John attended the school from 1954 - 1950. He writes: In the Fifties it was a Direct Grant Catholic grammar school for boys from all over Liverpool plus parts of Lancashire and Cheshire. It had its own prep. school in Woolton: The Gables. Most of the pupils entered the school by passing the Eleven-Plus exam, commonly known as 'the Scholarship'. There were about 500 boys in the school, in seven year-groups with A, B and C streams up to the fourth form. 4A, the brightest boys, skipped the fifth year and went into the Sixth Form a year early. 4B went into 5A and 4C went into 5B.
The school uniform consisted of maroon blazers with caps (!) and grey trousers. This uniform was a great humiliation, especially the caps which were supposed to be worn at all times outside school. The priests would tick boys off in public if they were not wearing their caps. The lay teachers, with one exception, turned a blind eye. After the first year the cap was rolled up and stuffed into a pocket, to be brought out only if a priest hove into sight, when the wretched thing would be perched on the back of the head.
Religion naturally played a large part in school life. Most lessons started with a short prayer and every piece of homework had to have 'AMDG (for the greater glory of God)' written at the top and 'LDS (thanks be to God)' at the bottom. The Angelus was said in class at noon every day.Every Wednesday morning the whole school attended benediction in SFX parish church next door and on Friday mornings there was Mass there. Boys from the school usually acted as altar-boys. It was assumed that everybody was a believing and practising Catholic. Anyone who had doubts kept them to himself.
After Mass every Friday the parish priests (not the priests who taught in the school) heard confessions. The longest queue was always outside Father Hughes's confessional box. Father Hughes was a veteran of the First World War in which he was badly injured having been buried alive for some time (so the story went). It was assumed by the sinners that he did not hear nor care what was said to him in confession. He never discussed the sins or offered any advice about how to avoid them in the future. And he always gave the lightest possible penance; one 'Our Father' and three 'Hail Marys'.
Every year or so all lessons were suspended for a few days for a Retreat. This would be given by visiting priests. On one occasion it was the White Fathers, on another the Mill Hill Fathers. The idea seemed to be to put the wind up the wretchedly sinful adolescents. In those days there were an enormous number of sins which deserved Hell, but for each boy there was really only one, and it wasn't coveting his neighbour's ox. One priest's description of Hell was so powerful and imaginative and delivered with such relish that there was practically a fight to get into the confessional boxes afterwards.
There were three types of teachers: priests, 'scholastics' (priests still in training), and laymen. The priests were addressed as 'father' the rest as 'mister'. The lay teachers wore their academic gowns in the classroom , but no mortar boards. The teachers called the boys by their second names only. The boys didn't use first names either, only surname-based nicknames: Coxy, Yozzer etc.
The Headmaster was Father WARNER who also taught English from time to time.Amongst the other teachers were:
Mr CHECKLAND ('Checker' behind his back) taught Maths. He was serious, unsmiling, but kindly and from time to time witty in a deadpan way. He had been badly gassed in the First World War and this had left him with a respiratory problem. Now and again he would have terrible bouts of coughing in front of the class. This must have got worse over the years because shortly after the FWW he played football at a high level and even played three games in Liverpool's first team.
Mr CROOKE ('Willy') Another Maths teacher;serious and stern , at least in front of the class. He kept order well and was a good teacher.
Mr McCUE ('Haggis') taught Maths to the middle school. He was a young, good humoured Scotsman but wouldn't put up with any laziness or disruption. On 1st May 1959 he took a party of boys to the Lake District to climb Helvellyn. It was a flawless Spring day and at least one boy came home with a love of the Lake District and its mountains that has lasted a lifetime.
Mr McMORROW was a young trainee priest (all of whom dressed as priests) who taught English and Ancient History. He had a mild manner enlivened by the odd rage but he could not always keep order in the class.
Mr READE ('Kev') taught English. He was also an amateur actor. He was a sound teacher but a bit too ready to make it known that he didn't think much of his pupils, and nor. which is perhaps less understandable, did he think much of Charles Dickens and always referred to the set book: 'Great Expectations' as 'The Great Soporific'
Mr BYRNE ('Isiah') taught history. He was a small, slightly-built middle-aged man. History was not the school's strong suit and he was neither outstandingly good or bad. He never raised his voice and rarely ordered any punishment but everybody was scared stiff of him. He had a commanding presence, a withering turn of phrase and a habit of calling one 'sonny' that made even the most rebellious boys fear to cross him.
Mr CULLEN ('Frank') was in his early thirties and taught biology. He was a very good, keen, lively, entertaining teacher. His lessons were always full of interest and incident. Occasionally he would throw a frightening tantrum, but was nevertheless well-liked and the boys wanted to please him. One morning a short message appeared on the notice board: 'Your charitable prayers are requested for the soul of Mr F Cullen who died this morning.' He had suffered a fatal heart attack whilst getting ready to come to school.
Fr SERMIN ('Vince') taught Physics and Religious Doctrine. He was a good-humoured, kindly man who didn't try to throw his weight about but somewhat shy and tense. He too had rages. On one occasion he caught one of the boys adding up exam marks to see who was top of the class and he bellowed 'Marks! You bloody fools! What do marks matter?' and went on to say that when the time came there would be no point trying to get into Heaven on the strength of our marks.
Mr KENNEDY ('Jim') was one of those teachers who liked to chat off the subject and so was very popular. He was in his thirties and seemed to be one of the lads and not part of the Establishment.
