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Published: October 8th 2018
Chris Crookes, a former student of Old Swinford Hospital (in Stourbridge, West Midlands), the school where I taught before going overseas, has just written to me about my ‘School Nicknames’ blog, most of which is devoted to the weird and wonderful nicknames concocted by the boys of Old Swinford. He has corrected several of my assertions and given me extra information about Old Swinford teachers between the years 1967 and 1972. I joined the school in 1975, and most of the teachers who were there in Chris’s time were still there when I began.
The most interesting thing, however, in Chris’s email was the 1971 staff photograph - taken in front of Founders Building - and a list of teachers' names from 1967. I was astounded by how long some of those teachers had already worked at Old Swinford when I joined. And several of them carried on at Old Swinford till retirement.
Back row: Jean-Jacques Genre, Peter Davies (?)
, Dave Tustin (?)
, Brian Holliday, Phil Price (1967)
, Neville Richardson (?)
, 'Dopey' Davey, Keith Longstaff (?)
Middle Row: Jane Rowlatt, Mrs Oldham, John Rutter, Denis Haggett (1959)
, Peter Mansell (1957)
, Brian Kennedy (1965)
, Lance Naylor (1966)
, Betty Johnston (1953)
, Unknown Front Row: Ken Ison (1955)
, Len Krukowski (1955)
, Harry Johnston (1953)
, Bertie Vowles (1950)
, Spud Bartlett, L. W. Sheppard (1951)
, Jim Prince (1952)
, Jessica Watson, Griff Bradley, Bob Wood (1952)
, Ben Kirton (1961)
I have highlighted the teachers who were there when I joined in 1975, and I have put in brackets the date each one of them began at the school.
A notable absentee from the photo is Ray Milner, who did his teaching practice at the school and then spent his entire career there from 1952 until retirement.
So many of those teachers spent most, or all, of their careers at Old Swinford. Peter Davies, Phil Price, Denis Haggett, Ken Ison, Len Krukowski, Harry Johnston, Bertie Vowles, Mr Sheppard, Jim Prince, Bob Wood and Ben Kirton stayed put until either they retired (most of them) or died (Ben Kirton, Ken Ison).
It was unusual for an Old Swinford teacher to leave after a short time. In that respect my departure after only (!) ten years was unusual. I will always remember the gasp from the assembled audience at St Mary’s Church, Stourbridge, when it was announced
that Mr Kevin Mulqueen would be leaving for a new job in Egypt.
Now let me reminisce about some of the teachers in that photo.
Bob Wood was my Head of English. I could easily write a long essay about this talented yet slightly tragic man. He was a consummate director of school plays, an excellent literary critic and had a wonderful sense of humour. However, he was trapped in an unfortunate marriage and was an uninspiring and lazy teacher. The boys called him ‘Dozy’ because he would nod off in class, especially during the summer when he was under the influence of hay fever tablets. He retired when a new Headmaster, Chris Potter, took over. After Bob’s wife died, he moved into an old people’s home and died shortly afterwards of leukemia. Bob’s lessons were terribly dreary. He would invariably ask the boys to get their reading books out and carry on reading. I remember one boy assigned to my class pleading with me to “do something
” in English. There is no doubt that Bob knew his subject inside out, but he was not motivated to teach interesting lessons. I put this down to two factors: his
troubled home life and sheer staleness from having been at the same school for so long. Bob, however, came alive when putting on a play. I will never forget the rehearsals for “12 Angry Men
”, where I assisted him. He knew how to get the best out of his actors, often getting up on stage to show them how a part should be performed. Bob was a keen collector of old Victorian bottles, and one of my prize possessions is a bottle he gave me. He also used to make very tasty fruit wine. One of my jokes was that he would spend all year making it, and I would drink it in a couple of sessions.
I didn’t see much of Bob after school, but in my first few years I used to go drinking with Phil Price. He was ten years older than me and a kindred spirit. We shared a love of real ale, and we used to visit the local pubs: The Waterloo (Simpkiss), The Royal Exchange (Bathams), The Vine (Bathams), The Bird in Hand (Banks), The Longlands Tavern (Banks). We sometimes went drinking during school lunchtimes, which were 90 minutes long, and four pints
later I would be unfit for afternoon lessons. Somehow I always got away with it. Phil was a great Biology teacher; the boys would sing his praises. He spent his entire career at OSH – from 1967 (the year of Sergeant Pepper) until he retired.
