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1966 - 1971
The Sancti Brendani website brought back many (mainly happy) memories of my time at St Brendan's College in Brislington (1966 - 71); and, although I cannot spot myself in any of the photos, there are certainly some familiar faces!
I entered St Brendan's in September 1966 and was originally in Form 1C (under form master Br Roberts - known as 'Harry' in deference to the robber involved in the 1966 Shepherd's Bush Murders, though we pupils also credited him with involvement in the Great Train Robbery of 1963!). Br Brennan was, of course, headmaster, at this time and among the stalwart band of teachers were Tony Patten, Peter Allen and Dan Kelly who, between them, instilled in me a love of English (Literature), drama and French.
I recall that the ethos of St Brendan's was a combination of academic industry (with all eyes on university) and sporting prowess. Unfortunately, I shone in neither area. I was not one of the brainiest boys in class; neither did rugby or cricket appeal to me. But I attempted Latin (because at that time I was intending to study for the priesthood) and even Ancient Greek, though I failed both subjects at O-level. I chose athletics instead of cricket at the first opportunity and even made the school team, briefly, in the high jump; and I opted out of rugby to run miles across muddy fields and windswept lanes in cross-country, including the main Bristol-London railway track! Even Elwyn Price's passion for rugby couldn't enthuse me for the sport!
But sports and studies aside, St Brendan’s was significant in my life because it introduced me to the theatre. Peter Allen used to organise regular excursions to plays at the Bristol Old Vic and it was often left to me to review the productions for the school magazine. I also remember being enraptured by the school's production of 'The Importance of Being Earnest', in which Paul Lavers starred as Algernon Moncrieff; and when the opportunity arose the following year to audition for the school’s production of ‘Toad of Toad Hall’, I secured the role of Mr Badger. It was a privilege to have been produced by a drama teacher of the calibre of Hedley Goodall and his assistant, Alan Lawrence. Also playing leading roles were Nicholas Shearman (Toad), Andrew Payne (Rat) and Barnaby Dowling (Mole). I'm pleased to say that on leaving school, I continued to perform in various amateur dramatic companies, including the Bristol Musical Comedy Club, with whom I performed at the Bristol Hippodrome in 'Half A Sixpence' - something I am sure stems from my experience of theatre at St Brendan's.
Sadly, as school fees continued to rise in the late 1960s, my parents decided to transfer me to St Bernadette School in Whitchurch, where I concluded my A-Level studies between 1971 and 1973 - and also played the role of Major-General Stanley in their production of 'The Pirates of Penzance'. It has always been a cause of regret that I never had the opportunity to bid farewell to my St Brendan's contemporaries and have subsequently lost touch with all of them. Sancti Brendani has enabled me to relive many of those times, so thank you for the website.
1947 - 1952
They were great years after the war, the start of the rebuilding of the bombed buildings all around us. Penmanship through Isosceles, Trapezoids and Amo, amas amant through Je fais, il fait, etc etc. leading me into engineering and my own business in the USA.
SEAN MADDALENA - CAESARIAN
The 10-Year Stretch (1974 - 1984)
I doubt very much that there is sufficient space here to write down all of my memories of St. Brendan's, good or bad. I have enough material locked away for several books, if I ever find the time. I suspect that like many of you out there reading this, I too have the occasional troublesome dream and am returned momentarily to my old and battered graffiti-covered desk and sometimes even catch the whiff of the waxy floor in the assembly hall, the stench of formaldehyde from the corridor outside the science labs and the sweet smell of freshly cut grass wafting through the open windows on a summer afternoon.
As someone who did the full ten-year stretch, (as had my older brother before me, and our father before both of us) this trip down memory lane covers the period 1974 to 1984. We were the last-but-one class of the original St. Brendan's Boys; apart from the class below, the school was effectively closing behind us and with that came an exodus of the original Brendan's teachers, many of whom nobly took their cue and exited - stage right. The world-famous rugby legacy that was Fortress St. Brendan`s was already dwindling and, despite the best efforts of Elwyn Price over the next few years, it was clear that the glory days were over. The blood and sweat of many thousands of old boys, along with the tears of myriad vanquished foes are forever soaked deep into the thick, red clay of the rugby fields now owned by the Gas Board – a terrible, terrible shame.
For those of you who passed this way with me, put a face to these names and conjure up the bad old days. This is for you.
My earliest memories of St. Brendan's were actually in 1972 and 1973. My older brother had entered the prep school two years before me so I remember being dragged along to Sports Days and Summer Fetes before I joined the school as a pupil. The Summer Fetes especially were particularly grand affairs and always with a centerpiece: one year the army's Red Devils were scheduled to parachute into the school (I think it was cancelled due to the weather) and in another a professional lunatic dived off a high platform into a large tank of water that had been set on fire. No such worries as Health & Safety back then. The regular army were present and had various armoured vehicles parked on the grass which people were invited to climb on and sit in - it took my brother less than a minute to work out the starting mechanism and fire up a tank's engine, much to the shock and surprise of anyone standing nearby, including a horrified NCO. In those early years the school's tuck-shop was still open (as was the hot drinks vending machine next to it - 3p for Hot Chocolate) but it mysteriously closed soon after, and never re-opened. For those of you who never knew, it was behind the metal shutters next to the entrance to the music room; between the woodwork and metalwork rooms.
1974: Prep 1
I passed the entrance examination for the prep school and started St. Brendan's properly in September 1974. Our form master was Mr. Pullin – he used to wear the formal, black master's gown and was quite intimidating at first. We knew that he had a strap and were wary of this fact, but he rarely found cause to use it. Strict desk discipline began early on: exercise books on the right (in the standard St. Brendan's colours: blue = English, orange = Maths, light green = Chemistry...etc) textbooks (which we had to take home and cover ourselves) on the left – "A tidy desk is a tidy mind!"
