With the recent sad news about the death of Mr L.T. Malcolm, (December, 2010), I have set up this special page for your memories of this special Birkenhead Institute pupil and teacher. I shall be grateful to add your memories and thoughts about Mr Malcolm in the coming weeks. Mr Malcolm was a fine teacher, Deputy Headmaster, and pupil of Birkenhead Institute, and his work, his teaching abilities, and his influence shall always be remembered by those who knew him. I am honoured and privileged to have been one his pupils.
THE HOLY NELKON
The first memories of Mr Malcolm are from my former class friend Bob Johnson and his brother Ben Johnson. These memories concern the rather thick volume of Physics which Len Malcolm used to refer us to in his "A" Level Physics lessons. The book was called "Advanced Level Physics" by "Nelkon and Parker". Here is Bob Johnson's memory, followed by pictures of the "Holy Nelkon". Very many thanks to Bob and Ben for these memories:-
The best laid schemes of mice and men ---------- A toast by Lenny Malcolm
Shortly after the Dinner of October 1998 Harold came round to discuss how it had gone and to start planning one for this year. I made two main points: since it was to be a gathering of Old Instonians the emphasis should be on Birkenhead Institute and an attempt should be made to cover as wide an age range as possible. Having painted myself into a corner, I sat down to write the history of B.I. from my view point from the 1930s to the 1980s, with many stories of incidents and individuals, of staff, pupils and certainly of those who would be at the Dinner. When I had finished I sat back. The history of Birkenhead Institute. In 20 minutes? I realised that it was an impossible task. The stories would have to go for a start. 20 minutes! This would allow for essentials only.
I would wish to mention the Junior School - Sadie Bowers, Head Mistress, a large lady with a sit up and beg bicycle, and Kathleen Booth - a School which was so successful until its demise was brought about by the Butler Education Act of 1944.
I must include the 23rd Scouts run by Don Coughtrie. The time factor will preclude mention of others. I'll just look at an old photograph to see if I can put names to faces. This I found somewhat harrowing for I realised as I looked at the photograph taken in the mid-thirties that in twelve year's time, as Secretary of the War Memorial Committee, I would be including on the Memorial, among the 93 names of casualties, the names of Ted Mathews, JohnGullan and John Beckett.
A feature of the 23rd was the camping. Overchurch at the weekends on a site long since gone and then longer camps in the holidays at Brynbach in North Wales and Wootton Fitzpaine, north of Charmouth in Dorset. I have revisited both these sites. The one I have not been back to is Gatehouse of Fleet, this for psychological reasons. I am sure most of you can look back at moments in your lives when opportunities were missed - I had one such moment at Gatehouse of Fleet. One day we were divided into pairs and sent forth into the wild Kirkudbrightshire countryside with only basic materials and told to light a fire and prepare our own meals. I wish, oh how I wish, that I had paid greater attention to my partner. I had a letter from him only last year. "Since Gatehouse of Fleet in 1938 I have learnt to become a first-class cook (references available)". I wrote back immediately to offer my congratulations and to ask to see the references. They have never been forthcoming.
I will have to refer to the third of September 1939. Each pupil was given a gas mask and put on the train: the evacuation to Oswestry had begun. I have been back there too. I walked round Oswestry High School, across the town to the Market Square and over to the Memorial Hall, for ever linked with the Ancient Order of Buffaloes, and then back to Cae Glas Park where the school assembled on arrival. The great W.E. Williams, who taught history, moved along the serried ranks with a brown paper carrier bag collecting catapults and peashooters. When he emerged he held the carrier bag aloft and at this, the start of the war with Germany, announced "Disarmament Conference".
Of course, all were back in Birkenhead for the bombing. This meant nights in the air raid shelters and the occasional detour to Whetstone Lane to avoid unexploded bombs. The only damage to the fabric of the school happened on the thirteenth of March, 1941, when two incendiaries fell through the gym roof; Gerry Hall was the firewatcher on duty. He summoned assistance and the fire was extinguished. The School did lose one pupil, A.R. Gibbons, who was killed when a bomb fell in Hamilton Street.
Part of the School's war effort was the farming camp held on the farm of Harry Blackburn at Great Barrow, on the far side of Chester. I have been back there too and how it has changed. The village pump, which once overnight suffered the indignity of being whitewashed has gone. The arms on the signpost at the crossroads now point in the correct directions. The White Horse Inn is still there but opposite it is the Post Office surrounded by modern housing. No barns, no mushroom sheds. I felt a pang of conscience as I walked along the main street as I had organised the last four camps and had been in charge of the cooking. I thought back to Gatehouse of Fleet. I wish, oh how I wish, that I had paid greater attention to my partner. If any of you still harbour complaints about my cooking of fifty years ago I suggest you visit my partner of sixty years ago and see how far it gets you. He lives at 1 Salem View.
Then what of the School's Tours abroad? 9 European Countries visited in 20 continuous years - no time. And the Dramatic Society? There are many tales there but no time. That is a pity for there is that story of E. Wynne Hughes and the Birkenhead Brewery - but there is a fund of E. Wynne Hughes stories. (I do not know what to do about that boy - everything I say runs off his back like duck's water. Now you boys I want to make it clear that snowballing is out of bounds.)
To go on would be most unfair for I can claim that I knew him better than most and can vouch that he did a great deal for B.I. He left an impression on a number of Old Boys. To put the matter in perspective, it is only the minority here who will remember him - only those who were at school between 1929 and 1950. To the majority, his name will mean as much as those of William Connacrer and Jimmy Smallpage do to me.
