A 73-year-old's memories of Barclay School over half a century ago

Mike Gorham

ON MY WAY TO BARCLAY SECONDARY MODERN, 1958 ” The senior boys are going to give you the traditional initiation of head dunk into toilet bowl” was just one of the rumours in circulation during my school summer holiday. I had previously attended two infant schools one in east London the other at Letchmore road infants Stevenage. Both schools were pre- war, old and cold! I had just completed my junior school tuition at Fairlands/ primrose road Stevenage and was about to start senior school education .

MY FIRST WEEK AND IMPRESSION OF BARCLAY SECONDARY MODERN It was with some apprehension that I approached my first day at Barclay Secondary. New arrivals were ushered into their respective classes to meet their form teacher who then advised where in the school their various lessons would take place. Being the first post war secondary modern built in Britain Barclay school was modern and very well equipped, and had received the festival of Britain architectural award. I was immediately struck by its size the main block being at both ground and first floor levels each having long corridors supplying access to the rows of classrooms. Walking up to the main entrance I would pass a Henry Moore sculpture to the left and lawned areas to the right. Once through those entrance doors I stood in a large open lobby and faced the far wall constructed of glass from floor to roofline this set off an impressive stairway leading from ground floor level to first floor levels. From this lobby access could be gained to the main hall, dining hall, woodwork and metalwork areas, administration rooms, upper and lower corridors and classrooms.

” PHEW ” the days passed one by one without a single head dunking

DON MONK P.E. However there were soon stories going around about the p.e. master Mr Monk. “have you taken p.e. yet” “everyone gets the slipper” “that monk blokes a nutter “. Our form had to endure those stories for a full week before our first p.e. lesson. We made our way to the changing rooms. No Mr Monk! we waited there for some minutes until finely he burst through the double doors screaming out ” why have you not gone into the gym” he pointed to another set of double doors. Jostling and bumping into one another we rushed through the doors and into the gym. There we waited once again for some minutes until finally the doors opened violently and a red faced vein bursting Mr Monk stood there screaming out , “why haven’t you changed into your gym kit, get back into the changing room, get your kits on, return to the gym and form 4 equal lines” . It took the whole lesson for us to get those 4 lines just as he wanted them! During that process he told us how to act, how to react, when to react, how to dress correctly for the gym or football or athletics, and yes we all got a cursory tickle with the slipper. This was a man who demanded respect {and although we may not have realized it then gave YOU respect}. By the time we left school most would consider him to be a great teacher. During my 3rd year I was called to his office where he tasked me with becoming the first pupil to represent Barclay school in the British Schools Athletic Championships and sure enough with his guidance I would become north Herts schools champion, then Hertfordshire schools champion and finally competed in the national schools championships .

MR DAVIES WOODWORK The woodwork area had enough benches and tooling for each pupil and a full size lathe for the turning of spindles and bowls etc. This was one of my preferred lessons and our class completed several woodworking projects during my time at Barclay. Central to the woodworking area was an office fully glassed on all sides. One would often hear {in his strong welsh accent } “where is my pencil ” or “you boy that’s MY pencil” , most of the time he had forgotten it was tucked behind his ear!. If a student was “out of order” he would be sent to the glass office. This having been preceded with “where is my pencil” then finding it behind his ear would point it furiously to and fro between boy and office …….”you boy in the DOGHOUSE”……

MR FRENCH, METALWORK The metal work lessons were taken by Mr French, a tall deep chested man rather loud of voice. On one occasion he stopped us all from our work to explain the sharpening of a lathe tool. I not having paid attention and being engrossed in my work carried on hammering away at a piece of metal. Mr French was not at all pleased, he bent me over a bench saying remain in that position ,he then picked up a metre length of metal {one yard in those days !} went to the far side of the room from where he charged towards me with length of metal grasped in both hands held high above his head. There was a silence in the room which was finally broken with gasps {mostly mine} as the length of metal came flying downward towards my rear. As the bar smacked loudly against its mark I jumped up holding my bum, everyone was laughing, the bar having finally been diverted down onto a bench behind me. “Mr Gorham please pay attention when I am giving instruction” ” o yes sir ,yes sir, yes sir !”

MR TODD Mr Todd {the science teacher?} seemed to be tasked with the occasional caning. This was often undertaken during school lunch breaks and applied in the lower school corridor, this was visible from the school playground where pupils would crowd around the glass frontage to get a good view!. {a somewhat gladiatorial event complete with participating audience!}


There were many after school activities, the few of which I partook were geography club {watching national geographic films}, spartans club for budding athletes, Inter school athletic meetings and after school practice for school plays.

First year boys attended rural instruction learning general gardening and farming processes. Taking plant cuttings, potting on etc. The girls would take cooking classes.

