Thursday, 5 March 2009

MEMORIES OF PETER SYMONDS’ SCHOOL, WINCHESTER (September 1945 - August 1952)

As promised, here are Peter Smith's Memories of Peter Symonds'.
This version varies, in minor ways, from the original, as Peter 'updated' it earlier this year ... Thank you for the current version Peter !!!

Doug Clews 05 March 2009


MEMORIES OF PETER SYMONDS’ SCHOOL, WINCHESTER (September 1945 - August 1952)

by

Peter Smith

Much has already been told of the history of Peter Symonds – the school’s ethos, its buildings and sports and other facilities, and also its headmasters’ and masters’ qualities and personalities - particularly by Neil Jenkinson in his excellent definitive work “The History of Peter Symonds”. The following account gives my own recollections of life as a day-boy at the school in the immediate post-war period of 1945-52.

I was born on 7 December 1934 at Eastleigh, Hampshire, the only child of a small shopkeeper (grocery/greengrocery) and a former housemaid, but my early years were spent in Chandler's Ford, then still a small but growing village on the outskirts of Eastleigh. I attended Kings Road Junior School, Chandler's Ford from 1940-1945. During the Second World War, big changes in secondary education had been planned by the Government for implementation when the war ended. As a consequence, the 11+ scholarship examination for entry into free grammar schools was introduced in 1945 and during the spring that year, I went with classmates from Kings Road, Chandler’s Ford, to the area 11+ examinations held in Northend School, Eastleigh. The exam was in two parts ("an intelligence test" and the "3 Rs"). You had to pass the first part to be able to take the second, which was several weeks later I think that from Kings Road School 9 children were successful in the 11+ exams in 1945; 3 girls and 6 boys including myself, out of a class of around 45 children. I left Kings Road in July 1945, aged 10½, just before victory over Japan and the end of the war, three boys and myself going on to Peter Symonds.

I nearly did not go to Peter Symonds at all. At first I opted for Barton Peveril Grammar School (Mixed) in Eastleigh because, like Kings Road, it had no Saturday morning lessons. However, as my best friend at Kings Road, John Forder, was going to Peter Symonds, I changed my mind despite the prospect of Saturday mornings in school until 12.30pm! However there was the consolation of no school on Wednesday afternoons at Peter Symonds, which was formally set aside for team games, but those not chosen were able to go home. I rarely played team games after the first couple of years, because I was a poor football and cricket player, but I did take part in athletics, and in the annual school cross country run (which was compulsory).

In early September 1945 my father took me in his van for my first day at Peter Symonds but he never visited the school again, and my mother never went there. This was not unusual; parents simply did not visit their children’s schools in those days. Like other children who were not within official walking or cycling distance of school (about 3miles), I had a free scholar’s bus season ticket for travel to and from Winchester in term time. Some boys had free railway passes. Peter Symonds was so different from Kings Road - it was on a much larger scale, with several hundred boys, including boarders, aged 10/11 to 18/19 years, and there were many football and cricket pitches. There was also a squash and fives court where games could be played daily, plus a tennis court and swimming pool for summer use. The school day was longer; in the first year it ended at 3.20pm and 4pm in the later years, whereas it had been 3 to 3.15pm (I think) at Kings Road. However, Peter Symonds did finish at 12.30pm on Wednesdays and Saturdays. There was a compulsory school uniform at Peter Symonds – consisting of a cap in the school colours (dark blue and yellow), the school tie of blue with yellow stripes, and (optional) a blazer with the school badge. The Head and the teachers (called masters) normally wore academic gowns. The Headmaster was Dr P.T. Freeman (inevitably, always known as “Doc.”), who had a BSc degree from University College, Southampton, and a subsequent Ph.D. in physics at Oxford.

In my first year I was in Form 3B. In preparation for the change to a free grammar school, Years 1 and 2 had been abolished, and by September 1945 any previous fee-paying pupils and scholarship holders were joined by 11+ entrants in Form 3 (the new Year 1). I do not know why I went into 3B; I don’t think it was alphabetical selection, but Form 4 (Year 2) was divided alphabetically and I went into 4B. Year 3 was divided into V2General, Literature and Science streams and I went into V2Science; later Years were similarly divided into named streams - V1 (Year 4); VI2 (Year 5); VI1 (Year 6) but Year 7 was not divided, and simply called Form VII; it also included one or two boys who were in their eighth year at the school).

