By Arthur Woodgate
As we moved from Lion Street into Mermaid Street School in 1921, the well known, even quite famous, Headmaster Sprig Walker was about to retire, and as we stood in rows to mark the occasion, we had no idea it was the beginning of a Mermaid Street School revolution.
Miss Walker, daughter of Sprig, and Mr. & Mrs. King were very stable teachers but we could sense they were not happy with the new Headmaster; Roland Roberts.
Roberts was something of a tyrant to both staff and pupils alike. The only good thing I can remember about him is that he insisted that it was very important to sound internal ‘Rs’ and to this day I resent those that don’t, but do pull me up if I miss an odd initial H. I suppose the one other good thing about him was, that being a bully himself, he could handle bullying by others in the playground, even if he did bring in the law at times.
At this time our class had no regular teacher, but suddenly, into this muddle came a young man, direct from college. Hardly a decade older than any of us, SIDNEY HERBERT ALLNUTT faced a formidable task, trying to control some forty of us. He told me, some years later, that on that day in 1922 he was more afraid of us than we were of him.
We settled to each other very well, and as he gained higher qualifications by going off now and then for more examinations, he moved up in class with us for three years. We got to know him very well.
He was a mathematician but in those days a teacher had to teach all subjects to his or her allotted class. This he did very well, except for music. I don’t know but it seemed to me that he may have been tone deaf. When a music lesson came around he would negotiate with another teacher, to change classes for a period. Miss Walker was a first class musician who would sometimes change with him and there was also a Mr. Harman who joined the staff for a while and was good at music.
If, however, Mr. Allnutt was forced to take a music lesson he would put a modulator over the blackboard and hope we sang the right notes. Then he would give out a song book and say “carry on boys, you know more about music than I”. Then he would sit and listen with no interest, but not with any worry or anger, because his left eyebrow didn’t dance up and down as it would have done if his emotions were upset.
However, when it came to arithmetic, his left eyebrow would dance up and down if we made two and two come to five and one would expect to be put over a desk and get six ‘plat handers’ across where it would be difficult to sit for a while, he would keep general discipline in control by this method. He had no time for sending naughty boys to the Headmaster for the cane, he didn’t believe in the cane as his arms and hands were hard enough for him to deal first hand with trouble. Nevertheless we all seemed to worship him and I can’t remember any of my school colleagues saying anything against him. In those days we were used to obeying the rules and suffering the consequences if we broke them, if an irate mother appeared to complain about the punishment meted out to their dear little cherub, he would listen to the tirade, then shut the door. It was pleasing that his eyebrow remained still and he didn’t take it out on us.
Vowel and constinant came as easy to Mr. Allnutt as did the mystery of numbers. I have been forever grateful for the grammar he passed on to us. He would never have allowed a double negative to be used by us without his eyebrow dancing, nor would he allow the vowels to be given the wrong sounds. The wrong and continual use of adjectives would have driven him mad and because of his teaching I get annoyed by the manner of speech coming from our modern schools.
Mermaid Street was a combined Church of England and State School run by a school board committee which included the Vicar and some councillors, and it seemed they were allowed to visit and interfere with the lessons in progress. One by the name of Alderman J.L. Deacon J.P. CC FRHS, used his right quite frequently. He bored us and drove our teacher into eyebrow dancing and into a fit of dancing with one foot on a chair, we all knew we were in for a rough time when the Alderman had gone.
Great Love of Soccer
Sidney Allnutt’s great love was soccer and it would not be wrong to say that he did more for football in Rye than any other individual. I am not qualified to go into this although I saw it beginning to happen. I hated being trailed down to The Salts and forced to stand on a wet field with a cold wind blowing. When I taxed him about this at the “Allnutt Originals Reunion” in 1972 he explained that as only 22 players could be used for the two teams (no substitutes allowed in those days) the rest of the 40 strong class had to be spectators. He did produce a great school soccer team and continued to nurture Rye football all his life. If the school team lost on Saturday, one had to harden oneself to go to school on Monday, because when the eyebrow danced and the chair contained a foot, then trying to please was like walking on thin ice. He was a football legend in his own lifetime and there must be many of you out there who owe much to his memory.
Other sports did not escape him and I’m pretty certain he would have had something to do with persuading the Council and River Authority in letting the tamkin on the Puskins be turned into a school swimming pool. It was fenced round and an open front pavilion erected, and was a feature of Queen’s Avenue for some years (it seems to have gone now). Thanks to Mr. Allnutt’s tuition and encouragement, I learned to swim and gained a School Certificate in 1924.
Because of the greatness and importance of Sidney Herbert Allnutt to Rye during the middle of the Twentieth Century, I have written this hoping it will challenge the generations following mine will continue the history, of this, one of the most influential persons to several generations of Ryers, so he may not be forgotten, who, (although he never married or became a headmaster) some of us regard as our Ancient Town’s Mr. Chips.
Rye’s Own September 2005
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