TOAST TO THE SCHOOL 

by

Harold Beck

(1935-42)

 

Proposed at the Dinner on 1st September 2009 in the Fyvie Hall, 309 Regent Street, to mark the 70th Anniversary of its evacuation

 

Polyboys (I hope you will forgive me for putting we octogenarian survivors first), Deputy Vice-Chancellor of the University of Westminster, ladies and gentlemen.

70 years ago, on Friday 1st September, a number of us present tonight assembled in the morning here at 309 Regent Street.  We were getting towards the end of our summer vacation but we had been coming to No. 309 each day from the previous Monday, ready to be evacuated should the Government so decide.

The Government decided on Thursday 31st August that evacuation would take place the following day so when we arrived on the Friday it was all systems go.  We were addressed by the President of the Polytechnic and shortly after 1030 in the morning we started our procession to Oxford Circus Underground Station.

By this time in the evening, 70 years ago, we were scattered in 4 small villages in rural Somerset.  War was declared two days later - and three weeks later we were living in the small seaside town of Minehead.

For most of us boys, any anxiety about the sudden move from our homes in a great city to living in rural countryside was tempered by a sense of excitement, of adventure.  For our parents, allowing their children to be taken to an unknown destination for an unspecified duration must have been intensely traumatic.

For our schoolmasters and the School's administrative staff the change brought about by the evacuation was no less dramatic.  They had to find new homes in and around Minehead and in some cases purchase houses and move their families.  The masters had to teach at unusual times of the day in unfamiliar surroundings, with far fewer facilities than those they had access to here in 309 Regent Street.

Above all, in one day they went from contact with us little horrors only during school hours to being, with their wives, responsible for us 24/7.  It is a fitting tribute to how well they rose to the occasion that, decades after the School ceased to exist, we are here today, which is the culmination of many School reunions held since 1991.

I doubt if any of us were aware at the time the sacrifices made by our masters and the problems faced and overcome by them and their families.  What we were aware of, in addition to their ability to teach us, were their quirks and idiosyncrasies, which made them human and engaged our affection.  They were not just teachers but personalities.  This was evident during the Reunions - we not only recalled fellow-schoolboys but spoke with great warmth about our masters.

 

THE MASTERS

Many of the words our masters used, stick in our memory.  Here are a few, recorded in the Summer 1941 Quintinian by A. GOLDSTEIN of 5B:-

          Singularly unintelligent boys.

          Can't you wait 'till break?

          Boy! you see this hand . . . . It's as hard as leather.

          Lesser, start reading . . . . Oh, no, he's in another Form.

Louis Seaman's history of The Quintin School is another source - he was a pupil at the School who became one of its Masters.  Here are some brief extracts from his pen portraits of the Masters as he saw them, both in the classroom and in the staff common room:-

Jacko Andrews  The cutting edge of his tongue carved for him a great silence wherever he went.  There were times when one felt almost as sorry for the mathematical problems he so mercilessly dissected as one did for oneself and for one's petrified classmates.

(I am using here the names by which we referred to them as schoolboys, though not to their faces).

Jimmy Hough energetically concerning himself with football, the choir and mathematics, a robust critic of pretty well everything, but with a bite rather less harsh than his bark.

Joey Lambert made nonsense of the notion that schoolmasters were by nature embittered frustrated creatures. By Hector and Lysander (his favourite exclamation) he enjoyed being a schoolmaster if ever a man did.

Louis Seaman described our masters as hardworking, talented eccentrics - they were not cloistered academics, and still less were they intellectuals.  He conveyed the atmosphere in the staff-room on the 2nd-floor back of the Poly, Room 80, for example:-

HOC Coleman would be explosively propagating something entirely subversive and Broody Broodbank would be ferociously grumbling about it;

Byrne would be propounding a theory, slow, mannered and nonsensical, and Jimmy Hough would be bawling him down;

Tinny Newman would be muttering over the Times crossword or else ruining somebody else's argument with a facetious interruption;

"Rubber" would enter furtively - and promptly go out again;

Charles Eckersley would be contemplating his locker studiously, wondering whether he had time to smoke a half-cigarette, a three-quarter-cigarette or a complete one - he kept a supply of varying lengths to be, used according to the length of time at his disposal between lessons.

