1935 and Onwards

Gorden Rodrigues, one of the first pupils to join the school in the 1935 intake, reveals what it was like to be a student at Raynes Park County School...
"Laurence Sterne in The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy said that Tristram knew not only the date of his birth but also the hour of his conception. His father always wound up the grandfather clock on the same day and hour of the month. He was a creature of habit and getting on in life, so in order to get certain marital duties out of the way at the same time it was his custom to carry them out then. Tristram's mother sometimes reminded him to wind up the clock! I cannot claim to such exact knowledge in relation to the time of conception of the school but certainly I can claim, in a way, to have known it before its birth or opening anyway.
In order to start the school off with a three-form entry, two forms which were to be transferred to the new school were started at Rutlish, and a third form originated when the school actually opened. I was one of the pupils who started at Rutlish. Two Old Rutlishans were engaged to teach us, one was called Harman and the other, our form master, was called Greenwood. Our form room was a wooden summerhouse in a garden at the back of The White Hart by the level crossing in Merton Park. I remember being taught Latin, in particular to conjugate the verb amo - to love. Everyone seems to start Latin with love, I don't know why. This and such other scraps of knowledge we acquired, were, when attention strayed sometimes driven in with the aid of a gym slipper applied to our posteriors. We had elocution lessons and had to recite Round the ragged rocks the rugged rascal ran and other such tongue twisters in chorus. The most memorable event was when the landlord of The White Hart's son shot himself on the lawn in front of our summerhouse. There was a considerable amount of blood on the ground. We were profoundly impressed by this event, it was our first acquaintance with death. Why did this lad terminate his young life in this dramatic fashion? What drove him to take this final step? Was it the result of an unsuccessful love affair, general despair or disgust with life? We never did find out. One day, one by one we were summoned to the nearby Art School for an admission interview with John Garrett, he was genial, pleasant and the questions he asked posed no difficulties. Raynes Park County School, loomed on the horizon. Shortly after, in September 1935 the school opened. It was a brand new red brick building, the desks, the chairs, the books, everything was brand new. The masters were young and gave the impression of newness, their black pedagogic gowns were in pristine condition and all-in-all the atmosphere was one of freshness, the spring term of academic life. In the thirties at this time there was a kind of renaissance in literature, in poetry, in ideas. Things were happening, it was a period of change. Internationally the scene was fraught, the Spanish Civil War, Mussolini's invasion of Abyssinia all sorts of threats were around which culminated in the second Great War which affected us all profoundly. In the end I spent nearly five years from the age of 18 onwards in the army, four of them in the Middle East or Central Mediterranean. Almost all of my form spent a similar period in the various services, four were killed. But we didn't think of such things at the time. Despite the clouds of war it was a time of hope and excitement.
We were fortunate John Garrett had incredible connections and he managed to get all sorts of intellectuals and leaders in their spheres involved with school. Off hand I can remember Stephen Spender, W.H.Auden, Walter de la Mare, David Cecil, George Lansbury, Naomi Mitchison, even the Chief of the Imperial General Staff (God knows how we got hold of him!). There were many more. Garrett was a showman, ambitious, determined to make a mark, with a very strong personality. He selected his staff well and infected them and us with his vigour. He was a high flier but of course it was not a perfect school nor was Garrett perfect but he was a man of his time, and, all in all we benefited enormously. I visited the school recently and was most impressed with its standard and the general climate. I would say that in a quieter less flamboyant way what is being achieved now is just as remarkable.
Our Grammar schools liked to imitate Public Schools. One speech day Alderman Drake, a School Governor announced with great solemnity " Raynes Park has inherited the best traditions of our Public Houses". This Freudian slip caused an outburst of laughter, but it was probably true since we knew that a number of the staff spent a considerable amount of time in the Duke of Cambridge. Alderman Drake had his own intended joke. When he was born, the midwife held him up to show him to his mother saying "Oh isn't he a duck!" His mother is supposed to have replied "No he isn't, he's a Drake!". After sixty five years why do I recall such inconsequential stories? The mind is a strange thing perhaps such incidents were symptomatic of the school of the dine an atmosphere of some irreverence and humour.
