Stoneham Secondary School for Boys 1963 - 1970


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February 24th 2021
Published: February 24th 2021
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I have written blogs about my primary school and my university but have never, until now, thought of writing about Stoneham Secondary School for Boys, which I attended from 1963 until 1970. Those 7 years of my life were a key experience and contributed greatly to making me the man I am today.

If you Google ‘Stoneham School Reading U.K.’, not much comes up. The first post is about Prospect School, which was formed in 1985 by amalgamating Stoneham School and the nearby Westwood Girls' School. Then there is a link to Reading Forum, where various Stoneham old boys, myself included, have reflected on their schooldays. There are no internet pages giving an official history of the place, which I find surprising, because it was a big and important school. Perhaps this is because the school closed down in the mid-1980’s. However, my memories of the place are indelible.

Stoneham Secondary School for Boys opened in April 1956. It was situated on Cockney Hill in the Tilehurst area of Reading. It was a boys’ school – unique, in my experience, for having a grammar school and a secondary modern school on the same site. These were the days before comprehensive education – when students were separated at the age of 11. The ones who passed the 11+ exam went to grammar schools; the ones who didn’t were condemned for the remainder of their school careers to languish in inferior secondary moderns. I did well enough in my 11+ to earn a place at Stoneham Grammar.

The main building of Stoneham School had two staircases. Off one staircase were the classrooms where the grammar school boys had lessons; off the other staircase were the secondary modern classrooms. During lesson times we were completely separated, but during break times all the boys would be together in the playground and communal areas. I have never heard of another grammar school which had this system.

Although we shared the same space, we did not mingle, and there was little or no friction between us. I do remember, however, the last day of summer term when secondary modern roughnecks who were leaving the school (they left at 15) waited outside the school gate in Cockney Hill for the most hated prefects, whom they menaced and pelted with eggs. Overall, I think it did me good to have some contact with the secondary modern boys. All my friends were from the grammar section, but just rubbing shoulders with these 11+ failures gave me a sense of reality, ensuring I was not in a totally elitist bubble.

As I say, I was awarded a place at Stoneham Grammar School after passing my 11+ in 1963. I dearly wanted to attend Reading School, the most prestigious boys’ school in Reading and a stone’s throw from our house, but my 11+ result was not good enough. So I had to settle for Stoneham Grammar, the second-best boys’ school. Getting there necessitated a long bus ride and a walk – around 45 minutes – but this daily journey, in the company of my classmates, was no problem for a fit young boy. It became part of my life, and I soaked up the sights and sounds of Reading. Those were the days before the one-way traffic system, so the No.31 bus travelled up Erleigh Road, into London Road, down London Street, over the humpbacked bridge and into Broad Street. After the station it went up Castle Hill, into Tilehurst Road and past Prospect Park. At the next stop, the Stoneham schoolboys and the Westwood schoolgirls would get off and walk to Cockney Hill. The school issued me with a bus pass, so my 7 years of commuting cost nothing.

I well remember my first day at Stoneham, a rite of passage if ever there was one. Accompanied by my mother, becapped and short-trousered in my new school uniform purchased from Jackson’s store, I lined up with the other new boys on Cockney Hill. I knew nobody. All the boys at my primary school, except me, had failed their 11+ and gone to Alfred Sutton Secondary Modern. I was very nervous. Would I be bright enough to hold my own at this grammar school? I asked a boy standing next to me, Kevin Lambton, if he had studied algebra at primary school. I had not and was worried that this new area of mathematics might be fiendishly difficult.

My life at the new school began, and I soon adjusted to it. I was a diligent student, determined to make my parents proud. My father, in particular, was delighted I was receiving a quality education for free. Born in Ireland in 1905, he had been denied decent schooling. I received good marks for my homework, and there was no subject I struggled with. How good was I? I wasn’t sure. Then came the first exams.

Stoneham Grammar had twice-yearly exams – in February and June. I revised thoroughly for all my subjects and awaited the results. I was flabbergasted. In those first exams, in February 1964, I finished top of the class overall and top in 8 individual subjects: Algebra, Geometry, Arithmetic, English Language, English Literature, General Science, Geography and History. My worst results were in Art (23rd) and Religious Knowledge (23rd). I achieved similar results in the June exam. Then came the challenge of Class 2A.

In my first year, each of the two classes – 1A and 1B - comprised a mixture of abilities but then, the following year, students were streamed. I was now in 2A with all the brightest boys. I still have all my Stoneham exam results from 1964 and ’65 neatly written on cards. In the February 1965 exams I finished overall first and top in Arithmetic, History and French. I did even better in the June 1965 exams, finishing overall first again and top in English Language, English Essay, History and French. My parents were, of course, thrilled. In fact, during my four years of internal school exams, I always finished first overall. In my fifth year, I missed the Mock ‘O’ levels through appendicitis but achieved good results in the real thing: 8 ‘O’ levels with mostly decent grades (I scraped Latin with the lowest passing grade – a grade 6) and no failures. For ‘A’ levels I chose my star subjects, English and French, along with a new language, Spanish.

