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News > Alumni Memories > Sutton County School by Geoffrey Brown (OS: 1930 - 1934)

Sutton County School by Geoffrey Brown (OS: 1930 - 1934)

5 Oct 2022
Alumni Memories

Alumni memories - Geoffrey Brown

(OS: 1930 - 1934)


Both the school and the OSA recently had the great privilege of being contacted by our oldest Old Suttonian, Mr Geoffrey Brown (pictured right). He was born on 4 July, 1920 and attended Sutton Grammar School, known then as Sutton County School, from 1930 to 1934. In the late 1930s, Mr Brown lived barely 30 yards from the school and has memories of not only the school being built but also attending Sutton County School for four happy years until he moved to Westcliff-on-Sea.

Due to the extensive school archive, we have been able to provide Mr Brown with school reports for him and his brother, Derrick, who also attended the school for a year. Mr Brown was also very interested to see the Roll of Honour as he had often wondered if his classmates had survived the Second World War. Sadly it contained no fewer than seven names of boys he remembered who had died during the war.

Mr Brown has written an account of his schooling for his great-grandchildren and has been kind enough to share his memories with us.



Sutton County School by Geoffrey Brown

(OS: 1930 - 1934)



It was in 1927 or 1928 when, one day, I noticed some activity in the field opposite the end of Litchfield Road where we lived. The allotments that had occupied the lower end of the field had not been worked for some time and in their place a gang of men were digging trenches. I realised that they were digging the foundations of a large building which we were told was to be a school. A few days later, carts began to arrive bearing loads of sand or bags of cement. Using their shovels, the gang made a heap of sand, added a bagful of cement and mixed it thoroughly. Making a crater in the heap, they poured in a few buckets of water and mixed it again before putting the mixture into wheelbarrows and using it to fill the trenches. It took many days before all the trenches were filled. The carts reappeared, this time filled with red bricks, and they were followed by a great number of long, thin poles and some wooden planks. The bricks were stacked neatly and the poles were erected to form scaffolding all over the site. I was fascinated, watching the men as they set about the building work, mixing small quantities of mortar and laying bricks to form the walls, the bricks being carried to the skilled bricklayers by hod carriers. Gradually the building took shape, the roof put on and glass put in the window frames.


A team of bricklayers taking a break from their work in 1928


There was still a great deal to be done to the interior of the building and for many months large quantities of wood, plaster and paint arrived in carts and lorries and were taken inside. It must have been towards the end of 1928 before the great building was finished and boys in red blazers, red and black caps with a silver owl on the front arrived. It was interesting to me because I knew that if I passed my exams I would be going to that school. Pass them I did and so, in September 1930, I was taken to Dugans, the men's outfitters in Sutton High Street, to be kitted out in blazer and cap, had my hair cut at Renacres, the hairdressers, and on the first day of the autumn term walked the 30 yards from home to Sutton County School. I was just ten years old.


Newly completed Sutton County School opened in November 1928


We assembled in the school hall, where the new boys formed rows at the front, facing the stage, whereon stood a solitary elderly master surveying us, his severe looks belying his kindly, benevolent nature. He was Mr Horne, the deputy headmaster, and he was always there of a morning throughout the time I was at the school, maintaining order. Among ourselves we referred to him as 'The Old Gaffer'. He taught Latin and would enter the classroom saying 'All the boys with their books open at page ....' His oft-used phrase 'all the boys' was, of course, quickly picked up by us pupils and introduced into our classroom vocabulary. I was told that he was a lay preacher at the nearby church of St. Barnabas. When the boys were all in their places, the masters would enter from their common room and file on to the stage, followed by the head, for prayers and a hymn. One of the senior boys, who could play the piano, accompanied the singing and as we left the hall for our classrooms would play a rousing march to speed us on our way.


The school hall, which now has a new stage


After I had been at the school for a year or two, an organ was installed in the hall. It was a very fine instrument, a little bulkier than the upright piano, and once the latter had been tuned to its pitch it was played by Mr Coult, one of the chemistry masters, greatly increasing the quality and the volume of the music. The hall was also used for singing and as a gymnasium since there were no other rooms available for those subjects.

The headmaster, Mr J A Cockshutt, nicknamed 'Jacko' from his initials, held a theory that we learned more readily before lunch than after so the morning was long – from 9.00am to 1.00pm – and afternoon school was from 2.20pm to 4.20pm. There was a 15-minute break in the morning during which the tuck shop was opened by Mr Tutt.


