A History of Cotham School
1856 - 1919 The Early Years
The Trade and Mines School
In 1812 at a time when most boys and girls received little or no education a Diocesan School was established in Nelson Street for the purpose of 'educating poor children in the principles of the Established Church'. Forty years later the parish schools were covering the ground which the founders had in mind and it was proposed to alter the character of the school. A meeting was held in November 1854, as a result of which it was decided to convert the Diocesan School into a Trade School on the lines of those successfully established in Germany. The people of Bristol were congratulated by Dr Lyon Playfair on their foresight and on the 28th March 1856 the new school was opened by Earl Granville, Lord President of the Council, who expressed the government's interest in the new venture, the first of its kind in Britain. So the Trade and Mines School, the forerunner of Cotham Grammar School, came into existence.
Thomas Coomber was the first Headmaster of the Trade and Mines School. He was said to be 'happily possessed of the facility of interesting rather than merely instructing his pupils in the scientific subjects to which he devoted special attention.' This was considered somewhat unusual in those far-off days and practical work, 'the somewhat risky experimental research of enthusiastic boy chemists and physicists' was not always appreciated by unduly nervous parents! It was also said of Mr Coomber that 'nothing gave him greater pleasure than to find himself questioned by his class'. He would have been delighted to teach today's ever curious boys and girls. With Mining part of the curriculum visits to local collieries, many of which were still flourishing in and around Bristol, 'helped to give a better realisation of the meaning of the classroom work.'
The Merchant Venturers' School
In March 1872 the Merchant Venturers' Society, on behalf of Colston's School, rejected a reorganisation scheme involving the local endowed schools (following the Act of 1869) and put forward its own proposals, which included 'rendering liberal assistance to the Trade School'. However, there was no possibility of expanding the School's activities in 'the old and sombre' building in Nelson Street and eventually the Merchant Venturers with the consent of the Charity Commissioners adopted the Trade School. In July 1885 the Trade School under the name of Merchant Venturers' School was installed in a vast pile of buildings on the site of the old Grammar School in Unity Street, erected and fitted up by the Society at a cost of upwards of £40,000. Thomas Coomber continued as Headmaster. Among those present at the opening ceremony on 25th July were the Bishop of Bristol and the Liberal M.P, Mr Samuel Morley. Luncheon was provided by the Master of the Company, Alderman Butterworth, and there was an inspection of the great hall, the engineering workshops, library, laboratories, lecture rooms and classrooms.
In 1890 Professor Julius Wertheimer became the Principal and under this brilliant man of boundless energy and wide interests the Merchant Venturers's Technical College, as it became known in 1894, made great progress. Within a few years the number of students, 1264 in 1890, had almost doubled and in 1897 the Treasurer reported that of seven Royal Exhibitions in Science awarded that year throughout the United Kingdom three had been gained by students of the College. In 1899 additional accommodation was provided on the opposite side of Unity Street, a commercial department was set up with a staff of fourteen teachers and a preparatory school was established in Kingsdown (later transferred to Bristol Grammar School). A few weeks later owing to the rapid increase in the number of students in the Technical College a large building extending from Unity Street to Frogmore Street was converted into workshops for teaching such skills as bricklaying, plasterwork, plumbing, metal work and shoemaking. The Navigation Department of the College was also placed in this building. In 1903 large technical workshops were opened in Rosemary Street.
It was thanks to Julius Wertheimer's zeal and foresight that in 1900 the 'fine athletic field at Horfield was secured and equipped with a splendid pavilion.' He also instigated the College athletic sports which were held each year at the County Ground, Ashley Down. Professor Wertheimer thus began the great sporting tradition which as flourished throughout the present century.
Cotham in the Early Twenties
When the boys were transferred in stages from the massive building in Unity Street to the new site in Cotham Lawn Road
they were not very Impressed with their new campus which appeared bleak and unattractive. Ex-army huts served as classrooms the laboratories and the air-room and a large T-shaped shed comprised an assembly hall which doubled as a gymnasium, the Staff Common Room and more classrooms. The Headmaster's room, the school office and the Library and two rooms for the VIth Form were quartered in Tower House, the large residence near Cotham Road. The first year boys were housed in 'two dark and dismal rooms in what were originally the servants' quarters.' Corporal punishment was inflicted on the first-floor landing of Tower House, after the Headmaster, 'T.V.T' 'had a quick run round to ensure
that all the classroom doors were shut! '
George Phillips who joined the staff in 1922 recalls that the huts were 'imperfectly warmed in winter by tortoise stoves'. Not all was gloom however; the pathway between Tower House and the huts was surrounded by colourful herbaceous borders, 'made beautiful in summer by the devoted work of Mr Borland', the Senior Master. Many Old Cothamians have written about the beds of delphiniums tended with expert and loving care by Gammy Borland! The whole was kept in good order by the efficient and benevolent caretaker', the ever helpful Mr Derham. On a mound in the grounds of the house stood the famous Cotham Tower, set in a circle of beech trees but 'perilously out of the vertical... giving a romantic touch to the grounds. ' The cylindrical stone observatory had been rebuilt in 1779 on the base of an even older windmill which had been adapted in 1754 as a snuff factory! Because of its dangerous condition it was of course out of bounds to the school but this did not deter the more adventurous spirits! I9 December 1920 permission was granted to Bristol University to use the Tower rent free for experiments in wireless directional research under the auspices of the government's Radio Research Board. The last official use of the Tower was during the 1939-45 War when it was used by the Home Guard as a Lewis gun post. There was a great public outcry when the Tower was demolished m 1952 but it is of course commemorated in the School badge.
