David Riggall (BGS 1921-1931)

Part One | Part Two | Part Three | Part Four

Part Five - Secrets of the Library, Music, Games, House Prefect - and Heather

Part Five

When we moved into the new building after extensive work had been done at the school, it gave new Chemistry and Physics labs, classrooms and a staff room. There was much confusion and mud when the new buildings were going up. I tended to keep out of the way, even though it was interesting watching the progress, but Bob Hodlin learnt an awful lot about construction methods by watching and making a pal of the foreman. I was made sixth form librarian (and the House librarian) and liked cataloguing the books, arranging them on the shelves and recording those that were borrowed. The Head asked me to collect up a number of leaflets and booklets dealing with very sensitive and moral and personal matters, which had come from some religious body and had intrigued us for a long while. They dealt with such things as ‘clean living’ and detailed the terrible things that would happen to you if masturbation was practised (we had known about these leaflets and passed them round amongst the ‘elite’ almost before we knew such practices existed). We never saw them again and I felt he had deprived us of some valuable information. No doubt ‘Bod’ Bryant (the previous Headmaster) had put them there as he was a very religious man and a Methodist Preacher. They would have been in lieu of sex-education I suppose, which I for one, never had at school or home. I remember being incredulous and hard to convince by boys in my first dormitory when I was about 9, as to where babies came from. Even though I had lived on a farm I was prepared to accept the idea for animals but found it difficult to believe for humans.

Other Masters I remember vaguely were the rather unapproachable Mr Chaundrey, Mr Richards and Dolly Couldray who took us for Art. We were not taught Biology.

Singing was regarded as something of a joke. We had to sing traditional songs like ‘The Vicar of Bray’, ‘Hearts of Oak’ and ‘Lass of Richmond Hill’ which we were coached in by a visiting part-time teacher Mr Rowbottom who played the piano. In the end they had to have another member of staff present to keep order and stop us fidgeting and fooling around while we stood for these songs.

Mr Rowbottom also came to give piano lessons to me and others who did music as an extra. I remember one particular new piece to me called ‘The Enchanted Brooklet’. He impressed us, because he had actually composed a piece of music. The school song was ‘Floreat Briggensis’ (‘May Brigg Flourish’) written by H.E. Bryant, with music by his wife Hannah Bryant.

We had no choice over doing games on Wednesday afternoons. In the winter it would be soccer and cricket in the summer. For boarders you had to play on Saturday afternoons if picked, otherwise you were expected to watch the match against another school. I remember football games on a cold winter’s day, not really knowing what to do or what was expected of me, and trying to keep out of the way. I didn’t like football at all for a year or two. I remember my half-cousin Leslie Stephenson and I in a junior game shivering near the goal line, trying to keep away from the action, pulling the collars of our sweaters up to keep our ears warm and pulling the sleeves right down to try and keep our hands warm. Suddenly there would be a great shout in our direction and one of us would have to run at the ball and try to kick it. Where it went didn’t matter. However I came to enjoy the game very much, but was usually picked to play in the second team more than the first. At cricket I had one or two good years in the 1st XI but got steadily worse towards the end of my school career.

Going in the school swimming bath was a mixed blessing. The water tended to be rather green since it was in the open air, surrounded by a corrugated iron enclosure about 6ft high. This however, only gave partial protection from the wind. The water always seemed to be very cold (unheated of course) but there was quite a lot of fun to be had, and it was a common request in the summer to members of staff ‘please will you take us in the baths, Sir? Some of the Masters tried to get us to swim, encouraging us to make the right leg movements while clinging to the bar at the side. Various achievements were recorded for House points. I managed 1 length in the end and later 3 lengths but that was my limit. The swimming sports were very popular, but as a spectator you were liable to be splashed in the small space available to watch. There was the ‘Neat Dive’ and the ‘Long Plunge’ as well as the races. House Relay caused a lot of excitement with frantic cheering for your House.

In our later teens we started to get interested in girls. Previously we had tended to be in love with boys, usually the weak effeminate types, and suffering agonies if they did not return our affections. I used to smile at a little girl called Heather Smith who sat in the pew opposite us at chapel. She would only have been about twelve when I first noticed her, but I managed to become friendly with her elder sister Valerie (who had a liking for Grammar School boys) and I persuaded her to bring Heather to talk with me outside her house. I used to meet her regularly until I left school and wrote for several years afterwards. This ‘relationship’ was probably one of the reasons that when I was about 15 I developed a ‘coded language’ for my diary to preserve secrecy, with different symbols meaning certain words. One day Shute sent for me and accused me of ‘flapper hunting’. Apparently I had been talking to Heather outside the digs of one of the Masters and he had reported us. He wanted me to give an undertaking not to see her again, but I refused. I never heard anymore about it and continued meeting her right up until I left.

For my last two years I was a House Prefect and as such we could use the dining hall as our headquarters to give us some status and privacy. We liked the prestige of having a room where we could tell kids to report to. There was an open fire in winter and we managed to get hold of bread from the maids to toast. When the Masters moved to their new room in the main school we were given the old Master’s room as a Prefect’s room. This was great. We had our own fire, easy chairs and could put up our pictures of film stars such as Madeline Carroll. I would have put up Winifred Shotter from the Aldwych, who did ‘Rookery Nook’ if I could have obtained a photograph (I was disappointed to read soon afterwards that she had gone to Accra in the Gold Coast to marry some man from the services) When I was made a School Prefect I was nervous at the thought that I would have to take my turn at reading the lesson in assembly, but I got used to it in the end, after all, we were House Prefects first and had all had practice when we read ‘House Prayers’.

The traditional imposition given by House Prefects had always been ‘5 hymns’ (ie copy out the first five hymns in the school hymn book) There was one in Latin and the German hymn ‘Nun Danket’ as a possible variant if someone wanted to be original or just plain nasty ! I don’t remember ever setting or being set myself for that matter, the Greek evening hymn which was also in the book. I think this practice was frowned upon in later years, as being not quite the purpose for which the hymns were written, but at any rate we tended to learn them in the process. In the summer the punishment was sometimes to run round the field three or four times, and it was a large field with three football pitches and the sacred turf of the cricket pitch.

There was some unpleasantness and I was disappointed when I came back one Autumn term, late in my school life (1930) and found my rival Bob Hodlin had been appointed House Captain and Football Captain by Shute. He had helped Shute for years with his secret Aerial work. Egged on by one or two seniors, I almost  led a ‘revolution’ and went with a deputation to see the House Master. He defused the situation somewhat and a compromise was reached and I was called House Captain and dealt with cricket but had to leave football and swimming to Hodlin. All very embarrassing in retrospect as Bob was a much better choice.

I left Brigg in July 1931 aged 18 years and 3 months, having been there for 10 years, longer than anybody else in the school. Father had often asked me about what career I wanted to follow – a draper with ‘Smiths and son’ or a Grocer? I wasn’t keen. I finally chose to become a teacher because I felt I knew how to do it, having observed Shute, and thought all I would have to do was repeat exactly what he had taught us.


Final Instalment