CONTRIBUTION BY PATRICK HODGKINS 1956/1963
It’s been fascinating to read these accounts and also to see how contrasting the views of life at Joe’s are. My time at St Joe’s is totally inconsequential to anyone but myself but since I seem to be the only one of my year to have contributed to this “blog?” I will continue. After various career starts, including a year at Upholland, I became a Maths teacher and after forty years on the job am still enjoying it.
Classes 1A and 2A, 1956-58
I came to Holy Joe’s from the Sacred Heart in Talbot Rd. My experience at that school was a good preparation for life at Joe’s. Strapping, verbal humiliation and “clips round the ear” were frequent and endured stoically by both boys and girls. Though we of the A stream suffered enough, next door to our class was the B stream, mainly the class of the poor kids from the slum areas of town and here taught the fearsome Mr Pope (not Alf, possibly his brother?) Many times we saw kids being beaten by this rather cold but youngish man who later turned up at St Joe’s each week to run the Legion of Mary after school. Even at that tender age the incongruity struck me, though Mr Pope fortunately never did. Others who went to Joe’s from my year at Sacred Heart were, canny Joe Gregson, whose popularity was partly due to his owning a Monopoly game and who, living near to school, hosted the Latin homework club every morning. (His mum must have thought we were incredibly conscientious students but in fact we were motivated by naked fear of Mr Charles. (see below)), Charley Tracey, cock of the junior school, hard man Ken (see below), wise old Bernard Cragg, cheery Peter Brooksbank and Francis Walsh and last but not least the Jimmy McIlroy of the Sacred Heart, the wizard of the rolled up sock in the Talbot Rd playground, Barry Gaughan.
Most of these scholarship boys lived in rented or council houses with fathers who worked on the railway, the buses or building sites, and the Public School environment that the Direct Grant Grammar Schools had pretensions to would be more challenging than corporal punishment to which, as can be seen above, we were fairly used.
On my first day at the school I found that all lessons, except Art and PE, were in the same classroom. For my first PE lesson I left the room a little behind the rest of the class and had to run along the corridor to catch up. Brother Dolan, saw me running and called me back. He told me, calmly, that “running” in school was forbidden but then, just as calmly, took me to his office in the brothers’ quarters and gave me the cane. Actually this did not upset me too much and the incident has provided me with an anecdote I have used on many occasions as a teacher myself, to show the kids of today how times have changed! I remember once tearfully asking my dad when he had shouted and clouted me, why he couldn’t punish me like the teachers at school, that is, calmly with a little smile! But for some of the boys who were not used to this, the corporal punishment was a great shock of which the tears were evidence. Years later when I read Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist the passage where Stephen is beaten, resonated with me as I’m sure it must have with many. What would have struck those of us who have read this wonderful book was the name of the priest – Dolan.
Today, some politicians hark back to the good old days of the Grammar Schools but for many of us who went there lessons, especially in the lower school, consisted of “turn to page …. read it and do Exercise …” For Latin and History we unfortunately had Mr Charles. The history course consisted in creating this enormous scroll which was a timeline from William 1st until ….. I don’t think we actually finished it. We simply had to learn the dates and events along the line. However it was the experience of the Latin lessons that possibly warped the psyche of many pupils. Each lesson we were given thirty or so words to learn and some sentences to translate for homework. The following lesson we were tested on these words and if we failed to respond correctly we had to stand in the queue and eventually be strapped. The marked exercise books were then thrown to each pupil by Mr C. unless the mark was below six out of ten when it was thrown on the floor at the front of the class from where the unfortunate boy had to retrieve it and again wait in a line to be strapped. Mr C. was a well built man, well over six foot and a stroke of the strap from him certainly matched Joyce’s description above. He really enjoyed the process as you could see from the jocular way he did it but he put his all into each stroke as though it was some trial of strength on his part. From the occasions I was on the receiving end I still remember that final moment in the queue when it was my turn switching off as though I was about to do a parachute jump. Hence the Latin homework club at Joe Gregson’s house. Here I must mention Ken. He was a clever scholarship boy, outstanding in general knowledge quizzes but for some reason, just did not do homework at all. Several times each day he would be pulled out by various teachers, including Mr Charles, and given the strap or cane. He took his punishment like a man and we wondered at his resilience and fortitude. Years later I discovered that his father was in prison and his Mum was never at home, because she was working night and day to support Ken. So much for the pastoral care of the Christian Brothers.
