Birkenhead Institute Grammar School, Wirral


Here are some more of your memories of Birkenhead Institute, beginning with some excellent photographs from former pupil James Stewart. These photographs can also be seen on the B.I. Flickr Web Site at:-


ERIC DAVIES, (B.I. PUPIL 1960 - 1965)

I also have a memory of when I was in the First Year at the B.I., (1960), and one of my fellow pupils was Eric Davies.  Eric would sometimes sing the song "Please help me, I'm falling" by Hank Locklin, which was in the charts at the time. 

 Whilst doing this, he would be falling over, and everyone around him was trying to keep him standing! He used to think this was great fun! If anyone else remembers him, please let me know at the site email address:-




Here is the 1943 B.I. School Photograph in four parts, with some names added by James for pupils and staff. Please notice the anti-blast tape on some of the windows of the school, as it is during WWII in 1943. James has added the names of some of the staff below:-





Here is the 1946/1947 school photograph in five parts, followed by James's memories of the names of pupils and staff from that year:-

B.I. JUNIOR SCHOOL 1937/ 1938

Here is a photograph of the B.I. Junior School kindly sent in by James Stewart from 1937/1938. The picture shows Miss Bowers and Miss Booth with pupils in the Junior School garden. Hollybank Road is behind the trees :-


B.I. BOOK LISTS, 1937/1938 and 1938/1939




Can anyone remember anything about the following article from the "Daily Mirror"? George Edwards, (B.I. 1955 - 1960), has sent in the following email:-

Please let me know if you recall the article at the site email address:


Can anyone remember in the late 50s the Daily Mirror publishing an article supposedly from the residents of the houses opposite the yard complaining about the balls landing in their front gardens and the abuse the lads gave them when recovering the balls. The head, Mr Webb I think had an assembly where he told everyone about their behaviour and the article in the paper. It later turned out that the article was not true and the people living in the houses in fact sent representatives to the head to tell him it was not true. This was 60 years ago and i have never bought the Daily Mirror since!!!!

                                                                  George Edwards(1955/60)


Former B.I. pupil Keith Martingell has sent in some memories of the B.I., and Keith was in the same year as I was, and remembers the photograph in Ken Richard's Physics Lab. Does anyone know if it is Keith in the picture? (See below). Here are Keith's memories:-

In response to your email. After leaving BI I did an engineering apprenticeship at Cunard and De Havillands, and ended up at British-American Tobacco in Liverpool as a technician working on production/packaging machinery. After 11 years there I was sent overseas, mainly Africa, with South America, Europe and Australia thrown in for good measure.!
I was struck low in 2000 by a stroke and cancer, fortunately I recovered well and am here to tell the tale. I am now retired, although I also do Exam. Invigilating.
I live in Wallasey, have 4 children and 2 grandchildren.
I am intrigued by the photo you say was taken by Mr Richards In a physics lesson, the one with his back turned at the front looks as though it could be me, is it?

Keith Martingell



I  have received some marvellous information and memorabilia from Valerie Hunt, who is Ted's widow, about Ted's time as Caretaker at the B.I. when it was situated in Tollemache Road. Ted sadly passed away in 2009, but Val advises me that Ted very much enjoyed his time at the B.I., and Val and Ted were very sad to see the school close in 1994.

 I would like to thank Val for these excellent items, and I shall feature some of these on this site shortly.

More information will be added here soon, but here are some memories from Val of her husband's, (Mr E.G. Hunt), time as Caretaker at the B.I. :-

Here is some more information about Ted  Hunt and his hobby of photography,  with many thanks to Valerie Hunt. Ted photographed two of the former teachers from the B.I., amongst many other people, and details have been kindly passed to me by Valerie :- 

Hello again Philip,
I am attaching two casual photographs, of two great friends of Ted and former staff members at B.I. discovered in a film on Ted Hunt's camera (former caretaker at B.I. ).   Ted's hobby was photography usually of trains or people and I suspect took these one day at the school, during the lunch or coffee break. 
The first gentleman with gold chain around his throat, is Mr  Derek Lancaster, lived in Bebington, C.D.T. teacher at B.I. for many years and still at the school when it closed,( I understand Mr Lancaster was due for retirement at the time the school closed anyway and was looking forward to spending time with his wife Marjorie and their daughter, who was a Cartographer with William Brown Street Library or Liverpool University I am not sure which , it was just a comment I remembered Ted mentioning).
The other gentleman with the striped top is Steve Davies, who taught languages and  lived in Nannerch, North Wales,  he had a hobby of making furniture, Welsh Dressers, I believe. I am afraid I don't know what happened after the school closure but Ted felt he was extremely good at teaching his subject and I expect he went on to teach elsewhere.
Valerie has made a change to the fact that Derek's daughter was actually a Calligrapher, not a Cartographer, as mentioned above. Many thanks to Val for this update, and Val's email is shown below:-
Thanks for letting me know you appreciated the photo's and including the link for bispirit.webs.com.  I had a further thought when reading the entry - although I told you Derek's daughter was a cartographer - I remembered it was NOT maps but hand writing, and she was actually a very good  Calligrapher.  (Its such a long time since I did any thinking in Latin, I must try to engage my brain before I put things in black and white!
Kindest regards
Above:    Derek Lancaster, (Left),   and Steve Davies (Right).



