The Maltonian Web


Memories

Tony Kirby

A COUNTRY GRAMMAR SCHOOL, 1956-64

'I'm going up to school to speak to that David Lloyd' was one of my mother's favourite expressions. It usually followed my enthusiastic recounting of what we'd done in 'RE' that day and it didn't mean that she was equally enthralled by the new perspectives DJL had offered: that the world might not have been created in seven days, that the Apostles were probably not the authors of the Gospels that bore their names, and that there could even be grounds for suspecting the historical truth of the Virgin Birth. So far as I know, she never did (if she had, it would have been an encounter I would have given a lot to have witnessed) and she was actually very fond of him. For the rest of her life, she followed his career with interest, and was delighted when he was honoured for his services to Shropshire local history.

David Lloyd was, perhaps, exceptional in his enthusiasm, the range of his interests and his ability to put cats among pigeons. Few of my contemporaries will forget the episodes of the motor scooter, or the 'offensive weapon'. His dramatic productions were the talk of the town, especially Macbeth, which - inadvertently - starred Mr Dowding, the school caretaker. But he typified the best qualities of all MGS staff: encouraging pupils to question received wisdom, to take nothing for granted and - crucially - observe the School motto (Audi alteram partem : hear the other point of view).

I suspect that tolerance had always been a feature of MGS. Certainly, in my day, Mr Taylor, as Head, believed fervently that if you treated pupils like adults, they would behave accordingly. By-and-large we did; sometimes we didn't. 'Pip' took it all in his stride: but if he described something as 'feeble' we knew that we'd over-stepped the mark. And would any other school in the North Riding (or perhaps the country) have acceded to the request of the Sixth Form that the Library subscribe to the Daily Worker? I've often wondered how he explained this to the Governors.

Audi alteram partem: there were a wide variety of views, reflecting the very mixed social and geographical nature of the School's intake. Only a small minority of us came from Malton and Norton; if my form (1956) was typical, about 80% of pupils were from the countryside and a farming background. In those days, there was no such thing as the 'school run': Norton students used the bus from Howe Road, at 2d each way. If we were prepared to walk back home, we could use the 'other' 2d to buy sweets at 'Ma Brown's' or (in summer) curiously-flavoured (and coloured) ice lollies from the foyer of Bower's Restaurant (now Boyes's store). Popular rumour had it they were produced from methylated spirits, which may explain a lot...

Everyone had to come by bus: the LNER economy cuts of 1930-31 had eliminated services to the 'Street' villages, (Amotherby to Gilling) as well as from local stations on the York-Scarborough main line and in 1950 the 'Driffield Dodger' was withdrawn. Consequently, East Riding pupils were provided with a variety of special bus services run by private operators, as were those from the Howardian Hills villages such as Bulmer and Terrington. People from Barton Hill, Whitwell and Huttons Ambo had the regular York - Scarborough 'West Yorkshire' service 43, but the biggest single contingent arrived from the west, along the B1257, in two buses: a double-decker that started from Hovingham and a single-decker from the unknown territory of Ampleforth (it had to be a single-decker due to a low railway bridge near Stonegrave).

The high percentage of out-of-town pupils meant that one's closest friends tended to be other people from Malton (and Norton), and because there were so few of us friendships between different year groups were easier than they might have been otherwise. This was a factor, I think, in giving the School its 'family' atmosphere, especially for those of us who didn't have brothers or sisters. This family feel was compounded by the fact that so many pupils had parents who had attended the School, and their memories of it in the 1930's contributed to the keeping alive of tradition: the influence of Mr Watt, Mr Williams and Mr Barty could still be keenly felt, and Mr Rolls, uniquely, formed a link between the generations.

The rural catchment area had another effect: every winter, there would be days when the buses couldn't get through. For those of us in the town, this meant lessons were abandoned and 'private study' took over: delicious days of sheer laziness in the warmth of the Library or (later) the Prefects' Room, drinking coffee, doing the crossword and generally putting the world to rights. The winter of 1962-63 was the worst since 1947: for weeks the snow lay piled high along Broughton Road, the buses remained firmly in their depot and the Sixth Form's coffee consumption soared. In the middle of all this, the school heating system failed. From somewhere a supply of ancient paraffin heaters was obtained: black enamelled circular beasts that would not have looked out of place at the Great Exhibition of 1851. In a way that would give heart failure to Health & Safety inspectors today, they were distributed throughout the School, with the highest concentration in the Library. Older readers will remember that these heaters had small vents on the top to allow the heat out: someone discovered that they were exactly the right size on which to place chestnuts, and for several weeks the usual aroma of floor and furniture polish was joined by something altogether more delicious.