All my Stoneham school reports are carefully preserved. In those days, when the entire report was just a single sheet of paper, there was room for only a very brief handwritten comment from each teacher. My first ever report – issued after my stellar exam results in 1964 – contains such remarks as: “Good!”, “A first class boy! Well done!”, “Excellent work”, “A good result. Works well”. The worst remark is for P.E.: “Poor but tries”. The report also says that I finished first overall out of a class of 35 and that I was never absent from school.

So much for the statistics. What about my life generally at school? I was happy enough. The teachers liked me because of my good work ethic and stellar results, and I was reasonably popular among the boys, who nicknamed me ‘Mul’. The teachers were a mixed bunch. Here are thumbnail sketches of the most memorable ones.

Mr Hodge aka ‘Gab’. Famous as a disciplinarian but also a pretty good ‘O’ level Maths teacher. I remember the graffito in the 6th Form playground: ‘Gab is a basturd ’ (perhaps a pun on 'bastard' and 'turd' but, more likely, a crass spelling error by the secondary modern boy who wrote it). He retired to Denmark Road, near where I lived.

Mr Coleman aka ‘Sooty’ and ‘Happy Harry’ (because of his poker face). A very decent guy and a very good English teacher. He was a Roman Catholic and led the Roman Catholic assemblies which I had to attend.

Mr Arthur Eedle. Physics teacher who went mad circa 1968 and was sacked. Quite rightly - his religious fanaticism and weird UFO beliefs were a dangerous influence on impressionable boys. One lesson he covered for an absent colleague and spent the whole 40 minutes trying to indoctrinate us. He had a small band of followers from my year; together one lunchtime they burnt Denis Wheatley black magic novels.

Fred Hampshire. Very wrinkled face. Good Maths teacher. I remember him publicly scolding mad Mr Eedle: “I suppose you think the world is going to end tomorrow?

My Cheyney aka ‘Dog’. Taught Technical Drawing. A grim martinet, he ruled by fear. I remember him upending a student and shaking him in order to activate his ‘grey matter’.

Mr Evans aka ‘Dai’. Nobody messed with Dai. He terrified us all with his blazing eyes and red face. He was a real academic who knew his languages inside out; he spoke English, Welsh, French, Spanish, Russian and Esperanto. Also taught us Latin for a short time. I have written a separate blog about this remarkable man who taught me ‘A’ level French and Spanish.

Mr Evans. The Religious Knowledge teacher. I remember him as an excellent jazz pianist.

Mr Bateman aka 'Batman'. The Geography teacher. Very strict. For some strange reason I always remember a sign on his classroom wall: 'A wind is named after the direction it blows from'.

Mr Porter aka 'Pinhead'. A Science teacher who died suddenly during my time at Stoneham.

Mrs Reddall. A strict Science teacher - the one and only female on the teaching staff.

Mr Few. The Music teacher. An elderly man whose lessons I enjoyed. He was succeeded by the much younger 'Gerty' Gilman.

Mr Uzzell. The Drama teacher. All his productions were excellent, especially 'Of Mice and Men'.

Mr Downs aka ‘Dimmo’ Downs. Taught the Secondary Modern boys, but he ran the school Chess Club. He had been the English Boys’ Chess Champion.

Mr Stacey aka ‘Bongo’. Taught French and English. Robin to Mr Evans’s Batman. He slippered me in my second English lesson for forgetting ‘Treasure Island’. That was the only time I received corporal punishment at school.

Mr Morey aka ‘Min’. Extremely boring English teacher, who just talked all the time. Became angry very easily. Gave me the fright of my life by threatening to sue me after I'd exchanged my broken chair for his teacher's chair.

Mr Keast. Maths teacher. Went to Singapore. Famous as a hard slipperer. He once embarrassed in front of the class by referring to “the intelligentsia – Mulqueen and myself”.

Mick Probyn. Head of P.E. Had no sympathy for students who were not natural athletes.

Dr Smith. The Headmaster whom we never saw. Stayed in his office all day long. During my 7 years at Stoneham, I had almost nothing to do with him.

Mr Rawson. Woodwork teacher. Looked strong but was a feeble slipperer.

Mr Macbride. An excellent Chemistry teacher with a superb command of English. I’ll never forget what he said while handing back a test to my friend, Rod Davis: “Davis, ridiculously feeble.”

Mr Charnley aka ‘Charlie’. The venerable Latin teacher, a figure of fun.

Mr Redfern. He never taught me but was an excellent tennis player and a fine actor. His performance as Lennie in a school production of ‘Of Mice and Men’ has stayed with me all my life.

