The Boy From Charlotte Street: My first school years

By Sam Lomberg MBE

Group of children posing for school picture

Upper Marylebone Street School in 1924. I'm sitting at the front on the far left.

From the age of four (1924) I attended Upper Marylebone Street School (later called Cavendish Street), just around the corner from Charlotte Street. A London County Council school opened in 1914 and divided into a boys school, girls school and infants school. It was a three-storey building, well planned, light and pleasantly decorated. Considering that it was in the built-up West End, (we didn’t call it Fitzrovia in those days), it had fairly large playgrounds – one for boys, one for girls.

The school had a good reputation and attracted teachers and head teachers of the highest calibre and provided an elementary education of the highest possible quality. The teachers succeeded in transforming children born abroad or in England with immigrant parents, into youngsters whose English, pronunciation and grammar was of ten superior to that of the local born children.

I wasn’t unhappy about starting school since many of the kids in the first infants class were already among my playmates, especially Reggie who was exactly six days younger than me. We saw each other almost every day as his grandparents who looked after him while his parents were at work, lived next door to us. (I would mention that after 86 years Reggie and I are still close friends, keep in contact and see each other from time to time).

Group of children posing for school picture.

I am to the right of the teacher in the photo - my friend Reggie is to her left.

My time in the “infants” was uneventful – Our class teacher, Miss Glynne was very nice and so were the other teachers. We learnt how to read and write with “proper” pens with nibs dipped carefully into the ink so as to avoid blots! The classes were mixed, so naturally we soon fell in love. I fell for Eva who lived in Cleveland Street, but she preferred Eddie – my first, but not my last heartbreak. Most of us looked forward to being six and “passing up to the big boys”, but prior to doing so we had to pass a test. I was very proud to be able to tell my parents that I had passed the test.

Group of boys sitting for school photograph.

Again no date, but there's a "3" which maybe indicates 3rd. year. Anyway you can see we're older, probably about 10/11 before taking jnr. county exam. I'm no.2 left of Mr.Fish. No. 3 from right in 3rd. row became a famous surgeon, no.2 from left in front row worked on developing radar, later helped build the first computer. Boy sitting on my left became a world champion table tennis player.

We soon found out that being in the “big boys” was hard work compared to the infants. All those new subjects like history, geography and arithmetic. Our class teacher, Mr. Fish taught us arithmetic and English – he was very popular despite the difficult subjects. It was rumoured that he was having an affair with Miss Glynne – we saw them ride off together on his motor bike!! Mr Harby our geography teacher was also well-liked and often digressed by telling us adventure stories. He also taught us a rhyme that I’ve never forgotten: “No matter where you are or where you be, always let your wind go free” – and most of us took his advice! Our history teacher, Mr Murrell made this boring subject interesting. What I remember most about him was that he had false teeth that had a habit of rattling when he was talking. Our science teacher Mr.Vickers allowed to us to carry out experiments – even smelly ones, so he was also popular. We also had a very pleasant carpentry teacher whose name I’ve forgotten. We always looked forward to our weekly “woodworking” classes.

Contrary to the teachers whom we liked and respected, we detested the headmaster, Mr.Campbell.

Among other things, we considered him to be a sadist that enjoyed giving us six of the best for the slightest reason. Fortunately soon after I had “passed up to the big boys”, following a number of complaints from parents, much too everybody’s relief he was fired. That was the beginning of a new era for the school.

Our new headmaster was Mr. Paul Smythe, quickly nicknamed “Smutty” – not a very apt nickname because he certainly wasn’t smutty. He wasn’t very tall, had a very friendly attitude and always sported colourful bow ties and we loved him right away. Within a few weeks he’d hung copies of famous paintings in the assembly hall, assembled the school and told us that he intended to talk to us about the paintings and art in general, that he would also play and talk about classical music, he also encouraged us to read books. He organized other activities such as a debating society, dramatics and of course sports. Inspired a team spirit and made us feel proud of our school. He had the full support of all the teachers. Suddenly we had a very happy school that produced excellent results. London County Council District Inspectors, who were not averse to making the strongest criticism should the circumstances justify it, heaped praise on the school, as did the parents.

Paul Smythe achieved a great deal in a comparatively short time, but was probably his finest and most appreciated achievement was when he managed to convince the LCC to allow him to organize school journeys for the older boys. I was fortunate enough to go on the first one to Sandown on the Isle of Wight. Mr. Fish and Mr.Vickers came with us and thanks to them we had an unforgettable wonderful time.

Group of school boys posing for photograph on steps of hotel.

Our 1st. school journey - Sandown 1931. women in photo are from the hotel. I'm front row next to the parrot! (no wisecracks, please!) Mr. Fish and Mr.Vickers (on left).

Among those that were at school with me and later became well-known were Lewis Gilbert – director of the James Bond Films, Harry Errington, the first auxiliary fireman to be awarded the George Cross for bravery in 1941, Philip Zeconovsky “Zec” – the famous Daily Mirror cartoonist and David Broder, top reporter with Reuters.

To get back to schooldays. In those days you weren’t allowed to leave the school grounds during playtime, but just opposite our playground there was Rosie’s café on the corner of Ogle Street.

We’d stand at the gates and shout our “orders” – Rosie, penny currant bun – Rosie, ‘apporth (halfpenny) of liquorice sticks – Rosie, penny bar Cadburys – and so on. We played marbles – Conkers – Spinning tops – Swapped picture cards. All sorts of other activities unknown to the present day computer nerds. (Maybe also unknown to some of the readers of this article!!) No mobile phones, play stations and what have you, but in the main we were a happy, contented lot who got on well together even though we came from different backgrounds

When we were eleven we took what was known as the junior county exam, which if passed enabled us to go to a grammar school or other secondary school. I was one of the lucky ones, then life became more serious, but that’s a story for another time.

1 Comment on The Boy From Charlotte Street: My first school years

  1. A great post that I read with interest and enjoyment. I do hope, Sam, that you will tell us that other story some time soon.

    Remembrance of times past, as told by a story teller like Sam, can be instructive as well as enjoyable. When I read the above account and remember my own school days and then look around at education practices today and the behaviour of today’s young scholars, I cannot helping asking: “Where did we go wrong, and why?” Or perhaps more positively: “How can we bring back the quality of education provided by those schools and the ethos that they instilled?”

    Aside from such critical thoughts, however, it is good to celebrate such experiences as Sam’s and to leave a record of them, enlivened as they are by photographs taken at the time.

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