My old gran used to say when I was a youngster that the best days of your life were your schooldays: I suspect that she must have had a crystal ball and was looking ahead to my time at Cray!
Suffice it to say that – looking back on those days (and what shall become evident from this tome) – I could not have gone to a better school.
After leaving Cray following ‘A’ Levels I went into banking, starting on the 19th August 1974: the co-incidence of this date will shortly become evident.
21 years later I was happy to depart from that path in my life on an Early Leavers’ Scheme, and turned my hand to IT, a role in which I had been taking an increasing self-developing interest over recent years. As a Data Systems Analyst/Programmer it required practical understanding and use of mathematics and algebra, a logical mind, and in many respects an ‘interest in building things’ – skills in all of which I had acquired at Cray, and indeed enjoyed applying. I remained in this type of role until I effectively took early retirement in 2014.
Over the years I took up a number of interests: Photography indeed whilst still at Cray, and the top-of-the-range Nikon camera that I bought in the 6th Form is still going strong, together with several more of both similar and 1980s vintage; the wisdom of standardising on this make became even more evident when I added a Nikon digital SLR to the kit as all of the old ‘film’ lenses that I had acquired over the years worked with the new gear as well, and of course vice-versa, not many other (if indeed any) camera systems can boast of such backward compatibility. Car-wise I had always had slightly unusual tastes, as least compared to most of my friends, and (against advice!) in 1980 I bought myself what has over the years become a Classic Car: a 1974 Triumph Stag. And the significance of the above date? This car was registered on that same day! Bought with 40,000 miles on the clock, it is now approaching 120,000 on the original engine and gearbox. Whilst not used as often as I would like (and certainly not in the wet!), I do like to run it weekly if I can. I do much of the routine maintenance myself (although becoming less keen to crawl underneath these days!), and have carried out a number of modifications and improvements over the years.
Another long-standing interest – developed during my time at Cray of course – is engineering. I had the luck to be able to set up a small workshop at home many years ago, and the present kit includes a Harrison six inch centre screw-cutting lathe (same size as the Colchester Students we had at Cray), Tom Senior universal milling machine plus a Dore Westbury vertical mill – this used to be available as a home-build kit, and made an extremely interesting build project back in the 1980s. One of the photos shows the workshop where I now live, with the lathe on the left and the TS mill just beyond; the DW mill is on the right at the far end, beyond the drill press. Having moved house twice over the years, relocating the workshop machinery provides an ‘interesting’ experience, especially as the lathe weighs ¾ ton! I use the workshop for a variety of projects, a number of them relating to small modifications and specialist tools for the Stag as well as workshop tooling and a model beam engine, plus the occasional part for the 1899 Panhard et Levassor motor car owned by the Norfolk Museums Service. I also have in mind to build a working scale model traction engine some time; this has been a long-standing plan for retirement, unfortunately retirement proving so far somewhat less relaxing than expected!
I have always had an interest in history, principally the First and Second World War, although the ‘O’ Level History syllabus at Cray was on the Industrial Revolution period. Some of it was interesting but I found subjects such as the Corn Laws of limited excitement. Over recent years I have been on a number of Battlefield tours (mostly with Holts, now sadly taken over), Belgium and France of course figuring in many of these trips. One of the most memorable was a walking tour of the Somme battlefields with the late Professor Richard Holmes (who some of you may remember from his BBC2 “War Walks’ series’ over the years) as guide. Nudging the occasional rusting hand grenade with his foot is not something that one easily forgets! Last year saw a visit to Poland and some of the less salubrious aspects of the Second World War – a number of the extermination camps including the Auschwitz Birkenau complex. Very chilling.
