By Tony Steele (1975-83)
Monday, 2 March 1981. Arriving at school (I was then in the Lower Sixth), we were directed to an emergency assembly, in which Mr Bullock told us that Mr Goodfellow, the headmaster, had died on Friday. For the next eighteen months or so Moseley was to be without a head, a period that, by chance, coincided with the bulk of my sixth form career and, therefore, my best memories of my time there. Until his retirement, later that year, Mr Bullock took over as acting head, to be succeeded by Mr Lockwood until his own retirement in 1982. Both of these latter gentlemen were stalwarts of the school, having been deputy heads (of MGS and MM respectively) since before the amalgamation in 1974.
I have no memories of Mr Goodfellow. I might have seen him walking down the corridor once or twice and sometimes in assemblies but that’s it. I have since learnt that he was dogged by ill-health but at the time, as pupils in an enormous school, it just seemed natural and we didn’t question it.
Back then, the Lower Sixth area was in the East Wing, above the Third Year area, in that hideous extension put up in about 1973. I remember the Christmas Party of 1980, when for some reason everyone stuck joss sticks in their mouths, pretending to smoke them as if they were spliffs. We must have thought we were being so cool and rebellious, not realising that we just looked like idiots. The Head of the Lower Sixth was Mr Dixon, who now assumed the role of acting deputy head in the East Wing.
In September 1981 we moved into the Upper Sixth, situated in the H Block (the former head’s house) in the West Wing, the surroundings of which could hardly have been more different to those of the Lower Sixth. I also, for the first time, became a prefect and bought myself a prefect’s tie with little school badges on it, rather than simple stripes. Unfortunately the one and only time I tried to give out a prefect’s detention the kid involved just laughed in my face.
The Head of the Upper Sixth, Mr P.J. Williams, had been at the school so long he had put down roots, having started there in 1950 or thereabouts. He, too, retired in 1982. I had also had him for history in the First Year, when he made a point of calling all boys by their surnames and girls by their first and surnames combined. One day I and a few friends were rummaging in one of the H Block rooms and found a bunch of old school magazines called The Moseleian. We looked all round and eventually collected an almost complete set, from 1923 to about 1972, when it fizzled out. Some were in bad condition, neglected, torn and apparently forgotten. We took them to Mr Williams and asked if we could start it up again but he said there was “no chance”. I have no idea what happened to these and I seriously hope they were not the only copies the school still possessed.
At the end of my Upper Sixth year, in 1982, I took the option of staying on for a further year, to augment my qualifications. But when I came back after the summer holidays everything had changed. P.J. had gone, replaced by Miss Cameron. Mr. Lockwood was still acting head but only for a few weeks until Mr Swinfen, the newly appointed headmaster, arrived, whereupon he retired.
In one of his first acts Mr Swinfen gave a talk to the prefects in the Upper Sixth Common Room (the back section of the West Wing Hall), telling us that even if we went a bit too far in our authority he would back us up. I was quite shocked that a headmaster had actually taken the trouble to come and talk to us and over the coming weeks remained pleasantly surprised at how he would speak to pupils, and sometimes even stand at the entrance in the morning, saying ‘hello’ to them as they arrived. He also restored the boards in the West Wing Hall, listing the captains of the school since 1923, bringing them up to date. They had been absent throughout my time until then. He put a stop to the custom whereby the Upper Sixth would go carol singing to every room in the school in fancy dress in the last week of the December term and cleared out the old locked museum in the tower, discarding the shrunken African heads and various other strange items that had been in it,
After finding all those copies of The Moseleian the previous year, I and two friends had been researching the history of the school, with the intention of writing a book . In February 1983, for example, we twice visited Mansfield College, Oxford and spoke to the principal and librarian. When Mr Swinfen found out about this he was very supportive and gave us some documents from the time of Spring Hill College and Moseley Grammar School. Looking back, it’s a pity he didn’t give us something from Moseley Modern too, since pretty soon its entire archives were to be destroyed in the Great Inundation.
I’ve looked through my diary and I can’t find the date of this now legendary event. I know it must have been during 1982/83. I do remember the day of the flood itself. It was pouring with rain and I may have gone home early. The following day, or maybe a day or so later, Mr Swinfen gave an impassioned assembly, praising the pupils who had bravely stood in a line, holding up boards to direct the flow of water through the East Wing foyer and out of the main entrance, rather than letting it flood the lower parts of the building. He said that but for their actions the school might have been closed for a week. I have since learnt that this wasn’t the only flood. that others came later and at one of these the entire archives of Moseley Modern were destroyed.
That’s almost my last significant memory of my time at Moseley. On the last day, in the morning, we sang Jerusalem in the West Wing Hall and in the afternoon I went into Moseley Village and signed on the dole…. I had a life to be getting on with!