 

Very few families had private cars in those days: I would guess that we knew far less of the countryside outside the town (except so far as we could explore by bike) than today's pupils. So school trips were great occasions. Mrs Williams organised an annual coach trip to the Dales for her form which (by dint of my ability to draw maps for the participants) I was able to enjoy on several successive occasions. Wensleydale was always the highlight, not least because the road lay in close proximity to the railway, and our journey up the valley always seemed to coincide with that of the Northallerton - Leyburn pick-up goods train. For some reason, foreign trips (at least those open to lower forms of life) were less common in the late 50s, and ceased in the early 60's. We did, however, have a week in London in the summer of 1961, and in the Sixth Form our teachers went far beyond the call of duty in organising local impromptu afternoons out. Mr Lloyd, needless to say, took the lead: so rather than poring over Monkhouse's Principles of Physical Geography we went out to see the Newtondale and Kirkham glacial overflow channels and the Coxwold-Gilling Gap. These excursions were in a car (an A40, from memory) which he had acquired from Mr Lawley, the Art Master. It was an unmistakable vehicle, being painted in a sort of flame orange with chilli pepper overtones finish which I have never (thankfully) ever seen since. Mr Lawley, incidentally, was a kind, quiet and sensitive teacher who lived in Pickering and looked after the Friends' Meeting House; encountering him in the town always resulted in going up Castlegate for tea. The last person, one would have thought, to thrash a car within an inch of its life. Oddly, it soon needed a new engine, gearbox and virtually everything else: the uncharitable put this down to its new owner's ignorance of the functions of the clutch. However, duly back on the road, its first major excursion was to York, with myself and one of the editors of this volume as passengers. 'Running In, Please Pass' was displayed in the back windscreen. They did, including, as we approached York, a cyclist.

What of the academic side of MGS? Oddly, I remember little of what we were taught, before the Sixth Form (and in those days it was being 'taught': 'learners' were people out on the road with 'L' plates on), but far more of the people who taught us. Bernard Greaves, placid and pipe-smoking in the Science Labs, Sheila Whitford attempting to induct us into the mysteries of the Passe Composee (and Mrs Williams with even less success into those of the subjunctive), Mr Reed trying to persuade us that dissecting earthworms and sheeps' eyeballs was fine once you got used to it (few of us did), Mr Martindale showing unfailing patience as yet another 'job' in woodwork went to the scrap-bin (we must have kept him in firewood for the whole winter) and perhaps above all 'Sos' (Mr Rolls) inspiring us with his love of history, poetry (I would guess that most of my contemporaries could join me in a mass recitation of the Joint Matriculation Board's Chosen Poems 1961) and Shakespeare.

Whether it was Mr Rolls or Mr Taylor, or those mysterious beings at County Hall, who decided on the 'summer holiday' book I'm unsure. The books came in a trunk, to be distributed to a scarcely-breathless form and there were some resounding 'misses': The Heroes of Asgard (the 1958 choice) was Wagner in an Icelandic setting with the interesting bits left out and was handed back in mint condition. But there were also 'hits': The Warden and The Woman in White.

We were lucky also to have had the resources of the School Library, especially the 'Recommended' section, chosen, I suspect, by Mr Rolls himself. From John Buchan through Aldous Huxley to Boris Pasternak, there was something for everyone, and - just published - JRR Tolkien.

Malton in the late fifties was very different to what it is today. Industry - Roses and Russells breweries, Malton Minerals, Yorkshire & Northern Woolgrowers - was still active. The Post Office was a Head Office, with a telephone exchange. And - above all - there was the railway. MGS had a remarkably high incidence of 'enthusiasts' who met regularly on summer Saturdays, armed with bags of crisps and bottles of Tizer from the station buffet and settled down to watch the action. The density of traffic is unimaginable nowadays, with trains to and from the coast running 'block and block' and any sort of locomotive possible on the next train. Even in the darkest days of winter, there were engines going on and off shed, and shunting movements taking place all day.

Returning to Malton today, I usually walk from the station up through the Market Place and Middlecave Road at School 'going-home' time. Maltonians don't change: I see myself and my friends in their faces: they're as confident and self-assured as we were, even if considerably taller (and that's just the girls).

I hope (in fact I know) that in years to come they'll look back on Malton School with the same affection that our generation do, with gratitude for the devotion of their teachers and fond memories of their foibles: their conversations, like ours, will start with 'Do you remember when...?' Even, perhaps, half-a-century hence, when this book goes into yet another edition, one of them will recollect Arriva Trains Northern's Class 158's with the same nostalgia that I look back on the B1's, G5's and Ivatt 2MT's. But - unlike my friends and I - they can't dash down from School to get the 16.00 to Whitby, have a bag of chips on the pier, and get the 18.50 back (and all behind steam!).

Anthony Kirby (MGS 1956-64)
Strategic Information & Planning Unit
Anglia Polytechnic University
Cambridge
December 2002