Tragedy at West Mon (Revised account)


When I wrote my book, “Pontypool Memories” (October 2010), because of so many conflicting ideas and memories received from past students at West Mon, I did a considerable amount of research to try to discover the truth about the tragedy. I wrote the “Tragedy at West Mon” section of the book based on that research and now post below that section of the book.

As I said on the “About” page – bottom of right hand column – I will not be writing this blog in chronological order. After all, some memories are more indelible than others; some even occur to me as I write. But one memory I have of my life at West Mon Boys’ School remains with me as clearly as though it happened yesterday.

When I was in form 3A, that was the classroom immediately on the right as you enter the hall from the main door, there was an extra door at the front of  this classroom which led out into the corridor. Immediately opposite on the other side of the corridor was another door which led into a small room. This became the new Form One. At that time there were about 80 boarders at the school. They were the same age as the rest of us but were exempt from having to sit the entrance examination. However, that year the governors had decided to start an extra class for much younger boys down to the age of six. We thought this a strange arrangement and, when we heard that they not only had to learn Latin but Greek also, we were astounded; it sounded to us like child cruelty! This was the new Form One which was quite small having only about 12 or so boys in it. I’d often wondered why the youngest class when I started at the school was known as Form Two so perhaps this was a return to something which had existed many years before, but this is only supposition on my part.

Later, in 1947, an incident occurred which had a shattering impact on everyone at the school.  One of the little lads from Form One, Robin Henry Lafone, of Radcliffe, Lancashire, only nine years of age, drowned in the school swimming baths. We were all horrified. The swimming baths was the place where the boys had fun. It was a heated pool and the poor ventilation system meant that you could hardly see a thing as you entered because of the cloud of water vapour permanently hanging about. But we splashed and shouted to our hearts content as we learned to swim.

Mr D.C.Harrison, the Headmaster, spoke to us about the tragedy the following morning in assembly. It seemed so sad to us all that this little lad, so young, should die during a school lesson. Apparently he had dived into the baths because of a dare. His friend, John Hancher, of Birmingham,  made a gallant attempt to rescue Robin and became unconscious is doing so, almost losing his own life.

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Tragedy at West Mon

Of all the posts on my internet blog the account of this tragedy is one of the most frequently read. The tragedy occurred during my last year at the school and is certainly the saddest memory of my time there.

Based on the large number of emails I have received about the event from past Westmonians in this and other countries, I have come to the conclusion that, over the years, the re-telling of the tragedy has led to certain inaccuracies in some accounts. In view of this I have undertaken some research into the matter and now offer what I consider to be a reasonably accurate account based on newspaper articles written at the time, the coroner’s inquest, evidence given by those who witnessed the tragic event, and the opinion of the doctor who performed the post-mortem examination.

The tragedy happened on the afternoon of Wednesday 14th May 1947. The victim was nine-year-old Robin Henry Lafone who had started at the school the previous September as a Form One boarder.

Because of a pact he’d made with another boy, he jumped from the spring board at the school swimming baths into six feet of water, although he could not swim. His daring cost him his life.

At the Inquest The Coroner, Mr D.J.Treasure, was told by  nine-year-old Martin Adam Lewis of Bridgend, a particular friend of Robin’s, that they had agreed the day before the tragedy to both jump into the deep end of the bath the next day. Martin admitted that the suggestion had come from him.

The Coroner asked, “You were making a pact?”

Martin replied, “Yes, sir.”

“Did you shake hands on it?”

“Yes, sir. We had another little chat about it the next day.”

Martin went on to say that during the lesson he saw Robin get out of the bath at the shallow end. He himself walked towards the ladder at the deep end. He went on to tell the Coroner, “I had told him to jump into the bath from the side near the ladder, not from the springboard.”

He then stated that he didn’t see Robin jump in but he heard a splash and, when he looked around, he saw Robin and another boy, John Hancher, apparently fighting at the bottom of the water. He added that he thought they were just having a bit of fun.

Another nine-year-old, Robert Hughes Lewis of Abertillery, said he saw Robin jump in from the springboard. He said that Robin came up splashing about and that John Hancher, a good swimmer, had dived in to help him.

The Coroner asked Robert whether he thought Robin Lafone was in difficulties.

He replied, “Yes, sir. Hancher tried to push him towards the surface to get some air. He got his head above the water but he went under again. In the struggle Lafone slapped him and he became unconscious.”

The Headmaster, Mr D.C.Harrison, giving evidence, said that at 2.35p.m. a boy came to him in his office and said, “Sir, there are two boys in the swimming bath and they may be in danger of drowning.”

He stated that the swimming bath was about 80 yards away and he immediately ran there. As he passed through the hall he saw Mr Gilbert Garnett and he accompanied him. As they went into the baths Mr Garnett threw off his coat and dived into the bath. He brought John Hancher to the side and handed him to Mr Harrison. He then went back into the water and brought Robin out.

Mr Harrison said that Mr Wildash, the master who had been in charge of the swimming class, was lying on his stomach on the side of the bath in a very exhausted state. He recovered and immediately applied artificial respiration to John Hancher who came round after two or three minutes.

In the meantime Mr Harrison turned his attention to Robin Lafone while medical help was being summoned. This arrived in the persons of doctors Enid and Bertram Siddons who applied artificial respiration and other forms of treatment, all without success, so Robin was taken to Pontypool Hospital for further treatment. He was given further artificial respiration by relays of ambulance workers from the GWR and from Pontnewynydd Works, but after three and a half hours, hope was abandoned.

Mr Harrison went on to say that at the time there were 18 boys in the bath aged from 9 to 11. Some could swim but others were learners. Swimming was a definite subject in the curriculum and the boys were there to take the set course of instruction not to enjoy themselves.

The Coroner asked, “Are you satisfied, after what happened, that the degree of supervision which was being exercised was sufficient?”

“Yes sir,” replied Mr Harrison.

“Do you propose to alter it in any way?”


“You don’t think it would be safer and add to the precautions to have another master or one or two senior boys present?” asked the Coroner.

“No sir, I don’t think that is necessary.”

“You are satisfied that no additional precautions could have prevented this accident, other than preventing the boys going into the bath?”

“Yes sir, I feel that.”

The Coroner replied,”If you are satisfied, far be it from me to question your decision. I shall be quite content to leave it to you.”

Replying to Mr D.P.Tomlin who represented Mr Wildash, Mr Harrison said that it was obvious that both Mr Wildash and Mr Morgan had been in the bath. “Mr Wildash,” he said, “was very exhausted. Mr Morgan had dived in and lost his spectacles. Both had done all they could to get the boys out.”

Leonard John Wildash, the art master, said that John Hancher was the first boy to enter the bath. “He sprang off the springboard and swam perfectly. The rest of the boys went down to the shallow end.” He went on, “I walked down to the shallow end, talked to two new boys and took the depth with a broom to prove to them that the water was not as deep as it looked. I was instructing one or two boys to put their hands on the rail and kick their feet up. There was a lot of shouting and splashing. A boy called Jefferys came to me and said, ‘There are two boys in trouble in the bath.’ I immediately hurried to the deep end, threw my coat off and went in.”

Mr Wildash went on, “The boys were floating face downwards. One appeared to be clutching the other around the shoulders and one boy’s legs were around the other’s body. In my opinion they were unconscious.”

