Bob Farmer

Loughton School and my family’s part in its history

(An extract from Loughton and District Historical Society newsletter.)

First let’s be clear where we are talking about. There are many schools in Loughton but the only one to use the title of ‘Loughton School’ in the 20th century was situated for much of its existence in what turns out to be a purpose-built school (but not for Loughton School) built in grounds where the Salcombe Park estate is now.

The school which became Loughton School has an obscure origin but it is thought to have been started in 1876 in a little house on the corner of the High Road and Upper Park Road. It changed its ownership and location more than once in the next few years but, in the summer of 1889, Mr William Vincent took over the school (then known as Madras House) from a Mr Girling. It was then at 6 Park Villas. The single schoolroom was built of corrugated iron at the side of the house and would take 24 boys.

Everything about the 7 school was antiquated but on Tuesday, 6 August 1889, according to Mr Vincent’s diary, ‘School opened. 10 boys present’. Among those 10 were two who became well known in Loughton village life, Horace White and Frank Foster. During the next few weeks more boys arrived to make a total of 17.

By September 1890 the number of boys had risen to 32 so the first master, a Mr S C Wynn McKenzie was engaged and for a year taught the juniors in the dining room. Then in 1891 the schoolroom was enlarged and improved. In June 1892 the adjoining house at No 5 Park Villas was taken over and the two houses were connected. No 5 was used for private accommodation allowing No 6 to be used purely for school purposes. The year 1892 is also memorable for in that year Madras House School became Loughton School. Until then this name had been used by a small school based in a house called Hillside on Albion Hill but the name was relinquished and arrangements made for its transfer. The increase in accommodation allowed an increase from 39 in the Michaelmas term to 57 in the following year.

In direct competition to the school was St John’s College which had opened in 1890 in a school which had been designed and built for the education of the daughters of middle-class families. Apparently not enough middle-class parents were keen on having their daughters educated and the school failed. And in 1895 St John’s College followed it and Mr Vincent was able to acquire the premises which in the girls’ days had been called Salcombe College and was designed by James Cubitt (1836–1912). This shows considerable enterprise by Mr Vincent but this success story was by no means over. A schoolroom was added on the north-west side of the house as large as the space would allow and 60 boys and three masters moved in during 1896. The school prospered and in 1905 a chemistry laboratory was built on the back of the school and a detached building that boys at the school called the Big School was built in 1906. By now the school had over 100 pupils.

Many of the parents that sent their boys to the school wished to have them board there so, by 1907, it was necessary to seek other premises for them. One of the then masters, Mr C W Bishop set up a house for boarders in a property called ‘Atherstone’ immediately opposite the school gates. His wife, who was a trained nurse, took charge of the domestic arrangements of the house.

In 1907 the school was inspected for the first time by the Board of Education. Their conclusion was that: ‘This school is doing good and useful work, discipline is good and is maintained without effort and there is a healthy tone in the school and its corporate life.’ Of Mr Vincent they said he had high powers of organisation and was a thoroughly good and efficient teacher.

On 2 May 1908, Loughton County High School for Girls was opened and in his speech that day the chairman of the Essex Education Committee made this reference to Loughton School: ‘No doubt we shall have to provide more boys’ schools, but that will not be the case here, because we have here Mr Vincent’s admirable school to which we, as a county, owe a great deal.’ Although it was a private school, the county regarded it as part of their secondary school provision.

The school was inspected again in July 1913 when at that time there were 116 pupils. Once again the inspection was favourable and concluded: ‘The conduct and bearing of the boys are a credit to the school’ and ‘in all essentials of organisation and discipline the school does well and is serving the neighbourhood and county efficiently.’ Mr Vincent was very keen on what he called ‘Esprit de corps’ and it is some indication of what he managed that at one time the Old Boys’ Association was one of the strongest in the country in comparison with the size of the school.

When I joined the school in 1946 there were about 160 boys there (or to be correct 160 pupils as Mr Johnson had taken in girls during the war and I think we still had four) and there were over 600 members of the Association.

In 1914 came the war to end all wars and in response to this, the school organised its own Cadet Corps in 1915. Mr L Bone was appointed Officer in Charge and was commissioned as Lieutenant Bone. The Corps formed part of what was then known as the Essex Secondary Schools’ Cadet Corps and was attached to the Fourth Battalion of the Essex Regiment. Parades were held every Wednesday afternoon and all ‘non-cadets’ would assemble in the Big School for an informal lesson with a master. It was a splendid opportunity to get some homework done but now and again the master would try something interesting and I recall an afternoon with Mr Watkiss-Thomas (‘Wocko’) when we tried our hand at making a crossword puzzle and another with Mr Kane (‘Pat’) when I learnt a poem of the American Civil War named ‘Barbara Fretchie’. There are about 20 verses and I can recite most of it today my brain was obviously far more receptive then than today, alas!

