PURLEY COUNTY GRAMMAR SCHOOL
later to become
PURLEY HIGH SCHOOL FOR BOYS 1914 - 1988
Mr. George Walker Winter was a pupil at Purley County School for Boys in the Godstone Road from 1920-1928. In 1932, after graduating from St. Catharine's, Cambridge with a second class BA, he went to Manchester University as an Assistant Lecturer from 1933-1937. During the war, when he taught at North Manchester High School, he ran Radio Mechanics courses at Manchester College of Technology. In September 1945, he joined the staff of Purley County Grammar School and gave outstanding service to the School as Head of Biology until he retired in August 1973. In addition to running the Air Training Corps, he served as a staff member of the Parents' Association Executive Committee. He was one of the stalwarts of the staff for almost 30 years, giving dedicated service in all aspects of school life. Since his retirement, he has maintained contact with the school and has attended many of its official functions. Such is his interest and dedication. that he has devoted much time to compiling this brief history of the school since its foundation in 1914. It was written in 1988 a few months before the school closed to become a 6 form college. George died in the early 1990's.
R.B. WIGHT M.A. (Cantab.)
Natural Science Tripos.
J. MILNER B.Sc.
Honours in Chemistry,
Maths and Physics
B.J. DORSETT B.A. (Lond.)
Mr. Dorsett was Second Master from September 1914 until his death in November 1934- He taught English and Classics.
F. C. SERJEANT B.A. (Cantab.) Classical Tripos Diplome de i'Universite de Caen
Mr. Serjeant was a Form Master from September 1914 until his retirement at the end of April 1934. He taught French and Classics.
H. BIRCHALL B.Sc., Ph.D.
Dr Birchall was Headmaster from September 1945 until he retired in August 1966. After 15 happy years of retirement at Taunton he died in 1981.
A. JEWITT B.A.
Mr Jewitt came to Purley in 1934 and remained at the School until his retirement at the end of 1968• He was Deputy Headmaster from 1952 to 1966 when he became Acting Headmaster, a post which he held until he retired. Mr Jewitt now lived in Sanderstead and died in 1996.
The seventy-four years of Purley's history carry us back to 1914. But its real origins lie even further back. In 1897, Queen Victoria celebrated her Diamond Jubilee as Queen. One Sir Joseph Lawrence, of Kenley, decided to commemorate the fact by constructing a building at the junction of St. James's Road and Godstone Road. The building was to be dedicated to educational purposes - lectures, classes, meetings and so on. The first lecture was delivered by the Professor of Astronomy at Cambridge University. It was that building which Surrey County Council purchased, converted and opened in September, 1914, as Purley County Secondary School.
The School opened with only forty-eight boys and four Staff. The Staff were Mr. Wight (Headmaster), Mr. Dorsett, Mr.Serjeant and Mr. Milner, the familiar names, of course, of the School's original four Houses. The School roll rapidly expanded: 60 in January, 1915 and 100 in July, 1915. At the end of the war, the numbers had risen to 260. Sufficient Staff for these rapidly rising numbers were hard to find in wartime. Of the original four, Mr. Milner was killed in the war and Mr. Dorsett wounded.
Purley School community played its part in wartime activities in various ways. For example, it helped to make splints and crutches for Purley Red Cross, turning out 3,000 splints in fifteen months. In 1915, the Cadet Corps was formed. The-Headmaster was its very keen commander and the national fame he achieved with the Corps won him the rank of Lt.-Colonel in 1918, by special recommendation of the War Office.
The main effort was concentrated, naturally, on academic work. In those days, the first public examination was the General Schools Certificate (GCSE?). If candidates reached a sufficiently high standard, they also received Matriculation Certificates, the basic requirement for University entrance. Purley Boys entered for the London University Board and excellent results were obtained. Gradually, boys stayed on to study at Advanced Level where, again, a sufficiently high standard could gain exemption from University Intermediate degree examinations in Arts or Science subjects. A joint Advanced Course was developed with Whyteleafe County School for Girls.
