Sunday, 9 March 2008

Teacher’s gowns


Mr Milnes and Mr Russell
These were the Deputy Head and Head when I started at The Holt in 1960. Mr Russell retired a couple of years later. The difference between him and his successor were that Mr Russell was always known behind his back as “Mr Russell”. His successor was referred to as “Fred”.

Do any teachers still wear gowns on a day to day basis in our state schools? When I went to school at the Holt in Liverpool in the saixties nearly all the masters wore their gowns every day (not just to pose for the annual school photo!). By the time I left at the end of the sixties most had stopped wearing them.

Two of my favourite teachers – Albert Wilson (Latin) and J R D Jones (History). I have mentioned Mr Wilson before. JRD was a different sort of character. He too was good at the discipline but at the same time he had a great sense of humour. Threats as to what would happen to folk who failed to carry out his wishes included “defenestration” and “heads will roll down Childwall Fiveways”. He made history interesting.


  1. Christopher Henson7 July 2011 at 19:12

    I must say that my time at a State Comprehensive School saw no school Masters adopt to wearing a gown on a daily basis. It is rather a pity and I think that the old traditions should be recovered. I can recall a Headmaster at my school wearing a gown until retirement in 1988, a remarkable man who commanded real respect from the young. Although 1988 is quite a long time ago now.

  2. I attended the Holt High School from 1959 to 1964 and remember Russell as a sadist who used to enjoy punishing boys often without justification.
    I was one of his victims.
    After being bullied by boys from the year above me, against my will, I ended up in a fight.
    Russell didn’t ask me about the circumstances and made me stand in his study while he went into an adjacent room, where, for about 10 minutes although it seemed longer, he swished different canes through the air.
    When he re-appeared with his chosen weapon he ordered me to bend over and then proceeded to give me three excruciating strokes of the cane.
    He then commanded "stand up boy" and I thought thank god that's over.
    After a few minutes he again ordered me to bend over and then repeated his assault on me with a further three strokes of the cane.
    The main thing I learnt from Russell was about violence and injustice committed by those in authority.
    Best wishes
    Peter Franzen

    1. Thanks for your comment, Peter. I didn't know Russell except as a background figure during my first year. But your description of Russell accords with a number of my prep school teachers who were sadistic in the extreme. One master, when required to cane children by the head used a thin whippy cane which stung for a short while and then eased off quite quickly. He gave fairly gentle strokes and looked apologetic ehen he did it. Another used a rod about half an inch thick and she used heavy strokes that left your hand bruised and throbbing for days afterwards.
      Once the class misbehaved at lunch time while two of us went home for lunch. She totally ignored our protests that we were not even in school at the time and gave us an extra stroke for arguing. She too taught me a lot about sadism!

  3. I was at the Holt from 1961 and I well remember Latin lessons with Albert Wilson. I have never forgotten one particular occasion when none of the class seemed to know the Latin word for "what". Well, he approached me with his wallet in his hand, took out a £1 note, and showed it to me. What on earth was he doing I thought? It soon became clear. The slang term for a £1 note was "quid", and that was the answer he was looking for! Clever, humorous teaching.

    1. You were in my form! I well remember you. I'm still in touch with Paul Richardson, George Bell and David Wynne Jones.

    2. It's nice to be remembered. I was actually googling the Holt when I came across your blog. Any idea what happened to Andrew Bingley? I'm sure you recall him well too.

    3. I do recall him well - he lived just around the corner from me, near The Rocket. But I don't know what happened to him.
      (I wasn't known as John in those days but Clive, or simply Eddy!)

  4. Hi John, like 'unknown' I too came across your blog googling the Holt. By some strange coincidence I think the boy sat on the extreeme left in your opening picture, just beneath Milnes is me! If memory serves me correctly his office was by the wood working classroom. You must have been in the clever stream to be doing Latin! Do you remember Jennings, the music teacher? I had him as our form teacher for year two b, strange man to say the least, punishments included ruling squares within squares in ink with lines one tenth of an inch apart. One smudge and you started again.
    I started in 1958 and had Miss Harkness as our form mistress (one of only two female teachers in those days, the other being Miss Evans- an english teacher). Miss Harness was a geography teacher. We always referred to JRDJ as jardy jones.
    The school photos were taken by some sort of panoramic camera that traversed everyone gathered in the schhol yard. Framed prints were displayed throughout the corridors, some I think stretching back into the 1920's. If it is me in the picture then it looks like it is my first year so the photo would date to 1958/9.
    I left in 1963 after getting to the dizzy heights of Five Science One (but no further!) helped by Nornam Gianassi (I hope I have spelt his name correctly)a chemistry teacher who also took charge of one of the Saturday football teams and who completely helped shape my future career in chemistry.

  5. Hello John - good to hear from you.
    Miss Evans was my form mistress when I started. I think I started in 1959. I certainly remember Jennings - he used to tell stories of flying bombers in WWII. I think there were a few of our teachers who had been through the war in a way which affected their mental state!
    I disappointed Norm Gianassi. Because of a motorbike accident I failed to sit my O levels and had to do them all in November with those doing re-sits. I failed chemistry but he was so sure I could pass that he put me in for the following summer exams. By then I was concentrating on my A Levels and I not only failed Chemistry O level but got an even poorer mark!

    1. I remember Norman Giannasi. He told me off once for putting a lit bunsen burner too close to some flammable substance. Actually, there is an obituary notice for a Norman Giannasi in the Liverpool Echo dated June 2015.

  6. I was at the Holt from 1953 to 1960 and I well remember Mr Russell. He took us for RE and had a degree from Liverpool University in something pretty obscure. My first teacher was Mrs Lawson and for French we had a chap called Bevan, an ex-air gunner from WW2 who left under a cloud I'm afraid. Mrs Lawson, Miss Evans and Mrs Harkness all cried their eyes out but he was a naughty man.. Mr Burgoyne was the woodwork/metalwork master and he moved to a brand new purpose-built room with blacksmiths furnace, lathe and lots of benches.. Every morning at assembly one Jewish lad (Bailey) and two catholic lads (Bennett) used to leave us for 3 or 4 minutes then troop back in. I used to regularly get my head slapped by Mr Wilson for not being attentive. He used to chant "Sedeo" Surgo" and other useless things, but then a doctor needed Latin. He also took Greek except only one lad was in that class. My grandmother also attended the Holt, but it was in Bagot Street in Edwardian times. She used to sing the Holt School Song....
    Allan Isaacs

    1. Thank you Allan, most interesting. I had a run-in with Burgoyne and was 'banned' from woodwork so I had to sit in an empty classroom on my own for each double period of woodwork - it was bliss.

    2. Run-into. My pal yozzer who was a little older than me borrowed his dad's Morris 8 and unfortunately reversed into Mr Burgoyne's car and bent it a bit. It was a funny little thing he'd built himself. Burgoyne wasn't too worried and just laughed it off. I remember the O Level metalwork exam. We all had to make a screwdriver. This was a fancy metal handle with a hardened and tempered blade the end of which was threaded and screwed into the handle. Most of us managed to finish and everyone did the same thing. The blade was a bit wonky so we put it in a vice and straightened it. Alas, no-one had remembered to temper the blade so all the finished screwdrivers broke and ended up in two parts. I still managed to pass though. Then there was that physics lesson. Mr Lawrence, I think... said those immortal words whilst standing in front of an electrolysis experiment "while I've been talking a lot of gas has been escaping" My favourite teacher was Paddy Malone who took maths. He told a spotty lad surreptitiously munching sandwiches during a lesson whose name was Walker.. you eat so many egg sandwiches its coming out of your face.


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