The Coroner remarked, “They must have been in the water some time before you got there, and in difficulties some time before the boy came to you?”

Mr Wildash replied, “That is so. I grabbed hold of both boys about three feet under the water. I found I could not manage them with the weight of my sodden clothing. I was going down and coming up with them. They were locked together. I separated them with my knees, grabbed Hancher and pushed his head above water. As I put my head out of the water, I shouted to the boys, ‘Go and get some help.’ Help arrived while I was holding Hancher. I was pretty exhausted and lost my grip. I made my way to the side of the bath and was helped up by Major Williams [another staff member]. I lay on my stomach exhausted. Next I remember Hancher’s body lying in front of me. I knew something had to be done immediately and I applied artificial respiration.”

The Coroner then asked, “Looking back was there anything more you could have done than you did?”

“No sir.”

“Is there anything you reproach yourself with?”

“No sir.”

The Coroner then commented, “He was a little daredevil and, although he could not swim, he jumped in at the deep end. Don’t you think it would have been better to have a senior boy at the deep end to prevent people doing foolhardy acts?”

“After what has happened I agree,” Mr Wildash replied.

The Coroner added, “I think so. You can’t expect boys to behave like a well-disciplined lot of soldiers. The sole object of a lot of them is to do things they are not entitled to do.”

Replying to Mr W.R.Dauncey (for the Headmaster) Mr Wildash said he told the boys the rules before he let them enter the bath door. They said they knew them. He remembered seeing Lafone enter the water at the shallow end but did not see him get out again before plunging in at the other end.

Asked by Mr Evans how he came to remember seeing one boy out of the crowd, Mr Wildash replied, “He had a rather cheerful grin, and he was one of my best art pupils. Some boys have more personality than others.”

Gilbert Garnett, the school sports master, described how he got both boys out of the water and said he then climbed out himself and applied artificial respiration to Lafone until he was relieved. He then went to change into dry clothes. By that time Dr Siddons had arrived.

Dr Kurt Triger, who performed a post-mortem examination said that death was due to asphyxia caused by drowning. Three bruises on the face were recent and could have occurred minutes before death. Others occurred after death, and were due to the pressure of the mask used for resuscitation

The Coroner commended the efforts of Mr Wildash, Mr Garnett and the ambulance teams who applied artificial respiration after the boy had been taken to hospital. “But for Mr Wildash’s action in raising Hancher’s head above water, I might have been investigating a double tragedy,” said the Coroner. “It seems to me that it would be an added precaution if a master or a prefect could be told off to supervise at the deep end while instruction is being given at the other end of the bath.”

The remains of Robert Lafone were cremated at Pontypridd following a largely-attended memorial service at St James’s Church, Pontypool conducted by Rev W.E.H.Williams, vicar. Mr Harrison, the Headmaster, read the lesson, and the congregation included representatives of the school teaching and boarding staffs, and many pupils.

Hymns sung at St James’s were: Hail the day that sees Him rise, The strife is o’er the battle done, and Thine for ever, God of love. Organ voluntaries were played by Professor A.J.Thompson.

Bearers at St James’s were: E.W.B.Blythe (head prefect), D.Owen (deputy head prefect), B.J.Kennedy (school rugby captain), D.Fraser (cricket captain), D.A.Arnott (School House captain), and D.S.Jones (Robin’s dormitory prefect).

Four staff members were bearers at Pontypridd: Major C.Williams, Mr E.Stephens, Mr I.H.J.Evans (Robin’s housemaster), and Mr R.F.Witty.

Mrs Lafone, who had given birth to a daughter three weeks earlier, was unable to attend the funeral.

About a month later, at the school’s Annual Speech Day, John Hancher was hailed as the school hero for his brave attempt to save his friend. Amid deafening applause and cheers, he was presented with a chromium clock by the headmaster, Mr D.C.Harrison. He recalled that when the memorial service for Robin was held at St James’ Church, John was ill in bed recovering from his ordeal so was unable to attend.

We heard later that Dr Lafone, Robin’s father, was presenting West Mon with a shield for life-saving, artificial respiration and coolness in crisis, to be competed for each year by the boys.

A short while after the publication of my first post about the tragedy I was delighted to receive an email from Peter Jefferys who for the past 42 years has been living in Ilfracombe. He was the one referred to above in the evidence of Mr Wildash as “a boy named Jeffferys”. He writes:

I came upon this site after looking for a picture of West. Mon. and was amazed to see the sad account of the drowning. The boy who ran for help was myself. I was a boarder at that time . . . I returned to the school a few years ago, but most things have changed, the dormitories, swimming bath, are no more.

I have been reading through the accounts of this sad accident, which has brought many memories back again. I was the boy who ran for help and was in the same class as Hancher and Lafone. Lafone was a close friend and sat next to me in class. The day’s events of this tragedy will be with me always, and sadly the circumstances of the accident were not as generally accepted. The teacher in charge was unable to swim, and my memory of him in the water hanging on to the side of the Baths with his gown still on, is as clear now as then. I ran for help to a classroom on the ground floor, and the teacher attempted to save both boys. I was a boarder at the school, having moved down from London in 1945? until 1950.

In my reply to Peter I asked him some questions to try to clarify in my own mind exactly what happened on that day. He replied:


The master in the water with gown was not the teacher that I went for help to.  [I cannot recall his name.] The teacher that I went to in a class came back with me and dived in to try and save the boys. My recollection was that Garnett was not there. I did wonder why the boys were not questioned at the time about the event, but maybe we were all thought to be too young to be reliable witnesses.

Lafone jumped in, as he had been dared to by the boys, and he had been told to jump in from the deep end of the baths and jump towards the side so he could get out, although he admitted he could not swim I think he felt he could not lose face.

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113 Responses to “Tragedy at West Mon (Revised account)”

  1. Craig Smith Says:

    I was at West Mon during the early 1980s – during the time when it changed from an all boys’ school to a co-ed comprehensive. I can recall rumours about a death in the pool in the distant past. The pool though was still a place for a laugh; though I do recall Mr Hall having the misbehaved amongst us sit in a bucket of cold water and then being hosed down with more cold water. Didn’t seem to do us much harm in the long run though…

  2. jack russell Says:

    Trunks were not worn because the dye used in the predominantly woolen costumes available at the time andf often knitted at home, used to turn the water a funny colour! If one was unfortunate enough to have a swimming lesson on a Monday the water was freezing since it came from a stream above the school (allegedly) but by Friday was a slimy green and hot as bathwater.
    Date 1960/61ish.
    One evening after a basketball match Phil Morgan and I decided we would go for a swim in the locked pool. A suitable window was opened and in we went. Within a few minutes we were slightly alarmed to hear someone unlocking the door and shouting, ” I know you are in there, now come out at once!” Max Horton had heard our merriment and had come to investigate. We simply clung on to the side, underneath the diving board and right at Horton’s feet. In the fog and gloom we were not spotted and he left.

