My first day at my new school was a memorable one. It began when I set out walking from my home, in the Willows Lane area, with another scholarship boy from Brandwood Street School. We were talking about our hopes and expectations of life at the new school after the strict discipline of the one we had left, with the cane an ever-present presence, when we passed a group of schoolboys heading in a different direction. We guessed they were heading for White Bank School on Wigan Road and, as we walked by, I felt my new cap lifted from my head and tossed over a yard by a bigger boy who shouted ‘Snob school’. The gate was locked and I had to move to the other side of the terraced house, knock on the door and ask the householder if I could retrieve my cap. She recovered it and handed it over with an admonishment not to play games in the street.
That was my first intimation of problems ahead for a Bolton School pupil living in a working class district of Bolton. I never had problems with boys whom I’d known at Brandwood Street, but I occasionally ran into difficulties with boys from other schools. Even in the Sixth Form, and I was still on the small side, I was once punched on the side of the head as I walked past an older boy who appeared to be a mill worker. We hadn’t spoken, but he appeared to see a boy in a Bolton School uniform as a provocation. The Headmaster, Mr Poskitt, had recently told the boys assembled in the Great Hall that it had come to his attention that some boys were not wearing School uniform – I wonder why?
On my first morning at School assembly, I suddenly had a bad bout of coughing and, after a few minutes, the Headmaster asked me to leave. As I walked through the Hall I was joined by a woman who appeared to be a teacher and she took me to a room and gave me a drink and calmed me down. I soon learned that I was being looked after by a lady called Mrs Emma Saxelby, and she became my favourite teacher throughout my time at the School. However, in my first French lesson in Form Shell A she did me no favours. She gave every boy in the form a French name, and before she came to me she had already named an Alain and a Guillaume, so she gave me a name derived from my surname (Monticule) and then asked me to say it. Foolishly, I asked if she could give me another one as I didn’t like it, but, to the amusement of my classmates, I was stuck with it, and I became known as Monty Knowles for the rest of my time at School. When I was called into the Army in 1945 on reaching the age of 18, some School friend wrote to me at my training camp at Carlisle Castle Private Monty Knowles. The corporal distributing the mail gave me a withering look and asked how dare I claim such a distinguished name.
Back to School in 1938 and I immediately joined the 19th Bolton Scout Troop under Mr Porter, my teacher of Geography, and I was soon made aware of the reverse side of the ‘snob’ question. At a camp in Eskdale I was spoken to by an older boy from the Chorley New Road part of the town, who asked me questions about my background. No, we didn’t have a garden, nor a telephone and certainly not a car. He then asked me the unbelievable question, did we have knives and forks in the house?
In the School itself we were ‘streamed’ at the end of the first year and I was pleased to find myself in Form Upper 3A with some of the brighter boys from Shell A and we were joined by a number of boys from Park Road.
After four years at Bolton School I took my School Certificate and after it I was happy to drop Maths and Science and concentrate on an Arts course. Two years later, in Modern 6B, I took my Higher School Certificate in History, Geography, French, with German subsidiary. For the first time since Shell A, I had my favourite teacher dealing with my French lessons. My HSC was quite a decent one, with two Goods and a Pass, plus German.
University was not on my mind when I was offered a post as a trainee journalist on the local evening paper and, although Mrs Saxelby urged me not to take it, my mind was made up. For the rest of my working life, apart from three years in the Army, I worked as a journalist on newspapers and, for nearly 30 years, as a news bulletin writer and editor at the BBC in London and Manchester.
Of boys I can remember from my schooldays, spent at Bolton School largely during the war years, when we always carried our gas masks with us wherever we went, perhaps the most memorable was Bob Haslam, later Lord Haslam. At one camp I attended I twisted my ankle and was hobbling back to camp in some distress. He was a big strong lad – always known as ‘Sam’ Haslam at the School – and he picked me up and put me on his shoulders and carried me all the way back. When he became Chairman of the Coal Board I remarked to a colleague at work that relations with the miners would now improve. And they did.
Finally, after 82 years living in Bolton – married in 1953 to Mary Ashworth, an Old Girl of the School – we moved in 2009 to the Inner Hebrides to be near our daughter, also an Old Girl and a doctor.