Birkenhead Institute Grammar School, Wirral


Former B.I. pupil John Baker with former B.I. Art Teacher Dave Jones


More information will be added shortly. To add your memories, please email them to:-


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                          07522 554855


Here are some items of interest from Wirral, including a Birkenhead Corporation bus, a Wallasey Corporation bus, along with a Birkenhead bus ticket, a Robbs Department Store advertisement, a Gumption advertisement,  an Allansons advertisement, the local Aerowata Mineral Water company, which produced fizzy drinks and minerals up to the 1960s, and a photograph of the broadcasting equipment used at the Argyle Theatre, Birkenhead in the 1920s. There are also some reminders of New Brighton via some early posters of the local seaside resort:-






Here is an item from the London Gazette, dated June 26th, 1903, regarding the estate of former Birkenhead Institute Headmaster William Sang Connacher:-



Here are four amazing photographs kindly sent in by former pupil Richard Hill from his time at Birkenhead Institute:-


Here are some excellent memories very kindly sent in by Todd Russell, along with some interesting pictures of his time at Birkenhead Institute:- 

Great web site, I spent a good while trawling through articles etc, and admit to a less than a dry eye at  the end.

My time at the school was at Tollemache road where I was a student in the first year that Grange and BI had amalgamated 1970 , I remained there until 1977, and went to Liverpool polytechnic to do engineering. I emigrated to South Africa in 1981, and stayed there until 1997, with a short return to the UK (Scotland ) in 1985-86.

I am now resident in Australia still working as an engineer, where my elder brother Allan now lives (also a former pupil) and my eldest brother Andy (also a former pupil) lives in America. 

I have attached a couple of photos that were passed onto me by Rob Shaw same year as me. There’s a couple of the school first XV (the first team to defeat the old boys at ingleborough road!)  

Names I recall are Steve Dixon, Dave O’brien, Gordon Money, Hugh Money, Andy Mckie ( Richie and gigi were his brothers) Greg pandit, Glen Richards, Gary Sheldon ( now deceased) ,Les Bainbridge ,Kenny hilton ,Lee booth, Skippy, Pete Karogiannis, also my brother Allan played flyhalf, I was hooker. Sadly there are a couple that the passage of time as erased their names from my memory. 

The upper sixth photo has Jim Mountford as the U6th  housemaster, and I recall Peter Wilson and Howard Merry in the photo too.  Peter was a teacher at Rock Ferry I think. 

Teachers I remember Norman (Nogger)  Morris, Lenny Malcolm, Rene Cojeen (secretary), Sam Denerly ,Billy Edgar ,Acker Richards, Dave Jones,Keith Davis, Jim Mountford, Jock Mowatt, Brian Bowker (deceased), Neil Hume, Mike Croker, Graham Wheat(biology), Pete Miller (chemistry),John Dollard (chemistry), Mike Murphy, Peter Citrene,(both History). Les Platt (metalwork), Maggie Banks, Zoe Mcallister, John Allan(English) Dave Yates (English), Tom Howarth, Ivor Davis (geography) Steve Wilkinson (geography) , John (Ben) Lyon physics, Lilly Pritchard (art and Keith Davis’ long time Love),Fred Phillips (T.D.) , Frank (frothy)Turner (careers). Steve smith (music)

Thanks to them all for giving us a chance at life 

There is a wealth of history to be found at Prenton Rugby Club google PRUFC, which was an amalgamation of the old Rockferrians, and the old Instonians. I was also the first schoolboy to play first XV for the instonians. I was in the fifth form then!  

There are also a couple of photos of a Biology field trip to Treadur bay, hosted by Graham Wheat. One of us in the photo poisoned his sea anenomies!! Copper sulphate as I recall.

 I was saddened by the news of Lenny Malcolms passing, the funeral was attended by about thirty old boys of the school, and his exiting anthem was ‘Life is a cabaret’ by Lisa Minelli.  Theatre,  along with cricket were two of his favourite past times. 

I hope you find this interesting/useful, and many thanks for keeping the spirit of the school alive, great work. 

Best regards

 Alistair (Todd) Russell


Here is an excellent drawing of the back of the Whetstone Lane school, drawn by Hal Darlington. Many thanks to Hal for sending this in:-


Here is an outstanding recollection of B.I. memories from James. Very many thanks, James for all of the following information:-