    There is a reunion this autumn 2008, anyone interested should email me or call 020 8979 5093

  3. Dennis Gould Says:

    Hello. I would like some info re reunion if possible please. I attended West Mon 1960-67



  4. Peter Williams Says:

    I attended West Mon from 1944-1949. Neville Robinson’s account is the most accurate. We boys did not wear swimming costumes. I remember Mr Thomas ( who taught English) telling us ” a boy had run into his class wearing only a towel round his waist and told him there was something wrong in the swimming pool ” He (Mr Thomas ) had run over to the swimming pool and dived in . He lost his glasses but he could just see a little body on the bottom. He could not get the body free. I attened the drowned boy’s funeral.
    Garnett was an unpleasant bad tempered person and a nasty bully. He knocked me about because I had poor eyesight and was bad at “Gym”.
    He made no effort to teach swimming – except to those who were already good at it.

    • peter jefferys Says:

      I have been reading through the accounts of this sad accident, which has brought many memories back again. I was the boy who ran for help and was in the same class as Hancher and Lafone. Lafone was a close friend and sat next to me in class. The days events of this tragedy will be with me always, and sadly the circumstances of the accident were not as generally accepted. The teacher in charge was unable to swim, and my memory of him in the water hanging on to the side of the Baths with his gown still on, is as clear now as then. I ran for help[without towel] to a classroom on the ground floor, and the teacher attempted to save both boys. I was a boarder at the school, having moved down from London in 1945? until 1950. Hopefully I will be able to make contact with others who were at West Mon during those years. [The school song is now running through my head, whilst writing this]

  5. peter jefferys Says:

    I came upon this site after looking for a picture of West. Mon. and was amazed to see the sad account of the drowning. The boy who ran for help was myself. I was a boarder at that time and Lafone sat next to me directly in front. I returned to the school a few years ago, but most things have changed, the dormitories, swimming bath, are no more. I have so many memories coming back that I will add more later.

  6. Clive Barnby Says:

    I didnt arrive at West Mon until a number of years later so dont have any personal memories of the tragedy in the pool but I have attended in recent years several reunion events. Another regular was Paul Stevens who was at the school about 1941-48.

    On one occasion Chris Jenkins, a classmate of mine, arrived at the reunion a few hours before and spent some of that time at the hotel in the company of Paul. The tragic event came up in the conversation, and I think I recall Chris saying that Paul had told him the master in charge in the pool had left at the end of that school year. This would seem to add confirmation that Mr Garnett was not the master, as I believe he remained well into the 1950s.

    During my time the sports masters were Max Horton and Bill Watkins, who played scrum-half first for Pontypool, then Newport. My guess is that he Bill Watkins would have started in about 1956 when Garnett retired, Max Horton took over as senior sports master, and Bill filled the resulting vacancy.

  7. amos2008 Says:

    Thanks Clive. On this matter I can only say that from 1942 to 1947 the only master I can recall being in charge of sport was Garnett though he was supported on the big occasions such as Sports Day and, obviously the annual cricket match between the boys and the masters, by other members of staff.
    I found it something of a mystery that Peter Jefferys reported seeing a master in a gown in the baths and also the absence of Garnett. But he was an eyewitness and should know. It also adds to the mystery that the unknown master left at the end of the year.
    I suppose there would have been some report of the whole incident recorded by D.C.Harrison, the headmaster, in the school logbook, but this is usually treated as a confidential document so I don’t suppose there is any chance of looking at it.

  8. Nigel Jarrett Says:

    I often wonder how we survived West Mon School. I was there in the 1950s and thought it was a hell-hole. Several of the masters had fought in the war and seemed to be borne along by its momentum, with us boys taking over from the Nazis as the enemy. Sadism was rife. One or two of the sadists on the staff were certifiable, and eccentricity abounded.
    Only West Mon and the barmy head D C Harrison (who boarded at the school and often came to morning assembly in his slippers) could celebrate a boy’s rescue attempt in the school baths and not wonder why they had avoided charges of gross incompetence after a pupil had drowned. The contraption in which the luckless lad’s foot had been caught should have been flagged up as dangerous, especially as the bottom of the pool could never be seen, so thick was it with grime and body fluids. Chlorinating the pool was done by a later caretaker, Bill Beard, who walked its perimeter, throwing fistfuls of some chemical or other into the water from a huge tin. Gilbert S Garnett (his name is engraven on my memory) was widely regarded as a mentalist, often requiring several sturdy boarders to turn up at the Hanbury pub late on Saturday to carry him back to the school. One master who shall be nameless gratuitously slapped boys around the ear, on one occasion hitting me so hard that I temporarily lost my hearing and required medical attention – and all because the blind dolt thought I was chewing in class (I wasn’t). I used to pass him in the street years after he had retired and he always remembered me and said Hello! Thugs always recall their victims. I would studiously avoid him and spit at the ground.
    I was pretty average academically and therefore came close to this ethos of violence and psychopathy. If you were bright, these brutish, intolerant and impatient ‘teachers’ never touched you because you did not require them to do much of what they were paid for. Beside them, the half-decent mentors – Frank Witty, Taffy Evans… er, that’s it – were barely visible.
    It’s interesting to note that brutality breeds its likeness. One of the most vicious acts of mental cruelty was perpetrated by pupils against the blind music teacher, ‘Professor’ A J Thompson. His piano would be booby-trapped and when it collapsed on his striking the keys, everyone laughed, including me. My reaction still shames me fifty years later.
    The school motto was Serve and Obey. It seemed like a dubious injunction at the time and I have never thought otherwise. Serve and obey whom – and what? It could be the maxim of any man or movement, from Christianity to National Socialism to a headmaster in moth-eaten footwear.
    Now you know why I have never been interested in old boys’ reunions. It would just remind me of that horrid alma mater, where I once saw a boy’s eye cut by a blackboard hurled by a demented master. And all my contemporaries will know who he was.

  9. Edgar Biss Says:

    I joined West Mon as a boarder in 1946 and was a classmate of Robin Lafone in Form 1. But after a few weeks, I was moved to 2B, because my previous school had taken me well beyond what Form 1 (and Form 2) were teaching. Even though we were in the same dorm, I did not know Robin well. I can’t add anything to the mystery of who was in charge of the fateful swimming lesson but I can certainly comment on the cruelty and sadism that was endemic, particularly in School House (the boarding house). Prefects regularly administered “slippering” and took pleasure in hurting the younger boys.
    “Lob” Garnett was one of two live-in housemasters (the other was “drip” Harris, the Latin master). Garnett tought maths and struck me at the time as a frustrated intellectual. He taught me technique in chess but refused to let me play the piano on the basis that I was unlikely to rival Paderewski.
    There were some good teachers (I remember, particularly, Mr and Mrs Moseley, Major Williams, Mr Purse) and many hopeless ones. Despite all of this, the school turned out some pretty successful alumni from my period. One of them, who I can’t remember at all from school, is Sir Anthony Hopkins, the actor, who claims to have been an early admirer of my acting skills. Can anyone remember him at West Mon?

  10. Clive Barnby Says:

    I think Anthony Hopkins started as a boarder at West Mon about 1949-50, & stayed for five terms. By all accounts, he didnt enjoy his time there & his parents moved him to Cowbridge Grammar where they could visit him more frequently.

    Edgar may be interested that there is a “reunion group” mainly of O.B.s from the 1940s, 50s & 60s who, organised by Mr Jack Russell, get together about once every two years. I think in that group they are a no. who remember young Anthony as a very quiet lad.