Mr Oelman. My Spanish literature teacher, who taught me one-to-one. He was an academic with limited people skills and was hopeless at controlling large classes.

Miss Moloney. A very pretty student teacher who took us for ‘A’ level English (‘The Mayor of Casterbridge’) and taught me Spanish one-to-one. Our private sessions together elicited lewd comments from my peers.

There were some memorable boys too.

Robin Lustig was in the 6th Form when I began. He had a mop of dark curly hair. I always remember the mock election in the school hall when he spoke in favour of the Communist Party. As he finished his speech with the words ‘Vote Communist!’, he was drowned out by a fellow 6th former bellowing: ‘Vote Conservative!’ Robin Lustig went on to find fame as a journalist working for BBC Radio.

John King was one year older than me. He graduated from Oxford University with a 1st in Modern Languages and spent his entire career at Eton College teaching Spanish and French. He lived near me in De Beauvoir Road.

Stephen Aldridge was in the same class as me and was my academic rival for 5 years (until he opted for different A level subjects). In the last ever internal exams, in June 1967, we finished joint first on exactly the same number of marks.

John Webber lived close by, in Eastern Avenue, and I sometimes visited his house.

John King (another one – not the above-mentioned) was a charismatic boy, very good at speaking French, and very tough for his small size. He died tragically young after leaving school before ‘A’ levels. I remember the day he beat up John Webber, who had been throwing his weight around.

I used to play tennis with Julian Russell and Martin Walsh and Nick Tregoning in Cintra Park and on the Reading University hard courts. Julian is the only old Stonehamian I’m still in touch with. He is retired in Reading, and we correspond frequently. Nick Tregoning was very literate and sat next to me during English lessons, where his irreverent running commentaries made me laugh. He wrote a very good poem about Mount Snowdon for the school magazine.

David Chuter was an egg-head, very good at English. He seemed to have read everything. When I scored higher marks than he did in the English Mock ‘A’ level exam, he was mortified; he sat down next to me and said: ‘Ridiculous’. He went on to do a doctorate in English and became a successful civil servant.

Martin Stannard was a nondescript boy who did A level English with me but later blossomed into a published poet.

Rod Davis and Roger Kelly were my Subbuteo pals during my 5th year, when I used to play Subbuteo football constantly.

Hodder was an immensely large secondary modern boy. He was such a daunting physical specimen, opposition rugby teams were frightened to tackle him.

‘Bingo’ Maskell was a tough secondary modern boy, two years my senior. After he left Stoneham (in those days you could leave at 15), he became a notorious hoodlum around Reading. While at Stoneham, he was overshadowed by an even tougher boy named Fitzpatrick.

What of my life at Stoneham outside of the classroom? Let’s start with sport. I hated gymnastics and was pleased whenever my mother wrote me a sick note. I hated the physical contact of rugby but enjoyed playing football, cricket and tennis. I was a pretty decent bowler – medium pace, good line and length – but a poor batsman against fast bowling because the leather ball frightened me. At lunchtimes I particularly enjoyed playing playground football and foot cricket. In foot cricket you had to defend your wicket – usually, a briefcase - with your feet and legs and score runs by kicking a tennis ball. At one time I was the best foot cricketer in my year. I was also a handy table tennis player and won the 6th form knock-out table tennis competition, held in our common room on a decrepit old table, with barely room enough to swing a cat. Tony Cutler supplied a witty written commentary on my exploits, emphasizing my lugubrious expression.

Sports Day was an annual event where the four school houses – Abbey, Friary, Minster and Castle – competed against one another. I was never good enough to represent my house, Minster, at running or field sports, so I used to enjoy sitting in the sun watching the action. On one memorable occasion, the school’s star athlete, Bob Radley, won all the running events and all the field sports. And one of the most comical things I have ever seen was a race where one of the runners wore a baggy shirt. It was a windy day, and his shirt filled up like a sail, almost stopping him in his tracks. We spectators howled with laughter.

In my fifth year at Stoneham I became a chess fanatic. It all started when my appendix was removed and I was recuperating – first at the Royal Berkshire Hospital, then at Peppard Sanatorium. I read a book – ‘Teach Yourself Chess’ - from cover to cover, playing through the illustrative games on my pocket chess set. I emerged from hospital a decent player and represented the school at chess during my final three years. Our team – John Webber, Stephen Aldridge, myself, Julian Russell and John Higgs - was pretty good, in Berkshire second only to the boys of Abingdon Grammar School. I took my chess very seriously and recorded all my games in a notebook which I still have. A great highlight was the Berkshire Chess Congress hosted by Stoneham School in January 1969. At the end of Day 1, I was joint leader on 2 points but thereafter did less well. Nevertheless a milestone in my chess-playing life. My strongest memory is of beating a boy named Flowerday in Round 2. During our game, his friend sauntered by and asked him: “Are you winning?” to which Flowerday replied: “Not yet.” That nettled me, and I proceeded to give him a hiding.