I have just found the BI web site! Well done! 
I was at the school from 1936 (Juniors under Miss Bowers) through to 1947 under E. Wynne Hughes. (Atkin House).  Left with Higher School Certificate tutored by J.E.Alison Geography, J.Hall English Lit., Mr Webb, French - who had recently arrived - and Idris Davies and Nancy Price, Art.  Nancy is still alive but alas has Alzheimers dementia. She, and many others, are on your staff photo group. National service RAMC and then Liverpool University for Architecture, Manchester later for Town Planning. Worked in City Architect's Department Liverpool and then City Planning under Walter Bor prepairing City Plan and City Centre Plan, Urban Design division and conservation.  Principal Lecturer Liverpool Polytechnic, then Newcastle University Town and Country Planning Department where I graduated for my Staff Ph.D. Retired, Senior Lecturer,  in 1987 then taught as part time tutor in Adult Education and then in Religious Studies following a conference paper on Religion and Environment. Two books, one co-edited. Now living in Meirionnydd near Harlech, still enjoying art, photography, and some poetry. Amateur organist at parish church.  Took my partner to see the old school in 2002, but alas just an empty site.  Wilfred Owen's old school too!! Wirral council seem to have demolished most of old Birkenhead!  For a professional planner a major disaster the way it has been left. Grange Road used to be a good shopping street, within which was our school outfitter - still have a boater hat from them!  also my blazer badge! There was a craze for them in the upper sixth when they had a sale!!
Idris Davies gave us a fine grounding in architecture and art, followed by Nancy Price who continued an excellent art education, definitely NOT picture postcard stuff! (Nancy left to join Wirral Grammar Girls'. Sixth form were all in love with her I think!  I am in touch with her brother).They both greatly influenced my career and interests for the rest of my life. 'Jerry' Hall persuaded a poem out of me for the Visor, which I edited between 1945-1947. I have played around with poetry since, and am now trying to edit a set onto this computer. JE Alison's work in Geography was also a major foundation for my town and country planning, and my later theses.  'Lenny' Malcolm was a prefect ahead of me, and after I left came back to teach, becoming head of school. Thanks for his speech!
I was at the school through-out WW2 and remember the basement/dining room reinforced with pit props, and the then woodwork and PE master Mr Cartwright drilling the sixth form in the yard with dummy rifles. I lived out in Thingwall and was therefore not sent to Oswestry - sadly - as my parents sent me to a small private school in Irby until the BI came home. However the little school started me in Latin!
I also spent a short time at school in  Glasgow during the height of the 'blitz' with my mother, both my parents being Scots. My father was Senior Inspector of Ships' Provisions, Merchant Shipping Act, and first worked in the old Custom House in Canning Place, being on duty the first of the two major air raids that flattened the docklands, including the Customs House and the only just rebuilt Paradise Street Liverpool One. Since coming back to Wales I have made up for missing Oswestry with a visit. The first High Steward of Scotland was born there circa 1100! I have also made contact again with the University.
I remember well Mr E. Wynne Huighes as a first class head master. He took religious studies through the school, unexamined, and believed in education for its own sake! Mr Harris came a close second as his deputy and was a fine history teacher, bringing the past to life. Mr Hall's readings of poetry were something to hear.  One could go on...!! Fantastic teaching team all round. BI Sixth Form days were some of the happiest in my life. I was not high in the sporting life, as I started school with serious asthma before the days of ant-hystamins, which eventually cured itself, but was recruited as lines-man for the Ist XV and enjoyed travelling with the team!  I seem to have followed a more academic path, which I have also enjoyed greatly.
SO PLEASED to have found the site and this link to a sadly disappeared and fine old grammer school!  Wonder who may still be around from the class of 47???  My partners in arts Upper Sixth were John Liggett, Peter Wright, and David Thomas the miracle Wing 3Q in the first XV. We will all be in the eighties now!
Best wishes, and keep going!!  James Stewart.
Here are more memories from James, relating to Nancy Price and Hetty Rosenbloom, former B.I. Art Teachers:-
Nancy is in the back row, right hand end, of the staff photo on the web site, wearing a dress with a cross-over front design.   I have one little card of her painting of Chapel Stile in Langdale from Tom Price, which I have framed alongside various art works here at home.  Tom has the original. I started to track her down at a University re-union in 2007, and was eventually put in touch with Tom. Tom is in his nineties. I think Nancy is in Workington. Alas she has no surviving memory of her BI days or much else from that period.  I must write to Tom. I am not sure if he is computer literate but will give him the web site address.  Nancy had a serious car accident, but was OK,. and I wonder if that may have started her problem. She has a nephew in Liverpool who is a solicitor, who put me in touch with Tom, but I don't have his address. May try and get it. 
Hetty Rosenbloom taught me also, and married Idris Davies who took over her teaching job!  Idris introduced 'hand-outs' to his teaching, - revolutionary - with excellent summaries of architectural history up to the modern movement from the ancient past!  Several students went on into Architecture at Liverpool University. Nancy arrived straight from Art School following Idris so was more or less of the same generation as her sixth form.  She once came out to Wirral with me sketching and came home to tea! Idris hauled me home to his and Hetty's house when I poduced a small landscape from Thurstaston I had done over a weekend. Idris and Wynne-Hughes spoke Welsh and were caught in the corridor arguing in Welsh so we could not understand them!
Somewhere I have a school photo of the Juniors in the old School Garden with Miss Bowers and Miss Booth. I also have a long roll-up of the main school in the 1940s. The roll-up won't copy. See what I can do with the Juniors so I can send you a copy, probably by post. I will need an address to send it. I MAY be able to get a local print firm to copy the roll-up to send you. Wynne Hughes was extremely proud of having the school which finalised Wilfred Owen's education, and mentioned him often, but he was not on our curriculum although Siegfried Sassoon was. I do have a collection of Wilfred's work on my poetry shelf, which keeps on expanding. Visiting Oswestry and the Old Grammar School recently was quite something for me! I am trying to edit my own work just now.
It is really a shame that Wirral Council demolished the old school. As an architect I am sure I could have designed a new school around the main part of the old building and put Wilfred on Birkenhead's map of famous people. The town had a very poor architect's department even in the fifties, and probably a poor level of understanding after the Wirral take-over. After Thatcher's privatisation drive most local authorities lost their own architects' departments and architectural matters were sent out to 'consultants' at a cost that matched the previous salaries of their own staff. A wealth of local knowledge was thus lost as the consultants had no ongoing contact with the community. I will see what I can do for the site, and maybe put together some memories of the Junior School. My first school was a small prep school, Hermann House School, in Rock Ferry, between the congregational church and the station, run by a Miss Mason. Good too! It feels strange now coming back with most of the old contacts gone and not much of the old town left! Jean and I enjoy Liverpool trips about once a year, and have just been to see the Magritte exhibition in the Tate. 
Best wishes, James.
My exhibition finishes on 30th October. I will then concentrate on my recollections of BI Juniors and get the photo to you.  I will send Tom your address. He is now into his nineties so he may contact you or may respond via me.  I am not up to date about Nancy since last Christmas but will find out how she is. She will be 85-86 now.
Are there any records of staff names from the 1940s?  I finished in 1947. I might be able to try some short vignettes of memories of some of the characters. I can recognise quite a number from the photograph. Mr Sorby, maths, lived across the road from us on Barnston Road when we lived in Thingwall. The site of his house is now occupied by the large pub. We lived in the largish semi opposite called Gleniffer, after a small Scottish glen in Renfrewshire near where my parents grew up.  Gleniffer's garden is now subdivided into plots for later houses where the orchards and padock were. Lovely Scots Pines felled!! Sad!
I am thrilled about your work on the web site. My computer skills are less advanced! I am trying to get used to the new Photoshop and also things like Microsoft Publisher. 




