of Three English Departments 1945-1965') has finally resulted in a book.

Some will recall that one of the three schools was Walworth, an early comprehensive in Southwark.

The details are on the publishers' website:

The book is (very) expensive but there are discounts available, except in North America -- at different rates for the UK, Australia and NZ and Europe -- but even then it's still expensive. People might like to order it from their library, though -- we're hoping.

If you would like to know more about the discounts,  email me at (They aren't available to libraries.)

Sunday, 5 May 2013

Walworth School: a contact requested

Apologies for doing nothing on this blog for a long time -- I've been too busy, with colleagues, writing the book of our research project on English teaching in three London schools, including Walworth/Mina Road, between 1945 and 1965. I hope to revive the blog when the book is out of the way, but meanwhile I'm bringing it temporarily back to life for the following appeal: In connection with our research we would like to contact Michael Gallagher: we need to ask his permission to quote from a poem he wrote that was published in the Walworth Magazine in 1963, when he was in 4H . (He'd previously been taught English by Mr Clements and was in the class that made the film, 'Two Bobs Worth of Trouble'.) If anyone can give us a clue how we might locate him, or anyone in that class, we'd be grateful: please email Pete Medway at

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Blog lapse

I intended to do better but the usual stuff has stopped me. The blog is where I can give expression to some of my current thoughts, impressions and reactions, but it takes time and some care and I can only manage it when my other writing activity (or writing plus research) doesn’t fully occupy me, as it has done since late summer.

What’s been absorbing my attention is, for those who’ve been following, the research on Walworth School and the book we’re writing together and haven’t finished, though we were supposed to have by now -- hence the pressure.

All this will not last and I've no intention of shutting the blog down. I'll be back when things ease and I'm retired again. In the meantime my apologies to those kind friends who follow me!

Thursday, 30 August 2012

Enough opening ceremonies...

One a month will do me. I passed on the Paralympics ceremony last night, after a brief sampling, not because I thought it wouldn’t be good, as the Olympics one was -- I enjoyed that greatly (as a whole, I should add, being honest) -- but live television is no way to see it.

I appreciate that tv offers some sense of the occasion as it’s lived, and conveys something of the atmosphere and crowd’s excitement. Those aren’t nothing but overall I wish I could have watched an edited film of the event. The tv camera often get an inferior view: too distant, too underlit, too confusing, stuff in getting in the view. Too often I simply couldn’t understand or follow what was going on. The same event made into a film -- like the film of, say, Woodstock -- would have make the performances and spectacles that much more immediate and omitted a lot of the tedious parading. An hour would have been fine for the Olympics ceremony; can’t say for the Paralympics.

None of this is to take away from the significance and the generally heartening character of the two sets of Games. It’s been terrific all round.

For all I know, of course, there may be films in preparation.

Monday, 20 August 2012

Mina Road HIgher Grade School, 1903

We’ve just had the following from an Australian, Stephen James, who found this blog -- quoted with his permission:

Today my mother (in her eighties) gave me a prize book won by my maternal grandfather (now deceased) in 1903. I thought it might interest you. My grandfather, Charles Arthur Welch, was born on 24 February 1894 at 14 Kempstead Road, Camberwell, London. His father was a young fish porter/labourer and his young mother a seamstress, both aged 21.

As far as I can gather, Charles' father died when he was very young, at which point Charles left school for work, later joining the Sussex Regiment in the British Army which served in India. He had wanted to study chemistry at university but this was not possible. He later married a woman from Bath and emigrated to Melbourne, Australia, in the 1920s. Later, my mother excelled in science and I ended up doing a PhD (albeit in Politics) at Princeton. It is interesting to see the scholarly links through the history.

I know you are much more interested in the postwar period of the school, but I thought you, or a colleague, might find the details of the prize book interesting:

French-English English French Dictionary by A. Mendel (edited by G. F. Barwick of the British Museum) (Eyre & Spottiswoode, London, n.d.) Pocket edition

Presented July 1903 for Conduct, Progress, Attendce. at East Lambeth Division, Mina Road Higher Grade School to Charles Welsh [sic] by

Edward P. Paul, Head Teacher.

If you have any information on the history of the school, particularly during its early days until the end of the First World War I, would be much obliged. I'd also be interested in whether there might be any archives or information relating to students and their work. Also, did Edward P. Paul move on to another school or did he end his teaching there?

In a second email Stephen writes:

Charles' father was Thomas Henry Welch (fish porter/labourer who married at 21 and lived at 28 Longcroft Rd, Camberwell--now in Burgess Park). Nearby was Kempshead (not Kempstead, my mistake) Rd. Neither was far from Mina Road. Both Longcroft Road and Kempshead Road, Camberwell, were bombed during The Blitz and then subject to, I suspect, slum clearance later.

I recently read some of the original notebooks of Charles Booth (LSE collection) who said Longcroft Rd was a notorious (crime, alcoholism, etc.) and very poor area. Given that Thomas Henry Welch was a fish porter/labourer (working at the Borough Market) and his wife Sarah was a laundress I was wondering how Charles, his son, might have gone to a reasonable school like Mina Road--but as you say the fees were low (and/or there was competitive entry?).

