CONTRIBUTION BY BARRY SPENCER (SPON) 1955/1963
I started at St Josephs in 1955 as a boarder. I was 12 years old. Oh wasn't it exciting being dropped off by my parents and saying "Goodbye" to them and looking around the dormitory at the beds with names on; names such as Gallagher, O'Reilly, Lawton, O'Connell, Greenhalgh, Dunkley, Comacheo, Keegan, Shaw, and Rafferty. I knew Brian Rafferty, of course, because we had attended the same primary school.
The following morning I awoke and was about to shout out, "Dad" when I realised there had been a massive change in my life and the old comforts had disappeared. That's when the home sickness started and it lasted an eternity; about two weeks actually. During lessons I was fine but in my class there was a boy called Mather. The name 'Mather' sounded too much like 'mother' and set off another bout of home sickness. Ah well things got better. Later in life I found out it wasn't only me who got these homesick feelings when leaving home for the first time and that 18 year olds called up for national service were heard crying in their beds. How any parent can send their seven-year-old child off to boarding school is beyond my comprehension. Eleven years old is acceptable.
My uniform and sports kit had already been purchased and labeled with my name. Everything had to be named so it would come back to me after being laundered; blazer, cap, grey shirts, school tie (that blue and red horizontal striped one with a square end), vests, T shirts, underpants, socks, pullover, long grey trousers, pajamas, dressing gown and mackintosh. The yellow rugby jersey was the colour of School House. All us 85 boarders were in School House and the 400 day boys were split into Layton (red) Newton (blue) and Clifton (green).
The two large dormitories were on the second floor. One was above forms 2A, 2alpha, and the TV room on the ground floor with forms 3A and 3alpha on the first floor. The other dorm was above the boarders' dining room on the ground floor and form 4 classrooms on the first floor. There was a small bedroom just outside the entrance to each dorm. One was occupied by our house master Brother O'Keefe and the other by his assistant Brother Anthony.
At least on that first day in school my favourite subjects of Geography and Science were taught by two fantastic men, Brother Maloney and Jim McGrahan. I took an instant liking to both. This helped to abolish my misgivings. Unfortunately Brother Maloney didn't seem to last long; maybe one term. He disappeared into the ether as far as I was concerned.
The Irish Christian Brothers have been castigated and vilified by many people and, in my opinion, quite wrongly. Granted their members are diverse ranging from the excellent teachers, the clever brainy ones, the dull ones, the playful ones to the weird and wonderful specimens, but I never came across anyone who was too objectionable.
Brother Dolan was headmaster and gave the impression of being a twerp of the highest order. Even my parents couldn't make head nor tail of him but eventually they realised he was, in fact, a genius. Tall, thin on top but with long hair at the sides which blew around in the wind giving him a disheveled appearance, pince-nez spectacles perched on his nose, he spoke seven languages, albeit with that silly tinny voice, and took several minutes before starting to answer a question. He was known as Gandy.
One school holiday, probably Corpus Christi , he took a group of boarders down to the North Shore to swim in the sea. This group returned to school awestruck and in total admiration of Gandy who had stripped off to his trunks revealing a strong, muscular body, plunged into the sea and swum a powerful freestyle way out from the shore. What respect we had for him after this.One day he stood in for the absent French teacher and taught us the correct pronunciation of 'Monsieur' by saying over and over, "must see you at 4 o'clock".
One more thing about Joe O'Keefe. A new boarder turned up one term; Arturo Martinez. He was the son of the vice consul of Ecuador and couldn't speak a word of English. It wasn't long before some lads befriended him and told him what to do.
He strolled over to Brother O'Keefe and proudly delivered his first sentence in English, "Hey fat Joe, how are you doing?"
Brother Anthony was a young man who was physically handicapped. He had a hunchback and tended to slaver at the mouth a little. He was known as 'Tant' and had the mickey taken out of him incessantly. I felt sorry for the poor man. Fancy them making him junior housemaster!
