Bolton School Former Pupils

Edward Benson (1948-1956)

Edward wrote to us in August 2013, with detailed memories of his time at School.  

"I am eternally grateful for the education which I received at Bolton School.  I entered in 1948 with a scholarship from Markland Hill.  It was just three years since the end of WWII.  We were well aware that we had won that war against Germany: we thought we were the top nation, and as far as we were concerned Bolton School was the top school.  In fact, we reckoned that we were top dogs.

"We were unaware of our indebtedness to the Allies.  The Americans we regarded as braggarts, the Russians being communists were the new post-war enemy, and as for the French - all we really knew about them was that they had let everyone down very badly by their early capitulation. 

"Unbeknown to us the nation was exhausted by the war and was in economically dire straits but for us, clothes and food rationing were an accepted part of life, we knew no different.  There was certainly no place for war weariness at Bolton School.

"The School's supremacy depended on the quality of the masters. I can only fairly comment on those who taught me.  Naturally, I must start at the top, with the Headmaster, FR Poskitt.  He was utterly magisterial as he swept into the Great Hall for morning assembly, his long black gown flapping and swirling around him as he gathered up its folds and strode on to the stage.  

"I have to admit that we knew him, less reverentially, as Joe Boss: perhaps because his moustache bestowed a passing resemblance to Joseph Stalin.  I believe FRP was a member of the Fabian Society, though scarcely as far to the left as the Russian tyrant! FRP's RE lessons, which we patiently endured, were I think as much a learning experience for him as for us. 

"In the context of FRP, I must also mention Miss Dickinson, his demure secretary.  She was prim and trim with quite fantastic calves and ankles and would clip swiftly and delicately along the resounding corridors.

"Major Shelby was my form master in Shell A and also my first introduction to a male teacher.  Whether he retained an army title for some reason I do not know. He was a very kindly little man with a polished rubicund complexion and twinkling eyes. I remember him best for his nimble refereeing of the furiously contested soccer games between our Shell A1 and Mr Wolfenden's Shell A2.

"CA Slipper (nicknamed Jim) was new to the School, and he was form master of the Lower Third.  We were a small group of around 15 boys deemed too young to proceed into the Third Form, and held back for a year.  I sometimes wonder whether we were the subject of some educational experiment, if so the end result justified that early decision.  The academic achievements of that small cohort higher up the School were excellent.

"George Sawtell, or to give him his full appellation George Arthur Craven Sawtell, was seriously fiery and a brilliant teacher of English and Latin.  I first met him in the Third Form.  He had glittering brown eyes, black curly hair, rather swarthy features and walked with a long loping gait.  He had a tendency to swirl around in his gown, much like FRP. He was an ex-Commando, the epitome of the gentleman warrior, and a deadly shot with the blackboard duster.  He was prone to sudden outbursts of fury.  I wonder in retrospect whether he was still winding down after his exploits in the War.  My father who had also been a solider in the war (though not a Commando), was a great supporter of George.  He impressed me with his talks of Commando training, not least the efficient killing techniques which owed much to precise anatomical knowledge.  That knowledge became vital to me in my career as a surgeon but I endeavoured to apply it in less destructive ways.  

"We had a number of French teachers and I can recall Messrs Gaughan, Harrison and Haig.  Bertie Gaughan had the utmost difficulty in maintaining discipline and consequently we played him up quite mercilessly.  Bernard Harrison was benign, diminutive and an excellent teacher for whom we had great respect.  He was a Methodist local preacher so from time to time I had a double dose of Bernard when he came to preach at Delph Hill on a Sunday.  

"Mr Haig I recall taking me through my O Level French oral: "Bonjour, M Benson, comment allez vous aujourd hui?", "Bonjour M. Haig, je vais tres bien merci, et vous?".  He was also a decent opening batsman for Heaton Cricket Club and the Masters' XI.  A whisky advert at the time proclaiming 'Don't be vague, ask for Haig' inevitably led to much merriment in class.

