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Archbishop Tenison's

Church of England High School

Archbishop Tenison's CE High School
Selborne Road
Croydon
CR0 5JQ

Chapter 5 - Tenison's at war

Once the physical problems of setting up the school in Craigmore Hall had been overcome, schooling in the new surroundings became a relatively pleasant experience. The classes were small and despite the disruptive aspects of adapting to unaccustomed surroundings, learning took on an almost personal image.

The front of the building, as shown in picture number 3, was identified by its main entrance, which was on the side facing away from the road. On one side of the entrance was a long glassed-in conservatory. In its original form it had probably housed a variety of plants and similar embellishments to civilized living, but in our time it was occupied by long benches upon which we sat to remove our dirty footwear and beneath which our dirty footwear was stored. Behind the conservatory was a large room used for indoor games. It contained a billiard table and probably other games as well. There were certainly at least two set of table tennis equipment in the place and they were well used by staff as well as pupils. The exact layout of the other rooms on the ground floor is subject to confirmation. As far as I can remember, there was a kitchen behind the games room, and across the wide entrance hall, a large room used for examinations and other tortures, behind which was the room used by Mr. Carter for carpentry and handicrafts.

A wide staircase led from the entrance hall to the rooms on the upper floors, which is where most of the learning took place. A smaller staircase, located beneath the main stairs, led down to the basement. The structure below ground was not large and had been reinforced with heavy beams to serve as the air raid shelter. We did not use it very often for that purpose but it did come in useful for other functions. In post-war years, Craigmore Hall was given a reprieve. The building was tastefully refurbished and converted into a multiple dwelling structure. The work was conducted within the general lines of the original exterior framework, although a few major modifications are noticeable. The principle difference when viewed from the outside is the flattening of the upper roof and removal of the long row of raised ornate windows, which ran from one side of the building to the other. Dormer windows, which originally pierced the roof on the upper floor, have been replaced with flush skylights. The glazing that surrounded the front veranda during the war has been removed, exposing the original support columns, bracketry and ornamental glazed panels above. The present door to the main entrance looks very much like the original and may well be so. The chimneys have of course disappeared.

Thanks to the kindness of Steve Selby, an Old Tenisonian who now lives in Crowborough, pictures numbered 4, 5 and 6 show us what the building looks like today. Picture number 7 is a view of the grounds taken from the main entrance. The buildings visible at the bottom of the grounds have been constructed since the war. When the school was in residence, a vista of open fields spread to the horizon, particularly when viewed from the upper floors.

Although the basic features of the school curriculum remained more or less intact, it was inevitable that some adjustments would be required. The first part of the programme to fall victim of the circumstances was handicrafts. Materials for the course became unavailable and it was left to the individual students to beg, borrow or otherwise obtain bits and pieces of wood and other articles that were required to receive instruction in a somewhat irregular fashion. Instead of making the traditional woodcraft items that generations of Tenisonians had worked on before us, we were given a more or less free hand to match the products to available lumber, providing that the drawings were made correctly and all of the standard rules observed. We learned to laminate small pieces of lumber to make larger pieces, from which we could fashion hitherto undreamed of contrivances. We probably learned as much about what not to do as we did about what could be accomplished. Innovation became the order of the day and that was probably the most useful lesson of all.

The first year in Crowborough was the most dramatic with regard to the amount of adjustment and adaptation required. Some of the contingent that had arrived initially at the outbreak of the war drifted back home during the so-called ‘phony war’ period. But once the school had gone through a complete annual cycle, things settled into a new routine. At the end of the first cycle, there was some re-arrangement of students and a few of the members of the form above became part of our group. Presumably, they were doing part, or all of their previous year again. Even with the augmentation, our form was still only 13 strong, less than half the number we started out with in Croydon. The lower grades had larger numbers.

The old oak school desks complete with submerged inkwells, carpentry benches and science room equipment had been brought down from Croydon and squeezed into Craigmore Hall. There were no wall-mounted blackboards of course and the lessons were administered from portable blackboards. Supplies in general were limited and we were required to add extra lines to the top and bottom of the ruled sheets of paper to extend their use. Envelopes were recycled by using stick-on labels and pencils came in plain wood without paint. The "Utility 41" programme that was introduced in 1941 became the standard for most of the consumables used in the school (see picture number 8). The introduction of clothes rationing meant that when we had outgrown or worn out our school uniforms, we were obliged to revert to regular commercial clothing, in which fashion most of us completed our school years.

The financial constraints imposed upon the school were undoubtedly a source of worry for Mr. Henderson and his staff. Our headmaster did not hesitate to share his burden with the pupils and we were frequently advised of his problems during his visits to the classrooms. Even Mr. Hobbs, the caretaker, was the topic of discussion when he asked for a raise in salary. The poor fellow probably needed it to cope with the instability of wartime expenses.