As I remember there were two types of Music lesson; one was singing “A wet sheet and a flowing sea” (rather an evocative title for adolescent boys) with Mr Atherton, poor sod, and the other was orchestra with, I think, a man called Perry. We first had to be allocated an instrument. At that time the trumpet was in vogue. Eddie Calvert of nearby Preston had achieved a golden disc with his chart topping recording of “O Mein Papa” so all the youngsters wanted to play it. A range of brass instruments were laid out to be tried and those who succeeded in getting some kind of note therefrom could join the brass section. The rest were allocated instruments according to height. Barry, who was short, got the violin and I got the double base. Mr Perry did not deign to use a strap he simple struck full in the face any boy who was not “keeping up”. I was really interested in music having been captivated by recordings of various operas in my Nan’s house. Whilst at junior school I had borrowed and read the biographies of the famous composers but the double bass seemed to me to be the most unmusical of all the instruments. Poor Mr Atherton’s lessons were a joke, he was a gentle man and we mercilessly persecuted him as we did to any teacher we perceived as weak. This was one of the unfortunate effects of the harsh regime; it twisted our perceptions of authority.
All of us from the Sacred Heart were, to a man, fanatical footballers. When not at school we played soccer day and night, in the day on the rough patch of land between the railway lines at the back of Wall St, which was for generations called the “Rally” and at night in the streets. When we had our first Wednesday afternoon games session we were gobsmacked at this weirdly shaped ball and the even weirder rules of the strange game called rugby. Whenever we could do so unobserved, we simply played soccer with the rugby ball. In the first year I was picked for a game against Thornton Cleveleys Grammar School playing second row. Fortunately my forward pass on the three yard line led to a Thornton win and I was never picked again. I don’t think that any of us boys from Sacred Heart ever played regularly for the team but I do remember Charley Tracy being expelled or at least threatened with expulsion because he preferred to play for a local soccer team on a Saturday.
At the end of the first year some of us went on a school holiday to Kufstein with Mr Howe. I was able to go because with my Dad being a railwayman I benefited from free travel by train. As soon as we arrived at this hotel, remotely situated near the top a mountain, Mr Howe and his family disappeared never to be seen again until the return journey. I presume the sixth formers were in charge. We spent the whole time throwing knives at each others’ feet, fighting, killing cockroaches and rolling large rocks down the steep slopes. All completely unsupervised. Amazing nobody was seriously injured or killed.
I am sad to hear that Chris Walmesly has died, he was a very nice lad, quite unlike many policemen’s sons I have known. I used to play chess with him and amazingly usually won.
The only other memories of the 1st and 2nd year are those of Monsewer Pompere and his sexy wife. I believe he was an accomplished fencer but for us it was his “shampoos” that represented a unexpectedly sadistic variation on the corporal punishment with which we were familiar. As many probably remember, if the vocabulary test was failed or the homework was poor the boy had to stand at the front of the class and the bastard would lift him up by the hair and swing him back and forth. Maybe many follically challenged old boys wonder if the roots of their problem lay there. However if the work was very good he would issue what he called an “exemption” which could be produced moments before execution. He spent most of the lesson producing these bits of paper instead of doing any teaching. Needless to say we soon became expert in forging these amnesties and thankfully he was too stupid to realise this as the number of administered shampoos diminished during the course of the year. Actually I think he and O’Sullivan were the only teachers I really disliked.
I did have Hassett for Maths and like many teachers of that subject who don’t really understand it themselves, he could not explain the work he tried to teach us. One afternoon I received the infamous knuckle rapping with the metal ruler. At tea that evening I couldn’t handle my knife and fork and my Mum, who was a kind of female Brother O’Brien, noticed the wheals on my knuckles. The next day she went up to the school and “dealt” with Hassett, though I did not find this out until years later. From that day he never hit me again and, in fact, to my surprise was actually rather obsequious with me. Often the way with bullies?
Brierley?, the PE teacher, would not punish there and then but would require one to go after school when he would administer several whacks on the backside with his wooden bat. This really hurt and having to wait several hours for the events to come was like being on death row.
That’s about it for Years 1 and 2. More pain than gain I believe. The Lower Fourth was a big improvement. Maybe I will find time to continue, it’s been quite cathartic.
Best wishes to old friends who may read it.
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