We were split into four houses: Caesarians, Horatians, Virgilians and Ciceronians - which would remain with us from that moment on, and were introduced to the St. Brendan's timetable – also a permanent feature for the duration of our stay at the school (the only exception being that the prep boys started lunch a bit earlier than the seniors; sat at hexagonal tables, eating off plastic plates with metal trays). Interestingly, there was no gap at all between lessons; when one class finished the next class started immediately: 9:00 to 9:40, 9:40 to 10:20 (morning break), 10:35 to 11:15, 11:15 to 11:55, 11:55 to 12:35 (lunch), 1:40 to 2:20 and, 2:20 to 3:00.
As prep boys we had some special rules to follow: we were restricted to playing in just one playground (to the left of the covered area) and had to line-up in an orderly fashion before going inside. The prep school finished forty minutes before the senior school, whose students had an additional 3:00 to 3:40 session to endure. Those of us who had brothers in the senior school had those forty minutes each afternoon to ourselves; time to do homework, explore the school or watch the rugby. We were all issued with a fixture booklet for the coming winter season, which we kept in our front blazer pocket, and a 'Catholic Catechism', which we were supposed to learn. There was also the ever-present homework timetable that we always hoped, fruitlessly, the teachers would forget. For a boy without much dinner money, or one who had forgotten his packed lunch, the best source of bargain carbohydrates was Dave the ice-cream man, who did a roaring trade flogging empty ice-cream cone wafers for 1/2p each.
Mr. Pullin took no time at all in identifying the fifteen or so Prep 1 boys to contribute to the thirty-five that would make up the St. Brendan's U10's rugby team. Each team at St. Brendan's had its own pitch for the entire season; ours was directly behind the poplar trees, just above the Cow field, between the small copse and the hammer-throwing nets. Like the best, slow-cooked food or the finest Japanese tempered steel, St. Brendan's knew that the process of moulding rugby players and teams was a long-term plan; the conveyor had started. There weren't that many schools in and around Bristol playing rugby at such an early age, but our nemesis for the three prep school years was undoubtedly The Downs School, Failand. They were a dedicated preparatory school and thus had more boys to choose from than us - they also took their rugby very seriously. I'd like to say that in the end it was honours even, but it is probably more accurate to say that The Downs School beat us more often than we beat them. Most of their boys later went on to the likes of Q.E.H. and Bristol Grammar, so we were able to exact our revenge in later years.
It was at about this time that we got our first glimpses of the 1st XV in action – Mr. Pullin always encouraged us to watch them if they were training, or to support them (along with crowds of other pupils, teachers and Brothers) when they were playing. It was quite a sight to our young eyes – they looked and played like men, not boys, and thundered around the pitch like a herd of horses. The forwards rucked and mauled with the ferocity of wild animals and the backs swerved, passed and kicked like the internationals we were used to watching on TV. It was all very, very impressive.
Aside from the rugby, my main memory of that first year was just getting used to the place. We had few dealings at that stage with any part of the senior school, and rarely ventured much further east than the assembly hall for Speech Training with Mr. Goodall and Mr. Lawrence. The VI form corridor, directly above the prep school, was a very mysterious place: everyone up there was either a teacher, a prefect or very, very big. We were learning very quickly to keep our heads down.
Mr. Pullin was an excellent, gifted teacher and, as many others will remember, a fantastic artist with real flair and imagination. The old art room was his domain (hard to think now that there were real firearms stored behind the heavy metal doors in the CCF armoury just next door). In the summer months he took us out for nature walks and introduced us to the local flora and fauna in the school grounds. We collected sticklebacks and tadpole spawn from the pond next to the nurse's home that were kept, along with other things, in tanks at the back of the classroom. I came second in class that year behind Adrian Gailor.
1975: Prep 2
We moved along the corridor one classroom and started Prep 2 – no longer the youngest in the school – in rugby years we were U11's. Our new form master was also new to the school: Mr. Ramsbottom, who was promptly nicknamed Sheepsass. Mr. Ruszala came down from the senior school to teach us General Science (a mix of chemistry, physics and biology) and this was our first real introduction to how things were done in the "big" school. In complete silence, Mr. Ruszala drew all of the constellations of the Northern Hemisphere on the blackboard – we had to copy it all down perfectly...and remember it. My other abiding memory from Prep 2 was being told early one morning by Mr. Ramsbottom that the headmaster wanted to see me. I didn't know what it was about, and I wasn't worried because I hadn't done anything wrong (recently), but Bro. Egan was fuming and with hardly a word of explanation strapped me with such ferocity that I thought he had broken every bone in both of my hands. I didn't cry but went into the toilets, turned on the cold tap with my elbows and tried to get some feeling back. It was beyond pain, like something burning white-hot. But, of course, the pain came later. From what I could gather, while waiting for my brother to finish school the day before, a few of us had been out, wandering around the school and I had shouted orders at a troop of CCF cadets from across the playground while they were being inspected by an important guest.
A quick word here on the future plans that St. Brendan's had in place before the final judgment was made to turn the school into a dedicated sixth form college: along with the decision to raise money for a full-size swimming pool at the school, there were also plans to build a 400m tartan running track. Ultimately none of these things came to pass – somebody, somewhere, decided that it was a far better idea for the employees of the Gas Board to enjoy sports, rather than the students.
In that same year my mum was asked to come down to the school and have a little chat with my form master – over the course of three successive weeks I had been caught with fireworks, a catapult, an air pistol and a tin of lead shot in my possession (luckily they never found the blob of mercury which I kept in an old Café Crème cigar tin). Despite this, in my report Mr. Ramsbottom described me as "an asset to the school". I came third in class that year, behind Adrian Gailor and Simon McNab.
