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Alma Mater


The front cover of 'Alma Mater' THIS slim booklet was published to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the opening in 1930 of the Lewes County School for Boys - subsequently called Lewes County Grammar School for Boys. The booklet brings together four separate items - a short newspaper account of the "Opening Ceremony" on the first day in 1930, "Alma Mater" - an account of the early history of the school, "School Camps" and "The Blois Episode".

It is not clear when Mr Bradshaw wrote the latter three but the tone would suggest that they were written in the early days of his retirement when he thought that the school would continue happily along the lines he had established. This page contains the first two items. The last two items appear as separate pages indexed, left, as "Camping" and "Blois".

This booklet came out of the blue from David Morling to whom we extend our thanks. He also provided the booklet "The Building of a House of God 1942 - 1960" an account by NRB of the problems encountered in building the School Chapel (indexed as "Chapel 1"). We had no inkling of the existence of either of these booklets. Perhaps there are other undiscovered treasures hiding in the deeper recesses of Old Lewesians' closets?

Preface to the Booklet "Alma Mater"

Lewes County Secondary School for Boys was opened on Friday, September 26th, 1930. To mark the fiftieth anniversary of that occasion the account of the school's early years by the Headmaster, Mr. N. R. J. Bradshaw M.A., is here reproduced, together with a newspaper report of the opening ceremony.

The Opening Ceremony

An Account from a Local Newspaper

The new County Secondary School for Boys, at Lewes, was officially opened on Friday. There was a large gathering in the spacious school hall, and the ceremony was performed by the Right Hon. the Viscount Gage.

Mr. C. Burra, J.P. (Chairman of East Sussex County Council) presided, and among others on the platform were: Lord Gage, Captain A.B. Wales, M.C. (Mayor of Hove), Mr. T. Godfrey J.P. (Chairman of East Sussex Education Committee), Lieut-Colonel A.S. Sutherland-Harris, J.P., Rear-Admiral T.P.H. Beamish, M.P. for the Lewes Division, Colonel P.F. Lambert, Colonel H.I. Powell Edwards, D.S.O., Sir L.A. Selby-Bigge, Bart, K.C.B., Major J.J. Lister, J.P. (Chairman of Lewes Education Committee), Councillor T.J. Frampton Carter (Mayor of Lewes), and the headmaster of the new school (Mr. N.R.J. Bradshaw M.A.).

The New School

The Chairman said the headmaster, as a graduate of Oxford University, was educated at Merton College, Oxford, and came to Lewes from Taunton. He would be assisted at Lewes by a highly qualified staff. The classrooms had been designed for 200 boys, and the school had been planned to accommodate 300. When the number of scholars increased other class-rooms could be added. The site comprised eight acres. A special feature of the new school was that it had a well-equipped gymnasium, and there was also convenience for the boys to have their mid-day meal. The site cost £ 1,800, and the contract for the erection of the building was £29,500. The architect was Mr. Verger, the county architect, and he (the chairman) thought they could congratulate Mr. Verger on having erected a building which was worthy of the architecture of the ancient town of Lewes. (Hear, hear and applause.) Lewes was an ideal and obvious spot for a school like that, and they wished the school every prosperity in the great future that lay before it. (Applause.)

Value of Education

In declaring the building open, Lord Gage said he felt it a great honour to have been invited to perform that ceremony. He supposed most of those present were in favour of secondary education, and all other schools, but he did not think everybody was of the same opinion as to the value of education. He could scarcely open a newspaper without seeing someone complaining about the uselessness of education and the expense. Education should be run as economically as possible.

They had men holding high positions in the country, and leaders of trade unions who, through no fault of their own, in some cases, had very little opportunity for education. If they were to be given executive powers they should have the same opportunity for education as were given to people who used to hold those high positions. (Applause.) He was not afraid of being governed by any particular class, because he did not believe that ability was confined to any particular class. He would feel less apprehension if he felt that everyone had an opportunity of learning something from the point of view of being able to take up any of the professions. He did not know whether that school was destined to produce a Prime Minister.

