Christopher Wren Secondary Modern School
Years 4 to 6
Having left behind the Victorian built Ellerslie Road School my early years at Christopher Wren School were spent in the modern 1950s building. However, we did have a few lessons in the old 1930s building that fronted Bryony Road. From memory the class interiors and most of the furniture appeared to be as old as the building itself.
One regular lesson in the old building was Geography, but our teacher was invariably absent or turned up very late. Left to their own devices a couple of boys discovered that the antiquated wooden stock cupboard lock could be opened using a metal comb (metal combs were the fashion item of the day). So needless to say we all stocked up on much needed notebooks, paper, biros, pencils, etc.
From the fourth year lessons became more focussed towards our GCE O Level exams. The GCE O Level or General Certificate of Education Ordinary Level was much harder to pass than the GCSE (General Certificate of Secondary Education) which was introduced in the late 1980s. In the mid 1960s five or more O Level passes were recognised as being very good.
Lessons and Health and Safety were very different in the 1960s. Although we often used Bunsen burners and handled dangerous chemicals we were not issued with any form protective clothing, glasses or gloves. One potentially dangerous but funny incident sticks in my mind. A teacher was showing us an experiment when he accidentally created a large cloud of acrid smoke. He left us sitting at our desks as he ran to the door holding a handkerchief over his nose and mouth shouting ‘don’t breathe it in’.
I also witnessed a really horrific event during another chemistry lesson. One boy had somehow managed to get hold of some blank bullets. During the lesson he rammed one into the tube of a Bunsen burner and lit the gas in the air control vent. The bullet shot across the room with an enormous bang and hit the blackboard only a few inches from the teacher’s head.
By the 5th year some boys who had opted for ‘trade’ based syllabuses or those not intending to take GCEs were leaving. The rest of us were sitting mock exams. The school was an all boy’s school and up until that point all the teachers had been men. But one day two women teachers arrived at the school. One was a science teacher and the other an english teacher; who was particularly attractive and proved to be a big distraction to boys of our age.
In spite of studying for exams in some ways school actually became much more fun. For example for ‘sport’ we were given a free choice of activities. Only six of us chose ice skating, which took place at the Queensway Ice Rink. However, there were not enough teachers to supervise all the sports so we were allowed to travel on our own by tube from Shepherds Bush to Queensway. It goes without saying that our rink sessions always went way over time and occupied all of the morning.
A few boys from our year were selected to become prefects to bolster the 6th form prefects but luckily I was not chosen. As I lived close to the school I preferred to go home for lunch and had no desire to do prefect duties.
I have photographed my own prefect’s badge against a red background which represents the colour of my school house which was Clarendon. The badge depicts St Paul’s Cathedral which was designed by Sir Christopher Wren.
The 5th year culminated in exams. All the general subjects were sat in one of the three gyms but specific exams such as chemistry, technical drawing and building practice were taken in the appropriate parts of the school. Some exams were a farce due to no fault of our own. As an example, for technical drawing we had spent the whole year studying the construction of a house roof using tiles. When we sat down for the exam the teacher informed us that the exam was based on a slate roof. He said ‘the only thing I can tell you is that a slate is twice as long as it is wide’ and left us to it. I think the majority of us failed that particular exam.
Unless it was near hurricane conditions we were all expected to be outside before assembly and during breaks. As we were older and wiser we were not enjoying having to be outside, particularly when it was foggy, cold or wet. With our newly acquired knowledge from metalwork classes a friend and I cut our own master keys which gave us access to every room in the school.
Those taking or retaking GCEs stayed on for the 6th year. It was at that time that the school started having some mixed lessons, bringing a small number of girls over from the adjoining Hammersmith County School. Although none of the classes covered my subjects I quickly gave up ice skating in favour of the mixed hockey games on a Friday afternoons.
So far I had avoided becoming a prefect but by default all 6th Formers became prefects. This did mean having certain jobs; in my case playground supervision during the morning break. However, it also gave me more freedom and meant that certain parts of school life became even easier.
Although the school’s main examining board was the University of Cambridge they did not cover all subjects and some were covered by the Associated Examining Board. This proved to be quite difficult as it meant some exams clashed. On one particular day two of us had three exams and two were scheduled for exactly the same time. Under close supervision we had to sit one exam in the gym in the morning. Then we were put in a small office to sit another exam followed by a break and then back to the gym for the third exam.
The vast majority of boys only sat GCE O Levels. Once you passed an O Level exam you could go on to sit the A Level (Advanced). In fact there very few boys who actually took any A Levels. And I don’t think anyone from my class actually went on to university.
In reality the more O Levels you passed the more chance you had of getting a good job. In the final months at school quite a few boys had already found jobs or were actively seeking work. In fact I had secured a job even before I sat my remaining GCE O Levels, so I must admit I didn’t bother swotting too much.
To be continued …..
LBHF Local Studies and Archives Volunteer
I too attended Ellerslie about the same time …1953 to 1958 or thereabouts…going on to Acton County. Would love to chat with others about that time frame.