Memories of Well-Known Orchard Street School Teachers
Most teachers tend to be remembered as characters rather than for their quality of teaching by former pupils who like to recall their time at school and the events that took place there.
At Rainham Secondary School for Boys in Orchard Street, a well-run school of about 500 pupils during the early 1960s, a range of interesting characters existed. Headmaster Mr Bacon B.sc, otherwise known as ‘Rasher’ led from the top with his air of authority. Cut off from pupils in his study for long periods of time, he most frequently appeared in the school assembly wearing his long, black academic gown which flowed behind him as he strutted into the assembly hall and up on to the stage to take his place at the lectern in front of the seated prefects.
Although Mr Bacon led from the front by periodically patrolling the school corridors, those who saw him most frequently were disaffected pupils who had to visit his study for ‘six of the best’ with his cane. Many boys stuffed exercise books down the back of their trousers to avoid the pain of a good thrashing but Mr Bacon became wise to this and often asked boys to remove the books before their punishment was administered.
For very serious offences Mr Bacon occasionally caned groups of boys in front of the school assembly after giving a morose speech. With the entire staff and pupils looking on in deadly silence, Mr Bacon delivered a painful 'six of the best' to each pupil as an example to others. The event resembled a public execution. He also vilified two boys and forced them to stand up in full view of everyone for turning up in the school assembly with Mohican style haircuts and then sent them home. He once brought the complete school population into the assembly hall one afternoon to investigate the mass murder of the terrapins that inhabited the school quadrangle pool. Pupils generally respected and feared Mr Bacon.
Mr 'Rot-Gut' Thomas with his famous pronunciation of 'sospans' instead of saucepans taught science lessons. He also served as deputy head teacher and periodically took school assemblies. He and several other teachers had been at the school for so long that they had taught the fathers of some pupils. Others included art teacher Bert Newell who lived close to the school and usually arrived on his bicycle. He proved to be a good teacher and also assisted with the painting of scenery and organising of the school play. He went on to become headmaster for a short period just before he retired from the Howard School.
Mr Sneath who looked way beyond his 60 odd years taught metalwork and had been at the school for donkey’s years. He shuffled quietly around the workshop and the school which resulted in the name ‘Creeping Jesus’ being given to him. On the day that he retired he received a special gift from Mr Bacon in the school assembly and a rapturous cheer from the pupils after giving a short emotional speech.
Welshman Mr ‘Jug head’ Jones whose name derived from the shape of his bald head taught science and had the misfortune of having an incredibly high pitched feminine voice which had a negative effect on his classroom control and most of his lessons took place in a loud din of noise and chaos. Mr Powell, known as ‘Bucket’ also taught science and had a reputation as a good form teacher. He was a thin, mild-mannered and quietly spoken individual with bushy black eyebrows who later became deputy headmaster at the Howard School during the 1990s.
Then there was music teacher Mr Springate with an authoritarian manner and a powerful, penetrating voice who became well known for his mass slippering of at least half the class in some lessons with a bit of piano playing in between, accompanied by pupils’ singing. He often played classical music on the class record player and demonstrated simple magical tricks to add some variety to lessons. For the rest of the time pupils copied texts about famous musicians and had a lesson reserved for sorting and tying bundles of newspapers together. Mr Springate was also a member of the Salvation Army, ran the school photographic club, organised the school choir and drove a green MG sports car.
The stiff and tight lipped English teacher Mr Haugh became known as 'Hitler' mainly because of his hair style, upright style of walking and occasional ranting. Although he was a quietly spoken Irishman and could tell a good story, he also had a quick temper and once punched a pupil so hard in the stomach for misbehaving that urgent medical attention had to be sought.
The bearded and smiling Mr Gibbs served as the principal English teacher and also organised the school library where most of his lessons took place. He usually came to school on a motor scooter wearing a white crash helmet. Although he proved to be a competent teacher, his handwriting on the blackboard was barely understandable but he had a good relationship with most pupils, particularly with regard to the annual school play which he usually wrote and directed. Some pupils were overly friendly towards him with the hope that he would allow them shelter and warmth in the library during the lunch break on cold and wet winter days.
Another English teacher named Mr Poad who had a permanent smile on his face with glasses and untidy hair, wore baggy brown corduroy trousers and a tweed jacket with elbow pads. He also spent most lessons either playing his violin in front of the class or drawing cartoons. With an exaggerated well-spoken accent he usually had pupils and teachers in fits of laughter with his long and comical announcements in the school assembly.
Gardening teacher Mr Pearce who had a voice like former cricket commentator John Arlott spent most of his time getting pupils to copy from gardening books while he tended the potted plants in the conservatory at the back of the classroom or unlocked the garden shed located beside the playground for pupils to get digging forks and dig up part of the school garden.
PE teachers included Mr Monk and Mr Brown but they were very different in character. Mr Monk had a fit, powerfully built stocky frame, he sported a military style crew cut and terrorized pupils with his swinging whistle on a string and his aggressive approach. On the other hand, the smartly dressed Mr Brown had a more reasonable approach and also taught special needs pupils with a more caring and sympathetic attitude, calling many boys by their first name.
Maths teachers included Mr Carden, nicknamed ‘Jumbo,’ a big made, smartly-dressed, spring heeled teacher who strutted quickly along the corridor and the little Mr Barnes who loved grabbing the hair and ears of badly behaved pupils during his lessons.
Mr Patterson, known as ‘Benji’ taught geography and frequently showed slides of life in Africa which he had personally experienced. With a voice and manner similar to 1960s animal impersonator Johnny Morris, Mr Patterson wasn’t the most exciting or vibrant teacher around but some pupils enjoyed filling in blank maps that he distributed with great frequency. He also ran the scripture union
The lively and little Eric ‘Tich’ Rotherham who originated from the Yorkshire town bearing his surname, taught generations of Rainham boys how to weave baskets, bind books and make clay pots and became well-known for his long run up to slipper pupils rear ends. He also organised the school football and cricket teams and served as a Rainham teacher for over forty years before retiring from the Howard School aged 81 during the late 1990s. He also played football for Rainham during the late 1950s and became well-known as a cricketer at Rainham Cricket Club during the 1960s, introducing many boys to the club.
Most of the Orchard teachers from the 1960s have now passed on and we live in a different age but those pupils who experienced Rainham Secondary School for Boys in Orchard Street will have plenty of teacher memories.