Random Memories – 1952 – 1959 – By Anon


I attended this school as far as I recall from 1952 to 1959. I came from a primary school via the 11+ and had no connection with the prep school. I left with seven O levels and three A levels. Apparently – job done. I have just stumbled across this blog and thank those involved in creating it.  I guess it’s quite recent as I have googled from time to time but never seen it until now. (in fact, the blog has been online since February, 2016 – ed)

I’ve skimmed through a lot of posts and it’s interesting to see details about the staff and the school that I was unaware of. I’ve learned a lot, but I think my memories – though strictly outside the time frame of the blog, would perhaps add something to the story.

I would say that no one got a good education at this school – which is a bold comment, but how can anyone be taught how to think and critically analyse ideas for themselves, (surely the essence of education), when the overriding ethos of the religion is not to be challenged – ever. If you want confirmation of that checkout a list of former pupils from Wikipedia, and compare it with the list from that other place down the road – Manchester Grammar School. The saving grace was that throughout, I didn’t find that there was a particularly strong religious atmosphere.   

It was quite something to pass the 11+ and get to Xavs. Of course I was too young and ignorant at the time to be able to query any of it, but perhaps the best thing about the situation was that they didn’t send me to St Bedes.  There’s plenty on the web about what happened there. Read Paul Malpas – his writings are still available.  

I arrived at Ward Hall in as far as I can calculate in September 1952.   I was ten and a half having for some reason taken the 11 + at ten.  I went into a class named 3S which alongside 3.1, 3.2, and 3.3, formed the year group. It was a small class of only about 15 pupils, and Brother Justin was in charge.   Modern schools use names rather than numbers for the classes so as to emphasize that all are equal, and the class number does not indicate superior status. No reason was given for this, and I later found out that the S stood for Shell which I guess was short for sheltered. Perhaps all the ten year old were in it? A years age difference at ten is a lot.  

I think the ‘Threes’ were kept separate from the rest of the school, but it was traditional on the first day for raiding parties from the main school. After primary the change in surroundings was great, including the two bus journeys across the city. Remember the umbrella shop called Y.B.Wet on Oxford Road and the nearby dry cleaners which announced ‘We Will Dye for You’? (Also the Undertakers on Wilmslow Road ‘Blood and Sons’ – ed)

Can’t remember if we were allowed across the road to the tuck Shop.  An Irish lady sold burgers or ‘hot dogs’ which were in fact either a round bap (4d) or finger roll (3d) with a mixture of baked beans and sausage meat inside.  Also available Penguin biscuits (3d) and choc marsh mallows for 2d. That’s all. Went to school dinners for the first year – everyone went to Ward Hall an it seemed to be sausage, greasy chips, and beans every day. What’s not to like? 

Brother Justin who had returned from a mission station called Mzedi  (Malawi?) was OK – I think he taught all subjects, and I quite liked him actually – which on reflection isn’t something I’d say about almost any other teacher there. More later. 

Culture shock

Part of the culture shock involved going to the South side of Manchester for the first time.  It seemed very  different from  the North- a bit posher –  which I believe is a feature of many large cities e.g. London, Birmingham. I travelled in on the bus, via Failsworth, Newton Heath, Miles Platting, Collyhurst and Ancoats. – all dirty and industrialised.  It was not the same for the next bus No 42, which passed grand buildings  – theatres, galleries, churches, the University, The Royal Infirmary, and parks. Different atmosphere entirely.  By the way it cost 2 ½ d to get to Manchester, and another 2d to get to school.  School started at 9.20 am which in itself was quite a change.

The change in types of pupils was also noticeable.  More variety of social class, from sons of Irish labourers who lived in slums,  to sons of professional people doctors etc.   Most were of Irish, Italian or Polish descent, unified by the religion of course.

It was a novelty to have to wear a school uniform, and as I recall it could only be bought from one outlet. That was Horne Brothers on Market Street.  Involved a Saturday morning expedition for a few Septembers.  It was  quite a posh shop, but I don’t recall any parental complaints about the cost – though we were not a rich family.


Mr Diamond known as Pug, ‘taught’ me Latin from the Lower IV th,  to GCE  in the Upper 5th.  I passed the GCE but in those days there were no grades and it was probably a ‘close run thing’. I didn’t dislike him, and his  took his attitude and sense of humour in my stride. I wasn’t bothered when he referred to us as ‘swine’, I assumed he was being a bit ironic.  They said he was a member of the Clarence lunchtime club, and I wouldn’t be surprised. To learn that he was fluent in the language and could hold a conversation with others comes as a total shock.  He never made any attempt to do so with the pupils.  There were two text books ‘Mentor ‘and ‘Civis  Romanus’ – they lasted the whole four years as I recall.