By 1919, boys were also beginning to leave school and this led to the formation of the 'Purley County School Old Boys' Association'. The Association has survived the vicissitudes of the years, keeping 'Past and Present' in touch right down to the present. Old Purleians have played a quiet but effective part on both the national and international stage. Two names in particular have achieved worldwide fame - Peter Cushing and Gordon Pirie, even though the general public would not associate them with Purley.
1920 saw the first change of Headmaster. Mr. Wight, to the clear regret of everyone, left to become Head of a larger Nottingham school and was replaced by Mr. Mitchell. He was a distinguished scholar and had been Head of Science and 'Officer-Commanding' the O.T.C. at Newcastle-under-Lyme High School. Mr. Mitchell was determined to maintain the School 's reputation and vigour. School activities were developed and new ones formed; outings were organised to places of interest in London and country areas; Rugby Football replaced Soccer.
Mr. Mitchell was a strict disciplinarian. Every Form had its own conduct book: any misbehaviour was duly noted and Saturday morning detention awarded for serious offences. The cane of course was also used. This was administered by the Headmaster in his study after school. Many pupils regarded as the worst part of the ordeal the friendly handshake afterwards to show there was no ill-feeling. There were also warnings against associating with the girls from Whyteleafe School, particularly on trains from Caterham to Kenley. In addition, Form Mark Sheets were kept by the Form Monitors. Every two weeks, each boy's percentage and form position were calculated and recorded. On the following Monday's Assembly, each Form's top boy handed his Form's sheet to the Headmaster on the platform. The Headmaster read out the top three names and commented on the tail-enders, some of these finding themselves booked for an evening's interview in the Headmaster's study.
In those days, Purley did not enjoy the luxury of any on-site sports facilities. The School Playing Field lay along the Godstone Road near Kenley Station. It had no pavilion, so boys changed at School and walked, in an orderly manner, to the field. There was a Sports Day at the end of the Spring Term. This ended with tea for the parents and a concert in the evening in the School hall with members of Staff and boys providing impromptu entertainment.
School meals as such did not exist at that time. There was no proper dining-hall and no proper kitchen facilities. The boys ate their packed lunches in the School hall. It was possible to persuade Mrs. Beechey, the caretaker's wife, to warm up simple preparations in the small kitchen adjacent to the stage if you handed them to her at the appropriate time.
The Headmaster's tea-parties for those going on to university or college were another custom. Boys were invited to tea by Mr. and Mrs. Mitchell to be told what to beware of in life, particularly girls. Mr. Mitchell was always pleased to keep in touch with Old Boys. They were, however, liable to find their letters returned with a few amendments to bring the expression up to a Purley boy's standard.
By 1930, the numbers of boys had vastly outgrown the capacity
of the Godstone Road site. The overcrowding was aggravated particularly by the
enlargement of the Sixth Form and the major distraction for classes fronting the
Godstone Road from its
steadily increasing traffic. Surrey County Council was therefore persuaded of the need for a new site.
Purley County Secondary School for Boys moved to its present premises in Placehouse Lane in April, 1933. The Headmaster of Charterhouse School performed the Official Opening Ceremony on 24th May. The new building was not perfect. The economic situation demanded economies and these were achieved through providing narrower corridors and smaller cloakrooms than were really desirable. Nonetheless, the gain was enormous: boys no longer had to journey across the grounds for Art and Woodwork, lessons in huts at the back of the School and the playing field lay within the School boundaries.
Many changes have, of course, been made since then, but the School buildings still hold many memories of those early days in Placehouse Lane. The present Room 40 served the same basic purpose then as now, for Assembly and various stage performances. All the classrooms, by decree of Surrey County Council, were on the sunny side of the building, facing out to the playing field. The remaining three sides of the quadrangle housed the Handicraft and Art rooms, Science laboratories, Headmaster's study, Medical Room, Staff and Prefects' Rooms, Hall, Kitchen and Caretaker's quarters. The Gymnasium was the present dining-hall.