  11. emrys lewis Says:

    Iattended West Mon 1947 to 1953. Iremember Gilbert Garnett well. He was a true sadist. The only happy time in the gym was end of term when we were allowed to play pirates. I captained the junior rugby team . Harry Room the German master was given the job of looking after us even though he knew very little about ragby but he was a nice guy. Max horton joined while I was there. He played for Pontypool and subsequently took charge of the 2nd team.
    The maths master was Dan Davies whose son Jim was in my form. I enjoyed my time at the school and still recall many of my classmates.
    I have no recollection of Anthony Hopkins.

  12. robert miles Says:

    I attended West Mon from 1956 to 1961. Obviously I have no recollection of the swimming pool tragedy, but I do recall the Headmaster DC Harrison and the description of buffoon is apt. I recall he made the whole school watch a rugby match on the Skew Fields – it poured with rain a number of boys were very ill as a consequence. The same sobriquet could also be applied to an English master called Taylor, ex Army who would run every day, then sweat throughout the first lesson after lunch. Billy Watkins and Max Horton are steeped in my memory simply because of rugby and basketball. I also recall the caretaker casting chemicals into the pool and yes the water became green by Friday. I believe it is no more and has been replaced by a drama centre. Len Morgan (History) a favourite of mine with his specatacles, his gown which never stayed on his shoulders and his question if one failed to complete homework. “Do you want to be like Rudolph?” Fred Hagger (French) a man who would not say boo to a goose, we led him a dreadful life. Miss Moseley(Biology) and “Drip” Harris (Latin). The gentleman Frank Witty. The very tall Biology teacher whose first name was Tom there were rumours of him and the French mistress swimming alone. I never did find out if this was true. He had a Morris Minor car and because of his size, to watch his extricate was extremely funny. Then the new Headmaster – R. Wiltshire, as he strode (difficult for a man of small stature) around the yards with a five foot cane, sweeping and swiping as he went. I have never been to a reunion so if anyone has details please let me know. Robert Miles.

    • David R. Powell Says:

      Alan Rosser’s Morris Minor was before my time , I remember him driving a light coloured ‘Inspector Morse’ Jaguar and a bright red MG Midget (JWO1D?) getting in and out of that had to be seen to be believed!

  13. Clive Barnby Says:

    I think it was Brian (BA) Jones who used to go swimming in the pool with Christine Barnes, Robert, rather than Alan (Tom) Rosser. Both BA & Tom taught biology. Brian Jones was a former boarder who returned to the school as a master in 1959 when Mrs Moseley left to teach at the Girls County. Miss Barnes was at West Mon 60-61, was the only mistress & we were all sad to see her leave at the end of the year!!

    In 60-61 Messrs Jones & Rosser were the coaches of the Junior Colts, for whom I played. We usually trained on the sloping field behind the school & before BA joined us for the training session, Miss Barnes & he would take a dip in the pool. There was a small hole in one of the windows facing the New Quad & as we walked past on the way to the field, some of the boys – no names – would peer in to see if they were wearing swimming gear, and would shout out something to them. It was claimed that Miss Barnes & BA followed strict policy on the use of clothing in the pool but I can’t verify this as I was never brave enough to look thro’ the hole !! I had this feeling if anyone would be caught it, it would probably be me.

    Re the reunions, Jack Russell, who was at West Mon round the same time as you – prhaps a year earlier – has been the organiser. If you’re interested, David has my email address, so he could pass on yours to me & I could send your details to Jack. Or I’m happy, David, for you to pass on my email address to Robert who can then contact me, Clive

  14. Richard Evans Says:

    I was there in the mid seventies until 1982 after failing my A levels tragically owing to far too much time spent with a young lady from the nearby County school. In all honesty through all the time I was there I cannot recall this tragic incident although spending many a happy hour in the pool. Of course during the latter years the gym burnt down, however that further impacted the misery of the Skew fields and the notorious cross country run. What was the name of the pub on the top of the mountain?

    I went back to Pontypool only last week and was shocked to see….no ICI, no Park Davis, no Trico, in fact the whole place looked boarded up, I do hope the school is still going strong. I expect my lasting thoughts are with Frank W, T (Alan) R, who was the ancient (in age) history master who scribbled everything on the blackboard? Headmaster Wiltshire, and that knob of a music teacher James, my head still hurts from the board duster he slung at me.

  15. Clive Barnby Says:

    Was the history master Len Morgan, the deputy head? In my days Ken Roderick was also there but I think he might have left by Richard’s time to become head of Abertillery Grammar. If I recall correctly, had Wiltshire one year for history but all the other years it was Len.

    I think ICI (previoulsy British Nylon Spinners – “the Nylon”) started to move out of Pontypool in the early 70s. Gwent Health Authority, I’m sure, were at Mamhilad around 1975 unless ICI retained part of the site for some years after that.

  16. Craig Smith Says:

    Went I started at WM in ’85, Bill Watkins had just taken over from Len Morgan and Jack Wiltshire had just retired (replaced by Jones, who rumour had it was fond of a tipple or twelve…)

    ICI continued into the 80s for definite (my old man worked there till ’82). Eventually DuPont bought the site I think – though I don’t know when. Various buildings accommodated Gwent County Council offices.

  17. Clive Barnby Says:

    Bumped into Roy (or “Jack” as he was nicknamed) Wiltshire a few times after his retirement – it must have been late 80s/early 90s. It was in Pontypridd where I have “settled” partly for reasons of employment and housing (cheaper than Cardiff). I was taken aback the first time, felt I’d been caught “mitching” in town in Pontypool when I should have been in school. Tho’ I hadnt seen him for 20 or more years he looked much the same.

    After retirement, he moved to live in Porth in Rhondda. Probably says something about him (but I’m not sure what) as most of the teachers who retired seemed to move to Weston or somewhere like that. (I should add Wiltshire was originally from Ynyshir, Porth.)

    When I was in Hall in university in my second year, I was joined “at table” by a Graham Burcher (or Burchell – wasnt there a Newport centre of a similar name, may be confusing them, quite a long time ago). He hadnt been at West Mon but lived, maybe, New Inn and his father worked at ICI (quite “high-up”, I think) but the family were moving to Harrogate. Thanks to the info from Craig, I guess a lot of the functions that had been at Mamhilad when it was the “Nylon” must have been moved to Harrogate when ICI took over but perhaps, say, the manufacturing side continued much later, and some of the buildings that had been used for R&D &c or whatever leased out to bodies like the county council, health authority.

  18. Craig Smith Says:

    Ack – my dates were wrong – I started at WM in 1980…how time flies

  19. Wayne Parfitt Says:

    Jack Wiltshire, Tom Rosser, Len Morgan… about a blast from the past. Can’t say I ever heard the tale about the unfortunate lad in the pool but I do recall swimming in the altogether during my first couple of years at the school (1963-69). Swimming trunks were actually re-introduced during my time there although I can’t remember which year.
    Terry Cobner was a prefect as was Paul Murphy. Graham Price and I were classmates.
    Jack Horton, Billy Watkins were there and a Latin teacher who tried to screw your ear off if you were foolish enough to write in the margin. I think he went by the nickname Quilp or something similar.
    Herr Zimmer (rough or smooth) took us for German and used a large wooden bat on our arses if we misbehaved. Half the staff would have been imprisoned for abuse if they were teaching now.