Gill Niblock has kindly sent in some memorabilia of her father, Anthony Niblock, including this photograph of the B.I. Cricket Team from 1925, where Anthony can be seen on the back row, far left. I hope to add more items shortly, and I would like to thank Gill for sending in these special memories of Anthony.


Former pupil Allan Keating has sent in a great photo from 1964, when he was presented with his Cross Country prize award in 1964.  Mr L.T. Malcolm can be seen in the background in his gown. Also shown are Allan's awards for his sporting achievements from 1959 and 1963, and the medals which he won from 1962 and 1963. Many thanks to Allan for providing these excellent memories of his sporting achievements at the B.I. :-


Former B.I. pupil Mr W.G. Smith, (George), has kindly sent in his school report from Easter, 1937, which is shown below. Mr Smith also remembers Mr Thacker very well, when he joined in 1933 and Mr Thacker was his Form Master. (Form 3J). Mr Smith was later in "Remove J" with Mr Lewis as Form Master.

Mr Lewis was a boxer when at University, and had the nickname "Tiger Lewis". George Smith later met up with Tiger Lewis in 1941 when he was based in Honiley in the Midlands, when Mr Smith was an armourer in the R.A.F. 

George has kindly sent in more memories, and he recalls that Mr Thacker was his Form Master in 3J and 4J, and Mr Thacker's son Stuart Thacker was also a pupil in the Junior School at the time. 


George recalls that in his first year at the B.I., he payed Soccer in a jersey with narrow vertical black and gold stripes. In the following year, Mr Wynne Hughes decided it should be Rugby that was played, because Rock Ferry and Park High Schools played this sport. It was not a popular decision, and the jersey used changed to horizontal broad stripes. Their instructor was Chemistry Master Mr Davies. The Old Boys, however, had formed a Soccer team in the local league, and a soccer pitch was preserved at Ingleborough Road, and pupils attended home matches of the BIOB and cheered them on. The chant they used to cheer them on was :-

"OO , Are, Eye, Now BI. Come on Inny, Come on Inny. OO Are Eye".

This used to spur the team on, and they did very well in the league, George recalls.


Former B.I. pupil Mike Wray has kindly sent in an item about the formation of the B.I. in the 1880s, including the links with Henry Tate. There are also several web sites shown in the item, with links to them at the end of the article:-

From the "Love Lane Lives" website Guestbook.
Above: BI Founder George Atkin and first Headmaster William Connacher 

Imagine, if you will, two 19th century businessmen setting up factories within a few yards of each other. Though these premises are in the Lancastrian city of Liverpool, the two men have strong links with two towns further to the east of the county - both, coincidentally, on the Leeds-Liverpool Canal.


Furthermore, both of these businessmen would subsequently be described as “philanthropists”. With so much in common, is it likely that they would discuss joint projects?

Let’s assume they did. How about a hospital in Liverpool? Both agree it’s a good idea, and it opens in 1887. A school in Birkenhead? One of the men is very keen, but the other has doubts… nevertheless, the school starts in 1889.

All this conjecture on my part is down to John A. Watson’s “A Hundred Years of Sugar Refining - the story of [the] Love Lane Refinery 1872-1972”, a copy of which I was encouraged to purchase after Mike Greenall’s frequent references to it in the “Love Lane Lives” guestbook. Page 50; “In Chisenhale Street, immediately beyond the canal, were the stables and adjoining them was the site… of the works of George Atkin & Co., patent asphalt manufacturers and tar distillers. This plant ceased working about 1931 and the land on which it stood, together with the empty buildings, was acquired by Tate & Lyle…”

As an old boy of both the Tate & Lyle group (based at Love Lane) and Birkenhead Institute Grammar School (based at Whetstone Lane), it would hardly escape my attention that two houses of the latter were named after Henry Tate and… George Atkin, acknowledged as school‘s founder.

It is an established fact that the Henry Tate linked with B.I. is “our” Henry Tate. But is it the same George Atkin? The answer is supplied by the informative website of the Residents’ Association of Egerton Park, on the Rock Ferry/Birkenhead border, where George lived. Having already pointed out that he was “a well-known philanthropist, liberal and founder of Birkenhead Institute”, the author notes that “George Atkin… had made his fortune firstly as a tea merchant in Blackburn and secondly as an asphalt manufacturer in Liverpool.”

An example of liaison between Messrs Tate and Atkin is provided by the records for the Tate-funded Hahnemann Homeopathic Hospital from 1887. “Sue Young Histories”, a website that records the history of British homeopathy, lists Henry Tate as “Sponsor” and his wife as Deputy Chairman - further research of the website reveals that other members of the Tate family, including Edwin and William Henry, were also involved in the hospital - while the four-man management committee included George Atkin JP.

The chairman was the prominent local citizen James Carlton Stitt; Stitt was the name of another house at Birkenhead Institute and was named after Wirral merchant Samuel Stitt, possibly a relative. In 1874 Samuel, as chairman of the local Liberal association, contended the parliamentary seat of Birkenhead against David MacIver of the Jager sugar refining family, losing by 947 votes. It‘s feasible that Samuel Stitt and Henry Tate knew each other as early as the 1850s, when Claughton resident Samuel had a Mission Hall built in the Newburns Lane/Rose Mount area of neighbouring Oxton - which was home not only to his coachman but to Henry Tate, then a successful grocer.

So two of those heavily involved in the foundation of the Homeopathic Hospital had Birkenhead Institute schoolhouses named after them, and it’s not unreasonable to assume that J.C. Stitt had a family link to someone who was similarly honoured. (The fourth of the original B.I. houses was named after the Duke of Westminster, who performed the school’s opening ceremony.)

