David Fuller BSc, BTh, PhD left school at age 16, with a modest list of mediocre GCE ‘O’ level passes, and was accepted for employment as an Apprenticed Metallurgist with a local manufacturing company. He studied part-time at Ipswich Civic College (now Suffolk New College) and was credited with Ordinary and Higher National Certificates in Metallurgy. In 1962 he went to University College, Cardiff, (now the University of Cardiff) to read Applied Metallurgy and in 1966 was awarded a Bachelor of Science Degree with First Class Honours and the A A Read Student Metallurgy Prize.
In 1978, after a number of years in scientific management, he moved to Blackburn in Lancashire and until 1992 was responsible for the operation of one of Europe’s most modern, high volume iron foundries. During this time he was a regular contributor of technical lectures at many national and international conferences and seminars associated with the iron foundry industry. He was appointed to the Management Board of BCIRA, then the foundry industry’s principal research association, and in 1991 was elected President of EEF North West, an organisation which represented engineering companies that collectively employed over 30,000 personnel. During most of the 1980s he was ‘head’ of the band of altar servers at Blackburn Cathedral.
In 1993 he left the manufacturing industry and retrained in computer science. In 1995 he was awarded a Post Graduate Certificate in Education by the University of Huddersfield and taught IT classes at Blackburn College until 1999. In that year he retired to the Isle of Mull in Scotland where he and his wife had had a holiday home for many years. He is now a Licensed Lay Reader in the Scottish Episcopal Church, Diocese of Argyll and The Isles. After retirement he spent seven years as a part-time, distance-learning, undergraduate student of the University of Aberdeen and was awarded a Bachelor of Theology Degree with Honours (2:1) in 2009. In 2014, after five years of part-time, distance-learning, post-graduate research at the University of Glasgow, studying the life and writings of Anglican monk and liturgist Dom Gregory Dix (1901–52), the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy was conferred on him. His interests include: writing, cabinet making, puzzle solving and calligraphy.
On a sunny Tuesday morning at the beginning of September, 1952, my friend Keith Elsey and I cycled off after breakfast to our new school. King Edward VI Grammar School (KEGS), originally established by King Edward VI in 1550, was situated in an area of Bury St Edmunds called The Vinefields. This name went back into the mists of history and was probably the site (or one of the sites) where monks at the great Abbey of Saint Edmund grew their grapes. The only road access was up a muddy track, through ‘Muggy’ Warren’s farm, this being the only route to the school from Eastgate Street. Walkers could cross the River Lark by way of a footbridge from the Abbey Gardens and take a footpath. In all some thirty or so new pupils joined the school. For the first year we were taught in The New Classroom, an annex to the main school building. We shared double desks, three across the room and six deep, in alphabetical order of surname, from the back. The room had a small entry porch that took the place of the first desk, so only four pupils sat along the back row. I can almost hear the register being called at the start of each lesson: “Adams – Baker, Barclay – Barker, Davies – Elsey, Fuller – Gant”, and so on. Therein lay my first problem. I could so easily have been placed beside my friend Keith Elsey, but circumstances put me beside Oscar Gant (I think that was his name – the passing of the years does so dim the memory). Why was that a problem? For some unexplained reason Oscar was required to re-sit his first year; he had been in the same class the year before and thus had a year’s experience of the tricks that schoolboys get up to. In my naïvety I was led astray and quickly fell below the required standards of behaviour demanded by the masters.
School uniform was very strict. We wore grey trousers (short trousers until we were about thirteen years old!) and black blazers with the school badge on the breast pocket, or grey, two-piece suits. These were worn over a white shirt and black tie. Socks were grey and shoes were black. Outside the school we had to wear small, black, peaked caps, and severe punishments were awarded to boys seen anywhere in school uniform who were capless! Caps had to be raised to any master, at any time. We were also required to have a red and black sports shirt, and both white and blue shorts. A black raincoat was required for the wet and wintry months. We also had to have plimsolls (a sort of early trainer shoe) for PT, football boots, a hockey stick and white flannels for cricket. To complete the list a satchel was needed to carry homework back and forth to school.