By way of something totally different, a tour to the British fleet base in both World Wars in the Orkneys – Scapa Flow – was extremely varied and included both ends of the historical ages from the Neolithic henge (Ring of Brodgar), and settlement at Skara Brae, to the northernmost whisky distillery in the UK (Highland Park): a truly all-round enjoyable tour! Autumn 2014 saw my first trip to Germany, with the principal visit of the tour being Colditz Castle, which looked nothing like in the film or TV series as they had recently painted it yellow to return it to its colour of an earlier age. Our last couple of days were spent in Berlin, which was at that time hosting a Chinese trade delegation which included the president. Our group were wandering around, minding our own business and with our Tour Guide showing us some of the wartime buildings that still remained, when there was the wailing of sirens and a motor cavalcade with blue lights flashing and motorcycle outriders came driving by, to stop a hundred yards down the road near a Chinese takeaway – clearly some of the Trade Delegation! A number of people got out of the cars and started slowly walking back in our direction stopping every so often, apparently ‘someone of note’ doing a ‘walkabout’. They eventually came over to our group with the Chinese president leading the way, asking where we came from. The lady in the background – who now came forward – did not look too impressed by having her guest meeting someone who was not German! Needless to say I was busy taking photographs…
Although never much into sports at Cray, I did take up Target Rifle shooting many years ago, and have recently developed an interest in Archery. Of course, with WW1/2 history and shooting as well as an interest in all things mechanical, this logically expanded into collecting de-activated firearms, mostly British and German of the First and Second World War, with a couple of dozen now in the collection. The earliest piece I have is a 1907-dated SMLE Mk III rifle (generally referred to by the layman as the ‘Lee Enfield’); pre-First World War SMLEs are quite rare anyway, and this one is (a) from the first year of production, (b) made by the smallest of the three main companies manufacturing them (LSA – ‘London Small Arms’) and (c) retains all of its original fitments (such as long-range volley sights) that were usually removed during the war, so is a very rare bird indeed. I also have several machine guns, the rarest (and most valuable) being a Lewis Light Machine Gun manufactured around 1917; this has gone up quite significantly in value since I bought it in 2004 (not cheap then!). All infinitely more exciting than collecting stamps!
The Falklands - Southern Elephant Seals - 2015
Since taking early retirement in mid-2014 life seems to have become even busier. Last year (2015) I volunteered for the North Norfolk Railway, a local steam and diesel heritage line. Naturally the engineering machine shop beckoned, and I now spend a most enjoyable day there most weeks. I was also co-opted onto the Parish Council around that time, and have been Village Hall treasurer for several years. I am also involved in setting up an archery club in our village. In between all of these ‘minor’ occupations I try to get in a few foreign tours a year, Italy being a particular favourite. However, last year (2015) was a bit special, spending a week on the Falklands – a truly magical place that I hope to visit again. And these various wanderings – whether walking in Italy, visiting concentration camps in Poland, or tripping over penguins on the Falklands – allow me wonderfully varied opportunities to carry on with my photography of course!
With the benefit of many year’s experience I can honestly say that starting at a new school is much more of a challenge – or adventure – than starting a new job. I can also hear my old gran’s words ringing in my ears: “Your schooldays are the best days of your life”. Well, she got that bit very right: the seven years (1967-74) that I spent at Cray were indeed extremely happy times, where I made many good friends with whom I am still in frequent contact today. There were wonderful opportunities for those pupils who were keen to learn, with a superb teaching staff for the most part and facilities that many other schools would have sold their souls for. For me, I have especially fond memories of the Engineering Workshops in which I spent many a worthwhile hour, but wish that I had been able to learn much more. Nevertheless, that knowledge has proved useful since, as I now have a pretty well-equipped workshop with lathe and milling machine that would not have been out of place at Cray! – useful for keeping my classic car running, and a bit of model engineering too. I have mostly good recollections of my time in the School Brass Band, too – I am sure that very few secondary schools then or since have had a prize-winning Brass Band as one of the extra-curricular activities.
