Bedford 1920-1939 by Mr. Frank Richards
Obviously as the smaller town that it was before the war, Bedford did not possess as many schools as it does to-day. The state schools were nearly all named after the area in which they stood: Ampthill Road, Clapham Road, Goldington Road and Queen's Park. The exceptions were the Harpur which stood in Horne Lane, and Silver Jubilee that was not built until 1935. There were some separate infants schools, but most schools consisted of three departments: infants, junior (or intermediate) and senior so that one could go through the whole of one's education without leaving that one school. Harpur Central, however, became a selective school round about 1930. My education began at Goldington Road School (now re-named "Castle") and I recall my first day there because I went home at playtime because I thought I had finished. The infants' department, was managed by a formidable headmistress, Miss Williams. There were three classes taken respectively by Miss Nears, Miss Armstrong and Miss Dennis. What tremendous tasks these good ladies undertook. There must have been at least forty-five pupils in each class. Then came the intermediate stage. Both this and the senior were under the headship of Mr.Osborne, a short North countryman with a ginger beard; affectionately known as "Daddy". I have fond memories of my class teacher of this time, Miss Marshall who took us for nearly every subject, although we did go to Miss Cutteridge for music. The lessons I most enjoyed were reading where I was introduced to such English classics as "Alice in Wonderland", "The Wind in the Willows" and "Treasure Island". It is interesting to recall that twenty-five years later I was destined to be in that very classroom, taking classes in English. After Miss Marshall we moved on to the "scholarship" class, which was to prepare us for the examination known later as "the eleven plus". This class was taken by Mr.Lucas, and I now appreciate what an excellent teacher he was. He had an uncanny gift of imparting knowledge in a way that would enable a vast number of his pupils to pass this important test. Such was his fame that many middle-class families who lived in the area and who could well afford to pay for a grammar school education sent their children to Goldington Road in the hope that Tommy Lucas would get them a free place. I sat for the "scholarship" in 1930 and entered Bedford Modern in September of that year. I viewed the prospect with excitement and not a little trepidation. I knew little of the place, but I learnt from friends already there that you wore stiff collars, had French lessons, had a "lock-up" at seven, and if you stepped out of line you got a "bumming", but my education was to be widened considerably in every sense.
As every Bedfordian knows, Bedford Modern is officially classed as a public school, but it was made up, of a social mixture that one does not usually associate with that type of establishment. It had the sir of a state grammar school with a veneer of the days of Tom Brown. The masters (not teachers) wore gowns, we had to get used to such words such "prep", "quad", "bog side"; and address one another as "man". Nearly everyone was known by his surname, and I realise now that I knew the Christian names of many of my friends there.
The headmaster at that time was Mr.Liddle, and the staff, like every other school staff, varied in their competence. G.S.Lee, who took me for English and French was one of the best teachers I ever knew. Billy Belcher must have been good to have pushed me through school certificate maths, and I shall always be indebted to Walter Elliot who installed in me a lasting love of Shakespeare and the great poets. But there were others, I'm afraid who demonstrated the old truism that a brilliant scholar and a good teacher are not necessarily the same thing. Music was a strong subject and it had a very proficient orchestra, which included eight members of staff. Judging by to-day's standards the rules were most severe. You had to be in by seven at night; the cinema, theatre, billiard hall, Woolworth's and Marks and Spencer's were out of bounds, and caps were to be worn at all times. There were other enormities such as eating in the street, walking with your hands in your pockets or standing in a public place talking to a girl. In one aspect Bedford Modern School followed the tradition upheld by all public schools the worship if the Great God Sport and this was reflected in the appointment of the prefects or monitors. These "mons" as we called them were responsible for the day-to-day discipline of the school, and they were chosen, not only because they were in the fifth or sixth form, but primarily because they were good at one or more sports. My sporting abilities varied between the average and the pathetic and although I reached the sixth form I was never a monitor.
Many little things about the school I recall with affection and nostalgia: the melee at the lockers at break; the bellowing of carols at the end of the Christmas term and the roaring at the house rowing fours along the Embankment. Were my school days really the happiest time of my life?
I have my memories, I have said, and I am grateful for the education it gave me. Summing it up I feel that I neither liked nor disliked school. I tolerated it, much in the same way, I suppose, it tolerated me.
Page last updated: 22nd Janaury 2014