1976: Prep 3
We didn't move a further classroom along the corridor as we normally would have done, instead we actually moved back into the old Prep 1 classroom directly beneath the staff room. Prep 3 disappeared as the headmaster's office was expanded and extended. There was no new intake into the Prep school after the year below us. The first gaps in the St. Brendan's rugby machine were starting to appear. Mr. Pullin moved into the senior school to become the form master of 1A, but did not remain at St. Brendan's for much longer after that. If a man can be heartbroken by seeing the school that he loves dying around him, Mr. Pullin was that man. Many years later, shortly before his untimely death in 1988, my mum bumped into Mr. Pullin while picking strawberries out near Keynsham. The first thing he said to her was, "Hello Mrs. Maddalena – how are Peter and Sean?"
Our Prep 3 form master was Bro. Keane, my favourite of all the Christian Brothers, who did a great job in preparing us all to pass the upcoming 11+ examination with a succession of past papers in English, Mathematics and Verbal Reasoning. U12's now and still having problems with The Downs School. In the summer season, athletics was starting to take a more prominent role and the A.A.A. awards scheme was becoming more and more important as individuals jostled to get more points in particular events. In the gym, the B.A.G.A. scheme (1 – 4 ranking) was good fun for budding gymnasts. At the end of the year we were told which of the 1st form classes we would be in (there was no streaming in the 1st year). It was a time to say goodbye to caps, short trousers and old friends. I came second in class again, behind Mr. Gailor.
1977: 1B (Top Floor)
Form master Mr. Luckman was another of the old-school (literally) St. Brendan's teachers. There were a whole lot of new regimes to learn, and the larger part of the school to study in (although the VI form corridor was still very much out-of-bounds). Bro. Egan had been replaced as headmaster by Bro. Coleman, aka "TC". There were an extra seventy or so new boys for the rugby teachers to choose from for the U12's team, but a few of us retained our places. For the very first time there was an alternative to rugby in the winter season: cross-country running for those so inclined.
Compulsory assembly every morning (everyone had to be in there before the bell at 8:50) which was a period of quiet, reading time followed by announcements and prayer. Monday morning assembly in the autumn and winter terms was always a bit longer than usual as there were lots of rugby scores to announce. It is testimony to the strength of the school at that time that nobody was the least bit surprised when every team recorded a win on the previous Saturday. Eyebrows might have been raised, just slightly, if someone had lost.
A word here regarding how the rugby system actually worked at St. Brendan's: From the U10's to U16's, teams played against their corresponding age groups. Above this level and age were the 1st XV, 2nd XV, 3rd XV and 4th XV teams. When playing the 1st XV from a school that wasn't particularly good at rugby (Brislington, St. Bernadette's...etc) the St. Brendan's 4ths or 3rds were usually deployed. If playing a school that was good at rugby, the 2nd XV was usually sufficient. The 1st XV only played the very best schools in the country, as well as university freshmen sides or rugby club (Colt's) teams. Despite serious opposition, it was not uncommon for the 1st XV to remain unbeaten season after season, and all this back in the day when the entire VI form student body often totaled less than fifty students.
In the classroom the pressure was starting to build as everyone knew that streaming would begin the following year, and this would be based on the end-of-year examination results. It was at this time that the first whiff of the onslaught that would later come to be known as Political Correctness arrived at St. Brendan's – the decision was made to rename the "C" stream as the "Alpha" stream; the former seemingly possessing too many negative connotations. Luckily I did OK and secured a place in 2A for the following year. Memorable reading texts for that year included: 'The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes', 'Watership Down', 'The Hobbit', 'A Christmas Carol', 'Julius Caesar'.
1978: 2A (Second Floor)
Into 2A and the first murmuring of "options". At different stages over the course of the next few years some subjects would have to be dropped, and new ones started, before individual O-Level course selections were finally decided. I loved General Science, and came first in it in 1B, but I didn't like Mr. Chiles (weapon of choice: a length of thick carpet underlay used as a strap) who was the school's biology teacher, so I was not going to choose it. That sounds like a very small thing, but back in the 70's some serious career decisions were being made at very young ages. The way it worked was this: if you didn't do Biology O-Level, then you couldn't take Biology A-Level and if you didn't have Biology A-Level it would be impossible to read Medicine at university. The choice whether or not to take Biology was made between the ages of twelve and thirteen – hardly an appropriate age to make a final decision on one's future. Hmmm...
Mr. Malone, our form master, did his best to introduce Latin to us but, as that was also an option, a large number dropped it later and followed Spanish instead. A few 2A boys spent a lot of Latin classes hiding in the cupboards rather than pouring over their copies of 'Mentor' or 'Civis Romanus'. Woodwork and Metalwork, Technical Drawing and Music became options too, as did Art, Geography and Geology. In addition to the four or five optional subjects, the compulsory subjects were: English Language, English Literature, Mathematics, History, French, Chemistry, Physics and Religious Studies. We continued to have Speech Training once a week with Mr. Goodall and Mr. Lawrence, but there was no qualification linked to that, and most of us saw the class as a kind of respite from the usual academic dirge. The U14's had a great rugby year under Mr. Burton and went the whole season unbeaten, though I do remember a particularly bruising game on a freezing, wet, dark, afternoon against Christ College, Brecon which we only won by something like 4-3 or 4-0. A lot of the best opposition in those days was over the bridge.
