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
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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). 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
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). 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
Miss Huntley (Domestic Science). She taught
me for one year of needlework and one year of cookery. Both worked
well for me.
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.
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
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:
Miss Young is between Mrs Morris and Miss Huntley in the
1952 school photograph
and in a similar position between Mrs Stannard and an unknown (by me)
teacher next to Miss Coverdale in the 1955 school photograph. She was
married but kept her unmarried name for teaching. According to Stella
Solomons who had a message from her after leaving school, she was in fact a
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).
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.