My father was born in 1911 and started at Woodford Green Council School about a month before his fifth birthday. If you want to know why he went to that school you will need to read his book Woodford as I Knew It. He was successful in obtaining an Essex County Council scholarship and was given the option of attending Loughton School or Bancroft’s and chose Loughton for the wonderful academic reason that he would have to travel on the railway, one of his early loves which he kept all his life.

Mr Vincent had to retire due to ill-health and on the final day of school he stood at the top of the drive and shook hands with every boy, all of whom he knew by name, the Christian name in most cases. His place was taken by Mr Sly and Mr Johnson. Mr Sly was married but when Mr Johnson married in 1926, Mr Sly and his family moved to Croydon. Mr Johnson’s initials were O G and he was always referred to in my time as ‘Oggy’, but I am assured that one did not come from the other. As I understand it, there was something called ‘Oggy’ that was popular just before the the Second World War but what it was I have never discovered. But the coincidence was too good to pass by, so O G became ‘Oggy’.

Oggy enjoyed sport and amongst other things played in goal for the hockey 2nd XI. He played in one match against the 1st XI and, following one attack, he held the ball on the ground with his hand over it. This is illegal but Oggy looked up to the opposing centre forward with a ‘you dare’ look. And the forward dared! He smacked Oggy over the knuckles with his stick and, when Oggy took his hand off the ball, hit it into the back of the net. I understand there was no recrimination of any sort as Oggy knew he was in the wrong.

By 1927 Dad had had enough and following a stormy interview with the Essex County Council representative he left the school and started in the motor trade as he relates in another book, The Wood and Krailing Story. However, despite everything, he felt that he had obtained a great deal from his time there which is why I and later my brother Ken were sent to the school.

Ken was at the school in the early 60s but he did not appreciate his time there and never talked to me about it. He did, however, tell me once that he would have much preferred to go to Epping with his friends but that my Dad would not take ‘no’ for an answer. He died in a motor-cycle accident in 1991 so I am not in a position to ask him about his time at the school. He did impress Mr Houston who told my Dad, ‘I think Ken was cleverer than Bob – and that’s saying something!’

I started at Loughton in 1946 when I was eight and was put in the first form. This was (looking back) a bit of a surprise as the first form was year 5 in modern parlance and I could reasonably have expected to be in the lower first (year 4). However, not only did I survive but I actually excelled and during my second term was first in the form in nearly everything. This earned me promotion to the second form which was not a success, as I was coming in at the tail-end of a year’s work, and was pleased when my friends from the first form joined me at the end of the year. I was then promoted each year with my friends but was always about a year and a half below the average age of the form and had to do two years in the sixth form before I could leave.

There were two members of staff that were still there in my day from when my father joined the school. The first of these you have already met in the shape of Mr Bone who was still running the cadets although by then he was a major. Mr Bone joined the school in 1906 and left in 1949 due to deafness and, if there was a pillar of the school, then it was him. He was also a visiting master at the Girls’ School. The second member was Mr Pat Kane. As his initial was ‘F’, I don’t think his name was actually ‘Pat’ but I never heard him referred to as anything else and he was only ever Mr Kane on ceremonial occasions! I recall one occasion when I was in the 5th form (upstairs) and I was making and throwing paper darts at him down below which he made every effort to catch.

Another master that was nearly there in my day was ‘Toothy’ Morrow. My dad could remember him joining the school in 1924 and asked me about him but he had left in 1945. (He obviously saw me coming and thought teaching one Farmer was enough. I jest of course.) He was a superb classics master and can be counted in the ‘greats’ of Loughton School.

I will mention one more master who I personally got on very well with. He was Mr Watkiss-Thomas, a Welshman and he used to take us for, among other things, Maths. I can honestly say that ‘Wocko’ was the only Maths master I have met that actually understood the subject. He and I would have good natured tussles over the solving of problems but I could never get the better of him. He set us an exam paper that required us to prove that any two sides of a triangle are together greater than the third side. I wrote: ‘Sir it’s obvious, the shortest distance between two points is a straight line.’ I got the paper back with full marks for that question and with the comment: ‘Well done. Don’t try this in the GCE – the examiners won’t appreciate it.’

Maths has never been a problem to me and on one occasion in the 5th form I suspected that some boys in the class were copying my homework. My Maths book was nearly full so I got a new one and did my homework, correctly in the new book, which I then copied into my old book with a few subtle mistakes. I left the old book on top of my books in my desk with the new one carefully hidden away. Three boys were later obliged to tell Wocko how they had managed to get identical but incorrect answers.

