David Moore (1954-61): First Day at Bond Street

MooreOn the face of it there’s never been anything special about Bond Street. Nothing at all, except, that is, for many of us who used to turn up there from Monday to Friday each week, weighed down with bulging satchels wondering what the day held in store. No, not the fashionable shopping paradise situated in London’s West End. This Bond Street was, and still is, the Burton upon Trent version. Stretching from Lichfield Street to the old Ice Storage building it was a thoroughfare far less grandiose than it’s namesake in the capital. Gaze along it these days from a vantage point on the pavement near Peel Croft and you will notice the open ground on the left which is used as a car park. And, like me, you will probably wonder how a school with it’s sprawling collection of outbuildings could possibly have fitted into such a tiny piece of land. But it did, for this is where Burton Grammar School was situated – from 1877 until the new premises in Winshill were opened in 1957.

Access to the school was through an entrance about half way along the street. Immediately on the left was a door leading into the main building itself. Then it was along a corridor and past the changing rooms with their distinctive odour. Sharp right and then straight in front, the main hall where assembly was held each morning. At the other end of the hall, a narrow dark corridor leading to the chemistry laboratory and G-Room with it’s rows of desks arranged in tiers. Upstairs, another sprawling maze of corridors and rooms. Then there was the old headmaster’s house which had been converted into classrooms and a library. Situated outside, in what had previously been a garden, were some rather dilapidated prefabricated huts – more classrooms. There was a playground, of course, and in the far corner the bicycle sheds leading to two more places of learning some distance from the main school building itself. And a few hundred yards away, an old chapel. This was to be our form-room three years later. One thing is certain, the whole complex would be condemned as totally unsuitable these days.

Rather like eighty-nine other boys back in early September 1954 I was feeling excited and, I have to admit, rather pleased with myself, as I made my way to Bond Street for the very first time as a Grammar School student, but slightly apprehensive and a touch nervous too. Smart navy blue jacket, red and blue striped tie, grey shirt and grey trousers short ones – but most important of all, that distinctive cap with it’s red flashing across the back, proudly perched on my head. You could always tell where your mum had bought it from, the depth of the red band was slightly different depending on whether it came from Ellis’s or Tarver’s. Things like that seemed very important.

Yes, I remember that first day vividly. Forcing down my eggs and bacon seemed slightly more difficult than usual. An anxious wait for the maroon double-decker bus in Bearwood Hill Road, the journey down from Winshill across the Burton bridge, along High Street past Bass’s offices where the clerks would soon be taking up their positions on their high stools, finally climbing from the bus at the junction with Station Street. From there it was a short walk along the far end of High Street, past Oakden’s shop with that wonderful smell of roasting coffee beans and then sharp right into New Street. Across the old bus park into Lichfield Street before finally ending up at my destination of Bond Street itself.

I think most of us had some idea what to expect when we made our way through the entrance gates and along the short passage into the playground that morning. There had been rumours of some sort of initiation ceremony so it wasn’t totally surprising to find ourselves subjected to what can only be described as a pseudo public school welcome which involved “running the gauntlet” through a group of older boys who gave us a not so gentle clip across the head which didn’t do a lot for the condition of our smart new caps most of which finished up scattered along the ground and trampled on.

Soon it was into assembly in the main hall and a short welcoming address from the headmaster H.H. (Horace) Pitchford before moving off to Z-room, one of the huts behind the bicycle shed. This was to be our form room, a sort of home base, for the next two years. Pupils had already been divided into three classes and for me it was the middle one – B-stream. We knew which of the four houses we would compete for too, Clive, Drake, Nelson or Wellington. I would be wearing the green of Clive, at least that was the colour of the rugby and cross country shirts. Named after Clive of India, at the time it had the reputation of being the weakest of the four in terms of sporting achievements. If only they played soccer instead of rugby I might have been in Wellington instead or so I kidded myself. Apparently Wellington was the strongest but what was the basis for selection, were there mischievous forces at work?

Our form master was Mr Ward who taught French. We called him Ernie, not to his face of course, that was “sir”. Only later did we find out that his real name was Ellick, one that I’d never come across then and haven’t since. We liked him straightaway. Soon we would come to respect him too. One of the first formalities was to have a desk allocated to each of us. Seating was arranged in alphabetical order, that’s why I became friendly with a boy called John Monk. I guess it was just hard luck if you didn’t get on with your alphabetical neighbour; fortunately we seemed to hit it off, partly because we were both keen on football and cricket. Not rugby football but the version played with a proper ball, a round one. Before long we would be under no illusion as to which code was encouraged at this particular school.

Soon it was time for the mid-morning break and a first visit to the tuck shop run by Miss Rawlins and situated on the other side of Bond Street. Decision time, was it to be a jam doughnut or a sticky iced bun? Or maybe both! Ninety minutes later it was lunchtime and, for me, a second bus ride of the day – back home and an interrogation from mum. How did you get on? Have you behaved yourself? What on earth have you done to that cap? I don’t know what happened in the afternoon, I suppose we must have had a lesson or two. But looking back now it was a very special day. I certainly slept soundly that night. As for the joys of freezing cold cross-country runs ending with the acrid fumes from the paintworks the occasional visit to the headmaster’s study, ups and downs on the cricket pitch, detention, school reports and, best of all, that wonderful feeling at the end-of-term assemblies – all of those, and much more, would come later.


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