On behalf of the public he congratulated those to whom the idea of the construction of the school was due. He wished it every success in the future and good luck to its first headmaster. (Applause.)

In moving a vote of thanks to Viscount Gage for performing the opening ceremony, Sir L.A. Selby-Bigge referred in a wider sense to what Viscount Gage had said about education and the reason for the erection of that school. It was desirable to think in quite simple terms of what they were doing and what they were trying to do. In the first place, they were spending a lot of money. The cost of running the school was about £20 per scholar per year. As the number of scholars increased thc rate would go down. They were trying to build up a system of education in East Sussex. About 70% of the scholars of that type of school came from elementary schools, and about 43 per cent paid no fees; 64 per cent who went from those schools direct to the universities had come from public elementary schools. That was the system on which they were trying to work that school. It was not democratic or perfect, but it was moving forward. The County Council was tackling the re-orgarisation of its elementary schools. A certain number of pupils in schools like the Lewes County School for Boys would go on to the universities, but the majority, when they left, would naturally seek employment. Education of that kind, which lasted up to 16 years was best for them. Although he was a strong believer in full time education such as they got in a school of that kind, he could not shut his eyes to the fact that there was great need of other forms and types of education.

Education was not a panacea or a universal provider or insurance policy. Character was trained in the classroom as well as on the playing field. The tradition in England was to make pupils sit down to what he called "table d'hote dinner." Understanding developed qualities of character. In dealing with men or women was there any quality which was so valuable as understanding?

Teaching Qualities

Referring to school staffs, Sir Selby-Bigge said the standard of teaching, interest, diligence and sympathy with their pupils had undoubtediy risen within the past 20 years, and it was still rising. He asked parents to back up the teachers and the boys. It would make an enormous difference to the staff. They wanted the school to be something which the people of Lewes and East Sussex knew a lot about and were proud of. They wanted that school to be something in the life of the county with which Lord Gage and his family had been so long connected. (Applause.)

Mr. Bradshaw, in seconding the motion, said that he hoped that in opening that school they were starting on a great future. How were they going to test the value or success of that school in the future? Were they going to test it in public examinations? He was not one to decry public examinations as mitigated evils. Still, he thought if examinations were the sole test of a school then the school would be neglecting its larger opportunities. What, then, was ihe real test of a school? He thought the real test of any school was the type of boy it turned out. (Hear, hear and applause.) The material would vary. The better the material the better the type of boy to be turned out. If they concentrated on a boy rather than on an examination he thought they would achieve more than if they made examination the sole goal. (Hear, hear and applause.)

He appealed to parents to interest themselves in the work of the school and the ideals set before them. The vote of thanks was unanimously accorded.

Moving a vote of thanks to the chairman for presiding, Mr. Godfrey said he thought the thanks of the whole county was due to Mr. Burra for the services he had rendered to the county for such a long time.

The Thanks of Lewes

The Mayor of Lewes, in seconding, said he could not allow that opportunity to pass without recording the thanks of the inhabitants of Lewes to those responsible for erecting that school in the borough. From past experience of Mr. Burra's administration they knew they had a thorough business man at the head, and one who was determined that the progress of education should be maintained in the county. (Applause.)

The vote was carried with acclamation, and the Chairman briefly replied. The proceedings concluded with the singing of the National Anthem, and tea was served in the gymnasium.


A First Chapter in the History of a Grammar School

By N.R.J. Bradshaw

It was Friday, September 26, 1930. Workmen were still inside the new building. At 9 a.m. a hundred and forty boys assembled, all resident within the catchment area of the school, but most of them unknown to each other. Some of them came because they had no choice. They had been compulsorily transferred from other schools by the County Authority - not the most auspicious conditions on which to build a new corporate loyalty.

At 3 p.m., from a platform full of notabilities, with a hall full of adults and the boys discreetly in the background, the County School for Boys, Lewes, was declared open.