There was a debit and credit system. Debit tickets were recorded and handed out for lateness disruptive and poor behaviour, credits were given for good work. Coupled with this system the pupils were divided into 4 houses {I cannot remember all their names but fry, elgar, come to mind }. Once a month we would attend our respective house meetings to hand in credits or debits and receive praise or distain accordingly. I only received the one debit. 55 years ago we still used nibbed ink pens, thus desks were equipped with inkwells, these could be filled using a cork topped glass cask from which two glass straws protruded, one for the poring of ink, the other to replace the emptying cask with air. Sitting at the back of the class a filling cask sat on the bench between myself and the boy sitting next to me. Whilst the teacher was talking the boy put his mouth to one of the glass straws and sucked up a line of ink to within 1 inch of his lips, then nudging me he whispered ” beat that then”, placing my mouth around the other straw I sucked up a line of ink just ¾inch from my lips .His second turn saw the ink just a ½ inch from his lips. Well it was quite clear to me that all I had to do was to suck on the straw until the ink just touched my tongue and that could not be beaten! But just as I placed my lips to my straw he blew down the opposing one., I placed both hands to my mouth just as I heard the teacher say “so what do you think gorham” I looked up with ink dripping from my mouth saying

“not sure sir”. Raucous laughter from the class. “Gorham what have you done?” It spat at me sir” followed by rapped knuckles and a debit!

I cannot remember the frequency of morning assembly but do clearly remember entering the hall to classical music of Purcell and Elgar of which Elgar’s Nimrod was my favourite. After the address by the headmaster {Mr Kinsey} we would sing a song “glad that I live am I” before retiring to lessons. {I still remember that song in its entirety}

It was during my time at Barclay school that the swimming pool was built, although the swimming pool no longer exists I understand the changing rooms still stand, one wall is covered in tiles that were individually made by students. So whilst after 50 years it is unlikely that my school pole vault record still stands at least I can be sure I have a tile sitting proudly on that wall!

Teachers names that I can recall are Mr Monk, Mr Lee, Mr Lund, Mr French, Mr Evans, Miss Asher, Mr Davies and headmaster Mr Kinsey.

Pupils names that I can recall are. Roy Ord, Clive Brackenbury, Dave Gale, Billy Cotts, Derick Stokes, Mike Bonnet, Mike Bonnet, Roger Dines, Fred Farmer, Christine Barry, Richard Fairy, Ken Davis, Mike Heratige.

How strange it is that I can recall all those names after all that time but yesterday was asking myself why had I gone to the kitchen!!

I started timidly at Barclay school but left proud, confident and ready to face the world.

A great time, in a great school. “THANK YOU BARCLAY SECONDARY

This page was added on 22/12/2019.

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  • My father John Allen was one of the first intake in 1949 sadly he passed away in 2023. Myself and both my brothers attended Barclay School in the 70’s being taught by Don Monk, Dick Wallace, Haydn Roberts, ‘knocker’ French, Merv Smith and Pete Adams.

    By Mark Allen (04/04/2024)
  • at the age of 11 entering Barclay school Sept 1965 I would never have thought that at the age of 70 , i would have never thought that my dearest friends would be from those days. I knew no one as i had attended Bedwell school infants and juniors, My Dad built a house in Basils Rd, so we moved from the New town to the Old Town, My Dad had also volunteered to help build the pool along with others, My Dad was a bricklayer and had been building the town since 1951. I live in Canada since 1976, doing Intl Banking with Bank of Montreal, had a transfer from the London office. My friends from 1965 have all stayed in touch, get together for vacations around the world, or in UK. Couldn’t ask or wish for better. Thankyou Barclay school for a lifetime of memories

    By Linda Aspland Zumm (14/02/2024)
  • I was at the school at the same time. However my experience was nowhere near as positive. I remember being told that barclay wasn’t a school that expected pupils to get o levels. I lived down to their expectations! The only teacher who inspired me at all was Mr Lack ( Geography). I suppose it didn’t help that I lived in Wymondley and was bussed in so anything after school wasn’t possible. Of course I have to take some responsibility myself for my total underachievement which I fully accept. I undertook my education later on and obtained a masters degree in applied social studies. My overall reflection is that it was a poor school with mostly uninspiring teachers. Sorry if you feel thats hash and my view may be in the minority but that was my experience reflecting on it 60 years later.

    By Nigel Billingham (13/02/2024)
  • Another memory I have of Barclay, is of a Prefects versus teachers football match, probably organised by “Monkey” (Donald Monk) On a Cold wet & muddy day – Us students, were told we had to spectate – Well, this pretty dodgy Religious master was in goal (He rejoiced to the nick-name of “Bumble” – yes he was FAT, & could never stop talking about the evils of underage Sex)

    I’m afraid, whenever the ball came near Bumble’s goal, he had a load of Mud chucked at him from behind!

    By Bob Meade (07/09/2023)
  • I remember many of the teacher’s names you mentioned. Esp Donald Monk !!

    One Memory I have, is of Maths teacher: Mrs Kichener – It was near Xmas, & she said “It would be nice to have a Xmas tree. Well, some of us thought that a good idea as well. We had spotted one in the Head’s Garden (Killer Kinsey) so it was removed, without asking – & planted in the classroom waste bin ! – All OK, until Kinsey came to the classroom & spotted the tree.
    “I wondered where that went to” he grinned – please return it, before you break up for Xmas – & left the room !

    By Bob Meade (06/09/2023)
  • My name is Mike Bonnick, remembered by Mike Gorham as Mike Bonnet. I was in Mikes class and reading his account takes me back to Barclay. I got quite a few debits!
    One was for knocking a teachers glasses off with a snowball! If you can pass my details on to Mike hopefully we can get in touch for a reminisce.

    By Mike Bonnick (05/07/2020)