1920 - 1941 The Baxter Years
Each year at Speech Day Alderman Sir Ernest Cook, Chairman of Governors and a great friend to the School, promised that the much needed new buildings would soon be a reality, an annual promise that brought derisory groans from the audience. At long last in the Autumn Term of 1931 The Tower of that year was able to report that the new buildings, `so long and so patiently awaited', were a reality. '
At last in 1930 the long-awaited day seemed to have arrived when contractors dug a hole about ten foot square in the rough field adjoining the wooden huts. There was disappointment when they then fenced it off and left it but after a long delay operations were resumed and in the following year the new School was officially opened.
Quote from The Tower:
`Cotham School, the most recent of Bristol Schools, and probably of English Schools, contains all the features which we would expect to find in an up-to-date school. The external appearance is handsome and dignified; the interior spacious and well designed. . . .
`Among the facilities which the new school offers may be mentioned the gymnasium with its ample modern apparatus, the spacious library with its numerous book-shelves — at present alas, scantily filled — the Chemical and Physical Laboratories and the special History and Geography Rooms. Convenience, ventilation, heating and lighting have been studied in every possible way so that work should be easier and health better under such favourable conditions.
`We have in fact a School which is worthy of the character of the work and of the traditions which Cotham has built up in the twelve years of its existence; let us — staff and boys alike — see to it that those traditions are not only maintained but amplified and extended and that the new generation of boys is worthy of the School.'
Sixty years later the present pupils and members of staff may consider the description of the school a little overdrawn but of the fulfilment of the hopes expressed in the last paragraph there can be no doubt. The continuing development and growing reputation of the School in the years which followed was due in no small measure to the Headmaster, T.V.T. Baxter, and his dedicated staff. Apart from the Headmaster, of the twenty-one members who were teaching at Cotham in 1922 no fewer than twelve were still at the School in 1939. Mr Borland and Mr Vowden retired in the Summer after nineteen years' service and sadly Arthur Pickering died in the same year after thirty-six years at the M.V. and Cotham. Apart from Mr Skeens who taught Art at Cotham from 1923 to 1943 the others continued to serve the School throughout the war years and beyond. 'Old Dan' Willis finally retired in 1945 after twenty-seven years (a span later to be exceeded by his son, the equally popular 'Young Dan') , while George Hinton did not retire until 1964 by which time he had completed forty years, including a term as Acting Head and twenty years as Deputy Headmaster. F. S McCutcheon (1922 to 1965 and Head of French from 1931 until his retirement) equalled this remarkable record and the others all completed more than thirty years. Their names are worthy of note: I. V. Hall (1921 to 1958), George Phillips (1922 to 1959), Tommy Rogers (1920 to 1955), Jack de Lancey (1919 to 1951) and Bert Crew (1921 to 1952).
While such length of service in one school is not unheard of in recent times it is a comparatively unusual. There can be little doubt that the devoted service of these men lent stability and continuity to the School and was an important factor in its progress in the Thirties.
T.V.T Baxter, M.A, BSc
No member of the School during the two decades T.V.T Baxter was in charge is likely to forget him. Quick to detect slackness of any kind, he gained a reputation of being stern and inflexible. He expected the best from both pupils and teachers and there is no doubt that despite the primitive accommodation of the early years at Cotham Lawn Road and, by modern standards, the lack of facilities, 'the School quickly gained considerable status under his leadership'.
Wartime brought many new problems and increasing stress, made worse by the air-raids in 1940 and 1941 when incendiary and H.E bombs fell in Cotham Road and Cotham Lawn Road. Mr Baxter, who had gone to live in the country at Westbury-sub-Mendip, retired in 1941. On the 29th of August a gathering of present pupils, Old Boys, parents, members of staff and civic dignitaries assembled in the Hall to bid him farewell after twenty-one years as Headmaster. Councillor (later Alderman) F. C. Williams, Chairman of the Education Committee, in expressing the appreciation of the Education Committee, recalled the traditions of the Merchant Venturers' School and said that 'under Mr Baxter's guidance, Cotham had added lustre to these'. Sir Ernest Cook also heartily congratulated Mr Baxter on his splendid work and on the numerous academic distinctions gained during the period of his office. Tributes were also paid by the Rev. H.A Evans on behalf of the Old Boys and Mr W Renshaw for the School. George Hinton, now Second Master, spoke on behalf of the Staff and made the various presentations, an exquisite silver coffee service from the Staff and boys and book tokens and book plates from the Old Boys. Mrs Baxter received a framed portrait of her husband and the Old Cothamians presented a photograph of Mr Baxter to the School. After Mr Baxter had given his thanks to all the various groups represented, he wished the School every success and expressed his confidence in it. The evening closed with the School Captain's call for cheers for the Headmaster and Mrs Baxter.