Each form had a daily timetable of lessons, and we moved from room to room for the different classes. Games were included in the timetable, but there was no Physical Education. Classrooms were not numbered, but all had names - usually a man associated with the founding and development of the school eg Dobson, Braithwaite, Morris, or a subject eg The Advanced Chemistry Laboratory, The Art Room. There was also The Lecture Room, with theatre-like rising tiers of desks. At the end of each 40-minute ‘period’ for a lesson, a boy was sent out from Mackenzie Room, which had a clock, to walk around the outside of the school buildings ringing a hand bell to signal the move to another classroom.

Discipline at Peter Symonds was much stricter than at Kings Road, and was enforced both by masters and prefects. In addition to the usual schoolboy misbehaviour, not wearing school ties at school, or not wearing school caps and ties on the journeys to and from school, were serious offences. Any misdemeanours in the streets or on bus or train journeys, or at any other time, while wearing school uniform, was also punishable, usually by prefects who had powers to impose punishments ranging from a telling off or going round the school grounds picking up waste paper to a few whacks with a plimsole across one’s bottom. I once got into trouble for “eating in the street”, even though I was in Chandler’s Ford after school but I had not taken off my school cap and tie. A prefect travelling home by bus had seen my “offence” of eating a sandwich while in the street, and I was duly admonished the next day with a telling off! Other travel-related offences included not giving up a seat to a lady or an elderly person on the bus, pushing in the bus queue or getting on or off the bus, and noisy behaviour on the bus.

Once every year we had to attend the Founder’s Day Service in Winchester Cathedral - always on a Saturday afternoon early in the summer term. Attendance was checked by masters or prefects, and boys not present were punished by Doc - normally by a subsequent Saturday afternoon detention. But as Founder’s Day usually coincided with a fun-fair at Bar End, not too far from the cathedral, attendance was not too much of an imposition when set against a subsequent visit to the fair.

Most classroom or other transgressions were punished by masters giving detention - from 3.20pm to 4pm in the first year, or on Wednesday and/or Saturday afternoons in later years; or by giving “lines” - a typical punishment was to have to write out 500 times “Procrastination is the thief of time”. I had my share of this tiresome chore, but I acquired a technique of writing the lines in such a way that the task seemed not too onerous (by writing the individual words in turn down the page, for example “procrastination” 500 times, then “is” 500 times, etc.). Very serious breaches of discipline were punished by a teacher, or even by Doc, using a cane, or suspension or even expulsion though these last two were very few. Failure to hand in homework with the excuse that “I forgot to bring it to school”, resulted in being sent home with instructions to bring it to school later the same day, or incur a punishment.

At Peter Symonds there were four ‘houses’ into which all pupils were allocated to provide a kind of sports league table. Symonds (exclusively for boarders); Northbrook; Kirby; and Mackenzie - of which I was a member and which always came bottom. Symonds was always top. I think there were inter-house competitions in soccer; cricket and athletics; possibly also in swimming. The top-house cup was for overall performance in all the relevant sports. There was also a "Victor Ludorum" cup for the best individual boy's performance at the school athletics meeting held every summer term on the outer playing field in Bereweeke Road.

During summer terms I enjoyed time spent swimming in the school’s outdoor pool (particularly as swimming replaced ordinary lessons!); I also went sometimes with other boys at lunchtimes in the summer to the Winchester outdoor Lido in nearby Worthy Road. Another enjoyable occasion happened about a week after I started at Peter Symonds when the whole school went en-masse to a special showing at the local Odeon Cinema in North Walls of Laurence Olivier’s film “Henry V”, then still new and much-acclaimed. After that I looked forward to similar school visits, but unfortunately the event was a one-off, and no school cinema outing ever occurred again in my time!

