Belle Vue Secondary School

Memories of the tough Pillgwenlly school in the early 'sixties.

By Jim Dyer

© Jim Dyer 2012

Was this Wormwood Scrubs or too much Dick Barton on the wireless? What a shock to the system! I soon found out. As others prepared for the old, posh Newport High School or the newly opened Duffryn High, I, an eleven-plus failure, headed with trepidation up the street to Belle Vue.

'How? Why?' they chortled down the street. I failed by a few per cent so they told me. Head drooping I shambled up to the school.  I soon found out the school lived up to it's ill-famed reputation.

The oppressive smell of poverty pervaded the ancient corridors, sweat and body odour reeked. No showers here and only one new extension to make indoor toilets near the metal and wood work rooms. The play yard was grim on the boys' side and not much better on the girls' side. Terrified, Maca and me snaked through the school gate into a gang of raucous youths. The tight alley between the toilet block and the storage shed was the initiation point for the new ones, and they had us.

That was only the start, strong horses followed  - a sadistic game where the weakest were forced to carry the strongest in races. Then there was the continual jibing of anyone with the slightest oddity, being different, anything that identified them as being different – size, glasses, stutter etc. Sheer madness, which was a part of the 'sixties school training but which would leave scars for many.

Belle View Secondary School Newport Mon with the regular rows of houses in Pill lined up behind it.

The same drab outlook manifested itself inside the building; half-decorated classrooms, high-framed windows, casting dusty beams of light across cheap furniture. The staff-room near the entrance and the girl's yard was out of bounds, certain to mean the dapper for any would-be Casanova invading the space. Next to this was 'Ekka' Lewis’s science room and the so-called changing rooms for PT, a stinky hole with cages of black plimsolls, and where you were guaranteed to have something pinched. I hated PT which was done in the main hall under a strict regime. Climbing up wall-bars and flinging your body over a wooden horse wasn't my forte. Adjoining the hall were a range of classrooms and storerooms and metal stairs leading to classrooms above.

Morning Assembly roll-call at Stalag 3, was done in the playground as the pupils lined-up in their forms, big boys at the top. This is when fights sometimes broke out, occasionally with the teacher who was ticking his attendance book.  In the main hall the morning assembly included songs and the headmaster's announcements, as we sat on the floor, legs crossed. Some tried to cause a jape or two but the atmosphere was electric. After the headmaster's gruff talk, a few hymns were plonked out on the piano which most of us pretended to know the words of. If you weren't a dirty, scruffy kid you didn't fit in and your life would be plagued. Usually there was a queue of miscreants waiting at the headmaster's door for the stick. Discussion was rife about the secret activities going on over the girl's side, paramount as most of them were reaching puberty.

It was PT though which frightened the wits out of us and even the older boys would not try it on with Huggett who was deemed a 'hard case.' Cross country running was a real gem which meant pacing around the block, stripped to the waist.  What a disgrace in front of the Arthur Street old biddies! After the caper of hopping over wooden horses and jumping on springboards there were innumerable press-ups and rope climbing. Then there was running around the hall and general jumping around. We were glad when this was over!

When summer came there was baseball at the YMCA ground with Corten or Carlsen bowling at great speeds. Those wimps who played cricket did so at their own risk on the very uneven grass at the side of the school, umpired by the wide-shouldered, moustached Harry Owen. Winter brought football or the more popular rugby. This is about the time I stopped being bullied; I was a fast runner, played on the wing, and a strong tackler. I recall tackling the mighty teacher 'Mickey' Meredith head-on and this assured a place in the school team. The local derby games with other schools were played, the game with the Catholics at Father Hill's being a fearsome match. I had the dubious honour of having my wrist broken by Rene Lazerre.

Belle Vue Rugby Team Late 50s / early 60s.
Belle Vue Rugby Team Late 50s/early 60s.

Meanwhile academic studies proceeded with Harry Owen again, dishing out some basic history, Brenda Jones with English, and the eccentric Don Steed in art. Of more interest was Ekka Lewis in the chemistry room where he amazed us by exploding oil cans on a Bunsen burner. Ekka, really Trevor, was a handsome man and all the girls used to faun around him. He spent much time chatting to those interested, after school was over and gave me great interest in many things.

So many stories! Like when there was a break-in one evening and the soles of my shoes seemed to match those found at the crime scene. A grilling interview with the police. Or when during exams I was sat next to an older lad doing his English test and I was doing sums. We agreed to swap papers. The laugh was I came bottom in maths and he came first in English!  Then there was the time during lunch play that a new fad of throwing shuttlecocks with a dart tip around resulted in a boy named Parry having his eye out. Or mine and Russell Haddon's project (official) of drawing a huge plan of Monmouthshire, with inset drawings. We had all the time off during lessons to do it, and we found it a good way to avoid woodwork and PT by hiding in some remote corners of the school.

School dinners were served in the pre-fab building at the side of the school next to the nursery school. These were only taken by the 'poor boys and girls' but we all congregated there for jelly and blancmange at the noisy Christmas party.

But it must have made some impression, as on the approach to the third year Russell and me were transferred to Duffryn High School. This was a very new step as pupils were normally transferred to the tech forms in the fourth year. We went into the grammar stream with the hope we would catch up with two years of such strange subjects as chemistry, algebra and physics.

So that was the last of Belle Vue though I had to come past there on way home. Now I would be taunted by old pals about being posh but I met up a year later with many of them who were also transferred. Years later, when I was working, Belle Vue became a further education college for awhile and I went there to study for exams. A very odd, but nostalgic, feeling sitting again behind those old desks.

It is now a sheltered housing scheme but still brings back those copious memories when I pass the place.

Jim Dyer – 26th January 2012