Punk time in the UK and lots of boys were stretching the school's rules to the absolute limits. Uniforms were carefully modified, hair was being hennaed and the occasional piercing made an appearance. But, on the whole, discipline was still strict. The prefects were still wielding power over us young 'uns, and the strap continued to make an occasional appearance. The one concession that did seem to be granted to the students was smoking. Nobody really bothered that the toilets on all floors looked like they were on fire during every morning break, and during lunch-time hardly anyone ever tried to organize a simple pincer movement and come at both sides of the covered area at the same time in order to catch everyone puffing there. In the summer things were even easier – lots of people enjoying a crafty fag on the grass or down at the logs. One way or another, most of us were going to be running it all off anyway. Memorable reading texts for that year included: 'The Colditz Story', 'The Lonely Sea and the Sky', 'Cry the Beloved Country', 'The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner', 'Billy Liar', 'A Midsummer Night's Dream'.
1979: 3A (Ground Floor)
The school was starting to feel a bit empty; there is a void opening behind us... I remember the third form with fond affection – the intense pressure of the O-Level syllabuses hadn't really started yet and we had Mr. Woodman, who was widely regarded as a very good bloke, as our form master. The one downer was triple Physics & Chemistry in the afternoon – even knocking off and hiding in the cupboard was a waste of time as we were expected to catch up on anything we had missed anyway, including homework. The U15's had a bit of a hiccup losing to St. Edward's, Liverpool - we lost our way driving up and Frank (Mr.Woodman) had to get out and ask a policeman for directions. We arrived there late and after three or four hours sitting on a coach I suppose we weren't really in the mood. Towards the end of the year Mr. Riggs (Geography) decided to leave St. Brendan's. He was another well-liked teacher; we gave him half a bottle of whisky and a selection of our finest magazines as leaving presents. Memorable reading texts for that year included: 'The Importance of Being Earnest', 'Lady Windermere's Fan', 'Macbeth', 'Animal Farm', '1984' (with the smashing student teacher, Miss. Bradshaw).
1980: 4A (Ground Floor)
Even more empty classrooms, the transition to St. Brendan's Sixth Form College was about to begin. Soon the girls would be arriving from the closing VI forms in the various catholic feeder schools and this would bring with it an end to the uniform rule in the upper and lower sixths. At about this time the cafeteria started the first of its (many) transformations, and chips were available on demand! The set lunch was still available and cash was replaced for a short time with small tickets brandishing the St. Brendan's crest. A few bright sparks soon found that these were easy to photocopy, and sell – the ticket system promptly abandoned soon after.
The first of our "examination years" – as 4A boys we would be expected to take (and pass) English Language & Mathematics O-Levels a year early. Bro. Kelly (our form master) was guiding us through English and Mr. Morris, Maths. In the end, it was not that tough, but getting those two out of the way didn't actually free-up any time on the timetable, which was quickly filled the following year with additional classes (a choice between the new Computer Studies O-Level or early A-Level Maths).
Bro. Kelly took the opportunity in one of his Religious Studies lessons to invite us to ask him anything we wanted to know, or were worried about, anonymously on small pieces of paper. I wrote, "Science teaches us that man evolved from the apes, but the Bible tells us that we came from Adam and Eve. Who are you trying to kid, Brother Kelly?" Bro. Kelly let out an almighty roar, "I know who wrote this! I know this writing!" – so much for anonymity. Anyway, he ignored my question and went on to answer the pile he had asking about a singular male activity, there must have been some very fragile young minds in that class to feel the need to ask a Christian Brother about such a thing, but no doubt Bro. Kelly put their minds very much at rest by telling them that yes, it was indeed a serious sin – a sin because it is a sin 'to love oneself', only God could do that. Perhaps, on reflection, it was a good thing that girls were coming to the school... Luckily our very nice supply teacher for Physics that year (Mr. Hayden, a straight-talking northerner) was better able to put an end to some of the worrying. On hearing of our experience with Bro. Kelly his sage advice, with a wry smile, was, "There's nothing wrong with my eyesight".
My older brother jumped into the record books this year by officially becoming the bounciest St. Brendan's boy of all time. He set a PB of over 2m in the high jump at a time when the world record was only 2m30. Memorable reading texts for that year included: 'Great Expectations', 'The Mayor of Casterbridge', 'Lord of the Flies', 'Richard II', 'Henry IV Part 1'.
1981: 5A (Second Floor)
We were back in our old 2A classroom, Mr. Martin our form master. It was at about this time that a notorious court case hit the pages of the 'Bristol Evening Post' (nothing to do with Mr.Martin). I won't go into any further details here, for those of you so inclined both the trial and outcome are in the public domain; suffice it to say, none of us were the least bit surprised.
Punk is now out – new romantic and alternative music are in. Inside the school there were lots of changes going on all around too: classrooms were being bisected or trisected into smaller, VI form rooms, the bogs were being converted into "lady's washrooms". The original staff car park and the pristine lawns in front (Keep Off The Grass!) were giving way to a new art block. A portacabin erected beside the old bike sheds would become the new, imaginatively named, 'Learning Development Unit' (LDU), an indication, perhaps, of the direction St. Brendan's was now taking.
This was the big examination year: the O-Levels would determine our A-Level choices and these, in turn, would determine our university or career paths. Mr. Ruszala coaxed us all to take the Chemistry O-Level almost a year early (in the November resits) so that he could then squeeze an entire extra A/O-Level syllabus (Chemisty in Society) into the following few months.
My interest in rugby was starting to wane; I had a steady, beautiful girlfriend (one of Mr. Burton's daughters) and I knew that rugby would cease to be compulsory in just a few months time. Though our decision to quit playing early would neither be forgotten, nor forgiven, by the various rugby teachers, there were simply not enough students left to maintain the old St. Brendan's rugby prestige. The system of "Colours" for excellence in any of the St. Brendan's sports had all but disappeared, as had most of the contents of the school's huge trophy cabinet as part of a nighttime burglary a few months later. This ransacking and violation of the school's history was as symbolic as it was real.