In my first year at first Peter Symonds there was no school canteen and like many other day-boys usually went for lunch (then called dinner) to the British Restaurant in Jewry Street or to other cafés in that area. Sometimes we bought fish and chips from a “chippy” in Stockbridge Road. The British Restaurant was above the Co-Op store in Jewry Street, adjacent to the City Library. The Restaurant had been opened by the government during the war, as part of a chain of national restaurants to provide cheap, wholesome food to help maintain health and morale (a 2-course lunch was about 1 shilling (5p), and meals eaten there were not part of a family’s food ration.

In subsequent years there was a new school canteen for school dinners, which cost 5 old pence (decimal 2p). Pupils bought dinner tokens once a week from their form masters. One particular recollection I still have of school dinners is of finding a slug in a salad - on complaining, the dinner-duty master said that even the Grill Restaurant of the Savoy Hotel in London occasionally served slugs in this way, and that one should not complain! I did not dare ask at the time how the master came to know about the quality of food in that famous eating establishment (particularly on a teacher’s salary), or perhaps he was dining out on the fame of being a Prisoner of War in Germany who had once met and spoken with Adolf Hitler who was visiting a POW camp.

There was no à la carte menu at school in those days, nor were there dire Government warnings about the risk of obesity - ‘Hobson’s Choice’ was the ‘Dish of the Day’, usually meat or mince, sausages, pies etc with 2 veg and a stodgy pudding with custard or a baked milk pudding eg rice, macaroni, tapioca, semolina. As there was still food rationing, it was frowned upon to leave anything uneaten, but the risk of obesity, even if anybody knew what it meant or had ever seen or heard the word, would have been the last thing on pupils’ minds. However, one thing to remember when setting out from class to go to dinner was to not hurry - it was a punishable offence to cross the school playing fields to get to the canteen in Hatherley Road, as also was running down Owens Road/Hatherley Road, which was regarded as unseemly.

There was homework at Peter Symonds, which I had never had to do before. From Year 1, the timetable included homework on six nights a week, with 3 subjects per night on which we were expected to spend 40minutes per subject ie 2 hours per night. For the first time I had male teachers, although for a couple of years there were still female teachers (mistresses) who had been recruited during the war, and three taught me art, geography, and biology. However, they were all gradually replaced by masters returning to civilian life. The school secretary was Doc’s daughter, and she was married to one of the school’s art masters.

Another school ritual was the daily morning hymn and prayers in the Hall, led by Doc in academic gown and mortar board headgear on the stage in front, with the masters in their academic gowns along one side of the Hall and the prefects along the other. Boys were lined up standing, in forms, in the body of the Hall. It was a serious offence to miss or be late for prayers, and a punishment was always given to transgressors. My favourite hymn was “Lord dismiss us with thy blessing”, always sung on the last day of term; conversely my least favourite was “Lord receive us with thy blessing”, sung on the first day of term. After Doc and the masters had left the Hall, the Head Prefect called out - “Forms turn, lead on”, at which we all turned to the left and ambled off to our first classes. Boys of religions and faiths other than Church of England were excused from this daily ritual.

There was one aspect of school life to which I quickly took a dislike. This was the “Corps” or Combined Cadet Force to give it its proper name. This had three sections - army, navy and air force - but the last two could only be entered after an initial spell in the army section. Corps was not compulsory and was, I think, entered in year 3 and military uniform had to be worn. But for the first couple of years all boys were required to spend the last school period before lunch on Mondays and Fridays doing military-style “square bashing” - this activity was also known as “Harry’s Army”, after the master in charge, “Harry” Hawkins. We had to form up in full school uniform into platoons of about 18 boys commanded by senior boys, and march around the roads near the school with military precision. Fortunately there was little traffic around Owens Road and neighbouring side roads in those days, although I did wonder what local residents thought of Peter Symonds’ boys playing at soldiers in this way! It did not appeal to me at all, and as soon as I had the option I chose not to be any part of the Corps, which took place on Friday afternoons. I had to do some compulsory school work instead, with like-minded boys, but in the Sixth Form at least I could usefully get on with important A- and, later, S-level study.