Life began in earnest on the following Monday. The position was almost desperate. We had a hundred desks for 140 boys. The strength of the various age groups demanded seven forms, but we had only five form masters. The building included a stockroom - but it was quite empty. Not a book had yet arrived. Outside was a school field - but no goal-posts and no footballs.

I never heard what the parents thought of it all. Looking back, I realise now that no more favourable conditions could have been devised even by that whimsical genius Bernard Shaw, who once said that he had conquered time by standing on his head. Boys take most things for granted. But there was a uniqueness about our position which challenged even adolescent thoughtlessness. Even boys could not fail to realise that they were participating in the initiation of something new. What that something might become depended on what they were prepared to do. The shifts and improvisations of the first few weeks were a challenge to all of them.

Only a quarter of our new pupils lived in Lewes. The rest poured out of bus and train each morning. Many were unmistakable lads of the countryside, sturdy sons of manual workers, rural craftsmen, clerks and small tradesmen. They had little background of culture and were superficially poor material for academic distinction. For them the road to the University was steep. Few desired to climb it. The path was too stony and the financial hurdles too great. More than half of our boys were fee-payers, involving a modest demand of £ 14 per annum. But in many cases it called for effort and some sacrifice by the parent. Parent and boy had an incentive to succeed. There was another factor which worked in our favour. There was a hard core of some forty boys from Uckfield Grammar School which had closed in July. They transferred their loyalty to their new school and leavened the whole mass with a new corporate spirit.

Friday, September 26th had been a day of celebration. It left behind a local expectation of achievement. Those of us who composed the school, the human ingredient, were only too conscious of this. I had been allowed to telephone to an agency in London and recruit two additional men, "temporary" appointments in the first instance, to cope with our unexpectedly large numbers. All the staff were relatively young. Several had taught long enough to make the initial mistakes common to most new schoolmasters. All could still turn out on the games field and get to know the boys under non-academic conditions.

But how were we regarded by those in whose midst we lived? This was Sussex to whom proletarian innovations were unpopular. And did not local authority schools exist to educate thc proletariat? A wealthy farmer with three sons, living near Lewes, proclaimed that he had no intention of allowing his boys to come to us. A few years later he was glad to make use of our facilities for his second and third sons when a certain public school failed him. "What was the difference betveen a county school and a council school?" a lady visitor asked me. My wife, sitting in a Lewes hairdresser's shortly after we opened, heard the school discussed by two ladies from their respective cubicles. "Have you met the headmaster of the new school?" "No, not yet. Have you?" "Yes!" And then, with a suggestion of surprise, "He is quite a gentleman." Obviously a wrong assessment.

The County Authority was determined that there should be no misconception on what we were. Before taking up office I had raised the question of nomenclature and title and had pointed out that "County" School only disclosed provision and organisation and not level of instruction. Most of the Primary Schools were "County" schools. But all in vain. Provided by the County from public funds for the instruction of local children there must be no loophole for misunderstanding of our origin and purpose. But we appeared to have come ashore on the crest of a wave of enthusiasm. Boys, parents and staff all shared in it. At our first Speech Day a year later, the Headmaster of Winchester, before distributing the prizes, commented on the energy and enthusiasm of new schools like ours.

But we were starting from scratch and had to create everything ourselves. Of our 140 boys, 100 were in the 10 - 12 age group. At the top, almost isolated, was a small group of nine who were in their fifth year and for whom School Certificate instruction had to be provided at once. The forms below increased in size as their ages diminished. Their quality was not, perhaps, quite as good as some later intakes. We had as yet done nothing to induce parents to send their offspring to us. Even so, some afterwards won distinction in various fields. As I study that first list I see there the name of a youngster of 12 who at the age of 24 was a Group Captain DSO, DFC, a record only equalled, I believe, by Guy Gibson of the Dam Busters. There too are several lads who afterwards gained the MC. One boy in the lists remained in the Navy after the war was over. Ultimately ill health compelled him to retire when, as a Captain DSC, RN, he had been selected for promotion to Rear-Admiral. One of the recipients of the MC gained a Rugger blue at Oxford. Two became headmasters of grammar schools --- a DFC and a MC. Sadly there are of course names of those who never came back. "Dare nec computare", "To give and not to count the cost." They lived up to the motto we chose for our school.

