Skip Navigation LinksAlumni » A peek at Chester College in 1950-52

Getting in…
A product of Leigh Boys’ Grammar School and Butts Methodist Mission, I seriously wanted to be a missionary – probably the reason I went in to teaching, which is much the same thing. However I applied to join the Royal Air Force on my 18th birthday (Dec 11th) but was only allowed to join on 9th January – a factor which would play an important part in my college life later.
I applied to Chester College whilst in the RAF and after completing my training at Cranwell, I served on an Air Ministry Experimental Station in Egypt where I received a letter from the principal, Rev. Astbury to the effect that since I could not attend for interview, I could not be considered for a place at the College. I confess this made me cross.
I replied in no uncertain terms, pointing out that people who had arranged to stay in England (‘skivers’) obviously got preferential treatment over one who was fighting for King and country by serving overseas (me) and that this was a most unfair state of affairs…etc. I received a reply which was encouraging: if I could present myself for interview before college broke up for the summer holidays at the end of July, I would be considered.
I got there on the last day, being the only airman officially released from demob camp and I was hastily ‘interviewed’ by Percy Morrell in a fairly unusual and very direct manner. I was just as direct and asked if I was accepted – I was. I was in!
During the holiday I worked on a farm to raise funds and applied for a grant to help me through college. My father was a miner and mother was a retired mill worker, so we weren’t that well off. Lancashire gave me the grand sum of £25 – less than 10 shillings a week for one year! I could not have the Forces Further Educational Training (FET) grant of £125 per annum - a very generous sum in those days - because it was available only to those who joined the Forces before 1st January 1949. That’s right, I had joined on 9th January, and so I missed out.
First impressions…
Come September, I presented myself at Chester College to find I was to be ‘billeted out’ down Cheyney Road. Once settled in, the first year boys wandered around, looking over the place. Some second year students challenged us to a game of cricket in the gym. To the surprise of our 2nd Year opponents, we acquitted ourselves very well. There was a good crowd in attendance, particularly in the gallery, and they applauded most generously when Des Cook and I put on a good score. Then I got a leg side ball which hit the upper side of a wall bar and ricocheted off another bar to smash the window. There was a big gasp and lo and behold the gym was empty! That is apart from Des and myself. The college authorities were very understanding when I reported the accident and Des and I became good friends.
Des was a gifted musician and naturally took Advanced Music: I was only gifted in sports, such as cricket, football, hockey, tennis, badminton and maybe snooker – except that my eyes had a colour deficiency problem so I took Advanced PE and maths and English Lit as an extra.
We all took general courses in a number of subjects including English, Art, Craft, P.E. and Nature Study. This latter subject provided to be most stimulating in a humorous sort of way. The lecturer was a primary school teacher who lost no time in informing us that he had been to Cambridge on a two-week Nature Study course. He tended to treat us like the little children he taught during the rest of the week.
To be fair to the man, I developed an interest in trees and did a very nice thesis which got a good mark. However he threatened that if we didn’t pass the Nature Study test we would fail our first year. The test would consist of identifying 100 floral and leaf specimens, laid out in a building near the rugby field. We stood no chance.
One of our brethren found a way in to the building and let in a couple of his pals. They set about identifying all the plants and made a list which they put before us all. Now we weren’t stupid, if we all got 100% that would be suspicious so we arranged between us who should get which bits wrong.
On the day I even approached the lecturer to ask about the colour of a particular sample of clover on the grounds that I was ‘colour blind’. Horrified, he informed me that there was no way he could help me during an examination. I thanked him solemnly and then wrote down the correct answer from the memory list. We all passed.
Interestingly enough, the Art lecturer was so impressed with my artistic endeavours: “From a distance that looks very good Brown,” he said.
“Yes at about three miles!” said my good friend Des, who suggested I take Art at Main level. I told him I was colour blind and he said it was no problem and that he could supply me with a paint box which had the names of each colour printed on the tin! I stayed at the ordinary level.