I went by bus to Winchester from Chandler’s Ford and walked the last half mile or so to school from the stop at the city library in Jewry Street, via City Road, Stockbridge Road and Cranworth Road. There were also a variety of alternate walking routes, some starting from a bus stop in Southgate Street. For several years during and after the war, a large fleet of buses ferried workers in the mornings and evenings between Southampton and Vickers Aircraft factory, Hursley via Chandler’s Ford. In the mornings one of these buses would return to the bus stop at the corner of Hursley Road/Winchester Road in Chandler’s Ford to take passengers to Winchester. Because there was a shortage of buses and the Vickers journeys had a national priority, the bus company (Hants & Dorset) had acquired some buses from London, so there was also the novelty of sometimes having an old London Transport red double-decker bus, with outside stairs, for the journey to Winchester. The normal service buses to Winchester filled up after a few stops in Chandler’s Ford, hence the need for additional buses in the mornings.

From Winchester the afternoon buses to Southampton were often nearly or completely full before the Jewry Street stop, so like many other Chandler’s Ford boys I would walk down through the back streets of Winchester to the bus station opposite the Guildhall. On Saturdays at lunchtime, there was in the early years a special bus which ran non-stop via the Winchester by-pass to Shawford Down, and so it reached Chandler’s Ford more quickly. At first the buses between Southampton and Winchester were every 30 minutes, but after a year or two the frequency became every 15 minutes in the mornings and every 20 minutes in the afternoon. The normal journey time was about 30 minutes, and the buses stopped at most stops when not full.

A very solemn annual event at school was the annual Remembrance Day service in November for Old Symondians killed in the wars since the school was founded in 1897. The names of old boys who had died on active wartime service were read out by Doc, and there were always tears in his eyes. It was a very moving occasion, which I still recall every 11th November as the years pass.

It took me a while to find my feet in this new environment, but by the end of the first year I was near the top of my class, but I was stronger on languages (French, Latin and German) than Science and Maths for a couple of years. However in the third year, I began specialising in science and did fairly well in Chemistry, Physics and Maths as well as in French and Latin, mainly due to having more senior and much better masters, in particular “Sam” Simpson for Chemistry and “Cozy” Cozens for Maths. As well as finishing with German, I had by now also dropped History and Geography which I hated and in which I had never done well previously. I once spent a whole lesson hiding in a classroom cupboard with another boy to avoid a History lesson; the class knew we were there but did not alert the master.

“Doc” had a once-weekly slot with every form individually in the Lecture Room (upstairs in the main building above his study) to teach ‘Divinity’. Inevitably these lessons were nicknamed “Docology”. The emphasis was certainly not on religion, being more inclined towards natural history, but a wide range of topics was touched on. My strongest recollections of those fascinating hours spent in the lecture room with Doc are first, his frequent complaining about the 'nationalisation' of the school by the Labour Government of 1945-1951; and second, his stories of old boys who came to him asking for help with getting jobs, but whom Doc was unable to help (so he said) because they hadn't worked hard enough at school. He was also resentful of the fact that the school was required to provide pupils with free milk (a one-third pint bottle to each pupil) at morning break; also that he had had to walk some 5 miles each way to and from school when he was a pupil in Dorset - no free bus passes in those days, no school milk, nor school dinners of any sort. Subsidised cooked school meals, and free travel passes, further fuelled Doc’s withering remarks about socialism. However, because of his external commitments, Doc did not always turn up for these lessons, and we sometimes had another master drafted in with a different agenda. Otherwise it was a free and often very noisy period! And happily there was never any homework for ‘docology’!

The winter months of early 1947 were one of the coldest periods of the 20th century. It was very difficult to get to and from school because many roads were untreated and very icy, and the buses slipped and slithered. Trains were also severely disrupted. Because of a national coal shortage the school was eventually unheated, so it closed for about a week or so until things improved. However, while at school there was fun to be had by making very long slides down the frozen playing fields, even though we shivered in the classrooms.

In July 1949 I got my School Certificate national qualification with a distinction in maths; credits in 5 other subjects - Chemistry, Physics, Latin, French and English Language - and a pass in English Literature. Five passes were required to get a School Certificate. I failed Art; I could not draw nor paint, and I still cannot do so. GCEs were introduced nationally the following year, without the previous school certificate requirement of a minimum number of passes. This was, in retrospect, a step towards learning and qualifying through modules of subjects, which today is very commonplace, even at degree level. We took some of the new GCE exams in both 1950 and 1951 to make certain we also had passes at Ordinary (O) Level in core subjects such as English, French and Maths; and then in 1951 we had a first try at the new Advanced (A) levels.

