Monday, 31 July 2017

The class of ’68 part 3 a comprehensive school called Crown Woods

Crown Woods wasn’t the only comprehensive school delivering a fine education but it was the one I went to.

So it is a place I can talk about with confidence and a lot of affection. I arrived aged 16 in the September of 1966 having done five indifferent years at a secondary modern school, which if I am honest were a standoff.

The middle years had been troubled and were not happy ones and while I became more settled I was ready to leave. So nothing quite prepared me for Crown Woods.

Here were two thousand students, half of them girls, a building which was less than a decade old and a dynamic, young and talented teaching staff. This was all state comprehensive education was meant to be.

Every night there was something going on ranging from the usual sporting clubs, and music sessions to poetry evenings and the big set concerts and drama performances. And without much effort you got sucked into it. I performed a piece by Pinter with Michael Marland the head of the English Department, joined a mixed bunch hosting an evening of 18th century readings and music in a fine period house in Blackheath and co produced a radio programme on folk music broadcast to the entire school.

It was also the way you were left to take on bigger things. So when after a few months of going to a local folk group I fancied putting on a concert at school one evening all I had to do was ask. The details are now lost in the fog of the past but we did more than one so I guess it all went well. Then there was the teaching. 

Never had learning been so exciting and meaningful before or since. These were the years of discovering Shakespeare, John Donne, and of watching as 18th century literature opened up the history of the period giving it context and depth.

It seems so obvious now but then the idea that before we read the set A level plays of Henry IV and King Lear we would immerse ourselves in the other great Shakespearian histories and tragedies.

Or that in preparation for the prose and poems of Samuel Johnson the 18th century writer we would look at the rhyming techniques of Alexander Pope and gaze over countless buildings of the century to understand the idea of balance and style.

Now for a working class boy who had just about reached his limit with Ian Fleming this was a revelation and a passport to another world.

And it extended out to theatre visits, from the National and Joan Littlewoods’s Stratford East to countless little rep companies across London. We were not just watching live theatre but for the space of two years were living it.

Amongst all this was a gentle assumption that the natural next step for many of us was University, a path which had only been trodden by one distant cousin in our family.

 Finally there were the friends, some of whom have lasted through the last 51 years and of course the girlfriends none of whom sadly lasted more than a few months.

Now I was just 16 and I  guess the cynical will shrug and dismiss it all as hormones. After all this is or should be when we live life in an intense and uncompromising way.

And there is also that creeping fog of nostalgia which makes the past a series of hot sunny days. But on balance for me and I think some of the other class of '68 this was a fine place to spend two years.

Pictures from the collection Anne Davey 

Tomorrow; widening horizons and lots of fun

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