Terry Wain – Memories of Xaverian College 1961 – 1968

“Those of us who had migrated from the Prep School found the new intake of 11 plus boys to be a bit of a mixed bunch. Some were well mannered as we were, having attended other Prep Schools from other areas of Manchester. Others were from areas such as Wythenshaw and Glossop and didn’t have the same social skills that had been drummed into us at St. Anne’s. One or two ‘didn’t fit in’ and disappeared within a few months.”

(Bob Cummings, March 2016)


Well, then, how about that for a bit of elitist, prejudicial nonsense? I know it was the 60’s and the age of “No dogs, Irish or blacks” signs, but that little passage fits right into that culture. Trouble was, it was written in 2016. Oh dear.

[Absolutely, Terry, not suitable for 2016 or 2021 and I suspect attitudes have changed even over the last six years. However, it is precisely the attitude I held at the age of eleven in 1960. It soon changed when I was cast out into the wilderness of work with my O level ENG LAN and Geography and back into the bosom of the working class from whence I came. For further reference see Hotspur Press]

Now if you think lads from Wythenshawe and Glossop didn’t have any social skills, let me tell you I come from Hadfield. It was not by chance Hadfield was chosen by the League of Gentlemen producers as the setting for Royston Vasey. Royston Vasey was bizarre, but I can assure you the reality of Hadfield outdoes it for its collection of wonderfully strange characters. Social skills? Guess not – if you’re not “local” you get eaten in Hadfield.

The passage above does explain a lot about how I feel about Xaverian – never really fully a part of it all – on the fringe looking in on those who really fitted in – the dynasties whose fathers had been Xav boys and who knew the ropes from Day 1.  I doubt if anyone remembers me – I have never been to any reunion and am not in touch with any old boys. Strange, really, as I am in Whatsapp groups with primary school friends and college contemporaries and we meet up frequently. There is just a gap when it comes to Xaverian.

I wasn’t a loner by any definition of the term – I had lots of laughs and academically left school with the expected collection of O and A levels. Just never felt part of it. Brother Cyril’s blank, fish-eyed stare at me whenever our paths crossed said it all really.  That look was the epitome of Billy Connelly’s “as welcome as a fart in a spacesuit” line.

I wasn’t bullied or picked on by any boys – just by the staff, like everyone else. Some teachers did their best to make me fit in and feel part of the Xaverian tradition – I was smacked in the face more than once by Brother Plunkett and Tom Arkless, chased around the physics lab by Jock Burns, had my thigh felt by Brother Finbar and was caned by Bother Cyril. Nowadays those smacks in the face would be classed as assault and both Plunkett and Arkless would never have seen a classroom again.

We hillbillies from the sticks had it good really – we got to travel every day on a coach from Glossop with all the girls from Loreto, Notre Dame and the Hollies. It was the nearest thing to coeducation we Xaverian boys were likely to experience. Also as one of your other correspondents mentioned, any fog, snow or other inclement weather meant either an early trip home, or no coach at all.  When we moved on to 6th form and a variable timetable, we didn’t use the coach but instead came by train. We had a travel grant which bought a weekly train pass from Hadfield to Piccadilly. Happy days – it was also valid at weekends, so subsidising Saturday trips to Old Trafford and nights out in Manchester.

Prior to the coach being organised by a pressure group of Glossop parents, probably when I was in the 4th form, we travelled by train from Hadfield at the tender age of 11 and 12. We would often get off at Ashburys and catch a 53 bus to Wilmslow Road. Fresh-faced boys standing at bus stops on dark, foggy November mornings? May I remind you that this was 1961-3 and was deep in Brady and Hindley territory when they were just getting started on their murderous careers. Thank goodness we didn’t know! The alternative route was to stay on the train to Piccadilly, then walk along Canal Street to catch a 42 bus on Princess Street. In our innocence we didn’t really understand the warnings of older boys not to linger around the Union pub. These were the days when the gay village was not only undercover but illegal, and the brunt of much schoolboy toilet humour.  For all these potential hazards of Ashburys and Canal Street we never had any problems on our school journeys, whereas I did once get beaten up coming home from a piano lesson in Hadfield.

I haven’t seen mention in any of the other contributions of the Thursday lunchtime trips to Dickenson Road BBC studios to see the stars arrive for Top of the Pops. This was the highlight of our week in Upper 5:2. Our little coterie, consisting of myself, Paul Hart, Johnny Carr, Les Toft and Spud Murphy, would head for Old Man Davies’ sweet shop for a “thrupenny hot” Vimto,  2 Senior Service and a few matches. We would make our way through the condom strewed back alleys leading to Dickenson Road, stopping to smoke our fags and exchange tall stories before staking out the BBC studios. I remember seeing the Batchelors, Herman’s Hermits, Swingin’ Blue Jeans and a few others. We weren’t autograph collectors or anything, we just used to watch them arrive, although on one famous occasion Petula Clark told Johnny Carr to piss off. Can’t remember what he had said to deserve that but it must have been bad! Downtown or what! 

I could go on but won’t.  If my memories so far seem a little negative about Xaverian, I would like to balance it with some positives. The teaching of history in the school was excellent and I have a life-long love of history thanks to Mr Price and his department. My knowledge of the workings of Westminster is sound thanks to Bernard Lackey and his British Government A level course. I can also parse a sentence, know what a gerundive is and never use the word “nice”, all thanks to Archie Archdeacon. I enjoyed my time in the art department with Mr Barrett, despite, with James Savage, being unpaid labourers in his sculpture projects at weekends and holidays. (Jim was a superb artist who went on to the Slade and I recently saw his obituary in the Irish Times, August 2019, where he had made a name for himself in the publishing and education worlds.) I managed to pass Latin at O Level, mainly because I felt sorry for the aged, gentle Brother Damian who taught Latin and table tennis and I enjoyed Mr Connelly’s football sessions at Wilbraham Road and Hough End, where he combined the roles of coach, referee, manager, commentator and pundit during a non stop dialogue during the match – always encouraging and positive, which is what good teaching is all about.

For the record, I went on to Manchester College of Art (with Jim Savage), but never made the grade: went on to Trent Park College of Education in London, then travelled in the US, worked as a printer in Dominica, travelled in South America then home to teach in primary schools in Newham, Derby and Leicester as well as 4 year spell in Zambia. Retired in 2016 after 24 years as head of a small village primary school in Mid Wales. Married with 4 grown up children, 2 grandchildren and, like several of your other correspondents, take to the bowling green regularly.  And that’s me in a paragraph!

Thank you for the website – it’s a good read and is valuable social history!

Brilliant, Terry, thanks for your memories. Incidentally, I had two friends from Glossop – Price who I was very upset to lose as a cricket companion when he was deemed ‘unsuitable’ by Brother Cyril and Fallon (always surnames eh…) who was also disenchanted with Xavs from what I remember.

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