THEY SAY that school days are the happiest days of your life, well, for me in my teens that was true.

All right, we had our exams to take, but it was a case of just swotting up and sitting down at a desk and off you go.

I was a bright pupil at St Julian’s Primary School, but, like a lot of kids back then, I fell victim to the dreaded Eleven Plus, which decided the path you would take to secondary education.

It came in two parts, and for the second one I came down with chicken pox and had to take it later in the headmistress’ room, with the telephone going every ten minutes and other distractions.

I failed, which turned out to be a blessing in disguise, as I landed at Hatherleigh Secondary Modern, in September, 1957.

It was originally a family home, built in the 1850s, by Henry Pearce Bolt, it was named after his birthplace in Devon. It remained in private occupation until 1926, then, it became Hatherleigh Central School.

A beautiful mansion-like structure, there were oak and glass panels everywhere, a secret passageway to a tower behind a huge mirror door, and a very smart lawn in front.

Away from the main building, there were purpose-built classrooms, a huge greenhouse, metalwork room, tennis court and a hall that doubled as a gym, canteen, theatre for the end-of-term productions and assemblies.

The teachers all had nicknames, so, apologies here if I mention a few. Our chemistry master was Mr ‘Spider’ Lloyd, music and English teacher, Miss ‘Polly’ Rowlands, ‘Dacker’ Davies, was in charge of gardening and sports, along with others who were dedicated to getting the best out of their pupils.

I didn’t have a particular favourite, they were strict but fair, none more so than our maths teacher, ex-Army RSM, Mr Jones, or ‘Boxer’ to us pupils.

I remember the first day in his class. After giving out our maths books, he stood at the front of the class, tucked his cane under his arm and said, “Right then, put your names on the front of the books. If you can’t write your name, draw your photograph”.

At the time it was regarded as a ‘tough’ school, maybe so, but I never had so much fun and learned a lot about life and how to cope with the grown-up world that awaited me after my four years there were up.

Coincidentally, my mother went there, when it was a girls’ school, and my elder son, Anthony, when it was part of St Julian’s Comprehensive.

Sadly, the school was closed in 1985, then, demolished for an estate of houses, which now stand on the site at the top of Lawrence Hill.

Nigel Corten

CAPTION: Hatherleigh Secondary School in all its glory, standing at the top of Lawrence Hill, its southerly views took in Newport, the Bristol Channel and the West Country.