Louis Seaman said that if one had to choose one place which made the Polytechnic Secondary School a "great school'," the wisest choice would have been the suffocatingly noisy Room 80 and the varied and vigorous personalities who inhabited it".  That room, in this building, is what we departed from 70 years ago.

 

FYVIE HALL

I have been asked to say a few words about the Fyvie Hall.  Around 1911 much of the Regent Street Polytechnic was re-built.  There was a 30,000 shortfall in funds neccessary for the work.  In the 1932 biography of Quintin Hogg it is related that "with the need, the man".  A great friend of Sir Kynaston Studd, Lord Leith of Fyvie, who had lost his only son in the South African War and who became interested in the great contributions the Poly made to the life of young manhood, decided to give the amount required as a memorial to King Edward VII.  This magnificent panelled and frescoed Hall, recently restored, was named after him.

I should perhaps mention that 74 years ago it was for me something of a chamber of horrors for it is where I took the entrance examination to the School.  A few months later and from then on I was very favourably disposed towards the Fyvie Hall for it was where Mr. Hough gave lunchtime tutored gramophone recitals of classical music.

 

AT THE HELM

The success of the school was also due in great measure to those at the helm of the Polytechnic Institute and the Polytechnic School

Quintin Hogg, Founder and President of the Polytechnic, took a close personal interest in the School from the time he started it in 1886.  After his tragic accidental death, in this building, in 1903, his successor as President, Sir Kynaston Studd, also took a great personal interest.

When Sir Kynaston addressed us here 70 years ago he was 81 years old and had been President for 36 years.  Despite numerous other activities and interests he found the time to visit the School in Minehead on many occasions.  He journied by car - no mean feat at his age and with the wartime precautions prevailing at that time - to confer with the Headmaster and give encouragement to we boys.

The devotion to the School of the Polytechnic's first two Presidents contributed enormously to its success.  There are many others I could mention, from Robert Mitchell, the first Director of Education of the Polytechnic - through successive Headmasters of the School to Mr. P. Abbott, who made a considerable contribution to the raising of standards - then Mr. F. Wilkinson, who some of us remember - then Dr. B.L. Worsnop.

Before I pay a fitting tribute to our wartime headmaster I must mention one who was not a master but who made a vital contribution to the School, namely Mr. A.A. Parsons, the School Registrar.  On him was the burden of administration of the move to Somerset of 70 years ago and of the sojourn in Minehead.

Now for our wartime Headmaster, known to us as Nobby.  Inevitably his son was known as Noblet - we are delighted to see him and two sons (mini-Noblets?) here on this great occasion.

Dr. B.L. Worsnop exercised superb leadership of the school especially during wartime.  He not only had the task of maintaining educational standards under difficult circumstances but had numerous additional responsibilities due to the war thrust upon him - providing billets, arranging Home Guard duties for 6th formers, comforting parents of former pupils who had lost their lives on active service, organising school parties to collect scrap metal for the war effort etc. etc.  We have cause to be especially grateful to him.

We are also glad that Noblet has given to the Archives Department a book recording the life of of his father, the Headmaster.  I would urge all to see that Elaine Penn, the University of Westminster's Archivist, receive their memorabilia - it will be well cared for and will be a valuable part of the Archives.

 

TOAST

So in the Toast I shall shortly be proposing - the Toast to The Regent Street Polytechnic Secondary School for Boys - we will be drinking not just to its past success but as an expression of thankfulness for the fun, friendships and the good fortune of all those - not just those gathered here today - who were its pupils.

So, in that spirit I ask you to rise and Toast The School.

The School.

 
09j 70th Anniversary