Extracts from Examinations, Music, Asthma & Freemasonry pages
L.C.C. Junior County Scholarship & Polytechnic Free Place
I took the examinations in the Fyvie Hall in 1935. It was 70 years later that I appreciated their value from the following passages in The Quintin School (1886-1956) by L.C.B. Seaman (Downing College):-
Examination successes being the declared aim, an immediate raising of the standard demanded of entrants to the school was necessary. There were three sources of entry. There were those who secured free tuition and a maintenance grant from the L.C.C. on their showing in the Junior County Scholarship examination. This was the fiercely competitive counterpart of the modern "eleven plus" examination. Any child who could overcome this hurdle was bound to be good academic material, for it was exclusively an attainment test in English and Arithmetic, and was designed to keep most children from getting scholarships to grammar schools rather than to let a good proportion of them in. Success depended on much more than aptitude, or "intelligence," and the standard required in both English and Arithmetic was much higher than that reached by the average grammar school entrant now. The second group were those who, by passing the Polytechnic School's Free Place examination, secured free tuition, but no grant. Since these boys would be a somewhat lesser charge on other people's money than scholarship boys, this examination was a little easier; but P.A. (P. Abbott, Headmaster of the Polytechnic School) saw to it that it wasn't much easier. Finally, there, were the large number who came to the school as fee payers. For most of them there was a fee payers' examination. Since this was to admit boys whose parents would pay good money it could not be impossibly stiff, but P.A. of set purpose made it almost as hard as his Free Place examination.
For somewhat unusual reasons, the writer can speak feelingly about the standards of these examinations. Between 1922 and 1923 he sat for the L.C.C. Junior County Scholarship examination (which he failed) for the Polytechnic Free Place examination (which he also failed) and the Polytechnic fee payers' entrance examination (and nearly failed that as well). As a sort of insurance, he also took the fee payers' entrance examination of another well established London grammar school, known to this day as a friendly rival to the Quintin School. This examination he passed with ease: compared with the arithmetic paper P.A.'s staff set, this other school's questions were child's play.
Perhaps the reason why I did not rate my successes highly was that I failed the Haberdashers' Aske's Scholarship examination!
1935 to 1939 at School in London (10 to 15)
When I got to the Regent Street Polytechnic Secondary School for Boys, one School musical experience stands out. This was a tutored gramophone recital in the Fyvie Hall at 309 Regent Street. It probably took place in 1935, not long after I joined the school, when I was 11 years old. I think it was an extra-curricular event in the lunchtime with one of our masters providing the tutoring. I remember being very taken with Tchaikovsky's Sleeping Beauty - I must have told my father how much I had enjoyed it and this may well have been the reason why he started taking me to symphony concerts.
The gramophone, by the way, was the one with the triangular fibre pick-up needle and a thermionic valve amplifier, which in 1939 was evacuated along with the school to Minehead and placed on the stage of the County School.
The Polytechnic School for Boys at 309 Regent Street was just down the road from the Queen's Hall and my father used to ask me to go to the Box Office to get tickets on the first day of booking of the Proms. Particularly memorable was his request for 30 Balcony tickets for the Last Night of the Proms (there was no ballot for them in those days). He took most members of his own family and the families of his two brothers with whom he ran Becks' Printing Works, along with several members of the Works staff and their wives. What I remember about the concert is the playing of the Fantasia on British Sea Songs followed by Sir Henry coming out and taking a bow, then coming out with his coat over his arm and stick and hat in his hand, then with coat and hat on before the lights were dimmed. My guess is this must have been for the 1938 season, when I was 13 years old.
1939 to 1942 at School in Minehead (15 to 17)
When the school arrived in Minehead after its false start in the Cheddar region I was soon involved in two musical activities. One was providing gramophone music at the Polytechnic School's Sunday morning Service at the County School and the other was arranging recitals of music on the gramophone - I do not know which came first.
The gramophone (an H.M.V.?) used in the Service was the one which had been moved from the Fyvie Hall. I had the responsibility of choosing the music. I considered Nimrod from Elgar's Enigma Variations suitably solemn so that was played alot (on a 78rpm record of course). Another was one of the variations in Rachmaninov's Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini - and as this was followed by a rapid syncopated variation which I considered unsuitable, I had to whip the pick-up off the record quickly and surely to avoid the follow-on. This wasn't easy - the rather cumbersome head had to be swivelled through 180 degrees to get it safely parked off the record. The reason I did this rather than use the volume control was because there was considerable purely mechanical sound coming directly from the pick-up on the record.
