Memories of Brynhyfryd from the 1940s.

 

Rees Bryniog Howells

 

Kindly provided by Janet Lewis (née Howells), his daughter .

 

 

I came across some more of my father's writings about Brynhyfryd. He talks about Iorrie Foulkes organising a reunion in 1996 for the year group which enrolled in the then Ruthin County School in 1946.

 

He writes:

 

'Miss Una Williams and I were the sole survivors of the staff which greeted this intake in 1946 and the reunion stirred up a whole host of memories, reminding me of the many colleagues who would not be sharing the privileges of this occasion.

 

There was the first headmaster under whom I served, Mr Bleddyn Griffiths, whose good humour and charitable outlook helped me through my apprenticeship as a teacher. I shared a men's staffroom with a newly recruited set of colleagues, some seconded from Denbigh Grammar School, others freshly demobilised, like me, from the forces involved in WW2. From Denbigh came the Senior Master, Leslie Harris, a man of acute intellect who successfully taught French for many years despite the heavy burden of faulty hearing. Ray Shingles joined us, a mathematician with a genius for organisation and the widest range of interests from athletics to religion.

Ronald Hadlington taught English and possessed a creative streak which produced a whole series of one act plays which we were to stage each year until he left to become headteacher of a Wrexham primary school.

Frank Price Jones was a historian of note who moved on fairly soon to join the lecturing staff of the extra mural department of University College, Bangor. I must not forget the imperturbable Ross Thomas, later Mayor of Ruthin, who never lost his cool and taught Handicraft, along with the unforgettable Clem Thomas, in the old Nantclwyd Institute down town.

When war broke out Ruthin Girls County School and the boys who had to travel to school in Denbigh were reorganised to take both sexes-the term used at the time was 'dualised'. At Ruthin the ladies' staff stayed much as it was before the change with Miss Catherine Parry becoming the Deputy Head of the new school. She taught Welsh to a most exacting standard. I can recall at least one future professor who was never to move from the lower reaches of his Welsh group, so determined was Miss Parry not to yield a jot from the criteria she set. My folly was to sit in 'her' chair!

Other members of staff were Miss 'Molly' Morrison a cheerful soul who taught music and Miss L. C. Hughes who was responsible for girls' PE. She carried out that exacting task until she retired whereupon she got married. Then there was Miss Binks, a formidable lady responsible for mathematics and whose dedication to her work was complete. She was extremely kind to me and sold me her spare gown and her battery radio. As I was at the time living in Pwllglas without the benefit of mains electricity the latter was indeed a boon.

 

The fact is I found all the staff extremely kind and helpful. They also acted as a unit socially and I look back with great pleasure at the times we had together playing tennis on the lawns in the evenings while Mrs Barbara Griffiths, the headmaster's American wife - they then lived in the upstairs flat in the old house-encouraged it all both by joining in and by providing refreshments on numerous occasions.

I have tried to paint a picture of what met me in human terms on joining the school. It was not known then as Brynhyfryd. I believe that name was borrowed slightly later from the old abandoned Brynhyfryd Chapel located a few yards lower down Rhos Street on the opposite side of the road'

There is more but I will call a halt at that point-but just for now!

What struck me on reading this was how different a world these teachers were encountering following their experiences during the war. A remark I came across in some of his notes about the battle of Anzio was so striking - 'I felt as though I was seeing a vision of Dante's Inferno.'

How healing Ruthin and Brynhyfryd must have been for him and so many others.

'I found myself at the reunion dinner flanked on the one side by Miss Una Williams who had joined the school a few weeks after I did and who ended a distinguished career as Senior Mistress. On the other side was Mr Roger Edwards later to be headteacher representing Brynhyfryd present. His report held a special significance for me as it highlighted the progress that has taken place in the intervening half century.

 

By now (1996) Brynhyfryd is fully comprehensive with a pupil roll approaching nine hundred. Miss Williams and I had joined a rural grammar school of some three hundred. Mr Edwards happened to mention the fact that the old wooden ex army huts which had once formed part of the buildings had at last been demolished. I spent many teaching hours in those old huts and I recall that they were of 1916 vintage, the year I landed on this earth. The memory of them is a reminder that the Brynhyfryd I joined was an establishment impoverished by war, its facilities restricted and its development sorely cramped for at least six years.......