Brother Clay......a short stocky man who had a great rapport with the boys. He was strict but always had a twinkle in his eye. He took form 3. His catchphrase was "get out to the line". He taught us all about South America. He had lived and worked there for several years. Clay was the salt of the earth; a smashing Irish brother. All the boys loved him.
Brother Liddane. He was of big build with huge hands which he used to snap in half an apple for two boys to share. He was in charge of Form 4. He was a good sort. His nickname was 'Noddy'. He would say, "Watch the board while I go through it" and "Diss equals dat and dat equals diss" as well as the ubiquitous "tirty tree and a tird".
Brother Dowling; Joe Snow. He was in charge of the sixth form. He was a big man with white hair and rosy cheeks and a soft voice. He would often be seen strolling around the college grounds, usually near the junior shower block. I didn't like this guy. We never saw eye to eye. Not that it was unusual for the brothers to be strolling around. Most of them had to have a little exercise by wandering the corridors in winter and the grounds in summer. There was one brother who came for no more than one term. I never knew his name. He was extremely thin with white, wispy hair and would be so quiet in his wanderings, appearing suddenly as if from thin air. Someone nicknamed him 'Creeping Jesus' which I thought was entirely appropriate.
Brother O'Brien............I remember this chap when he had black hair and black eyebrows. Much maligned by many on this site, I found him OK. Sure he had a short fuse.......wouldn't you, having to deal with obstroculous idiots like me and tens of others? He gave most people a good strapping but they probably deserved it.
I was 18 at the time in the sixth form. I had thrown some pieces of paper down the stairs and O'Brien came chasing up. I hid behind coats in the cloakroom but there was one lad, Mike Houghton, standing there on his own. I didn't manage to emerge from the coats in time to prevent Mike getting one of the strap on his palm. After Brother OB apologised to him, he turned on me. He was smaller than me and I was reluctant to take a thrashing. He told me that giant rugby players at St Edwards had taken their punishments like men. So I took mine. After all I deserved it.
Earlier in my school life Brother O'Brien had revived my interest in classical music by supplying Michael McMichael and the rest of us with a Dansette record player and LPs of pop and classical music on the understanding we listen to both types. Gold and Silver Waltz by Lehar, Gaite Parisienne by Offenbach and the theme to the film The Big Country spring to mind. Yes, he was very keen on passing on his tastes in music. He was the one who organised Irish Dancing. I was tempted at first but when I found out I wasn't allowed to raise my arms and dance around crossed swords on the floor I declined. I have enjoyed a few good pints with Brother O'Brien at Old Boys' reunions. Nice man, God rest his soul.
After Brother O'Keefe as housemaster we had a chain of Brothers O'Sullivan; three in fact. One whose stay was so short that I cannot remember him. The second had black hair and black facial hair on the top of his cheek bones. I remember him sitting at his breakfast table in the boarders' dining room laughing as we rolled empty syrup tins up and down the room. The first two were each known as 'Osul' or 'Gilbert' but the third was known as 'Blodge' or 'Bloke'. Blodge was there for a long time, taught me Geography in form six and came to at least one Old Boys reunion.
Brother Ryan. During my schooldays, Bro Ryan taught sixth form chemistry. He was a good teacher and a nice chap. One incident ingrained in my memory was when I was in the sixth form and one day, at the beginning of the lunch period, I tried my own experiment. Having been reading my Chemistry text book, I took two readily available substances (which shall be nameless to you readers) and mixed them to form a black sludge; nitrogen tri-iodide. This substance is harmless when wet but extremely explosive when dry. I took a small amount and put it on the window sill to dry off over the lunch period, ensuring that the rest was well washed down the sink. Sewers are always wet, aren't they.
Returning after lunch I took a ruler and tapped the dried-out blob which went off with a nice bang the equivalent of a dozen caps. Unfortunately the floor rattled with miniscule explosions as I walked on it. How this had happened I had no idea so I started sliding up and down the floor in the chemistry lab to try and remove all residual splashes whilst Brother Ryan stood in the doorway watching me. He got the truth out of me and I am amazed to this day I wasn't expelled. I wasn't even strapped. But I was told to be more responsible in the future.