At some time I became secretary of the Music Society which met for evening gramophone recitals in the assembly hall of the County School. Entries in The Quintinian, the school magazine, convey more accurately than I can from memory the range of the works played:-
It is interesting to note from the Spring 1945 entry that the gramophone returned safely to the Fyvie Hall.
My musical activities in Minehead were not confined to the Sunday Services and the Music Society. I was allowed the key to a small two story building on a sports ground and in it there was a gramophone in the upper room. I often used to go there alone and listen to my favourite records - I remember playing records of the Grieg Piano Concerto over & over again in that room.
I also for an all too short time collaborated with a classmate, Bertram Herbert, in writing an Oratorio. It was called The Captives and was based on a text by Oliver Goldsmith. I had completely forgotten about this venture until about 1990, when I went to a reunion of evacuees. Bert Herbert showed me the Oratorio's title page and there it was in plain language ascribed in lovely illustrated lettering to Herbert & Beck. There were a few bars of music on the title page which we had composed (or hammered out) one Sunday afternoon. And that is as far as it got. Fifty years on, Bert Herbert reminded me that his billetor's peace and quiet had been so disturbed that Sunday afternoon that Bert had been thrown out of his billet. Bert went on to a distinguished and fulfilling leisure-time career conducting concerts in the Wembley area of London and in Burton-on-Trent. I remained a listener. Alas the title page of my only involvement in composing is probably lost to posterity for it disappeared from the exhibition of memorabilia after the reunion, no doubt inadvertently thrown over amongst the rubbish.
A musical event I remember well but not for the most laudable of reasons was a performance of The Messiah in Dunster Church. This probably took place in the run-up to Christmas 1940. My concert-going experiences in London had made me rather disparaging about local performances by mostly amateur musicians and the glitches which occurred in the Dunster performance did nothing to dispel that opinion. For an entirely perverse reason, however, I enjoyed the event for there was among the violins in the orchestra a lovely woman with wonderful hair. She could have been more than twice my age (I was 16) and I afterwards learned she was the wife of Leslie Woodgate, a much-respected choral tutor. Nowadays I greatly appreciate local music-making, perhaps partly because of improved standards of performance generally and because wartime limitations on choice of musicians no longer apply but also because it is great to be at the receiving end of music making by other members of the community to which one belongs.
Another great influence on my musical development as an evacuee at school in Minehead was Moore Orr, a retired bank manager who wrote a record review column for a magazine. He would invite a few of us schoolboys to hear records at his home. Thus we were introduced to new works, some simply to extend the range of works we knew but others to demonstrate the excellent fidelity of his gramophone equipment. Thus for example I got to know Sibelius's Violin Concerto - I was indifferent to it at first then came to love it. The works played to demonstrate the equipment - and the recording - included Copland's El Salon Mexico and a Danish suite, Slaraffenland (Foolsí Paradise) by Knudage Riisager. The most significant part of the equipment was the HMV or EMI moving armature pickup with a miniature steel needle.
Another source of musical appreciation arose from a friendship I developed with a local lad, Charles Bryant. His father and mother owned and ran the Beaconwood Hotel on Minehead's North Hill. Now and again Charles organised a gramophone recital at the hotel, to which I was invited. On one occasion I met one of the hotel guests, P.A.G.H. Voight, who was a loudspeaker specialist. By this time I had become interested in the technical aspects of gramophones and I greatly enjoyed my conversation, nay argument, with him.
From Music To Electronics
Although I was able to listen to music through gramophone recitals, I greatly missed radio broadcasts of choral and orchestral concerts. These had been a regular feature of life at home before the evacuation to Minehead but there was no interest in music broadcasts whatsoever in the family with which I was billeted. It was making up that lack which got me interested in the technical aspects of radio.
It was probably in early 1940, on a short visit to home in London that I bought a 1-valve radio for 2s 6d (12.5p) in a Church jumble sale. I was billetted in a 3-storey house at the top of a hill in Alcombe, a mile or so from the centre of Minehead, and had been given an attic room. It contained a water tank, which provided a convenient earthing point, and with an aerial wire strung around the ceiling I was now able to listen to many musical broadcasts on medium and long wave, from around Europe. There was, however, one major problem - the batteries required by the radio were much too expensive for me on my pocket-money allowance. The answer was a crystal set and earphones which I bought for next to nothing at a second-hand shop or another jumble sale on a visit to London. This provided me with inexpensive though more local music listening.
