Isn't Science Wonderful

After the poverty of the Undergraduate years, two years in the army and a further year at University, I was sufficiently desperate for funds to come to Southwell in the September of 1956 to teach Chemistry and some Biology. It was the third time that I had made the journey; in May I had attended interview for the post and in July I had come to play for the staff/pupil cricket match. A few days before the game I had fallen off a bicycle (don’t ask); some facial damage resulted and hence the nick name of Basher/Bruiser.

The teaching post involved being a housemaster at Sacrista and with no experience of boarding this could have been a big hurdle but the prefects (Colin Baker, Steve Rule and Tommy Taylor) were very kind and they pulled me through. There were not too many single form entry boys only Grammar Schools in existence in 1956 but the unique nature of SMGS was the connection with the Minster and the quite amazing school building - a mysterious warren of levels, bends, staircases and odd little rooms that I was still getting lost in well into the Autumn.

Any early trepidation was soon behind me; my teaching colleges were welcoming and the boys were not too hostile. I think my first venture was to collect dinner money from form 2 (Barber, Burnham, Barker, Beckett, Bettison, Bowman, Bradbury, Bushey…Bob Beckett can still recite the whole set without difficulty); some 60 eyes watching with fascination as I struggled to add up the coppers. The Senior Master was Dudley Doy and after I had called him Mr Doy on a few occasions he told me ’Chris, you must call me Dudley, after all we were both colleges on the same venture’; a phrase that many in the teaching world would due well to consider.

The staff were known by their initials and so a short test now follows; please name the following, PJY, LAD, EP, DAIF, PAY, SWP, BJRS, JKB2. The Junior Department (JD) was somewhere in a dungeon; there was a mark book in the art room that was never found; someone taught English, History and ran the library; SWP and myself did amazing things in the laboratory (‘isn’t science wonderful’ was always the catch phrase when an experiment went wrong – editors note) marooned across the yard from the main building. If you ever take coffee in the present building (Minster Tea Rooms) please spare a thought for ‘Kipps’ corner where acid and iron sulphide ruled. And, if you ever think of danger think of the labs electrical system – I never fully mastered how to get dc (direct electrical current for those non scientists out there). The tiny biology lab overlooked the Crown Hotel yard; and why did Malcolm Wharmby spend so much time looking out of the window?

Afternoon games involved long walks to Top Ground (and long runs back for the bus and train boys – editors note) for cricket and with rugby there and on Pentalowes. Have you seen what Southwell RUFC have done to that lovely sloping swamp- ridden pitch? The morning prayers at the Minster; I hope that not too many of us switched off for a touch of peace before the turmoil of the teaching day.

The school sat the Oxford examinations and I remember that year after year the pass rate was around the 65% mark; are today’s exams easier? Remember that exam results can only be comparable over a single year group. It was with great joy that I left Sacrista for a flat in Church Street and the expectation were also high when we were moved into the new buildings; but I look back very fondly to those first years in the warren, the round steps from the yard the doggy floor in the geography room (one good seismic effect would surly have brought it down) and the lovely view from the library; early morning cups of tea with the caretakers (Mr and Mrs Naylor) are also on the much missed list.

My records of all former pupils still bring back the memories of you faces; many of you will be ancient and decrepit but be optimistic I can beat you on both counts.

All best wishes, CLH (Chris Basher Harris) Aug 31st 2010