We can answer some of the queries. Mr Paul was still headmaster during the First World War -- what happened to him afterwards I don’t know. (See my earlier post). Entry to higher grade schools -- where pupils could stay from 12 to 16 -- was by examination; there were fees but we believe they were affordable for working-class families. Unlike the ordinary elementary schools (including Mina Road Elementary School on the same site, taking children from infants upwards) the HGS had science facilities and taught French. The LCC wanted them to become a sort of working-class grammar school; the government preferred to keep the brightest members of the working class in their place -- in the trades and non-professional clerical and commercial roles. The school’s name changed to Mina Road Central School in 1911.

How it took 2 or 3 generations or more for the first family member to get to university is a story that continued into our period.

It would be good to have more on this: can anyone help?

Sunday, 19 August 2012

Walworth early 50s -- new evidence

Pat and I recently interviewed someone with a good memory of the school from 1948 to 1955, though her memories relate more to the school and teachers in general than to English and what went on in the lessons.

She was taught English by Arthur Harvey for her entire time at the school. She confirms what others have told us, that Harvey had his favourites -- of which she was one in that class -- though this didn’t lead to any unfairness in marking. Some of the favourites joined Harvey in the Quick Service Cafe after school but not our informant: she belonged to an alternative group that met in another cafe, on the other side of the Old Kent Road, around the biology teacher, Eric Palmer.

Palmer was a quite different kettle of fish and he and Harvey didn’t like each other. Alex McLeod was associated with his group. Palmer taught frankly about sex and is said to have favoured free love (though his relationships were entirely ‘appropriate’, as we say now). But his main educational concern was teaching pupils about life. He was devoted to open air activities on the lines of the 1930s German hiking and health movement. He was associated with the Woodcraft Folk, took his group camping at their site and called them each by their Woodcraft name -- he himself was Fox. By all accounts Palmer was a thoroughly good thing and pupils benefited by his teaching and personal attention. Our informant regards him as one of the teachers at Walworth who had a lifelong influence on her (Harvey was without doubt another).

Another set of impressions from the same source supports what we’ve been hearing often, that Miss O'Reilly, the school’s first real head, was an ‘authoritarian’ who ruled pupils and staff alike ‘with a rod of iron’. What puzzles us, however, is that she was certainly a progressive in her principles: she believed in a school giving a social education as well as an academic one, through the practice of friendly and respectful relations; she stressed constantly that all pupils were equally valuable; she enthusiastically embraced the concept of an experimental comprehensive school; she introduced form meetings and a school council, and an innovative social studies curriculum that involved individual project work (not a great success, it seems) and a great deal of choice. She made unconventional appointments like Harvey and Palmer, and also Sean O’Regan the art teacher.

What’s the explanation? we suspect that her principles were more liberal than her personality could tolerate and that there was a real conflict between the two. But what sort of evidence would help us find out?

Walworth -- more needed

Officially we’ve come to the end of our data-gathering: what remains is writing a book and, we hope, doing some presentations for interested people from our three schools. However, we’re aware there are embarrassing gaps in our coverage. In my last post I remarked how little we had on Harold Rosen’s time at Walworth (admittedly less than three full years). The same could be said of John Dixon (1959-63). So, we’d still welcome more and will add anything useful we receive to the pile we made publicly available in our archive (and also, ideally, via a website -- would some millionaire ex-pupil care to fund this?)

However, not every sort of written or spoken memory is equally useful. Compare,

I remember her as a sympathetic but strict teacher, and her teaching must have been effective because I passed my O and A level English


I enjoyed writing poems and [the teacher] often pinned them on the noticeboard


[Writing] was not my thing. Being creative to that extent was not my thing. I mean whenever we… had to write a poem, this became a family effort, and the family would gather around, and what we would do was we would gather together such old Christmas cards and birthday cards that still remained in the family archive, we would get those out and find all the words that rhymed, make a list of all the words that rhymed, and I would somehow try to work them into the requisite poem.

[Acknowledgements and thanks to Ken Russell.  I've edited that slightly from the transcript of his interview.]

That admittedly wasn’t about a remembered lesson, but memories of the experience of doing a particular piece of work are also valuable. We’re interested in not only what the teachers did but in what it was like for the pupils.

Or the following, from two emails -- thanks to Janet Midwinter:

He [Simon Clements, 1959-64] sometimes remarked that he'd 'enjoyed' reading something which was incredibly flattering and encouraging.  He fostered the idea that there was no right way or wrong way to do it which was liberating. It was all about ideas. The important thing was telling the story, including dialogue and descriptions of characters.  It was as if your exercise was to entertain.  He wanted us to not worry - just write.  In some cases, like the 'books' we had a second chance to go back and re-write after discussion.  It was satisfying to be able to improve yourself and immediately see the results.

We were told to describe characters, their feelings and  the streets they walked in.  We were encouraged to visualise our own areas for inspiration. Best of all we didn't have to use formal language when a character spoke.  We were allowed to use slang and portray them exactly as we wanted them to sound - even if that involved Cockney accents or others more exotic.

I recall that he often allowed noisy cross arguments where yelling would be briefly tolerated.  Then it would be stopped, started again when he pointed to someone who had not initially taken part, involving others who hadn't spoken, until it built up to another crescendo.  

It gave me the impression we were doing something we shouldn't have been allowed to do.  That's why it was exciting.  And he always seemed to enjoy it.  As if the heat of the moment promoted better debate.

Those are admittedly from an exceptional writer, but many people have been surprised at how well they can write when they sit down and give it a try after all these years. After all, Walworth pupils weren’t taught English just anywhere!

The things to remember are:

[what it was like] being there -- your thoughts and reactions as well as what happened.