The Dramatic Society 1952
The Early Days
In that first year we had to meet in what was known as ‘B’ room by, if I remember correctly, 07.40am every morning except Sunday. I had to run up Cheyney Road to arrive just in time, puffing and panting to respond with “Adsum” when my name was called out. At the end we all filed out to the Chapel. The Principal Rev Astbury, stood in the doorway at the end of the corridor which led out and the Vice President, Mr Morrell stood at the other end. Between us, lay the corridor leading to the Chapel which is why most of us went. I personally went for three reasons: to wake up, to listen to Des playing the organ and because I lived out and there was nowhere else to go. But I enjoyed it.
To start with, we had an excellent PE instructor for the practical lectures and we went at it with heart and soul. For the first year everyone had to also take a basic PE course which meant that we had to participate and show a good example. During these sessions, the advanced PE types would work very hard, demonstrating great effort in doing sit-ups and press- ups whilst our lesser brethren would do the same things, in a lesser fashion – much lesser! Des’ sit-ups would consist of bending just his head forward from the prone position - and he wasn’t alone. God help the children if any of them ever had to take PE.
On the sporting front I soon realised that the College Football 1st X1 had a goalie in his second year which meant I wouldn’t get a look in, so I went for the rugger trial. I wasn’t a real rugby player but I would try my hand at anything. Whilst horizontal in mid-air, doing one of those flying passes that genuine scrum halves make, the Rev Astbury’s son kicked the back of my head, quite accidentally I’m sure, and this had a bearing on my eventually opting for hockey which I had played in the Air Force. I was in!
One Saturday morning we had an organised visit to a local brewery to see how beer was made. Naturally, as we progressed round the vats, we had to sample the different kinds of beverage being brewed, so by the time we boarded the hockey team’s coach to travel to Brooklands in Sale, we were perhaps slightly on the better side of ‘sloshed’. We played the Brooklands hockey team and won - I was lucky enough to get the winning goal. Cyril Washbrook the then famous cricketer applauded from the veranda of the pavilion. Some 25 years later I would join this club as a cricketer and still be playing for them as wicket keeper in the year 2013, at the tender age of 82!
Musical dreams
We really were a rebellious lot. Percy Morrell retired at the end of our first year - although I don’t think we actually caused it to happen - and Brad took over. We made representation through the council, that the method of registering one’s presence at 07.40 am in ‘N’ room was unacceptable. It changed to a freer student controlled system. We simply filed past a member of the Council who booked us in.   
The Rev Astbury and Brad still guarded the exits so most of us still went to Chapel. Some of the ‘Top John’ residents who lived in, could sneak back up the spiral stone staircase to spend another half hour in bed.
Many of them, Des included, would come down in their pyjamas covered by a mac or an overcoat all bleary eyed and incoherent. So attired during our second year, Des made his way to the Chapel to play the organ and all went well until the very end. After the Chapel had emptied apart from the Principal and myself, Des was doing his usual marvellous church like musical doodles. The Principal sat patiently The College Chapel from the Bell Tower, 1952                                         waiting for him to finish. I waited and Des played on.
Rev Astbury glanced across at me and then at Des, then back to me, and nodded his head towards Des. I got the message. Reverently I crossed the aisle and touched Des’s arm. With great alarm he opened his eyes. ‘Where the …. Am I?’ and brought the doodle to a profound resolution and we got out. He was later awarded a unique certificate and £5 prize for being ‘The only organist to continue whilst fast asleep’.   
Nearly all of us had served time in HM Forces which is probably why we resented being treated like children. One of our number tried to make sure we all knew what he had been by having his mail addressed to him as ‘Captain’. He soon became apparent what he was and so the president of the council had his mail addressed to himself as ‘Lt Col; and apparently he was a Lieutenant Colonel so that put a stop to it. 
Banding together
I was probably something of a Socialist then, still am, and believed that since we were all here together under the same college umbrella then we were all equal, socially at least. This was especially true of the teams I played in and not least, the band.
The college brass band had two main functions. To play for the rag week marches and to play for schools as a demonstration for a brass band playing. Des persuaded me to try the trombone which I played for the first years march and then he very wisely diverted me to the tenor horn. He taught me how to play it and I practised and practised in the changing room, and even made a special case for it in craft session, to carry it all the way home to Leigh and back on the bus. The experience came in handy some 20 years later when I had to take over the schools brass band for a year.
In the snooker room - a dark and dank hole beneath the old college buildings - we whiled away a few happy hours until the night I scored 68. The balls were a pale imitation of their original colours. I think they had been bought to celebrate the end of World War 1 or The Boor War I am not sure, but they were definitely peculiar in that gloomy light. I scored a great break of 68 and everybody fell about laughing. It seems I had used the very pale pink ball as the cue ball and promptly potted the brown as a red, the blue as a pink and the green as a brown etc etc. They opted to let me continue and awarded the score to the other side. I didn’t play much after that. Well I had to practice the tenor horn didn’t I?
                                                                                 Rag Day 1950
Here come the girls
There were quite a few changes at the beginning of the second year. First Mr Morrell had gone and Mr Bradbury was now Vice Principal. That meant we could get things done that would have been unthinkable under Percy Morrell. High on our list was getting girls in to the College.