Mr. Hobbs was a local man, probably in his early 50s when he came to the school. He had a broad local accent, which he played to the hilt, and an infectious grin to complement his sense of humour. Although he had no assigned authority to maintain discipline, he did not hesitate to admonish any of us foolish enough to be caught out mucking up his territory.

As there was no paved surface at Craigmore Hall, other than the gravelled driveway, PT was not an activity that could be pursued in the traditional manner. Consequently, outdoor game periods were allocated (contingent upon the weather of course) in which the students were provided with a football and a set of very flexible rules with which to maim one another in the field at the bottom of the grounds. The form master was always present to ensure fair play, although Mr. Stanley was not averse to cheering on one side or the other with shouted comments such as "kill him" and "tear his trousers off!" He could become very red-faced and animated under such circumstances. George Stanley had an inventory of expressive comments that he would call upon as occasions demanded, all of them sarcastic. His unique label for us pupils was "Oxford Students". A standard comment, used to describe our presumed gullibility, was, "You can tell an Oxford Student anywhere; and you can tell him anything".

In 1941, for our form, gardening was evidently a regular Tuesday activity as an alternative to Woodworking. We started early in the year, breaking up the ground by double-digging and planting the early potatoes and whatever else would survive the February weather. Although gardening was probably not compulsory, most of us participated in ‘digging for victory’ and the results were well used in the kitchen. No doubt some of us put the lessons learned in the Craigmore garden to good use later in life. As the grounds had not been tended for some time prior to Tenison’s taking them over, the vegetation had gone out of control and wildlife had taken the opportunity to move in. One day, when working in the garden, I caught a mouse. The animal resented this considerably and to show its feelings, bit me through one thumb. It was not a friendly mouse so I let it go.

At some point quite early in the war, it was decided that all school children should have one-third pint bottles of milk daily as part of the school programme. I think this was free to the students at the beginning but later we were charged a halfpenny a day. In the cold weather, most of us would line up the bottles of milk in front of the open fires used to heat the rooms, so that the milk would be warm for the morning recess. Lids would pop off and the cream at the top of the bottles would thicken and sometimes even bubble over.  

As a contribution toward the improvement of community relations, Tenison’s established a neighbourhood boys’ club. Quite a few of the local lads joined in the extra-curricula activities and the move certainly succeeded in integrating local youth with we city exiles. The principle attractions were billiards, snooker and table tennis. However, we had several specialized sub groups which, theoretically, benefited from the expertise of the masters. The two that interested me most were the aeromodelling group and the wireless (radio) group. Aeromodelling was a popular activity with the lads but none of the masters was interested. Phil Clarke, Mickey Gower and I were dedicated modellers. Phil and Mickey built models from existing designs and generally, they flew very well. I preferred to design my own and more often than not they did not fly at all well. But the gadgets that I designed into them were quite successful. The materials that we required for the models became progressively harder to find. We managed to make our own fabric dope by dissolving chips of celluloid in amyl acetate and acetone and although the landladies complained bitterly about the smell, the results generally worked well. But when the so-called Japanese tissue for coverings became unavailable, we didn’t need the dope.

As far as the radio was concerned, we were more or less on our own as wartime developments that we knew about progressed so rapidly that the masters were in no better position to keep up than we were. And so we cut up old tin cans and crushed the carbon sticks out of exhausted dry batteries to manufacture carbon microphones. We hand-wound magnetic coils to power simple speakers and once again cut up tin cans to provide material for the diaphragms. We cursed as the diaphragms stuck to the magnet cores because the iron was insufficiently soft. We built Morse keys from whatever oddments we could scrounge. We enjoyed ourselves immensely but I don’t think we ever succeeded in either sending or receiving a radio signal.

A very popular component of the boys’ club was the canteen. It was of course the school’s kitchen during the day but on club nights, some local ladies came in to cobble together all sorts of delightful snacks for sale at very nominal prices. Lady Rhodes, who lived nearby, was one of the volunteers who came regularly to help with the chores. Her title meant very little to her while she was supporting the war effort by community service. In the framework of rationing, goodness knows where the ladies obtained the supplies for their refreshments. Perhaps the products were not as exotic as they seemed to us at the time. 

The full realization of how a war affects people was again brought home to us when Mr. Garland was called up for duty. I understand that he was with the intelligence section of the R.A.F. His departure from the school for the duration meant that teaching duties needed to be re-shuffled once again. Mr. Henderson took over as the algebra teacher and Mr. Stanley, Mr. Pratt and Mr. Hughes took the English and mathematics for their own classes. Mr. Stanley taught his specialty subject of French to all classes, Mr. Pratt took physics and Mr. Hughes maintained his specialty status in geography and art. Each of the masters supervised the scripture studies for their own forms. That subject was part of the Tenison’s curriculum but was not required for the Oxford exams.

