When I look back on my grammar school it seems like I was part of some historical anachronism, even when I started there in 1966. Alleyne's Grammar School
was founded in 1558, as the rousing school song attested. An all boys school, we wore dark blue uniforms, including caps, with the school crest embroidered on the cap and jacket chest pocket. When entering the grounds through the school gate, we dipped our heads and doffed our caps or forelocks in respect of the old boys who'd lost their lives in various wars; their names were engraved on plaques attached to the brick gate posts.
In 1966, many of the teachers, who were known as masters, still wore gowns and mortar boards when they taught.
This ridiculous outfit was phased out as the 1970s began, though one elderly master sometimes wore his to annoy the headmaster!
Corporal punishment was still in force, if detentions hadn't worked to discipline a boy. 'Six of the best' bent over the headmaster's desk, while he thrashed your buttocks with a willow cane gave a lad a reputation and made the head feared and loathed.
Although it wasn't a fee-paying school, it was a prestigious place to study and snooty with it. I soon worked out that there were three groups of pupils whose fate was quickly decided. Alleyne's was a feeder school for Oxford and Cambridge Universities and if you weren't good enough for them, then some redbrick university in the provinces, or, heaven forbid a polytechnic. The second group of boys was steered towards professions, such as banking, accounting or lawyering. The dregs were largely ignored by the masters, as they were headed towards waged jobs as labourers or factory workers. All of us were expected to present ourselves for action, should another world war start. Up until 1964, the school had its own rifle corps, where boys were instructed in the use of a Lee Enfield .303 on the remotest playing fields shooting at targets set up against a bank of sand
All but two of the masters were male. The women were referred to as 'lady masters', rather than mistresses! Several of the masters were gay, though this was usually accepted graciously, as Alleyne's was a polite place, though one inexperienced teacher was tormented about his sexuality to such a degree that he committed suicide by hanging himself in the fives
The masters referred to us by our surnames, including the minor and major appellations, and we called one another by our surnames or whatever horrid nickname we'd earnt.
It was an intimidating place to study, as I realised I was part of history, one of thousands of boys through four centuries. This was brought home to me by the wear on the stairs that led to the upper floors of The Grange, the oldest part of the school. I was following in the footsteps of ghosts.