WILL THE CHILDREN WHO TRAVEL ON THE SCHOOL
BUS PLEASE STAY BEHIND AFTER ASSEMBLY
By Rob Barnes
Cannock Grammar School 1956 to 1963
I do not know how many times these words were said by the Headmaster, Mr Pomfret, or his deputies, Miss Baker and Mr Draper, at the end of the daily Assembly at Cannock Grammar School . Certainly often enough to stay in my memory, although I have no doubt forgotten incidents that led to this phrase being spoken on what seems to have been a regular basis.
These are my memories of that school bus journey, with the occasional diversion, during the years 1956 to 1963. For me the story began when the results of the “11 plus” became known in the Spring of 1956. It became clear that many of us at “The Green” (Cooper & Jordan CofE) School in Aldridge, who had passed the examination were destined for Cannock Grammar School . I don't think I had even heard of Cannock , and had never been there. Little did we know children in other primary schools were to join us, along a somewhat circuitous route.
In retrospect I think this school bus journey could well be unique to the Midlands and may be to the country; unless anyone knows differently. It became essential, I presume, because of the “end of World War 2 baby boom”, and the post-war new school building programme running behind necessity. In following years pupils did not follow us, because in preparation for the opening of Aldridge Grammar School , the 1957 pupils who passed the “11 plus” initially went to the Pheasey School and subsequently moved over to Barr Beacon School , where those successful in 1958, including my younger brother Graham, joined them. I believe Aldridge Grammar School opened in Tynings Lane , Aldridge in 1959. So whilst I was undertaking the long journey to Cannock , my brother was walking less than half a mile to school! In other words our year was a “one-off”.
So to the Autumn of 1956, but I think it worthwhile to record further background in order to better understand those long gone days. The transport providers were Austin Brothers of Cannock and some of their buses bore the legend “Happy Days” – many years before the Fonz appeared on our television screens! The buses in the first 5 years were double-deckers ; vintage style with an open platform at the rear and a conductor riding “shotgun”. They held about 56 pupils. I left home at about 7.50 am to catch the Walsall Corporation No 6 bus opposite the White House pub on the corner of Walsall Road and Bosty Lane . This took me into the centre of Aldridge . The school bus started its journey at the junction of the High Street and Walsall Wood Road . In 1956 “Northgate” had not been created, and the Aldridge Urban District Council had yet to vandalise the heart of the village in the name of progress. There were about a dozen who boarded the bus here; it left at about 8.05 am travelling along Walsall Wood Road to pick up outside some cottages. It continued along Salters Road (B4152) to Streets Corner, turning left onto the Lichfield Road (A461), through Walsall Wood , picking up in Shelfield , by the Spring Cottage, before arriving in Rushall , where several more pupils boarded. In Rushall the route turned right along Pelsall Lane (B4154), crossed the Common for two more pick-ups in Pelsall village and at the “finger-post”. Here the bus turned right onto Lichfield Road/Pelsall Road (A4124) to Brownhills , where the final pick-up took place. The bus was now full and took a direct route along the Chester Road North (A452), then the A5 to Churchbridge. Here it turned right through some back streets in Bridgtown to avoid a low railway bridge (now demolished).
There were one or two occasions when a new driver forgot this, and only very loud shouts got him to stop, just before the top of the bus was taken off to create carnage on the top deck ! In those years there was at least one foundry in the area and I can still recall the distinctive smell. It then joined the Walsall Road (A34), continued into Mill Street , turned right at St. Luke's Church into Church Street , up Allport Road , turning right into Allport Street , terminating at the bottom of Calving Hill, for us to get off and walk up the hill to the school. The bus usually arrived at 8.50 to 8.55 am, and the distance travelled was about 15 miles. The return journey may, I think, have led to the school day finishing early for those days at 3.30pm. The bus set out at 3.35 to 3.40 pm, arriving in Aldridge at around 4.25 pm, and I got home at 4.40p.m. How long would this journey take in today's traffic conditions ?
At the start of the Autumn term in 1956 the boys were allocated the top deck and the girls the lower. It was in this first term just after the bus had started along Walsall Wood Road that something caused it to swerve to the nearside kerb, just at the point where the road is lined with trees. The inevitable happened and branches took out most of the nearside windows showering the top deck with glass. I was sitting on the nearside, but due to good fortune and only a few of us on board, I don't think any one was hurt. After checking everyone was alright I think the driver and conductor decided to carry on, as I cannot recall waiting for a replacement bus, and we certainly did not go home. As for newspaper reporting, I don't think there was any. Can you imagine the media coverage if it happened today?