School life had changed considerably for me when I went into the Lower Sixth Form in September 1949. Although only 14, I was now a senior pupil. I had fewer subjects to tackle, concentrating on A-level Pure Maths, Applied Maths, Physics and Chemistry, but I still did O-level English and French, and something vaguely called “Civics” which was mainly learning about the work and operation of Parliament by having our own “mock-Parliament”, including Question Time. I was the Hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale, which I discovered was somewhere in Cheshire! There was no set homework timetable for the Sixth Form nor any school exams, but course work had to be handed in, usually by given dates, although it could be done in “Private Study” periods in the school library (which also served as the Sixth Form Common Room), or at home. Work groups were smaller as many boys had left after School Certificate. There were no detentions or other punishments for Sixth Formers, but we were expected to behave responsibly. I also remember going on Sixth Form visits to the Morris Car works at Cowley, Oxford and to the Houses of Parliament, followed by an unofficial visit to the bright lights of Piccadilly and Soho! Academic discipline was quite lax and I took things lightly in my first two years in the Sixth Form. One diversion was playing card games in the Sixth Form Common Room, such as solo whist, brag or poker, using for chips some of the large stock of pocket-sized copies of the German poet Goethe’s “Werke” from the library’s shelves.

In the Upper Sixth we had official contact with the Sixth Form at the nearby Winchester County High School for Girls through ballroom dancing lessons there with its Lower and Upper Sixth girls on Thursday evenings during the autumn and winter terms. Two of the County High mistresses (Miss Hogben and Miss Stuart-Smith) gave instruction and supervised - or rather, chaperoned - the proceedings. The girls sat on one side of the hall and the boys on the other. Boys had politely to ask girls “please may I have the pleasure of this dance?”, but girls could not ask the boys. Close contact while dancing was not allowed - only an approved hold that was deemed to be ‘proper’ for dancing. Partners had to be escorted to their seats after a dance. Music was provided by old 78rpm gramaphone dance records - ‘quicksteps, foxtrots, and waltzes, plus some ‘Old Thyme Dances’ such as the St. Bernard’s Waltz and the Square Tango. A favourite of mine was a quickstep, danced to Glen Miller’s “American Patrol”, a recording which I still enjoy and which always reminds me of dancing classes at the County High.

There was a lot of awkwardness on both sides at first, and inevitably a realization of what we had been missing by being at single-sex schools. But the dancing lessons were appreciated and I certainly benefited from them. We also had an end of term dance in December in the Awdry Tea Rooms above WH Smith’s in the city, organised jointly by members of the two sixth forms, and held without the chaperones! A nearby hostelry was a convenient venue for alternative refreshments and unchaperoned female company on this festive occasion.

Dancing classes were the first occasions I had had any regular contact with girls in an academic environment since leaving Kings Road five years earlier! Lifelong relationships started for several couples at the County High dancing lessons, although not immediately for me. I did eventually marry a County High girl (Muriel Elliott, also from Chandler’s Ford, and whose two brothers were at Peter Symonds in the 1950s), but she is several years younger than me, and we got together a few years after I had left school.

Although I enjoyed Chemistry and Pure Maths and could handle their concepts and uses readily, I was not so at ease with Physics and Applied Mathematics. They did not click so readily with me, nor did I find the teaching of them inspiring or effective. During the Easter school holidays in 1951, I had a job (obtained through School!) in the motor licences department of Hampshire County Council at the Castle in Winchester, when probably it would have been better for me to have been doing some serious revision for A-levels. As I did no revision whatsoever for my first encounter with A-level exams, or indeed any academic work other than the course work I was required to do, it came as no surprise to me, although I was disappointed, that I passed only Chemistry and Pure Maths at A-level. I scraped an O-level pass in Physics (whereas I was expected by the master to have passed at A-level), but I failed Applied Maths completely!

I realized that I had to buck my ideas up, and to have some serious personal aims. This setback was therefore a spur to me and I started my third year in the Sixth (or rather the Seventh Form as it was then called) with a determination to do well and to go on to university. I was also made a school prefect by Doc, as were most of my fellow Seventh Formers.