The “Spirit of Birkenhead Institute” website states that “It was in November 1883 that Mr George Atkin of Egerton Park, Rock Ferry, issued the preliminary circular which led to the foundation of the Birkenhead Institute. To him, therefore, must be ascribed the honour of being the Founder of the School, but he had not taken the step without consultation with other leading citizens of the borough whose names are here recorded as they appear on the original Memorandum of Association under which a company was formed, known as Birkenhead Institute, Limited.” These “leading citizens” did not include Henry Tate, who, of course, didn’t reside in the borough of Birkenhead by that time.

Shares in “Birkenhead Institute, Limited” proved difficult to sell even as the building of the school was being planned; “The general depression in trade had been severely felt in Birkenhead, and it seemed as if the ambition of the founder would never be achieved. But in spite of the fact that by December 1885 two of the directors had resigned, Mr Atkin nobly stuck to his task, and in an endeavour to attract subscribers, a new prospectus was issued in January 1886, with a frontispiece designed by [Mr T. Mellard Reade, F.R.I.B.A., a well-known school architect], showing the perspective of the proposed buildings; but in June, the number of shares had risen by only 55, and Mr Henry Tate wrote advising the abandonment of the scheme. Mr Atkin's letter in reply to this suggestion is unhappily lost, but we may conjecture that its purport was an emphatic refusal to entertain such an idea.” (This is the earliest reference to Henry Tate in direct connection with Birkenhead Institute that I’ve found.)

Throughout 1886 the future of the uncompleted school was still in doubt;

“At this critical period, it was apparent to Mr Atkin that the necessary funds could not be raised in Birkenhead, and he must have written to several influential citizens of Liverpool, urging them to take shares in the company. His policy bore fruit, for at the meeting held in January, 1887, a letter was read from Mr Philip H. Holt, the shipowner of Liverpool. It was characteristic of the man who had done so much for education in his own city, and its main purport was to advise the directors not to proceed with the buildings until the financial position of the company was reasonably safe. Mr Holt would not become a shareholder, but he would lend the company £200 free of interest. Mr Henry Tate also wrote in the same strain, and as a consequence of these warnings, the building programme was suspended.”

Given these problems, it is somewhat surprising that the school opened in January 1889. Perhaps it’s even more remarkable that Henry, despite his misgivings, became a supporter of the school. In “AD-VISOR”, the Newsletter of the Birkenhead Institute Old Boys (Issue 17, Autumn 2012), David Lee writes;

“Henry Tate’s connection with Birkenhead Institute began rather surprisingly with a letter to the Proposers of the new school in 1887 suggesting that they abandon their scheme when funding was not forthcoming and the building programme was suspended. To their everlasting credit money was raised and the School was opened in 1889.

Later Tate was to forge a strong connection with the project and subsequently by the next decade had presented a number of gifts to the now well established Birkenhead Institute School. The newly opened Tate Laboratory was so named in his honour in 1892. The endowment of the Tate University Scholarship amounting to £2000 was his most generous gift. Sadly the initial recipient of the Tate Scholarship was one of the first Institute Old Boys to be killed in the Great War.” [Other First World War casualties connected with the school included Wilfred Owen, the school’s most famous former pupil, killed two weeks before The Armistice; and G.D.H. Atkin, George‘s grandson, who died in action on 16th July 1916. His obituary describes George as a “prominent Liverpool and Birkenhead Liberal”, and also notes that G.D.H Atkin attended Birkenhead School - rather than Birkenhead Institute.]

So there we have it. A Chorley-born ex-grocer and a former Blackburn tea merchant, both with successful businesses in Chizzy (though dealing in vastly different commodities) ended up backing a hospital and a school together.

Birkenhead Institute Grammar School thrived and, indeed, expanded; between the wars, an adjacent large house was purchased. Known simply as “The Annexe”, it was used to accommodate first-formers and the Lower Sixth while I was there.

When I joined B.I. in 1968, it was widely acknowledged to be the most successful boys’ state grammar school in Birkenhead. George Atkin’s portrait hung above the door of headmaster Danny Webb’s study, sternly gazing down on those pupils who stood outside awaiting their fate.


In 1970 the comprehensive school system rode into town; Birkenhead Institute Grammar School was no more. Its pupils decamped to join those of Grange Secondary Modern (a.k.a. Tollemache Road School, a.k.a. Tolly) in a new venture, “Birkenhead Institute High School“, two-and-a-half miles away in Claughton. Building work was undertaken to accommodate the extra scholars - most notably in the form of the Wilfred Owen Wing - but, despite this, the amalgamation still resulted in there being too many pupils to accommodate at Tollemache Road, so a small minority of classes were still staged at the Whetstone Lane site after the merger. (There was still a B.I. presence at Whetstone Lane when I left school in 1973.) The original four houses (Atkin, Tate, Stitt and Westminster) were retained, while two more - Cohen and Davies - were added. I can’t pinpoint exactly when the original school at Whetstone Lane was demolished, but, to be honest, the place was crumbling during my inaugural term in 1968. One year later, I recall my English Language teacher, Dave Yates (a splendid chap), constantly suffering minor electric shocks from the metal light switches in one of the classrooms. It may or may not have been a Grade II listed building, but it had to go. The only area that wasn’t falling to bits was the gymnasium/assembly hall and a new-ish laboratory in the basement. Subsequently, the Whetstone Lane site went through its own Eldonian Village-type “Phoenix from the Ashes” experience when the pupils of nearby Woodlands Primary moved into a fine-looking new school which was built there.

