RECOLLECTIONS OF MID- CENTURY BRYNHYFRYD. GLAIN PLATT.
I joined the staff at Brynhyfryd School in September 1955, a rather nervous apprehensive novice. I stayed for almost 25 years. There was a family atmosphere to this workplace and great camaraderie in the mixed staff room of about 25 of us, the men outnumbering the women. Academic gowns were worn until the habit died a natural death. At the time there was an understanding amongst the women that trouser suits, trousers, jeans did not constitute a suitable dress code and skirt or dress length above the knee was certainly verboten.
The headmaster was Mr Bleddyn Lloyd Griffith, a genial gentleman forward-looking and genuinely interested in the pupils and their backgrounds. The school was bilingual and bilateral, the first of its kind in Denbighshire and was attended by boys and girls over 11 years old in the catchment area, irrespective of their results in the “scholarship”, the 11 plus exam, an integral part of the education system of that time.
I was very fond of these young people - Mother nature’s fifty-seven varieties! They were good natured, affable and manageable, sometimes mischievous but never malicious. There were many that were bright academically, others equally gifted and talented in practical skills. I admit to having a soft spot for the “dreamers” who didn't or chose not to realise their true potential and for the “whining schoolboy with his satchel creeping like the snail…unwillingly to school”. However, some of them perked up their ideas, found their niches and travelled the world pursuing interesting careers.
As already mentioned, Mr Bleddyn Griffith was the headmaster, the senior masters were Mr Les Harris, who taught French and came from South Wales and Mr Ray Shingles, Norfolk born and bred, taught maths. Miss Una Williams, who taught geography and hailed from the Ogmore area in South Wales was the senior mistress, a title which we the younger female members of staff found very amusing, but possibly not acceptable in today's Woke parlance. Miss Williams was responsible for the girls’ wellbeing, counselling and disciplining, as necessary. She took us the younger female members of staff under her maternal wing too and was always very kind.
Some other more established members of staff I remember in those early years at Brynhyfryd were Mr Jim Morris (History), Mr R R Edwards (R I), Mr Bryn Howells (Latin, and he also began the school library), Mrs Audrey Watson (English), Miss Rhiannon Davis Jones (Welsh), Mr Llew Hughes (Welsh and careers advisor), Mr Elwyn Jones (Music), Miss Mary Lloyd Williams (Domestic Science), Mr Ross Thomas (Woodwork), Mr Clem Edwards (Woodwork) Mr Ken Gravelle (Physics), Miss Lil Ellis (Chemistry), Miss Gwyneth Pugh (Biology).
School day began with registration in the respective form rooms. Punctuality was of prime importance. Sometimes “I'm sorry I'm late miss” was explained by quite original if weird tales of fantasy!
Dinner money was collected every Monday morning by the form teacher. Registration was followed by morning assembly in the school hall. In the late 50s to mid-60s, the hall accommodated all the pupils. They filed in in an orderly fashion, girls to one side and boys to the other. Mr Griffith and the staff, apart from the four on duty around the school, stood on the stage.
Mr Elwyn Jones accompanied the chosen hymn on the piano and a prefect or other senior pupil read the lesson. Following any announcements praise or admonishments by Mr Griffith, the pupils returned to their form rooms to await their teacher, or to collect any requirements for lessons held elsewhere – labs, gym, domestic science, geog. or music rooms.
In general, apart from the mandatory textbooks and set books, the tools of our trade were most unsophisticated - wall mounted blackboards, a nod towards modernity, the board dusters and sticks of chalk. Not a digital gadget in sight.
I suppose that every term had its highlights. I recall practices for a bilingual Carol Service held in Tabernacle Chapel and form Christmas parties for the junior pupils arranged and supervised by the respective form teachers. There was an abundance of sandwiches, cakes, jellies etc. and great excitement. Where all these delicacies were served and scoffed I no longer remember - possibly in the school canteen.
This was the venue for the daily school dinners for hungry youngsters. The cooks and their helpers worked very hard but were always cheerful. There were two members of the school staff on canteen duty - not the quietest time of day, but everyone stood in silence while grace was said by one of the teachers. I clearly remember a roaring version by one in particular – “Benedictus Benedicat sit down”. Whether this particular grace was fully understood is doubtful.
Forms 5 and 6 held their annual dance at the end of the Christmas term and politely invited the staff plus their husbands/wives. I cannot recall any refreshments being served light or otherwise, but it was an interesting evening in many respects.
Una Williams had a favourite charity - Save the Children Fund, which she supported tirelessly for many years. She organised a special appeal in the school at Christmas time and everyone was invited to contribute. There was a ‘thermometer’ on the wall outside the geography classroom and a marker was moved upwards at intervals as the total increased. Enthusiasm increased accordingly especially when the target was achieved.
I also remember the women staff parties at the end of Christmas terms in the 60s and 70s. Dressed to the hilt, car-to bar heels we sallied forth for dinner at various venues such as the Griffin Hotel, Llanbedr, the Westminster hotel in Rhyl and the Castle Hotel, Ruthin (today’s Wetherspoon). These ‘get-togethers’ were always enjoyable - a formal meal, silver service, pleasant chatter in pleasant surroundings, a different ‘style’ from today’s possibly.