The importance of wearing the correct school uniform was illustrated by my desk companion Oscar Gant. Being a year older than the rest of the class, and being relatively tall for his age, he was one of few pupils in our class to wear long trousers. Out of sheer devilment he came to school one day wearing yellow socks. This breach of the dress code was quickly spotted and he was sent to see the Headmaster. Mr Elliott told him that he must go home immediately and change to grey socks. Gant protested to the Head that he lived in Pakenham, some six miles away, and that he travelled to school on a bus. The Head declared that this was not his problem and sent Gant home. He didn’t return until the following morning, but in his normal grey socks!
Our first year form master was Mr Edwards. He taught the basic subjects and we had specialist teachers for French, Geography and Science. Each lesson lasted for forty minutes and there was little if any free time during the day, short breaks in morning and afternoon with a longer break of an hour or so for lunch. Wednesday afternoon was given over to various sporting activities; football in the first term, hockey in the second and cricket in the third. Thursday afternoon was free but we had lessons on Saturday mornings, hence we had to be up and about on six days per week. Homework was set for each evening and in our first year this covered two subjects, with at least forty minutes expected on each. In the second and subsequent years this prep (as it was called) increased to three subjects. Thus two hours per evening were needed to complete this workload. Exercise books and text books were provided and these were kept in our desks, which had heavy, wooden, hinged lids. Any child who banged his desk lid or accidently let it fall with a crash could expect dire reprimand and possibly some lines. The instruction, ‘Write out one hundred times, “I must not bang my desk lid!”’ would be issued and these were to be handed in on the following day – an addition to the homework load. One quickly learned to obey the rules.
My first school report showed that there were 33 in Form 1. At the end of the first term I weighed five stones, nine and a half pounds (36kgms) and I stood 4’ 11½” (1.5m) tall. I was third in the class for French (a position that didn’t last long!!) and fourth in mathematics. I was overall twelfth in the class, but this position fell to eighteenth by the end of the first year – not very enterprising. The Head’s comment read, ‘On the whole a fair first year’.
Every emphasis in the school was on academic and sporting excellence. A boy who was keen on outdoor games could be selected for any one of the school’s First or Second XIs and receive extra training. Membership of these prestigious teams earned the entitlement to wear ‘colours’. These were a sort of juvenile equivalent to Oxbridge ‘blues’ and ‘half-blues’. They manifested themselves in neckties with coloured stripes, indicating the sport and level of achievement. They were worn with pride by many, but most definitely not by me!! I hated sports and everything that went with them. I well remember having to run about on a muddy field on a wet Wednesday playing football and hockey with old-fashioned, leather, studded boots, that got heavier the wetter they became. In my first game of cricket I lashed out with the bat, managed to hit the ball over the boundary and scored four runs, only to be clean bowled by the next ball. As far as I can remember I never scored again! Another painful experience was the cross-country run. This took place at least once a year, on Sports Day. If we didn’t qualify for any other activity, such as running, athletics, discus or javelin throwing, shot putting, and the like, we had to take part in the cross-country run. As you can imagine, this always included me. This ordeal consisted of four or five miles along rough farm tracks, around the edges of ploughed fields, across muddy ditches, through thorny hedgerows and up and down an assortment of slippery embankments. All this had no purpose other than to impose school discipline and, perhaps keep us from indolence and obesity.
Twice a year we were marched in double file, across the Abbey Gardens, on one occasion to the Cathedral Church of Saint James, for the Founders’ Day Service, on the other to the Athenaeum Subscription Rooms for Speech Day and Prize Giving. Other than as a ‘bum on a seat’ I took no part in any of these proceedings. For these special events the staff wore their academic gowns, hoods and mortarboards. The headmaster, Mr R W Elliott MA led the processions with other masters keeping their beady eyes on the student body; lest any abscond into the surrounding parkland. Our history master Dr ‘Splinter’ Wood was always resplendent in his Oxford D Phil robes. Almost every master wore a gown when teaching – it was considered great fun to chalk some sort of slogan on the bottom hem while a master was talking with another pupil – if caught more ‘lines’ would inevitably follow – ‘I must not deface my teacher’s academic dress’, one hundred times!