Purley County School for Girls was opened in Stonefield Road at about the same time.
Mr. Mitchell took energetic steps to prevent his boys travelling to and from School in the company of the girls. A strict lookout had also to be kept at lunchtime, so that they would not leave the School premises in order to meet the girls.
Such problems proved to be no barrier to educational progress. Swimming became a regular feature of the curriculum, not withstanding the inconvenience of making the return journey to Croydon Swimming Baths by bicycle. By 1935, there were over 400 boys in the School (including over 25 in the Sixth Form), with a corresponding increase in both Staff and subjects taught.
New difficulties confronted the School in 1939 and throughout the war years. Staff were in short supply, evacuation posed its own problems, travel to and from School became difficult and many lessons and even examinations were conducted in the underground air-raid shelters alongside the south-east side of the playing-field. Happily, the School survived the frequent alerts, weird sounds of aircraft, crashes and explosions, 'doodle-bugs', etc.
At the end of the war, in 1945, much re-organisation was required. It began after VE-Day (8th May, 1945) with a Speech Day and PT Display at the end of the summer term. The School also acquired a new Headmaster in the following September, when Dr. Birchall succeeded Mr. Mitchell after twenty-five years.
From the start, Dr. Birchall displayed a firm enthusiasm that infused every member of the School. Old Clubs were reformed and new ones developed; academic work was addressed with a fresh keenness. It took some time for the established Staff to return from war service and of course new Staff were recruited. Among these was Mr. G.H. Love, who took over Woodwork and Handicraft. One morning, he was visited in the workshop by Dr. Birchall. The Headmaster wished to know if anything could be done about his artificial leg (acquired as a result of an aircraft crash during the war) which was making nasty noises as he walked. The Head could then have been seen lying on a work-bench while Mr. Love oiled the offending limb. The episode is typical of Dr. Birchall's spirit.
One new development at the School in 1945 was the formation of a Flight of the Air Training Corps, resulting from Dr. Birchall's continuing interest in the Royal Air Force. Cross-country Running was also introduced, soon becoming an alternative to Rugby. The library was enlarged and magazines provided. The ground was fertile for new ideas and the Staff enthusiastically pursued them. The new 11-year old entrants were delighted at the opportunities available for nonacademic activity at Purley County Grammar School.
Mr. Fishlock, the Head of English, brought the annual Sports Concert to new heights and established a tradition which has lasted until almost the last years of the School. The Easter term was rounded off with packed audiences for three or four evenings, raising money for sports activities. The final item of every Sports Concert was always the most memorable - Mr. Fishlock's 'Parodies'. One of these became a traditional conclusion to every Concert:
Keep right on to the end of the term, Keep right on to the end.
Though your homework's wrong Let your heart be strong,
Keep right on till you mend. Though you're tired and weary
Press ever on, undiscouraged and cheerful and firm,
And don't ever let anyone forget
Holidays mark the end of the term.
A Music Society was formed and soon orchestral concerts were produced at the end of the summer term, while the production of a play at Christmas became traditional.
The old Army Cadet Corps finally passed out of existence in 1948, but the A.T.C. continued to flourish. There were annual camps at RAF stations and visits were frequently made to RAF Kenley for instruction on gliding, flying and shooting on the .22 range.
On Whit-Monday, 1951, the Cricket Pavilion was officially dedicated and opened. This was the result of an appeal launched in 1949 for funds to erect such a pavilion as a memorial to those members of the School who had lost their lives during the war. The opening ceremony was followed by a match between the School and the Old Boys.
The School's first Open Day took place at the end of the spring term, 1953. Parents and visitors met the Staff and saw a very full programme of demonstration lessons, laboratory exhibitions and various society activities. There was also a Hobbies Exhibition, teas were served and the day concluded with a Dance.
The scale of School activities steadily increased. Parties visited an increasing number of places of interest and holiday trips abroad flourished. The boys set up a School Council: it met every fortnight to discuss every aspect of School life; motions were put forward for consideration by the Headmaster and Staff. House events were enlarged to include academic and other activities as well as sport.