"HA 'Pip' Porter was our Geography teacher and also leader, with Bill Brookes, of the School Scout troop - the XIXth Bolton.  Bill taught Maths, sported a sandy moustache, was Deputy Head and had a passing resemblance to the late Lord Baden-Powell whose cause he espoused.  'Pip' was an amiable pipe-smoking bachelor who was linked romantically, at least in our minds, perhaps also in hers, with Miss 'Aggie' Parker, also a Geography teacher. We felt protective of Pip and were determined that he should not fall into Miss Parker’s clutches.  I really don't think we need have worried.  Pip lived with his elderly mother a few doors down from us in Whitecroft Road, Heaton, and right next to yet another spinster, Miss Beatrice Vickers, my Music teacher.

"My lasting memory of Geography lessons was the epidiascope, a temperamental and hugely cumbersome machine, doubtless long defunct but at the same time it seemed to represent the leading edge of educational gadgetry.

"George Higginson (GHH) was Art Master and I still have one of his framed pencil drawings in the main entrance.  I think he was a German prisoner of war, though I was not aware of it at the time. Higginson is after all an archetypal British surname, though in retrospect his guttural accent did rather give the game away. 

"I am grateful to George for exciting my interest in drawing, painting and calligraphy, architecture and an appreciation of art in general. The Art classroom was situated immediately above the main entrance, below the clock, and huge windows on to the main quadrangle and Chorley New Road ensured an abundance of natural light.

"PAS Stevens - 'PA Stevens', as he was affectionately known - was Head of Music.  He was a big man, enthusiastic, yet very patient.  He introduced me to the Double Bass, not the easiest instrument to play when you are only 12 years old.  He was an accomplished organist for whom my father (also an organist and choirmaster) had the highest regard, but Pa Stevens was in his pomp when conducting the School Orchestra. 

"He liked to test us, and whilst Delius' Walk to the Paradise Garden was perhaps a shade too ambitious, we were reasonably comfortable with Haydn (The Clock Symphony and 'The Heavens are Telling' from The Creation) and Strauss (Tales from the Vienna Woods).  I also remember Miss Slynn, the Girls' Division Music Teacher, warbling her way through Mozart's Voi che Sapete but, for me, the tour de force was our performance of Beethoven's Choral Fantasia, with Jackie Thompson absolutely brilliant on the piano.

"Bertie Sayers was PE Teacher - the only one as I recall.  He had a sandy toothbrush moustache and a barrel-shaped torso which was seemingly fixed in a permanent state of deep inspiration.  I suspect he was underpinned with whale-bone and gentleman's supports.  He felt it most important that we should learn to box, as he stressed, purely for reasons of self-defence.  In those days you could not allow a Bolton School cap, which had to be worn to and from School, to fall into the hands of any local scallywag or ruffian from a less esteemed institution. Bertie also orchestrated the mass Speech Day Gym displays where the whole School was on parade.  These mass demonstrations of fairly minimal physical effort took place on the Top Level and were conducted by Bertie from the roof of the lavatory block. 

"I am deeply indebted to GW 'Bertie' Blair for his Maths and Physics teaching. He was a thin, diminutive sharp-nosed little man with wispy hair. He rescued me in the Third Form when I was struggling as a poor Maths scholar. Maths was my weakest subject and my academic progress had not been helped when I had to take time off School for surgical treatment of a tuberculous abscess in my neck and subsequent tonsillectomy.  Despite these misfortunes Bertie helped me to scrape a pass mark in Maths O Level, and I subsequently achieved quite a decent mark in A Level Physics. 

"I was fortunate enough to be taught A Level Chemistry by Bill Jary, a magnificent teacher. Organic Chemistry lessons with Bill were simply magical, it all made so much sense. He claimed to be irreligious though whether atheist or agnostic I never knew. Unsurprisingly, he had an encyclopaedic knowledge of the Bible and was quick to quote passages of scripture when admonishing some miscreant: 'When I was a Child, I thought as a Child, I spoke as a Child, I did childish things, etc. etc.’

"When in relaxed mood at the end of term he needed little encouragement to launch into a spirited rendition of Whisky Johnny, and the form joined in where he led. Bill had a laboratory technician, one Len Rowe, quite bald, who as I recall had an abiding interest in bees.