Discipline within the school was enforced at a number of levels. Within the classroom, as I have intimated, the setting of a number of lines to be written and submitted the following morning was common. The worst episode of this that I can remember comprised fifty lines of, ‘Do you insinuate that I should tolerate such diabolical depravity from a reptilian insubordinate such as you?’ The next level up was to attend the staffroom, which was three flights up a narrow, stone staircase, with a ‘pump’ or plimsoll. A recalcitrant pupil would receive anything from one to six swipes across the backside while bending over a chair. The ultimate sanction was to be sent to stand outside the Headmaster’s study and wait for him to see you. This visit inevitably resulted in ‘six-of-the-best’ with one of his selection of canes. I was, I suppose, fortunate never to have received this latter punishment. I should add that school prefects, usually second-year-sixth boys (young men, really) could also hand out lines for minor infringements of rules, or other misdemeanours. I hate to think what would happen if these levels of corporal punishment were enforced in today’s schools, but they never seemed to harm any of us. I well remember being in the second form, by which time, of course, we knew-it-all. The Head entered to find a classroom full of boys being rather rowdy, not at all what he expected. He waited for quiet and then said, ‘Gentlemen’, he was always polite when at his most dangerous, ‘last year, at about this time, I caned every one of the class for behaviour such as I have just witnessed – I shall not hesitate to do so again!’ We were much more orderly thereafter!
At the end of each term we, or rather, our parents, received a written school report. This indicated our individual weights and heights, compared with class averages, the subjects that we had been taught and the marks obtained, in both course work and in-class tests, where appropriate. They also gave our positions in class in each subject and a comment from that master. At the foot of the page was a scribbled, general comment from the Headmaster. I still have a file with all of these reports and they do not, take my word for it, make happy reading. They have been quarantined until after my death!! I was not a good pupil, and I never cease to wonder how I managed to maintain a place at KEGS for five years instead of being expelled and sent to the Silver Jubilee School. I had so many impositions (lines) that I was given a special book to write them in – I think the teachers thought that I might as well try to improve my hand writing at the same time. In our second year, when we were twelve or so, and on the brink of teenage-hood, we were given lessons in sex education by the Headmaster. These were accompanied by a text book, which was essentially descriptive and didn’t contain the erotic illustrations that we hoped for. Also, the books were collected up and taken away after each lesson. During one lesson I must have turned to make some comment to a fellow pupil, only to be told by the Head, ‘Fuller, laddie, if you know all this, perhaps you had better go home!’ I sat very quietly after that.
During our second year a large, new teaching block was erected to increase student capacity. This was on three storeys and had science laboratories on the ground floor, large geography rooms on the first floor and spacious art rooms on the top floor. There were also several new classrooms. At the beginning of our third year those boys who had been at the County Grammar School, in Northgate Street, were transferred to KEGS, including some of their masters. The teaching of science subjects before this time was in the hands of Miss Elsa Kilpatrick, a doughty lady with a serious attitude. We had no laboratories and we could only sit and watch as she conducted various experiments, which we then wrote up as if we had done the work ourselves. In the same small annex there was a laboratory, but this was only for sixth form students. Imagine the surprise when we started to use the new laboratories and could do our own chemistry and physics experiments. At this time I found myself the pupil of Mr Fred Brush, who taught chemistry. He changed my life. Suddenly I had a subject that hugely interested me, that I was avid to study,
that fascinated me. Others could kick balls about or run races, but give me chemical equations to solve every time. I even spent hard earned pocket money on extra chemistry text books – I was hooked. In general I wasn’t at all bad at maths and the sciences. I also found that I had a penchant for art, especially after Mr Donald Tapster, our new art master explained that the subject extended beyond plain drawing and painting. He introduced us to lino cutting and printing, drawing perspective and to lettering and calligraphy. I was moderately good at geography and history but too idle to learn all the facts, countries, capital cities and dates. One small area did fascinate me and that was the history of the Industrial Revolution, with the development of blast furnaces, steel making processes and the like. Unbeknown to me then was the importance this would have on my future studies, and ultimately on much of my working life. Foreign languages left me cold. I studied French and after five years couldn’t put a meaningful sentence together. In our second year we were introduced to Latin by Mr ‘Titus’ Dart. After I found out that there were no fewer than thirty-six ways of using the word ‘bonum’ = good (that’s six cases multiplied by three genders (including neuter) multiplied by singular and plural) I more or less gave up. When Latin allowed a table to be addressed as ‘O table’ and excellence was achieved by translating Caesar’s Gallic Wars, I completely lost interest. After four years the only Latin I could remember was ‘festina lente’ which means ‘to make haste, slowly’!