1939 - 1945 The War Years
In 1939 everything began to change as the international situation grew worse, the cycle sheds under the school were strengthened and converted into air-raid shelters and all windows were criss-crossed with sticky-tape to prevent them shattering. Sand-bags, actually filled with coal-dust, were piled around the walls of the main building to a height of about ten feet to give some protection against bomb blast.
The appearance of the pupils also changed drastically as wartime shortages and clothes rationing took their toll. In 1940 uniform was still worn but soon the green blazer, the green and purple tie and even the sacrosanct green cap with the purple ring became unobtainable and boys were allowed to wear whatever clothing they could obtain.
Inevitably there were changes among the members of staff. In the first few weeks of the war Messrs J. Maggs, E. Riggs and A. G. Statton reported for military service and later Mervyn Badger, F. W. Thorne, Philip Marsden and 'Young Dan' Willis also joined the Forces. Edgar Harding spent four and a half years on important war-work for the government. C.J. Pitchford, who came to Cotham to teach English in January 1939, joined up in July 1940 and was later reported missing, presumed dead. Dan Willis, who became a Navigator in the R.A.F, was reported missing after being shot down in North Africa. He survived but spent a long and unpleasant time as a prisoner of war. His father, `Old Dan', had been due for retirement in 1939 but agreed to carry on teaching for the duration. One of the longest serving and best loved of all Cotham masters, he did not finally retire until 1947 when he was seventy years of age.
For the first time since the School transferred from Unity Street ladies joined the staff. John Symes (1940-47) remembers Mrs Ware (Botany and Religious Knowledge), Miss Harman (English) and following the retirement of Mr Skeens in 1943 'a succession of very pretty Art-teachers, none of whom seemed to stay more than a year or two.' Some interesting names appear on the war-time Staff list, such as Eira Hopkins, Hermia Hicks and the exotically named Doretea Ines McClelland who was qualified to teach Zoology and Botany but taught Maths. Then there was a mysterious Dr Hans Hauser of Vienna, presumably not a spy but a refugee who came to Cotham in February 1940 after teaching in his native city for twenty-seven years. No date of his leaving Cotham was given!
Two gentlemen who were each to play an important part in the academic and sporting life of the School arrived at Cotham in the early years of the war. E. Roy Cook, a former pupil of course who had won the Wertheimer Prize for Natural Sciences and Mathematics in 1924, joined the staff in February 1942 and gave great service both as Master i/c Soccer for many years and in teaching Maths and Science. W. H. Coleman, of Sherborne and Oxford, came to Cotham in September 1941. An omnivorous reader and a great 'character', he will be remembered as an erudite, witty English teacher and umpire for the 2nd XI cricket team. Bill's sudden death in 1965 while still teaching was a great shock to us all.
1940-41 Cotham under attack
In 1940 and 1941 Bristol suffered badly from air-raids and at one period Cotham School seemed to have been singled out as a special target by Hitler's bombers. Presumably the actual target was the nearby railway line to Avonmouth. Senior boys were allowed to join the teachers on the fire-watching rota. Allan Dutton, School Captain in 1944-5, was commended for putting out an incendiary bomb in his garden. After the war he played rugby for Bristol and is now a Professor of Gynaecology in Dallas, Texas, where he has lived for many years.
Incendiaries were the least of our worries. High-Explosive bombs fell all around the School and many buildings in the Cotham and Kingsdown area were destroyed. Bombs fell in the gardens of Hartfield House next to the School, the House itself suffering serious damage, and a land-mine made an enormous crater in the playground. Several bombs failed to explode and as there was no immediate way of telling whether it was a time-bomb or merely a dud the whole area had to be evacuated until Bomb Disposal experts had made it safe to return. One fell in the front garden of a house opposite the west entrance and John Symes went across the road to peer over the edge of the crater to watch the sappers defusing the bomb, a five-foot monster with huge tail-fins. Another boy, John Webb (1940-8) a fine sportsman who played rugger for Bristol and now an eminent Bristol surgeon, remembers the enormous crater at the Hampton Road end of Cotham Lawn Road. With several other boys he went to investigate only to be ejected very smartly by an Army Bomb Disposal Sergeant who assured us that there was an unexploded surprise further down.' For a time the School was transferred to Fairfield, sharing the accommodation — Fairfield having lessons in the morning and Cotham in the afternoon.