ORCHESTRA AND CHOIR
Being a boarder, hearing bad things about Mr Kaye-Perry who was in charge of the orchestra and taught the string section and took his rehearsals in the basement beneath the Brothers' living quarters, I followed Danny O'Connell to the old prep huts, now positioned in the front garden. Danny had a trumpet and I was given a french horn by the teacher, a delightful chap called Mr Flood. Later my parents kindly bought me a trumpet and this is the instrument I learned. Mr Flood played the trombone and had at one time played in a comedy brass group known as The Nitwits. Those were happy lessons and I remember tunes such as The March from Scipio, German Hymn and Semper Fidelis with Mr Flood bashing his foot on the wooden floor of the hut to a 2/4 time marching beat. Mr Townsend, a very quiet man, taught the woodwind in the other prep hut.
Whilst on the subject of music, there was one evening which sticks in my memory. Some of the musical boarders, the senior boys, formed a jazz band and played in the day room which was situated beneath the chapel. Ian Grime was on piano. He could play anything by ear and without music. Tony Callander on trombone, Granville 'Uriah' Heap on trumpet, Anthony 'Pansy' Johnson on clarinet. I don't remember who was on double bass. Was there a drummer? I thought they were fantastic. Was it Darktown Strutters Ball they played? Brilliant; absolutely brilliant.
Mr Atherton (nicknamed 'Egghead' because of the shape and shiny-baldness of his head) took us for choir practice on the stage in the main dining room. I remember singing The Ballad of London River. Lines that stick in my memory are:-
From the Cotswolds to the Chilterns, from your fountains and your springs
Flow down oh London River to the seagull's silver wings
Isis or Ock or Thame, forget your olden name
And the lilies and the willows and the weirs from which you came
Welcome home your children from the east and from the west
In the avenue of Empire, in the highway of the world
Then swing us to the surges with the hurricane to grope
With iron ills to grapple and crushing odds to cope
(from a poem by May Byron)
Another song we sang was Blow away the morning dew. We sang "Blow away Tuesday's stew".
Talking of Tuesday's stew brings me to the food at Joe's and Ma Coakley's meals. Being a boarder, we never seemed to get enough to eat in the boarders' dining room and so looked forward to lunch time Monday to Friday. I must admit that compared to boarders' food, Ma Coakley's food was delicious and there was plenty of it. There were two sittings, one at 12:30 and the other at 1:00. I remember on the odd occasion, being so hungry, going to first dinners for the main course and then leaving and later going to second dinners for another main course followed by pudding.......absolutely delicious, full and satisfied. What's that you say? No wonder I slept in the afternoons?
Monday.....................cottage pie & gravy followed by sponge cake with pink custard
Tuesday....................Irish stew followed by ginger cake and custard
Wednesday..............thinly sliced roast lamb, mint sauce, potatoes, cabbage and gravy followed by 'concrete'(*) and custard
Thursday..................maybe stew again with semolina or rice pudding to follow.
Friday.......................the obligatory fish with mash and cold lettuce followed by ginger sponge and custard again.
(*) Concrete was a jam or fruity crumble but the crumble was so thick and hard, one had to hold the spoon vertically on it, hit the spoon several times on the top to break through it.
Boarders' meals were not so filling or tasty. Although, having said that, there was as much sliced white bread, Echo margarine and apricot jam (out of industrial tins) as one wanted.
Breakfast consisted of porridge. Not much of it was devoured partly because it was not sweet and partly because we boys would ask the lady with the ladle, "What's it like?" and she would stick a finger in and suck the porridge into her mouth claiming it to be "delicious". The next boy (and so on) would ask the same question and she would taste with the same finger. YUK!
I brought some sugar in a glass jar into school and smuggled it into the dining room. I went early (for obvious reasons) to get my bowl of porridge, stirred in some sugar and ate the whole, scrumptious lot. Other boys started eating their porridge having used some of my sugar. One morning the glass jar of sugar, hidden on my chair between my legs, slipped off and smashed on the floor. However, instead of me being given a rollicking, from now on boys would be allowed to bring syrup or sugar or other stuff to sweeten their porridge. There was a new cupboard installed in the dining room to accommodate these sweeties. They obviously realised that by doing this the porridge would be eaten and not thrown away every day.