Due to Mrs Johnson’s ill health, Oggy decided to give up the school and they retired to Eastbourne. His successor in 1952 was Mr D E Winkworth. Mr Houston joined the school staff in January 1954. The volume of office work increased and in 1957 he was offered a partnership. So the school had two heads once again, one in charge of the day-to-day running of the school and the other in charge of administration and finance. The Winkworths later moved to Hove with Mr Winkworth travelling up to do the administration and when the journey from Hove became too much he retired from the school.

Due to the demands of modern education, more space was needed. Two extra classrooms were built on the old tennis court and later the old laboratory was replaced. Form sizes had to be reduced and the old classrooms above the dining hall, which had accommodated boarders in my day, were rebuilt for use of the Geography Department and the old lab became a woodwork room.

In 1972 the school became co-educational and various alterations were done to accommodate the girls’ particular requirements. 9 Alterations and additions were made to the school to accommodate various initiatives but, finally, things got to an unsustainable level and the school closed in the summer of 1991.

Although I am academically bright and can hold my own with ease with the average man in the street, where physical activity is concerned it’s a horse of a quite different colour. I think I have exactly one sports medal to my name, by being part of the Rodney victorious tug of war team. We had four houses during my time: Anson (Blue), Hood (Red), Hawke (Yellow) and my house Rodney (Green) which as you will work out were named after famous admirals.

But back to sport. Most schools have a sport that they are known for and ours was hockey, so I was pleased to find that I was a natural back and furthermore possessed a ferocious hit which could carry a hockey ball from one end of the pitch to the other. We played football and cricket, of course, but neither appealed to me. I eventually got my first XI hockey colours which enabled me to change my school tie of dark red with two black lines for a colours tie which had a 20mm band of a lighter red, another of black and a 5mm band of silver.

When I was in the 5th form, Mrs Winkworth decided to open a tuck shop. She approached our form for assistance but was turned down. She was more successful with the 4th, who agreed to help. The next year, when we had become the 6th, Mr Winkworth appointed new prefects and they were chosen from his wife’s willing helpers who were now the 5th form. As you can guess, we didn’t think much of this, nor to our surprise did the rest of the school, who were willing to accept advice from the new 6th but ignored the new prefects, as we did. Discipline suffered and Mr Winkworth bowed to the obvious and appointed most of the 6th form as prefects, which included me. That allowed me to wear another tie similar to my colours one but with a gold band in place of the silver. If you had both you wore the colours tie!

As a prefect I could also have a white ring round the top of my cap. This was sent to my step-mother’s father, who had been a master tailor, and, instead of sewing a ring round the top, he took the cap apart, sewed a piece of ring on each segment and then reassembled the hat with the ring as an integral part of the cap rather than just being sewn on the top. In my day the school uniform was red (I would call it maroon). We wore a blazer with the school badge of an arm with a lopping axe and a cap of the same colour and the same badge.

I left the school in 1954 and the school changed the uniform colour to black. (In mourning? I doubt it!) Loughton School was not a school where you were pushed into academic achievement, at least as far as I was concerned. I know of boys who left Loughton simply because they had exams to pass and did not feel that they were being pushed enough. I managed to get my GCEs (NOT GCSE!) in Maths, English Language and General Science when they were far more rigorous than the exams set today, which seem to have been set to make life easy for the examiners, as a lot of exams are merely ‘ticking boxes’. I do know what I am talking about as I helped a boy for two years in his Science classes in years 10 and 11 at a local school and I could do his Science work with ease. Furthermore, I was often the only person in the class who was able to answer the teacher’s questions, although they now have new names for some things like ferrous or ferric oxide. Although Loughton School did not push you academically it did have a ‘je ne sais quoi’. (Excuse my French!). It is difficult to pin down but I honestly believe that although I did not come away with a sheaf of exams under my belt, I was a better person for having been there.

Mr Vincent’s introduction of hockey to the school led directly to the formation of the Loughton Hockey Club. A photograph is in existence dated 1905 showing the first XI with no less than seven Old Loughtonians in the team. The war brought an end to this club but in 1918 efforts to revive it were not successful. This led many Old Loughtonians to suggest that a club based on former pupils of the school which came from a much larger area than Loughton might be successful and so it proved. So the Old Loughtonians’ Hockey Club came into being. I won’t go too far into its history, but suffice to say it now runs a lot of teams, is one of the foremost clubs in England and is the highest rated club in Essex and thanks to the Olympics has two all-weather pitches of international standard. I find it ironic that some clubs that gave us up in the 60s and 70s as we were not strong enough, are now far below us in the ratings. C’est la vie!


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