Saddleworth Players

School memories

Hi, I’m Keith Begley, the stage director and set builder.

In bringing Teechers to life, the cast and crew have been reminiscing about their school days. My school memories are a bit different to say the least! I went to seven different schools in various parts of the country and the longest ‘stay’ was 3 years in South Wales back in the 1850’s. Actually it was in the 1950’s, but it was so alien to the school experience of most people today it might well have been 100 years earlier. It was a Grammar School for Boys with an intake of about 300 pupils, half of which were Day-boys and the rest Boarders. The school was founded in the 1650’s and was attached to the Church (physically - some of the classrooms had stained glass windows). Its catchment was county-wide and 90% rural, it was sited just inside the medieval walls of a small livestock market town about half the size of Uppermill.

Since making the transition from private ‘Grammar’ school to County Grammar School its intake had expanded dramatically and an adjacent old Manor House had been purchased as an annexe to take the extra numbers. The house had open coal fires upstairs and downstairs and all the rooms were now crammed full with ‘sit up and beg’ desks. The Teacher’s desk was the same design but bigger and placed in front of the fireplace. A sort of ‘tradition’ had been established in the classroom above the Teacher’s staffroom. The coal fires were furnished with the necessary coal scuttle, tongs and poker, we boys used to rush to the room when allocated to a lesson there and immediately start heating the poker in the fire. As soon as it was hot enough we would bore/burn a hole through the floorboards next to the Teacher’s desk. This hole would be the latest in a series, made over preceding weeks, which were encircling the desk.

Progress was slow because we had only a brief opportunity before the Teacher (we called them Masters) came puffing up the stairs, strode into the room and took his place with sublime indifference, despite the thick fug of wood-smoke. With admirable perseverance, we pursued our goal with glee, determined to complete the ring of perforations to ensure the desk, complete with passenger, would crash through the floor into the staffroom below. What Fun! Of course, it never happened, the End of Term would come before we could finish the circuit and we would return in the new Term to find fresh floorboards had been installed; undaunted we would start all over again. It seems all the more remarkable because Corporal Punishment was rife in those days. I once received 6 ‘strokes’ of the cane simply because I wasn’t wearing my school cap. And Prefects were allowed to administer 3 ‘strokes’ of the dap (a trainer) if you were caught talking during morning assembly.

The Masters wore black gowns and due to the constant practise of throwing wooden-backed board dusters at inattentive pupils they used the ’tails’ to wipe the chalkboards clean. French was taught by a Master nicknamed “Gateau”, his lessons were a ‘piece-of-cake’ you could do anything you wanted in his classroom, except French of course. Chemistry was devoted to making stinkbombs and Bunsen burner flamethrowers, History was welsh, involving unpronounceable people in unpronounceable places and Maths was interminable and indeterminable. We had occasional Physics lesson but no Biology, Art or Music. English saved the day, though strangely for a Grammar School they didn’t teach grammar! They did teach Shakespeare, but we didn’t do drama so we never saw a play.

Unsurprisingly I can’t relate to “Teechers!” at all. And I’m sorry I can’t supply a school ‘photo, they didn’t do them (I don’t think they knew that cameras had been invented).

Keith Begley, Jan 17, 2017