Monday....................bacon (half a rasher) and tinned tomato (one)
Tuesday...................sausage (one) and fried bread (half slice)
Wednesday............bacon and tomato again
Thursday.................A boiled egg with toast (one thin slice) The egg was invariably hard.
Friday......................Scrambled egg on toast
Saturday.................Sausage and fried bread again
Sunday...................Bacon and fried egg (yippee)
As I've said, Ma Coakley's dayboys' dinners were fantastic. Also, I have since realised that it's impossible to cook soft-boiled eggs for 85 people all at the same time.
Wandering the corridors and looking at the many photographs on the walls. Knowing the faces of Carrington and Gallagher before actually meeting them somehow gave them film star status. When I saw them in the flesh for the first time I thought, "Oh, I know you".
The day room, situated beneath the chapel, contained a full-size snooker table, a table-tennis table, and a small (junior) snooker table. There were chairs around the sides of the room.
On the top floor where the dormitories, locker rooms and shower rooms were, there were 'the bogs'. Going down the corridor, on the left were the new bogs; a urinal wall plus two WCs. At the end of the corridor, on the right, was the corner bog; a solitary WC. But turn left at the end of the corridor and go to the end of the short corridor, on the left was the tower bog, opposite another locker room. The tower bog was my favourite for it had a warm wooden seat and, in summer, the sunlight would come streaming through the all-round windows; a warm and cosy place.
On the occasional Sunday my parents would visit and take me out in the afternoon. We'd usually go to Jenkinsons Restaurant at Talbot Square for a meal. I had to be returned in time for Benediction at 5:30 p.m. After Benediction, we would go up to the hall (Ma Coakley's dining room during the week) to watch a film. One of the senior boys would operate the projector. Some films were good and others awful. I remember in that first term of 1955 watching The Man from Laramie and afterwards, Brother Maloney smiling and singing, "The man from Laramie; he had so many notches on his gun........etc" Good times but still slightly homesick.
Mr and Mrs Mullally were employed. He was a very short man and was groundsman/caretaker. His wife was constantly seen cleaning the corridor floors and polishing the staircase rail. She smelt of polish. The corridor floors were green.
The brothers were not priests like the Jesuits who taught at Preston Catholic College. So daily Mass in the chapel was said by priests from St. Kentigern's on Newton Drive. The two who normally came were Father Shields and Father Hogan. The former was a fair-haired, mildly spoken man. The latter was a dark-haired Irishman with a strong voice and strong views. I remember him, once, giving a sermon about the Blessed Sacrament and banging his knuckles on the wooden tabernacle door. I was shocked at this perceived irreverence. Very occasionally, the parish priest, Father Burroughs, would come and say Mass. Without doubt he was the most interesting and, in my opinion, the most genuine of the priests.
We went to Confession, the Sacrament of Penance, at St Kentigern's church. Father Shields was OK but a bit wishy-washy. Father Hogan had to be avoided, if at all possible, because he would preach hellfire and damnation and shout so loud everyone in the church would hear. Father Burroughs, on the other hand, was the most understanding. What a nice man of God. I likened him to St John Vianney (read his life story; Vianney's not Burroughs').
As I was leaving the church one Saturday evening in April or May 1958, John Thornber was coming in and whispered to me, "Rovers are in the first division". I leapt for joy. Oh what joy! John and I, along with Michael Keegan and Andrew Grealey were or are ardent supporters of Blackburn Rovers who had just attained promotion to the top tier after many years of trying and failing.
Benediction in the school chapel was every Sunday at 5:30 p.m. I really enjoyed it; the rosary, the hymns, O Salutaris; Tantum Ergo; Adoremus in aeternum. The smell of incense from the smoking thurible. Young lads like me were able to sing the descant. Happy, holy times. And, of course followed by a film (or "fillum" as the Irish pronounced it) in the hall.