Birkenhead Institute ceased to exist in any form when it closed in 1994, and most of its pupils were hoovered up by nearby Park High School. (The site is now occupied by housing on a thoroughfare named - with a degree of inevitability - “Wilfred Owen Drive”.) However, websites commemorating the school have been of considerable assistance in my investigations of the links between two industrial giants of Chisenhale Street. George Atkin and Henry Tate; asphalt manufacturer and sugar refiner. The Boy from the Black Stuff and the Boy from the White Stuff.


In case you're not familiar with the geography of Liverpool 3;  Chisenhale Street formed the southern boundary of the Tate & Lyle Refinery. To the west was Love Lane, to the north Burlington Street, and to the east Vauxhall Road. All four survive in some form today (unlike the Refinery).



http://egertonpark.wordpress.com/category/history/ Egerton Park Residents’ Association newsletter. The article ‘The Story of the Two “Georges”’ (Christmas 2012) seeks to end the confusion between George Henry Lee (of Liverpool department store fame) and George Atkin, both of whom were Egerton Park residents around the same time.




http://sueyounghistories.com/archives/2009/11/25/the-liverpool-homeopathic-hospital/ From “Sue Young Histories”. The section headed “The Hahnemann Homeopathic Hospital 1887” brings together Henry Tate, George Atkin and James Carlton Stitt. (Like homeopathy, this link only seems to work intermittently.) Please note that there are frequent references on the “Sue Young Histories” site to an unconnected George Atkin, who was an M.D. from Edinburgh.





http://wsconnacher.webs.com/birkenheadinstitute.htm Account of the founding of Birkenhead Institute, whose first headmaster, W. S. Connacher, apparently died in George Atkin’s home.




http://georgejager.com/gj3/davidmaciver.asp Obituary of David MacIver, including details of his parliamentary election victory over Samuel Stitt in Birkenhead. MacIver later became M.P. for Kirkdale.




http://www.docstoc.com/docs/89722976/oxton-by-ray-johnson “A Short History of Oxton 1800-1900”, by Ray Johnson, provides evidence of Samuel Stitt’s activities in the Newburns Lane/Rose Mount area and also mentions that Henry Tate lived there around the same time. Ray refers to Samuel as a “shipowner” (something which would have interested Henry) and his address is given as “The Grange, Claughton”. It would be a remarkable coincidence if the educational establishment in Claughton that became Grange Secondary Modern (and, subsequently, Birkenhead Institute High School) had occupied the former site of Samuel Stitt’s home, since the school was built (under its original name, Tollemache Road Central School) in the 1930s - well after Samuel’s death in 1898. Thus, he would have had no connection with this building; there was no “Stitt” schoolhouse at Tollemache Road until 1970, when Grange combined with B.I..




http://www.london-gazette.co.uk/issues/27005/pages/5510/page.pdf Samuel Stitt’s death, as noted in the “London Gazette” of 16th September 1898. (In Issue 15, Autumn 2010, the “AD-VISOR” alludes to a “Silver Cup, Presented by Samuel Stitt Esq. JP in 1904 bearing the donor’s crest and motto”. Which is rather worrying.)




http://www.old-merseytimes.co.uk/deathsandinquests1907.html Please scroll down to the section headed “Liverpool Mercury, Feb 9th, 1907” for a brief report on the funeral of George Atkin at Bebington Cemetery.




http://freepages.genealogy.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~birkenhead1418/AtkinGDH.html Obituary of George’s grandson, G.D.H. Atkin.




http://www.biob.co.uk/AdVisor%202012.pdf “AD-VISOR”, Issue 17, Autumn 2012. “Henry Tate and the Birkenhead Institute”, by David Lee.




http://www.freewebs.com/birkenheadinstitute/ “Spirit of Birkenhead Institute” homepage.


Courtesy of the "Wirral News", here is Rob Wood's article and picture of the Ingleborough Road Memorial Playing Fields, which includes the great drawing by former B.I. Art Teacher Dave Jones:-


B.I. French Assistant Merlin Merlot, who spent a year at the B.I. at the end of the 1960s, recalls some memories from his days there. Many thanks to Merlin for contacting the site:-

How marvellous to discover this site about Birkenhead Institute where I was a French assistant at the end of the sixties! It gave me the opportunity to see the names of various members of staff I then met : Mr Webb, the headmaster, Mr Len Malcolm, the most feared deputy head, Mr Stanley Pierce, who taught French, and several others seen on photographs but whose names I do not remember...
I hope you will continue to complete the site.

All the best and happy new year to you all!

