One great thrill of starting High School was the chance to do woodwork. This was something quite magical. We had to wear aprons to protect our uniforms and we were ushered into the woodwork room. Another old outbuilding of the mansion, it was situated against the ginnel wall. The workshop was, if my memory serves me well, single storey and very old then. It was adjacent to another workshop, where more advanced work took place. Between the two was a wood store and what I remember most was the smell. It had a very distinct odour of wood and French polish, which even now is quite vivid. There were a number of well-used wooden work benches with two vices on each and I seem to believe that only half the class were in each work group, but I could be wrong.
First lessons were basic house rules. Instructions had to be followed to the ‘T’ and when the teacher said ‘Tools Down’ everyone had to safely put the tools down on the bench, stop what they were doing and listen. I was desperate to get started, as were most of the rest of the class. Our first project, I have discussed this with my younger brother, Stuart, was to make what I thought it was a seed dibber, but he remembers it as a plant name tag. Whatever they were, they looked the same and were made from a small piece of wood. We had to use a tenon saw, a saw board and I seem to remember that there wasn’t a lot of work involved, apart from a great deal of sanding the rough edges. Our work was regularly inspected and each stage was followed to the letter, but somehow the finished articles demonstrated a lot of variation. This initial project took a few weeks to complete and eventually we took our achievements home to adoring and suitably impressed mothers. I think that both mine and my brother’s offerings ended up in the garage with assorted gardening equipment. My older brother went to Harehills County Secondary and he made a small tool box. It had a built-in handle and two compartments for nails and screws. It was in our garage in Gipton Wood Crescent for many years and then moved when my mother did to Shadwell Lane, where it took up residence in her garage and remained there until she passed away. His box was quite impressive and useful. The dibber/plant labels were never put to any practical use, but were prized for many years.
My next project was to make a stool. I think it was Mahogany and it was very heavy. We had started to learn about wood joints and the stool required mortise and tenon joints. We had a plank Mahogany and had to cut it into the pieces of the required size. Scribes were used to scratch guide lines and we used the hand saws to cut the pieces. Woe betide anyone who made a mistake cutting the pieces, as wood was not to be wasted. It was a labour of love. Holes (mortises) had to be cut and chiselled out and the tenon, the piece that slotted into the hole, cut precisely to size. Now the joint should, in theory, fit together perfectly, allowing no wobbling and be at right angles so that the stool sat true. The slow tedious business was supervised by a teacher with never ending patience. Wooden mallets were used to make the joint fit snugly, too loose and it was a disaster, too tight and you couldn’t get them apart again. Eventually we reached the fun side of it all. We had to glue the finished pieces together after they had been sanded smooth and the glue was some evil concoction that had to be heated until it melted and then was brushed onto the tenon and into the mortise. All the pieces had to be pushed together before the glue set and surplus glue cleaned away. A bit more sanding, for some, some filling, and then we were up to French polishing. We brushed, sanded and added layers until the stools were finished.
As everything at Roundhay, they were all graded, but finally we were allowed to take them home. I wasn’t happy with my joints, but they weren’t the worst, and my Mum didn’t care. The stool took pride of place. Solid and immutable, it stood near the fireplace for years. It moved to her next house and now resides in my younger brother’s house. I am not sure if he has ever bragged about it being a piece of his own work, I very much doubt it, but it has lasted all these years and may well outlive us all. Not a fine example of furniture, but solid, with a bit of charm. Much like its creator! My brother, Stuart, tells me he was not a great woodworker. He claims he spent most of his time in lessons holding plastic soldiers in the vice and cutting their heads off.
Unfortunately, my woodworking career was short. We had to choose between Art, Woodwork, Economics, Metal work, Music and Biology to study for O-Level and I chose Biology. It was a shame as I would have loved to do most of them, but had to study two foreign languages, despite being completely inept at any language other than English.
Now there is one subject that a boys’ school such as Roundhay put a lot of emphasis on and that was sport and PE. I will cover sport later, but PE was often a great lesson. Much depended on the teacher. Who could forget I.R.K.S, or Joe Wareham? Love them or hate them, the teachers in the PE department tended to have a lasting impression on us boys. The highlight of my PE experience was being allowed to play Pirates. This tended to happen at the end of term and the gym was full of all the equipment the school had. The wall bars and frame that pulled out was set up. Crash mats, gym mats, horses, boxes, benches and other equipment were everywhere. Now the basic rule of the game was that you had to tag boys if you were on the chaser side. Those evading capture could climb, run, jump, dive from the equipment, but could not touch the floor. Touching the floor meant you were out, being tagged meant you were out and the last one standing was the winner. Boys could swing from one piece of apparatus to another whilst mayhem ensued, and all the while, the teacher was the ultimate judge of whether you were out or not. Now what could go wrong? Twenty-six or so almost teenagers overcome with excitement and growing testosterone clearly had personal safety on their minds.
Health and safety has come a long way since then, but oh what joy! What freedom! What magic! The chance of winning, being top dog, having kudos amongst your peers was worth dying for. Somehow, I don’t remember any deaths, nor major injuries, but maybe there were some mishaps, as the times we were allowed to play Pirates, became fewer and fewer. There were some less dangerous options involving mats and having to escape being caught by running away and jumping from mat to mat. Touching the floor meant you were out. I think it was called Sharks.
Another game in PE we loved and it often ended a lesson, was Killer Ball. This usually allowed a P.E.teacher, I.R.K.S. I remember mostly, kicking a soccer ball at the boys as they tried to avoid being hit.. If you were hit, you were out and had to sit at the side of the gym, which could proved dangerous. The ball was kicked with full force and there was the hint of the teacher getting revenge for some misdemeanor or slight. Often boys did the kicking and the rules then were that the ball had to hit below the waist. I must add, being hit at full force in the groin was no laughing matter, but somehow it did put the rest of the class in stitches. We avoided the ball as if our lives depended upon it and sometimes it almost did. Oh, the joys of school!
Below is a new video filmed almost exclusively in my back garden in Perth, Western Australia.