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The webmaster, Pat Cryer, as an older child

Teachers at Copthall County
Grammar School, 1950s

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Over the years as my life has panned out, I have become increasingly grateful to the teachers at my grammar school in the 1950s. At the time, I suppose that my classmates and I just took them for granted, but they were - with only a very few exceptions - dedicated, knowledgeable and interesting professionals who treated us as adults who were also intelligent and committed.

The school was a single-sex girls school under the headship of Miss Heys-Jones, and all the teachers were women. Although I never questioned it at the time, all the full-time teachers were unmarried and the few married teachers were part-time. I wonder, now, why the single ones were unmarried. At that time, I never bothered to query teachers' ages, but I suppose that many of the single ones were between 35 and 60. So it may have been that some lost their men in one of the two world wars. Or it may have been that they grew up in the shadow of Edwardian England when it was expected that women teachers and nurses had to choose between marriage and a career. My mother reported that in her early 1900s school there were no married teachers.

The following thumbnail photos of the teachers who I remember come from school photographs. The originals are tiny and it is a credit to the quality of the mid 20th century cameras that they have enlarged this well.

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Class teachers

Class teachers were known as form mistresses. They took the class register each morning and handled general class administration. Their class/form was known by the initial of their surname and the year of the pupils in the school, starting with 1 at the age of 11/12 up to 5 which was the year of Ordinary Levels, the precursors of GCSEs. (Many years away was the year descriptor being the number of years in education irrespective of changes of school.) After O-levels, as Ordinary Levels were called, some girls stayed on to the sixth form to study for their Advanced Levels, ie A-levels. Then the class numbering system changed to 6-1 and 6-2.

Class teacher for Form 1Q at Copthall County Grammar School, Mill Hill, north London, in 1950.

Miss Crampton




My class when I first started at Copthall was 1Q. Not that my form mistress's surname began with Q. She was Miss Crampton, but because there were other teachers with surnames beginning with C, she had opted for the descriptor Q. Her subject was games and physical education, but she never taught me. She was tall, graceful and elegant.


Miss Campbell, French teacher at Copthall County Grammar School, Mill Hill, north London, in the 1950s

Miss Campbell

Miss Campbell was my second year form mistress - one of the ubiquitous surnames beginning with C. As she had opted for the K descriptor, the form was 2K. Her subject was French, but as she never taught me, I had very little to do with her.

Miss Trew, art teacher at Copthall County Grammar School, Mill Hill, north London, in the 1950s

Miss Trew


In my third year, my form was 3T, and the form mistress was Miss Trew. She was a dainty lady who taught me art throughout my five years up to O-levels. I really appreciated the opportunities she provided to experiment with different types of paint and with calligraphy. In recent years, I have very much regretted that we did not study the history of art, but that was probably due to the O-level syllabus.

Miss Unwin, Latin teacher at Copthall County Grammar School, Mill Hill, north London, in the 1950s

Miss Unwin



My fourth year class was 4U with form mistress Miss Unwin. She taught Latin which was a subject I could never get on with. It was to her credit that she never seemed to hold it against me.



Miss Slesenger, BPhysics teacher at Copthall County Grammar School, Mill Hill, north London, in the 1950s

Miss Schlesinger



My fifth year class was 5S, and the form mistress was Miss Schlesinger. Her strong accent suggested that she was central European, and at that time in the 1950s this and her constant facial expression probably indicated that she had had painful experiences in the Second World War. She taught physics in a dedicated physics lab, and was also one of my A-level teachers.


Missing picture

Do you remember her name?




I don't remember the name of my form mistress in the first year sixth (6-1). The room was on its own in the central quadrangle.





In the second year sixth (6-2), the form mistress was Miss Schlesinger again, and the room was at the top of the tower.

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Subject teachers

Most of the full time teachers probably had responsibility for a class, but I knew the ones below because they taught me at some stage. In alphabetical order:

Miss Beale, French teacher at Copthall County Grammar School, Mill Hill, north London, in the 1950s Miss Blakely, Games and Physical Education teacher at Copthall County Grammar School, Mill Hill, north London, in the 1950s Miss Cairns, Chemistry teacher at Copthall County Grammar School, Mill Hill, north London, in the 1950s

Miss Beale (French). She taught at a time when there was no way of recording and playing back foreign languages. So although I did pass my O-level French, it was not a subject which served me well in later life.

Miss Blaikely (PE and games). She always seemed to have a smile on her face and would write in my reports about my 'good humour' when she could readily have said that I was simply no good at games and PE. Her facilities were good, with a gym, tennis courts and a hockey pitch.

