Dennis Richards - My Yorkshire Childhood
PUBLISHED: 00:00 05 October 2013
An award-winning former headteacher Dennis Richards ruefully recalls his own school days
he past pupils of Eastmoor County Primary School who had the great good fortune to pass through the hallowed portals of Queen Elizabeth Grammar School, Wakefield in the 1950s were very few in number. The 11+ saw to that. In 1956 there were two of us; the other 36 in my primary school class were sent elsewhere and our paths never crossed again. Single sex grammar schools in the 1950s and 1960s were unforgiving places...especially for the working class. My friends were Barry, Tommy and Gary. Suddenly it became Toby, Rupert and Henry. They lived in Avenues, or Crescents, or Closes. Someone even lived in a Mews. I lived in a street.
Not only did I live on the wrong side of town my sense of alienation was compounded by my appearance and by the trauma of my first day. National Health spectacles didn’t help. John Lennon had not yet made them fashionable. Girls wore pink and boys had brown.
That was it. Mam had bought the wrong kind of satchel (I still called her mam…mummy, mother, ma, or, even God forbid, mater were not much heard in Clarendon Street.) The school bag worn by the confident ‘cool’ set had one strap, swinging loosely over one shoulder and worn as low as possible. Mine had a strap for both shoulders and a fastener at the front; to all intents and purposes it could have been a child harness and a pair of reins.
Sporting aficionados will also know that in Wakefield, rugby is akin to a religion. And in the 1960s Wakefield Trinity was the best team in the land. The only problem was that for QEGS they were playing the wrong type of rugby. Not only was I reared in a street, I had been nurtured in the language and culture of the wrong code of rugby. Playing the ball through my legs in my very first practice gave the game away in more ways than one. At least the ball was a shape I recognised. There was another tribe of unfortunates in a worse place than me. They came in on ‘the Barnsley bus’ or, even worse, ‘the Darton Special’. They wanted to play soccer. That was like burping in polite company.
Distinguished old boys were many. Two England Rugby captains is not a bad record for any school, most notably when one of them, Mike Tindall, is married to the Queen’s granddaughter. Lord Wolfenden, who gave his name to the 1957 report which decriminalised homosexual relations between consenting adults and David Hope future Archhbishop of York, both made a significant contribution to our national life. But on my first day my guides were interested in none of that. As was the tradition I was taken to the lecture theatre to see the name John George Haigh carved into the wooden desk. I discovered I was to be educated in the same establishment as Britain’s most notorious acid bath murderer. They didn’t put that in the prospectus. I didn’t sleep for a week.
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