In addition to buckling down with new vigour to the course work, I began to think seriously about a choice of university. I ruled out Oxford and Cambridge because of my previous poor A-level results. Also, though I was still only 16, I knew that my parents could not afford to keep me on at school for a fourth year in the sixth form to try for Oxford or Cambridge. As there was no official “Careers Master”, I discussed various possibilities with appropriate masters, and also with other boys in my year. I began collecting information from individual universities - there was no central Clearing House then. There was no question of a “gap year” for wider experience and travel before starting at university, unless it was in the armed forces - all fit males had to do 2 years of National Service at 18, unless exempted eg by being in higher education or in an exempt professional training or an apprenticeship.

On my 17th birthday I got my provisional driving license, and my father taught me to drive over the next couple of months, particularly going over the test routes with me in Winchester each week. I was successful first time at the test and after that, very occasionally, I drove myself to school - something of a novelty in those days when most of the masters still came to school on bicycles or walked. I had now acquired a useful skill for adult life. The dancing lessons at the County High, plus the festive dance at the Awdry Tea Rooms, continued as in the previous year, and for a while I was very friendly with one of the girls.

In February/March 1952 I applied to and went for interviews at Southampton, Bristol and Birmingham Universities. For a number of candidates simultaneously, Southampton held tests in practical chemistry in a laboratory followed by an interview with each candidate, while Bristol had several formal written examination papers in the Great Hall there but no interviews or practical work. Both Bristol and Southampton used these occasions also for awarding university scholarships as well as offering places. The trip to Bristol was made with several school mates who had applied for places there in various subjects, and we stayed at the mens’ hall of residence adjacent to Isambard Brunel’s Suspension Bridge. I was unsuccessful at Bristol. Southampton offered me a place to read Honours Chemistry, which I turned down as I wanted to live away from home and the Southampton area.

At Birmingham University I did well at interview and Birmingham quickly gave me a conditional offer to read Honours Chemistry, provided I got 4 A-levels second time around. I also applied for both a State Scholarship from the Ministry of Education and a County Major Scholarship from Hampshire County Council. Either would be necessary for me actually to be able to afford to go university. A State Scholarship was awarded solely on examination results, but an interview was necessary for the County Major award. I did not do very well at this interview, which seemed to be more about what literature I read and what I did outside chemistry, than about my strong interest in the subject and why I wanted to go to university to further my education. I revised seriously in the Easter holidays, particularly in physics and applied maths, and concentrated also on working through old A (and S) exam papers.

In late June/early July 1952, aged 17½ I re-took my four A-level exams, this time with Chemistry and Pure Maths at Scholarship Level, and at the beginning of August I went with a school party for a week to St Malo in France - the first time I had been abroad or even on a real holiday, but for the last time I was treated as a schoolboy. I threw my prefect’s cap into Southampton Water as the steamer set off for France, and with fellow Symondians settled down - literally - to enjoy the company of some young ladies from a girls’ school in the North of England who were also going to France and in like-minded holiday mood. In mid-August I learnt that I had obtained Scholarship Level Chemistry, and A levels in Pure Maths, Applied Maths and Physics (just missing S-level pass in Pure Maths, in which, I think, only 1 boy at Peter Symonds reached S-level that year). Today’s A-level equivalents for me would probably be an A*, an A, a B and a C. Birmingham confirmed its offer of a place and the Ministry of Education awarded me a State Scholarship for all fees and a maintenance grant for 3 years at Birmingham. I was also given (rather grudgingly I felt) an Honorary County Major Scholarship by Hampshire County Council.

I would be the first member of either of my parents’ families to go to university, although several of my cousins went to grammar schools. It may seem odd, but at that time I still had no clear idea of what I wanted to do with my life, and I hoped Birmingham would help me to decide. In 1952 at Peter Symonds, I think 5 boys including myself got State Scholarships - 2 in Chemistry, 2 in Classics (Latin and Greek) and 1 in Economics; another half a dozen or so got Hampshire and other Counties’ Major Scholarships in various subjects, but financial awards were the same for both types of scholarship, and depended on the university attended and whether living in hall, lodgings or at home. Students generally were not allowed to live in flats. I was sorry to be parting from John Forder, with whom I had shared school life both at Kings Road and Peter Symonds, but he was not going to university and after National Service he would be joining British Railways as a trainee engineer.