I felt that one of the first essentials in a position such as ours was to create a sense of community, which would embrace not only the boys themselves, as members of the school, but also parents and if possible local residents. I wanted them to realise that ours was their school. To achieve this I had to get them inside the school. We had "Parents Evenings", one in each of the two winter terms. Parents came to the school, saw experiments in the laboratories and work in the craftshop and inspected the boys' achievements in the Art room. Given light refreshments they then settled in the Assembly Hall where I gave a brief talk on any matters in the school routine demanding present consideration. There followed a concert of mixed ingredients, some serious, some comic, or supposedly so. Our guests then departed. I also tried to lure people into the school who had no direct connection with it by holding lectures and talks by men in the contemporary limelight. Sir Alan Cobham came and spoke about some of his flying adventures. Admiral Evans of "The Broke" gave a talk on his encounter in the Channel when his ship rammed and boarded a German destroyer. In this way I hoped we should soon be accepted as a vital part in the community life of the district.

In the summer term the pretext for summoning the parents to the school was a cricket match. A call for fathers to play against the boys on the first occasion produced twenty one volunteers. My urgent appeal for an additional parent to make possible a second game was unsuccessful until an angelic small boy with blue eyes and flaxen hair appeared at my study door and informed me his cousin would be pleased to play if we failed to recruit a twenty-second father. Much relieved I thankfully accepted the offer --- until the Friday before the great day, when after morning prayers my angel appeared once more. "Sir, my cousin is very sorry but he will not be able to play after all.' With some annoyance at so late a withdrawal I exclaimed "Why not'?" "Please Sir, he has been picked to play for the County. It was the Sussex bowler Jim Cornford who had withdrawn.

I never had a formal Parent Teacher Association. Such bodies sometimes build and assert too much authority in the internal working of the school. They forgot that ultimate responsibility rested with the headmaster and that only he could be called to account. Instead we had a "Parents' Committee" with representatives from each of the main recruitment areas. I found them a source of untold help and strength; witness the large sum raised to build the School Chapel. On Parents Evenings committee members sat on the platform with me ready to answer questions from the body of the audience. When a vacancy occurred I submitted about half a dozen names from the area whence the departing member came and asked the rest of the committee who remained to choose the most suitable candidate.

Needless to say some parents could be contentious. Very soon after the school opened, my study door burst open one afternoon and a choleric father entered. "Have you a fellow teaching here named Brown?" I disclosed that we had. "Send for him. I'll teach him what us Sussex butchers do to chaps like him." I quickly persuaded him to sit down and to tell me what was wrong. Apparently his son had been kept in after school for inferior work, had missed his bus and had not arrived home until well after 6 p.m.

I suggested that the keenness of the master to get the best out of his son was at the root of the trouble but that, new to the district, he had not realised the consequences of missing the normal bus home. I promised that should the necessity arise, some other form of punishment would be given on a future occasion. So what Sussex butchers could do was never disclosed.

In contrast was my experience with a parent who had spent many years as a ranker in the Army, had retired as a Lieutenant-Quartermaster and now had a small poultry farm near Lewes. Very early on his boy, a lad of 12 came to my study door after prayers. One of his eyes was swelling rapidly and it was obvious that he had received a severe blow. A dispute on the train on the way to school with the son of a village blacksmith, a lad much bigger than the victim, had taken place. I was troubled about what would be the reaction of the ex-army parent and what conclusion he would draw about the school. I wrote and expressed my regret. I had no cause for concern. "Do not worry" came back the reply, "If that's the worst he gets in life he won't have any reason to grumble." The lad afterwards had a brilliant war record in the R.A.F. and won the DSO.

