Latin

A former student at Wolverton Grammar School reminded me recently about Latin and its place in the curriculum. He didn’t do very well at it (few of us did) and fifty years later he still regarded it as a waste of his time.

Many would agree. It was a difficult sell even in the 1950s and various rationalizations were put forward –

it was a common European language

it would help with your vocabulary

you needed it if you were a doctor or chemist

you needed it to get into some universities and particular university courses.

The last arguments were the ones which may have had some resonance. Universities at that time required Latin for some courses and I think Oxbridge required it for university admission. The so-called Redbrick Universities were a little more relaxed about it.

Looking back (although I didn’t consider this at the time) Latin may have been quite new at WGS. I don’t see Latin appearing on my Mother’s School certificate from the 1930s so it certainly wasn’t general. Somehow, Latin must have been acquired by those who got scholarships to Oxford. I am not sure how this was done.  Miss Lidster, our Latin teacher, looked as if she had been there for some time but may have arrived after the war when Wolverton County School became a Grammar School. Latin for us began in the second year and continued to O Level. Miss Lidster was the only Latin teacher and taught up to and including 6th Form.

The difficulty we had with Latin was that it didn’t appear to relate to anything in our world. We had young open minds and could, for example, relate to learning the Periodic Table or Ohms Law. These things had some modern relevance, but the Latin we were taught was a language frozen in time. There were declensions to learn, verb conjugations and tenses, gerunds and gerundives. There were imperfect, perfect and pluperfect tenses. Nouns had different endings for the nominative, accusative, genitive, dative and ablative cases. It appeared to be a very complex way of organising a language. There was no common agreement on pronunciation after 2,000 years. Miss Lidster favoured the convention of pronouncing “v” as “w” and the “c” was always hard. Thus “victor ludorum” was pronounced wictor ludorum.

Of course English had travelled over the centuries by dropping inflexions. Words in English were at one time modified according to how they were used in a sentence, but over 2000 years the language had adapted to a more modern, more practical expression, where word order, rather than word ending established the meaning.

So this was the challenge, even to quite bright, receptive minds. We could have made sense of it, with effort, but without seeing the point, many of us remained unmotivated. Today, Latin is scarcely taught in schools anywhere.

Was it useful? If I see an inscription or phrase in Latin today I can more or less work out the meaning., At an academic level the knowledge is of some interest and I can tell the Latin roots of words used in the English language. I discovered once, when I was in Caracas, Venezuela, that I could read the newspaper in Spanish and make sense of it. But it hasn’t much entered my daily life. I would slot it in with quadratic equations, the use of logarithms and differential calculus – all of which I learned at school, but have never used since.

Class sizes and School sizes

I was reminded about this while I was talking to someone the other day. Up to 1960 classes were large and schools were small. Now the reverse is true. You can see here what was typical from two of my class photos from the 1950s. The first one is my Primary School, taken circa 1952 and the next is from the Grammar School taken in 1954. This was the only year we did not have one of those all school panoramic photos so this one provides a useful measure.

1952 Wolverton Junior School 4a – 29 pupils

1954 Wolverton Grammar School 2M – 36 pupils

Schools were typically small. The Grammar School was by far the largest school in the whole of North Bucks with about 300-400. All of the secondary schools were smaller. The reason was plain: secondary schools covered only four years from 11 to 14 and the Grammar School accommodated pupils up to 18. The school leaving age up to 1973 was 15 and most were able to find work at that age.

The Wolverton Grammar School covered a large territory – from Lavendon and Olney in the north east, to Bletchley and Whaddon in the south west. Once the new Grammar School was built at Bletchley in 1956 to accomodate its expanding population, those in the Bletchley environs stopped coming to Wolverton and the spare capacity at Wolverton was used by amalgamating the Wolverton Grammar School and the Wolverton technical School. Thus The Radcliffe Shool was born.

