School Days Gone Forever – by Brian Gearing
They have just pulled down the old school to make way for a supermarket. I stood before a mountain of rubble in what had been a school playground, and watched as flames devoured what was left of Portway School in Shirehampton.
I watched with some mixed emotions as this had been a source of some pleasing days, and of some very anxious times. I attended the school from 1943 to 1946. As I recall Mr. Carlye was the Headmaster at the time, with a staff which included among others. Mr Tom (Chunky) Barrett, Mr. (Pop) Harvey, Mr. Sissons, Miss Davies, and a Mr. Selwyn.
With friends the bus from Sea Mills to Shirehampton, was boarded, with some trepidation on the that first day. because we had been assailed with stories that new boys were subjected to an ordeal whereby your arms were pushed through the school railings in the manner of being in the stocks, and then pulled inwards causing a great deal of pain. Reaching the school I kept well away from the railings and fortunately, escaped this initiation practice.
My first teacher was a kindly lady, Miss Davies , who besides her teaching tasks was responsible for ensuring the staffroom was supplied with cups of tea in the appropriate breaks. To assist her in this she would enrol one of the pupils to boil the kettle and make a pot of tea at the appointed hour.
Shortly after joining her class, I was selected for this post and duly despatched to the school kitchen to make the tea. This meant that you missed some lessons. I was too ashamed to tell Miss Davies that I had never made a cup of tea in my short life so far. Nevertheless with the help of the boy who had held the job previously, I managed to master this routine job and secure this privilege for some time to come
This lasted in fact until with the fullness of time we were moved up a form and I found myself in the class of a Mr Selway.
Class three rapidly gained a reputation as being a group difficult to handle, and being very unruly. Looking back I have to admit that the reputation was fully justified.
About once a month Mr. Selway would be absent, I think he was a teachers union representative and would have to go to one of their meetings. This would leave class three without supervision and it would be down to one of the other teachers to take the last session of the day. On one occasion I actually overheard some of the other teachers tossing a coin to decide who would have the unenviable job of taking class three for the day.
Eventually we moved on going up to class two. This was run by Mr. Barrett, who decided from the word go that he would have no nonsense from the class two rebels.
On the first day of his term, he called the ring leaders to the front of the class, and made them bend in turn over one of the front desks, mine as it happened, and gave six of the best with a size eight plimsoll. Mr. Barrett was the schools P.T. Teacher and had a large selection of plimsolls in the class cupboard.
This demonstration appeared to do the trick, because the whole class now settled down and some reasonable work was produced.
Such improvement in fact was made that a few of us were promoted to the top form of Mr. Bazeley half way through the last school term.
Mr. (Pop) Harvey was the drama teacher and tried very hard to produce at least one school play per term. I recall having a very small part one year in a production of “Emile And the Detectives.” This did nothing for me other than convincing me that acting would never be a career for me.
Woodwork was another subject at which I was a complete idiot. The classes were not helped by the habit of the teacher throwing a chisel or any other tool which came to hand, straight at your head, with some degree of accuracy.
Swimming lessons were also to be avoided if possible, because if you were like me a non-swimmer, you were obliged to jump in the deep end of the baths and to encourage you to take the plunge a few swift strokes across the back of your bare legs with a bamboo cane would be introduced.
A far cry from the methods used today I think. Any of these old inducements would leave the teacher open to a charge of assault. Rightly so.
All these thoughts came flooding back as I watched the old school burn.
In the main I think I was sad.
Thank you to Debra Britton for allowing us to use her father’s writing.
The Portway Boys and Girls’ school was located at the junction of Portway and Park Road and was built in 1932. This is the school Brian Gearing would have attended. Boys and girls were in different sections, apart from during WW2 when a drop in numbers due to evacuation meant they were taught together. The School has since been demolished and the site is now occupied by homes.
When the school leaving age rose to 15 in 1947 Bristol had to accommodate an extra 4,500 pupils in local schools (see left).
In 1951, after an initial problem with squatters on the site, the boys were moved up to the top of Penpole into old wartime Nissan huts which had been used by American troops. The buildings were uninsulated and in winter it was so cold the ink sometimes froze in the ink wells. They remained there, until the late 1960s or 1970s, when a modern school was built (on the same site) to house both boys and girls. New buildings were built on the existing schools playing fields in 2006. The archaeological report found evidence of the “foundations of a Second World War military camp, used as a holding barracks for allied troops waiting for D Day in 1942, then later used by American troops being sent into the European theatre”.
In 2008 the school became Oasis Brightstowe Academy.
Thanks to Colin Momber and Shirley Archer for their help with facts about Portway School.