So into the fifties which was a difficult time. It was no part of my job to see the situation from the point of view of the Education Authority but, looking back, the School was too small to be economic and there was no room to expand on the Whetstone Lane site. The solution of the Education Authority was anathema to many - the school should combine with Rock Ferry High School. That reminds me that I am still investigating a matter from 1953. Rock Ferry opened one day to find that their goal posts had been painted black and gold. In connection with this, I would like to see Thomas Hodgson afterwards.
The protests started with a meeting called by Reg. Lockyer in the Liberal Club in Claughton Road. A number of us met to concoct a letter to the Ministry of Education in London: Eric Webb provided the facts, I drafted the letter, Roy Dorrity signed it. With the assistance of a number of people dotted round this room, I organised a series of Dinners - 3 in Birkenhead Town Hall and 2 in the Masonic Hall, Clifton Road - concentrating on well-established Old Boys who would carry most clout: - The Lord Cohen of Birkenhead, Sir Herbert Manzoni C.B.E., the City Engineer of Birmingham, Schofield Allen Q.C., LL.B., M.P., the Recorder of Blackburn, Professor Hallett of Durham University, W.L. Cottier, the Medical Officer of Health for Willenhall, and many more. John Allison supplied me with a list of names and I consulted a copy of "Who's Who" at the Birkenhead Library and was heartened by the support I received. Then there was the subterfuge with the Chairman of the Education Committee but, alas, no time. The plan was eventually withdrawn.
I hope that those at the Dinner will appreciate that academic work proceeded apace in Whetstone Lane. Should I drown them in letters? S.C., Subsid., H.S.C., were replaced by G.C.E. O and A, and then along came C.S.E. and, later, G.C.S.E. The syllabi were continually changing and much hard work was done by pupils and staff.
Then there was Ingleborough Road:- Athletics, Rugby, Cricket. In all the years I spent at square leg looking at the pavilion, the memorial to the 83 casualties of the first World War, including Wilfred Owen, I never imagined that it would ever be occupied by Tranmere Rovers.
Then in 1970 came the move to Tollemache Road. I have no wish to get embroiled in the relative merits of the Grammar School/Comprehensive systems. The decision was taken by politicians elected by the majority which is known as democracy. The education authorities were as fair as possible:- Park High combined with Hamilton, Rock Ferry with Kirklands and B.I. with Grange. One of the main advantages was the improved facilities and one of the main disadvantages was that the School more than doubled in size with the loss of a degree of friendliness, Is that not the way of the world? Small banks and corner shops have largely gone and in a few years' time Birkenhead was to be absorbed into Wirral. I remember the 1970's as a period of hard work tinged with sadness. In 1972 Dennis Hughes died having been on the staff for twenty years and he had certainly thrown himself enthusiastically into the life of the School. In 1975 Miss Cojeen retired after thirty three years of valiant service. I did have one piece of good fortune. I was so busy that I failed to realise that the buildings in Whetstone Lane were being demolished. If I had, inevitably I would have been drawn there to recall stories of Johnny Paris, Bertie Bloor, Tiger Lewis et al and many Old Boys. I would only have got upset and so it was as well that I did not know.
Immediately after the Dinner of 1998 I wrote to Harold to draw attention to his inability to spell correctly the word "Questionnaire". He replied immediately. "You were the first one to spot my deliberate mistake. A prize for this will be forthcoming eventually". I hoped for some culinary delicacy but have received nothing. I wondered how I could prise my reward from Harold's grasp and decided to run a competition. One of the features of B.I. of the 1930s was the appearance of the janitor of those days, one Russell by name, to toll the bell above the bicycle shed before each session to cause boys to hare along Hollybank Road. During the demolition that bell was purloined. I would award "Harold's Prize" to the first at the Dinner who could trace it. I would have to give clues - but alas, no time.
So into the 1980s and in 1982 it was time for me to leave. 48 years after crossing the threshold in one direction I crossed it in the other, taught for three years elsewhere and then retired.
If I had to associate my time at B.I. with only one word I would choose the word "friendship". I was fortunate in that the generation before mine produced men who became colleagues and then friends. I am thinking particularly of A.O. Jones, W.E. Williams, Robert Hall and Reg. Bolton. In my own generation Dennis Hughes and then three whom I still see regularly - John Allan, Norman Bailey and Rene Cojeen. Then there are the ghosts, not all departed this life, whom I have met at Brynbach, Wootton Fitzpaine, Oswestry, Great Barrow, Ingleborough Road and Whetstone Lane.
I serve on a committee with a man who was semi-educated at Park High School. Since this is a private meeting I will admit, somewhat reluctantly, that Rock Ferry and Park High were worthy opponents but I will continue to decry them in public. The result is certain banter in which I have an unfair advantage since I visited both Rock Ferry and Park High so often with Rugby and Cricket Teams that I got to know members of their staffs and, through them, some of their weaknesses. It always ends the same way: when my friend reaches the end of his tether he says "Well, they are still both open". To my credit, I say nothing but I know what I am thinking - no sixth forms, both flooded with girls, the "new education" and, in a strange way, I am not sorry that B.I. is no more. I put on my rose-coloured spectacles, get out my numerous photographs and dream of times past.
I thought my days of giving reports were well and truly over but I will give one more.
Report on Birkenhead Institute - "While not perfect, in the main was successful for over a hundred years and certainly provided the framework for many friendships".
Who would have forecast that the lad who entered B.I. in 1934 would in 1999 have the honour of asking fellow Old Instonians to stand?
I propose a toast. "To the spirit of Birkenhead Institute".
Len Malcolm's excellent speech is reproduced above.