So was the technical side of my career born and from then on it was a natural progression to the diverse and rapidly changing field of electronics, which became my life work so far as science and engineering was concerned.
Music in London during the Blitz
The visits to home in London sometimes coincided with air raids - I remember one in which the gasometer at Kilburn was hit and the resulting blaze lit up the ground for miles around. My Mum & Dad instructed me to sleep under the stairs rather than go to the air raid shelters in the road outside - they were hardly ever used because of the dog poo.
I went to one concert, on Saturday 3rd or Sunday 4th May 1941, at the Queens Hall during one of the short visits to London. I sat behind the orchestra, which was not only the cheapest seat but allowed me to see closely the conducting technique of Leslie Heward. Alas the following weekend the Queen's Hall was destroyed by an incendiary bomb.
Another concert I went to in London while 'on leave' from school in Minehead was the last night of the 47th Promenade Season at the Royal Albert Hall. This took place at 6 pm on Saturday 23rd August 1941. The Programme (one folded sheet price 6d) describes Sir Henry Wood as Conductor and Basil Cameron as the Associate conductor but I cannot remember who conducted what. The orchestra was the London Symphony and Maurice Cole was listed as the soloist in the Schumann piano concerto. A note refers to trenches being available in Kensington Gardens and Hyde Park in the event of an Air Raid Warning. I was sitting in the stalls near the BBC box and was juvenile enough to go and get the chief BBC announcer, Stuart Hibberd, to autograph the Programme.
So, in the 3 years I was in Minehead as an evacuee the development of my musical appreciation was rapid and varied. I was quite pleased when at the end of my time with the School the headmaster, 'Nobby' Worsnop, commented favourably on my Music Society activities. In my final 6th-Form Report, sprinkled with far too many 'quites' for my liking, his summarising comment was "A very suitable conclusion to a good run in the Sixth form. He should do well. He has taken a leading part in the musical society as well as his normal school work".
At home in North Kensington, 1935-39 (10 to 14).
By the time I started my Secondary education at Regent Street Polytechnic, 309 Regent Street, there had been a great step forward in the treatment of asthma, namely the Atomiser. It came from Germany, and used a pumping device which contained a liquid called Bronchovydrin. This produced a spray of droplets which had to be breathed into the lungs, producing relief in a much more socially acceptable manner and with fewer side effects than the Potters method. My grandmother on my fatherís side had asthma (which gave me a rather special bond with her) and she had tried and derived considerable benefit from the Atomiser so when I started at the Polytechnic school my parents provided one for me.
By good fortune the U.K. Sales office for the Atomiser (at some time also called the Pag) was just off Regent Street, about half way between Oxford and Piccadilly Circuses. In that office was a motorised Atomiser (which we now call a Nebuliser) and I was invited to make use of it whenever the hand-operated Atomiser proved insufficient to control an attack. So at lunchtime on some days I would make my gasping way slowly down Regent Street, past Mr. Forteís new milk bar, past Oxford Circus and Hamleys, to the wonderful machine in the Sales office. There was a spring in my step on the return journey and occasionally I even stopped to look at the toys in Hamleys.
The School were very understanding of my condition and gave me permission to ride up in the lift when I had an asthma attack. Many of our classes were held on the 4th Floor and some, such as Physics and Chemistry, were, I think, even higher. So riding in the lift was a very helpful concession. Indeed it was something of a perk because some quite well-known people used the lift. I got, for example, quite a thrill when I was a fellow-passenger to Griffiths Jones, a popular film star of the late 30's.
I applied myself to my studies and did quite well. However, as I was the youngest in the form it was decided that I might be less prone to asthma attack if I took an extra year so I went through the 5th Form instead of straight from Lower 5th to Upper 5th. Sport was then regarded as out of the question so my muscles and coordination were very underdeveloped. I was a tall and very weedy child and my father affectionately referred to me as Tin Ribs. The search for solutions to the asthma problem continued - I remember having to take soya flour, lettuce and honey in a tin for lunch but that didnít last for long.
As an Evacuee in Weare and Minehead, Somerset 1939-1942 (14 to 17)
The school was evacuated two days before the outbreak of the 2nd World War. Unfortunately we were directed to the wrong train and found ourselves dispersed among four villages in Somerset in which there was only kindergarten school accommodation. I and a brother went to Weare and were billeted on a farm. It was harvest-time and the farmhouse was located in a valley and needless to say within a day or two I was in the throes of an asthma attack. I was moved into the village proper to stay with two kindly schoolteachers and within a few days I was able to breathe normally again.