Here is an excellent article by former B.I. pupil James Stewart about the Junior School, as well as some of James's personal memories. The following article also appears on the William Sang Connacher web site under the "Junior School" page at:-


I would like to thank James for providing this exceptional article, which contains detailed descriptions of the Junior School building, its architecture and its environment, as well as some of James's personal memories of the school from 1937 to 1939:-








          The Junior School was a small world apart, set in a pleasant Victorian garden which originally had opened from Hollybank Road through tall iron gates within matching railings, with mature trees screening an oval lawn from the street. The school building overlooked this lawn from a terrace on a high grass bank, and backed onto Whetstone Lane.  It had been built, to quote Mr Harris the history master, along with others in the triangle between Whetstone Lane, Clifton Road, and Borough Road, to house some of the “Merchant Princes of Liverpool and Birkenhead” in its Regency and Victorian heyday, part of the early town plan for Birkenhead.   The Juniors were separated from the Senior School ground by a high sandstone wall, penetrated only by a small gate. On the southern side of the building was a further garden area; the part next to Whetstone Lane was used as a playground, and the other part laid out for small gardens for gardening and nature study lessons. Each had a tiny concrete pond.  Through the high boundary wall lay the large tarmac yard of the senior school with its two longsuffering trees at the far side beside the bicycle racks; a far less desirable environment. Modern access to the school for the staff and boys was through another gate, also set in railings, into Whetstone Lane, where the busses stopped outside the wall.


          The school building was in the style of a small renaissance palace. It was stone built, probably in Storeton sandstone, as were many buildings in Birkenhead and Bebington. The elevation to Whetstone Lane had a basement storey half below ground level with a main ‘piano nobile’ storey in rusticated masonry. A central doorway with a shallow canopy was supported on two Doric columns, and on either side of  that two tall Venetian sash windows. Above a string course the upper floor had five rectangular sash windows, the central one over the doorway having a small pediment on corbels. The roof had a classical Doric cornice with a small plain pediment in the central part of the parapet. The entrance gates were supported on two classical gate posts with three-foot railings finishing in arrow points, set in a stone curb.


          The principal façade overlooked the large rear garden. It was more ornate than the Whetstone Lane facade, but still within a disciplined Palladian style. A stone paved terrace ran along the façade, behind a low classical screen with stone pillars flanking the central entrance. The well balanced ground floor had a central doorway under a Venetian fanlight and arched masonry. On either side were two tall Venetian windows with matching arched openings. Above these a small balustraded balcony ran the whole width of the building. The upper storey had a miniature temple-like central feature with pairs of Doric pilasters on each side, and a central Venetian window, under a classical pediment. A simple classical cornice ran around the roof, and on either side of the central pedimented feature one sash window was set in a masonry surround under a small hood. Doric pilasters finished each corner of the building.


