Speaking Latin

I attended Howardian High School in Cardiff from 1962 to 1969. It was a great school in many ways because it just caught the end of a very traditional style of schooling.  My mother was immensely proud when I passed the eleven plus examination and was given a place at this hallowed institution.

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Howardian High School was founded in 1885, in Howard Gardens, in central Cardiff. Hence the name – although at the time it was called the Howard Gardens School for Boys, and it did not come to be called “Howardian” until later. It was built at the height of Cardiff’s expansion, as the busy docks and other heavy industries drew migrant workers in. 
The school building was destroyed by ‘enemy action’, that is to say, explosive devices dropped by young German lads flying overhead in propeller-driven aeroplanes in 1941. A number of other buildings were blown up or burned down in what was at the time a heavy programme of bombing. Cardiff had massive dockyards, which played an important role in keeping the wheels of industry turning. Presumably the eighteen-year old kids in their Messerschmitts were aiming for the docks, and missed by a mile or two. So the solid school building was laid waste after only half a century.

The School as an entity survived and migrated to new premises. A new girls school had been almost finished just before the war started in 1939, on a green field site in a suburb called Penylan. In the reconstruction after the war, Howardian High School moved in. It was still a boys school at that time. Later, to accommodate the growing numbers of pupils, a typical 1950s building was erected on high ground nearby, in 1953. The boys moved into the new construction, and the girls eventually moved into what was then an old building – about fifteen years after they had originally planned.

In the 1980s, the local government decided that the falling numbers of pupils meant that the school was surplus to requirement. And it had large tracts of playing fields that would fetch a good price in the property market. So they took it. Smash and grab. They smashed the school to rubble, grabbed the land, and annihilated the institution of Howardian High School shortly after it had celebrated its hundredth year of existence.

The closure of such a great school is to Cardiff’s shame!

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When I was there, the masters wore gowns; we stood up when a teacher walked into the room and took our outdoor shoes off when we arrived in school and wore plimsolls all day. Boys were regularly caned even for minor misdemeanors.

The Headteacher was a man called Archibald Sinclair and the deputy was Illtyd Lloyd, but we only ever knew him as ‘Slinky’. We feared him more than the devil himself. I am sure he was a lovely man and a great teacher, but we small boys were scared to death of the man whose room was on the balcony above the main entrance. It was outside his room that the canings took place.

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The school hall was adorned with shields from the great universities of our nation. Assemblies were conducted in the main hall, which had a huge organ with massive speakers built into the walls. We sang from a hymn book called ‘Hymns of the Kingdom’. Howardian had a separate dining hall where we would eat lunch. The older boys would serve. Before we ate we would stand and recite a Latin grace. I learnt the words as a young eleven-year-old lad; but until today (10th January 2014) I had no idea what they meant!  It was though, a grace that I repeated countless times as a teacher – but never whilst preparing to eat. If ever a child or children misbehaved or frustrated me in any way, I would close my eyes slowly, whilst breathing in deeply through my nose. At the same time I would raise my eyes and stare at the ceiling before uttering slowly and clearly…

Benedictus, Benedicat, per Jesum Christum Dominum Nostrum

Amen

The effect was always amazing.  It eased tensions and brought a smile from young and old alike. I found out today whilst Googling that it as a Latin grace said prior to the meal at formal and celebratory dinners. The meaning is loosely translated to:

“Blessed is He and may He bless this food through Jesus Christ our Lord”.

Apparently, the closing grace would be

Benedicto Benedicatur, per Jesum Christum Dominum Nostrum.

Amen

For a generation of children who were under my care, I am sure they always imagined I was calling on the Almighty to pour down fire and brimstone upon them. Sorry kids – but we had fun!

The truth is out!

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Happy days.

20 thoughts on “Speaking Latin

  1. Thanks for sharing the memories. My memories of Howardian fit in exactly with yours. I think I could add a few too that might spark more for you perhaps.
    Fellow teacher (mainly of French) John Israel (sometimes known as ‘Jibs’ at Howardian) – for whom Latin, even speaking Latin has been important!

    1. Thanks Roger, and sorry for this very belated reply!
      I’m fine and trying to retire, but with state(s) pension hassles, I keep on working (better quality for lower pay of course!)
      One thought that you might remember since this communication is so technology based!
      I use the memory with some of my students as a Howardian nostaligia trip!
      Forget about high tech computer and internet based stuff!
      I rememebr Howardian gaining its first PHOTOCOPER (what a revolution there!)
      It was Archie Sinclair’s proud acquisition (for the school).
      So proud in fact, that it was installed in his office and no-one, but no-one, was allowed to use it, except himself and I presume, Nora Green, his secretary.
      I remember teacher complaints about this in class, but which teachers complained in front of us, I can’t clearly remember. Was it ‘Neddy’ Martin in French? Bill Glaze in English? Anyone else?
      All the best,
      John

  2. I was there 58-65 . roger Simmonds. slinky get to my room Lloyd arrived as an inspector at my 2nd teaching job in deepest Powys. he sai…in that twang of his..yes I remember you(boy).

