Old Uffingtonians Association (1994)

   Willesden County Grammar School                         Ex-Pupils 1924-1967                    


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Recollections from 1947-54
(John Pearson)

My first vivid memory of WCGS is my first day waiting in the Hall to be assigned to my class and having to choose which foreign language to attempt first!  Little did I know that my choice of German would lead in time to an ‘O’ level, and ‘A’ level and ultimately to a degree coupled with geography.  I must have been well taught as although I rarely speak German the language seems to return quite quickly when the need arises.

I was in form 1b with Mr ‘Dickie’ Wheeler as my form master; he was also my first Maths teacher.

I became a member of the Britons House and in my early days at WCGS my House Captain was, I think, Bert Cleaver who very actively encouraged my athletics career which lasted until I had an untimely accident with a five barred gate on a cross country run whilst at Keele.

1948 was of course Olympic year with the games staged at Wembley; John Mark from Cambridge University carried the Olympic torch into the stadium to light the Olympic flame. If memory serves some one from the School either handed the torch to John Marks, or handed the torch to the athlete who passed the torch to John Marks! Olympic athletes used WCGS and at the end of the summer term we covered our blackboard with greetings to them – but better still the summer holiday was extended by a week.


My first School trip, and incidentally my first holiday overseas took place during the Easter holiday 1950.

My memories are somewhat hazy – I can’t remember the Staff who led the party but I re-call very clearly that after travelling through the night by train enjoying a fantastic breakfast of real coffee, hot rolls with butter and black cherry jam in the station buffet at Basel! We stayed at the Hotel Rigi in a small town called Brunnen on Lake Lucerne. This was my introduction to alpine scenery and an interest in glaciation

My principle memory is of trying to speak German to members of the hotel staff – and realizing that I had a long way to go before I might consider myself a real linguist! And that learning vocabulary really was essential.

Easter 1951 and I was fortunate enough to join another School party – this time to Konigswinter near Bonn and led by ‘Molly’ Marston, her sister Mrs King and Mr Wheeler but only after we had a lecture from the Head concerning our behaviour abroad and reminding us that we were representatives of the School and our country!

Again we travelled overnight by train and dawn found us eating breakfast in Cologne before the remainder of the journey in a local train with very hard wooden seats. The hotel was close to the foot of the Drachenfels. There was a road from the village to the top of the Drachenfels – a bit of a climb but from the top there were amazing views over the Rhein and the surrounding countryside so the climb was well worth it. Often after dinner three or four of us would climb up the side of the Drachenfels and then race down the road to the hotel – we called it ‘training’. Mr Wheeler took a very different view!

We visited the local village of Konigswinter and I found that faltering German with plenty of grammatical mistakes seemed to be no real barrier to making yourself understood in shops, cafes and restaurants. Still plenty of room for improvement though! We went to Bonn, the then seat of Government: little did I know then how many times as a student I would return to Bonn, and of course there was the almost obligatory steamer trip on the Rhein.

Is this when I became a bit of a Germanist?

Miss Marston continued to be my German teacher until I left the School in 1954 and I kept in touch with her and her sister until they died.

1952 – We moved from Kenton to Willesden Green so I swooped a long walk, two trains and a long walk for just one long walk to get to School and following the move from Kenton I was late to School for the first time. 1952 was also the year of my ‘O’ levels and the decision to stay on at School. I wanted to study German, French, English and perhaps Latin to become a ‘real’ linguist – it was made very clear that my English was just not good enough! So I kept on the German and added Geography, History and Economics and two years later went off to the University College of North Staffordshire (now Keele University) to read Geography and German – the first student to choose this combination.

In 1953 we celebrated the Queen’s Coronation and the ascent of Everest and enjoyed a School trip to Dymchurch in Kent. The holiday site/complex was fairly close to the beach with a very large open space suitable for games and other activities. On reflection perhaps the site had been some military camp or installation as the dormitories (one for the girls, another for the boys) were like long single storey huts. Another hut was used as a dining room/ refectory and a fourth hut was given over as a communal recreational area used mainly for meetings and evening activities.

