Holy Joe’s Jailhouse, memories 1951 – 60.

Tools of torture.

The strap – over a foot long and purpose-made for inflicting punishment, usually on outstretched hands but could be used on the back of one’s leg.   It was black and consisted of several layers of 1½” wide leather, with prominent stitching which dug into one’s flesh.   A handle was formed at the top so that it couldn’t slip out of the operator’s hand.   These tools were only supplied to the Brothers and kept in a long pocket within the folds of their (nasty) habits. The slipper – usually just the sole of an old plimsoll and the lay-master’s equivalent of the strap. Both of these tools were used for two, four or six, of the best. Blackboard dusters – not really a duster but a six inch wooden block one side of which was covered in felt. Could be used by any teacher as an unguided missile – just pray that the felt side struck first! Chalk – used as above but far less painful, unless it hit an eye! Pencils – not a particularly sadistic tool one might think but when one’s hand is held by the teacher and then wrapped on the back of the fingers with a pencil it can be very painful. I should add that one was supposed to ignore this operation as one was supposed to be getting on with the task of reading aloud or trying to solve an unsolvable mathematical problem at the same time. Jim McGrahan was an expert in this form of torture. I ought to add that all the above were much more effective in the winter, particularly if we had been made to wait outside for whatever reason. Some masters would delight in other forms of “encouragement” e.g. pulling and twisting on one’s sideburns or ears.

Dramatis Personae

Headmasters during my time:- Bros. Woodhouse, Dolan & Carroll. Bro. Clay – a short stocky man packed a good punch but I always found him to be quite reasonable, a bit of a favourite. Bro. Dagnon – Could be a real bastard and I somehow seem to have had him as my form master for several years.   I guess he and my year must have moved together. Bro. (Joe) Snow – He never taught me but he always seemed to be a lovely quiet man – I stand to be corrected from those who knew him better. Many years later I visited Blackpool and was strolling through Stanley Park, just by the bowling greens, when I noticed this figure approaching.   It was Joe Snow with his head buried in a book.   I was completely taken aback and it is to my eternal shame that I didn’t speak to him. Bro. (Josh) O’Leary – Unfortunately, as I was not in the top flight of mathematicians, I was only taught by Josh for one term but I learnt more maths in that term than in any other and was really sorry to see the back of him.   He could teach but this wasn’t an attribute of many of his fellow masters. Bro. O’Brien – I am sorry to say that I don’t remember him.   I guess our paths didn’t cross because I am sure that I would have remembered him if they had.   I did meet him, just before he died, at an OBA dinner.   When I mentioned my lack of any memories he was really offended as I think he liked the kudos of being the worst of them all. “Peg-leg” Lynskey - Taught English & Maths in the prep school. Peg-leg because he had been injured in the Great War and consequently walked with a pronounced limp.   Not too bad really unless his leg was playing up, in which case he was a bastard. Coming from a convent school was quite a shock to an eight year old. Alf Pope - a “cricketer.”   Being told to hang from the top of the wall-bars, facing the wall with our legs, bent at the knees, out at right-angles. Anyone whose legs started to droop was picked off by one of those in Alf’s coterie of bullies, dragged over to the “horse” and beaten by Alf with his favourite cricket bat. Alf lived in Cleveleys and cycled to “work.”   At that time we lived in Norbreck which was on his route.   One day as he cycled past our local bus stop at Mossom Lane, a redundant air-raid shelter, he spotted me kicking a ball against the wall. Soccer didn’t feature in St. Joes curriculum and so Alf obviously saw this as a complete waste of my time – he would have probably applauded me had I been head-butting the wall!   From that day on I was “The Mossom Lane Turrer.”   God knows what a turrer is but Alf knew and it wasn’t good. When Alf departed (I wonder why?) he was replaced by Mr. McEvoy – a proper P.T. teacher. Mr. Jim McGrahan, my favourite although I would never have conceded this at the time. I remember the day that he announced that it was his twenty eighth birthday.   I couldn’t believe that he was that old!   I am sorry not to have met up with him in recent years as I understand that he used to attend the OBA dinners until his death. Mr. Priestley (elocution).   “Mark my words boys; you will thank me for this one day.” The avuncular Mr. Barber (art & geography).   The art room was a blessed relief from what seemed our daily beatings. Long-suffering Mr. Atherton (Egg-head) who tried to teach music and whose son, I believe became principal conductor of the LSO. He spent his days being tormented in a dark, dank cellar. Bloodnock (can’t remember his real name) but if anyone had the piss taken out of him it was him.   A constant alcoholic haze surrounded him.   “Get on” was his favourite catchphrase.   The poor man tried to introduce us to Shakespeare.   The thought of him being cast as Falstaff had us in tucks. M. Le Brun – a decent, quiet, lugubrious man who taught French with a black gown that had faded to green and an overbearing odour of stale tobacco. Mr. Howe – He taught German, a language which I really couldn’t make head or tail of so our paths didn’t cross much. Jock Fyffe (I think geography and music).   He thought that he could make a male voice choir out of us and specialised in Scottish folk songs – something about ‘McAfee leading the cattle round the Loch’ and that bloody bonnie Prince. Matron – always a distant figure to us day-boys unless we broke a limb. She didn’t seem to be concerned about the odd weal. Most lay masters wore gowns in various states of repair. All gowns started life in black but as the years went by the colours faded to grey/green.   I don’t suppose that was because of over washing either! On Speech Day their No1 university hooded gowns were displayed with great aplomb.

