Life at Hatfield School - by Mike Attfield

Mike Attfield

Mike in 1964

This impressive piece of personal history is published with the permission of its author – Mike Attfield – a fellow pupil in the years 1957-64. It was written relatively recently for readers who weren’t ex-pupils, but the fresh frankness could be that of a young man still in the late 1960s. The details and stories he relates have echoes for many of us, and fascination for those who were never there with us. The monochrome photos are cropped from school photos of the 1960s.

Mike would be pleased to hear from any old Hatfield pupils – please email me via  [admin@ourhatfield.org.uk] and I’ll pass your message on to him.
Chris Hepden HS 1957-64

Hatfield Technical School

I went to Hatfield School by accident. That is, the decision to go was not the result of some carefully thought out plan and evaluation. Rather, my best friend at Foulds Primary School, High Barnet, told me he was going to go there. I had not heard of it. But, since I was a technical nerd who liked taking things apart and putting them together, it sounded interesting. So, having passed the 11+ exam, I and my family listed it as the choice for me. I was accepted and went. My friend did not go there. I imagine his family wanted him to go to the locally-prestigious, and old, grammar school in town – Queen Elizabeth’s, a school that went back at least to Elizabethan times. I have no idea what happened to him. Our friendship languished and died after that.

So, in September 1957 my mother took me to the London Transport bus stop for northerly buses in Barnet, and probably with some concern and fear, said goodbye as I boarded and left for the 11 mile journey to Hatfield, sitting among all the adults going to work etc. Before that my family had gone to St Albans and outfitted me with the clothes necessary: a blazer, formal shirt and tie, and shorts. All this an extra expense that they could barely afford.

I joined class 1D, the bottom of the four classes in each year. Mr. Morss was our teacher. Our home room had the desks in tiers, and if one was careless one desk would crash down on the next, and so on, creating disaster. That year was not good for me. Maybe I got into the wrong company, but my marks and report were not good. My parents thought that going to a grammar school was a mistake. But curiously enough, whoever evaluated my performance and watched over me, decided to promote me to class 2C. In this class I had no friends, and was a loner. So I had nothing to do but work. And work I did. At the end of the second year I was top of the class. I guess they could have promoted me again, but they never did even though I stayed top of the class in the third, fourth, and fifth years. Better to be the big fish in a small pond than lost among the really clever ones, I suppose. Their psychology was good and worked for me.

From my second to fifth year my teacher was Mr. Knight. He was a good man. He was also small, and there was secret merriment when he seemed to go off with the gym mistress. We were taught history by Mr. Wolf. It was the practice to go and ask him if he knew the time (What’s the time Mr. Wolf?) Did he know what was going on? In addition, one of the teachers, Mr. Mills, was said to have big feet. So when we sang the hymn “Jerusalem” in Assembly, there were giggles at the line “And did those feet…”.

Bernard Mills (English) 1961   Mike’s formmaster ’58-’62  Ken Burley, Head of Music      David Cregan, 1959

                                                            Ivor Knight (German)                           in 1959                     inspirational dramatist,

                                                                                                                                                                                  & writer.

After five years regular school ended. You were done. Everyone took “O Level” (ordinary level) examinations. I took nine and got eight. I failed German, and why I failed was a mystery to me because I was good at it. The infallible logic of its structure fitted with my way of thinking. I took it again the next year and passed. I then went into the 6th form and studied Physics, Mathematics, and Music, a rather odd combination. Just two of us were doing A-level Music. You had to be proficient with an instrument. You had to learn music history. But also, and best, you had to learn harmony. One test was to harmonize a tune in the manner of Bach. I passed all three A levels. However, when I applied to the then Welsh College of Advanced Technology they said they would have to let me know whether A level Music counted for admission. But they let me in!

As for Hatfield, it really was an amazing school. Being a ‘technical’ school it was outfitted with great physics, chemistry, and biology laboratories. It also had an amazing metal working shop. Looking back I hardly believe they would let kids run those lathes and other hazardous machines or work in the forge. One mistake and one could lose an eye, hand, etc. There was also a woodworking shop – not quite as dangerous, and a fully fitted technical drawing classroom with full size boards. Of course, only boys were expected (or allowed?) to do the metal and wood working and technical drawing classes. The girls did topics suitable for being a wife: cooking, sewing etc. All except one year, maybe my fifth year, when they did some swapping with boys doing some girls’ classes and vice versa.