More Memories from Merlin Merlot:-

I have so many memories of my year in Birkenhead Institute that I just do not know which ones to start with ! However, I very well remember that, when I arrived there, it took me a whole month before I could understand the local accent of the Birkenhead people! I now realize that my very academic English probably sounded like a foreign language to their ears too !! Anyway, I was reassured when I heard a teacher of English at BI - Mr. Allan, if I am not mistaken - telling me that he could not always understand some of his own pupils...
I also remember my surprise to see that teachers were not supposed to leave the school once they had completed their lessons in the classroom, as is done in French lycées. The staff room was then full of teachers who read the papers, occasionally adding coal to the fireplace, or played bridge at lunchtime, which was an even more surprising sight !
As a French assistant, I had very small groups of pupils (three or four in a classroom, sixth formers mainly) who, at the beginning, were very shy to speak French. But as time went on, I noticed that they were making progress and that their French came out more easily. At that time, I did not realize that such "conversation classes" had to be prepared very carefully and that it was useless to come into the classroom and ask the pupils : "What do you want to talk about, today ?". It is not before the second term that I started to realize that it was my responsibility to suggest daily life topics which would be within the reach of my pupils.
As for Birkenhead itself, I remember the arts teacher, whose name I do not remember, saying to me that it was "a scruffy city", which was quite true. At the time, it was rather sad and dull and I was quite glad to go to the seaside at Meols or West Kirby, or the countryside in Wales which was not so far away. But I much preferred Liverpool and the short trip across the Mersey. Liverpool was then a very lively town, even if I would never have ventured there at night, as it was rather dangerous.
That will be all for today. Maybe another time I will post other memories.
All the best.

Merlin has also  kindly added these memories of Mr Malcolm,  Mr Webb,  Miss Cojeen,   B.I. School Dinners,  and his time in England:- 

I would also like to mention Mr Len Malcolm, who died in December 2010. It is not an overstatement to say that he was the heart and soul of Birkenhead Institute. He was a bachelor and gave me the impression to live only through the school. Len Malcolm was a tall and very lean man with a small moustache and his figure seemed to dominate anybody in the school, including the teachers. A deputy headmaster, he was very severe and very much feared by the pupils. But I suspected some members of staff not to be quite at their ease when he was around, as he was quite able to make a remark to anybody when he felt it justified, even if he did it with humour ! I remember some teachers did not always approve of his extreme severity with the pupils. Was he a happy man ? I am  not sure. He always seemed to me to be lonely.

Also, I want to say a word about the headmaster Mr Webb, that some kids had nicknamed in French “Monsieur Le Cou” (“Mr. The Neck”) because, when he walked along in the corridors, he used to move forward with his neck well sticking out ! I remember that one of my pupils had even made a very good drawing of Mr Webb, showing his neck protruding like a tortoise’s ! Mr Webb was a very helping man, who spoke softly, and his French was remarkable. When I first heard him speak French, I could have taken him for a Frenchman, so excellent were his accent and his pronunciation.

At the end of each month, a ritual took place : in his gown, Mr  Webb would walk into the staff room, preceded by his faithful secretary, Miss Cojeen, who opened the door for him and announced with deep respect, bowing her head : “Our headmaster”. Then everybody would stand up and Mr Webb came in to hand each member of staff his salary slip, saying a word to everybody before leaving the room without further comments.

Miss Cojeen was an unmarried woman who used to have terrible colds. I remember Mr. Webb saying that she was a very conservative woman and that she did not have any heating in her house!


As a member of staff, I had to take my lunches at the school. In that respect, BI was not – to say the least – a three-star restaurant. Not even a one-star place ! As it was my first stay in Britain, I then discovered the very thin, almost transparent slices of overcooked roast beef taking a very thick bath of gravy or  swimming in mint sauce, followed by the invariable deserts : either the sponge-cake which was indeed very spongy or the translucent and highly coloured jellies which trembled at the slightest move of the dish. I must confess that, out of sheer generosity of course, I would quite often let the pupils of my table have my part !... To think that some of them had the cheek to call “the grub” the food we were served…

I used to take my revenge at the technical college where I attended a course for foreign students to improve my English. After the lessons, as my French stomach was famishing for food, I rushed to the self-service restaurant and ordered a good plate of baked beans on toast which would fill me up for at least three days !

Had I told my parents about the food I was given, I am sure they would have lodged a complaint against the local educational authority for ill-treatment !!


However, all this did not put me off Britain. Far from that. In many respects, my school year in Birkenhead was even quite decisive in my life. I travelled a bit – particularly in Scotland and London. But above all, I discovered a way of life which was very pleasant : friendly, helpful people who were content with what they had, enjoyed their daily lives in their comfortable homes without asking much of life. I found the same quiet atmosphere in the staff room of BI where teachers rarely talked shop, as they were too busy with playing cards, happy to read the newspapers or do the Times crosswords while sipping tea in their own cups !

At the end of my school year, I returned to France to complete my English studies at the university. But once this done, I decided to go back to England. I had enjoyed life there. So I crossed the Channel once more for a stay which, this time, was to last six years running. But that is another story…

Through this contribution, I just wanted to say how thankful I am for what I learned while at BI.

Good luck to you all.




Very many thanks to former pupil James H. Stewart for the following accounts of some of the B.I. staff from the 30s and 40s, which are an excellent insight into many of the staff whom we remember from our days at the Birkenhead Institute:-




James H Stewart.



These short notes reflect my personal memories of  staff who taught me during my time at the school. Others will have had different impressions and  experienced different teachers. The teachers we met  depended on the subjects we studied, and impressions are affected by our aptitudes and skills for each subject. This will be obvious from my own impressions as a decidedly arts and humanities based student. Memories may also not be accurate.  The notes omit staff who, although always present, remained on the periphery of my experience.  