  20. Clive Barnby Says:

    The Latin master was Graham Harris, who tended to go by the nickname of “Drip” but there was a television adaptation of Dickens’ “The Old Curiosity Shop” in about 63/64, and I think it was a few of my classmates (Duncan Lewis, John Rogers, Richard Stephens) who thought the character of Quilp was a “dead-ringer” for Drip, and he got “re-nicknamed”.

    I remember my first homework was set by Drip, and it consisted of drawing a margin of each page of the Latin exercise-book. At the next lesson, each pupil had to walk to the front of the class and he checked each book. The dap was administered to those who’d not done the work. You were not to write on the top line, headings had to be underlined and a line left blank before you continued with anything else. Deviations were severely punished – all practices which would, no doubt, carry a criminal penalty these days.

    I’ve bumped into Ron Vincent a couple of times. He was in the same class as Graham Price so Wayne may remember him. Also John O’Connor? His older brother, Michael, I’m still in touch with. I also wonder if Craig knew/remembers Theodore Huckle, a WMOB, I bumped into earlier this year? He would have been at West Mon about the time Geoff Jones took over from Wiltshire.

  21. Wayne Parfitt Says:

    Ron Vincent lived next door to me in West Pontnewydd and John O’connor and I attended the same junior school together as well as West Mon.
    You have a wonderful memory, I wish mine was as clear.
    Graham Harris doesn’t ring any bells but I can’t ever remember anyone addressing him by his name. I do recall Drip, now you come to mention it but Quilp was the preferred title in our form.

    • David R. Powell Says:

      Quilp was very strong on examination security and would not allow the office ladies to type his annual exam papers. He typed them himself in the library workroom and each of his exams had to be extended by about five minutes to tell the boys to correct various typos on the question paper.

  22. Clive Barnby Says:

    Small world !! Last time I saw Ron, he was working in Germany tho I think he has a place in the UK, and was planning to visit family who still live in Cwmbran. I think John O’connor is working in the London area, & that he did teach at Llantarnam for a while. There was another brother, Terry, who is younger than John, who – I believe – is also in London.

    I think “Drip” tended to give way to “Quilp” from about 63/64 so I guess, Wayne, that’s why the latter comes more to mind. He (Harris) & “Siwni” Price were the last housemasters, i.e. those who lived in school together with “Naz” Harrison, who preceded Wiltshire as Head, when the boarders were there.

  23. John Sumner Says:

    It’s Xmas Eve in Australia where I’ve lived most of my adult life.
    And I was filling in time when I came across this wonderful website.
    I was at West Mon from 1952-59.
    It was a fearsome place for the first 2-3 years – school motto “Serve and obey, ‘cos there’s no oither way!”
    Plenty of bullying by pupils and masters, alike.
    I never heard of the swimming pool accident but was impressed with the chutzpah of Narz (French corruption of “nez” as he had a formidable nose) with the coroner. As someone commented above “Only Narz could look good when a young kid drowned”.
    The school meals were shiteful and I usually sold my dinner tickets and bought crisps, a bread roll and a Wagon Wheel at Harrison’s tuckshop. Or at Jinnies a nice little shop where you could shelter when the rain was bad.
    Things got better as I moved through the school and I have to say it had a great effect on me in positive ways.
    A lot was expected of you which, though politically incorrect now, was a great default position in those days.
    I share the loathing felt for Drip Harris and Lob Garnett.
    In my time we had Saturday morning lessons: double Latin and double Maths – four hours of terror!
    Almost all the other masters were good-to-great – I played cricket and so did many of the masters: Tiger Jenkins opened for Panteg, Frank Witty and Jack Moseley played for Tevethin. Fred Haggar and Ken Smith (Physics) could play a bit and Max Horton and Billy Watkins could do anything if there was a ball around.
    Frank would shout us half a shandy in a pub just below the school (not PC!) and allow us to watch the test in the lunch hour (not PC!) and once took me in his Austin A50 to be the scorer for the County schools team (not PC!).
    “Bring your kit” he said “You never know”. Sure enough one boy had dropped out so I played. In 1959 we had 5 of our first XI in the county team – John Lucas was captain and played for Wales. There was a young kid Parry-Jones who opened for us – scored heaps and also played for Wales.
    Mrs Moseley taught me A level Biology – got me onto a great career path – university teaching and research.
    I went back in 2002 – what a shambles – filthy floors, broken windows.

    • Ron Vincent Says:

      I have only just discovered this website – I came across it by accident as I was looking for anecdotes about Tom Rosser after hearing about his recent death. It was great to see old names like Wayne Parfitt (how is your brother Steve?) and Clive Barnby. I have been living permanently in Germany for the last 5 years and earlier this year I got married again (3rd time lucky!). I must say that I have nothing but fond memories of my time at West Mon – it is true that some of the teachers were bullies but I think the values that I absorbed from the school’s culture have only served to enrich my life. I remember with great fondness all those loony characters like Harry Room, ‘Drip’ Harris, Frank Mosely, Len Morgan, Noel James, ‘Basher Bennet’ and ‘Noddy’ the physics teacher….. wouldlove to hear from anyone who knew me around that time

  24. peter jefferys Says:

    Surprised to find all this memories of Pontypool and West Mon in the ealy pages. I thought you might enjoy.

    Regards Peter

    Click to access Action%20Replay.pdf

  25. Dennis Williams Says:

    I was there in the early 70s and well remember Roy, Len, Drip, Tom and co. (I once had to leave early for a dentist appointment when he was my form-master and my mother addressed the note to “Mr Tom Rosser”). Although I have been away from Pontypool for 35 years several of my cousins were there around the same time and we were only talking about the old days when we met up a couple of months ago.

    In my day there was “Noddy” Jones (Maths & Physics), “Chippy” Wood (English), “Wild Bill” Hiscox (Chemistry), “Bubbles” Bath (Geography and Economics), Ken Smith (Physics), Olaf Meyer (German), two new arrivals in Alan Hodge (Maths) and the scouser Bill Simmonds (English), three absolute Gents – “Stumpy” Hall (Woodwork), Clive “Siwni” Price (Geography) and the lovely, lovely Frank Witty (Chemistry) – as well as the perennial Max Horton, Bill Watkins and co.

    Somebody mentioned there was just one female teacher in the early 60s. Ten years later there were a few more – an older small French lady who I think was Mme Francis, a young French & Latin teacher Mrs Baker, a young newly married history teacher Mrs Graves who used to wear a scarf to cover the lovebites on her neck (!), a rather well-endowed young English teacher who replaced “Chippy” Wood but unfortunately never taught me (Miss Werrett?) and one whose name escapes me – a young, lively German teacher who replaced Olaf Meyer – was her name Jenny something?

    Sadly many of them are no longer with us. “Bubbles” Bath collapsed and died at the school in the late 70s; Clive “Siwni” Price tragically died in a motorbike accident in the early 80s; Len Morgan and “Noddy” Jones left us in the mid-80s; Noel James and Frank Witty in the mid-90s, and Max Horton in 1999. If my information is correct, Roy Wilshire made it into the new millenium, going off to that great assembly in the sky in 2003.