Mr. Henderson was somewhat hard of hearing. Thus, during the algebra lessons we needed to watch our enunciation carefully when responding to questions. He liked us to be as close to the front of the class as possible, whereas we preferred to be as far away as possible due to the fact that the poor fellow had some difficulty controlling his flow of saliva. We soon learned that if we could somehow introduce the topic of trench warfare into the lectures, we would be guaranteed an anecdotal recounting of his own personal experiences in WW1. It didn’t matter how many times we re-heard tales about the mud and the booby-trapped pictures of Kaiser Bill left in the trenches as the Germans retreated, it always provided temporary respite from the mysteries of algebra. The impact on homework was worth it.

Mr. Hughes was an accomplished artist. He had a quick, casual style of drawing and could caricaturize characters quite accurately. His blackboard renderings in coloured chalk illustrated his lecture topics very well and helped to make our acquisition of knowledge almost pleasurable. As the art teacher, Mr. Hughes's expertise enabled him to pass on a great deal of knowledge and guidance that undoubtedly made a valuable impression on those of us who had any affinity for the subject. We were somewhat restricted by limitations of art supplies and the nature of instruction was adapted accordingly. I developed a line-and-wash technique that was to prove useful later in the production of some types of engineering drawings. On the other hand, the emphasis on the use of body colour, in the form of poster paints or gouache, did nothing to develop the degree of subtlety required for the execution of paintings in watercolour. Subtlety of tone in pencil drawing was one of Mr. Hughes's specialties and he imparted the knowledge very well. Although most of the fellows in the class seemed to enjoy and benefit from the art instruction, a few of us vied for excellence in the subject. Charlie Nicholls and I competed for the honour of being top dog and we exchanged places in that category throughout our spell with Tenison's. In the final exams, I managed to beat him to the post, but whereas he went on to make a profession of art, I used the subject mainly to support other ventures.

In the dispensation of knowledge, Mr. Hughes used his artistic talents to create some very effective geographic maps on the blackboard. If the geography class was scheduled for first lesson in the morning, he would draw elaborate maps of the subject prior to commencement, probably during the preceding evening. On one such occasion, we arrived in class to discover an elaborate map on the blackboard, in glorious coloured chalk, bearing the inscription "The Ruhr Coalfield" across its middle. (Despite the hostilities, European geography was still taught on the basis of pre-war knowledge, although the progress of battles was constantly being reviewed in the framework of our lessons.) For some reason, the title seemed to evoke a sense of mischief among the minions. As Mr. Hughes had not arrived on the scene, one of the more adventurous of our group (surprisingly enough, a fellow who would never normally consider doing such a thing), applied a few swift strokes with the eraser and some flourishes with the chalk to change the title to "The Ruhbarb Field". A hardly contained apprehensive silence greeted the eventual arrival of our worthy tutor and then, after the usual preliminaries had been dispensed with, the lesson got under way. It was a little while before reference to the map on the board was necessary but when that happened, Mr. Hughes did a double take, realizing at once that his masterpiece had been vandalized. We were expecting him to enjoy the humour of the moment but much to our dismay, exactly the opposite occurred. He was incensed and with blackened brow and indescribable indignation, he flew into a rage, demanding to know who had dared to desecrate his work. This performance was totally out of character and one that we never saw repeated. It must have been a noisy display also, as Mr. Henderson soon arrived on the scene and joined in the rhetoric. I think that our headmaster was less disturbed by the prank itself than he was at the spelling of "rhubarb". We earned a collective punishment for that.

In the classroom, Mr. Pratt had a barbaric style of teaching that would not be tolerated today. His philosophy was undoubtedly based upon the premise that lessons learned in an environment of fear would be best remembered. Unfortunately, he was evidently unaware of the fact that once an individual's tolerance for abuse had been exceeded, the brain shut down and no longer remained receptive. Not infrequently, he passed beyond that boundary. Nevertheless, his general level of accomplishment in imparting knowledge was quite satisfactory and we absorbed our science lessons in spite of Mr. Pratt rather than because of him.

When I joined the school at Selsdon Road in 1938, the students from the previous year did a creditable job of instilling fear and trembling into the new arrivals just prior to the first, fearsome science lesson. No doubt, under other circumstances, we in turn would have done the same with the new arrivals at the commencement of the next year's classes. But that took place in Crowborough and all was trauma anyway so what difference was a vicious, tyrannical science master going to make?