Many enjoyable and pleasant hours were spent playing the trombone (and annoying the neighbours back home!), with of course the educational trips – superb opportunities – that one benefited from as a Band member. How many people can say that they’ve played at Twickenham (the international rugby ground) – albeit music rather than as a rugby player! (we played on the pitch during the interval of one of the Varsity matches). Or been on TV? (Blue Peter, and yes – I still have my badge!). Kneller Hall (the Royal Military School of Music), being coached by some of the players, and having the opportunity to hear them playing? (the State Trumpeters had just returned from Wales, having “done their thing” at the Investiture of the Prince of Wales the previous day). Visiting the Boosey & Hawkes instrument factory (regrettably no free samples, though!). And probably other trips that have receded into dim distant memory. Not forgetting the rowdy sing-songs on the coaches on the way home from those venues. Finally – the Band Room – that sanctuary from normal school life that was located “up in the gods” at the very top of the school’s main staircase.
I recall many of the Masters, several of whom were quite characters in their own ways. We had three ex-Army Lt. Colonels on the teaching staff: Col.Turner (“Bulldog”, for Maths, he was excellent teacher), Mr. Richmond-Coggan (used to teach French, I believe, was also Careers Officer), and Col. “Q” (English in our latter “O” Level years, the less said about him the better!). Other Maths masters that we had were Mr. Bourne (to the 5th form) (recall that he spent several lessons over the years teaching us about secret codes rather than maths – we certainly enjoyed the opportunity to get out of algebra!), “Bernie” Brelsford for “A” Level Pure Maths (and skiing for those who participated in the winter skiing trips; I used to do some photography for the School magazine, and have a shot of him on the practice ski slope at Crystal Palace before one of the trips, on his backside!), and Mrs. Dewberry (“A” Level Applied Maths – I dropped this subject at the end of the Lower 6th as I couldn’t understand the woman – she seemed to spend most of the time shouting about “space” and waving her arms around, resulting in a 3% in one of my end-of-year exams). The Engineering workshops were the domain of John Parsons, Lee Lugg and Mr. Brickell (who sadly passed away whilst I was still at Cray) plus Mr. Collier(?) who used to look after the Senior Engineering workshops and ensure that we had the right lumps of metal available for the various projects (I believe that he also passed away during my time there), plus John Gale and Mr. Taylor in the Junior workshops. Our English lessons were somewhat compromised over the years due to a rapid succession of teachers: we started off with “Paddy” Wedlock (an Irishman!) for our first year, then one chap a bit later on who didn’t even manage to complete a Term with us (the Headmaster – “Bill” Turner – then stood in for a number of lessons), a Mr. Vignolles(?) who played the piano at some of the school events, and Col. “Q”.
The Science Department was in the very capable hands of – amongst others – John Abrook (Head of Chemistry, got to know John better after I’d left Cray, as he was a “leading light” in the Orpington Photographic Society when I joined some time after leaving Cray); Vic Matthews (Head of Physics, “Bonehead” as he was as bald as a coot; I used to drop off to sleep during “A” level lessons, but still passed!), Mr. Lane (Chemistry in the lower forms), and Mr. York (Physics master; some comment about his hair – or lack of it – from a fellow classmate referring to whether he had “…combed his hair that morning…” elicited the reply “…Yes – both of them!”). One of the Chemistry/Physics teachers (it might have been Mr. Lane?) seemed to have more than his fair share of bad luck with his experiments: one in particular comes to mind where he was demonstrating the electrolysis of water and collecting the oxygen and hydrogen, I have a feeling that we might have been ribbing him to prove the resultant gasses – which were both of course inflammable. He lit the end of a tube connected to one of the reservoirs, and BANG! – the explosion flashed back and I recall that a rather large glass bowl full of water ended up broken. Another Physics lesson – Room 18 I think? (the 1st floor lab in the extension, which later had the Sixth Form Block built underneath on the ground floor) – Page shorting out the low voltage desk terminals with a steel ruler and blowing the fuse; I think the flash and smoke alerted the teacher… Later on John Howard joined Cray, as one of the Junior Science masters. He was another gifted photographer, and set up a Photographic group, even lending the school some of his darkroom gear (and letting some of us use his camera); another “good egg”.