          Inside the central entrance doors from the Garden and terrace a large hallway was dominated by a pseudo-baroque stairway on the main axis. This divided at the first floor into a gallery landing running around the sides of the stair well. Cast iron ornamental balusters were capped by a wooden hand rail which was fun to slide down, if illegal! One boy was able to do summersault handstands on the outside of the rail provided no staff were around. Two pleasant ground floor classrooms opened off  the entrance hall on either side, lit by the tall Venetian windows overlooking the garden.  Behind the stair on the right was Miss Bower’s office, head of school.  Upstairs was the staff room overlooking the side garden play area, with a sash window from which corrective commands could be shouted during break times! Two large classrooms faced the garden above the two ground floor rooms, with others in the rear corners of the building.  These arrangements gave a symmetrical external appearance, and a broadly symmetrical internal plan.  The building suggests an architect versed in the classical style, and a client of some wealth wanting an impressive house in which he could both bring up a family and entertain guests. The photograph and small drawing of it which remain indicate familiarity with the correct geometry of classical proportions. It must have been a relatively high cost building in its day, built in well dressed masonry. When the senior school was built it reflected a similar style but without the architectural standards of its neighbour.





Some Memories



          Admission to Birkenhead Institute was by selected interview and ‘examination’ by the head teacher, Miss Bowers. I recall being taken by my mother for this ordeal, which took place in Miss Bowers’ small office behind the stairs. Small tasks were set, questions asked, and some mental arithmetic tried (‘A bit dark there’ Miss Bowers said in my case!). She was an expert, however, at setting children at ease.  Eventually a letter came from the Director of Education to say whether the child would be admitted.  After that the Junior School became a very pleasant home for four years.  When the Junior Department was eventually abolished in the 1940s the building was used for high school classes and for the new idea of work rooms for certain subjects. Mr J.E. Alison was delighted to be given a Geography Room, where he could hang his maps permanently on the walls and the boys would come to him, instead of trotting around all the classes in the main school. As the education system shifted towards the eleven plus ideal the old Junior School lost its role as a special environment for the preparatory and junior grades.


          Miss Bowers presided over her domain with a firm but motherly command, backed up by the more assertive Miss Booth. It seemed to run as a small but more or less independent state within the empire of the larger school. It was a great environment for being introduced to grammar school life. The Institute seemed to avoid the problems of bullying of the smaller boys by the older ones, and no bullying culture developed. At the same time the juniors got used to the idea of moving next door! The school had its own junior soccer and cricket teams. There were four years of boys in the school, divided into Lower and Upper Preparatory classes, and Forms I & II.  The third form was the first year in the higher school, which numbered from year three to year six, in which the School Certificate Examination was held, and then two years of Upper Sixth Form sitting for the Subsidiary and Final examinations of the Higher School Certificate. Boys moved up into the higher school around ten or eleven years of age, and also into long trousers! Uniform for juniors was grey shorts, and grey blazers with red piping and the junior badge on the pocket, plus a grey school cap.  


          Subjects through the Junior School were Bible Lessons; English – grammar, composition, literature, reading and writing, spelling and dictation; History; Geography; Arithmetic; Nature study; Drawing and painting; Handwork; and Gymnastics. Not on the list of examined subjects was Singing, taken by a visiting Dr. Griffiths wearing his colourful gown, and Elocution.


          Looking from the garden, the large classroom on the left was the home of the Lower Preparatory class, with Miss Bowers as its class teacher. The room on the right of the entrance was used for morning assembly and other plenary events, including Dr Griffiths’ singing lessons.  There were further class rooms on the first floor. The school photograph of about 1937/1938/1939 shows fifty-eight boys. Class sizes were around 14 or so per class, leading to relatively intimate teaching situations.  Miss Bowers and Miss Booth were permanent resident teachers in the Juniors, with visiting teachers from the higher school, and some drawn from outside.  Homework was set for each evening and was absolutely compulsory – no excuses except for illness! With small classes there was no place to hide! Behaviour was noted and appeared in the end of term reports posted to parents in sealed envelopes, and Miss Booth took no prisoners!  But it was a happy school and teaching standards were first class.


          Personal memories include Miss Bowers’ readings from various passages of literature while the Lower Preparatory boys indulged in their handicraft work.  Stories included Tom and the Water Babies and episodes from Ulysees, the Illiad, and the Golden Fleece. Starting with folded and gummed paper work, the classes progressed until most boys’ homes had several woven reed waste paper baskets and trays and raffia work.  Drawing and painting was taken seriously but was also fun, and Miss Bowers who was herself quite a good artist would pin up a large sheet of paper on the blackboard and produce her own version of the objects or scenes set for the lesson. The winner in the class for the day got taking her painting home. Art followed through the senior school as an academic and practical subject, with history of architecture, to Higher School Certificate standard, and a number of boys went on to study architecture at Liverpool University.  Miss Bowers’ foundations in literature laid the basis for a strong education in the upper school in English Literature and English Language. The legends of Classical Greece led into early Classical history and early, medieval, and modern history through the school.  Nature study, aided by observations of the birds in the garden and work in the miniature gardens outside the school began an interest in biology, and arithmetic led into maths and science. In the high school these lead into two streams, one concentrating on the arts and one on the sciences. My own maths was dreadful, so I happily ended up in arts, in which I did best. It was not until half way through my university course that I began to grasp the intricacies of engineering calculations! Fortunately none of my buildings fell down!  Nature study left me with a permanent interest in the natural world and ecology, and coupled with geography and history into the world of town and country planning.  Many of the boys seem to have found pathways into university and later life from these early introductions.