The time-bomb in the playground was the occasion of the famous `Baxter and the Bomb' story. The pupils had been sent home with instructions to watch the Ideal press for an announcement about reopening. Mr Lockey was told to stay in the building, with a warning to keep away from windows and flying glass, and to phone Mr Baxter at Westbury-sub-Mendip on the hour to let him know how the bomb disposal people were getting on. "If you don't phone I shall know that something has happened"!!!
During the period of the Blitz lessons were constantly interrupted by air-raid warnings. Boys carried gas-masks to school and had to bring emergency rations of biscuits and processed cheese in case of a prolonged stay in the shelters. John Webb relates one such occasion when Mr Baxter `sped through the air-raid shelters under the school to see that all was well. A "dog-fight" was in progress in the skies above in one of the early daylights raids. Jack de Lancey kept poking his rosy face outside to let us know the score of German planes seen alight; there were cheers all round.'
The Leavers' Book shows that in 1940-1 several boys left Cotham for the comparative safety of more rural areas such as Taunton and Stroud, returning a few months later. In December, 1941, a group designated `official evacuees' went to St Austell and another batch of a dozen went to Cheltenham. Most of these had returned by the end of the following year when the raids had abated. Inevitably there were casualties. A boy called Knight lost his entire family when his house in Bishopston was destroyed by a bomb. Another, J. P. Jacobs, who lived in Lawrence Hill, was killed in a raid in December, 1940.
Yet despite all the danger, the dislocation and many difficulties, school work had to carry on. In the words of John Symes: `The air-raids obviously had an effect upon our studying during the War. It was too dark to work in the air-raid shelters, where education was really a verbal communication amongst the noise of bombs and showers of dust. Nevertheless, ninety-eight out of ninety-nine who took the School Certificate during T.V.T.'s last, my first year, passed.'
Mr Baxter retired in the summer of 1941. John Webb had just completed his first year at Cotham: `We experienced the ultimate year of a legendary headmaster, T.V.T. Baxter; later I was to see him trudging around the Downs near Cote Lodge as a nonagenarian. Later I was to know, as a colleague, one of his sons — sadly estranged from his father. Baxter seemed a very strict, austere man, with a harsh, unkind voice and an ever-present mortar-board.... I have not forgotten Baxter's retirement speech... his theme was powerful with a strong religious flavour, invoking holy writ at every turn. His advice to us all was sound but perhaps lacking in humour.'
George Hinton was Acting Headmaster for a term until Mr Sandford Woods took over the Headship in January 1942 and was 'exceptional popular'. He had won the M.C. in the 1914-18 War and was now a member of the Observer Corps, often appearing in School in the Corp's air-force blue uniform. John Webb was impressed by his end of term speech in which he told the School, 'Character is more important than learning' and 'the boys who contributed most to the School were not necessarily the cleverest.'
With the ending of the Blitz things were quieter but still far from normal in the latter years of the War. The Whitsun Sports Day, held on the Y.M.C.A. Ground or the County Ground and the highlight of the sporting year in pre-war times, could no longer be held because it was forbidden for large crowds to assemble. In 1940 the field at Kellaway Avenue was taken over by civil and military authorities but rugby was played at Packer's Ground, St George. John Webb, eagerly awaiting his first game for Cotham, was not too impressed. 'Changing in a dark, dank air-raid shelter... it was an awful game, a real let down but things soon improved.' Kellaway came back into use, shared with an Air-raid Wardens' cricket team, and thanks largely to the cherry enthusiasm of Bert Crew, nobly supported by such as Bill Coleman and 'Ernie' Cook, games actually flourished in the later war years when, with several other outstanding players, Arthur Milton adorned the cricket, soccer and rugger teams.
During the war years there was no shortage of out-of-school activities. The Cotham Flight of the Air Training Corps was popular and successful.
The Squadron consisted of four Flights, those of B.G.S., Colston's, Q.E.H. and Cotham: There were regular one-week camps on R.A.F. Stations and flights in wartime aircraft. A photograph of No. 1495 (City of Bristol) Squadron, taken in 1945 includes John and Peter Symes, Dickie Downer and John Webb. Despite rationing there were social events and school societies continued to flourish. There were 'rumbustious harvest camps at Old Down and Halmore' and debates with St Brendan's in Berkeley Square. George Phillips 'performed wonders with the School Orchestra' and Arthur Gordon, 'a truly complete director' continued to put on splendid plays. Mr Woods, with the loyal support of his Second Master, George Hinton, presided over the School in these difficult years. The School Secretary, Mr 'Joe' Lockey, omniscient and utterly dependable, ensured that the administration was efficient.
1942 - 1965 The Stewardship of Mr Sanford Woods
1946 Post War Problems
As a result of the 1944 Education Act Cotham Secondary School became Cotham Grammar School and fee-paying places were abolished. The number of pupils, 466 in 1922, had increased to over 600 after the opening of the new building in 1931 and this remained more or less constant during the Thirties and the War years.