In about the third year we were invited to join the CCF, the Combined Cadet Force. Since the alternative, on Wednesday afternoons, was more sport, I considered this the better option. We were issued with khaki shirts and ties, and battledress uniforms with brass buttons and buckles that required regular administrations with Brasso. Belts, gaiters and webbing belts needed plenty of Blanco. We were also issued with heavy, khaki coloured greatcoats which almost came down to the ground, smothering our weedy, teenage frames. We had to wear military style boots made of heavy leather with the soles studded with Blakeys, a sort of steel plug. If we thought that wet football boots were heavy, we hadn’t learned anything! Under the direction of Captain ‘Titus’ Dart we were drilled and marched up and down the quad (the name given to the school’s hard play area). We learned to salute properly – up, two three, down. Then we were issued with Lee Enfield 0.303 calibre rifles and we had to learn to drill with these, to slope arms, to present arms, and the like. They may look fine on parade but they are very heavy! We also had to keep our rifles clean, although they were never fired in anger. In the stock of each rifle was a pull-through, a square of linen that had to be oiled and pulled through the barrel with a cord. What fun we had getting the whole thing jammed so that ram rod had to be employed. Captain Mainwaring drilling his soldiers in Dad’s Army brings back so many memories! I don’t know what happened to it but my rifle was number U99. While the uniform was prickly and uncomfortable I hated the enormous boots. I would often turn up for parade in black shoes and when asked, less than politely, where my boots were, I would reply that my father had borrowed them for an afternoon’s grave digging. They had no answer to that.
The staff members who joined KEGS from the County Grammar School included Mr Candy, who taught English. He held the rank of Major so outranked Captain Dart – which I think caused a bit of friction. CCF discipline got seriously tighter under Major Candy and the whole enterprise became less enjoyable. One of the high spots was to be taken to Gibraltar Barracks, just at the bottom of Westley Road, for firing practice with live rounds. The barracks was then home to the Suffolk Regiment and it had all the normal military facilities, including an outdoor range. Here we learned to lay on our bellies and fire at targets with 0.22 bullets, under the strictest supervision. I must admit that I was not a very good shot. On other occasions we were taken out to the Stamford Forest battle area near Thetford where we spent all day wearing camouflage and crawling about in the undergrowth pretending to be real soldiers. We were issued with blank cartridges to fire at ‘the enemy’, who might be some professional soldiers, sent along to make our day more lifelike. Of course we had the unenviable task of cleaning our rifles when we returned to school.
So we come to the dreaded ‘O’ level examinations, for such they were called in my day. During our fifth year we sat mock exams to get a feel for the real thing. It must be clearly understood that we stood or fell on our examination results, there was no inclusion of course work, or teachers’ assessments. The exam counted for everything and we only got one bite at it. Most pupils sat ten or so subjects but the Headmaster made it quite clear in my case that to sit a Latin exam was, in his opinion, ‘a complete waste of the taxpayers’ money in even printing the paper!’ So, I sat nine subjects. Even with the relatively new science laboratories the school did not have sufficient facilities for everyone to undertake practical chemistry and physics experiments. This position must have been common in many schools because the examination board had conjured up an alternative called chemistry-with-physics. In a second paper in this subject the candidate was presented with various practical scenarios with sets of test results and was expected to write up the details as if he had completed the experiment. Results were calculated on the basis of the data presented. It seemed to work quite well, but it only counted as one subject, not two.
As may be imagined, I only did moderately well in my exams. I envy today’s sixteen-year-olds with their string of a dozen starred ‘A’ GCSE grades, but our circumstances were, I think, very different. We were assessed on the basis of straightforward examinations and nothing else. GCEs were graded from one to nine. A grade of five or lower was considered to be a pass. Somewhere I have the self-addressed postcard that we had to give to the school to send back to us with the results written in. Of my nine subjects I passed five. I missed both history and geography by a whisker – at Grade 6. Needless to say I achieved Grade 9 for French; another waste of the taxpayers’ funds! As for passes: these were gained in art, maths, English language (although not in English literature), biology and chemistry-with-physics. As you will observe I excelled, if that’s the right word, in the sciences.
I left KEGS in 1957 as soon as the exams were over and spent my summer days picking apples in Westley Farm orchards to earn some spending money. I didn’t even attend the end-of-term, end-of-school celebrations; I set fire to my school cap instead! Fortunately, I turned out to be one of life’s ‘late developers’.
Extracted from: Fuller, D J, Out of the Melting Pot, (Lulu Press Inc, 2014)
Copyright © David Fuller, 2014