A Personal Note!


          Preparing these notes has been an interesting personal journey. It is not often that one gets the chance to review the processes that lead to school choices, and then to main career options.  Looking through the old school reports one can also see character traits, not to mention handicaps, that seem to surface unconsciously in later life.  The old educational question as to how many choices are made for us, how many we really make for ourselves, and the inevitable influence of our own innate personalities, combine to lead us down pathways that were not necessarily in our young minds at the outset. Some of the teachers’ comments seem uncannily prophetic!  Also the educational experience seems to have brought out innate aptitudes that might not otherwise have been realised. Later work in personality assessment chimes in well with this historical exploration. I think that defines a good education. A lot of nature and a lot of nurture, with good tutors!






I have received an interesting email from Teresa Torbett, who lives in San Francisco, and whose father had relatives who were pupils at Birkenhead Institute.  If any former pupil can remember John Musgrave Torbett or his brother, Stanley Maxwell Torbett as pupils from the 1920s, please can you let me know via the email address. It is also possible that their father, Douglas Stanley Torbett, born in 1876, attended the school after it opened in 1889:-


Here is Teresa's email:-

 My name is Teresa Torbett and I am writing to you from the San Francisco Bay Area of California.  I am conducting family genealogy studies on my husband’s side of the family and I came across a note this afternoon that mentioned the “Institute at Birkenhead”… and I was thrilled to find your website.  I’m wondering if you may know of some way to check the school records in your possession to see if you may be able to help me find information or pictures of the following family members: 

It is my understanding that my husband’s uncle--  Stanley Maxwell Torbett, AKA “Jim” attended BI.  He was born 15 Mar 1913.

I do not know if my husband’s father, Stanley’s brother, also attended the school—his name is John Musgrave Torbett and he was born 22 July 1917.

There was also a sister, Kathleen Mary Torbett, born 22 June 1909---  

I do not know if their father may have also attended the school… Douglas Stanley Torbett, born June 1876, but thought that a school with such tradition may have been attended by multiple generations. 

There are no family photos, and I am trying desperately to find such artifacts.    I have a note in my possession that says that “Stanley or Stan became known as “Jim” while he attended the Institute at Birkenhead”… the “boys began calling him Jim and the name stuck.” 

Thank you in advance for any information that you may be able to provide, or guidance as to how to best utilize your website to find the answers on my own. 

You’ve done a wonderful job, and the photos are wonderful!  What a marvelous school, and such a shame that it was closed in 1994.  I’m sorry that the internet was not in full force at that time.  I started my genealogy studies in 1992 after my first son was born and I might have found you much sooner!





Very many thanks to former pupil Peter Swaine for his interesting comments and memories of his time at the B.I.. Although sometimes controversial, I think that Peter's comments are relevant and open.

From Peter Swaine, via email:-

It has taken some heavy brow beating on my part prior to putting pen to paper, so to speak.


I hope that you will not take offence and view my comments with an open mind and maybe, just maybe, quietly nod your head.


After many years of reading the elitist ramblings of the contributors to the BIOB site, I was hoping that the new kid on the block, your good self, would stay away from similar publications of the virtues of owning holiday villas in France and whether or not the latest Aston Martin was equipped to handle the transportation of the numerous items deemed essential to spend the weekend playing golf.


All things considered, things appear to be well constructed and the research has given rise to some interesting features. By comparison, the BIOB`s set-up cant even spell my name correctly. Interestingly one of your contributors touched on the point that after the war, free education became accessible to the working class members of society, giving rise to the offspring of shop floor workers gaining places at Grammar Schools, such as the BI.


For these boys life at The Institute was not that easy, as they had to really "graft" to keep up - never mind make any headway. I suppose I am referring to the "B Stream" lads; often identifiable by the fact they had a second helping of school dinner because it was their main source of food for the day. These were the ones that wore the same school cap from the 1st to the 5th year (I say 5th as it was not normal that they progressed to the 6th.)


A university place was never on the cards for them and at the end of the 5th year they moved on to a mundane job or if they were lucky, an apprentice course. Don't get me wrong, the lads were well into what they were doing and many of them became successful in their various fields.


I settled abroad some years ago and I return to Birkenhead on a regular basis, to meet up with both "A" and "B Stream" ex-pupils. We talk about our days at The Institute with a mixture of affection, humour, dread and mischief. It is the latter 2 points that I and others miss, when we look into the writings of official and independent memoirs that ex-pupils have of our old school. Here are a few examples:-


1. When the deputy head JD Hall gave you the cane - you knew about it. He would jump up in the air and come down like a ton of bricks and as happened with me, the force would split the cane and leave a nasty wound.


2. Detention took place after 4 pm and every ploy was attempted to disrupt the session and go home early. One example, In the dark winter afternoons, was to remove the light bulbs out of the sockets to make space for a milk bottle top to be inserted, before replacing the bulbs. When the teacher for the detention session arrived he would switch on the light causing the fuses to blow, giving rise to a mass exodus.