Another drinking companion was Lance Naylor. He drove me to Stratford-upon-Avon several times to watch Shakespeare. I remember watching the Henry V1
cycle with him. I would read the play the day before we went and summarize it for Lance as he drove. He had a colour TV, on which we watched The Mayor of Casterbridge
with Alan Bates. He enjoyed his food and had a big belly. The boys respected and feared him, which I envied, because, as a young teacher, I was a poor disciplinarian. Lance and I shared a love of jazz. He adored Benny Goodman, and we used to swap LP’s. Lance drove me to Birmingham Town Hall to watch the Stan Kenton Orchestra and Oscar Peterson. The latter concert – Oscar in a trio - was sensationally good, and I remember Lance quipping on the way out: “They do a good turn
.” He had little time, though, for modern
jazz and walked out of a Gil Evans concert at the Hippodrome. He had a dry wit and a way with words. I briefly shared a room with him on a school holiday to France, but his snoring proved intolerable, forcing me to move in with the coach driver.
Peter Davies was a card. He taught Religious Education (which he called “Scrippy
”) and was in charge of Foster House. He spoke polished, rather pretentious English, and dished out corporal punishment liberally. He used to hit boys on the backside with a small bat or paddle, which they would sign afterwards. He was a chain smoker and a big drinker – mainly of sherry. He was an OSH institution until his retirement during the reign of Chris Potter. On the whole, I thought he was rather too full of himself and often supercilious in the way he spoke to people. We never really connected on a personal level even though we dined together in the Oak Room for seven years.
Neville Richardson was a decent enough bloke but a hopeless teacher, taunted by the boys and with no real friends among the staff. He was obsessed by his native Batley.
Keith Longstaff, the Head of French, was another good person who was hopeless as a teacher. He was academic and erudite but had no control over the boys, who baited him unmercifully. He eventually left teaching for another job.
Dave Tustin taught Rural Science in a shed adjacent to Phil Price's Biology hut. I didn't know him at all.
I shared Founders boarding duties with Denis Haggett for seven years and got to know him well. He liked to sit down in my flat and listen to music. He was proud of his physique and was a keen golfer, so it was a terrible blow when he contracted multiple sclerosis. After his marriage broke up he had an affair with Mrs Shorter, who was in charge of school cleaning.
Peter Mansell took early retirement because of a back problem. He lived in a vast house on Hagley Road opposite the school, where he used to sit in his kitchen drinking endless cups of tea. I often visited him there. Peter had been a good cricketer in his day and loved to reminisce about old cricket. I enjoyed listening to his memories of the West Indian batsman George Headley. Peter adored classical music, especially Mozart, whom he referred to in his emotional farewell speech at the Headmaster's house.
I never really knew Brian Kennedy. He had married a woman working in the school kitchen and used to commute every day to school from his house in Droitwich. I remember the evening when the two of us, in Brian's car, did a tour of country pubs listed in the Good Beer Guide. Brian, like me, managed to escape from Old Swinford, working as a computer salesman for Dudley Education Authority.
Ken Ison was the woodwork teacher, but his principal job was running the CCF (Combined Cadet Force). I never socialized with him. He was an alcoholic, apparently. I remember his ruddy complexion and smelling the alcohol on his breath.
Len Krukowski, the Polish Head of Maths, was a disciplinarian, feared and mocked by the boys, who called him ‘Kruke’. He spoke English with a pronounced Polish accent. I was invited to his house once – along with Lance Naylor - and met his wife, a formidable Polish lady. I believe he still lives in the same house on Heath Lane, a stone’s throw from the school.
Harry Johnston was the Head of Science and a boarding master, in charge of Prospect House. He was married to Betty. I had little to do with him.
Bertie Vowles was the school bursar, a most unpleasant man who savaged me for complaining about the lack of heating in my classroom one cold winter’s day. I remember that his office had the only photocopier in the school – at a time when the rest of us were using banda machines.
