Musings

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.

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30 thoughts on “Speaking Latin

  1. Anonymous says:

    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!

    • John says:

      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. Anonymous says:

    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. brin says:

    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. johnblackisrael@yahoo.fr says:

    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

    • Chris Sharp says:

      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 ??.

      • John says:

        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!

    • Rick says:

      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. Joyce Shields says:

    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.

    • Andrew Holden says:

      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. Graham Westall says:

    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. Claire says:

    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.

    • "Jibs" says:

      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!

  8. Jonathan Chilton says:

    I passed 11+ at Rhydypenau junior school in 1960 bound for the very great Howardian High School and I’d like to add a couple of teachers to the list. My favourite subject was geography and was taught by the friendly yet occasionally menacing Jim Roblin. Having only scraped into the sixth form, via 6T, because I failed 2 ‘O’ levels that was hoping to pass – English language and French, and was due to study French ‘A’ level, so that was out the window and probably just as well, Neddy Martin was, er, Neddy Martin! I decided to ask Mr. Roblin if he would accept me for ‘A’ level geography.Now I was a bit of a lad in fifth form and had a slight reputation for being a tad unruly …. so I was relieved and happy that he took a chance with me ( I can still remember his wary raised eyebrows!) – I’d done quite well at ‘O’ level, and he got me through ‘A’ level as well. The other teacher I’d like to mention was the great character Dewi Williams who encouraged and inspired me towards English literature especially Shakespeare’s Macbeth, Wordsworth, and Dylan Thomas, who he seemed particularly fond of. I’ve been grateful for his literary inspiration for much of my life. He also took on the difficult duty of informing my father that I’d only passed 3 ‘O’ levels instead of the expected 5 or 6. Dad was not pleased! But it was 1965 and there were many distractions such as Beatles, Stones and Girls! I’d learnt guitar and by autumn we had a fledgling rock band, and proudly performed at a sixth form concert in the Howardian Great Hall ….. and I was supposed to pass exams as well?! I’d also like to mention that the Head Dude Sinclair changed the original name of the school from Howard Gardens to Howardian (on his arrival at the new building?) due to the fact that he was a Yorkshire man and had lived near to the Howardian Hills north of York city. Okay so I’m a geographer! Thank you so much Roger and all the other bloggers, if that’s the right term, certainly a word beginning with b and ending with ggers … so great to read about the old school and people’s experiences there. And yes, I spent quite a few occasions outside Slinky’s office, wearing at least 2 extra pairs of gym shorts under my school trousers!! Jon ‘Chilly’ Chilton

  9. "Jibs" says:

    Dewi Williams I remember vividly, as a Welsh teacher too from when I was in the 1st Form at Howardian. I ended up a languages teacher and am still amazed at the modernity of the methods he used for teaching Welsh – listening and speaking first, before teaching reading and writing!
    Neddy Martin has a huge influence on my professional life, since I became predominantly a French teacher!
    He was the form master when we were in the 4th and 5th forms too, and I remember much ado when he supported General De Gaulle over his “Vive le Québec libre” speech in Canada in perhaps 1967, the centenary of Canadian Federation and in a speech that outraged the tabloid press of the day.
    (The Canadian connection also vividly remembered, since our history teacher told us that a question on Canada was a dead cert for the “O” level exam in 1967, it being the centennial year. There wasn’t one to be spotted on the papers we got!!!)
    Neddy got us to start thinking about very controversial subjects, in his Form Master chats, the biggest of which was probably the Vietnam war at the time, but also talks about mind-expanding drugs and the like, as well as building relationships with girls. Advanced stuff for the day, with his message as I remember it mainly being that we should think for ourselves more critically and try to see alternative points of view. Like Dewi, as a languages teacher, he also believed in trying to teach through the medium of the language, even if he used English in many lessons. Both in their own ways, modern in thinking, and definitely against any rote learning and memorisation just to get through the next exam.

  10. Brendan Smith says:

    I was also at Howardian until 1969 when we moved from Cardiff and I went to Bristol University. I went back on a nostalgia trip maybe 20 years ago sadly to find the school buildings surrounded by a housing estate.

    Marooned in the middle of this I think was the sports pavillion that Mr Sinclair fought hard to get built, largely from parental subscriptions. Of no use of course once the playing fields had been sold off. Is it still there?

    I was in lots of school plays and my father Fred was very active in the parents association, producing parents plays and a musical he’d written.

    I have found memories of Howardian. It had a proud heritage and it is sad that was swept away, like other grammar schools by luddite left thinking educationalists. We had a great school and learnt much more than current generations I think.

    I remember the school blazer was black with a cerise stripe as was the school cap, with the Labor Omnia Vincit badge in front. I have a photo somewhere!

    • JIBS, aka King Henry VIII. says:

      Hi Brendan! Sir Thomas Cromwell in “A Man for All Seasons”!
      All the best from “King Henry VIII”!
      (Even if the real King did get to execute your original character, in the end and after many other executions!)

  11. Peter Glover writes: I attended Howardian High School from 1957 to 1962. I remember starting as a “one-swot” (1st year) proceeding to a “five-swot” and I left after the fifth form to be articled as a trainee Chartered Surveyor in Cardiff. Teachers I recall include Walter Lock, who was a games master but actually took us for maths although he had no formal qualification, Mr Jostie who took woodwork and metal work, Mr Josephson who took French and my form master “Chunky Martin” who was a keen smoker. When the Government report came out showing the link between lung cancer and smoking boys in the form asked Chunky if he was giving up smoking and he replied that he was actually smoking more now because he was so worried about the Government report. Everone remembers “Slinky” Lloyd of course and I was caned by Slinky when he found me in the corridor outside the classroom having been sent out for something naughty. The headmaster Archibald Sinclair was a rather distant figure, rarely seen outside morning assembly, and the ethos of the school was an attempt to replicate a public school. At the time I did not enjoy it very much but looking back it probably gave me a very good start in life. I went on to have a successful career as a Chartered Surveyor and author, A novel I wrote “The Wentlooge Levels” is about Cardiff and a text book “Building Surveys” was first published in 1983 and is now in its 8th Edition, “Buying and House or Flat” was published a couple of years ago.

    • Richard Elson says:

      Did you live in Llanrumney and was your father an insurance agent with Prudential? I was at Howardian 1956 to 1961 and remember someone with this name. A few years later I worked with him son when he had left Prudential and was working for Julian Hodge.

      • RICHARD says:

        Remember meeting your dad he was when was a patient in CRI, mid 1960s and my dad was there as well. When did he pass?

  12. Peter Glover says:

    My father died in 1983. Further memory of Howardian, There was a German teacher name possibly Mr Ing or similar. Looking at the school phto he was a small man with a mustache and looked rather like Adolf Hitler When he entered the classroom we had to give a Nazi salute (no we didn’t I made that up)

    • Graham Westall says:

      I left Howardian in 1957. It was a good school. I well remember Ken Ings. He had the unusual experience of having been in Germany, as a student, when the war started – so he had to stay there until the war was over.
      In German lessons, pupils were expected to provide their own “rough book.” Mine was obviously not up to Ken’s standards, and he could be sarcastic. Ken said, “Westall, you will be bringing the stop press column of the “Echo” next – and writing in that!” Later, Herr Ings became the deputy head at the Bishop of Llandaff school. Does anybody recall another German teacher called Idris Jones, otherwise known as “Oscar?”

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