The Scholarship.

At age eleven we all trouped down to St. Kentigans (don’t ask why) to take our scholarship exams. I passed, just, and so my parents were thrilled as they would no longer have to pay the fees which were, I can’t believe this, eight guineas per year.   Perhaps it was per term.   A good deal anyway because we were getting the best education in town – were we?   I seem to remember that uniforms were quite expensive and many younger boys had to make do with their older brother’s blazers, caps, ties etc.

Teaching methods

“By heart.” If ever a form of learning was more misconceived I would like to know of it. We were instructed to remember long passages of English, French, Latin and Catechism “by heart” and then to recite them to the whole class. The fact that we didn’t understand what we were saying was of no consequence. During one’s recital it was customary to be stopped and another boy told to take up the piece. Woe betide anyone who couldn’t a) remember the piece or b) was unable to continue with what another had started. I well remember the fear of a strapping looming as the minutes ticked by. It was this fear and this alone which drove us to remember; the idea that we might actually learn something from it, I’m sure, never entered their heads.


In spite of the above, or was it because of it, there were numerous pranks enjoyed, such as:- All new boys, particularly the younger ones (8-11yrs.) were initiated by being “ducked” in the old bogs by the bike sheds.   The fact that I was able to escape this pleasure makes me feel rather guilty, even today. Stink bombs were easily available in those days and put to very good use from time to time. The most effective were exploded by unwitting masters by means of foot or posterior. Blackpool was obviously well endowed with Joke Shops and the full range were used over the years. Desk lid banging.   I can’t remember why this was done other than to create as much noise as possible during the break between lessons. Probably just to let off steam. Sometimes a teacher would be indisposed and so we were left to our own devices for 45 minutes. This usually created so much noise that adjoining masters would fly through the door to vent whatever they had to vent.

The Playground.

This title now seems a little too juvenile but that is what we called it. Once in the morning and once in the afternoon we were allowed to escape here in order to beat one another up or take the piss out of whichever master had been delegated to control us that day. I was never a very keen rugby or cricket player – I just wanted to ride my bike or play tennis and I remember being continually frustrated because one of the roles for which this playground had obviously been designed was tennis. Despite this the two very obvious holes, either side of the playground, into which a net could be placed, were, to my knowledge, never used.

The Milk Bar.

In my time run by Granville Heap and Peter Goldthorpe. A malodorous wooden shed just by the exterior staircase to the gym. At break times these two would dispense half a pint of milk, probably full cream, to all and sundry. I never partook of this delight as I didn’t particularly like milk and certainly not that offered by those two whose blazers were inevitably splattered with the stuff. The bottles had quite wide mouths and were closed by a cardboard disc which had to be pressed into the milk in order to open them – very messy. Straws were an option!

School Dinners.