I was a school prefect in my last two years and hated it. I was a shy academic, ill-equipped to give orders or reprimand other boys. I dreaded meeting the tough secondary modern boys, who laughed in my face. As a badge of office, I wore a special blue prefect’s tie.

I once went on a school holiday to Germany and Holland. It was during my third year, I think, and it was my first time away from home without my parents. We visited Cologne (I remember the spiky cathedral), Amsterdam and Alkmaar (I still have a key ring with ‘Alkmaar’ written on it). The food was terrible, and we younger boys were bullied by the older boys. One night I was awoken from my sleep by a bully pouring cold water on my head.

School outings were few and far between, but I remember three.

In my first or second year, we visited Stonehenge as part of a geography trip. Back then there were no facilities – just bare naked stone slabs on Salisbury Plain. We believed the Druids had performed human sacrifices on the horizontal slabs and decided to imitate them. I used to have a photo (taken with my Kodak Brownie) of a classmate being ritually slaughtered. I forget who the victim was, but Mark Spiers was the gleeful executioner.

The other trips were to the Royal Shakespeare Theatre at Stratford-Upon-Avon. For ‘O’ level English Literature, we studied Henry IV Part 1’ and travelled to watch it. I remember precisely nothing about that performance, probably because I had not yet been ‘turned on’ to serious literature. However, by 1969 I was loving my Shakespeare, and the Trevor Nunn production of ‘The Winter’s Tale’ at Stratford that year was a revelation. I especially remember Autolycus, who stole the show with his comic panache.

Reflecting on the totality of my time at Stoneham, I am deeply grateful and have no regrets. I received an excellent education free of charge, which set me up for university. I owe a lot to Mr Evans, who taught me French and Spanish. My excellent ‘A’ level results – a B grade in Spanish after just two years of study, an A in both English and French and a Distinction at French ‘S’ level – were partly due to my own diligence but would never have happened without Mr Evans driving me hard.

Having praised Stoneham, I have to admit I’m not a fan of single-sex or grammar school education. In my opinion, a well-run coeducational comprehensive is best. Not having girls around me during my teenage years put me at a disadvantage when I went to university; girls were an unknown species, and I had difficulty relating to them. I also feel very sorry for boys of my vintage who failed their 11+ and ended up in secondary moderns because, no matter how much they improved later on, they were doomed to a second-class education until the end of their schooldays. At Stoneham, I remember one or two boys being promoted from secondary modern to grammar, but these were rare exceptions. By contrast, students in a comprehensive school can move with the greatest of ease into whichever subject set suits them best. No wonder, then, that, in 1971, my Languages teacher, Mr Evans, moved to Highdown, Reading’s first comprehensive school.



I have also written portraits of my two favourite Stoneham teachers:

Mr Evans https://www.travelblog.org/Europe/blog-965816.html

Mr Coleman https://www.travelblog.org/Asia/Vietnam/Southeast/Ho-Chi-Minh-City/District-Two/blog-1063729.html

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1st November 2021

I woz there
I was there from Sept '62 until april '66. I was in 1C,2C,3C but because I was going to leave at Easter'66 I had to go into 4D to give someone else a chance. I remember most of the teachers you mention. Paul Hodder was a year below me, in the same class as my brother Don. Other teachers I remember was Mr Grinter P.E. Mr Archer aka Sturmey. (cycle gears) Mr Cooper History aka Hank because he wore glasses similar to Hank Marvin. He offered to teach me the clarinet after classes but all I wanted to do was play football. Fool! When I started school meals, I was put on the same table as Bingo and "fitzy" and became mates with them. They were a year older I was. Sadly Steve died in a cycling accident soon after leaving school. I only knew a couple of grammar boys. Steven Harvey who lived opposite me in Southcote Lane and Philip Baker. I really enjoyed reading your account of the school at that time. Excellent.
1st November 2021

Thanks for message!
Thanks, mate. I decided to write down my memories while my brain is still working.
26th January 2022

Stoneham remembered
Kevin Thanks for posting your Stoneham blog – you and I were contemporaries, I too went to Stoneham in 1963, from Norcot School in Tilehurst but left in October 1966 when my family moved away. The names you mention ring many bells, both staff and pupils and encouraged me to look out my old copies of the school magazine. Other names I recall include Beaumont, Bartlett and Burt, also Jenner and Jones. You are right about Paul Hodder, I played rugby with him and both he and Honey went on to be selected for England. As for Radley, he seemed to win everything and I have a picture of him leading the school athletics team with me two rows back. You mention a school trip to Europe. I think I was on the same trip and amongst the various photos I took I do have a couple of group pictures of various boys. Thanks again for reawakening memories from 60 years ago.

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