Saint Nicholas Grammar School, Northwood

 WELCOME to an historical view of the school since its inception in 1955

Dr. Robert Francis Edward Watson (1910 - 2004)

Headmaster (1955 - 1975)

A Foreword to this website by the former Head of English

By Dr. Peter "Basher" Clarke

Political Background 

St. Nicholas Grammar School was built by Middlesex County Council. At the time, after the War, there was an increasing demand on Secondary Schools, especially where housing development was spreading into the semi-rural suburbs on the edge of London. This was very true of ‘Metroland’ ‘gaily into Ruislip Gardens runs the red electric train’ as Betjeman put it. Middlesex County Council built 4 new grammar schools St. Nicholas Grammar School / St. Mary’s Grammar School, Ickenham and Hayes. In the same way Hertfordshire built Grammar Schools in Rickmansworth, Garston and Bushey. Both counties were still influenced by the 1902 Act (Sir Robert Morant’s Act) which set up Grammar Schools to give the alternative to the independent schools so that a state system, run by local authorities, could offer subsidised selective education. The 1945 Act centred on this policy. Middlesex County Council was, by the standards of the time, a good local authority. It was abolished when the London Boroughs were set up to be replaced by unitary authorities like Hillingdon. St Nicholas was a ‘division’ of Middlesex. I believe the Divisional Officer then was John Sabin. The D.O. more or less supervised schools in his domain. The chairman of the Division’s education committee was John Miles, who was the first chairman of governors at St Nicholas. He was, as it happened, a friend of Bob & Vivien Watson. Miles was very much pro grammar schools.

Starting Up

Dr. Watson’s philosophy reflected his educational background: high standards, personal integrity, hard work and a view that you had a responsibility to extend pupils so they could take advantage of opportunities offered. I shared that philosophy at the time though it was a somewhat narrow one which today would be regarded as inadequate for running a school.


Virtually none! There was a staff meeting (on a glorious early Sept. 1955 evening) a week before the first term. Bob (Dr. Watson) had previously invited us to a little party at his house. And that was it! 

Use of Local Schools 

It was necessary, because the builders (Cubitts) had not completed the building of St. Nicholas Grammar School in time, for pupils of the first year to spend their first year at various schools around the area. Some attended Bourne Secondary Modern School (located between Eastcote & Ruislip Manor), whilst others were housed at Potter Street (Northwood) and Preston Manor schools. No one (from the St. Nicholas’ staff) had taught at the Bourne school. The second year came to us already ’taught’.

[It is possible that some pupils went to other alternative schools. If you were in that first year, and went to a school that has not been listed, please let us know and we will be happy to add it to the list  - use the Contact link at the bottom of the page]


There were a few problems with the intake from these other schools - not the fault of those schools. Obviously parents had been reluctant to accept places for their sons at St. Nicholas Grammar School when the school had not been completely built. So there were a few discipline problems.

There were of course problems with the new building. For example, in the well equipped shower and changing rooms the flow of water went in the opposite direction to the drains! There was too much glass on one side of the building, so blinds had to be fitted in many rooms for summer.


The curriculum was a traditional grammar school model. Only decisions about the number of periods, second foreign language, etc had to be taken. These were initially the decision of Dr.Watson.

Early Staff Meetings 

There weren’t many of them. There were hilarious moments but on the whole they were all pretty amicable. Bob presided in a kind of avuncular fashion. It’s difficult to label his type of headmastership as perceived by the first staff. He was not obviously dictatorial, he was not a very effective ‘persuader’, he was certainly not a ‘doormat’, he tended to get his own way in the end though no one knew quite how that happened.

The Shakers and Movers 

The ‘Shakers and Movers’ at first were Ken James (Head of Mathematics), who had worked with Bob in London, and to some extent Peter Gosden (Head of History). I was not much involved in the first two years because I had too much to do - setting up a new library and doing a school play. Ken was obviously going to be Deputy Head, but for some reason was not officially appointed until year 2.

The Common Room 

The Common Room Committee didn’t emerge until the staff  had expanded. I don’t know who first suggested it though Peter Banton (Geography) probably did.

The Parents Association 

Established in the first term. I was the staff  representative.

The School Building 

Most thought the building was pleasant enough to work in - see earlier comment.


Sport was considered important from the beginning. Geoff Lee (Head of Physical Education) was a keen P.E. man and organised it well. Bob gave him every encouragement. He believed rugby was ’character building’. Actually during the first year, Bob was playing hockey.


There was not much emphasis on ‘professionalism’. The staff were, in those days, focussed on ‘results’. The London Education Authority sent in inspectors every now and then and eventually some Her Majesty’s Inspectors. There was also an HMI (who knew Bob!) who was allocated to the school.

St. Mary’s Grammar School 

Built about 100 metres away but it could have been in the Arctic. Nita Hornsby and her Deputy (Connie Fisher) didn’t seem to welcome male collaboration.

Local Authorities 

Local councillors were by and large helpful, certainly in the Middlesex County Council days. The Hillingdon Conservative group were interested and the Chair of governors I always found very supportive, especially of drama.The school always enjoyed in the locality a distinctive aura. St Nicholas Grammar school was more interesting than Northwood Hills Grammar School for example.The name arose from the ancient ownership of the land on which the school was built - Kings College Cambridge, founded by King Henry VI, the College to be known as the ‘College Royal of the blessed St Mary and St Nicholas’. John Miles had asked the Provost of Kings for permission to use the names. King’s agreed and sent the Vice-Provost Mr John Saltmarsh to speak at the first Speech Day. Both John Miles and Dr. Watson thought tradition important and of course a new school had no real tradition, so John Miles quoted the old Latin motto ‘Abeunt Studia in Mores’: Practices (studies) passionately pursued become habits. (Ovid and Sir Francis Bacon 1561-1626). 


Klondyke Victims (1970)


The Foundation of the School (1956)


Tour 1st XV (1970-71)


School Uniform - Notice (1961)


Staff Guidance Notes (1969)


Jonah and the Whale (1961)