Clive’s Early Schooldays in England

A paper given by him from his private collection to Tom O’Donoghue
I suspect that I can lay claim to being one of very few former pupils who was also later a member of the teaching staff at his school. I was a pupil at John Ruskin school in Tamworth Road in Croydon from September 1950 until May 1952, at which point my parents emigrated to Christchurch, New Zealand. I returned to the UK in February 1966. By then I was married and had been a secondary school teacher for four years. My wife and I went to the UK on a working holiday, which lasted for almost two years. We were both teachers.

I saw a job advertised at John Ruskin, applied for it and was accepted. I think the fact that I was an old boy went in my favour. At my interview Mr. Lowe asked me if I intended settling in Britain permanently. I gave a somewhat evasive reply because I really didn’t know at the time what we would do. Anyway, I was employed from September 1966 to August 1967, and taught Social Studies, English and PE. We then headed off on a second major summer tour of Europe before returning home.

After returning to New Zealand I taught for another couple of years before obtaining a university lectureship in 1970, in Education, at the University of Otago, located in Dunedin. I completed a PhD there while on the staff. Then, in 1976, moved to the University of Western Australia where I have worked ever since.

Over the years I have frequently been back to the UK on study leave, invariably as a visiting research fellow at the Institute of Education in London. I have spent most of that time researching the history of British education policy in India and the Colonial Empire, watching Charlton Athletic FC –as a young boy at John Ruskin my ambition was to play for them professionally -and going around auto-jumbles buying up rare spares for my collection of classic Jaguar motor cars.

But enough of me. Let me go back in time to walking down Tamworth Road in my new school uniform, on my first day at John Ruskin back in September 1950. More than half a century has passed since then but I still recall many vivid memories of those years. Many more were rekindled as I stood in the former playground in front of the old school building in December 2002 on my most recent visit to Croydon.

I turned eleven in April 1950. Prior to going to John Ruskin, I had spent a year at Kensington Avenue Primary School, which was located in Norbury. In hindsight, it was probably one of the happiest years in my life. We had an outstanding teacher called Mr. Sibley. Not only was he an outstanding Eleven Plus scholarship teacher and a choirmaster of note, but he was also a first-rate football coach.

In those days Kensington Avenue was a relatively small school, but we had a good football team and managed to win our way to the final of the primary schools’ cup final. We played Winterbourne, a much larger school, in the final at Selhurst Park (1950) and drew 1-1 after extra time. Each school held the cup for six months.

The Winterbourne team included a chap called Dobbinson, who also went to John Ruskin, and we became firm friends. I wonder what became of him? I was delighted in my naïve way to win a place at John Ruskin because it was the only grammar school that played soccer! Even then though, I was conscious of the pecking order amongst Croydon schools. For boys, Dulwich was the ultimate prize followed by Whitgift Grammar, Trinity, [or Whitgift Middle as it was then called], Selhurst and John Ruskin.

In the immediate post-War years John Ruskin took in about 70 boys annually, divided into two classes – in my day 1H and 1C. I was in 1H (Miss Hickmott’s class). The other was Mr. Cracknell’s class. We referred to Miss Hickmott as ‘the Eighth Wonder of the World’. To a tender 11-year old she was an awesome figure. A friend of my family knew of her and said that she had been employed at the school during the War years and proved such a good disciplinarian with young boys that she was retained after the War ended. I still recall our first morning meeting with her. We occupied the ground floor classroom at the far end of the building next door to what I think was a commercial laundry! I still recall the awful smell that came from it on occasions when the wind blew in the wrong direction. We were sitting in the classroom awaiting her arrival after our first morning assembly. She duly arrived and we all stood up as was the custom in those days.She walked to the front of the class, drew herself up to her full height, her back as stiff as a ramrod, and said: “Good morning, boys. My name is Miss Hickmott. On all occasions you will address me as madam. Sit”. And madam it was from that day forth.She took us for English and French. Her main punishment was endless “lines,” which rapidly escalated out of control. She also frequently made us learn a dozen or more lines of poetry overnight for homework in the sure knowledge that we would be tested the next day. For each mistake the line was written out 10 times!

From memory, some senior boys got their revenge on Miss Hickmotton at least one occasion that I know of. She cycled to school and at the end of one term several boys dismantled her bike and then sat in wait. (No! It was not me.) She duly came to get her bike. The upshot was that a couple of staff members had to come to her rescue and put the bike together again while the boys looked on from a discrete distance and enjoyed the fun. I don’t think she was very amused.

The boys in 1C had a much better time. Bill Cracknell was a good teacher and discipline was never any major problem for him. We had Mr. Badcock for science. He was unpredictable. Some days he was fine but on others he could be quite vindictive. I still recall my endless frustration at the way he punished the whole class for the stupid behaviour of a few, by repeatedly keeping the whole class in after school. He was studying part time at the University of London and on several weeknights,he caught a train to the city around 5 pm. It was, therefore, no trouble for him to keep us in until 4.50 pm or thereabouts while he did his marking.

Mr. Peacock took us for geography. He was a kindly soul most of the time, but he also had a temper. I still remember the geological makeup of the North and South Downs and how he taught us to read one-inch-to-the-mile survey maps.For Latin we had an ex-naval man; I think his name was Mr. York. We liked him and I still recall some of the Latin he laboured to teach us.We had dear old Mr. Chinnock for woodwork and metalwork. He was very slow and thorough and each piece of wood we were given had to be treated as if it was our last! Happy days.

Clive’s Schooldays

Clive’s Early Schooldays in England – A paper given by him from his private collection to Tom O’Donoghue

Read About Clive’s School Days Here

Tributes to Clive

Tributes from friends and colleagues of Clives

Read Tributes Left For Clive Here

Clive’s contributions to Richard Aldrich

Clive Whitehead’s Contribution to the Commemoration Day for the late Prof. Richard Aldrich of the Institute of Education, The University of London.

Read Clive’s Contribution Here

Selected publications of Clive Whitehead

A selection of publications from Clive in Academic Papers and Book Chapters

Find Clive’s Publications Here

Special issue papers in honour of Clive

A short selection of papers issued in honour of Clive

Read Special Issue Papers Here