On first entering the school, boys were placed in one of four 'houses' named Red, Blue, Brown and Green. I was in Green house and our housemaster was Mr Wells – 'Billy' Wells after a well known professional boxer of the time. He was also my form master for one of my years and was a most likeable man. Once a week we would meet as a house in one of the larger classrooms. In our case it was the chemistry laboratory. There was always a certain rivalry between houses, particularly when it came to sports. About once a year we would have a house tea when we stayed behind after school and had a good tea with plenty of jam and cake before playing a few games. At one of these the senior boys in the house wanted to make a presentation to Billy Wells and they asked me to do it. Flowers were considered unsuitable for a man so they had bought a huge bunch of bananas which, with some embarrassment, I duly took up and gave to him.


Scholastically, the school was organised in three streams - Classical, Science and Modern – and in each year there were three forms bearing those names. I was in Classical Two to start with and progressed to Classical Five in my fourth year, which was my last at that school as my family moved to Westcliff-on-Sea in 1934 and I transferred to Westcliff High School. We all studied the basic subjects – English, Maths, History, Geography, Chemistry, French – but Classical forms also took Latin and Art, Science forms included additional sciences such as Physics and Mechanics, while Modern forms taught commercial subjects and modern languages. I must say that I never got on well with Latin and my artistic ability was non-existent.


Mr Brown's school report from 1933


The subject I enjoyed most was chemistry, which I was taught first by Mr Bibby and later by Mr Coult. I particularly liked the way Mr Coult taught it. He would tell us to bring our stools and notebooks to the front of the lab where he would have all the experiments. Some were quite spectacular and I went home and replicated them in the kitchen because for Christmas and birthdays I used to ask for chemistry sets. My eldest cousin, Ron Brown, gave me a recipe for gunpowder and it was a wonder that I did not blow anything up. At the end of term, when exams were finished, Mr Coult produced a tray of 30-odd jars of white powder. Each jar was numbered but its contents not disclosed. I had to take one and analyse it, then go back to the master and say what it was. If I was right I was given another and by end of term I had managed to identify almost all of the compounds.


Chemistry laboratory in 1928


We were taught French by Mr Bird, whose nickname, 'Wuzzo', was derived from the French word for his name, English by Mr Trubshaw, 'Trubby', and I was delighted to read in the Old Suttonians magazine a few years ago that the latter, at the age of 100, had attended the O.S. annual dinner. I wished I could have been present. There was another master, whose name escapes me, who grew a ginger beard and was suspected of being a Bolshevik so was nicknamed 'Zad'. We were studying 'As You Like It' and the boy next to me took a pencil and in the phrase 'bearded like the pard' crossed out 'pard' and substituted 'Zad'. which caused puerile merriment all round.

In addition to over 20 masters, there were also two lady teachers, the white-haired Miss Meikle who taught maths, though I was never in her class, and the somewhat younger Miss Purver who for my final year was my form mistress. She was a lovely lady and we all adored her. In the middle of a term we learned that she would be away for two or three weeks because she had to go into hospital for a major operation. We, in her class, were most concerned and determined to show it. Each of us contributed twopence or threepence towards the cost of a very large basket of fruit and flowers which was carried by a deputation of two boys and presented to her in her hospital bed. I think she was quite touched.


Sutton County School staff in the mid-1930s. Many of Mr Brown's teachers are pictured here.


Most of the masters had served in the forces during the Great War and each year, on the anniversary of its ending, November 11th, Armistice Day, they wore their medals at the morning prayers. One such master was Mr Lloyd, who taught geography and also ran the boxing club. He had been wounded in the hand, which was slightly incapacitated in consequence and the scar was plainly visible. In the summer holidays of 1933 he had been to Germany and, like many others at the time, had been infected with enthusiasm for the new German leader, Herr Hitler, and his Nazi party. On his return he was full of praise for the new regime there. One day, he gave us a task to perform and while we were doing it he busied himself drawing a swastika and colouring it with crayons until it resembled a Nazi party member's armband. He walked to the back of the form room and pinned it to the wall. As far as I recall, he did not make any comment but we knew where his sympathies lay. Nevertheless, he was a popular master. I have often wondered what his reactions were when Britain went to war with Germany in 1939. 


Mr Sawyer, who taught me maths, used to drive to school on his motor-cycle combination, bringing with him Mr Brocklebank in the side-car. Mr Sawyer dressed up for the journey in full leathers, helmet and goggles; Mr Brocklebank, in the comfort of the sidecar, had no need of such protection. One morning they failed to arrive and later in the day we learned there had been a serious accident and they were both in hospital. Mr Sawyer, the less badly injured, returned to school after a week or two but poor Mr Brocklebank had suffered a fractured skull and was away for many weeks. When he did come back he was wan and scarred and it was a long time before he recovered his strength. I expect he was lucky not to have been killed.