The first Snowdon trip took place in the autumn term of 1953, arranged by Mr. Carey. Snowdonia made a tremendous impact on the boys and trips took place regularly at half-term. In 1955, the School acquired the tenancy of an old farm building in the Llanberis Pass. School working-parties fitted it out as a climbing hut. Later, a better situated and equipped building was acquired, which has been used by the School down to the present day.
Meanwhile, the School's academic reputation flourished through its '0' and 'A' Level results and scholarships and places gained at Universities and Colleges. In fact, in 1958, an Old Purleian's Oxford-Cambridge Society was formed. Pupils and Staff numbers, together with subjects taught, continued to increase. In 1959, therefore, once more the builders moved in. The kitchen became a classroom and the gymnasium was converted into the dining-hall with new kitchens added. Further extensions and new building were carried out to increase facilities.
Dr. Birchall gradually developed a friendly relationship with the Girls' School and some of their Staff and pupils appeared in 'H.M.S. Pinafore' in December, 1958. This collaboration has continued both on the stage and in the annual Carol Service at St. John's Church, Old Coulsdon, first held in 1957.
Discipline was regarded by Dr. Birchall as essential to a boy's development. The firmness of this conviction was brought home to the nation at large by the national press just before Christmas 1964. On the last day of the autumn term, boys had to report to their forms for registration and receiving of reports before the end-of-term Assembly in the Hall. A number of Sixth formers were missing. On their eventual arrival after searching enquiry, it was discovered that they had been visiting local inns. After the rest of the School had been dismissed, the thirty or so offenders each received "six of the best". The following morning, the episode was spread across the newspapers. Most of the subsequent letters to the editor supported Dr. Birchall's action.
In 1964 the School celebrated its fiftieth anniversary with a grand and very successful gathering in the Fairfield Hall, Croydon.
The clouds were, however, already beginning to darken the horizon. The district of Purley had passed out of Surrey's control to become part of the Greater London Area. Croydon Borough Council, which was now the local education authority, had new ideas about the organisation of its schools, as Dr. Birchall discovered in his last two years before retirement in 1966.
Mr. Jewitt, the deputy headmaster, took over as Head until the appointment of Mr. Akers at the end of 1968. During that interregnum, the Parents' Association was formed. It flourished over the succeeding years, providing strong support to many School activities. A summer fete was held on the playing field and this became an annual event, aiding the School financially in a variety of ways. Outstanding examples of this help are the provision of coaches and minibuses, substantial improvements to the facilities at Bens and - as a lasting tribute to the parents' work - the School's own heated and covered swimming pool.
Mr. Akers very soon demonstrated that he intended both to maintain the School's traditions and undertake new developments. His first task, however, was to see through successfully Croydon's implementation of the comprehensive system, which abolished the 11+ and the concept of Grammar Schools. The changeover at Purley began at the end of 1969. Boys transferred en bloc to the newly entitled 'Purley High School for Boys' from their 'middle' schools at the age of 14. This left them two years to complete their courses to O-Level or CSE before leaving at 16 or staying on in the Sixth Form, either to take A-Level subjects or to improve earlier grades. The administrative and teaching problems were immense.
Nonetheless, timetables were written, the boys' choices were, on the whole, accommodated, the extra Staff appointed, teaching strategies established and academic success continued.
Further fresh building had, of course, to be constructed for the increased numbers. This also resulted in the addition of two new Houses, named after the two previous Heads, Jewitt and Birchall. A major innovation introduced by Mr. Akers was the annual sailing holiday on the Norfolk Broads during the Easter holidays. Many Old Purleians will have happy memories of their experiences there, under Mr. Akers' expert tuition.
Thanks to splendid cooperation among Staff, parents and boys, with support from the School Governors, the reputation of the School under Mr. Akers reached standards which will long be remembered in the district after Purley High School for Boys ceases to exist from July 1988. We hope that the new mixed Sixth Form College will be able to follow in this tradition.
Copyright GWW Gossip Columns