I can’t say much on this subject as I soon learnt to duck out of these dinners. In the early years my strongest memories are of semolina pudding which I still hate with a passion and the fact that HP sauce would disguise the taste of much of the ‘food’ that was dished up. I remember that we all had to provide our own sauce which we carried in our satchels – the bottle invariably leaked! I was lucky as my mother then agreed to send me off with a packed lunch every day which I used to eat around the lake in Stanley Park or, if I was very lucky I would be given a shilling for cod and six of chips from Fells chippy in Whitegate Drive.

The Library.

I don’t remember the original one, only the new one built by Wm. Eaves & Sons, under the new changing rooms. I can’t remember any particularly studious moments in there apart from when we realised that Encyclopaedia Britannica contained lots of smutty bits – e.g. embryology.

Speech Day

On this day and on several days leading up to it we were marched to the Winter Gardens in crocodile formation, down Newton Drive and Church Street, passing Blackpool Grammar School on the way. It’s not hard to imagine the pranks that ensued, particularly within earshot of the Grammar School.   These days were regarded as days off and thoroughly enjoyed.   I particularly remember Greg Almond on the piano playing Russ Conway’s latest hits. Speech Day itself was a bit of a bore and thoroughly embarrassing if one had to collect a prize.

The School Photograph.

Every couple of years a little man from Panorama Ltd. in London would appear with his revolving clockwork camera. This poor chap had a bad limp and would spend ages arranging us all in a semi-circle with the head and masters in the middle.   Because the masters were unsighted we had ample opportunity to frustrate the photographer’s efforts and so prolong the session. I am sure some of the photos depict the same boy twice as one could jump down from one end and race around the back to appear on the other end before the camera had reached that point. He was obviously well used to this trick but many happy times were spent in testing him.

The Prep. Huts

These green wooden huts were four classrooms placed end-to-end at the back of the school. They were bloody cold in winter and adjacent to the Collegiate College girl’s school. Remember the holes in the fence? Lynskey & McGrahan were in charge. When the new block was built these huts were cut in half and two of them re-built in the front garden, near The House. I remember the Head, Bro. Woodhouse, coming in one day to tell us that the King was dead and would be succeeded by Queen Elizabeth. My most immediate thought was whether we would now have to sing ‘God Save the Queen’? In later years these huts were used as the art classrooms.

Foreign Travel.

My first experience of foreign parts was the school pilgrimage to Lourdes in 1958, the centenary of the apparitions. Whilst we were in Lourdes the religious significance passed me by, it was a fascinating insight into another world of religious trinkets, foreign holidays et al. But I clearly remember leaning out of the train window as we pulled out of the station with an overpowering feeling of leaving something behind and a determination to return. In 1959 Mr. Howe took a party of us to Tulln in Austria. This was a wonderful trip highlighted in my case when I almost drowned in the Danube.   Mr. Howe was fine and very fair with us even though we all got drunk for the first time in our lives. Looking back I remember the really primitive conditions that were still being endured in post-war France, Germany, Austria etc. Oxen were ploughing the fields and all the peasants wore black.   Roads were often unmade or incredibly rough.

The Dance.

Just before I left in July 1960 it was decided that us older boys should be introduced to the fairer sex and so a dance was organised.   I think it was in the boarder’s day room, or perhaps the gym. Girls from Layton Hill were invited but I was much too shy to engage any of them in conversation and, anyway, I thought dancing was for poofs (browns)! My parent had splashed out on a two, or was it three, piece suit for the occasion. It was made from Harris Tweed and was consequently incredibly irritating on my tender skin.   I couldn’t wear it for more than ten minutes without wanting to tear the whole thing off. These days that might be seen as an advantage.

Regrets  (I have a few but then again too few to mention)

Never having the courage to question our treatment. I suppose one would have been marked as a sissy by the other boys. Leaving after O levels and not going into the sixth form – I couldn’t get away soon enough and the prospect of coming South for a job, girls et al was too tempting. These days, when I reminisce about my school days friends are incredulous at what we all took as the norm. On reflection I suppose we were taught the importance of discipline and good manners (“don’t let the uniform down boys”) but what could I have achieved if the likes of Josh O’Leary had taught me throughout my school days?

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