A general inspection in 1946 drew attention to the 'growing inclination to regard VIth Form work as an integral part of the course. The record of scholarships and awards over the last four years, mainly in Maths and Science, 'was very creditable'.
There was another general inspection of Cotham in 1959. The inspectors were of the opinion that Cotham was 'a place of sound learning, with an assured position in the educational life of the city, which, in spite of difficulties and discouragements in the last few years, the Headmaster and staff have succeeded in maintaining'.
1956: The Centenary Year
On Monday, 19th March, 1956, a Service of Thanksgiving was held in Bristol Cathedral to commemorate the centenary of the opening of the Bristol Trades and Mines School (now Cotham Grammar School) in March 1956. The lessons were read by the Headmaster, Mr S.R Woods, and the Rev. L.G Champion of the Baptist College. It was a memorable occasion, graced by the presence of the Lord Mayor, the Sheriff and City officials as well as pupils and staff, parents, Old Boys and friends of the School. To the great joy of the boys (and their teachers) the ceremony was followed by a half-holiday.
Speech Day, 1956, was a very special occasion with the whole school, together with a host of parents and friends, assembled in the Victoria Rooms on 15th November. The afternoon opened with the School Orchestra playing the overture from The Caliph of Baghdad and then accompanying the School in the singing of a hymn. The Chairman of the Governors, Alderman F.C Williams, M.A, then introduced the proceedings and said it was especially fitting that an Old Cothamanian, Professor W.R Niblett, should be the chief guest in the year of Cotham's centenary. After the Headmaster's report Professor Niblett of the University of Leeds 'gave a scintillating and witty address which arrested the attentions of even the smallest of boys'. He then presented the prizes and one of the School governors, Mr J.H Britton, proposed a vote of thanks to the 'distinguished and respected chief guest
1965: The Retirement of Mr S. R Woods
July 1965 marked the end of an era when Mr Woods retired after more than twenty-three years as Headmaster. Mr Woods took over at a very difficult time. Many of the staff were away on military service or important war work, the air-raids were causing severe dislocation and there were shortages of everything. The years immediately after the war brought more difficulties and at one time there was a move to make Cotham a Secondary Modern School. He now only surmounted the many obstacles but as a result of his stewardship there came new classrooms, improved chemistry laboratories, a new physics block, the Fowler Library and other libraries, the New Field at Cotham Lawn Road, changing accommodation with showers, tennis courts and all-weather cricket nets at the School and the Rose Garden. At the farewell ceremony he was given a case of pipes and a portrait of himself in oils painted by Mr Hicks, which he graciously presented to the School.
1965 - 1978 Cotham under Mr George Yelland
The early years of George Yelland were beset by difficulties not of his making. Plans to alter drastically the status and composition of the school and the subsequent publicity had a very unsettling effect.
First there was 'The Plan' to abolish Cotham as a Grammar School and replace it with a non-selective, split-site school in conjunction with Bishopston, an incredible scheme which had nothing to commend it except for those who saw the existence of Bristol's two remaining state grammar schools as an irritation. Fortunately, the plan came to nothing but the abolition of the 11-plus meant that in 1966 for the first time Cotham drew its pupils from a restricted catchment area instead of the whole of Bristol. In 1959 the intake had been reduced from a four-form to a three-form entry, from 120 to about 90 boys each year, so that by the mid-sixties numbers had fallen to just over 600. With the boys being drawn from a relatively small area inevitably something was lost.
These changes also coincided with a comparatively large turnover of staff. Apart from those younger teachers who left to take promotion elsewhere many of the old stalwarts were now about to retire. I.V Hall, `Uncle Fred' Bullock and George Phillips had departed in 1958-9 and Bert Crew, that most charismatic of Cotham teachers, had gone in 1952. Heads of Departments, Messrs Riggs and McCutcheon, retired in 1965 and Bill Coleman died suddenly in the same year. In the next three years Norman Smith, 'Ernie' Cook and George 'Archie' Statton had also retired and with the sad death of Arthur Gordon in 1971 and the retirement of Edgar Harding and Dan Willis by 1973 it meant that Philip Marsden was now the only survivor of the pre-war staff.
In the closing years of the sixties three important advances were made; the acquisition of the Charnwood annex, the formation of the Cotham Grammar School Association and the opening of the Coomber Library.
The End of Tower House
In 1968 Tower House reverted to the School and, with the opening of Charnwood, the dilapidated 'New' House (Nos 11 and 13) was soon to be demolished. Tower House was refurbished to provide members of the Upper VIth with a social centre and greatly improved teaching conditions. The House was run by a committee of VIth Formers and valuable lessons were learnt in making decisions and the use of authority within a democratic way of life. As Mr Yelland wrote in The Tower in 1969:
`Learning to devise appropriate and just means of exerting authority for the common good is not the least important lesson which our seniors are learning.'
Girls at Cotham!
