PRICE’S SCHOOL - a perspective from Patrick Nobes recalling 1941-1951

My time at the School, from 1941 - 1951, cannot have been anything but unusual, spanning as it did five years of war and five years more of the war’s aftermath. The years following I have known only at secondhand through friendships made in the Society of Old Priceans. The years before mine I have read about, and, again, have heard about from Old Priceans, the oldest of whom were still alive when I joined the Society on leaving school. Some of these were of the Bradly era, about which a fair amount was recorded, and it is easier to capture the character of the School in those days than it has been to encapsulate it in the days since.

The Bradly era appears to have been much more familial than the period following. The proportion of boarders in the School was much higher than any time after; and, of course, there were none after the 1944 Education Act changed the status of the school. This large admixture of boarders, for whom the School was home for the greater part of each year, and the character of the Headmaster and his wife, made it different from any other time in its life. The number of leavers engaged in the First World War represented a much greater proportion of the School than those engaged in active service in the Second. The shared tragedy of deaths in a tight-knit community was a binding element that added to the sense of family. There was a real social scene enjoyed by a large number of Old Boys returning for visits to the School and participating in the games against the School, the suppers that followed and the evening“smokers” and other concerts. At these, staff and ex-pupils would provide “turns”. We read of Mrs Bradly singing a duet with Captain Shaddock back from the war, and this was the family-like proceedings enjoyed by all. “Never was the dear old school song sung with such gusto,” is a characteristic comment at the end of accounts of these meetings. (The school song was the Harrow song, “Forty Years On”, and I am told by the Harrow archivist that there were few school songs in that age, and that songs are shared by a number of schools.) The expeditions undertaken by the Old Boys when they met were of a far-ranging and ambitious nature - all-day car outings for instance - unmatched by anything since. More formal dinners were certainly held after the Bradly era, but I do not recall accounts of such concerts, not did I ever hear the “dear old school song” sung with very great gusto, though it was sung well at Prize Giving and Speech Day. If others know of, or have read of, Bradly-like gatherings in the few years before the war, then I must be corrected. This is perfectly understandable from the time that the Second World War broke out, and, as I have said, the disappearance of the boarders and the boarding house, changed the character of the School.

1939 - 45 was a very hard time for the school, its Head, and the pupils. Only the oldest of the established staff remained, and the standard of their teaching, with one or two exceptions, was low. Class discipline was difficult for many of the temporary staff, few of whom were good teachers. The uncivilised behaviour of many of the pupils did not help, though not displayed when the Headmaster or any of the older staff were present. Discipline was exercised at long range - you would not see a “duty member of staff” (if, indeed, such a person existed) - patrolling the field during mid-morning or the long lunch time breaks, and great freedom as enjoyed, with no dire results. The stronger of the prefects, the Head Boy among them, were very powerful. When the staff who had gone away to serve in the Forces returned, they were, for the most part, using outmoded methods of teaching, and at least one of these was a poorer teacher than almost any who had helped during the war. It was generally thought that good academic results in most areas were achieved through the pupils’ own intelligence and efforts, not through good teaching. There were, nevertheless, academic achievements of great distinction - shortly after the war, 80% of one year in the 6th Form (Arts) won places at Oxbridge. (I find it very difficult to write about the teaching. It would be odious to name the bad teachers, but not to do so prevents my naming the good ones.) However, loyalties were powerful - most of the pupils were keen supporters of their House, and of the School, especially when it was opposing, or being compared with, other schools. The pattern of loyalty was set by the staff; no matter how poor (or how good) their teaching; they gave endless hours on the sports field, to the C.C.F., the Scouts, and the dramatic society.

For the great majority of pupils, Price’s provided happy school years. The drawbacks of inadequate teaching, comparative poverty, the war, and rationing, (or perhaps, one wonders, because of these?) did not prevent friendships being forged, or the enjoyment of much fun and good times on the playing fields and in other areas.

I hope someone will write at first hand of the Poyner period of headship. My impression from a distance was that matters became rather better-organised than during and immediately after the war. No restrictive discipline was imposed, but pupils were given a rather more explicit moral pattern to follow; teaching improved, and with it the examination success rate, with a generous flow of people going on to university (before the great expansion of university education, remember) with a strong stream to Cambridge, reflecting the then weight of staff bias.There was a great flowering of clubs, societies and general interests. As it became larger, and because of various improvements, the School became an even more powerful element in Hampshire education.

(Of the brief sally into co-education the School (or College) experienced at its end I have no knowledge, though I have a vague idea that it was far from comfortable, with perhaps a clash of outlooks over such areas as discipline.)

A mistaken philosophy, driven in part by an increasing worship of finance, led to the end of his School, and left Fareham bereft of academic A-level education, but William Price must look down proudly to see what his foundation achieved over two hundred and fifty years. And he must be glad to be remembered gratefully by the vast majority of those he educated.

CPN June 2023