Eric Smith: Confessions of a Compulsive School Attendee

A few years ago I was troubled by a recurring dream in which I found myself in the yard between the Old and the New Buildings at EVCS surrounded by children and utterly confused as to what I was doing there. Was I pupil, teacher or onlooker? Of course in my time I have been all three and, since I have been able to rationalize the dream, it has ceased to trouble me.

I have in fact had four different periods of attendance at the school on Beaufort Road. The first, and as it transpired, longest stay began in 1945 when I entered Ebbw Vale County School as a very small and rather anxious pupil. Rumours of terrible things done in 'ragging' proved to be exaggerated, or perhaps I was just too insignificant to be noticed. We entered Form 2, no Form 1 in those days, Central Welsh Board School Certificate in four years! Lessons were spread between the main school building, the Libanus Vestry on Badminton Grove, and the Glanyrafon Hut where two classes were separated by a heavy curtain. A great deal of time was lost moving between lessons, but our legs grew stronger. Two incidents stand out from those early days; being lined up in Badminton Grove to cheer Field Marshal Sir Bernard Montgomery (Monty) of El Alamein as his motorcade swept by, and a brutal murder that occurred in a back lane near to the school. In those immediate post-war days staff changes occurred at a breath-taking rate as teachers returned to 'civvy street' and temporary teachers moved on, I lost count of the number of Mathematics teachers I had in five years. I witnessed the departure of stalwarts like Tal Morgan, Melville Jones, Eddie Jones, Gerald Gratton, Richard Davies and Hannah Williams, and of course D.T. Davies, who was replaced by Dr. Saffell. School Cert' in four years was too much for me and I became one of the first to matriculate under the Welsh Joint Education Committee's new Ordinary Level Examination in 1950. Two years in the Sixth Form followed and, clutching my hard-won Advanced Levels, I left EVCS in 1952, for the first time as things turned out.

College followed by seventeen years teaching at Rhymney Grammar/Modern School prepared me for my return in 1973 when I replaced my former teacher and friend Idwal Davies, who was forced into early retirement by ill health. Former teachers were now colleagues, Olwen and Dewi Samuel, Morfydd and Hugh Griffiths, Muriel and Trevor Rees, Barbara Evans, Hannah Roberts, Gwylfa Davies, Marsden Evans, Milwyn Jenkins and Emrys Plummer, as were some former fellow pupils, notably Mostyn Phillips, who was now Headteacher, and Peter Hitchcock, whose untimely death in 1974 robbed the school of an outstanding teacher. This second visit was short-lived and I left EVCGS for the second time in December 1976 when the school decamped to the new comprehensive school site at Waun y Pound. For the first six months lessons were conducted in competition with the builders, the laboratories were literally assembled around us, and the gradual change from grammar to comprehensive school was completed very smoothly by September 1978. By this time I was preparing to make my third visit to what had been Ebbw Vale Grammar School but by then was Glanyrafon Junior Comprehensive School. A promotion brought me back as the Deputy Headteacher of a very different sort of school from the one I had vacated two years previously. There were over three hundred pupils aged 11 to 14 years and most of them were very lively indeed, the activity and noise in the play areas at break times was overwhelming, but it was also exhilarating. I spent three years with some dedicated and enthusiastic colleagues drawn mainly from Duffryn and Willowtown Secondary Schools. The Headteacher was Elwyn Morris, a traditional secondary school master who ran the school very much like a junior grammar school, there was a House               System with all the attendant sports and cultural activities, and Prefects. This gave many young people an opportunity to develop skills and confidence at an early age but the great drawback was that, just when you were getting to know them, they moved on to do their '14 plus' education at the Senior School.

In 1981 I made my third exit from the school; the three years at Glanyrafon were excellent preparation for five years of Headship at Hafod y Ddol Junior Comprehensive School, in what had been Nantyglo Grammar School. Unfortunately school closures began to close in on me and in 1986 I became Deputy Headteacher at the brand new Abertillery Comprehensive School. Then early retirement was offered and, like many of my contemporaries, I accepted it gratefully and my full time teaching career came to an end in 1988. There followed five years as a supply teacher in several different comprehensive schools, and a few junior schools as well, in Merthyr Tydfil. I laid down my chalk finally in 1993, but my association with the school was still unfinished.

In 1995 I was invited to become a governor at Glanyrafon JCS, and back I went for the fourth time. By this time a former colleague and friend, Lyndon Matthews, was Headteacher; and I was made to feel welcome and wanted. The role of governor gave me a completely new perspective on school life, and I felt that I had something to offer; after thirty seven years in the classroom, I suppose I did know a bit about schools, but in the 1990's school governorship was a demanding occupation, if one took it seriously. Strangely enough, I experienced my first full Inspection as a governor of Glanyrafon Junior Comprehensive School.

Later on a former fellow pupil at EVCS, Vyvyan Morgan, became Headteacher and Martin Probert, who had the distinction of being the last Headteacher at the school, followed him. Pupil numbers in the Ebbw Vale area declined steadily and it was inevitable that the school would close. In July 1999 it closed for the last time and I made my final exit on the last day. Pupils and most of the staff became part of the new Ebbw Vale Comprehensive School on the               Waun y Pound site. I remained a governor there until the spring of 2004.

At Beaufort Road the inevitable vandalism which, it has to be confessed, had been a problem for many years, became serious; demolition was the only answer. In the autumn of 2001 the bulldozers moved in and within a few weeks the structural evidence of over a century of education had disappeared for ever.

As one who has lived in the community all my life, and had a long and varied association with the schools on the grammar school site, I feel no regret for the changes that have taken place. Change is a law of the universe but nothing can undo or diminish the achievement and the fulfillment of generations of children or the memories they cherish, I know because I am one of them.

As I write, a new estate is nearing completion where once stood Ebbw Vale County Grammar School. It has the rather pretentious name of "College Mews" (who dreamed that up?) but it will be good to see the site as a thriving community once more, and I wish all the new residents well, especially the youngsters.

I cannot help wondering however, if in some quiet moments, they may not hear the distant sound of a bell and the shouts and laughter of children.

Eric Smith (aka 'Smico' 1945-1952)
August 14th 2004

Note from AJ: I remember the murder mentioned above very well. I was out carol singing with I think Peter Marchant and Terry O’Leary and for some reason was waiting outside a gate in Badminton Grove while they were singing (probably my singing was not up to their standard). A policeman came along and asked me if I would help him, obviously I said I would. We went to the murder scene - it was several weeks after - and proceeded to take measurements with me holding one end of the tape. I doubt very much that today a child, of I think about 10, would be asked to help in such a matter. I think the policeman gave me half a crown which was more               than the singers collected when I was away!

© evcgs former pupils 2013