Elwyn did his best to postpone the inevitable, but the tide had turned and he was fighting an unwinnable war. Talking of wars, it was during this year that The Malt and Hops public house on Broad Street became the battleground for a mass brawl between St. Brendan's rugby boys and opposing Bristol teams. Despite the huge amount of damage caused, the event only warranted a passing mention during morning assembly. (Ostensibly it is put down to high spirits (literally) but in reality the owners don't want to be closed down for serving underage kids).
Even with the wonderful distraction of La Retraite and Sacred Heart Girls to contend with, 5A finished the school year with a record-breaking set of O-Levels results – and not a scrap of "coursework" in sight. At the end of the summer holiday we would be entering St. Brendan's Sixth Form College; things would never be quite the same again. It was time to go down town and watch the girls dancing around their handbags. Memorable reading texts for that final year included: 'Romeo and Juliet', ' The Crucible', 'Death of a Salesman'.
1982: Lower VI, St. Brendan's Sixth Form College
1983: Upper VI, St. Brendan's Sixth Form College
1984 – 1985: The last of the original St. Brendan's boys passed through the school gates for the final time.
Roll of Honour:
Bro. Egan, Bro. Coleman (TC), Bro. Gleason, Bro. Macnamara, Bro. Rock, Bro. Kelly (Brock), Bro. Keane, Mr. Pullin (Peter), Mr. Ramsbottom (Sheepsass), Mr. Luckman, Mr. Malone (Molly), Mr. Woodman (Frank), Mr. Martin (Dog), Mr. Arthur (Dicky), Mr. Riggs (Dave), Mr. Ruszala (Des), Mr. Chiles (Derek), Mr. Callaghan, Mr. Stefano (Pete), Mr. Morris (Richard, Slob), Mr. Cobb (Andy, Sterile), Mr. Bogey, Mr. Morgan (Donald, Wetleg), Mr. Dougal (Johnny), Mr. Price (Elwyn), Mr. Burton (Bill), Mr. Furlong (Guff), Mr. Johnstone, Mr. Wall (Tim), Mr. McCarthy (Titch), Mr. Murphy (Spud), Mr. Lawrence, Mr. Goodall, Mr. Phillips (Basil, Abdul), Mr. Payne, Mrs. Bath, Mrs. Rhymes (Rhino), Mrs. Puckey, Mrs. McCarthy (Madge), and Dr. Schofield.
Student teachers: Mr. Bramner (Religious Studies, 5A), Miss Bradshaw (English, 3A)
Supply teachers: Miss Lindale (Geography, 4A), Mr. Hayden (Physics, 4A)
Not forgetting Ron and the second "Spud" Murphy (groundsmen), Flo' from the cafeteria, Bro. Cummings - often seen wandering around the Beeches, Father Julian, Dave the ice-cream man and Bonny Fox.
Long live Sacred Heart!
Long live La Retraite!
Vivat Sancti Brendani!
This is my own personal recollection of the final decade in the history of St. Brendan's College. If any old boys spot any glaring inaccuracies or inconsistencies, I would love to hear from them and may be contacted at the address below.
A special word of thanks to Philip McIntyre, my best friend, for all of his kind help and encouragement in preparing this manuscript. As with most of my St. Brendan's history, I couldn't have done it without him.
Sean Maddalena. Osaka, Japan.
GUIDO MADDALENA - CAESARIAN
Memories of Berkeley Square (1945 - 1954)
Having just read my son Sean's memories of St. Brendan's, I thought it only right and proper to put pen to paper and record my memories of the years when St. Brendan's was still located at No. 9 Berkeley Square, Clifton. Little did I know then that some thirty years later my two sons might be sat at my old desk, holding the same textbooks and being taught by some of the same teachers. Make no mistake, it was tough - by today's standards, very tough. But it is still with some regret, and no small amount of sadness, that I note that my grandsons have been denied the right to make the same journey. As with many paths through life, the most difficult are often, ultimately, the most rewarding.
In the summer of 1945, after the cessation of Second World War hostilities, our family returned to my father's house in Queens Road, Knowle. Then at the age of eight, I was enrolled in the prep school (fee-paying, as I was completely illiterate due to spending my early years at poorly resourced country schools in Somerset). Then, having been decked-out with the compulsory school uniform (only available from Mssrs Horn Brothers & Sons), of school cap, tie, blazer, white shirt, short grey trousers, long grey socks (with the school colours), black lace up shoes, satchel, gym and rugby kits, I commenced my formal education under the strict Christian Brothers' regime.
One difficult problem I faced in post-war Bristol was the unfair treatment of youngsters with foreign names - I had to defend myself on several occasions against multiple odds (fighting was severely dealt with irrespective of who started it). My father told me many times to "keep my head down" and avoid confrontation. (My sister Diana, two years my senior, who spent all of her school years at Sacred Heart, Chew Magna, I have no doubt experienced similar difficulties.) Luckily, the friends I eventually made at St. Brendan's lasted all through my school years, and well beyond into my adult working life.
1945 - 1946 Prep 1
My older cousin, Romano, escorted me for the first week or so to my new school. We took the No 1 bus from Eagle Road, Brislington to the top of Park Street, for the princely sum of 2 old pence. I soon learned that there were no excuses for being late for assembly or classes, nor for unfinished homework, general uncleanliness and untidiness or the breaking of any of the other (many) rules. The breaching of any of these resulted in the unleashing of the "strap" (purpose made Irish carpet beater, black leather 12" long x 2" wide x 1/2" thick - some had been specially adapted with weighted ends to render them even more 'effective'). For more serious offences, this punishment was administered by the headmaster in front of the whole school at morning assembly. Needless to say this didn't happen very often.