3. The momentous day that an "A Stream" hero purposely set fire the the wooden stairs up to the Physics lab - we all have our theories as to the identity of the culprit.


4. The headline in The Birkenhead News that read "4 pm boys turn air blue." This referred to the exchange of expletives after school between lads, going to retrieve footballs from the gardens across the road from the playground, and the local residents.


Talking of which, the same newspaper carried an article on the 1959 school trip to Paris but the caption under the photo of us standing at Hamilton Square station read "Schoolboys departure to Hamburg." - a report that never featured in The Visor. Further omissions were feedback from the participants of the endurance and initiative tests of 1961 and 1962. Nobody was brave enough to put into print the disruption to an early morning assembly caused by milk bottle tops being placed over the hammers of "Peb" Shaw's piano, so that the opening to the morning hymn sounded like the doorbell of a Chinese brothel (So they tell me.) These and other bits of mischief, like the lunchtime joy when we looked out of the YMCA window to see the traffic jam cased by "Dickie" Richards Humber Hawk stuck at the bottom of Whetstone Lane, are small but significant points of merriment that helped break the monotony of what was for some, a daily grind.


Looking back now, I have both positive and negative memories. I loved the Art lessons with Dave Jones, in fact I volunteered to go to The Laird School of Art on Saturday mornings. However, I hated cross country running. At the time I did not have the energy nor the physique, so I was looked upon as being lazy with no prospects for the future. When I had a health check some years later, It transpired that I am Asthmatic. Anyway, at the time I was one of the gang that tried to skive off running around the streets on cold Wednesday afternoons, wearing a rugby shirt and a pair of shorts. Initially it was a case of hiding in Storeton Woods until the leading group were on the return run, then we would rejoin the field. We were shopped by some of the keen athletes and as a result the staff introduced a checkpoint halfway round the course. Not to be outdone, Tony Wilson and I resorted to hitching a lift back down Levers Causeway then entering the Ingleborough Road playing fields with a false stagger and a pretentious gasping for breath, to make the run seem realistic. By the time 1961 came around the deception had progressed (For the want of a better word)  to having a bogus sick note and dashing off to the lunchtime sessions at The Cavern


For the record, this "B" Stream trouble-maker returned to studying in earnest at a later date, gaining a Masters Degree and then a University lectureship. I am also a member of a society of journalists who endeavour to present a balanced view when reporting on events or reviewing articles in print. Which brings me back to this email. The Birkenhead Institute was a delight for a lot of pupils but at the same time a necessary evil for others. What was found missing in the BIOB publications, was a balanced view of all the in and outs of our school lives, from both perspectives.


Well Ronald, I have rambled on a bit but it could have been worse. You may put any of the above in print (which would probably have some of the teacher`s pets slating me off) but I have enjoyed using the couple of brain cells that I have left.


Keep up the good work


Peter Swaine



Further to my previous mention of the Paris trip of June 1959, I can tell you the real reason why the full report never appeared in print. When visiting the Palace of Versailles we all hired boats to row around the large lake in the grounds. It was not too long into the paddle before we came face to face with a flotilla of French students. After the usual exchange of nationalistic chants and anthems, a full blown battle ensued - it resembled a scene from "Trafalgar." Crews were doused with water; hit with oars and boats were capsized. We eventually scrambled ashore dripping wet and nursing our wounds. My mother had leant me her newly purchased Ziess camera for the trip, which had to be rescued from the deep. She was not too pleased with me when I returned home, although I did insist it was a one-sided attack on poor innocent Instonians.

Another incident kept under the covers on that Paris trip, was the early hours of the morning poker game. The non-BI participants included a group of American girl students, who insisted on playing for money. The gambling den was eventually broken up and the guilty BI members were disciplined to the effect that they would not take part in the visits that were organised for the next day.

I latched on to a couple of older lads who were defiantly going to visit the sights on their own, regardless of the imposed restriction. They were in the year above me and had very good "teddy boy" haircuts and drainpipe trousers - formidable characters. I felt quite safe walking about the city with them, although I have forgotten their names. The attached photo was taken outside of the Palais De Versailles, with the two lads referred to standing together left of centre. One has a large belt buckle and the other has a zip-up jacket.


I have just remembered another Sports afternoon dodge. My auntie lived on Prenton Road East , which adjoined Ingleborough Road , so we used to go there from School and get changed into our Gym clothes. We then walked to the pavilion and got our names ticked off by the games master Mr Hall. It was then back out of the gates and round the corner to my auntie’s house. A quick change back into our clothes and we sped off down Grange Road .


It wasn’t that I didn't like sport full stop, it was just the attitude of Mr Hall - if you didn't play rugby he labelled you as a wimp. This was to backfire on him at a later stage. He was laughing at me in the Gym, as I was having numerous attempts at vaulting over the box. Unfortunately I fell off and broke my wrist, which meant a trip to the hospital and informing my parents. Whilst Mr Hall called the tune as to this being an accident, he was quickly put in his place by my father who quite rightly pointed out there should have been a support at the apparatus. The school governors agreed with this and Mr Hall spent many of the subsequent days/weeks/months patronising me to my face but belittling me to others. One sports afternoon we were playing softball and it was my turn to bat. Mr Hall was standing behind me and as the ball was about to be pitched, II heard him utter to my friends who were close by fielders "Hit him in the face." I reacted in the only way I could in the short time of the delivery, I swung the bat backwards but instead of swinging it forwards towards the ball, I just let it fly in the reverse direction. The impact with Mr Hall enraged him but I just said that I had never played the game before. He insisted that I was useless at everything but I found sportive consolation outside of the school parameters, in that I played cricket for Birkenhead Park and Cheshire Colts.