Among the boys in my form were a few 'characters'. One of them was 'Joe' Hutton. He was academically brilliant and hard working. Throughout the school there was an incentive system under which good work was rewarded with points – plus 2 or plus 4 – while bad work or behaviour was penalised with minus points, all recorded on a chart for each form. When a form's net plus points amounted to four times the number of boys, we were entitled to a half holiday which meant finishing school at lunchtime. Occasionally, a master would award plus 2 to a whole group of boys but more often it was an individual who earned the points and Joe was the most prolific earner. Hardly a Latin lesson went by without the Gaffer awarding him plus 4 so it took only a few weeks to amass the requisite number and we would then choose an afternoon on which to spend them.


Deputy Head - Mr J W Horn fondly know as 'The Old Gaffer'.


Headmaster - Mr J A Cockshutt nicknamed 'Jacko', by the boys.


Looking back, it was not a good system because, naturally, we chose an afternoon when there were unpopular lessons and the teachers of those lessons complained that we were falling behind in their subjects. Usually, we would earn two afternoons off in a term,- sometimes
three – until Jacko realised that our form was in danger of missing the number of days' tuition required by law. From then on the masters were told to be more sparing with their plus points. 


Another boy in my form, Jack Sharp, grew to an unusually large size. At the age of 14 he stood six feet four inches tall, weighed 15 stone and needed size 16 shoes which had to be specially made for him. He towered over most of the masters and his school cap, perched precariously on top of his fair, curly hair, was much too small. So huge was he that one of the Sunday newspapers featured him on its centre spread, complete with photograph.


My particular friend in the form was Deryck Albert Proctor Simmonds, nicknamed 'Dappy' from his initials. His father owned the ironmongery in the High Street. It was strange that we should become such close friends because we had little in common. He was one year older than I but much more mature, in fact he was an adult whereas I was still a child. We used to go for lunch together and he would tell me what had been on the wireless the night before. I did not know because my bedtime was 7.00pm – his was 10.00pm or later. He had a racing bike and belonged to a cycling club. At weekends they would cycle 40 miles to Brighton and back. He had a girlfriend called Olga. I got on very well with him, as I did with everyone in the class, and after we moved to Westcliff I invited him to come and stay and he came for a weekend. l offered him some ginger beer I had made but he went out and bought a flagon of cider which we all enjoyed, including Hilda, our maid, who quite fell for him although she must have been nine or ten years older than he.


Sutton County School Boxing Club 1933


On Friday evenings the Boxing Club met in the school hall. Lessons ended at 4.20pm and after tea I would return, change into a vest and shorts and go into the hall where, under Mr Lloyd's supervision, the boxing ring would have been erected. I think it was kept under the stage all the week and when it came out on Friday the four posts were screwed into sockets in the floor and chairs for contestants and their seconds were placed in two of the corners. Other chairs for spectators were brought in from neighbouring classrooms and boxing would begin. Usually, it was training but occasionally there would be matches between houses and three or four times during the year there would be a match against another school. I enjoyed it and used to box at 5 stone, the lowest weight as l was small. Later, I went up to 5 stone 7 lbs. When we moved to Westcliff I missed the boxing, especially since 'Billy' Wells, my housemaster, had said to me that I would most probably have been house boxing captain had I gone back for the autumn term of 1934.


Mr Brown's House report mentioning him as a member of the Boxing Club


One afternoon a week was devoted to sports – cricket in the summer and association football in the winter. For these we had to walk a mile downtown to the recreation ground at Rosehill where the school had the use of several pitches. I never did well at sports as I was young and small in comparison with most of the other boys.


Cricket being played at Rosehill


School Cricket team in 1933


School Football team in 1933


Towards the end of the summer term, when all the exams were over, there would be the school sports day which took place in the field at the back of the school building. The field was just about big enough to contain a circular quarter-mile track, though I am not sure that the finish did not overlap the start by a few yards. I cannot remember ever winning a race but we could earn points for our house by reaching a standard at each distance –one point for a high standard and half a point for a low one – so I entered for them all and gained a few points for Green house. One of the events was throwing the cricket ball, at which I was hopeless. The ball was thrown from the south-east corner of the field diagonally towards the north-west comer where spectators, including many parents, sat. One boy - his name was Mowat – threw it so far that it came down like a bomb among them and everyone had suddenly to scatter. Fortunately it did not hit anyone. I imagine it created a new school record and I wonder whether it has ever been beaten.


Sutton County School playing fields in 1928


School Sports Day on the school playing fields in 1933



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