Old Crossleyans Association
2015 - Peter Brown's School Days (Peter M Brown)

In the last edition of the Crossleyan my photo appeared twice in an article by Robert (Fred) Henderson, with a reference to me with the wrong name!  There was an article too by Tony Pay, a name from the past, so I have been prompted to put pen to paper, or finger to keyboard, to give my own reminiscences.


I arrived at Crossleys as a fresh-faced ‘Bill’ on the first day of term in September 1960, having only moved to Halifax from Sheffield with my family two days before.  In those days, all Halifax pupils were given bibles by the Education Committee and, because I didn’t have one on the first day, Mr Joe Brearley gave me one that he’d found from a previous pupil, Anthony Frederick Pay, signed by JS (Egg) Bolton in 1955.  Having looked after it for nearly 60 years, I would be delighted to return it to its rightful owner!


There are so many memories.  In first year everybody was taught maths by the head, Egg Bolton.  It was one of the ways he had of knowing the name of every boy in the school.  I remember vividly the first time he produced and used his cane.  It came out of the depths of his academic gown as though by magic.  From then on there was a cane alert, as we tried to spot if his gown had telltale stiffness on one side, each time he sailed into the classroom. There was the big freeze of 1962/3, when we had continuous snow and ice for six weeks, with no rugby or cross-country running and lots of games of pirates in the gym; the centenary celebrations and performing synchronised gymnastics on Standeven rugby field to the tune of Steptoe and Son; the Christmas parties and school discos, when the 1960s music we now take so much for granted was brand new. Who would have thought that so much of that music is still regularly played on Radio 2 half a century on!


The only sport where I was picked for a school team was cricket.  Apart from the cricket nets there were no facilities at the school in those days and all matches were played away from home.  I remember visiting a school for an under-15 match in Huddersfield. They had their own wicket and took the game very seriously.  They were all in whites and we were in our school uniform.  They won the toss and batted first, rattling up a good score to which I contributed by dropping a catch on the boundary. When we came in to bat we discovered that they had a Yorkshire Schoolboys fast bowler and we were all skittled out in less than half an hour for 23 runs.  Quite a few of those were byes because when the balls flashed past our batsmen they flew past their wicketkeeper too.  We only lasted as long as we did because in the school kit bag there were only four kneepads with all the straps intact, so there was a pause while the departing batsman swapped pads with his replacement. There was no Crossley sporting prowess that day!


We were worked hard academically and without noticeable extra revision I finished up with eight O-levels at a time when grades were less important than the number of passes.  I wanted to be an architect and the careers staff advice was to take Geometrical and Engineering Drawing, Maths and Art.  Egg Bolton expressed concern that with this combination I was at risk of becoming lazy and how right he proved to be, academically at least.


With David Pagett and Ian ‘Killer’ Calvert, I was involved in running the tuck shop in lower sixth, at something of a loss. An oversupply of Wagon Wheels and a freezer failure that wiped out the ice cream supply were the main contributors to the deficit.  Down in the school cellars, in what had been the rifle range, the tuck shop was overrun with mice and the traps had to be emptied most days.  On one occasion we found a dead mouse almost intact and I offered it to Mr Gott, the biology teacher for dissection. Subsequently I was severely reprimanded by Mr Vaughan, the art teacher, for being irresponsible enough to give Mr Gott a dead mouse.  The mouse never left the staff room and had gone straight into Mr Vaughan’s tea mug!


I actually got on well with Mr Vaughan. He ran an evening class in life drawing at the Percival Whitley College and was keen that I should join. Not only was parental consent required but also that of the school governors.  Naked ladies and a schoolboy was not the most obvious combination. The Crossleyan magazine was relaunched at that time and I was co-editor and involved in the design of the cover. In art lessons, I prepared the original print artwork for the school crest logo, which was used for decades afterwards.  I know I was the culprit because, with hindsight, I got the spacing wrong for the ‘N’, ‘V’ and ‘M’ in ‘OMNE BONVM AB ALTO’.


Robert Henderson included photos of the boys v girls fancy dress lacrosse match and the sixth form trip to Stratford. The lacrosse match was far from a draw, as he suggested, and was won by the boys in a triumph of brute force, intimidation and ignorance over beauty, charm and elegance! The Stratford trip was to see the RSC’s performance of the Revenger’s Tragedy, with Ian Richardson and Judi Dench. It was a great day out despite the glum looks in Robert’s photo and the play, which, perhaps significantly, the RSC has never repeated.


I was first involved with house plays with the Spartan production of Brendan Behan’s ‘The Quare Fellow’ in fifth form, when I played a drunken prison officer with Alan Jones.  The following year it was a play which involved a stylised swordfight, where I was St Michael and Peter Tallant was Lucifer.  In the fight scene Peter was eventually supposed to run me through with his sword but in his enthusiasm missed the gap between my arm and body and hit me square in the chest.  Fortunately for me, the theatrical sword bent spectacularly in half and he improvised a slow wipe of the ‘blood’ on his cloak to straighten it out.  My substantial bruise took a little longer to disappear!  Robert Henderson mentioned the winning Spartan play of the following year, ‘Green Shoots’.  This was a play my father had written and it was published for an all male cast, intended for post-war boys’ clubs.  Set in Sicily, it was a story of a British soldier working with Italian partisans. I directed it with Peter Tallant, Duncan Haigh and Haydn Jones taking the lead parts on a minimalist set representing a mountain hideout.  I was particularly pleased we won because the winning play was repeated in the evening for the public and my father was able to see it.


Becoming a prefect in the upper sixth brought access to the Prefects’ Room and the full-size snooker table.  What joy.  I started to arrive at school early and to stay late.  In the summer, after the exams had finished, there was tennis on the grass court at the front of the school, followed by a cooling dip in the school pool, next to the Prefects’ Room.  The A-level results were, of course, a disaster. Barry Thompson got into Cambridge and Duncan Haigh got into Durham but most of us who had applied to university did not get in.  By the start of the following term, the snooker table was removed.


My situation was not helped because the advice to take technical drawing proved a mistake.  I discovered too late that it did not qualify for university entrance and the reasonable grade I achieved did not count.  I managed to get a job in a local architect’s office and re-sat my maths A-level at the Percival Whitley College, along with Haydn Jones.  We both passed the re-sits and Haydn had the added benefit of meeting his future wife on the maths course.  We both wanted to ask her out and actually tossed a coin as to who would ask first – Haydn won!


One of the projects I worked on at the architect’s office was assisting the Clerk of Works to set out the new playing fields at Standeven House, which included the cricket pitch and realignment of the public footpath across to New Lane, a small contribution to the future of cricket at Crossleys.


Getting into Newcastle University with my newly acquired grade E Maths through clearing was not entirely straightforward. Worried about the lack of contact, I took leave from work and drove to Newcastle and sat outside the Admission Tutor’s door.  Somehow my name had not got onto the clearing list but the Tutor was so impressed that I had driven up to Newcastle he gave me a place anyway.  There are pivotal moments in everybody’s life and that was certainly one of mine and, having gone to Newcastle, I never left, with marriage, family and career in architecture all following.


I look back with great nostalgia to my life at Crossleys.  Attending Crossleys formed only a small proportion of my life but it is a part that I regard with affection and gratitude as the foundation for all that followed.

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