Christopher Wren Secondary Modern School
Away from the classroom
When I was at Ellerslie Road School in the 1950s school trips were almost unheard of, apart from the odd visit to the indoor swimming pool at Lime Grove.
When I joined Christopher Wren School it was a new experience to go on school trips. However, at that time there was no such thing as teaching assistants and full responsibility fell on one solitary form teacher. So visits were normally kept fairly local to Shepherds Bush which meant walking or possibly one short journey on public transport. One such trip was to the newly opened Commonwealth Institute on Kensington High Street. In comparison to some of the London museums it was a very modern and vibrant building.
On a visit to Hammersmith Police Station we were shown the cells along with various offices where one or two pupils had their fingerprints taken. The highlight for most of us was visiting the horses in the stables, which at that time had its own police blacksmith. He described how horseshoes were made and demonstrated by putting a metal bar into the furnace and then hammering the red hot iron. When he got it to the correct horseshoe shape he dropped it on the cobblestone floor. Our teacher picked it with the intention of showing us, but quickly dropped it as it was still extremely hot. You can imagine our laughter.
Using the tube, one very memorable visit was to see the new musical Oliver starring Ron Moody as Fagin. That was my first experience of seeing a show in a west end theatre. Up until that time my only other theatre visit had been to a Christmas Panto with my parents at the Chiswick Empire.
We went by coach to see the tea clipper Cutty Sark in dry dock at Greenwich. At that time it had only been open to the public as a museum for about ten years. Another trip was to Heathrow Airport, long before it had a tube connection. In those days security was not a big issue but it’s hard to believe that we were actually taken on board an aircraft.
One much longer journey was to the London Brick Company in Bedfordshire. I think most of us found the visit pretty boring apart from the lunch that they provided. Before leaving we were each presented with a souvenir miniature brick. In the days before personal computers mine sat by my old mechanical typewriter at home as it was an ideal for holding paperclips. Fifty five years later I still have it tucked away in a bureau.
The top and base of the bricks
Christopher Wren School had recently joined the European Link programme for exchange visits with overseas school pupils. The programme was designed for very small mixed classes of 6th year pupils studying languages. I was in a lower year and although my French was quite good I had no intention of taking part in the programme. However, when a host family were unable to accommodate their designated pupil my parents were asked if they could take him in. Part of the groups stay included a series of visits around London and I was allowed to go on all the trips. Although I enjoyed the visits it was very difficult as I didn’t know any of the other pupils and I was the youngest in the group.
Around the same time the school started organising day trips to France. We had to pay for the trip ourselves and I remember paying in 6d or a shilling every week for a whole term. At that time passports were not required for day trips and we only needed an identity card, which the school organised for us. We were picked up at the school by coach and driven down to Kent and crossed the channel by ferry. For the majority of us it was the first time we had ever been on a ship, and those 3 or 4 hours spent in Boulogne was our first ever visit to a foreign country. Over ten years later, when my father passed away, I found the battered and rusty Boulogne souvenir penknife in an old tool box and I have kept it ever since.
Some pupils went to organised summer camps and quite a few attended after school sports activities, but neither appealed to me. But one teacher was a real film buff and started a Film Society for senior pupils, which included girls from Hammersmith County School. It took place weekly in the Christopher Wren theatre. The teacher’s favourite director was Alfred Hitchcock so we got a chance to see some real classics such as The Birds and North by Northwest. The 16mm films were on huge spools and the sound of the projector running added to the atmosphere. Although we were underage he showed us some ‘X’ rated films, including the banned Marlon Brando film The Wild One.
The photo above is from the Phoenix Academy website and shows how the theatre looks today. On the right you can see angled white panels (when I was there the panels were plain wood). Normally the other side was used as a dinner room but the panels were sometimes raised to increase the seating capacity of the theatre. The following old photo shows the dining area with some of the panels raised. It was in this area that we had our end of school disco.
In the 1960s charity walks became a very popular way to raise money for charity and I was amongst the first to participate in a Christopher Wren charity walk for Shelter. One Saturday morning a large group of us met outside the Hammersmith Odeon and walked all the way to Guildford Town centre. The distance was supposed to match the length as the marathon but unfortunately a small group of us took a wrong turning which added several extra miles to the distance.
Shortly after that charity walk I walked out of the gates of Christopher Wren School for the last time.
In 1982, approximately fifteen years after I left, Christopher Wren School merged with Hammersmith County School and was renamed Hammersmith School. To maintain the historical names the school was made up of Wren Wing and County Wing.
In the early 1990s the school was judged by OFSTED to be ‘Failing’. Then in 1992 there was a major fire in the County Wing which had been started by pupils. Two years later the school was put in ‘Special Measures’.
William Atkinson was appointed Head in 1995 and relaunched the school as Phoenix High School. Not only did he turn the school around he contributed to Channel 4’s ‘The Unteachables’ and also inspired Lenny Henry’s character in the 1999 BBC TV series ‘Hope and Glory’. He was knighted in 2008 and remained head until 2010.
In May 2016 the school again went into ‘Special Measures’ and Michael Taylor took over. A few months later the school was relaunched as Phoenix Academy.
LBHF Local Studies and Archives Volunteer