Mr FAZAKERLEY ('Dan') taught Chemistry. He was the former headmaster of Skerries College but became redundant when that school closed.
Mr MELLON: ('Harry') was a young 'scholastic' who taught General Science. He was a good teacher who managed to be witty and entertaining whilst remaining serious and keeping good order. More of him later.
Mr RIDGE ('George') was the PE master and also taught some French.
Mr LAMB was a young art teacher. He was a pleasant fellow but he did not seem to be part of the school. He was never seen outside the Art Room.
Mr ATHERTON ('Lofty') was a chisel-throwing woodwork master. He was probably in his late fifties but built like a bantamweight boxer. He had also taken PE at one time. He was another teacher who was only too willing to gossip off the subject.
Fr BURTON was an ancient priest who taught French to the lower school. He claimed to be 100 years old.
Mr FORD ('Fordy') taught French. He was a good teacher and a thoroughly decent man. Unfortunately this meant nothing to one or two members of the class who gave him a quite undeserved hard time.
Fr DUGGAN ('Joe') taught French and Religious Doctrine and was the deputy headmaster. He was a serious and somewhat humourless man but also tolerant and fair-minded.
Mr BAILEY ('Les') taught Latin in the Lower School, (using Hillard's Latin Primer of course). He was the type of teacher who would not have looked or sounded out of place in Billy Bunter's Greyfriars.
Mr WHELEHAN was also a Latin teacher, a much younger man, humourless in the classroom and rather severe.
Fr COCKROFT ('Beak') taught Geography. He was of uncertain temper, sometimes friendly and humorous, sometimes nasty. He left (so the story went) to work for the missions in Rhodesia. What prompted this move was the subject of much speculation amongst the boys.
Mr SMYTH ('The Leg') was undoubtedly the most picturesque of the teachers. He was a highly patriotic Irishman approaching retirement age. He wore a false leg (the original lost to cancer apparently). He scared the first year boys out of their wits but after that they realised that he was really quite soft. If a boy did well he would say 'Good man yourself'. If he did badly he would be told to 'Get away out of that or I'll break your neck'. He started each lesson by asking three questions: what was he temperature of the air this morning? What was the weather and what was the state of the tide (for those boys who came over on the ferry)? On St Patrick's Day he sported a huge bunch of shamrock and his introductory prayer would end with 'St Patrick Apostle of Ireland........pray for us'.
Like all boys' schools at that time there was corporal punishment and the Jesuits had their own unique method of delivering it. The ferula (a 'fed' to the boys) was a piece of whalebone about a foot long covered with hard rubber so that it presented a flat surface about two inches across. In practice this was given in doses of between 3 and 12 strokes although in theory it could go a high as 18, which was always called 'Twice Nine'. All punishment was given in the 'Ferula Office' by the discipline master. If a boy was judged in class to deserve punishment, for misconduct, laziness ar just a poor result in a test, the class teacher would write him a bill, a slip of paper saying how many strokes he was to get and why. This would need to be countersigned by the Lower/Middle/Upper School master and then within 24 hours he had to turn up at the Ferula Office for his punishment.
The thinking behind this system was humane (if you had to have corporal punishment at all). It ensured that boys were never beaten in anger. The countersigning ensured a sort of 'peer review' by a fellow teacher (although in practice this was meaningless) and the ferula itself, being flat, was much less likely to cause an injury than was a cane. However it was a rather cold-blooded system and the delay between the offence and the punishment was agonising to some boys. Also, on a couple of occasions groups of boys would gather outside the ferula office in the hope of seeing someone emerge in distress. On one such occasion the current discipline master 'Harry' Mellon noticed this and gave the offenders an epic tongue-lashing that was much more painful than any ferulas. He compared them to the Ancient Romans watching the Christians being murdered in front of cheering crowds at the Coliseum.
It wasn't much of a school for sport in those days. The playing fields were at High Lea in Woolton, out in the suburbs and so playing and practising were not convenient. However the football team did manage to reach the final of the Liverpool Grammar Schools Championship, against the Liverpool Institute, played at Goodison Park. The Institute won convincingly.
Every year the school sports were held at High Lea. This was one of the rare occasions when parents and school came together. No world records were in danger. One year the proceedings were brought to a halt for a while because the school's boy soprano, Skinny Roberts, was singing on the radio at the same time as the sports and his efforts were broadcast over the PA system.
Playtimes were spent playing football or, increasingly as the boys got older, just lounging about in groups, talking about the important things in life, mostly from a position of profound ignorance.
One day the school's only famous old boy, John Gregson the film actor, visited the school, no doubt to get a bit of publicity for himself. He came into the playground to chat to the boys and sign autographs. He was also interviewed by the local newspaper. He had been taught by a number of the teachers who were still at the school including Mr CHECKLAND and Mr CROOKE.
The outside world made little impact on the life of the school, but a couple of news items managed stopped the school in its tracks. The first was the Munich Air Crash in 1958. Everybody was interested to some extent in football – equally divided between Liverpool and Everton – and this was a terrible shock. Mr CHECKLAND knew Matt Busby from their playing days at Liverpool FC so when a rumour swept the school that Busby had died he felt obliged to interrupt the school lunch, which he was supervising, to say that as far as was known Matt Busby was still alive.
The other big item was the death of Buddy Holly in 1959. The advent of Rock and Roll in the mid-fifties had a terrific impact on virtually all young people and the sudden loss of one of its brightest stars was unbelievable and shocking.
The school played no part at all in the life of the local community and there was no contact with the other SFX schools.
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