Looking back, although success in the 11+ exam led me into an education I might not have had otherwise, I nevertheless owe much to Peter Symonds for its general environment which enabled me to begin to develop my abilities and intellectual interests. Thanks are due in particular to “Sam” Simpson for inspiring and encouraging me to specialize in Chemistry; also to “Cozy” Cozens for giving me a good understanding and grasp of the Pure Maths I needed as a chemist. Peter Symonds certainly gave me a sound all-round basic training, as later I got an Upper Second Class Honours BSc in Chemistry from Birmingham in 1955, and a Ph.D. in Physical-Organic Chemistry from Southampton University in 1958 (with financial help from an extension of my State Scholarship). Incidentally there was an Old Symondian (Dr John Bevington) on the chemistry teaching staff at Birmingham, whom I encountered occasionally - he eventually became a Professor of Chemistry at Lancaster University).

I started work as a research scientist at the Atomic Weapons Research Establishment, Aldermaston in September 1958, beginning a 33-year career in the Civil Service, initially in research work and later in general administration, all of which spanned a number of locations and departments. After Aldermaston and then the Chemical Defence Establishment, Porton Down, I worked in London for several Whitehall Departments including at the Cabinet Office with the Chief Scientific Adviser to the Government (then Sir Alan Cottrell FRS, who went on to become Master of Jesus College, Cambridge). While at the Cabinet Office I became a Fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry, of which I had been an Associate Member since my first degree

Latterly I worked in a number of different policy areas, some not even related to chemistry or even science, such as regional policy, finance and, finally, the regulation of telecommunications. My training and education certainly gave me an interesting career, with latterly a lot of UK and overseas travel in Europe, and also to Australia and Malaysia. Muriel and I moved from Chandler’s Ford to Basingstoke, then to Allington, Wiltshire followed by Ash Vale, Surrey, and later to Farnham, Surrey before I took early retirement from my last posting at the Office of Telecommunications (OFTEL) on 30 September 1991, and in 1992 we moved to Cotleigh, near Honiton, in East Devon.

In 2003 we moved again, to Mere in Wiltshire to be closer to our three grandchildren in Farnham and Hampton Hill, while still being relatively near with a son in Lyme Regis. John Forder and I are still in touch; he is now living in retirement in York after a career with British Railways, while Muriel keeps in touch with Jill Townend (née Cozens ) - Cozy’s niece, who was in the same year at the County High as Muriel (interestingly, Jill was at one time boarding at Peter Symonds’ Wyke Lodge with ‘Uncle Chris and Aunt Daisy’ Cozens. Also, during my last year, a girl came from the County High came to school several times a week for biology lessons, and she won a State Scholarship to University. These were early portents of changes to come later in the life of Peter Symonds, first becoming a mixed School and eventually a very successful mixed Sixth Form College – one of the top half dozen in the country.

The ability to do ballroom dancing remains a useful skill, which Muriel and I still put to use in retirement by going weekly to “sequence dancing” - a type of ballroom dancing. The basic steps learnt on Thursday evenings long ago at the County High (Muriel several years later than myself) are still useful in sequence dances such as the “Susanne Quickstep”, the “Bermuda Foxtrot” and the “Emmerdale Waltz”, and we have also moved on to more exotic sequence dances such as the “Rumba Sirocco” and the “Saunter Together”. However, sometimes we even do the “Square Tango” or the “St Bernard’s Waltz” - both still danced just as we learnt them at the County High in the 1950s.

I wish I had others, but the only photographic record I have of my formative years at school is a photograph of myself in my second year at Peter Symonds (See Students Album – Peter Smith at 12) and a copy of the Prefects’ Photo for 1951/52 (See Prefects Album).


The above is adapted from “In War and Peace: My Early Life and Times (1934 - 1958)” by Peter Smith, which was written originally for my grandchildren to tell them about life in the mid-20th century.

© Dr P J A Smith 2000, 2006 and 2009. All rights reserved

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