Sometime in 1970 a headline appeared in the Evening Post informing its readers that `COTHAM MAY BECOME MIXED'! A member of the Bristol Education Committee was quoted as interpreting this as a portent of the comprehensive to come' which would give the North Central Area `some measure of the equality in the provided type of education which most of the city enjoyed.' Few on the staff at Cotham shared the second part of this opinion, though there were many teachers who saw the benefits that would result from coeducation. If the plan went through, and we were becoming immune to plans for the North Central Area, a tremendous amount of planning and reorganisation would be needed.
In fact the plan was approved sooner than anticipated and soon 11 and 13 Cotham Road were being bulldozed to make way for the New Block needed to house the five-form entry of some 160 boys and girls. The appointment of Miss Jean Bratt as Cotham's first Deputy Headmistress in 1972 proved to be an excellent choice and her special blend of tact and firmness born of experience and her own good nature played an immense part in the smooth transition from a traditional boys' Grammar School to a coeducational establishment.
On September 5th, 1973, girls came to Cotham for the first time —seventy-seven in the First Year and eight into the VIth Form to assist as prefects in helping the new girls to settle down. By 1977 Cotham was fully coeducational and the number of pupils had increased to 979, roughly half of whom were girls.
In the Autumn of 1978 Mr Yelland suffered a serious illness and the school was fortunate in having Mr Turner to take over as Acting Headmaster for the next two terms. Mr Yelland returned in the Summer but his illness had taken its toll and he was forced to resign at the end of the term through ill health.
Cotham in the 1980s
Mr M. J. McKay and a New Management Structure
The arrival of Mr James McKay in the Autumn Term of 1979 heralded a new era in the history of Cotham. A friendly, exuberant man with an outgoing personality he was very different from any of his predecessors. Mel Turner was quite shocked when at Mr McKay's first meeting with the three Deputy Heads he asked if we would like to call him by his Christian name! A man of bustling energy with the ability to make instant decisions, he would pick up the telephone as a sudden idea struck him and much needed audio-visual equipment, furniture or other items would be on the way to Cotham. He spent more time rushing about the School than in the confines of his office, often in his shirt sleeves, delving into odd nooks and crannies to make the best use of the existing buildings.
Mr M. J. McKay was educated at Blundell's and Balliol College, Oxford, where he gained an Honours Degree in Modern History. He came to Cotham with a wide experience in the field of education, including teaching at a large comprehensive school in South London and at a mixed grammar school in Hampshire, lecturing to degree level at Worcester College of Education before becoming Headmaster, first of a small mixed secondary school in Cheltenham and then of Chase School at Mangotsfield, Avon.
Jim McKay 'inherited' Mel Turner, Jean Bratt and me as his three Deputies; Reg Parker now became Head of Sixth Form and Jim Griffiths was appointed to the new post of Head of Upper School (4th and 5th Years). At a later date Peter Scholey as Head of Curriculum also joined Senior Management. This group met at least once a week to discuss school affairs, make decisions and formulate future policy. Below Senior Management Heads of Year were appointed to assist the Form Tutors and to be responsible for the general well-being of the children in their respective years. Mrs Sheila A'Court was promoted to act as Miss Bratt's Deputy and Assistant to the Head of Lower School. She was responsible for the welfare of the girls in the first three years and for the induction of each new intake which involved closer liaison with the feeder Primary Schools. There also came into being a much-needed Pastoral Committee under the aegis of Jean Bratt.
For the first time Cotham had a management structure dealing with both the academic and pastoral aspects of school life. The Heads of Department meetings continued to function in an advisory capacity but the Clubs Committee, an unwieldy and largely anachronistic body, gradually fell into disuse.
Progress and Achievements in Troubled Times
In the early years of the decade Cotham once more was faced by yet another 'plan' which threatened to alter the school so drastically that it would be effect destroy it. The proposal was to abolish selection in the North Central Area and establish a split-side comprehensive with Fairfield housing the Lower School and Cotham the Upper. Again there were months of argument and uncertainty as the complex consultation procedures ground inexorably on before Sir Keith Joseph vetoed the scheme. Cotham was to remain a separate establishment, although a small but significant amendment of its catchment area meant a further widening of the ability range.
There were other difficulties, some of which were caused by a radical group on the governing body. Though well-intentioned, they considered the pursuit of excellence as 'elitism' and held views on such matters as school uniform which were contrary to the School's accepted practice and tended to undermine authority, with resultant problems over discipline. The Cotham Grammar School Association wrote to the Chairman of Governors expressing regret that his letter to parents concerning school uniform had been sent against the advice of the Headmaster, Senior Staff and Parent Governor but the damage had been done.
The middle years of the 1980's saw a prolonged period of industrial action by the teachers and, in common with all state schools, Cotham suffered as a result. Mid-day supervision and many out-of-school activities, including interschool games, were badly affected. Even after industrial action had been ended the lunch hour remained a vexed question, with only the first year pupils and those entitled to free lunches being allowed to remain on the premises.