I imagine my asthma was not too bad during the 3 years I was in Minehead because the only incident I remember is when my next younger brother (12) and I (15) decided to cycle to Mere in Wiltshire where my parents were spending Easter with my youngest brother (7) and his twin sister, who were evacuated to different places nearby. We thought we would give them all a pleasant surprise. By the time I got to Taunton I was gasping for breath and had to get myself and bike back to Minehead by train. My brother continued on the journey and the welcome he received was very much tempered by concern that he had cycled a considerable distance unaccompanied.
I tried some sport during this period by entering a team for a high-jump competition. I considered the short run-up would enable me to make the effort before the asthma triggers had time to notice but I made such a hash of the take-off that I never tried again - perhaps I should have done. I did, however, get some exercise walking on Mineheadís North Hill, in the lovely combes accessed from Alcombe and over Grabbist to Dunster.
I still needed the Atomiser to cope with the background asthma which has persisted to this day. At some time the Bronchvydrin used in the Atomisers was replaced by Riddobron and the company which supplied it from the same address just off Regent Street was Riddell Products. Perhaps the change was analagous to the change of Bechstein Hall to Wigmore Hall during the 1st World War.
My next contact with Freemasonry was under very different circumstances. On 1st September 1939, two days before the outbreak of World War 2, the Regent Street Polytechnic School held its usual assembly in the cinema which served as its Hall. The Chairman of the Board of Governors, Sir Kynaston (J.E.K.) Studd, addressed the School, saying "You are going away; it may be only for a few days, it may be for a few months; it may be even longer. No one can tell. The Polytechnic will seem very strange without you, but wherever you are, our wishes, our thoughts and our prayers will be with you. ..... Good-bye". The School was then evacuated to four villages in Somerset.
The Headmaster, Dr. B.L. Worsnop, originally a King's College London physicist specialising in the then pioneering subject of X‑rays, pulled quite a few strings to get the School transferred to Minehead and have the sole use of its County School in the afternoons while the County School people had each morning. The number attending the Polytechnic School was, however, larger than for the County School so the Headmaster had to look around for other accommodation. He managed to rent the hall attached to the Methodist Church and also the Masonic Hall.
It was as a 6th former that I was taught in Minehead's Masonic Hall. My form room was upstairs, overlooking the road. Classes were held in it, as well as meetings of the '49 Club', a debating society named after the room in which meetings had been held back at the Regent Street premises. I vividly remember advocating in one debate that lessons about sex (another taboo subject in Freemasonry!) should be part of the school curriculum. My suggestion was greeted with stunned silence, which made me feel somewhat despondent. However a number of classmates came up to me afterwards and thanked me for expressing what they had been thinking, which turned my despair to elation.
I was not without curiosity about the downstairs part of the building for I remember asking a master what lay beyond a blocked portal. I received an obfuscating answer which must have satisfied me, beyond leaving a faint air of mystery about what I now know was the Temple.
It turned out that during our occupation of the Masonic Hall the connection between the School and Freemasonry was rather closer than we had thought. Some of the evacuees returned to Minehead in later life, buying houses for holidays or to retire there, and a few of them joined a Masonic Lodge meeting in the Hall. In September 1999 a reunion was held in Minehead to mark the 60th anniversary of evacuation and former evacuees who had become Freemasons were invited by the local returnees to a meeting of their Lodge, Exmoor No.2390. In carrying out research in preparation for the visit it was discovered that at least 13 of the Polytechnic School masters had been Freemasons and had been made Honorary members of Exmoor Lodge for the duration. The most senior Freemason among the masters was H.J. Beadon, who took P.T., and one of the most junior was his Headmaster ‑ such is the nature of Freemasonry. Moreover the Lodge had celebrated its Golden Jubilee in 1941 and it was recorded that two of the masters, Harry Beadon and Joey Lambert (as we had called them, though not to their faces), had played a significant part in the ceremonies. Thus the picture emerges of we schoolboys being taught until about 5pm and then our masters sometimes coming into the Hall and engaging in Masonic labour and refreshment.
It was also realised in 1999 that the School's Chairman, who had addressed us so movingly on the day we were evacuated, was a prominent Freemason, having been Provincial Grand Master of Cambridgeshire since 1934.
It was a great occasion when, in September 1999, we Poly boys who had become Freemasons witnessed a ceremony in the Temple which had been barred to us and we dined, were Toasted and Responded in the very room where we were taught some 60 years before. Several members of the Lodge remarked that we had been at the Masonic Hall long before them.