I remember him writing sentences in Latin on the board, then the literal translations of each word beneath them.  Then due to the strange construction of Latin, he then extracted the ‘ablative absolutes’  and rearranged the words until he got some sense out of them.  It was more like solving a crossword puzzle, or  a maths problem than language. The idea that there could be a conversation in the language was absurd, and the thought that (mentioned elsewhere) he could have taught sex education is hilarious!

Hic Haec Hoc – Horum Harum Horum  – His His His.

Mr Arkless  (Tom)

I don’t remember any other Maths teacher from Lower IVth onwards other than  ‘Tom’ Arkless.  He wasn’t a tall man and his gait was distinctive, and seemed a bit odd – as if his heels were worn down. He is described here by many fondly, as a ‘good teacher’ and having  a strongly  religious   attitude to things. Perhaps both characteristics came after I left, I don’t remember either.  A good teacher would have occasionally praised a pupil- he never did. He was quick to do the opposite though. Whatever we hadn’t absorbed was of course our fault – never his.

On reflection I don’t think remember any teacher that ever praised anyone.  

Sometimes particular words attach themselves to memories of certain people. With Tom it was ‘surds’ and  ‘it’s a gift’ when presented with what he thought was an easy exam question.Notably, I think in the Upper IVth, he just stopped teaching . He came into the class on schedule, and did nothing for several weeks, we just put up with it. The class remained well behaved. No one would have thought/dared to ask him what the matter was.  I don’t know if this is the case, but I heard later that his father had died and thus I’d guess he was having a period of depression.

Mr Burns  (Jock) 

It seems to be the view on this site that the Physics teacher Mr Burns was not a nice person.  I’d go further and say he was a nasty b*****d. He ruled by fear and his Monday morning questioning of the class was not a pleasant experience.  I’ve spent a lot of my life musing about what I’d say and do if I ever met him again. Probably best i never did, and it’s not likely to happen now. I think today he’d be labelled as ‘borderline psychopath’. No child should be frightened of going to a school lesson,  I’d have thought that was obvious but it seems not. I noticed that in the school photo he was not wearing an academic gown so I guess he didn’t have a degree. Perhaps he was over compensating for that. I’m being generous there.

Mr Sellars (Chuck)

He was Ok, and I’m quite surprised, and pleased to read that he lived to a great age, was awarded a CBE, and had several children. That’s nice. He mistakenly thought I had some musical talent and I had piano lessons from him after school for a while. He called me a Spartan once after seeing I didn’t have an overcoat after a lesson in winter. Strange what snippets stick in your memory. There was a music theory exam, and  a question was to transpose a few bars into another key.The exam was the first time I’d encountered the matter. Perhaps that’s why I didn’t do so well in the exam- or maybe because we had no text book or notes on the subject from which to learn and revise.

Miss Brierley  (Nellie)

I see no mention elsewhere of Ellen Brierley  (Nellie)  who taught History in the Lower 4th.  The only female teacher – in fact, apart from the tuck shop lady – the only female in the school. Very strong on the causes of the French revolution as I recall.  No personal characteristics ever revealed.   There was however a lot more to her than anyone in the class saw.  I discovered a lot later,  that she was on the Oldham Council for a long time, and later Mayor of Oldham.  


I listen occasionally to Oldham Community Radio on the internet. One of the presenters is Gerald Brierley  who is a nephew of Miss Brierley.  I emailed the station last year to mention this, and they seemed pleased. I got a nice reply from the producer the next day. They seemed pleased to have had such a response.

Mr Curtis (Rufus)

Mr  Curtis was said to be the ‘Art’ teacher.  I think he had a motor bike? I must first declare that I had no ability at all in drawing, but I was never for a instant ‘taught’ anything which might have improved the situation.  You were given a topic to draw or paint  and then left to it. I  never saw whether he had any artistic talent, – does that actually matter?  I never heard any mention of art in a more general sense, or visited the (nearby) galleries at Whitworth Park or Mosley Street except of my own volition.

Total waste of time – mine and his. 

Mr Finan

Another awful teacher, and he did have an unfortunate resemblance to Hitler, though I don’t remember anyone actually saying that.  I remember his high speed dictation with a curious Irish accent, usually whilst looking upwards into the middle distance. No engagement whatever with any pupil – unless you count his scornful derision when something hadn’t sunk in.  He didn’t seem to consider the possibility that the failure to understand might have been his fault.  Something must had gone in because I passed.  I would say despite and not because of him.