To deal with the increase in numbers and the broadening of the ability range several important measures were taken. Mrs A'Court's visits to the feeder schools and an induction programme helped to make the first weeks of new pupils a less traumatic experience, while even closer links were forged by meetings between staff and by members of the Music Department spending time teaching in the Primary Schools and organising concerts by Cotham boys and girls. In 1983 the first visits to Wick Court took place, groups of First Year pupils staying for two nights at the old manor house in their first term. Apart from enjoying the outdoor activities, visiting a farm and studying the wildlife, boys and girls learned to co-operate with each other and their tutors. In the same year the Lower School enjoyed the first of a series of police liaison visits, including police dogs and horses. This was a successful exercise designed to give children a better understanding of the role of the police in society and it became an integral part of the School's social education programme.
In 1982 Mrs Vickery had been appointed to set up an Individual Learning Unit where children with learning difficulties could receive special attention on a one to one basis. Later the Unit was extended and moved to more spacious accommodation on the top corridor. In the same year a School bookshop, "The Cotham Browse", was opened in the Coomber Library and proved successful in its aim of encouraging children to develop an interest in books. At the other end of the School a course leading to the Certificate of Pre-Vocational Training was introduced for those Vth and VIth Form students who were vocationally uncommitted and who would benefit from the opportunity to develop vocational skills. The course included regular work experience, enabling them to sample different working environments.
At the same time academic standards continued to remain high. In 1983 for example, sixty-two of the Upper VIth went on to read for degrees.
Before long the ending of the '0' Level and C.S.E. examinations and the introduction of the General Certificate of Secondary Education threw an additional burden on the staff. There was much to be learnt about the new type of examination in far too short a time, including the different skills to be tested, marking procedures and curriculum changes. The introduction of course work meant a mountain of marking. Later the advent of the National Curriculum and the keeping of records of personal achievement increased the amount of time-consuming paper work and added to the hectic pace of the teacher's life.
Amid the hustle and bustle and the inevitable disruption there were many remarkable achievements in the 1980's, none more so than in the field of drama and music. Excellent performances of Separate Tables, The Ghost Train and She Stoops to Conquer— none perhaps matching Roy Brimble's superb production of Hamlet in 1965 — were followed by the VIth Form musicals. Everyone said the high standard set by the memorable Oh, What a Lovely War! could never be reached again but each year successive VIth Forms continued to surprise us with such outstanding musicals such as Salad Days, Guys And Dolls, Damn Yankees, The Boy Friend, and No, No, Nanette.
Music under Reg Parker and Mrs Rivers continued to flourish in the early eighties. In February 1980 over 1,500 people attended the concert at the Colston Hall, held in conjunction with Redland High School.
In 1984 four young musicians from Cotham toured the Gulf States with the Avon Schools Orchestra. Stuart Daines (Bass Trombone), Catherine Tiley and Nadia Lanman (Cello) and Anna Johnson (Violin) were joined by three other girls who had left Cotham the previous year, Helena Walters, the Leader of the orchestra, Alice Jackson (French Horn) and Caroline Windaybank (Viola). The tour was a wonderful experience, though very exacting, entailing as it did six flights in ten days.
The Rucksack Club and the Junior Outdoor Activities Club, led by Mike Slattery and Tony Wright fostered a growing enthusiasm for walking and hill-climbing, from First Year pupils exploring the Forest of Dean and Exmoor to senior boys and girls taking part each year in the strenuous Ten Tours walk on Dartmoor. The teams enduring this exacting test of skill and stamina undergo months of arduous training and practice walks building up to the great weekend. Year after year Cotham's young ladies and gentlemen acquit themselves well, never more so than in the 'Tempest' Ten Tours of 1986 when torrential rain flattened tents and, together with a thick, chilling mist, made rivers impassable and navigation impossible. In these terrible conditions less than 500 out of 2,500 finished the course and of this tiny elite nine of Cotham's eleven walkers obtained medals for finishing the course. Amanda Hugill and Nadya Truman gained the notable distinction of being the only two girls to complete the 55-mile expedition.
Despite the underlying problems of these times there was a great deal that was praiseworthy, both academically and in the social, cultural and sporting life of the School.
Cotham Enters the 1990s
The Old Order Changeth
Between 1980 and 1985 several long-serving members of staff retired. In 1981 Mel Turner said farewell after thirty-five years at Cotham, the last twenty-two as Deputy Head. He left his stamp on the School in so many different ways and his stalwart presence, his bluff heartiness and strong personality were sorely missed.
Jim Pyle, who had succeeded Arthur Winton as Head of English in 1975, also retired in the Summer of 1981 and at Christmas we said goodbye to Jerry Hicks, Head of Art since 1951. In his thirty memorable years at Cotham Jerry not only transformed the teaching and status of Art within the School but he formed the first school judo club in Britain. His tremendous sense of humour, impressive presence and sporting reputation (`watch out or he'll judo you!') meant that Jerry had no disciplinary problems! He uses the same energy and gift of trenchant language as he did when Chairman of Common Room and Staff representative on the governing body.