On Friday afternoons the School porter, Mr. Sugden, a portly individual, visited each form room carrying the punishment book. The names and sentences of those condemned to a period of detention on Saturday morning were read out. The maximum period of detention was two hours, if you accumulated more, the excess was carried forward. At the end of term those hardened criminals who were carrying forward arrears of detention had to stay behind and work them off after school was dismissed in the morning of the last day. This was not nice, the noise of those cheerfully departing for the holidays penetrated the detention room, then the building was empty except for the condemned souls in detention. I can remember one year being one of this band. Tom Cobb was the Master selected to supervise the detention. As boys completed their sentence they were dismissed. The door had been left open, Tom was absorbed in reading. One boy changed desks till he was near the door, then quietly slipped through it. We all followed suit until Tom was left there all on his own, head down still reading. We thought we had been clever because he would have forgotten all about this incident by the time we returned from the holidays, but in retrospect I very much doubt if Tom was fooled. He had drawn the short straw for the job, I don't suppose he wanted to be there any more than we did. Our release was also his!
The war came to us in 1939. We had to carry gas masks to school. Then, in the early phony war period, when it was anticipated that bombs would be thundering down upon us, the school itself was closed and we visited masters' own houses six at a time to receive tutorial lessons there. This was a remarkable effort on their part. Later air raid shelters were built in the grounds and the school re-opened. When the war started properly, bombing became commonplace and was largely ignored, mostly it took place at night. I left school in 1940 so I missed most of the effect of the war on the school itself since I was abroad playing soldiers.
After the war ex-pupils returned from their scattered circumstances and founded what is now the Former Pupils' Society. Various sports sections for Rugby, Cricket, Hockey and Tennis were started. There was a Discussion Group (members took it in turns to read papers for discussion). By an arrangement with the WEA the Society ran its own evening classes. By some strange choice, these were in Psychology. At first these were conducted at the Rugby Pavilion the society had built on its grounds at Chessington. They were held in the bar and conducted by an Indian Professor, a gentle loveable creature who suffered dreadfully from the intense cold (there was no heating to speak of). He lectured wearing his over-coat and gloves! There was a Swimming Club of sorts, members cycled on to Wimbledon Common at 7.30am in the morning before work and swam in the Queensmere. It was customary to swim in the nude as no members of the non-swimming public were about at this hour. There were money raising activities for the purpose of financing the purchase of a sports ground; these include Whist Drives at the School once a week and an annual fete at the Oberon. The greatest thing the Society did was to acquire the ground at Chessington, with the aid of funds raised by subscription as a war memorial to those ex-pupils who died in the war, the Society's own fund raising activities and various loans include a mortgage from the RFU. It was called The War Memorial Sports Ground. There the Society, largely with members' own voluntary labour, made its own pitches and built a pavilion. It was thought that these efforts would endure for the benefit of the succeeding generations of Raynes Park School leavers. The government put paid to that when the land was compulsorily acquired for the new A3 road. It was sad that these efforts should come to nothing.
The Society tried to purchase a replacement ground for years but although it had money from the compensation proceeds, it became clear that the idea was impracticable. The School had gone comprehensive, there was now a gap between pupils leaving Raynes Park, transferring to another educational establishment and launching into a career. The continuity had been lost with no regular recruitment of new members to be expected. The main contact between Members and the Society was at the AGM and Annual Dinner. Numbers were dwindling and the Society seemed moribund. Now suddenly there is a rebirth, the attendance at dinners shot up, there is a refreshingly close contact with the school, the dinners are attended by both Staff and current pupils and it has been made clear that the Society is welcomed and encouraged to involve itself with the School. This new climate is largely due to the strenuous effort of Ian Newman, former Headteacher. The committee of the Society is also to be congratulated on the new venture of involving Members, Pupils and Staff in the golf at Pachesham Park and in keeping faith through the barren years. Over 60 years have passed since Raynes Park High School first opened its doors, not a long period compared with some schools, but long enough for traditions to be established. I am sure that Alderman Drake would consider these to be better than even those of the best Public Houses!"

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