Early in the Spring Term rehearsals began for the Gilbert and Sullivan opera performances. Staff and pupils took part. Mr Elwyn Jones head of the music Department was their able conductor. A few of the staff took the main roles, others along with the pupils formed the chorus. Members of staff and senior pupils were also involved in the technical and choreographic side of things, refreshments for the cast, parking facilities etc.
These annual opera nights were always very popular and well attended. They were complimented on their very high standard.
The school Eisteddfod was another annual event held as near as possible to March the 1st, Dydd Gwyl Dewi. On becoming a pupil at Brynhyfryd or a member of staff, everybody became a member of a House - Menlli, Berwyn or Hiraethog. There was a friendly rivalry between the houses especially on the school Eisteddfod day. Competition was very keen particularly in the stage events.
A little later in the year some of the pupils competed in Eisteddfod Genedlaethol yr Urdd, the National Eisteddfod of the Urdd, the Youth Movement of Wales. Brynhyfryd became well known for their many successes in the Canu Penillion competition - an art unique to Wales, I believe. It is very intricate - the harpist or pianist plays one tune and the party/choir sings another, which is especially composed to blend in time and harmony with the accompaniment! The teacher was Mr Aled Lloyd Davies from the geography department, who became well known for his mastery of this art throughout Wales.
The pupils were also encouraged to take part in both English and Welsh drama. There was always excellent support from parents, the school governors and townspeople.
Sport and P.E. played a prominent part in the school curriculum. Apart from the lessons there were Saturday matches against other schools – football, hockey and tennis. (I’m not sure whether rugby had been introduced to Brynhyfryd in the late 50s).
Brynhyfryd is set in a glorious landscape and the staff room then overlooked this panoramic view. I remember one of the sports teachers being very ruffled and upset one morning. Unknown to him, one of his colleagues had come to school particularly early (April 1st perhaps?) and scattered a few small heaps of soil on cardboard ‘trays’ on the hallowed cricket pitch. The molehills were drawn to the attention of the sports teacher.
The look of such grave concern and agitation on the dear man's face as he stalked out of the staff room and hurried towards his cricket pitch is etched on my memory…. He took it all in good part and waved a ‘thumbs up’ to the grinning faces at the window!
During the spring term there were visits to the Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford and the Playhouse in Liverpool.
There were occasional short cruises arranged by the county during the Easter holiday. These were open to interested pupils in the lower to middle section of all the county’s secondary schools. Every school provided voluntary supervisors from among its staff. There was great excitement and many months of saving pocket money.
Another occasion around this time of year was a visit from a small group of rather elderly string instrumentalists who played various pieces of classical music, introducing each piece with a brief resume of the composer’s life and musical style etc. Not very many pupils attended and I no longer remember what the ‘qualifications’ for attendance might have been, but I do not recall any resentment expressed by the uninvited.
The summer term was rather hectic for staff and pupils alike. There were the O and A level exams to prepare for and end of year exams for every form.
Sports Day was a very important occasion. Competition was keen for gymnasts, athletes and sports all-rounders. it was a very enjoyable day especially when the sun shone on such glorious surroundings.
The annual Speech Day was also an important event. The well-scrubbed, neatly attired pupils assembled in the school hall on best behaviour. The headmaster, teachers, apart from those dotted here and there in the body of the hall for obvious reasons, and governors were seated on the stage as was the guest speaker. There was a musical item by pupils, the guest speaker’s address and the distribution of prizes to all the successful performers in various fields.
After the proceedings, the guests and headmaster and staff were served an excellent afternoon tea prepared by the domestic science staff, Miss Mary Lloyd Williams, Miss Marian Roberts and Miss Buddug Jones. The young waitresses were some of the department’s senior pupils.
Sometime during this term, the Parents and Teachers Association, introduced to the school by Mr Bleddyn Griffith, organised a parents teachers evening. This was an opportunity for parents to come to the school to meet subject teachers to discuss their children’s progress, difficulties or any problems in that particular subject. There were also career specialists among the staff to offer advice. Judging by the response, I would say that such a meeting was much appreciated and very helpful.
Towards the end of term, possibly during the last week came the Brynhyfryd ‘great exodus’. This was a day when the majority of the pupils plus most of the staff travelled to London by train from Ruthin. It was a crack of dawn start, late evening return and a day trip to remember by all accounts, if exhausting in the extreme.
However, there were quite a few pupils who for various reasons chose to stay at home. They attended school as usual supervised by members of staff who volunteered to stay at their posts, but on lighter duties in my opinion.
On the last afternoon of the Summer Term pupils stayed in their form rooms with their form teachers to clear and tidy up. All textbooks were collected and taken to the storeroom situated between every classroom. The blackboard was given an extra cleaning before the ceremony of handing out the reports in sealed envelopes addressed to the pupils’ parents.
These reports were fairly long sheets of paper with a list of all the subjects taught. Alongside each subject was a space for the subject teacher to write his/her remarks on the pupil’s progress, attitude etc. There was a column for the teachers initials.
At the bottom of the sheet was a space for the form teacher’s general comment, initials endorsed by the headmaster.
I remember one of my colleagues telling me how a little lad in her form pleaded with her to “write everything in Welsh please Miss, because my mam can't speak or understand Welsh”.
Such a very long time ago!
Sadly, too many of one-time colleagues and friends are no longer with us, neither are quite a few of those dear pupils, but they have left a legacy of evergreen memories.
G. Platt 20th March 2021