My early weeks at the school were utterly miserable, as I received the strap almost daily for poor grammar, spelling and writing, mistakes in Maths classes, etc., all due to my poor early schooling - you name it and I got it. To help with my English, my parents paid extra for me to have elocution lessons with Mr. Hedley Goodall, who was often heard with his familiar deep voice on the BBC Home Service's Children's Hour at 5:00 PM.
1946 - 1947 Prep 2
It didn't take long to establish a daily routine: assembly, morning classes, mid-morning milk break (1/3 pint per pupil – 'Milk Monitors' had the privilege of drinking any surplus), followed by more morning lessons and then hot lunch for those who paid the extra. In keeping with the austerity of those post-war years, there was very little left to waste – the caterer's aluminum food bins, which were placed at the rear entrance of the school for afternoon collection, were happy hunting grounds for two or three local tramps who had made their homes nearby. Lunch break for the prep school was spent on the flat roof playground (as seen in the photograph of the rear extension on file). The vast area of public space on Brandon Hill was the upper school's playground. These students had the choice of school dinners or walking down to the Council House on College Green where the ground floor had been temporarily converted into a "British restaurant" serving state-assisted food for the bombed-out homeless. We would line-up before going back inside the school, and had afternoon lessons before home time. Incidentally, the roof playground was also the location of the annual class and school photographs.
Irrespective of the weather, Wednesday afternoons were always spent playing rugby. We had to take a short public bus ride across The Downs to Westbury-On-Trym, via Falcondale Hill. Taking the path next to the Library, then a short walk past the park to the St. Brendan's playing fields, situated in Coombe Dingle, mid-way between Westbury and Stoke Bishop. The groundsman Mr. Murphy (Spud), assisted with the vigorous training. This was also the venue for the annual sports day, athletics and cross country runs and the Saturday home rugby fixtures. I can't recall any showers being available at that time, but I do remember the hot baths on returning home.
To augment my meagre pocket money, I found that by taking either a No 3 or no 10 bus from Knowle ( to Bristol Bridge) I managed to save 1/2 old pence each way. I also dispensed with the inedible hot dinners and, to supplement my lunch-time sandwiches, my friends and I would walk up Park Street, turn right into Park Street Avenue then on up to Park Row to Keens the bakers where, for 6 old pence one could buy six to eight different cakes (jam tarts, doughnuts, scones, etc.) left over from the previous day. We would then proceed to the top of Park Street, cross over at George's book shop and walk up to the left side of Berkeley Square before following the lane to the rear of the school . No pupil was allowed to enter school via the front door!
The layout of the school was as follows: On entering the rear gates (set firmly into a ten-foot high wall), there was a small playground with a rank of toilets. Descending the steps into a dark corridor, with the Gym to the left, the corridor turned right for the length of the whole rear extension, with Physics and Chemistry labs to the right, and classrooms to the left. Just before the main staircase leading up, there was a short flight of stairs descending to the left, which were best avoided, as they led directly to the headmaster's office. On the first floor was the Assembly room (made up of three classrooms joined together) with the end raised to form a stage for drama productions. The entire top floor was laid out to classrooms, including the Art room. Descending the main staircase to the basement, the Music room (where I was informed that I was "tone deaf") was on the left beside the changing room for the Gym. Directly opposite was the Press, where all exercise books and stationery could be obtained. The end of this corridor came out below the external stone stairs, which led up to the front door of the school (the location for the collection of the daily milk ration).
After school we would walk down via Charlotte Street, to Great George Street, turn right into Hill Street shortly before Park Street and cross diagonally over the bombsite to the bottom. We would then descend the steps to Frogmore Street (adjacent to these steps was an old workshop where a wizened old gentleman with rimless square spectacles spent all day turning out small cork stoppers for wine bottles and larger ones for wine and beer casks (Avery's being the long-established local wine merchants) on an antiquated lathe. Further along we passed the Hatchet Inn and, on the other side of the road, there was a "Pop Shop" where, for 1 old penny, you could choose the flavour you wanted and the owner would water and carbonate a drink in an ancient Coca –Cola bottle, complete with straw, for you to drink on the spot. A school friend, whose mother was a seamstress in the Bristol Hippodrome, occasionally gave us access to the stage door where we used to slip in on the way home and see the end of the matinee shows from the wings. During the pantomime season, I remember seeing Ted Ray as buttons in Cinderella.
1947 - 1948 Prep 3
By now the weekly routine was well established, including the drudgery of compulsory Saturday morning school. The younger teachers at that time were: Mr. Peter Pullin (English/Art/Religion), Mr. Elwyn Price (P.E/Sports), Mr. Patten (English/Latin) and Mr. Frank Duggan (Geography/English). Br. Quin (Penmanship) was memorable for the florid way he would decorate the word "Penmanship" on the blackboard, depending on the season. The names of the individual Christian Brothers are difficult to put a face to now, but I can distinctly remember an Old Boys dinner at the Grand Hotel, Bristol where no malice was directed towards those who had beaten us the most severely – we simply supplied the guilty parties with unlimited amounts of alcohol in the hope of giving them the worst headache they had ever endured – C'est la vie!