  3. I entered H Gardens Grammar in 1948 until 1953 , had 6 of the best in first year from Archibald for talking too
    much. Met him a few years later while working in Cardiff,he didn,t remember me or the 6 ,I,ll never forget him

  4. Some other teachers whose names (and faces) ı remember, I think accurately (?), with ageing grey matter stimulated by these posts.
    Mr Probert – Metalwork
    ‘Fuzzy’ Hobson – Chemistry
    One of the best – ‘Chunky’ Martin – Physics
    Noel Brain – Latin and Greek
    Brian Maylin and Mr. Impey – History
    Herr Ings – German
    Mr. Hall – Biology
    Malcolm Jones – Maths
    Mr. Lewis ( a heavy smoker – Gaulloişes???) – French
    The French assistantes
    A face for me without a name at the moment – who died suddenly during the school year when I was in the 5th form, and who was a perrpermint – or was it Rennies? – addict – Head of English, and replaced for the year by a stand-in, that all too rare FEMALE teacher at Howardian in those days!
    And lots of anecdotal ‘incidents’ over those years.
    John

    1. I think Mr Maldwyn Brinn was the English teacher with the constant Rennie habit, as I recall he had a peptic ulcer that killed him in my 3rd year (I was there 1964 – 71). He was replace by a lovely lady English teacher who as I remember had just come back from teaching in the Gilbert and Ellice Islands – she helped me get an English O Level pass a year early. I remember a lad called Israel who has a sister at Lady Margarets – Kate ??.

      1. Yes, spot on with the memories. My sister is indeed Kate and she started at Lady Margaret’s, finishing at Howardian when the two schools amalgamated. She had strong comments about that.
        I remember the English teacher replacing Mr. Brinn, with us feeling bad about joking about his Rennie habit, when we undertood it was serious for his health. I remember enjoying his English lessons, preparing us for the GCE. We’d read ‘A Pattern of Islands’ before the replacement teacher came, as well as ‘Lord of the Flies’ – so her experiences in the Pacific were all the more romantic and fascinating for us. I’ve completely forgotten her name but again, really enjoyed the lessons.
        Much more mind-expanding work than the attempts to deal with tough Latin and ending up memorising the section from Julius Caesar Gallic War, Book VII, with its translation in English, in order to get through the exam!

    2. I remember a P.E. teacher Fred Whitlow. Also Miss Cornish who taught Physics I think. She threw a wooden blackboard wiper at me once. Hit me on the head. I was seeing stars for a while. Also remember a Biology teacher Scratcher Hitchens.

  5. The three daughters of Mr Sinclair came to my school, Howell’s School, Llandaff, and they were in my house. He had always wanted to train as a doctor so was very happy when all three daughters became medics. What was very sad was that one of them, Anne, I believe, was killed in a helicopter crash on the way to the Scilly Islands with her family in 1983.

    1. Hi Joyce – I’m Slinky’s Grandson and another medic! I remember him as a wonderful grandfather but experienced his iron hand a couple of times too! He was devastated when Howardian was changed and then closed having devoted so much of his life to allowing local boys to fulfil their potential. It was Jean and her family who died in the helicopter crash; Ann (Scottish spelling of course with a name like Sinclair!) is alive but now frail. All 3 of his daughters did indeed become successful doctors at a time when female medical students were still a rarity. He was immensely proud of this.

  6. I met Illtyd Lloyd last week on a very cold morning. He looked well and was walking through Roath Park. He told me he is ninety.

  7. I never met my grandfather, Maldwyn Brinn, as he died before I was born. It’s lovely to read people’s comments and the teaching gene has been passed down; to my mother, Hilary, (his second daughter) and to my elder sister and me. If only there had been the medical knowledge then to have saved his life; I would love to have met him.

    1. He was my English teacher when I was in Years 4 and 5, and died suddently at the beginning of that fifth year. I don’t know why we called him “Harry”.
      I can see his face and hear his voice now, as I write, with him sitting on the teacher’s table in front of the class, inspiring me at least, effectively on poetry (Robert Frost, Edwin Muir, Walter de la Mare) if less effectively on the play “The Boy with the Cart”. He was a quiet, genial man and I don’t ever remember him having to discipline anyone in class, with no-one playing up, which was certainly not the case with many other teachers then. He must have commanded a lot of attention. I never remember feeling bored, though as I’ve written, Christopher Fry’s “Boy with the Cart” didn’t get me much above boredom.
      I do remember an attempted wind up when we were studying Shakespeare’s “Tempest” with him, when we tried smirkingly and snidely to get him to explain what the seaman’s slang in the opening scene really meant. He didn’t rise to the bait, and moved on with a simple comment that we’d understand that when we were older and that we shouldn’t spoil the future by trying to understand everything at once, as teenagers!
      Not a bad answerr at all, and the class obviously accepted it, respecting him for not treating us as naughty boys, or as idiots, or simply as trouble makers trying to divert the course of the lesson.
      The memory is clear in my mind, so that in itself must be a tribute to his teaching!

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