Mr J E Alison. Mr Alison taught Geography throughout the senior school. I remember him as a well built friendly man with a great gift in his teaching area.  He had a detailed understanding of the economic and physical geography of Merseyside, the activities of the port, and the shipbuilding which was a major part of the economy of Birkenhead. Before World War 2 he had  taken groups of B.I. boys to Switzerland and the Alps, but made up for the cessation of these with his splendid introductions to geology and landscape formation with the nearer mountains of Snowdonia and Cumbria, and the valleys of the Peak District, where we could do our own exploring. I never visit Nant Ffrancon without remembering his explanation of glaciated U shaped and hanging valleys, or Cwm Idwal without recalling his description of corrie formation at the sources of glaciers.  His introductions to the Ordnance Survey have stood me in good stead for a lifetime. I don’t have a ‘sat-nav’; my car is stuffed with OS sheets.  I can picture the whole journey in advance. In the sixth forms he produced beautiful hand-drawn and notated information sheets for us to copy as reference material.


He was very interested in the development of modern town planning. Across the Mersey Liverpool University was developing one of the first post graduate planning courses, inspired by Professor Sir Patrick Abercromby, at that time attached to the school of architecture where I was to graduate in the 1950s. Mr Alison used to tour the classrooms, often laden with rolled up wall maps, until one day, with the eventual running down of the Junior School as the 1947 education act approached, he was awarded a special Geography Room in the old building, with his beloved maps permanently displayed on the walls, to which sanctum his students repaired. I think he really enjoyed that.


Mr R.P. Bolton. Dickie’ Bolton joined the staff during the war. Small and bird like, he was one of the rare people who taught maths with delight and tried to make it fun. Although he never got me to master quadratic and differential equations he did get me fascinated by geometry and trigonometry, and would come breezily into the classroom calling gaily ‘right, get your tools out lads.’  Maybe I have always been a spatial thinker, and maybe this aspect of maths was related to my interests in architecture and geography, but somehow Dickie Bolton seemed to turn geometry into a real three dimensional art.   ‘Dickie’ eventually moved to another school in Lancashire in the years after World War II.


Miss K.G. Booth.  Miss Booth taught in the Junior School higher classes while I was there.  She was a sprightly and energetic young woman and a strict disciplinarian, quite prepared to use a little non-lethal force if necessarily.  Memory tells me she taught across a number of subjects, and she stayed on after the Junior Department began to run down. She married during her stay and became Mrs Curtiss. This was not a common event in schools, and before the second world war many female teachers had to leave if they got married, so I think she may have broken a mould, and been one of those who helped change a rather silly attitude towards females, especially in an all boys’ school.  She did a stalwart job with a cohort of boys from across the social spectrum to prepare us for the more serious world of the upper school.


Miss M.F.E. Bowers.  Miss Bowers was head of the Junior School, a large motherly Cornishwoman who tutored the newcomers in the introductory class. She also interviewed me for admission in her small office under the stairs in the old building.  She taught across various subject areas with an easy skill, and in her art classes would produce good watercolours of the object for study, which she would present to the best artist of the class for that lesson.  I recall being read ‘I wish I lived in a caravan, with a horse to drive like the pedlar man’, after which we were required to paint a picture of the caravan from our own imaginations. Good training! True to form, she also painted one. We learnt to draw freehand ellipses with a slightly birds’ eye view of Stonehenge.  During handicraft classes she would read to us from books such as the Classics of Ancient Greece, Tom and the Water Babies, Wind in the Willows, and other similar sets of tales, while we made reed  baskets and tea trays. We were also expected to read well ourselves and to read out in public. I never heard her raise her voice to a pupil and her class control was perfect, largely because of what we now call ‘presence’ and an innate generosity of spirit which we all respected instinctively.  She retired to her native Tintagel in Cornwall around the time I moved up through the school, and was greatly missed.


Mr Cartwright. Mr Cartwright reigned with a firm hand in the large well-equipped woodwork shop, trying his best to teach boys to make accurate joints with small pieces of scarce wartime timber.  He also drilled the sixth form in rifle drill in the playground after school as a kind of in-house school ‘Home Guard’ – a Lads’ Army rather than a Dad’s Army!  Cartwright had a suitable sergeant major’s approach, a slim agile athlete with a small military moustache!  His other realm was the school gymnasium where he drilled the rest of the school in gymnastics with a similar kindly terror. He had a good sense of humour, even when chastising a slow mover with the end of a climbing rope. I recall a fascinating fight he had wrestling with an equally fit member of my form in the woodwork shop, because the unfortunate scholar had a pocket full of pens that resembled a small pipe organ. Mr Cartwright was strict upon appropriate appearances.  I recall him with a friendly amusement as well as some admiration at his craftsmanship. He also taught us the elements of book stitching. A rather fascinating character.   


Mr Idris Davies.  We gained Idris Davies through his marriage to our previous art teacher Miss Hetty Rosenbloom. Idris was a lean dark Welshman, fluent in Welsh, like the headmaster. They could argue in the corridors without the boys knowing what they were saying!  Birkenhead Institute had a long fine-art tradition, with a bias towards architecture. A number of sixth formers went on to Liverpool University to study for the profession.   The school awarded a memorial prize in art each year.  Idris brought a systematic study of architectural history and design into the art course, backed up with information sheets and reading lists, which took us from Egyptian and Classical architecture right up to the latest in modern design. The course also included practical objective drawing and painting, and poster or commercial art.  Idris responded warmly to work done in our spare time. My visit to him at home after he was married to Hetty left an impression, when I had brought in my small landscape painting of the Dee estuary.  He had several large paintings that he was working on from landscapes from Southeast Asia.  He was a good tutor to students looking for a career in the design world, or  keen to develop artistic skills. He did a lot to introduce students to a more tutorial system of learning, preparing us for later professional studies and the atelier systems of art colleges and schools of architecture. He eventually handed over the art course to Nancy Price who joined us straight from Art School.