    • David R. Powell Says:

      Mrs Baker later left and i understand went to teach somewhere in Gloucestershire. Mrs Kerry Graves was previously a Miss Deakin and Miss Werrett later married a Mr. Jones, a local solicitor.

  26. Nigel Jarrett Says:

    I would warn your correspondents that some of the teachers they criticise may still be alive. In their nineties, perhaps, but with access to lawyers. Please be careful.

  27. Steve Bancroft Says:

    Interesting to come across your recollections of life as a West Mon pupil in the 70’s.
    My personal memories are somewhat less nostalgic.
    Fortunately, to this day I have never had the misfortune to come across a more sadistic bunch of child battering sickos as some of the teachers in the school at this time!
    Thanks to the efforts of these guys, I made sure my own son went to private school!

    • Craig Smith Says:

      “Thanks to the efforts of these guys, I made sure my own son went to private school!” – where, no doubt, he experienced the joys of fagging, buggery and other “character building” pursuits…

    • David Powell Says:

      There were one or two oddies and bullies and a couple of alcoholics but I thought the majority were ok.

  28. Lionel Barrell Says:

    I was at West Mon from Sept 1951 to July 1959 and lived just along from Ginny’s shop.
    I started in Upper 2, opening on to the balcony above the hall, with “Pinhead” Thomas as our English and Form teacher. Names that spring to mind:the Jones boys, Ianto, Len, Russell, Mansell & Stan,
    and Terry who joined us later, Brian Hughes, John Godwin, Howard Loxton, Eddy Bowen.
    Len Morgan taught(?) History by filling the roller board with notes which we copied, Gilbert Garnett tried to put the fear of God into our Maths, mainly by taunting Mansell who had a stammer, Pa Moseley (French), the Thompsons for Music, into the ‘new’ building for Woodwork with “Con” Sumption and Science with “Fungus” Illingworth whom I remember, later, chasing BA Jones across the lawn in the snow. BA came back to teach at the school, as did “Long Tom” Rosser, but not in my time.
    Our year started the Wasps XV who, if I remember rightly, were unbeaten, like the First XV. “Drip” was the accomanying teacher to
    City of Bath School and I remember he got us all together a few days later to tell us, “Some bloody idiot ……….” had been seen throwing a bottle out of the bus window. None of us saw it!!
    Looking back, the standard of teaching was dreadful. We didn’t see the inside of the Biology lab until the Sixth Form. As others have said, Frank Witty was a gent, Fred Hagger was far too nice to have to deal with clowns like us, Barry Israel frequently being ejected for an over-enthusiastic rendition of ‘Hernando’s Hideaway’. Frank lodged in St. Matthew’s Road and eventually married his landlady. The Haggers lived opposite Ginny’s but moved to Blaendare Road, just across from the school.
    Then into 3A. “Whizzo” Wilson for English – he gave me 500 lines for chewing – Harry Room for German: dumkopf, he gave us tests with 5 questions, One mark for a correct answer, ten off for each incorrect! Or was it 10 and 100?
    4A was first on the right in the new building, opposite the staff room so, you would think, no high jinks: a daisy chain round the lights and all of us hiding in the boiler room!! “Mousie” Jenkins twirled his cap, Colin “Maggie” Lewis would not ‘commit himself’ to Major Williams’ Maths. I was well into rugby at this stage, Colts’ Captain and playing for the Valley Schoolboys and fell for the other distractions
    based at the County! I was not fast-tracked into ‘O’ Levels, going into 5 Science A a year later with a totally misguided idea of a career in medicine. Woe on you, WMS, nobody ever told me I was heading for ignominious failure.
    So into Sixth Form. Ken Smith for Physics, “Boke” Bennett and Ma Moseley for Bot & Zoo, and “Bum” Purse then Edgar Hiscox for Chemistry. Medical School interviews followed and I was accepted at several. In 7 Science I was Deputy Head Boy to Bernard Lewis then, when I made a hash of ‘A’ Levels, I became Head Boy for my repeat year; Roy Wiltshire arrived as Head and he dropped me right in it in one assembly: we had a party of German pupils who were due to leave and the boss called on the Head Boy to raise three cheers for our visitors. Like a prat I said, “School, three cheers for the Germans”, not long after the end of the war! As he passed me at the door, he apologised; I made a total fool of myself again at ‘A’ Level so I wandered off into Teacher Training and had an absolute ball! I retired in 1997, having enjoyed a hugely successful career.

    Other memories – the Harrisons taking on the Tuck shop, rugby with Max Horton and Billy Watkins, Vince Taylor, water bombs, bangers in cow pats up the field, being slapped by “Drip” for throwing a sweet across the room to my pal (my parents never knew!), Alan Hodge who later went back as a teacher, Russ Baldwin, John “Eggo” Owen, Mike Arthur, Jeffrey George Bird,
    John Lucas, John Griffiths, RJF Bazley.

  29. Ray Pope Says:

    Do you remember a poem, ” Who killed Cock Robin”?
    I remember a few lines.
    Who will lead the procession?
    I said Naz with my fleet of cars.
    Who will make the coffin?
    I said Sumption with my wood and gumption.

  30. clive barnby Says:

    It was enjoyable reading Lionel’s comments – as most of his days were before mine but his final year coincided with my first. Lionel’s deputy (head prefect) was Barry Timms, who I think ended up in Yorkshire as a teacher. I think Robertshaw and Glyn Hughes were also around in the 6th/7th form – perhaps a year or so behind Lionel.

    I gather, Lionel, should you see this, you have now moved to France. Were you related to the people who ran the Victoria Bakery on the Clarence? I think they were Barrells. Was Ginny’s shop the one run by Ken Shute’s family?

  31. clive barnby Says:

    Of course, when Lionel started at West Mon, it was a “private school”. (Actually, I think “public school”, the term for which about 10 percent of the private schools “qualified”. They tended to be the older, more prestigious private schools which were members of the Headmasters Conference. Tho’ West Mon wasnt that old, it probably got into the “club” because of its historic association with Monmouth School.) The school had always taken a no. of local boys on local authority scholarships, & I think it was in 1955 that the Haberdashers handed the school over to the LA. The school continued to take boarders for a few years after that.

    I think the school continued to have pretty much a “public school culture” throughout my days, which was up to the mid 60s.

  32. Lionel Barrell Says:

    Thanks for jogging the old memory, Clive. Yes, Barry Timms, Glyn Hughes, Alan Robertshaw, and others (of course!) eg John Sumner,
    John Rosser, “Ossy” Way – he had a CAR -, “Nellie” Kerrigan, Derek
    “Plug” Harrhy, Simon Rees, were all within a couple of years.
    Boarding stopped in about 1956: I remember John Lucas being in digs on Sunnybank(?) Road.
    Ken Shute’s family took on the tuck shop when the Harrisons left. Ginny’s was on the corner of Penygraig Terrace, unrelated to the Shutes.
    Barrell’s bakery was not part of our family, so far as I’m aware, but surely back in the mists of time there must be a link!