On the subject of stoppages to the journey I remember several days when the “smogs” or “pea soupers” of the 1950's and early1960's were so bad that you literally could not see your hand in front of your face. Those occasions saw us get tired of waiting for the bus and so we went home; although I believe at least once the bus turned up hours late. I cannot recall snow or cold weather ever stopping the bus or us getting to school, even in the severe and “everlasting” winter of 1963. The double-deckers with their open rear platform had no heating!
In the early days school caps were often flung about and I recall one sailing like a frisbee straight out of an open window, as we crossed Pelsall Common, never to be seen again.
The singing of rude songs, usually of the “roll me over” variety came into fashion from time to time, inevitably leading to another assembly request.
As we neared the first Christmas, towards the end of the homeward journey, someone had the bright idea of all the boys going downstairs to give the girls a kiss (no mistletoe required). Me! A total introvert then and for the next few years, stayed in my seat. Then one girl, possibly one of the former High School number, came upstairs. So I got kissed willingly or not! Thinking back it was quite pleasant; I wonder what was her name and where is she now!
Eventually it was decided the boys were too unruly to stay on the top deck and so we were switched to the lower deck. The theory was that the supervision of the conductor would solve the problems. It may have reduced the number of incidents, but did not stop them completely. We were most subdued when one of the maths teachers, Mr Parkes, used to occasionally to travel on the bus, when his car was off the road. He lived in Pelsall, and did not tolerate any misbehaviour.
Not long after the switch a “pea-shooter duel” broke out and again I think we were going through Pelsall. Unfortunately, for the driver he had his internal communication window open, probably to keep his ears open for the noise of unruly behaviour. No prizes for guessing what happened next. Stung behind the ear, he stopped the bus and after giving the conductor a
few choice words, vented his feelings on us. Needless to say no one owned up. He was Scots, renowned for his fiery temper, and known to us as “Jock”; not much “p.c” about then.
In 1957/58, there was the great influenza pandemic which struck the country. It seemed about 80% of us became ill with it. I was one of the first to become ill and was off school for two
weeks. When I returned there were very few pupils on the bus, and similarly few at school. I presume classes were merged temporarily.
The annual arrival of November 5 th and fireworks were always a popular way of providing amusement to alleviate the boredom of the journey. The usual practice was to light a “banger” and throw it off the bus. Then one year there was an exception. As the bus was nearing the end of the homeward journey, along Walsall Wood Road , someone had the bright idea that a “banger” would make more noise if it went off in the used ticket box, the contents of which were collected under the rear side seat. It did. The trouble was it set alight the used tickets. Soon there was smoke billowing out, but fortunately the conductor was quick witted enough to snatch up the side seat, ‘jump in' and stamp out the flames before any serious damage could occur.
Cards were an ever popular way of killing time on that interminable journey. It taught me that gambling was a “mugs” game; even when playing for matches I lost Swan Vesta, and Bryant & May!
So boring was this journey day after day that on one or two summer days, probably during the 4 th and 5 th form years, two or three boys decided to cycle from Aldridge to Cannock . Their route of course was more direct, but in terms of journey time there was little in it.
On those old buses the window frames were made of wood, and the glass panes moved around in the frames. It was on a return journey, travelling up the Lichfield Road between Shelfield and Walsall Wood, when two boys began fooling about. As the bus went over a hump backed canal bridge a head was pushed hard against a frame side. This had the effect of stopping the frame moving in parallel and unison. Before our eyes the world slipped into “slow motion” and very slowly but surely the glass pane dislodged itself from the frame and fell out to crash onto the road. Another smashing time!
On the day the boys from the first year's intake, possibly including some from the old High School, left the school for the final time a few of them marked the occasion by using bits of their uniform to “decorate” the A5 between Cannock and Brownhills. It has to be acknowledged that as school uniforms go it got top marks for bad taste. The jacket was a peculiar shade of a most unattractive pale green. Then along every conceivable edge green and grey braid was stitched. For the boys it was accompanied by grey trousers, white or grey shirts, green and grey striped tie, and those silly green caps. In my opinion the uniform thoroughly deserved the fate it received that day. We had to wear those caps every school day for 5 years, but knowing that if we stayed on for the 6 th form we did not. So what happens on the last day of our 5 th form year? Yes, the Head announces that from the next school year caps and hats will not have to be worn! Ah, well that's life, as I came to know and love it.