But what was really amazing about Hatfield was that although it was a technical school it was not a nerdy school. The arts were well represented and well done. There was a school orchestra, and plays were performed, while two teachers (Cregan and Burley), created bizarre and fun musicals. One musical (Wind on the Heath) was about a fake village named Ponderby Parva, and I still remember the final song.

We had music classes, and in my 2nd or 3rd year the teacher (Mr. Burley) asked if anyone wanted to learn the violin. Without thinking I put my hand up. And so I did learn the violin. My teacher was Mr. Gasparian, an Armenian immigrant with an accent. Eventually, because my progress was slow and because they had the need, they asked if I would switch to viola. I did, and it was an opening into a gorgeous world of music. Because viola players are scarce I got into the school orchestra and into the children’s county orchestra, something I never would have done if I had stuck with the violin. This meant that two or three times a year, during school holidays, I would go off everyday for a week and play Tchaikovsky symphonies and such. My father used to get the train or bus to see me. Once he had a beer afterwards and we missed the train home, meaning a late arrival back.

One memory I have is about measuring the speed of sound outside the school. As part of the physics class we had gone to the back of the school, measured a distance (several hundred yards) from the canteen wall and then one pupil (David Hutton?) hit a stick repeatedly against something to make a sequence of bangs. When the rhythm synchronized with the echo we counted the number of bangs in a minute (or some other interval). That gave us the speed of sound.

Another curious outcome from going to Hatfield School was initiation into a lifetime’s love of poetry. This was due entirely to a one year class in my fifth year taught by an author, Mr Cregan. I guess his love of literature came over us. Poems we did in that year remain with me – The Windhover: “Do You Remember an Inn, Miranda?” How much chance affects us!

The school drew from communities 10 or more miles in every direction. So few kids lived near me. It took me several years to make friends. Sometimes I was bullied and made fun of because I was from the working class, my parents being relatively poor. In contrast, those who went to grammar schools were likely to be from the middle class (children of professional people, merchants, etc). One time on the bus home several were picking on me for being different. Ultimately an adult on the bus spoke up and told them to shut up! I was very grateful to him. Eventually my accent changed and became different to that of my siblings (and still is). I was moving from the working class into the middle class.

The school included sports. We had a nice gym, with good equipment – ropes, horses, etc. But we also had to go and play formal games, typically soccer or rugby. I was useless at soccer, and because I was useless I was typically chosen last by the competing captains for their teams, and given a position near the goal, such as Full Back. The good players would dribble the ball towards me, veer sharply, and go around me. I was superfluous. It was humiliating, as was the team picking exercise, when we (the useless ones) would be picked last. It was, in a way, justice. For hadn’t those same students been humiliated by us nerds in the classrooms? Eventually, a few of us broke away and left them to play soccer, while we played hockey.

Like many English schools, the day began with a short Christian service. We’d go to the main hall. There were no seats typically and so we would stand. The teachers and head master would file in and go onto the stage. We had one or two hymns, maybe a prayer (I don’t recall that part). There would be announcements. Off the teachers would go, and off we’d go to class. I remember being late once. Kids who had religious objections to attending the service part would wait until the Christian bit was done and then go in. The only people I knew were “different” at that time were Catholic. I asked one boy waiting outside if he was Catholic. He said No, he was Jewish. That was a foreign concept to me. How different he was made to be and to feel because of the institutionalized religion!

There was one controversial moment in those services. A girl had become pregnant – a rare event in those days. The head master announced it and gave the girl’s name out in Assembly. Her shame was broadcast to the masses! There was a lot of talk about that – many thought the head master was wrong. I suppose he wanted to deter like events. It was the 60s and sexual freedom was in the air. Another sad event occurred in winter after the swimming pool had been drained. A kid, maybe autistic or with some type of disorder or disability that made him very awkward was the focus of teasing. One day he climbed up onto the diving platform and threatened to jump if they didn’t stop teasing him.

One of the good things about the school was that it was set on the edge of countryside. Behind the school was a steep bank, and beyond that a small wood. In Spring that wood would be covered in bluebells. It was gorgeous. On the side was a big field that one could walk around. The only negative to this pleasant setting was the De Havilland’s aircraft factory that sat about a mile away. They were making Britain’s first passenger jet – the Comet – a rival to the Boeing 707. Periodically they would test the jet engines making an intense roar. The teachers could not make themselves heard. I think they asked the company to refrain when it was examination time.