Lunchtime activities

Sweet shop on Wilmslow Road first on the right out of Thurloe Street.   Big decisions – are the chocolate cream mice bigger than the chocolate cream cigars?  I think post war sweet rationing was stopped about 1953. I had a packed lunch – eaten in a  rather stark room next to the Tuck shop for most of my time at Xaverian. later in the sixth form we went out to Mrs Read’s Chippy which was across Wilmslow Road and in Walmer Street.  She was a saint and let us eat standing up at the counter, taking most of the space in the shop. I still have a taste for Hollands Steak puddings.  That was top of the range there – with chips about 1s/3d,

Within walking range was the Temperance Billiard  Hall which was a magnet for us.  They had cheap tables for 6d per half hour or better  ‘lounge’ tables  with (straighter cues) for a shilling.  I remember knockout tournaments being arranged – sixpence each to enter, and winner takes all. I never won.

A walk to the public library in Dickenson Road was popular, with window shopping on the way, especially the bike shop.  No Indian restaurants at all, though I remember an exotic Spanish one near the Billiard Hall.

Platt Fields was within range in the summer, with the Costume Museum (free ) and the bowling green was occasionally used (6d again) or a go on the rowing boats on the lake.  I saw the actor John Gregson rowing there once. 

Holiday Trip

Went on a school trip which was very ambitious involving travelling by train accompanied by bicycles to the Xaverian  at Mayfield  in Sussex. I think Brother Steven was in charge.  I wouldn’t envy him the job. We camped in the grounds quite a way from the school, and I’d say it was a success. We saw Eastbourne, Tonbridge Wells, sightseeing in London and I taught myself to swim in the frog infested open air swimming pool.  The tent was a shambles and we took a blanket each with blanket pins to make a sleeping bag. It wasn’t enough – even in summer.  No really bad memories though.  We went to Downing Street and on the underground which was exciting then.

“It’s a Grand Life.”

A good note to end on and the title of a film from 1953, in which the school was used as a location.   It was about the Army – more relevant then as everyone had been in the war or done National Service.  The playground was used as the parade square.  Click the link below to see the film – fast forward to 36 minutes in to see the Xaverian playground. Look carefully and you can see that cricket net practice continued during the filming.

It’s A Grand Life Youtube

It starred the Wigan ‘comedian’ Frank Randle and more memorably Diana Dors who was a bit of a sensation when she turned up in her blue convertible Cadillac.   

It’s A Grand Life – Wikipedia

6 thoughts on “Random Memories – 1952 – 1959 – By Anon”

  1. I started in 1956 as a 10 year old. Anon was wondering why he was 10+.It was because the 11+ exam was in June/July.To save those who had a birthday after that date within a certain time scale having to do another year at school they were included in 11+.
    Jock Burns.A absolute “head case”I had many run ins with him including him throwing wood dusters across the room.
    Curtis. another “head case” taught you nothing and enjoyed punching you hard if you were out of line outside lesson.
    Geography. No idea of name taught you nothing set a lesson then disappeared to the Clarence pub
    History. Much the same nothing but dates.I love history but nothing to do with Xaverian College
    PE Another “head case” with his slipper when you were wearing thin shorts

  2. We were the first group in Ward Hall, coming from the Prep I thought I understood how fair the Bros were, I had Bro Ambrose most of the time, a gentleman in every sense of the word.
    As we got to Ward Hall we found the two pillars had been vandalised
    one marked AD the other BC, I was sent to Bro Martin the head,six of the best, can’t remember who BC was or even if there was one.
    My best teacher was Dan Mallen? he taught history, I was on the school running team with Pete Finnigan, I was there when they made the film, loads of excitement
    round Diana Dors especially the PT teacher, Mr Woodward, who wore very short shorts, sorry Brian hurts will go

  3. John Grice,me, started in 1948. Br Martin ,headmaster. Br Xavier, assistant. I’m 85 now. Still married. Colin Barlow (Mancity) played in the same team. Brother Cyril was at the college in those days. MEMORIES , OUT THE CORNER OF MY MIND

        • I had to travel from Royton to Xav every day and some football games on a Saturday. I didn’t play many because it was a long travel. One match, I rode on my push bike on a Saturday to play on GREGS, and ride back. Another teacher, who lived in Oldham. She was Ellen (Nellie) Brierley, who became Mayor of Oldham, in later years. I, sometimes, met up with teachers in later years. One maths teacher, who’s name I can’t remember, met up with my wife and I, in Blackpool on our wedding day on April 1st .1958. Still married.


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