I had arrived at the Institute in the November of the second year, as I had spent the previous 3 years living in Singapore . The Grammar school there was co-ed and I was involved in many extra curricular activities, such as drama, fencing, cricket and badminton. The level of discipline was very high and the boys had to touch their foreheads when meeting a female member of staff. So it wasn't the fact that the Institute had a code of discipline that was rubbing me up the wrong way, it was the "Dickensian" application of the rules of conduct and its related punishments.


At my previous school the banter was open and we were encouraged to put forward our ideas on the many aspects of classroom and free time activities. This wasn't the case at the BI, as I found out on my first day. I was introduced by "Danny" Webb to the Class of 2B, who were in the middle of an English lesson with Mr Thacker. Mr Webb said in his introduction,

"This is Peter Swaine and he has come to us from Singapore ." To which Mr Thacker quipped,

"That a long way to come to school."

Coming from a more liberal school environment I felt the need to chip in with,

"Yes but my mother says that I can go home for dinners."

The mould was set there and then - I was identified as a smartarse, so I had to face up to the consequences for the rest of my time there.


Please find attached a copy of my school my school photo, taken at the start of the 5th year in September 1961. Notice the rock and roll hairstyle which was to be replaced by the "Beatle" cut just 6 months later. My first attempt to come my hair forward drew a lot of attention as you can imagine. The non-Institute lads on the bus to and from school used to shout out "Yuh big Judy!"

In the classroom I ended up in trouble (again) as a result of the unorthodox mop of hair. Dickie Richards took one look at me and said,

"Well if it isn't Adam Faith." To which I responded,

"That’s OK Friar Tuck"

The outcome was to lead to the school record for the number of "Lines" given to one pupil. I was given 100 lines for my part in the exchange of words but I never intended to do them from the "Off." So this gave rise to the amount I had to do being doubled every time we had Mr Thacker for a lesson. 8 lessons later it had reached the grand total of 25,600 and after I once again expressed my determination not to do them, as I had only returned a joke that he had aimed at me, he begrudgingly dropped the whole thing.


I did try to fit in with the school set-up as I joined the literary and debating society; went on the endurance and initiative tests, as well as contributing to the school magazine. I remember taking part in the 1961 Christmas end of term show. My act was the finale to the show. It was in the form of a news and weather broadcast, which took place inside a giant mock-up of a TV set. The end of the news culminated with a quick newsflash.

"We have just been given the results of a recent survey. It shows that more music masters smoke `Craven A` cigarettes than any other brand."

You probably remember that he smoked that many `Craven A,` cork tipped cigarettes, the fingers on his right hand were stained with amber as well as his upper lip.


Bringing things up to date, I was in Birkenhead the weekend before last. Apart from spending time with members of my family, I met up with 2 old boys from 5B, at the Tudor Rose on the `Top road.` We spent a few hours laughing about classmates and teachers, with particular emphasis on the mischief. We also brought up the subject of those who were no longer with us - whilst you can print any of the above; the following subject is best left alone.

In our last year at the BI one of our pupils was diagnosed with a brain tumour, which not very long afterwards proved fatal. Another lad, who sat behind me in class, committed suicide whilst in his twenties. Whilst I was tracking down members a few years ago, I discovered that one chap had been found dead on the floor of his social home. He had been there for some time but as he was single and had no family, nobody had reason to call and see him. Unfortunately the 60`s was a time when Gay people were considered bad - even illegal. One of our lads never came out of the closet until much later, for fear of persecution, so he spent most of his life living with his mother. When she passed away it hit him really badly - he had no friends and he was taken into a care establishment for mental illness. I found out the address of one old boy from 5A, so I decided to call round when I was in England . I knocked on the door and all I got was loud screams and abuse. According to the neighbours he had been an alcoholic for a number of years. He spent all of his time in a darkened downstairs room, relying on a relative to bring him the alcohol and a little food.

All a bit bleak but nevertheless genuine examples of what I previously referred to as, those of us that ´were not so fortunate`. I have checked recently and 3 of the 4 chaps mentioned don't even have their names attributed to them on the BIOB site school photo. Without going into further specific details, the misfortune of these and many others it is subject that has not been mentioned in the BIOB memoirs. It has been ignored or at best swept under the carpet, to make way for the likes of golfing tournament reviews.


On a brighter note, the Paris trip that I referred to was in the Birkenhead News. The feature came under the mistaken headline "Schoolboys holiday in Germany " and had a photograph of us huddled together at Hamilton Square station. I don't know whether that newspaper has an archives department but it might be worth calling in on them to see if they have a copy of the issue that must have been on or during the few following the departure. My attached version is of an original newspaper cutting, which has faded over the years.