It had been possible to divide the boys into four houses on a geographical basis and competition for both Work and Games Shields, presented to the school by interested friends, was soon under way. In 1930 no Rugby Football was played in the Lewes district and so, at first, Soccer was the school winter game. We had several masters of more than normal competence who could coach. At cricket we supplemented internal resourccs by paying for coaching from Sussex groundstaff at Hove.

Arriving at Lewes from a boarding school I was very conscious of the restricted time in a day school for boys to play games. After lessons were over, they hurried home, understandably since some had to travel up to fifteen miles. However I aimed at giving every form two periods of gym each week and a double period of games, though the second part of the games allocation where senior forms were concerned over-ran closing time in the afternoon and so absorbed only one timetable period. There were no lessons on Saturdays and so mornings were available for house matches and voluntary "pick up" games. Saturday afternoons were reserved for inter-school matches.

We were a "two-form" entry school. Each year we had two forms of "eleven year" olds. One was accounted on a competitive examination and boys were termed "County Junior Scholars." The boys in the other form were fee-payers who had passed an entrance exam, but an interchange took place in the composition of forms as boys progressed up the school. Some worked harder and developed more than others.

Syllabuses varied not only with each form but with sections of the same form. It was possible for a boy to study three languages --- French, German and Latin, or three Sciences --- Physics, Chemistry and Biology or a combination of these subjects. The objective was a balanced diet and no narrow specialisation. Of course, some little time necessarily elapsed before these features could develop and become accepted parts of our constitution. But in a relatively short time they appeared part of the natural order. We were free to go ahead without hindrance. A young enthusiastic staff, co-operative parents and generous-hearted boys all pointed to a successful future. Unemployment and the financial state of the nation were factors too potent to be ignored. But we had confidence in our ability to succeed. We did not know that war on an international scale lay not far ahead.

On taking up my post as headmaster, I had secretly resolved to show that a school such as ours at Lewes could achieve results comparable with those of the public schools, and Sussex was a county of public schools with which we were likely to be compared. Examination results would figure largely in the public estimate and so emphasis on academic achievement was not overlooked inside school. But we tried to make it a matter of corporate endeavour as well as of individual triumphs. House competed against House for the annual award of a work shield. Fortnightly "form orders" enabled boys to score points for their House and this governcd the annual award of a "Work Shield" on Speech Day.

For the first year of our existence we were administered directly by the East Sussex Education Committee. A body of eight Governors specifically dealing with the affairs of the school came into operation in September 1931. Some were members of the County Authority, some nominees of local Councils. Four had been knighted. Minutes of their meetings make unexciting reading. The most common entries concern consent or refusal to expenditure on trivial items or the early withdrawal of pupils without financial penalty before the end of the school year following their sixteenth birthday.

Early entries in the minutes reveal clearly that at a time of national stringency economy dominated Governors' outlook. Instead of a gramophone the Headmaster was given permission to buy as an alternative "A History of Music" in pamphlet and record form. He was not permitted to buy both. A parent gave the gramophone. An application by the Head to purchase an electric bell at a cost of £5. 11s. 4d. to denote the end of a subject period was refused. Instead the caretaker was to patrol the corridors with a handbell. A request for a grant towards the construction of a school stage was rejected. The small platform in the Assembly Hall used for Morning Assembly was quite inadequate for a full scale dramatic production. As in so many cases we met our needs by our own efforts. A stage curtain and camping equipment were purchased with the proceeds of our first school fete.

Permission was given for boys to have instrumental music lessons at school --- provided no cost fell on the L.E.A. A large mound, left by the builders, constituted an eyesore. A request for shrubs to cloak its nakedness was refused. A Governor stepped in and gave me shrubs and a flag staff to be set up on the mound. When a request was made for a wireless set the Headmaster was instructed to submit a report for consideration by the Higher Education SubCommittee on the uses to which he proposed to put the wireless set and that the SubCommittee be asked to consider the principle of the supply of wireless sets for teaching purposes in County Schools. Such was the outlook in the Authority in those days.