Three file folders

Having a bit of a clearout this morning.
Here are three images of the printed file folders the school used to issue. They track three changes of name –
Wolverton County School 1908-1945
Wolverton Grammar School 1945-1956
The Radcliffe school 1956-present
All in the same building at Moon Street until early 60s with the move to Aylesbury street site.

issued  1931
Issued 1953
Issued 1956
I should add that typically all our work in those days was done on loose sheets and kept in file folders like these.

Wolverton Grammar School 1954


In 1954 the school decided to abandon the whole-school panorama in favour of class photos. I suppose the Headmaster thought that this plan was less disruptive, although the panorama returned the following year due to popular demand.

Our class was called 2M – M for Metcalfe, who was out French teacher as well as our Form teacher. Christine Metcalfe was the daughter of a Lincolnshire farmer who had studied French at a French University and was much more lively than her senior French teacher, the wooden Mr Thomas who had been at the school since my mother’s School Certificate year – 1931. 
Mr Thomas had been our introduction to French the previous year. “Toto entre!” was the first sentence in French that we were taught. If we misbehaved in the slightest we would be required to stand: “Levez vous Monsieur Dunleavy!”
Miss Metcalfe was a breath of fresh air after that. A couple of years after this photo wastaken she married Harry Johnson, a Biology teacher who came to us (I think) in January 1955. Our first year Biology teacher was Miss Jones. She left and was replaced by a Mr White who was so terrified of us that he spent the entire lesson scribbling notes furiously on the blackboard leaving us to desperately catch up. His tenure was short-lived and I would guess that he was quietly advised to move on. Mr Johnson was a very different kettle of fish; he wasn’t terrified of us – we were scared of him!
I should add that we had no text books in those days and notes taken from the teacher were our only record of new knowledge.
1954 Form 2M
Back Row: Anne Wyatt, Margaret Bird, Shirley Petts, Pamela Bellamy, Anne Adams. Mary Barnett, Margaret Skinner, Linda Gamble, Bryan Dunleavy, Roger Norman, Francis White, Marcus Towell, Robert Gentles, Michael Brooks
Middle Row:  Valerie Dufton, Sheila Clarkson, Janet Haynes, Margaret Mayo, Dorothy Bennett,Jill Carter, Linda Gilbert, Geoffrey Farrington, Roger Brewer, Christopher Thomas, Robert Crocker, Scott McBurnie, Barry Lines
Front Row: Julia Sharpe, Molly Holmes, Linda Grace, Mildred Willis, Christine Metcalfe, James Franklin, Peter Bush, Graham Lenton, David Wilmin
The cost of this photo, mounted in a brown envelope (in which it stayed for 50 years) was 4/-. (four shillings)

Wolverton Grammar School


Detailed views below

I entered the Grammar School in September 1953. At that age you assume that everything has always been there and it was not until much later that I discovered that it had only become a Grammar School after the Education Act of 1944. Fees were abolished and admission was based upon selection – the notorious 11+. This also meant that everything you needed (apart from a pen) was supplied – exercise books, file paper, drawing pencils (coloured green as I recall), protractor and compass. All this was administered by Mrs Burley, the school secretary, from the Stock Cupboard every Monday.

Boys could wear either a navy blue blazer or a grey flannel suit. Girls wore white blouses and grey “gym-slips” as they were known. In the summer girls were allowed to wear cotton dresses which were coloured according to House – Pink for Red House (Wolverton, New Bradwell), Yellow for Yellow House (Stony Stratford, Bletchley), and Green for Green House (Newport Pagnell, Olney).
I see from the photo that girls from the 3rd to 5th form wore Navy tunics and 6th form girls wore grey skirts.
We all wore dark green silk ties with narrow red and yellow diagonal stripes. Boys wore peaked caps. I don’t recall what girls wore on their heads but it may have been some sort of grey bonnet. 
Uniform was rigidly enforced. I do recall one scene on a rainy lunchtime when an older girl was unwise enough to wear a clear plastic headscarf (probably just been invented)  and Miss Full, the Senior Mistress ripped it off her head and gave her a serious tongue-lashing with, I imagine, more to follow.