Mr R. Hall.  Mr Hall was my regular English Literature master through the senior school ‘A’ stream.  Square built, shortish, thinning dark hair above a roundish but slightly rugged face, he had a first class reading and speaking voice. He also liked wearing his ginger Harris tweed jacket and grey slacks. He read poetry like no-one else I had heard, and his journeys with us through a large number of Shakespeare plays still stick in my mind.  We did play readings round the class with different members reading the various parts, which brought Shakespeare to life.  We were guided through the standard Palgrave’s Golden Treasury, plus Milton and Wordsworth and other major poets, and were expected to produce good critical and analytical essays and comments. Similar tasks appeared of course in the examinations and, in those days, in the School Certificate and Higher School Certificate papers. Once, in the upper sixth, form he cajoled us to write poetry ourselves, and he was very pleased when someone produced something.  We studied the structures and metric forms of poetic writing, and I still enjoy producing some work occasionally. I had been reading books since I was quite young, so maybe literature was a natural for me. It still is.


Mr. G.W. Harris was Deputy Head of the School. He was small, slim, and dapper, but with a good teaching voice, and taught us for history very well, taking us through early history into the nineteenth century. He relished a jocular reference to me, his only Stewart pupil, when launching into the Stewart period and all the sudden deaths, kidnappings, and assassinations which plagued the Stewart kings of Scots! As I recall, only James V and VI, the first of England, died peacefully in their beds.  ‘Biddy’ Harris was reputed to have a skilled hand with the cane by the few who had been sent to him for justice, with a clever flick to ensure that it stung, but he was good humoured and kindly. He brought a letter from a soldier written after the Battle of Waterloo.. ”Gentlemen, the French have the privilege of firing first…”  His colleague Mr W. E. Williams took up the story from the Great Reform Bill onwards.


Mr. A. O. Jones.  Mr Jones was a round short Welshman, my Lower Sixth Form Master, and taught Chemistry in the large and gaseous Chemistry lab which occupied the central part of the school’s main façade. He was well enough liked by the boys, and occasionally the butt of a few good-humoured practical jokes, which he tolerated with his own sense of fun. Usually these were pseudo-chemical tricks in the lab. He peppered his lectures with chemical jokes of his own. He even enabled me to gain a pass in chemistry in my school certificate, so I qualified narrowly in the maths and science bracket which saved my academic career! He was also house master for Atkin house.  There were no Health and Safety issues in those days, and bangs, stinks, and Bunsen Burners were all part of the education and entertainment. Explaining the properties of Carbon Dioxide he told us about the Cave of the Dogs, I think in Italy, where dogs dropped dead but the human owners were not affected. Why? He asked the class.  One wag said ‘because there were no lamp posts there!’  But I think we all understood the dangers of low clouds of invisible CO2 after that.


Mr. F.J. Lake.  Obviously christened ‘Puddle’ by cheeky school boys, Mr Lake taught French and singing, which was as near as we got to music.  Small and slim with wavy dark hair, he wore heavy spectacles as he was rather short sighted. He was rumoured to be French Canadian in origin but I cannot recall an appropriate accent, although his French pronunciation was excellent.  He was not my main French teacher, but he took us regularly for singing lessons in the school gymnasium, where we sat while not singing on rows of gymnastic benches. He also taught us deep breathing exercises and expected good breath control in our songs. He gave us a fantastic recital of Polonaise in A at one speech day in Birkenhead Town Hall where he had the Town Hall piano almost jumping off the stage.  The school produced some good boy soloists who joined in with speech day celebrations. He was well liked by the school. I still have my old school song book.


Mr. A.G. Morris.  A tall swarthy Mancunian, ‘Moggy’ was my regular French Language teacher. He always wore a tattered gown, which one day in the junior building got more tattered when he stood in front of the class room electric fire. Gowns were of wool in those days and he nonchalantly beat it out and carried on wearing it daily. He was a good teacher and had a wide command of the language. He also carried in his pocket a short length of blind-chord with a large knot in the end of it to chastise summarily, but with good humour, any youth who became too ‘uppity’ or who was making too slow progress.  I recall one such public humiliation when I had returned from a year out in Glasgow during the Liverpool Blitz, arranged to give my mother a break from the nightly bombing. My French had fallen lamentably behind, but afterwards Moggy arranged to give me tutorials in his house and he did a remarkable rescue job enabling me to reach Credit standard in my School Certificate and to take French as my Subsidiary fourth subject in the Upper Sixth for my Higher Certificate.  The language stayed with me quite well, and I had some French Algerian post graduate students of my own later which allowed me a week as a visiting tutor in an Algerian university without too much pain! Maybe that is why I became somewhat of a rescuing tutor myself in university later on, helping to set some students back on the pathway?  


Mr. J Paris. Mr Paris ruled in the Art Room in my early days in the Senior School. He was a strict disciplinarian, and taught art in the traditional manner with his class sitting in a circle of desks around some object or arrangement, in strict silence, while he patrolled the circumference often with his cane, which I never knew him use, and which was probably symbolic – a kind of weapon of deterrence. However, he got us all to draw well enough and many continued in art after he left, some going on to use the skills professionally.