  33. clive barnby Says:

    I now realise Craig Smith was quoting from an earlier comment made by Steve Bancroft, & Craig’s point was probably in some way the same as mine, i.e. that in the 1940s&50s, the days that were being described, West Mon was a private/public school/boarding school (even tho’ many of we old Westmonians of those days werent boarders) & even in the 60s (when the boarders ceased) the school’s culture continued to be (I think) a private/public school culture. It therefore seemed odd that in order to avoid that, Steve should decide to send his own son to private school. (I have no doubt it was a good school & by the time his son went to school, attitudes, cultures, &c had changed everywhere. And I’m not making an argument against private schools.) So, sorry, Craig, & prhaps, Steve.

  34. Craig Smith Says:

    There are some remarkable aerial photos of WMS on the “Britain from Above” website. Well worth a look at these and other shots of the Pontypool vicinity.

  35. Craig Smith Says:

    And one more shot but there are others

  36. Craig Smith Says:

    And 21 images for Pontypool

  37. amos2008 Says:

    Thanks for this Craig. I shall post some of these aerial photographs on a new post to see whether some of my visitors can identify the places shown.

    • Craig Smith Says:

      Seems to be quite a few above Pontypool Road Station, New Inn (Ruth Road), The Highway (and Panteg Cemetery) and the Turnpike and around Pontymoile (which has seen remarkable changes). Amazing to see the changes.

  38. visit for more info Says:

    Quality articles is the secret to invite the viewers to pay a visit the web page, that’s what this web site is providing.

  39. John Godwin Says:

    John Godwin
    So many recollections of a school which ,despite certain limitations
    seemed on the whole to have had an excellent well qualified staff, which achieved good standards in team sport and academically. Clearly we all have diferent experiences, eg themartinet / bullies and one or two totally inadequate masters, as named already. Some views are extraordinarily at variance with my experience, evn allowing for one or two really strange characers and approach. I imagine the ex boarders have some better stories to tell.
    Much appreciate all the recollections but should add that I thought all the form 6 Science masters were excellent as were <Drip and Harry Room. My German has been of great help in my career, and Latinis also. I also liked Old Bill the teacher,form2, who tried to teach us French; Most had experience WW but hardly ever went on about this. I believe they were seasoned men , with some exceptions.
    I hope this note may balance balanced some other views about Jones West Mon ,


  40. NigelJarrett Says:

    Does anyone remember Philip Mansel, one of a golden Oxbridge trio (the others were John Bryant and Glyn Hatherall) who went to the dreaming spires, and whatever spires are called in Cambridge, in about 1961? He was a brilliant actor and wit and editor of the school magazine. John became head of British Steel, later Corus, and Glyn was a linguist, publishing some notable textbooks on German. I see John regularly, have found Glyn on the internet – he plays, post-retirement, in a folk group – but Philip eludes me. Neither John nor Glyn know of his whereabouts. He was immensely talented in that enviably insouciant way, and we were slightly in awe of him. His performance as Becket in Muder In The Cathedral sent Jack Salter, editor of the Monmouthshire Free Press, into paroxysms of critical delight.

  41. Nigel Jarrett Says:

    I think Philip might have been Mansell, not Mansel. It’s a long time ago and half my brain cells have gone AWOL. It’s also Murder in the Cathedral, not Muder, as everyone knows.

  42. amos2008 Says:

    In view of Clive’ comment below I have copied his email and enclose it here as his comment – D.H.
    For some reason, can’t seem to access the “Leave a comment” section of
    your blog to respond to the post from Nigel Jarrett re Philip Mansell.
    The surname was spelt with a double L – not that my memory is that
    great but I have school mags from my days there, & remember Philip
    Mansell vaguely.

    He had A levels in English, French & German, & went to Jesus College,
    Cambridge. Wondered if it’s worth Nigel approaching the college –
    perhaps they have some kind of alumni set-up. Managed to track down
    someone from Bristol University, where I went, this way. Rgrds Clive

    • Nigel Jarrett Says:

      Thanks, Clive. Yes, it is Mansell as spelled. I’d forgotten it was Cambridge he went to. But are you sure? I do remember in my first year at Redbrick reading about Phil’s contretemps with Carey Harrison (son of Rex and later playwright) over some issue involving what I always remember as the Oxford drama club, OUDS. Perhaps I’m wrong. Glyn Hatherall had last heard of him as a lecturer at a college of further education. I seem to recall that he worked for Berlitz, the languages people. Any road, he’s vanished. Knowing Phil, he’s probably engineered the disappearance himself. Or perhaps, like Rimbaud, he left the meteoric creative life behind and took a commonplace job. If you’re out there, Phil, join this blog. (He’ll notice that I’m still dropping ‘cultural’ names into my copy.)

  43. amos2008 Says:

    As Clive is still unable to post a comment here, I am, once again posting this copy of his email:
    Thanks, David. Still can’t leave a comment, can’t work out why for the
    moment -perhaps I need to re-register. Have seen Nigel’s response, &
    looked again at the 1962 Westmonian. Nigel may be right & prhaps
    Mansell did go to Oxford but the magazine records his having won a
    place at Cambridge together with John Bryant (St Catherine’s College).
    Glyn Hatherall went to Hertford, Oxford, & Geoff Sumner also went to
    Oxford (Oriel) according to the magazine.

    According to the 7X form notes, Glyn Hatherall & Philip Mansell
    departed during the course of the year having secured their university
    place – “one to clean Teutonic trams, the other to convert Pontypool
    to the “true blue” way of life”. I presume Glyn got a job in Germany,
    & Philip was a young Conservative – if that was his mission, he still
    has a little work to do, I think !! Perhaps, he decided to give up (if
    it’s true, he left for Germany).

    I used to see John Bryant a few times a year as I was a member of Glas
    Cymru, the “holding company” for Welsh Water, & John was (perhaps
    still is) a non-exec director. Also, every couple of years at the
    reunion events – perhaps Nigel has been to some? Didnt go to the one
    this year – held in London a few wks ago.

    I wonder, David, could you post this on your blog? Or send on to
    Nigel? If Nigel wants any more info – can’t guarantee to be able to
    provide it !! – I’m happy for you to give him my email address.
    Thanks, Clive

  44. Nigel Jarrett Says:

    Clive is correct and my memory serves me ill. I bumped into John Bryant last week and he confirmed that Phil Mansell, like himself, went to Cambridge. I also realise now that my golden Oxbridge trio was a quartet. How could I have forgotten Geoff Sumner, a really nice, clever but unassuming lad? Now that my brain has been prodded, I seem to remember something about Phil’s entering politics, but my Carey Harrison story is definitely true, wrong university notwithstanding.
    Mention of the Westmonian reminds me that I used to write form notes and that when Phil was editor he upbraided me for making my entries too ‘cultural’. He was probably right: I’ve always been ten laps behind in the nouse stakes, which is why I’m brighter now than I’ve ever been. Basher Bennett, the senior biology master, was the Westmonian’s entertaining drama critic. But he, too, was an incorrigible face-slapper, rushing to judgements based on the most cursory of investigations. The 6th and 7th forms used to share microscopes and the dipstick who sat by me once filled mine with pencil shavings. He was too thick to realise that the person who would discover his vision of amoebae blurred was my co-sharer, who reported it to Basher, the mean-throated skunk. Basher blamed me and theatrically slapped me in the kisser. Whenever I hear the word ‘slapper’ as applied to a female of easy virtue I immediately think of West Mon, which can be disconcerting to say the least. Slap, slap, slap; dap, dap, dap – it should have been the school song. Basher missed his vocation but got a degree; I missed mine (thanks in part to the idiots who ran the 6th form) and never bagged one. But I couldn’t be happier – and I see a lot that cow-towing to the slappers would have been barred to me. What a nuthouse!