Miss Cairns (Chemistry). An Irish lady who instilled in me a love of the logic of science. She taught in a large and well-equipped chemistry lab.

  

Miss Collins, English teacher at Copthall County Grammar School, Mill Hill, north London, in the 1950s Miss Coverdale, History teacher at Copthall County Grammar School, Mill Hill, north London, in the 1950s Miss Downe, Maths teacher at Copthall County Grammar School, Mill Hill, north London, in the 1950s

Miss Collins (English). She was a gentle lady to whom I owe a great deal. Under her guidance, I learnt to love the English language and enjoy crafting my own writing. Incidentally I was also successful in my English language and literature exams.

Miss Coverdale (History). A stern lady who only took me for one year - for my O-level history. She would come into the class and give a lecture entirely without notes, and I would listen spellbound.

Miss Down (Pure Maths). She only took me for my A-level and was a wonderful teacher who taught me a lot about teaching as well as enabling me to pass well in the exam. I understand that she lived with her sister who also taught maths and had written book(s) about it.

Miss Headland, Geography teacher at Copthall County Grammar School, Mill Hill, north London, in the 1950s Mrs Howle, maths and geography teacher, 1950s Miss Huntley, Domestic Science teacher at Copthall County Grammar School, Mill Hill, north London, in the 1950s

Miss Headland (Geography). I am sure that others must have thrived in her care, but I couldn't get on with her. She frequently told us that it made no difference to her salary whether we worked or not - something which no other teacher ever mentioned and probably never even thought about. I dropped the subject as soon as I could.

Mrs Howle (Geography and Maths). She taught me maths for my O-level, and explained with such force and clarity that anyone with the slightest intelligence would understand - and suddenly maths made sense to me. She pretended to be fierce, but didn't seem to mind at all when everyone laughed. Her lessons were thoroughly enjoyable.

Miss Huntley (Domestic Science). She taught me for one year of needlework and one year of cookery. Both worked well for me.

  

Miss Morris, Biology teacher at Copthall County Grammar School, Mill Hill, north London, in the 1950s Scripture teacher at Copthall County Grammar School, Mill Hill, north London, in the 1950s Miss Normile - Domestic Science teacher

Mrs Morris (Biology). She taught me General Science in first year, which I thoroughly enjoyed. My A-stream class then went on to do physics and chemistry, so Mrs Morris as a biologist never taught me again. I had a lot of respect for her. She had a biology lab.

Miss Neall (Scripture, ie religious studies) although this probably wasn't her main subject. She had a paralised arm. She only taught me for a year, and there were not many scripture lessons. So I never really felt that I knew her.

Miss Normile (Domestic Science). I had her for needlework in a room at the back of the stage.

Applied maths teacher at Copthall County Grammar School, Mill Hill, north London, in the 1950s Mrs Stannard, Maths teacher at Copthall County Grammar School, Mill Hill, north London, in the 1950s Miss Strong, Music teacher at Copthall County Grammar School, Mill Hill, north London, in the 1950s

Mrs Roberts (Maths). She taught me my A-level Applied Maths, and she did it very well, always going back to basics which meant that anyone with any intelligence could work things out for themselves. I rather think that she was part-time and only taught the sixth form, and I suspect that she was new to the school when I began my A-levels, as I don't remember seeing her around before then. She was clearly, though, not new to teaching.

Mrs Stannard (Maths). She was a young teacher who I suspect was new to teaching as my year arrived in the school. At that time she was Miss Holmes.  I had her for my first four years.

Miss Strong (Music). I always did very badly at music which I hated as a subject and which always brought my exam average down. So I never really got on with Miss Strong. Only years later did I realise that the problem was largely my hearing - see my website for the hard-of-hearing..There was a dedicated tiered music room with four rows of steps, rather like a lecture theatre, with a high bench in front for the teacher, on which sat a gramophone. We were allowed to put our heads down on the desks to listen to Beethoven's symphonies on four large gramophone records.

  

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Other teachers

I am grateful to Christine Tolton (formerly Christine Culley for providing me with scans from the Copthall Year Book for 1957, the year I left. It lists all the teachers in post that year and all the school leavers with their next destinations. I am in the list of leavers as P. Clarke.

I never knew many of the teachers in the list, because they didn't teach me, but those who have been pointed out to me on a photo are:

I am grateful for additional information from Christine Tolton (formerly Christine Culley), Margaret Clayton (formerly Margaret Culley), Sally Lawson (formerly Sally Porte) and Jean Singleton-Turner (formerly Jean Paty).

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This website Join me in the 1900s is a contribution to the social history of everyday life in 20th century Britain from the early 1900s to about 1960, seen through personal recollections and illustrations, with the emphasis on what it was like to live in those times.