1948 - 1949 1B
Needless to say I failed my 11+ examination, so my father was obliged to continue paying my school fees - he must have seen something in me that I couldn't. The new intake from Christ The King, Knowle included Joseph Westcott (Joe), who, in 1960, became my best man, and William Anglin (Bill). Both were both very supportive and became my lifelong friends. Joe and Bill both had older sisters attending La Retraite High School for girls (the sister school to St. Brendan's College) and we would often make the journey to school together. As with all small groups like ours, meeting up each morning on the Centre to walk up to school often attracted unwanted attention from the Brothers and prefects (on the bus, commuting from Brislington to the top of Park Street). To avoid the inevitable beatings, we had to let the girls proceed fifty yards in front of us.
Another fine friendship developed with Patrick "Flossy" Withers, who was an altar boy with me at St Gerard Majella, Knowle. He was a keen cyclist in those days and cycled daily to and from school. He went on to excel in rugby securing the position of hooker for the 1st XV whilst still in form 3. These were the early years of what would ultimately become a very successful 1st XV team: Peter "Ticker"Colston (later to become a teacher in the 1960's), Mike Bryan, John and Peter Blake, Philip "Flipper" Lewis, Mike Peglar and Mike Titcomb (who would later go on to become an international referee).
1949 - 1950 2B
Into the second year and a normal daily and weekly routine was soon established: school, sports, and homework. During the first school games held at The Beeches, Joe, Bill and I, along with three La Retraite girls went for a walk off campus towards the railway line. Somewhere along the way, Joe attempted a high jump over a barbed wire fence to impress the girls but he got his brand new cricket whites caught on top of the fence and ended up with two large L-shaped vents in his seat, thus curtailing all further, afternoon activities. (Luckily, one of the girls produced two very small gold safety pins from who-knows-where to help hide the tears).
Mr. Goodall produced and directed the drama class in 'A Tale of Two Cities', which was such a resounding success that the whole production, scenery and all, was offered a short run in a West End theatre. Unfortunately, Br. Lennon, the headmaster at this time, refused permission (the London experience considered detrimental to the students' moral welfare). The income from this production could have boosted the new school building fund enormously, but it was not to be. The drama class continued to perform Shakespeare and other productions, but never with the same enthusiasm.
1950 - 1951 3b
Having acquired The Beeches in 1950 the Knowle/ Brislington students saved a small fortune in bus fares by not having to commute to Westbury for sports events. As a result of Patrick's ongoing hooking success, he was always invited to the VIth form dos, and a few of his friends were also welcome. One such event was a hockey match that had been arranged against the La Retraite girls 1st team, to be played on The Downs one Sunday afternoon. It was absolute mayhem: the female goalie had a large metal dustbin lid in her left hand and was wielding a ferocious hockey stick in the other – every member of her team was wailing and screaming like a banshee. The game descended into a mixture of hockey and rugby – with the referee removed to the touchline for safety. The lads conceded the match to the ladies on the understanding that they joined them for a party later that evening. Everyone had a great time at this private venue. However, on the following Monday morning, as we arrived at school, we were singled out by three prefects and immediately ordered to the headmaster's office. There, to our amazement stood the whole of the 1st XV together with a small army of fans who had also attended the match. We guessed that some disgruntled prefect who had not been invited to the evening do had sneaked on us. That must have been the only time in the history of St Brendan's that the headmaster was forced to recruit three additional Brothers to help him administer the strap to so many (4 strokes each). I think the fact that it was a mass punishment meant none of us actually felt that bad – it had been worth every stroke. Needless to say, the return match was postponed indefinitely. Expulsions were undoubtedly considered but, as this would have depleted the 1st XV quite significantly, no further action was taken.
1951 - 1952 4B
In a short time the facilities at The Beeches were being used and added to. The present day main gates and driveway were built much later – at that time we used to enter the grounds through the original entrance further along Broomhill Road. The Brother's soon took up permanent residence in the main house (now known as 'The Beeches Hotel and Conference Centre'). A second house (now demolished) was used as changing rooms with temporary showers outside. The old boy's rugby team also used these facilities. I can also remember a temporary long, low building (parallel to the avenue of trees that divided the site – now cut down) which housed a glider used by the CCF.
The Saturday routine, following lessons, was to congregate in a Greek restaurant on the corner of Berkeley Avenue and The Triangle for coffee and a chat. When this venue was closed, we crossed the street to the rear entrance of Fortes. (This was also the preferred meeting place for La Retraite, The Red Maids and St. Ursula's girls). We would later make our way across Bristol to The Beeches for rugby. For us locals, the evening was usually spent in The Ritz in Brislington (closed – 1968) or The Gaiety in Knowle (closed – 1995).
1952 - 1953 5B
Time for me to get my head down for the coming exams. This didn't interfere with the social activities: at that time, apart from rugby, these were mainly smoking and drinking. From my own recollection, probably as many as 85% of the students smoked, including myself (a packet of twenty Senior Service or Players cost about 2/3d - approximately twelve new pence). Smoking was so widespread and accepted (on buses and trains, in cinemas, pubs…etc), that it was regarded as the norm, and at school it was not considered to be a particularly serious offence (it wasn't unusual to see both Brothers and masters smoking between lessons and in the playgrounds). Even so, it was simple common sense not to smoke while in school uniform. The usual punishment if a pupil was caught was a good telling off. I can't recall physical punishment being administered for this offence.
The other popular social activity, drinking, was also indulged by many. As I was tall for my age, I would frequent the local pubs at weekends, meeting up with some of the 6th form boys after rugby. Most landlords would serve us even though they knew that we were under age, and we reciprocated their trust with good behavior. I am sure that the austerity of the immediate post war years made people more tolerant in their general outlook. There was no such problem as "binge drinking" in those days - the local bobby on the beat might look in occasionally, see us playing darts, nod to the landlord and exit.