Mr. Pratt's manner of abuse was usually, although not exclusively, verbal. By comparing notes with later generations of Tenisonians, his turn of phrase appears to have changed from time to time. During my spell with the school, his commonest expression was "You filthy little gutter snipe". When this was directed at me (a not infrequent occurrence), there was probably justification for his ire if not for his choice of terms. I have yet to find a reasonable explanation of the term "gutter snipe". Perhaps it's best not to know. The physical reinforcement of Pratt's lessons was accomplished with a metre ruler. The variety with brass end caps was favourite as it was less likely to be damaged when coming into sudden contact with a Tenisonian. On one occasion it was used to administer an edge-on attack to the kneecap of a member of the lower form. The knee swelled magnificently in protest and its owner was rendered hors de combat for quite a little while. There was no remorse evident in the attacker but of course we did not know what might have been said behind the scenes.

One incident that stands out in my memory of our days in Crowborough concerns the Boyle's Law Tube. This was a long glass device with a "U" section at its lower end, complete with ground-in glass plug valve. The school had not had one of these things until we had been at Crowborough for a little while. The item was received with a great deal of reverence, consistent with its outlandish price of 24s. 6d. Mr. Pratt made it quite clear from the start that even with the help of such a sophisticated piece of equipment, his chances of instilling in our diminutive, moronic brains, the fact that the volume of an ideal gas varies inversely with its applied pressure, (assuming constant temperature of course) would be absolutely minimal. Considering the cost and delicacy of the tube, it is difficult to understand why it was left standing on its end in front of the cabinet containing the beam balances. The cabinet was at the front of the room, where I was directed to stand in disgrace on numerous occasions, to ponder the ramifications of the indiscretions that I seemed to be in the habit of committing. Needless to say, I was occupying the position of disgrace, near to but not in contact with the wretched tube, when something caused the thing to teeter from its perch and sail ingloriously to the floor. After the tinkling of shattered glass had subsided, the most noticeable thing was the silence. The expected explosion from the desk did not occur. Instead, Mr. Pratt looked directly at me with a fierce expression and said quietly, "You are going to pay for that!" He then announced the cost, which is why I remember it so well. Despite my vehement protests that I had not touched the thing, (perfectly true), I was burdened with responsibility. Boys being what they are, some of my faithful classmates did not miss the opportunity to attest to the fact that they had seen me deliberately send the thing to its doom. The prospect of having my small weekly allowance committed for an indefinite period seemed awesome, particularly in view of the injustice of the situation. But, as it transpired, I was not required to foot the bill. The tube was not replaced in my time.

Another of Mr. Pratt's little social comments was, "The more the badges, the bigger the fool". This was a reference to a current fashion of adorning blazer lapels with as many odd and meaningless badges as they could support without the wearer toppling over under the weight. Needless to say, the Pratt lapels were as naked as the day they were made. Until that is, one day when the gentleman took his place at the front of the class with a small silver badge in his left lapel. There was great disbelief but only the most quietly whispered comment. The newly formed Air Training Corps had taken our worthy science master as its local commanding officer, requiring him to wear his badge of office proudly. After several days of silence, one of our number, a reckless fellow with a natural tendency to do himself great harm, said to Mr. Pratt something like "Excuse me Sir, is that a badge?" After what seemed like an electric eternity, Mr. Pratt almost smiled and agreed that it was.

Although most will find it difficult to believe, from that point forward there was a noticeable change in Mr. Pratt's general attitude. To start with, he openly invited those of us who were interested, to defy the lower age limit for joining the Corps and to start training to become cannon fodder. The offer was strictly conditional upon Corps activities not being allowed to interfere with Science homework. I have the impression that all of the other Masters did not necessarily approve of the arrangement but the objections were implied rather than voiced. A handful of us took advantage of the offer. As C.O. of the unit, Pratt's attitude was exemplary. It was difficult for the Tenisonians in the squadron to reconcile his extra-curricular manner with what we had come to expect in the classroom. I don't think that the local lads in the unit really believed the tales we would tell them about his tyrannical sadism at our place of learning. I understand that he reverted to style after the war. 

Mr. Henderson's policy in operating Archbishop Tenison's was openly geared to complete achievement of results by his pupils in the Oxford School Certificate examinations. He made it quite clear that the staff would pass judgement on those who were to be allowed to sit the exam. By this means, he boasted that the school had not had a failure for many, many years. Unfortunately, one of our form was destined to ruin his record in that respect. The teaching staff recognized that examination jitters could be as much a potential cause of failure as lack of knowledge. Consequently, it was school policy to have the students sit as many exams as possible before the final, irrevocable trial by Oxford. Although there was no real compulsion to do so, we were encouraged to sit as many of the Royal Society of Arts and London Chamber of Commerce exams as we could manage. The subjects interlocked nicely with those in the Oxford curriculum at that time. Most of us were able to fit in two or three each year from form three onward, enabling us to collect an impressive array of nicely printed parchment. The cost of writing the exams was quite nominal and was more than offset by the benefits of conditioning us against "examinationitis". It also provided our masters with a measure of our ability to demonstrate knowledge gained.

© Archbishop Tenison's CE High School