We held a ballroom type dance in which we were joined by the girls from Edge Hill College which was all very properly conducted. Then I had the bright idea of forming a group of advanced PE types to organise a country dance with girls from all over Chester allowed to come. It was actually more of a Country and Western type evening and it was great. The story’s one could tell, such as that told by the couple who were innocently necking on the veranda of the cricket pavilion by the close when Brad came by checking that nothing amiss was going on. He obviously heard a rustling and challenged whoever was making the noise to come out. They were about to do so when two sheep came in to Brads torchlight, so they carried on. Dai Lewis, the Maths teacher, burst in on another two in one of the classrooms, saw them in a clinch and somewhat embarrassed asked if they had seen Smith and hurriedly excused himself. Me ? Well let me say this, none of us did anything that would lower the reputation of Chester College, and we couldn’t let the college down.
Maths lecturer, Dai Lewis started our first year with around two dozen advanced maths students in one of the classrooms. It wasn’t too long before this went down to about a dozen after the Christmas exams. By the second year this had dropped to half a dozen, then five. The lectures became more of a tutorial in his private den, some of us sitting in comfy armchairs or at the table if we wanted to stay awake.
Fortunately for me he dealt with at least two areas of maths which I liked very much. He was fond of navigational problems of flight paths, wind speeds, air speed and of course interceptions. Seeing that I had just left an Air Ministry Experimental Station in Ground Controlled Interception, I found this quite easy and liked it a lot. He also dabbled in chance and probability, and I found this fascinating. No doubt it would help me with the pools one day. It didn’t, however I still like the subject especially when teaching the elements of chance to children.
Hockey Club 1950-51
Staying afloat
Another change, sadly, was our practical PE lecturer. He had to go. We heard that it was because he had fallen foul of the college authorities. He not only taught in the College Primary School but he was also a part time professional footballer and cricketer and this was apparently ‘infra dig’ for a college lecturer in those days. We were encouraged by the appearance of a new practical lecturer who gave a rousing introductory talk about ‘Gone are the days when a P E instructor stands on the benches at the front of the class and calls out ‘Astride, together, astride, together’.
Eagerly awaiting him in our first practical session we formed lines on the gym floor. He entered then walked to the pile of benches at the front, climbed up to the top and shouted ‘Astride, jumping begin … Astride, together, astride, together’. Not content with that, he got us in a lateral support position, holding ourselves up with our left arms and proceeded to try to make us exercise by calling out ‘Left arms raise’ . He wasn’t very good and I learned a lot about how not to do things.
Ralph Staines had dabbled a lot in the PE programme, at one time taking over and he informed us one day that if we did not pass the test for the Royal Life Saving Society’s Bronze Medallion we would be failed at the Advanced PE level. I couldn’t swim even one length so I put this to him. I wasn’t to worry as he would show me how. Complete with harness around my middle and suspended from a pole which he carried as he walked up and down the length of the swimming baths, I would soon learn to swim. Well that was the theory. Ralph was good at theory.
He walked down the side of the bath talking to someone, not noticing that I was drowning whilst tangled in the harness and unable to extricate myself so inevitably I went under. Of course I was an idiot having not learned to swim in the first four strokes! I couldn’t swim , couldn’t dive , couldn’t float, couldn’t go under water (deliberately that is), couldn’t swim on my back, so in other words I was pretty useless in the water.
To the rescue came Arthur Pendlebury-Green, who wanted to earn his silver instructors medal. He included me in the group he was training, for the Bronze Medallion and soon found out I couldn’t go under water because the water went in to my ears. He cured the problem very simply by making a couple of wedges of cotton wool greased with vaseline and bunging them in my ears. It did the trick immediately.
Within six weeks the whole group could swim 16 lengths on our fronts or on our backs and dive to rescue a stupid rubber brick which was constantly drowning, in discarded pyjamas in the water. Though who would go to bed in the baths I can’t imagine. We could also rescue reluctant non-swimmers from drowning and resuscitate those who almost did! Individually we demonstrated our various swimming and diving skills. We all passed and Arthur had earned his silver medal and I still carry mine, Bronze, on my key ring to this very day.

Head of River Race 1952
Just the man for the job

There is no doubt, many risqué tales of College life which could be told but not here. Suffice to say that almost all of us survived and got jobs straight away. Three old ladies interviewed me for Cheshire Education Authority and offered me a post with Cheshire at my interview. I had the gall to tell them Manchester was interviewing me the next day and they asked me to confirm the appointment as soon as possible.

An oldish man interviewed me for Manchester and at the end enquired whether there was anything I wished to ask of him: ‘Yes Sir could you please let me know as soon as possible whether I have been appointed to Manchester or not, because I need to inform the ladies from Cheshire.’
Brad came searching for me the next day and was all of a tizzy. It was unheard of. Did I realise who had interviewed me the day before? No. It was the Chief Education Officer for Manchester and he had telephoned to let me know that I had got the job, so Cheshire lost out this time. They would get me back some years later as Deputy Head of a large secondary school, eventually to become head but that’s another story.
                                                                             (From L-r) Stan Jones, Ken Wyatt, Frank Harris, Ian Spencer.
Bill Brown (1950-1952)                             
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