Miss Nancy Price.  Nancy was my last art teacher, and went on teaching in the school long after I left, after which she taught at Wirral Grammar School for Girls.  She joined us from college and was immediately taken to the hearts of the upper sixth form who were only two or three years her junior. She was a very good artist and also an enthusiastic and tolerant teacher, setting us various tasks and projects, entering us sometimes for competitions, and tolerating the upper sixth trio in a strange fascination with a measured drawing of St. Paul’s Cathedral from Bannister Fletcher’s History of Architecture. I remember a sketching day with her in Wirral at Woodchurch, and also taking her home to tea.  Nancy also built up our knowledge of the modern artists of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, and we began to explore art galleries and up to date art books. Sadly I lost touch with her in spite of a couple of chance meetings and by the time I caught up with her again she was suffering from dementia and had lost her memory.


Miss Hetty Rosenbloom.  Miss Rosenbloom was my art teacher in the lower sixth, and probably one of the trio who really taught me art.  She was an excellent teacher, but was another who married during her tour of duty and became Mrs Davies. Her new husband was Idris Davies mentioned above, and he succeeded her when their first baby arrived. When I visited their house near Victoria Park, Higher Tranmere, the baby was hemmed in by Idris’s large watercolour paintings of places in the Far East, taped to glass. We talked about painting and letting yourself go, getting drunk if necessary!  I was over sixteen so that was all right.  It was my first visit to a real artists’ house.


Mr. E Sorby.   Mr Sorby taught mathematics through the senior school, somewhat in vain as far as I was concerned. However that was not really his fault, as I missed a number of his classes, and nearly a year of his teaching when my father packed my mother, and inevitably me with her, to Glasgow to get her away from the Luftwaffe for a while. I must say I rather missed the bangs and crumps and did not really settle in my Glasgow school, although I did have a very good Physics teacher for my stay there.  ‘Pop’ Sorby suffered from a rather dour manner and deep north country voice, but was kind enough to soften his verdicts in my school reports by noting that I had missed a lot of work. I never caught up until my third year of Theory of Structures at Liverpool University, when it all began to make sense because the equations related to real shapes in engineering.  Mrs Sorby was also a teacher, in a girls’ school, and they had a house built for themselves across the main road in the village of Thingwall where we lived.  Unfortunately the cows from the nearby farm took a liking to his vegetables and the dogs to bathing in his fish pond, but he took these rural trials in his stride.  Now and then they would give me a lift into school in his motor car – yes in wartime!


Mr. Webb.   Mr Webb joined us as French teacher in the upper sixth form about the end of World War II, new to the school. He was believed to have served among the Maquis or French Resistance in central France but I never heard that confirmed. However he spoke perfect fluent French which may suggest he had spent some time in the country during the conflict.  Medium tall, sturdy, with reddish hair and moustache, he had a strong presence, suffered fools badly, and had no fear of the head master.  He took us through advanced French language and literature including Moliere and Maupassant, pieces like Le Misanthrope, prose and poetry.  One day he arranged for us to read one of the plays and enact them in the library. The room had large heavy oak tables which we had to move around, and we were aware that the headmaster in his study below liked to catch us playing Shove Halfpenny on them. Sure enough a stern grey head appeared round the door, behind which Mr Webb was sitting. The confrontation was interesting and only took a few seconds as Mr Webb made his intentions known briefly!  He was a tough demanding teacher but top class and I remember his taking us through French literature with pleasure.


Mr. W.E. Williams.  From his initials he collected the nickname Woo!  Tall, rather gangly, with a slightly long sad face which hid a high sense of humour, he was always in his well-worn gown.  He took up the story of history from the Great Reform Bill into modern times, and his witty characterisations of great Victorian statesmen really brought them to life. “Palmerston was the kind of guy that would go out happy in the morning and jump over his garden gate…” and such like sketches.  Probably his presentations gave us all a picture of what statesmanship was about, and showed us that often eccentric human beings lay behind the political facades. Maybe some of his lessons prepared me for later work in my architecture and town planning courses about the nineteenth century environment and the various attempts to do something about it. I chose environmental history as a main lecture course to give to my students, and have always been fascinated by the implications of events following each other down the centuries which have shaped our modern world.


The Other Mr Williams, Physics.     I seem to have lost his initials, but he was known as Physy Wimps to distinguish him!  Very slim and smart with a small military moustache, he deserves a mention, because he left us to join the Royal Air Force when I was part way through school. I never did well in Physics at school, but he laid the way for understanding beams, levers, pullies and bending moments, and the behaviour of light and electricity, which all became clear in my engineering lectures later on. I think looking back my contact with him although not highly successful at the time tells me that we learn even if we do not immediately succeed at something, because quite often important ideas remain in our subconscious memories to be awakened later in a different environment. 





B.I. 1946/1947 PREFECTS

Here are some more of your memories and photographs of Birkenhead Institute. Many thanks to James Stewart.   Below is a picture of the Prefects from 1946/1947, (See above in the 1946/1947 section for some of the names):-



Former B.I. pupil has sent in some excellent photographs and memories which I have added above. These include some amazing insights into the staff at the school in the 1930s and 1940s.

Very many thanks to James for taking the time to write and  send in these unique and special photographs, along with staff memories from his time at the Birkenhead Institute.

I'm sure that everyone who remembers these special times and the members of staff at the school , will treasure these unique recollections.