"We had three Biology teachers in the Sixth Form. HT 'Taffy' Lane (another Methodist local preacher), I can still hear 'xylem and phloem', 'spirogyra and paramecium' delivered in his lilting Welsh cadence; JA 'Jaz' Slater, fresh out of Cambridge and a Soccer Blue (which went down well) but not a man with whom you could afford to be flippant; third in the triumvirate was Sam Loring, a somewhat melancholy man, with a most pleasing baritone voice. 

Of those teachers to whom I had lesser exposure, Geoff Banks was an exception to the rule that French masters cannot maintain discipline.  His face seemed permanently set in a slightly supercilious grimace. He was something of an actor, appearing regularly on BBC Radio, but went down in my estimation when he appeared on Children's Hour!

"Michael Curnow was a languid and urbane English master who tried to inculcate some culture into we Scientists in the Sixth Form. His teaching was vital prior to Oxbridge entrance examinations and he was as much at ease with us as with the English Lang. and Lit. toffs.

"Dr Eccott was a meticulous Chemistry teacher, a gentle kindly and invariably smiling man. He revealed the mysteries of the Periodic Table. I'm afraid we rather cruelly nicknamed him 'Dumbo' for the obvious reason.

"Mr Bagot taught either History or Geography, I cannot remember which, maybe it was both. In his demeanour he seemed to epitomise the classical English country gentleman, perhaps he was of that stock. He was a useful batsman for the Masters' Cricket XI, along with the immaculately Brylcreem-coiffed Bert Duffin (Maths), the moustachioed Mr Haig (French) and little Mr Birch (French). 

"Ron Booth was a tall gangling English master and also a more than decent fast bowler who had turned out on occasion for Lancashire County's Second Team. My first wife and I bumped into him unexpectedly at Preston Station on our wedding day. We were en route for our honeymoon in Scotland and when I introduced him to my wife he seemed frankly incredulous. I had the feeling that he still regarded me as a schoolboy.

Other memories:

"Tudor House, whereat British Bulldog on a Friday evening, a brutal experience for a terrified tenderfoot - letting off steam before an evening's craft activities. Health and safety regulations doubtless put an end to that violently boisterous activity. 

"Barry Crumblehulme turning out for Bolton Wanderers Reserves at Burden Park - a considerable boost in attendance figures provided by the School.

"The School soccer shirt, the black and white halves with the colours on the left breast, something of which you were extremely proud.

"Boys diving into the baths 'au naturel' on a Friday evening after School - some to cool their stinging bottoms after a taste of FRP's end of week discipline with the cane.

"Cadre Idris and a catastrophic Scout Long Camp when we were flooded out of our tents, c. 1949-50.

"Sergeants Collins and Richards, kindly souls with matching grey moustaches, and the terrifying Sergeant Hickey ('Wal's got a head like a ping pong ball', to Rossini's William Tell Overture) - he was the prototype for Odd Job in the James Bond film!

"Mrs Taylor (Herbie's wife) at the Tuck Shop with her chubby red cheeks, kindly twinkling eyes, and grey hair tied back in a bun and her all-over apron.

"The School uniform: cap, blazer and tie - 'The Cock and Bugle Boys', invincible, inviolable!

"Lord behold us with thy blessing once again assembled here at the beginning of each new term, and Lord dismiss us with thy blessing (a bit of a tongue twister) at the end of term, sung from chunky, hard-backed, dark blue hymn books. Not a few Sixth Formers misty-eyed when they sung the latter for the last time.

"Forty Years On belted out at Speech Day.

"Walking through the Girls' School cloisters en route to lunch in their Dining Room - and the furtive exchange of billets doux en route!

"My most humiliating experience at School actually occurred after I had left for University.  I appeared at full back in a scratch Oxford Centaurs team which played the School First XI, around 1957.  I was run ragged by the boy wizard Geoff Ogden and we lost by a considerable margin, which I have conveniently forgotten (please don’t remind me). Mind you, we were also sabotaged by a huge School lunch just before kick-off – at least, that’s my excuse!"