During this year we witnessed the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II, the removal of certain items from rationing and the introduction of a nationwide rebuilding programme, all of which helped to create a general feeling of optimism for the future. I sat for my "General Certificate of Education" examinations in the Assembly room, but only passed in Mathematics, Geography and Art. English, Engineering and Building (Ordinary National Certificate and Higher National Certificates) came later by way of evening classes. At this junction in my life, I decided to enter the workforce and not proceed into higher education. I left St. Brendan's in 1954 with bittersweet memories of my time spent there that have remained with me for all of my life. After obtaining further qualifications I secured employment with The British Railways Civil Engineering Drawing Office Department and began my life-long career in engineering.
These last few years were the beginning of a triumphant and memorable era in St. Brendan's rugby - hopefully a more complete record of that history is still in existence and someone better able than I will one day get around to compiling it in detail for future generations to read.
Vivat Sancti Bredani!
This is my own personal recollection of the period 1945 to 1954 in the history of St Brendan's college. If any old boys find any inaccuracies, I would love to hear from them and may be contacted at the address below.
Guido Romano Maddalena. Bristol.
1930 – 1936
Getting to school from Knowle was no problem as far as traffic was concerned. I usually rode my three-speed BSA bicycle. Sometimes I caught my wheel in the tram line, or skidded on the wet wood blocks which were laid in Victoria Street.
Other times, I caught the tram car from Knowle to the Centre, sitting on the open top deck, come rain or shine.
Arriving at school our homework was checked. During the day discipline was strict and whacks were given on the hands with a leather strap, for the slightest misdemeanour. My diary indicates that it was unusual to have less than six whacks in a week.
Brother O'Leary took us for in Geography, Mr.Gadd Physics & Chemistry, Mr. Philpott (a former Bristol Rugby Club trainer) was Games Master, Mr. Duggan took English.
The Tuck shop was situated in the basement, where my favourite buy was a chocolate coconut square costing two old pennies.
The annual school plays were produced by Hedley Goodall every February. I had a part in one of them – Iona.
Rugby and cricket were the main games, played usually on Thursday afternoons and Saturday mornings. We played against all the Bristol schools plus King Edward's, Bath and played cricket at Prior Park, Bath, where we looked forward to cream slices at tea break.
1936 – 1941L
The Christian Brothers laid considerable emphasis on rugby and Latin grammar. One of the most memorable characters was Bro.M.F.O'Regan, a tall, elegant teacher who habitually took snuff, greatly to the amusement of his pupils. On one occasion all the class produced snuff boxes, emulating their master. This was followed by incessant sneezing.
I remember taking my School Certificate ('O' Level) examination in arithmetic during an air raid. We all trooped to the basement in Berkeley Square and listened as 60 German bombers devastated the Rolls-Royce works at Filton.
Pupil: 1938 – 1942
Teacher: 1951 - 1952
In September 1938, I commenced my secondary education at St.Brendan's, the grammar school for boys. The counterpart school for girls of the Roman Catholic faith was La Retraite Convent staffed by Nuns and lay women teachers.
Situated behind St.Brendan's, was Brandon Hill, an extensive area of common parklands which provided the pupils with a large playground space. The centrepiece of Brandon Hill was the Cabot Tower, offering superb views of the city.
A bewildering series of staircases, linked the buildings together. Some of the passageways were dark, as were some of the classrooms. The staff room was little bigger than an enlarged storeroom, but had to suffice for the lay staff, their books, coats and other personal equipment.
The most unusual feature of the school was the playground, situated on the flat-topped roof. It was a tarmac area with side and roof wire netting.
1939 – 1941
I remember that the school was very strict about uniform. On one occasion I was sent home for not having my school cap!
In those days we learnt Latin and it was not my strongest subject so there were regular beatings.
One occasion during the Blitz, I was doing my homework by candlelight (no electricity, gas or water) using a pen and ink (no fountain pens allowed) when a bomb landed nearby and made me blot the page I was working on. I turned to a fresh page but next day I received six on each hand for blotting my exercise book. My protestations that it was Hitler's fault and not mine, fell on deaf ears. Happy days!!!!
1958 – 1963
I will never forget the fun days I spent being taught by Porky, Tich, Sid, Spike, Dizzy, Rip, Fiddler, Bung, Spud and Ticker.
I passed my 11+ but wasn't bright enough to find the location of my new school in 1958 – I arrived soaking wet from the rain, two hours late.
I remember the leather strap, the never-ending homework, some of which was finished on the bus the following morning and I remember school on a Saturday morning.
Later I moved to Brislington when our superb new school was built. Everything was so exciting and modern.
I remember my favourite teacher, John Blake, the ex Bristol Rugby Captain, now sadly deceased. Also Jimmy Davidson, the Irish Rugby International the whole school was so proud of.
St.Brendan's gave me friends I have retained for life and I am always proud to tell people where I was educated.
1963 – 1968
I remember how proud my late parents were that their third child had actually managed to pass the Eleven Plus and was going to a Grammar School.
I was in the 'C' stream. The first term presented many challenges to our young minds. The rigid discipline took me by surprise a little. I did not expect to get the strap for the slightest misdemeanour.
I was not a model pupil at St. Brendan's. I was suspended once for smoking, once for fighting with a Prefect and severely admonished for walking arm in arm with a girl from Brislington School when I was 14. By the end of the first year I had decided to become a rebel. David Rye, the mathematics teacher, said I had the wrong attitude to school.
Hercules Allen stirred a passion for English Literature and this remains with me to today. Dan Kelly cultivated my interests in French and I now speak fairly fluently.
Eventually I got my act together and went on to Bath University.
My only claim to fame at St. Brendan's was that I sat next to Mike Rafter [later became England Rugby star] in 4C. His French was appalling, it must have been that he copied mine.