.In 1947 when we had been buried in snow for about six weeks we assembled in the far hut with snow still on the ground. The head strode in wearing his overcoat and Wellington boots, slipped on the damp floor, slid under the improvised dais of planks supported on wooden trestles at one end. Laughter? No-stunned silence. Discipline and respect.

The buildings were seriously defective-just the old house with a yellow brick addition, the aforementioned army huts and a half finished single storey building known as the 'new wing'. Opposite that, an behind the old house and in solitary splendour, stood the somewhat battered canteen.

As the teacher of Latin I shared the PE duties with Mr Jim Morris. He looked after the soccer and I looked after athletics and gymnastics. The setting of the school with the Clwydian hills as a backcloth was and is beautiful and provided ideal pitches for games but there was no semblance of a gymnasium or indeed any suitable indoor room as a substitute.

There was no money for sand and thus it was the first PE lesson consisted of digging for Ruthin's rich red sand in front of the new wing! No county grounds maintenance team existed thus Mr Ray Shingles trundled around with a 15"wide petrol mower while a local farmer cut the entire field annually in preparation for the sports day.

Later I was to take charge of the girls'hockey team when L. C. retired. They were a truly formidable team finishing that season as an unbeaten side at the top of the league. They were led by Eirianwen Thomas who went on to captain the Welsh National Ladies team.

The teaching staff I joined was made up of fourteen full time members and whatever project was launched was a team effort.

The fact that Brynhyfryd now boasts a fine swimming pool reminds me of the absence of such facilities in the forties. There was no tradition and certainly no practical means of providing for this activity. Then almost unbelievably the situation changed. There was a pool within reach! Merseyside Education Authority had established a school camp in Clawddnewydd of all places. They provided a hut in which they had installed a large surplus emergency water supply tank such as had been used by city fire brigades in wartime. There was the matter of a small entry charge and the cost of a bus ride-or possibly a walk!

There were other deficiencies too-no central library. A group of staff set to in the old house, decorated it in their own time and expense, provided books and scoured the school for any spare shelving. Eventually the LEA provided some new shelving plus books from the county library service which, due to their dilapidation, were due to be pulped. One book acquired though was a beautifully illustrated edition of the Ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead and also a copy of the Koran.

Much of what I have described could be said to be unorthodox but during post war conditions it was either unorthodox or nothing, improve or stagnate.

The reunion of the classes of '46 was a very happy occasion which allowed an old man to reflect once more on the unique good fortune he enjoyed in having such a fine start to his teaching career'.

Nil desperandum summarised the spirit of those days. Facilities had to be created somehow. An outdoor gym was built centred on the school lawns. The solitary piece of apparatus to hand was a battered old vaulting box. Some bull ropes were obtained and slung from the branches of the trees surrounding the lawns to teach the skills of rope climbing. Proper hurdles were beyond our means and the attempted solution was as follows-large floor polish tins discarded by the cleaning staff were carefully hoarded. At the same time a firm of building contractors had started work on an extension to the 'new' wing. A cautious and tactful approach to the clerk of the works allowed us to 'borrow' sufficient spare cement to fill the polish tins. It was then a simple matter to plunge some upright wooden laths into the cement. Finally bamboo garden canes were used as crossbars. It was on such devices that John Stubbs was trained and set up some early county records in hurdling. Soon afterwards Mr Haydn Davies, a P. E. inspector surveyed the improvisations-he was not impressed. So much for the effort to make the best of a bad job!


The extra curricular life at Brynhyfryd was always vibrant, covering every aspect of pupil interests and activity. Team games and athletics, which involved staff in a good deal of travelling and supervision, flourished. Equally cultural events including dramatic and musical presentations such as the Savoy operas were encouraged. Eisteddfodic events were enthusiastically pursued both in school and as part of the Urdd programme. One particularly enjoyable activity was an annual well planned Geography trip which took us all over the kingdom from South Stack to Windsor Castle.

Much of what I have described could be said to be unorthodox. But under the early post war conditions it was either unorthodox or nothing, improve or stagnate.