The High School Hell’s Angels, Chapter 2

Last time I mentioned the ways in which boys used to come to Nottingham High School before the cossetted era of luxury cars, luxury trams and luxury city buses. They walked. They cycled. They came in Papa’s carriage.

But there were other methods too. Just look at this photograph of the school piling out of the North Entrance at top speed at 4 o’clock and 30 seconds in  1947 or perhaps 1952 or even 1957 :

In other words, I don’t know the exact date. Here is the view from inside the yard in 1932. As far as I know, both pillars of the gate have now been replaced. Years back, a bone headed lorry driver backed his bone headed lorry into the left pillar and down it came. The other pillar, I believe may also have been replaced, perhaps for a similar reason:

And here is the view, outside the gates, on Forest Road in 1932. Look at the spindly trees…

Hopefully, during these periods of building work, the graffitti from the early 1940s is still there. The link will take you to what I wrote about them a little while back:

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I’ve managed to enlarge sections of the original photograph of all those boys, all eager to get home to see if Dad has bought a television yet. This is the left hand side:

Notice how all the boys are wearing their caps, presumably all of them black with the lozenge of Dame Agnes Mellers attached. I did do some posts a while back examining the truth of the idea that the school badge is the coat of arms of the Mellers family.  Needless to say, my ideas were different from what you might have expected. Just take a look if you have the time.

Anyway, if you’ve seen the caps, don’t miss those old black and white scarves, no doubt obtainable only from one retail outlet at a rather inflated price. Back in 1932, somebody drew and painted the permutations of ties. Here is the top half of the drawing, with thin yellow stripes for the Colours tie, awarded to those who had represented the School at sport:

And the bottom half. I believe that purple is the extra colour of these ties, worn by the Old Nottinghamians :

Now the boy on the bicycle. What’s he carrying in his right hand? Is he riding a Raleigh bike? I’m no expert but I think he’s got one of those front lights that is powered by pedalling the bicycle. And look at his huge hands, clad in those heavy knitted gloves of yesteryear, eminently suitable for wearing while digging an Avro Lancaster out of deep snow:

And what is the boy behind him wearing? A coat which appears to be striped in a rather strange fashion. Perhaps he was an expert in some field and he has a special garment to prove it. He does look a little young to have School Colours, though. And the boys’ faces. The thin faced little chap on the right, looking so, so worried. He won’t lose that look of terror until he’s got home and done his homework.

Now look at the right hand side:

This part of the photograph shows the star of the show. He looks so very young to be a motor cycle rider. But at least he has the equipment. The voluminous mackintosh, pulled tight with a plastic buckle. The collar turned up like Eric Cantona. No crash helmet though. Nor for the young gentleman on his left, sitting on what must surely be some kind of moped, unless, of course, it’s one of those Hell’s Angels Easy Rider motorbikes with huge handlebars. But how will his cap stay on? Especially if he can reach 28 mph again on some steep hill. He is wearing what almost looks like the little boy’s version of the motorcyclist’s gloves, but not as hard or stiff. And why has the boy standing behind them got a black and white hooped tie? If he is wearing a Junior School tie, then why has nobody else got the same thing?
And finally, the back of the crowd:

All those different expressions. All those different angles to wear a cap. Boys climbing the gate. And behind all of them, the windows of the Assembly Hall, dare I say it? Wreathed in smog. It’s certainly a day in late autumn because of the top coats and the scarves and the gloves. But it’s not so far into December or January that it’s dark. Any more conclusions gratefully received.


Filed under History, Nottingham, The High School

25 responses to “The High School Hell’s Angels, Chapter 2

  1. Great analysis of the photo, John. My Mum couldn’t afford school badges so she hand embroidered mine and my brother’s, copying from a borrowed blazer

  2. Nice post – good fun! I remember school caps. It was compulsory to wear them but we only did so within quarter of a mile or so from the school gates!
    When I started secondary school in 1966 there was only a small car park for the staff but by the time I left in 1972 boys were starting to drive cars to school and parking in the adjacent streets and annoying the residents.

    • Caps seem to have been very important years ago. In the school I went to they were abolished in 1964 just after my parents had bought one. That went down well! A brand new cap and I wouldn’t wear it. Who wants that kind of attention in the First Form ?

      • I remember my sister had a choice between a beret and an airline hostess style hat. She choose the airline hostess hat and wore it on the first day but realised that it looked ridiculous so refused to wear it ever again. I remember a big argument about it that night!

  3. Chris Waller

    The absence of crash helmets reminds us that this was in a time before “elf ‘n safety” and there was a cavalier disregard towards the prospect of a fractured skull.

    • Absolutely. I can remember the furore back in the 1960s when crash helmets were first made compulsory about the fact that Sikhs would be exempt because of their turbans. And from that day to this, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Sikh in a turban riding a motor bike, so that was a lot of hot air and newspaper ink wasted !

  4. The expressions were interesting, some having fun – others with determined looks. The more things change – the more they stay the same, eh John?

    • Yes they do, although there are plenty of people, myself included, who marvel at the way youngsters nowadays don’t seem to talk to each other very much but instead spend all their time on their phones. It must be a different generation. I spent all of my younger years trying to escape and be free, not to keep checking that I was firmly tied to lots of different apron strings.

      • Great way to put it.
        I saw a meme about that:
        “We used to write in our diaries and be furious if anyone read them – BUT – nowadays people write about every moment of their lives and they’re angry if NO ONE reads it!!”

  5. Maureen Hudson

    Loved this. Where can I buy the book please?

  6. Fascinating history and insight into ‘social norms’ back in the ’50s and ’60s. I wonder what our ‘health and safety’ – obsessed society would make of no crash helmets and no fluorescent vest for the cyclists!

    • It’s difficult to imagine! I suppose that there was a lot less traffic in those days so cyclists were perhaps a little safer. About 15 years ago we had a Children’s Accident & Emergency doctor come into school to talk to the very youngest boys, that’s the 11/12 year olds in Year Seven. He said that fatalities among children could be virtually wiped out if all of them wore a helmet while cycling and a seatbelt when travelling in the car.

  7. I remember those bikes and lights. You had to peddle like mad to get any light, and on your way home, long after darkness had fallen, if you dared stop you were hidden from any reckless or drunk driver returning from his hectic and rowdy night at the pub. Great days!

    • How did so many of us survive? And yet in all of my years at school, I only remember one boy being killed. He was run over by a car out on his bike in the country, but he was the only one. The rest of us climbed cliffs, sailed rafts and did all kinds of silly things, for the most part without any problems.

  8. We had caps until 1969 – I was in the last year to wear one. Also the last year of the 11+ exam. The girls had pillbox hats in winter and straw in summer. Seems like a different world.

    • Somebody else mentioned that girls were given a choice of headgear. That would cause uproar nowadays. I went to secondary school in 1964 and at that time there was a lot of argument about short trousers v long with the vast majority of boys in long trousers certainly by the Second Form.

  9. Another good article John. Funny how social norms changed over the years.

    • It certainly is, although rather bizarrely, the youth of today are quite frequently found in the modern equivalent of short trousers and they also wear caps, although for some reason that I haven’t fathomed yet, they often wear them backwards. We were all for small acts of rebellion, but we never thought of that one!

  10. Jan

    John, the small motorbike on the left is a Corgi motorcycle – a post-war version of the paratroop Wellbike. Here is a video

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