Lloyd Russell taught R.E. (and history?), an absolute gent, we all treated him rather badly I’m afraid, but he was a good sport and took it very well. There were two main History teachers – Mr. Mussell (Head of Dept.) and Mr. Jones. Mr. Jones also used to teach Economics; a Welshman with Socialist views, I seem to remember (whose use of the English language could be a little strange at times: “Sit you down, boys”). Our Form Master for a couple of years was Mr. Cummings – used to teach Pottery; the frames of his glasses always seemed to be broken.
The Sports Department was under the command of Martin Carr – a man to be feared if ever there was. Often he did not let us out on time for our next lesson: Steadman was brave enough on one occasion to say “Please, Sir, we’ll be late for French” and got a clip round the ear for his trouble. But – whatever one’s views are about Martin Carr – he had a towering pride in Cray Valley and very much stood for the school, always ensuring that it would retain and indeed enhance its excellent reputation in all things, and woe betide anyone who let the school down; I cannot argue with that. Indeed, I believe that the hard exterior did hide a somewhat more caring individual, and he certainly put very much of his own time and effort into many extra-curricular activities, including the overseas educational trips. He organised three 2-3 week trips to America during my time there, each with somewhere between 40 and 80 boys, the second of which (1972) I was privileged to be able to go on. Even with assistance from other staff members, this cannot have been a lightly-taken decision, and as planning for each commenced a couple of years before the event, the organisation involved would have been quite significant. I remember wandering down to the Sports Staff Room (usually quaking in my shoes!) to pay in my monthly monies towards the trip to Mr. Carr, and him noting down on one’s payment card the amount and date; he had extremely neat and well-formed writing. These trips were very much flagged as “educational” rather than “holiday” – and on that basis were extremely successful, at least as far as I was concerned.
The 1972 tour included staying with four families (as well as in hotels), in order to give us a more realistic experience of Americans and the American way of life. I was incredibly lucky with the family that I was billeted with during our sojourn in Washington DC (they lived a little distance away in the State of Virginia), striking up a firm friendship, and have remained in contact with them ever since. I have met up with them when they have been over here on several occasions and – when I went over to America again in 2000 – two members of the family very kindly put me up and showed me around some of the local (and not-so-local) sights. It has certainly enabled me to get a more balanced and rounded view of life “over the pond”, perhaps one of the aims of an “educational trip”.
Peter Woodward was the Music Master, having got the Brass Band formed from scratch. When I started there, I guess it had been going three or four years, and won a national competition shortly before I “graduated” from the learners” section. It certainly provided me with a great opportunity, and I got much enjoyment out of my time as a member. Like Martin Carr, with the merger with Edgebury on the horizon, PGW had the opportunity to take up a post at the exclusive Sevenoaks School, and followed MC a term or two later.
I was lucky enough to start at Cray whilst Reg Mayo was still Deputy Head -an absolutely super chap, well-respected by us all. When he retired, Mr. Mussell (Head of History) took over his post. Regrettably the Headmaster during my time there – W.R. Turner (“Bill”) – was not up to quite the same standard. Although a fairly imposing individual, he did not have quite the same depth of respect as Reg, and in the latter days of Cray let the school down in perhaps the worst possible way in failing to fight for its independence when the merge with Edgebury first loomed on the horizon. A friend of mine’s dad was on the PTA Committee, and they were all for trying to challenge the merge, but “Bill” would not let them take any action. He did all right at the end, getting out within a year or two of the merge in September 1974 and getting another school. But – from what I heard (and have read on this Site, as I finished my seven years immediately prior to the merge) – Cray went very much downhill from that time on, much as I had expected (Edgebury – a Secondary Modern – was only a mile or so from my home then, and I well knew the “standard” of pupil that attended that establishment). The only good thing from the merger was that the school name was changed to Kemnal Manor shortly after.