The final incident that I remember came in that 5 th year. As it always seemed to be it was on the homeward journey, and again on the Lichfield Road going towards Walsall Wood. On the left there was a factory, and each afternoon at the time we went past the workers were taking a break. So after weeks of abuse about being lazy “so & so's” they decided to take their revenge. Luckily for us someone at the front spotted the buckets at the road-side and shouted a warning. It was a warm spring day and all windows were hastily shut. When the water was
thrown we stayed dry, but the innocent conductor, who had not taken the precaution of moving inside and stayed on the open platform, got absolutely soaked.
That is almost the end of this collection of memories. Most pupils left at the end of the 5 th form year. Those who went on into the 6 th form, with one or two additions along the route, travelled by coach for the next two years, with no segregation. We were much calmer now, maturing into adults. Then in the final weeks leading up to A-levels one of the Upper 6 th
committed suicide, an act which I could not comprehend. As I left school for the final time on an afternoon in July 1963, walking along the 6 th form corridor, I heard the sounds of a Searchers record playing somewhere; nostalgia or memory playing tricks?
However, if I thought I had finished with Cannock , then I was mistaken, because Cannock had not finished with me. In a few years time I would make that Aldridge to Cannock journey again, but that is another chapter in my life's story.
Originally written on 20 th February 2005.
Revised in December 2010 and October 2011.
Attached are 2 Appendices.
The first appendix is comprised of the pupils I remember, together with the stops at which they were picked up and dropped off.
My apologies to those who I cannot recall and for any inaccuracies. If you can, either add names or correct any errors, then please let me know.
A thank you to David Pagett, who on 2 nd December 2010 provided the additional names marked with a *. Similarly thanks to Brian Crumpton who provided the names marked ** on 23 rd September 2011.
The second appendix names those involved in some of the incidents described above.
There were others who I cannot remember after 50 years or so !
On 2 nd December 2010, David Pagett provided the names marked with * which I had forgotten. On 23 rd September 2011 Brian Crumpton provided 2 more names marked**.
Aldridge Centre & Walsall Wood Road :-
6 th Formers; Jane Fellows, Myself (Rob Barnes), Tracy Allen, Brian Crumpton, Peter Jackson, Peter Miller, Michael Nicholls, Roger Smith, Robert Wells.
Left at the end of the 5 th Form Year or before; Louise Fuller, Maureen Gourd, Christine Laycock**, Anne Middleton**. David Lloyd*, Robert Pickstock, David Clarke, Terry Cooke, David Judson, Stuart Taylor, Peter Walton, Jonathan White, Christopher Wood, and Gerald Gourd (in later years).
Walsall Wood :-
Left at end of 5 th Form Year or before; Robert Bates*.
Left at end of 5 th Form Year or before; Averil Harris*. Michael Foye*, John Heming
6th Former; Margaret Donaldson*.
Left at end of 5 th Form Year or before; Mary McDougall*, Yvonne Price, Wendy Stickland, Margaret Williams*
Bert Harvey*, Keith Baggott, Roger Feraday, Barry Gilkes, David Pagett, Martin Thompson (first year only)*, Tony Weare*.
Pelsall Village & “Finger Post”:-
6 th Formers; Judith Sandland & 1 other girl (both joined the school for 6 th form).
Raymond Allen, Frank Glaze, Peter Wearing, Cliff Jackson (joined the school for 6 th form).
Left at end of 5 th Form Year or before; Ann Parker, Pauline Bushnell*. John Gregory, Stuart Jardine*, David Saunders, and Ian Jardine (in later years)*
Left at end of 5 th Form Year or before; Margaret Wood*, Tamar Trawford*. Barry Clenton*, Paul Elkin*, Bruce Friar*, Derek Garbett, Barry Heath*, Robert Hill*, George ??Lazenby??*, Lesley Lacey*, Victor Powell??*, Peter Trusselle*.
~ The girl who came upstairs to “administer” the Christmas kiss to the “shy” boys was I think, Louise Fuller. My apologies if I am wrong.
~ I can't remember who were the “pea-shooters”
~ The firework that set the used ticket box alight was, I think, put in there by (allegedly) Brian Crumpton (Brian, is my memory correct or at fault?).
~ I can recall 3 bike riders; Peter Miller, Stuart Taylor and Robert Pickstock.
~ The “removable window” was caused by Stuart Taylor and Robert Pickstock, with Stuart Taylor's head being the blunt instrument that precipitated the dislodgement.
~ The warning shout in the “water” incident was given by Peter Walton.