We visited Dungeness and explored this strange stony geological phenomenon treating the outing, I hope, as geography fieldwork. A trip to Dover and its castle comes to mind, as does falling off someone’s cycle.
It was agreed that a few of us were allowed to return to Willesden to take part in an athletics meeting, probably in Alperton or maybe Highgate: I can’t remember if we were representing our School or Willesden Schools but following many individual successes we returned to Dymchurch quite late in the evening in a somewhat rowdy manner to be greeted by our School Staff with heartfelt congratulations on our successes and a rebuke for being so noisy!

We were not the only visitors to Dymchurch – there was a group of German students from Dortmund in the Ruhr area. We were encouraged to mingle and get to know these students, who were perhaps a couple of years older than us. Many of the evening activities were joint events with the German students, who by and large spoke English very well – so it was down to those of us who could speak, or who would try to speak German. I kept in touch with one of the students from Dortmund for some years but we never met again – I guess that by now she is white haired Grandma!

My last School trip was in the last week of the summer term 1954: Roger Bannister had run the mile inside four minutes in May and I had completed my ‘A’ level exams and hopefully University was not too far away. We travelled by coach to North Wales and stayed in a Youth Hostel but I cannot remember the location! Nor the Staff who came with us! But where ever you looked there were mountains so every day was a little like a geography field trip, but no notes to be written up at the end of the day!

I remember very clearly our ascent of Snowden and the magnificent views that opened up as we climbed up the mountain – views from the summit were breathtaking. Recollections of other outings are somewhat vague but I remember most clearly when I managed to cut the bottom of my right foot very badly (paddling in a rocky pool with every one else as we were all suffering with sore feet!) and finding myself in the care of an English doctor in Llanrwst who stitched the wound and bound the foot – so that was the end of my walking and exploring North Wales as I was able only to hobble about using a stick I had found on Snowdon! I still have that stick!!

Fortunately, I think, quite close to the Hostel where we were staying there was a bus stop so whilst every one else was out and about and being very active I was permitted to get the bus and go off on my own! If memory serves I went off to Llandudno and Rhyl – at least somewhere on the North Wales coast, and better than being stuck alone in the Hostel.

Back home in Willesden and the last few days at ‘the County’ and the indignity
of hobbling up the steps and onto the stage at the last School Assembly of term to receive my School Colours from ‘the Doc’ ……. For athletics and cross country running!!!!


I was made/appointed/selected to be a Prefect taking up my tasks from the beginning of the autumn term 1952. Apart from a badge Prefects had to wear the standard School blazer but with a narrow gold cord sewn around the edge of the collar and the rest of the blazer!

Miss Jarvie

Miss Jarvie was the Senior Mistress and for a time there was a running battle between her and the Prefects – she did approve of the curtain, which hung at the door of the Prefects’ Room, as she could not see what was going on in the Prefects’ Room! As though anything would be going on! Pressure was brought to bear and eventually the Prefects opted for a quiet life and capitulated removing the curtain but not before we had pushed a large cupboard which housed some of our lockers across the doorway so that from the corridor only the back of the cupboard could be seen – and it a cupboard well over six feet (two meters in modern day speak)!! Given time I think the cupboard was moved back and the curtain replaced!

The Staff come to tea

Probably at the end of the summer term 1953 the Prefects invited the Staff to tea in the Prefects’ Room! The girls and many Mums made cakes etc and there was a massive clearing up operation so that the room was neat and tidy; pictures were straightened on the walls except for one, on the back of which were various depictions from the ‘Goon Show’ and of course it was this picture that was not straightened nor turned to hide the ‘Goon Show’. No comment was made until the Staff were leaving and the ‘error’ pointed out – fortunately many of the younger Staff were as keen on the ’Goon Show’ as the rest of the School. Either the ‘Doc’ didn’t notice or took it all in good part.

The ‘Doc’ was very democratic in the selection of Prefects. The Staff presented a list of nominees to the Head, who then passed it to the Prefects for comment. Any one who did not measure up the standards the Prefects had set themselves was rejected and our decision was never questioned.

John Pearson
WCGS 1947-1954