Jack Farmer (1922)

I started my career at Loughton School in September 1922 at the beginning of Michaelmas Term. I had not then reached my eleventh birthday. To say that I was like a fish out of water would be an understatement, for I had no idea what to expect, and there was nobody in my family who had had experience of a Secondary School. Add to this my natural shyness, and you will get a pretty good idea of what I felt like.

At that time the Essex County Council had not made a grant to cover the cost of a season ticket, and I remember it cost my father 18/- (90p) for a term. The first train or ‘the early’ as we called it left Woodford at 8.16 and got us to Loughton in plenty of time. The ‘late’ left at 8.35 and gave us just time to walk to school with the Epping crowd whose train got into Loughton simultaneously. If however we missed this and had to catch the ‘late late’ at 8.40, we had to run all the way from Loughton station to school and if we were lucky, managed to scramble into Assembly by the skin of our teeth!

Just before 9am the bell rang and we all went into Assembly, sitting at any available place. We then had to stand while the Headmaster Mr William Vincent entered, followed by all the masters in order of seniority. After saying a few words of welcome Mr Vincent would announce the hymn to be sung. As it was the beginning of term this would be No 576 in Hymns Ancient and Modern, ‘Lord Behold Us With Thy Blessing’, which we sung to the tune ‘Eton College’, the Headmaster playing the old harmonium and drowning us all with his strong tenor voice. This was followed by prayers, the Lord’s Prayer, and instructions as to classes. I was sent to Form III with two other Scholarship boys, E P (Teddy) Brown from Wanstead and R H G (Reg) Phillips from Ongar. The form master was Mr S M Durrant.

Mr Vincent ran the school along the lines of a Public School and he ran it very well. Most of the boys there had their fees paid by their parents; some of whom were very well off, a few boys – a very few – would take the rise out of a Scholarship boy, which didn’t help any, but I suppose was inevitable. I was very conscious that my parents were very poor, and could not afford to give me money, even for a cup of cocoa at mid-morning break! A school lunch was out of the question; so we ate our sandwiches in the otherwise empty Assembly Room. If we decided to go home to dinner, when the bell rang at 12.55, it would give us just time to catch the 1.10 but we had to be back on Woodford station at 2pm which didn’t give us long. Afternoon school started at 2.25.

As I began to feel my feet, so I also began to get into mischief and was soon in trouble. For an imposition we had to fill a page of an exercise book with neat handwriting and we were rarely given less than two. It was doubly hard if we had to copy out in Latin. There wasn’t much chance either of using a page for a second time as the master invariably drew a blue pencil line from corner to corner. At one time the Head gave me an ‘impot’, but the next day I got grit in my eye, and he was kindness itself in using an eyebath to remove it. I thought he had forgotten all about the ‘impot’ but he hadn’t and Maurice Harvey and I had to go up to the study for a very different reason. Maurice went over the armchair first and kicked up such a row he only got two, so I did likewise. Each term we had a half-day which was known as a Merit Half, but any boy who had three ‘impots’ during the period lost his. I’m afraid I lost several.

The following year my father fell out of a tree he was pruning in Mornington Road and was unable to work. In 1925 he died leaving my mother with no income whatsoever. How she kept me at school I shall never know. She was given a little money by Uncle Stephen at the Nursery and the people Dad had worked for; she also did some dressmaking. There was no hope of clothing or equipment for games and sports and I had to pretend I didn’t like them. I was given a second-hand hockey stick so I could take part in the compulsory games. One afternoon a week was given over to these, and when we used the LNER ground next to the station, if we could, we caught the 3.57 train home! The next train was at 4.06 followed by the 4.27. If we missed these it was the 4.44 but this was a short train from Ongar and we would have to wait while the engine drew off and the other six carriages backed on.

Hockey was always the No 1 game at Loughton, and the Old Boys’ Association – the Old Loughtonians, kept up this tradition, and have done so ever since. Currently the Old Loughtonians Hockey Club is the strongest it has ever been, having a large sports ground and Club House in Luxborough Lane and is able to field no less than five Men’s Elevens, two Ladies’ Elevens, a Veteran Eleven, a Colts Eleven and are now going ahead building an indoor hockey pitch.

Mr Vincent and his school had a profound effect on me and I owe them more than I can say. It was just unfortunate that my financial circumstances restricted some activities. Within a year of starting at this school the Headmaster’s health deteriorated so that he was forced to retire, and he died. The school was then taken over by Mr O G Johnson who for a time had Mr E E Sly and Mrs Sly to assist him, until he was able to continue himself. By 1927 I was determined to start work so that I could earn some money and make things easier for mother . . . in the August of that year I began work in the motor trade where I spent the rest of my working life.

Extract from Woodford As I Knew It
published by Jack Farmer in 1986

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