By 1933 I had decided that an essential need was a school swimming bath. Boys who lived at Newhaven and Seaford had the sea inviting them to use it. Lewes had a public bath - an open air one - and I arranged for boys to go there in school hours as part of their Physical Training syllabus. But it meant a regrettable waste of time going to and fro. Yet many of our lads came from country villages where there were no facilities for learning to swim. The Governors approved my request for permission to construct a bath at their meeting in June 1933. Of course we were to raise the necessary finance ourselves. I planned to reduce this to a minimum by using the boys' labour for excavation purposes. In turn the Governors recommended the L.E.A. to bear the cost each summer term of 10,000 gallons of water when the bath was emptied and refilled. The Lewes Borough Council was sympathetic and reduced the charge from 1s 10d to 1s 3d per thousand gallons. Even so we were faced with a possible cost of from £40 to £80 per annum.

I therefore proposed that we sink a well instead of using the public supply and to install a pump. Whereupon the Governors recommended the Education Commiteee to contribute £50 towards the cost of the scheme and £6 per annum towards the cost of the electric current used in pumping. I decided to become unscientific and to employ a waterdiviner to tell where I should find water if we bored. and how deep we should have to go. I checked his prediction against the forecast of a local firm of well-borers. Not only had we to find water, but to find it in sufficient quantities to be able to fill the bath quickly after it had been emptied for cleaning on Saturday mornings. We found water quickly but only in limited quantities. Emptying, cleaning and re-filling the bath would take a long time. Should we be content, play for safety and go no deeper or sacrifice what we had found to get what we wanted. I decided to go on to make possible emptying, cleaning and re-filling each weekend when the boys were not at school. Water was found quickly enough but only in limited quantitics. The borers asked for my decision. Should we be content with this limited supply which would result in the bath being out of use for several days every time it was cleancd and re-filled or should they forfeit what they had found and go deeper in the hope of a more adeduate supply. I decided to risk all.

I still remember sitting in my study on an afternoon in March. All was quiet as our normal academic activities progressed. I knew that our fate was being decided outside. Suddenly the door of my study was thrown open and an excited borer burst in. "We have got it, Sir!"

Thc bath was opened on June 1st 1935, when two boys from each House dived in and swam a length.

Comment by Webmaster.

[The above account regarding the water supply for the swimming pool was not entirely true. Mr Bradshaw's arithmetic and memory was seriously at fault. In fact the swimming pool was 25 yards long, 10 yards wide, with the water depth varying from 2' 6" to 6' 6". In truth it required 10,125 cubic feet of water, which is just over 63,000 gallons. During the war it was kept filled all year round as an emergency water supply for the auxilliary fire service and there was a large sign there that said "EWS 63000". I remember it well.

Given the figures quoted for supply from the Lewes water company it would have cost about £4 to refill the pool from the main supply (at today's water prices over £600!). The bill for, say, four changes in the summer term would only come to £16. Much less than his £40 to £80 estimate.

Furthermore the above account would have you believe that the workmen drilled down and eventually found a copious water supply that would fill the bath over the weekend. Not true! The water supply was meagre and was pumped through a small pipe into the pool at a rate of about 10 gallons/minute, taking about 5 days to fill - and that was after it had taken 2 days to empty and clean! Changing the water took over a week. For that reason it was rarely changed - usually once over the summer half-term holiday. The pool remained empty from August to April.

When freshly filled the water was bitterly cold and only slowly warmed up. It soon became cloudy and eventually turned bright green to the point where the bottom could not be seen at the deep end. Various methods were tried to prevent the growth of algae, notably adding about a kilogram of copper sulphate. At that low concentration (about one ppm Cu) it had little effect on the algae. Higher concentrations could have risked poisoning the boys.

Another hazard of the school swimming pool in warm weather was the presence of bloodsucking horseflies (clegs) with a particularly vicious bite. They lived in the various dank ditches in that locality and the availability of soft young skins suited them admirably. The bites created very large painful lumps and probably many infections.

On the occasional sunny warm day the pool was very enjoyable and many of us stayed after school for a quick dip. Many of us learned to swim there, but it was, by modern standards, unacceptably unhealthy and primitive.]