Edwin Joce who had taught Maths since 1956 also retired, having completed a quarter of a century in the Maths Department. In that time he also did a great deal to raise the standard of Chess in the School and in his younger days was a fiercely competitive forward in the Staff Rugby team. In 1983 the Music Department suffered a double loss when first Mrs Rivers and then Reg Parker retired. It was fitting that Mrs Rivers who had been unwell for some time was able to take part in the Colston Hall concert that year. She had performed wonders for music in the junior forms and her Lower School Carol Services were a joy. Mr Parker whose last concert at the Colston Hall was described in the Evening Post as 'a triumph for the School', had been Head of Music for twenty-seven years and had established the VIth Form Music centre at Charnwood as well as supervising the VIth Form for the past four years. Both would be sorely missed as indeed would Mr A. T. Walsh who had served Cotham well for over a quarter of a century, not only in the Maths Department but he had also given considerable help with music, chess and cricket. Another chess stalwart, Paul Wyton, retired in 1984. He had come to Cotham in 1958 to teach French and had been Head of Modern Languages since 1971. He had also looked after the Under 12 XV for many years, infusing his charges with his own enthusiasm.
In 1985 Mrs Peggy Young, who had become the School's first Nurse nine years previously, retired. Apart from her official duties, she had played a full part in the life of the School, singing in the choir, helping with the Rucksack Club and as a parent becoming vice-chairman of the C.G.S.A. Mr Jim Neale retired as Bursar in 1987 he replaced the irreplaceable Mr Lockey without suffering by comparison. By this time Mrs A'Court and Mrs Vickery had also retired, both having contributed much to the development of the Lower School.
Mr D Prattens retirement at Christmas in the same year, followed by that of Jean Bratt in 1989 and Jim Griffiths in 1990 meant that by the end of the decade not one member of Mr McKay's original Senior Management team remained. Peter Scholey, a fine schoolmaster in the best Cotham tradition, had already left to take up a Deputy Headship. Throughout Cotham's history teachers have made outstanding contributions to the progress of the School in a wide variety of ways and one would have thought their departure would have left a gap. Yet always a man or woman has emerged to fill the void and help to maintain and improve the high standards set by their predecessors. Cotham has every right to be proud of its traditions but it has never lived in the past. Times change and in the interests of its boys and girls, the School, building on the past, must change to meet new demands and new situations.
The New Age of Acronyms, Accountability and Assessment
Since the advent of ERA (Education Reform Act) the NC (National Curriculum) has come into being, together with OE (Open Enrolment) which meant that PAL (Planned Admission Level) had to be replaced by SN (Standard Numbers). For Cotham this meant an extra twenty-eight pupils a year, or over a hundred extra children after five years, with consequent demands on teaching space and timetabling.
A long overdue change has been made in the composition of the Governing Body, giving more influence to parents and teachers rather than political appointees. The Governing Body meets twice a term and all meetings are open to any parents who wish to attend. Governors are responsible for the general conduct of the School and take an interest in all aspects of school life, such as the curriculum, the buildings, standards of dress and discipline. They also take a major part in the selection of senior staff and in managing the School's budget.
The Governors now have much greater responsibilities, particularly with the School under full LMS. Each school has to produce an IDP (Institutional Development Plan) which outlines the proposed developments and sets targets which are measured by El (Effectiveness Indicators).
Under the NC there are four Key Stages (Ages 7, 11, 14 and 16) when the government intends to introduce SAT (Standard Assessment Tests). At all stages the curriculum is much more proscribed, with many attainment targets to be met. Education is seen as a continuous process so that Secondary Schools can build on the work done at Primary level. To emphasise this school have adopted a continuous numbering system, so that children come into Year 7 at Cotham, take GCSE at Year 11 and instead of a VIth Form there are Years 12 and 13.
ERA has brought in another important innovation in RoA (Records of Achievement). For each boy or girl in Year 7 a portfolio of their achievements is started, in which will be recorded all their positive attainments, both in the classroom and outside. Pupils and their parents, as well as teachers will be involved in building up this portfolio which eventually will provide a composite picture to be passed on to employers.
To meet the demands of the NC, considerable changes have had to be introduced, including a new timetable (in two weeks cycle) and a new departmental organisation based on CA's (Curriculum Areas) instead of the traditional individual subjects. In addition there is a great deal of cross-curricular work, particularly in IT (Information Technology).
It is fitting that Professor Niblett should have the last word. In his foreword to the 1980 Jubilee Edition of The Old Cothamian he wrote:
`Every present contains its past, indeed at every instant becomes a little bit of the past itself. The ideals and standards which have made and still make the Cotham tradition will live on through 1981 to 2031 —whether the "new" buildings are still there or, long before that, have been replaced by some cloud-capped tower or gorgeous palace.'