At the age of 13 or 14 (cannot remember) I received the Sacrament of Confirmation from the Bishop at the Sacred Heart church on Talbot Road. A senior boarder, Peter Lomas, was my sponsor.
George Brierley. Form master of 2 alpha and a P.E. teacher
Mr Howe. Form master of 2A. Taught German
Mr Hassett. Nice chap.
Albert Priestly took us for speech training. He asked us to pretend rugby posts were at the corners of our mouths so that as we said "cheese" there was no smile, only puckered lips.
Mr McGrahan (Jim) Taught us science (well, chemistry actually) in the lab near the bike sheds. Interesting days watching crystals form as a super-saturated solution cooled down and pouring liquid sulphur into water to form plastic sulphur.
Mr Crosby (Bing). Jet black hair and black bushy eyebrows. Taught me English in form upper 5.
Mr Coombes (Solly). He used to punish us with a gym shoe rather than a strap. In hindsight I think he was looking for boys who would be better going to RADA rather than university. Every boy had to put on an act to pretend that the gym shoe actually hurt. When I received the first lash of the gym shoe on my hand it took me so much by surprise, even though I had been warned about it, my play acting of pain was delayed by at least two seconds. There was no pain whatsoever, even after six of the best.
Mr Slater (Oscar). A wonderful teacher of Maths in upper five. He was partial to polo mints. Often could be seen half a polo mint swinging around his left lower canine tooth. Thanks to John Kirkham for reminding me of "Dot Dot Plonk", Oscar's verbal description of a colon followed by a dash. I wonder if he ever watched Victor Borge.
Mr Le Brun (Panker) Noted for riddling his ear with his middle finger and saying "Eh, lad". I had had a dog that had canker and incessantly scratched its ear with its paw. I wondered if Panker had canker. He taught us French.
Mr Charles (Les). Taught me Latin. He used to relish throwing marked homework books back to us across the classroom as well as a blackboard duster from time to time. He was the only teacher I resented getting the strap from. He would set us twenty new Latin vocab words to learn for the following day and strap us for EVERY ONE we got wrong in the test. Now I didn't mind taking corporal punishment for not obeying school rules but for failing to get 100% in homework tests was not on.
Mr Johns (Taffy). Taught me Zoology in the sixth form. An affable Welshman who was well liked by most.
Mr McPhee and Mr Freeborough arrived at the school at the same time as Taffy Johns. Bob Freeborough taught Maths and Physics. He took me for a one-to-one to explain something in Maths. After explaining 3 or 4 times I still could not understand it so we both gave up. It was then I realised that there is a limit to what the brain in each individual is capable of taking in.
Was it one, two or three terms that Mr Scholes (pronounced schools) came to bring Shakespeare and other literature into the lives of the boys in form 4T? He was known as 'Bloodnock' and, poor man, was seen sneaking out of class and swigging from a hip flask on more than one occasion. Those bully-boys of 4T have a lot to answer for.
Monsieur et Madame Saint Pierre (sounded like San Per) came and taught French for a short period. He was a swarthy-looking man who wore shirts which had button-down collars and he smelled of strong eau de cologne. She was gorgeous, and wore colourful dresses that had so much material they tumbled around her legs......and what legs!! However, er hum, I digress.
With regard to P.E. teachers, Alf Pope had left before I started but I remember singing about him in chapel during the hymn which starts "Full in the panting heart of Rome". We were in full voice with "God bless Alf Pope". George Brierley was quickly followed by Mr McEvoy and later Ted Schools, both excellent P.E. teachers. Crab football anyone?
Setting up on the morning of Sports Day was always an exciting time. Once the loudspeaker system was up and functioning Scotland the Brave could be heard everywhere. And, at the end of proceedings, Gandy, standing outside the new changing rooms, awarded Victor Ludorum the Victor Luscombe trophy. I'm sure he made a deliberate mistake but it had us all in stitches.
So there it is.
A short dialogue has come into my head throughout my life.
"Spencer, yur an eejut. Whet aire yeh?"
"An eejut, sir."
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