Ben Kirton had a reputation for being aggressive and macho. He and his fellow Maths teacher, Denis Haggett, used to play golf together. He once told me he’d taught golf to the great Duncan Edwards (the Manchester United legend). I had little to do with Ben, but he verbally abused me one day for not releasing a boy from my English lesson to help him with CCF. He died of a sudden heart attack.
Jim Prince was a kindly man whom I got to know through our mutual love of old books. He put me on to John Sparry’s book shop in Wall Heath. When I joined the school, he was the most venerable and respected of all the teachers and was close to Mr Sheppard, the Headmaster. I remember the eloquent appreciation of Mr Sheppard that he wrote for the school magazine the year Sheppard retired. Jim had beetling eyebrows, which earned him the nickname ‘Poke’ (short for hocus-pocus). He used to wear a baggy combat jacket during the winter months, and he had his own personal chair in the staff room. When he retired, he sold me his Oxford gown.
L. W. ‘Peter’ Sheppard had been Headmaster of OSH since 1951, the year of my birth. In 1975 he was presiding over a ramshackle and old-fashioned school. He taught ‘A’ level English literature, always opting for the Victorian period, which he knew best. I met him once in Stourbridge Public Library, and he bemoaned the lack of books by and about Thackeray, saying that “there were reams by lesser authors.
” He used to visit Founders Building in the evening, always accompanied by his dog, Sam. We had few conversations, but once, at a staff party, he sat down next to me and said: “Mr Mulqueen, a lot.
” I had no idea what he meant, but then he explained that I had been spelling “a lot
” as a single word in my school reports. Before he retired, I asked him to write me a reference and he did, damning me with faint praise: “Mr Mulqueen has the makings of a fine English teacher.
” In truth, I was a bad teacher in my first couple of years, and it is surprising that he did not admonish me for my excessive drinking and poor discipline. However, he was at the end of his career, and so many things at Old Swinford needed improvement.
Looking at that old photo, I count myself lucky to have escaped from OSH after ten years. All those teachers who spent their entire careers there knew nothing about the delights of teaching girls, not to mention the delights of teaching overseas. And then there was the added burden of Saturday morning teaching, which meant it was impossible to escape on Fridays for a long weekend.
So why did so many teachers begin and end their careers at OSH? Well, on the whole, it was a cushy number compared to most state schools. Teachers joined OSH and got into a comfortable rut from which they never broke free. I think of Phil Price, an admirable man with a healthy interest in life and the world, who would have enjoyed gallivanting around the globe as I have done. At least Phil had a life outside of school, because he was not a boarding master. I feel especially sorry for all those OSH teachers who spent their lives as boarding masters, living next to boys’ dormitories. Peter Davies was one of those. So was Lance Naylor until he took early retirement. So was I for ten years. I used to call it “boardingdom
That 1971 photo is a memory of my first and most memorable teaching job, but ultimately it is a reminder of what I might have become – an institutionalized old bachelor boarding master, a Mr Chips. I thank my lucky stars that in 1985 I broke free from the tentacles of OSH to discover a new and better life elsewhere. Kevin Mulqueen October 8th 2018
Postscript January 22nd 2019:
My articles about OSH have caught the eye of several former students, who have emailed me with descriptions of the time they spent there. Most of these students were boarders during the reign of Mr Sheppard (1951-1978). There can be little doubt from the various testimonies that certain masters abused their power.
The name of Ray Milner crops us again and again; his use of corporal punishment on younger boys was legendary.
Peter Davies was another master notorious for beating boys with a wooden paddle.
‘Spud’ Bartlett, for many years the Deputy Head, made liberal use of the cane. One of my correspondents put it memorably: “Mao Tse Tsung said that power came out of the barrel of a gun. In Spud’s case power came at the end of a bamboo cane.”
The worst offender, however, was ‘Griff’ or ‘Cud’ Bradley. Like Milner, Davies and Bartlett, he was sadistic in his use of the cane. He was also a paedophile. While there is no evidence that he raped boys, he enjoyed fondling them. One old boy told me: "Cud Bradley would squeeze the inner thigh of every boy in the TD room
." And a former boarder wrote this about him: “His stock in trade was fondling your inner thigh with his little finger perilously close to your genitals while sitting on your bed just before lights out.”
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