Monday, 22 March 2010

Walworth School / Mina Road after the war

When I went to teach in Walworth in 1964 Mr Ash -- Wilf Ash to colleagues -- was one of the few who had been there since the school opened in 1946. I never knew him well enough to talk to properly but used to get his stories of the early days second-hand, as relayed by Paddy Price who’d arrived a year later in 1947 (came for a day’s supply teaching, stayed for forty years, ending up as a deputy head in charge of the Lower School -- the old Nelson School in Trafalgar Street).

According to Ash according to Paddy, when school opened in September 1946, the teachers turned up at the shabby, bomb-damaged old building and reported to Miss O'Reilly, the headmistress. (There’s a question straight away because Miss O'Reilly came only in summer 1947; the first head was a Miss Plastow, who no sooner than appointed was whisked off to do something in the Home Office.) Miss O'Reilly handed the teacher his or her register which immediately proved to have no names in it. Asked about this she explained, ‘There’s the streets -- go out and get yourself a class.’

So Wilf Ash had to go and gather in a class of pupils, most of whom had probably spent the war running free and playing in the bombed out buildings. Once in the classroom with his captives, you shut and locked the door (from the inside), took your jacket off, rolled up your sleeves and said, ‘Right, who wants trouble?’

Trouble there was - whether for Ash himself I doubt. One class was known for removing the blackboard from its easel and circulating it round the room over their heads at ever-increasing speed.

By all accounts Miss O'Reilly was a match for all that.

What was the truth of the re-opening of schools after the war? If the kids hadn’t been attending school, how did they even know which they were to go to? September 1946 must have been chaotic. Not only were the pupils from the previous school there -- if they turned up -- but also many from other schools that had been closed or reorganised.

Who remembers any of this? who was in that first lot to join Walworth (Mina Road) in 1946? Any memories, please email them to Then I'll post it here if you’re happy about that.

Price, Rosen and Ash at Walworth/Mina Road


These turned up in a collection of Paddy Price’s photos donated to us (research project on Walworth English) by his daughter. We’re not sure what the production was but Pat Kingwell’s notes record that Walworth School Weekly Staff Bulletin Number 12 for week ending 13th December 1957 records that G. Martens and A.O. Bey's "The Hopeful Travellers" was put on for four nights, with Mr Gus Grealey the main organiser. Here’s Paddy painting the set for it -- and what painting, and what a talented man!  

There are various items on Harold Rosen (on the stage, facing the camera, Walworth 1956-58) elsewhere in this blog -- search in the ‘Labels’ for Rosen. Anyone with any more memories of him, please email me at I'll post them here if that you agree.

Or any memories of Gus Grealy, who also taught English.

Mr Ash, the other man in the picture, was Wilf Ash who taught Technical Drawing and in my day had some sort of senior status, having been at the school since it opened as an experimental comprehensive in 1946 and indeed before the war (in Walworth Boys’ Central School as half of it then was). He had certain definite functions in the school like (reluctantly) giving out exercise books and marshalling pupils along the road for dinner in the Bagshot Street canteen.

Not being an English teacher he’s outside our study but I still want to write about some of his stories -- in a separate posting. For now, I remember him as a diminutive sergeant-major type who stood for old-fashioned elementary school teaching when teachers ruled with a stick and maintained absolute silence. He seemed to me, as a young idealistic teacher, an obstacle to progress -- and there were still a lot of his type around. I may well have been misjudging him.

I remember the first staff meeting when a new head, Peter Brown, took over from Guy Rogers, some time in the mid-1960s. Brown opened with a lengthy statement of his high-minded principles and aspirations for the school. I can’t remember what they were exactly but imagine they referred to the changing status of youth, the need to modernise the curriculum, the desirability of students exercising choice, the value of self-directed learning and the need to go beyond talk and chalk and the far-reaching reconstruction of British society and economy. We’re here not just to run a school but to bring about Education -- and should think about what that meant, taking nothing for granted -- that sort of thing.

-        Any questions or comments?

You bet.

-         Mr Ash?

Breaths were bated. Had this old stickler been seduced by Mr Brown’s progressive ideas? was he about to move us from high principle into the excitement of a new curriculum? to introduce group work in technical drawing?

-        Headmaster, do you want to keep the same arrangements for the chalk?

This reflected either a highly skillful subversive strategy or sheer obtuseness. Poor Mr Brown must have wondered what he was up against.

Fortunately the staff in general gave him more of of a chance -- for a while.

Tuesday, 2 March 2010


A word I greatly relish, as I do the thing, rivers in spate.

Today’s the 2nd March and, befittingly, the second day of spring, or so it feels. It especially feels it after weeks of cold, rain and wind. That rain is now in the rivers and pouring down the Thames between Hampton Court and Kingston. I can’t tell if the river is deeper than usual, or indeed if the depth ever varies much (it’s not tidal here); but it’s certainly faster and browner.

Come to think of it, why should a river ever get deeper? If more water comes into it, doesn’t it just go faster? I suppose if there’s a blockage and the water can’t get away -- for instance, if the bed at some point is too narrow or shallow -- then the depth will increase.

But supposing the water could get out to sea with no impediment, is there any limit to the speed that the water could flow to remove the influx? or is there a point where the water’s up against a speed limit and that’s when it gets deeper?

I like spate mainly, I think, because of those pictures illustrating February (’fill-dyke’) in those old calendars and children’s books of the month. It’s the thing, not the sound -- or rather a particular image of the thing. But maybe the sound, too: I suspect it calls to mind abate and perhaps late, both suggesting things running out. Etymology’s no help: spate -- origin obscure, first found C14; abate from O.French to do with battre, beat -- but the OED is flummoxed what the connection might be with the meaning of dwindle. Late -- straight Old English. It helps that I associate abate with weather in old novels: ‘the rain having abated we resumed our way to Dover’.

And is there something watery about sp_t? spit? (?spot) spout? I think so, and it’s often the case that particular combinations of letters or phonemes have a meaning. Can’t think of an example at the moment but I'll tell you when I do.