Once again I have skipped from one topic to another and then back again - I hope you can make some sense of it all.

There has been some of my light-hearted recollections, as well as those of a more serious nature - but that is way life is for most of us, don't you think? I have more material but I don’t want to make this mail too large, so more next time. It may be a little while longer before I can put it together, as I am also busy at present organising a 50th year reunion for my old chums at RAF Cranwell, where I was in 1963.


Keep up the good work and please excuse any `typos`






Photographs from Peter Swaine:-


Here are some more interesting items from Peter relating to his memories above, including his B.I. photograph, the 1959 Paris trip photo, and a photo of the "Germany", (Which should have said Paris), trip, taken from the "Wirral News" ("Birkenhead News" as it was then) :-







Thia Rawlinson has written requesting information for her family history document, relating to her Aunt, who is 90 in 2014.

Her Aunt's father, William Thomas Hind, possibly went to Birkenhead Institute, along with John McGarva,  (1901 - 1906), with whose family he lived when he was orphaned at the age of 12. If you can help, please contact the site via the email address on the main page.


Here is Thia's email:-


I am putting together a family history document for my aunt who will be 90 in February 2104. 

Her father, William Thomas Hind, was orphaned at the age of 12 in 1901 and went to live with relatives in Ellesmere Port.   The family he lived with were called the McGarvas and they had a son the same age called John Hind McGarva. 
My aunt believes that her father went to Birkenhead Institute, possibly in the period 1901 until 1906 and it is also possible that John McGarva was there at the same time.

Do you have access to any pupil records for this period?  If so, are there any Hinds or McGarvas?  Any information would be very useful.  I thank you for your time.

Thia Rawlinson
Troutbeck Bridge




Here is an amazing article from former pupil Ben Johnson. Very many thanks to Ben for his memories of this morning B.I. ritual:-


In a rare moment of levity, at least as far as the pupils of 5A were concerned, Mr. Webb once confided that there were only two compulsory subjects that a headmaster had to include in the teaching curriculum. He invited us to guess what these were and most of us imagined that Maths. and English Language would be the chosen two. Surprisingly those superior beings who made such decisions had decreed that a boy's education could only be complete if it included Sport and Religious Instruction. In an even rarer moment approaching light-heartedness, Mr Webb went on to jest that, provided he met this legal requirement, nothing prevented him from putting Morris Dancing and Needlework on the BI timetable, although he admitted that few parents would have signed their budding male offspring up for such a course of studies.

So, given that background, we now know the main reason for the morning assembly.

This took place according to a tried, tested and immutable routine, unchanged I imagine since sometime in 1534, so rigidly was it set in its ways. The boys would file into the gym, the only room in the school large enough for this gathering, starting with the first form at the front and then fill up, with the second form behind the first and going on until the fifth form took their place at the back. The sixth forms were on the balcony, the teachers seated on benches beneath and the prefects lined up against the wall on the opposite side to the teachers, beside the class they monitored. A duty master was on the stage to ensure a respectful silence before the entry of Mr Webb, Mr Malcolm on Wednesdays, from the door at the back of the stage. Between the stage and the rest of the school was the choir, led by Mr E.V. Shaw.

Assembly began by singing a hymn, often with harmony on verses 2, 4 and 6. When I say "singing" this only applied to the choir, the headmaster and some of the more dedicated teachers. Most of the boys mumbled or, horror, only mouthed the words. These same youths who would join in singing enthusiastically on the terraces of Anfield or Goodison Park were reduced to near silence when it came to O God Our Help In Ages Past or Immortal Invisible God Only Wise. The one exception was Lord Dismiss Us With Thy Blessing, sung joyously just before breaking up at the end of each term. However, the gain in decibels from this rendering was more than compensated for the dismal droning of Lord Behold Us With Thy Blessing when we first reassembled after the holidays.

There would then be a reading from the Bible: it seemed like the Parable of the Good Samaritan came up about once a week, the Sermon on the Mount was another regular favourite. Christmas and Easter periods were honoured respectively with readings concerning the Nativity and the Crucifixion/Resurrection. I only learned recently that another frequent recitation which included the memorable words "to labour and not to ask for any reward" is not actually from the Bible but is called the Prayer of Saint Ignatius Loyolla, born in 1491 and founder of the Jesuits.

An interesting variation was to have the reading from the Bible not done by Mr Webb or Mr Malcolm, but by one of the boys. I still recall the ordeal of going up on stage and reading out a selected passage of the scriptures to the whole school, knowing that my only reward was going to have the mickey taken. My brother Bobby, though, did a splendid job of it when it was his turn, reading out loud and clear with a lot of conviction.

After this we all said the Lord's Prayer and then....the Catholics would come in, it's the fact that they had a separate religious assembly that allows me to identify the date given above so precisely, and, of course, thanks to Mr Langley's history lessons. That concluded the religious part of the assembly, and we could all have got on with a bit of Needlework or Morris Dancing, had only they been allowed, but as it was we made do with Maths and English Language.