Peter Gosden's letter to David Dixon
7th Nov 2006

Mr David Dixon

7 November 2006
Bramhope, West Yorkshire

Dear David,

I feel that I know less than I probably should about some of the points you list for comment. I can only blame the passage of time for shortcomings of that nature, but here is a start on some of them.

The LEA for the area was Middlesex County under the 1944 Act, The County could and did devolve certain of its administrative functions to area committees composed of some from the county but mostly from the minor local authorities including the Uxbridge and Ruislip-Northwood Councils in the case of the North-West Middlesex Divisional Executive. The school governing bodies were pretty ineffective in the case of council schools under 1944 arrangement so a lot of the day to day administrative correspondence to and from the school would have been with the clerk to the Executive who bore the title of Divisional Education Office and whose name was Sabin (or perhaps Sabine ?). So far as I can recall the political complexion of Middlesex County was fairly left immediately after the War but began after a few years to turn rightwards. Thus three comprehensives were planned and erected (including Mellow Lane in the Hayes direction) after which grammar schools returned where local support made itself apparent electorally.

Against all this the proposal for secondary provision in the R-N area included a grammar/technical school for boys at Northwood Hills along with a further selective school for girls. John Miles, retired head of Bishopshalt School in Uxbridge, was important as an influence around this time. He was already or he became very soon chairman of the NorthWest Divisional Executive. I think that Bob Watson had been on the staff at that school before he went to St Clement Danes grammar school at Hammersmith. Incidentally I believe I first met John Miles when he chaired the small group that offered me the job at St Nicholas at the office in Uxbridge in March 1955. Bob and he seemed to have a mutually strong regard for each other as professionals. I ought to add that when I subsequently asked Bob what influence the technical aspect was to have on the school, he said that he though we should forget about all that but I do think it had some effect on the design of the provision in the actual building; If you get an opportunity to do so, it might be worth having a look at the scheme for the school as originally given to the county architect's department - now presumably in the Middlesex County Archives. Incidentally the list of material which you mention in your letter is mainly school based. I am sure that in the records of the old Middlesex County Council up to its abolition by the London Government Act of 1963 there will be other papers of interest. The papers of the North West Division will also terminate soon after the act was passed and they may be useful. I am certain the
papers of the London Borough of Hillingdon will include quite a bit of relevance and interest for the later years of the history that you are writing and it should be possible to get access to them. You will certainly need it as historian of these things. Incidentally I came across the CEO of Hillingdon of those days after he had left the South and moved to Cleveland. I was at the time chairman of the JMB and later NEAB and was seeking some measure of agreement on the fusion of the various CSE boards in the Northern counties. We mentioned the closure of St Nicholas in conversation but no more than that, I am sure the memoranda etc left behind in Hillingdon would be useful.

But now to your other questions;

Bob did not approach me, I applied. I greatly enjoyed Greenford Grammar, but I thought three years or so was quite long enough in a first post.

I sought the post as offering a contrast of experience with that I had in Greenford which was mixed and I felt that experience of a single sex school would be helpful at that stage. Term at Greenford ended at the end of July while that at St Nicholas began on 13 September with two years of boys. For me at least, a smooth transition and I hope that it was for them too.

The Parents Association was set up quite early. At the time parent-teacher associations were rather in vogue, but the head did not think much of them and felt the best tactic was to get in early on with a parents association, I thought he was right about this for fairly obvious reasons although I then found myself made a joint secretary of the PA along with Goodwin's father. He was a civil servant and an easy person to work with.

In the early days there were very few links with St Marys. Presumably informal links grew between individuals but apart from her name - Miss Fuidge - I knew nothing of the senior history mistress there. The other point of informal contact through comments and the like might have been via members of my form but for most of the time I was form master to the oldest group to enter the school and their female friends had been sent away to school elsewhere for St Marys only arrived a couple of years or so after we had opened.

If by 'genesis' you mean 'genetic' origin then I believe that you probably have to go back to the Common Room Committee at St Clement Danes from which both Bob and Ken James came to St Nicholas. At that school the Committee had apparently played a very useful part in conveying the sentiments of colleagues to the head (Clouston) and in facilitating arrangements within the common room itself. I thought it a successful transplantation.

The answers to the remaining questions seem to overlap so I will take them together. I have no doubt but that the head envisaged the school growing into a successful and institutionally highly competitive grammar school such as some of the London area -mainly voluntary aided-grammar schools were. The remarkable thing about the whole project seemed to me to be that he got so far with this as, in legal terms, with an ordinary council school there was no strong governing body or more powerful outside organisation to give the necessary assistance against whatever political party dogma appeared to locally fashionable political groups to offer some sort of social or educational Valhalla. From the start the head's concept needed a strong sixth form and by this he meant not only really good A level results but state scholarships and Oxbridge places for the best. Hence the decision at one stage to try to get the most able to manage the normal seven year course in six years with a third year in the sixth constituting the seventh year at the school - although I don't know how far this was followed through subsequently.

I find it difficult to think in terms of 'which voices were influential'. It always seemed to me that Bob always talked quite a bit about his aims and intentions; certainly Ken and I talked a lot about affairs and issues. For some time we travelled to school together for we lived in the Greenford area - eventually we both, quite separately moved over to the Northwood Hills district. There was plenty of opportunity to discuss where we were going at school and we both talked a great deal with Bob, I think about everything under the sun including the fascinating development of a new school - about which we cared so much and thought a great deal. You ask how the structure of the school was determined. I think that if its nature has been settled on the lines I have suggested, then arrangements for streaming, examinations etc. follow in principle but do require a great deal of detailed planning Much of this was shared out among willing colleagues who in the Common Room spent a great deal of their time discussing and formulating views on the general issues as well as on the detail. Those who came to serve on the staff seemed to me to be remarkable for the broadly similar views which they shared about the future direction in we needed to move in order to achieve the sort of aims implicit in the place. I was particularly interested in the sixth form in the value of general studies and of the value of societies. I remember the first time we tried to establish a centre for senior sixth formers or prefects that only a store room was available. In the course of DIY work, a sledge hammer slipped through a hot water supply pipe so that the school went chilly for a few days until the Council and its plumbers could effect the necessary repair. Other ventures went much more smoothly (usually) and we certainly made good progress.

Oddly enough it turned out that while Bob Watson was in the army he had been posted for quite some time to the Fittleworth area and Vivienne took rooms at Mrs Saigeman's in the village who received paying guests. As a bit of gossip, they exchanged Christmas greetings until 1990 after which Mrs S. passed on.

I think that it might be more helpful now if I end this piece and invite you to phone me about any points as and when you wish. You are always welcome to come and visit us here as and when you may be at Holmfirth. We are usually here but sometimes escape to Fittleworth.

Good luck with the task in hand.

Best wishes



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