Commuting to school was a pain. It was about 10 miles from home. Initially I took a public bus, having been given a bus pass. But these came only every half hour or so, and so one couldn’t afford to miss one. They were also very slow. And not all went past the school, meaning a 3/4 mile walk from the bus stop. And, if delayed after school, there was the 3/4 mile walk to the bus stop and a wait for the next bus. There was a time when we took two buses, changing at a town about half way. They did provide a private coach for a while.

As time went on and I grew older I started hitch hiking to school. Getting a ride meant I could get up later, since cars were faster than the buses. The road past the school was the Great North Road (A1) – a dangerous fast three lane road. Cars in both directions who wanted to overtake had to use that middle lane. We had a new teacher once. After a few weeks at his new school it was announced he had been killed on that road. I remember having a ride in a car that came to a dead stop in the middle lane because it met a car coming the other way in the lane. Once, and only once, did I meet a person who worried me. I got in to the front seat. There were magazines spread on the seat. The guy said take a look. They were of naked men. He asked if I liked looking at them I said No and hoped to be somewhere else. But nothing more occurred.

And that’s my story. Despite problems, it all worked out very well for me, and I am very, very grateful for the learning and experience I had there. I am grateful to the teachers and to Dr. Hutton, the headmaster, for helping me advance, giving me opportunities, and providing an environment that changed my life for the better in many ways. I made some good friends there, enjoyed their company out of school and afterwards, and they remain my friends even though we now live in three different countries.

 

Friendships made at school; Mike, Graham Morris and Colin Tether took holidays in the late 1960s to Paris, and later Austria. They still remain in touch regularly, despite living in the USA, New Zealand and UK.

NB  Have you checked recently the other HS Pages/Posts listed and hotlinked in the list at the top right of this page ? The titles don’t say everything, and new edits and new Posts are being added often.

This page was added on 14/01/2021.

Comments about this page

  • I remember Chris Swingler with whom I went to the Geography field trip to South Wales when a few went sea swimming , Pam Baylis now Lane and OX and many others on the ‘Barnet Coach’ during the 60’s. The Hill family from Bells Hill, Alistar Macnair, David Marshall and later myself from Hillside Gardens and those from New Barnet, Chris & Jacquie Martin nee Everett, Jenny Hayball, Wendy Kilbee and Steve Evans, who had an older brother and a Brother and sister from Wood Street, Arkley Also to mention Pat Corrier and your other contributors Mike Attfield. and Mick Mende*. The ‘Brunts’ coach was for 41 passengers but usually housed 60 school passengers having 3 and 4 kids to a seat( except M M* who was quite large. This was one of 4 special coaches laid on by Herts Council, Barnet, Northaw, Hertford and Harpenden and each evening lined up along the now ‘Hutton Hub’ road way from the Main Hall to Roe Green Lane Later College Lane. If any other ‘Coachies’ remember please contact via Chris Hepden or else!!!

    By Dudley Barker HS 1961-69 (24/01/2021)
  • Read your article today and thought it was a rerun of my life!! I was at Hatfield School 1960-67. I went to Underhill School and was on that Barnet bus at the same time as you unbenown to me. I went to HS because I had two brothers who went before me . Gordon was probably in the same year as you. Several of my friends went to QuEBGS and from what they told me I think we both made the right choice.
    Similarly I started in 1 D , 2D and then for no reason to me was promoted to 3C ,4C ,5C. (I was advised that post 5D you either became a clever criminal or a dull copper.)
    Dreaded being late and missing
    the coach home until I discovered hitch hiking. Like you I had a couple of unpleasant lifts . Being “ragged” on the coach was part of the course. Best thing ever was when the School Council banned school caps. The cap became a nonsense when we cut the seams and turned them into a “Sherlock Holmes ” hat. Then you got the chance of a bus pass in the upper years which gave a whole new freedom but a much longer day.
    Went on to 6th form and ended up in Barry Training College in S.Wales. The principal somewhat bemused by my Barnet Accent suggested I should get some Diction lessons before I started. We are all chameleons at the end of the day if you want to survive.
    Having taught most of my life in some very suspect schools in the South Wales Valleys I think I was very privalidged to have gone to Hatfield School . It set me up for life both academically and practically!
    Chris Swingler

    By Chris Swingler (14/01/2021)

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