    • Geoff Sumner Says:

      Nigel – thank you for the kind comments! Yes there were four or us Oxbridge entrants that year not three, and I was followed to Oriel by Paul Murphy MP a few years later. Having spent a working life as a solicitor in the Home Counties I have now retired to (new) Monmouthshire but try not to visit Pontypool. It is a sad relict of a bustling valley town.
      My regards to all who remember me.

      • Nigel Jarrett Says:

        Hello, Geoff. Isn’t it fun to meet as spectres in cyberspace all the people you haven’t seen for forty years? It was a pleasure to describe you as I remember, though ‘unassuming’ might be thought a little passé. What I meant was that you seemed to wear your learning lightly, unlike a lot of people I knew then. I wasn’t really a member of your ‘gang’, if I can so describe it; I didn’t like West Mon much, as you’ll see from previous entries on this site, so tended to congregate with the ne’er-do-wells, though I did do moderately well after a false academic start. I’ve been in daily newspapers all my working life. I’m now a leisurely freelance, I still write music criticism for the South wales Argus and I contribute to a lot of other obscure journals. The less obscure ones include Acumen, the poetry magazine, and Jazz Journal. I’m also a proper writer, my first collection of stories, Funderland, having been published last year to reasonably positive reviews in the Guardian, Indie on Sunday and other places. I see John Bryant frequently at the opera and concerts in Cardiff. He’s still ‘one of the lads’, as they say. Roger Davies, living in Devon, is the only other person I’m in touch with. We’re living in St Arvans, just outside Chepstow, where I hope to remain for a while, Deo volente. But Phil Mansell’s whereabouts remain a mystery.

  45. Nigel Jarrett Says:

    I suppose ‘nouse stakes’ should be ‘nous stakes’ but I’ve added an ‘e’ because nous looks French. A neologist, moi? Certainment.

  46. Nigel Jarrett Says:

    Alan Rosser, West Mon biology teacher, died this week aged 79. His funeral is on Tuesday, December 18, at New Inn.
    Alan had just started teaching at the redbricked alma mater when I entered the 6th to study botany, zoology and chemistry. He got me through A level. He was very tall – I think he’d had a few games for Cardiff RFC – and was a model of consideration and poilteness. Several years ago he’d had a heart transplant and was considered a medical success story. I’m just sorry that my general aversion to West Mon led to a certain amount of inattention and rebelliousness in all A-level classes but his. I sailed through bot and zoo but failed chemistry, having run foul of its strange teacher (not mentioned on this site so far) Erick Hiscock. He,like several other West Mon staffmen, found it incomprehensible that anyone could find his subject difficult, as I did. I think he, too, was a former rugby player (Bedwas?) . I skipped one of his lessons and that was it – persona non grata. As a result of failing A level chem I had to repeat it at university in the form of an intermediate year, which I sailed through, gaining the highest marks of the sixty students and being the only one to identify successfully two related organic compounds in the practical exam. No thanks to Hiscock.
    By the by, Alan Rosser’s nickname in the early days was ‘Long Tom’.

    • Edgar Biss Says:

      There were two Rossers. One was a boarder, a couple of years older than me, the other a day boy. I don’t think they were related but they were both extremely tall and they constituted the 2nd row of the forwards in the rugby team. Between them, they won every lineout against all opposition. I’m sorry to hear of Tom’s death.

    • Lionel Barrell Says:

      Edgar Hiscox arrived in Sept 1958, rugby with Blaina, I think. A bit
      intimidated by taking on clowns like us, his expression ” As a matter of fact, of course”, became his label. ‘Long Tom’, a rival in the High Jump with a boarder called Rosser in the early ’50s and his partner in the second row of the unbeaten 1st XV
      in the season 1951-52. Ray ‘Sid’ Greenway and Hugh Cormack were in the Welsh team that year.

      • Nigel Jarrett Says:

        Hello, Lionel. Yes, it was Blaina – and it was Edgar Hiscox, as you rightly point out, not Eric Hiscock, as I mis-remembered and anyway mis-spelt. Memory playing tricks again, I’m afraid. Alan Rosser’s family was involved in a murder case several years ago. I forget the details but the victim was close to him, as I recall.

  47. Katie thomas Says:

    I’m enjoying reading comments about my dad ” long tom” rosser. He obviously left an impression with most people he met/taught. I have been trawling various websites trying to find out more about my dad when he taught at west mon. As a child i recall trips with his pupils to the artificial insemination plant in Gloucester and the fact he used to teach them back on the farm in new inn as well!!! He will be sadly missed. A big man with a huge heart. In relation to a comment by Edgar biss dad did have a brother actually called Tom who was 4 years older than dad. Tom boarded but my dad didn’t like boarding and attended as a day boy, before he then eventually went on to teach there.

  48. amos2008 Says:

    This is a comment on the above post sent to me today by Clive Barnby, who has made a large number of comments on this blog. As stated below, Clive is having difficulty accessing this blog, hence my placing this comment on his behalf.
    David Hughes.

    Subject: Alan Rosser
    Date: 19 December 2012 13:32:09 GMT

    Hope you (and all your blog readers !!) have a happy Christmas, David,
    & best wishes for 2013. I was interested in the recent contributions
    re the late Alan Rosser. I think he started as a teacher at West Mon.
    about 1957 or 1958 when or just before I started there as a pupil. He
    was my form master in 58/59 & was the “junior” biology teacher – in
    fact, he also taught mathematics the first year or two he was a

    The senior biology teachers were Mrs “Ma” Moseley and Les “Basher”
    Bennet but Mrs M. – the only female teacher there when I started –
    moved to the Girls County in 1959 (I think). Basher taught zoology in
    the 6th & 7th forms & then Alan took on botany. Brian “BA” Jones
    joined the school & took on the role of junior biology master. BA, who
    had been a boarder at the school, & Alan “Long Tom” coached the
    Junior Colts (3rd year). (Edgar Hiscocks, incidentally, coached the
    Wasps (2nd year rugby side)). I remember BA had an eye (allegedly) for
    Miss Barnes who joined the school in ? 1960 & who taught ?English
    there for a year.

    I dont think Alan taught me after my 1st year – it was BA for biol., I
    think, & I didnt do biology for A level. I remember Alan playing part
    of a season for Pontypool – it would have been 59/60 or 60/61. I dont
    think he really broke into the side as Ray Prosser & Noel Tucker
    occupied the second row there for a no. of years . . . & it was the
    days before the benchfull of repacements.

    I dont know, David, if you could post this on your blog if you think
    it’s any interest to anyone. Still can’t access the site – think it’s
    my computer. About time I got a new one !! I was surprised Edgar “Wild
    Bill” Hiscocks only started at West Mon in 58 – thought he’d been
    there a few years by then. Did he replace Illingworth? Unlike Nigel,
    didnt find Wild Bill too bad. I think that was because of our time
    together with the Wasps but I didnt do chemistry at A-level. Had I
    done so, his attitude towards me would have probably changed !! By the
    way, I presume Nigel is the Nigel Jarrett of Mon. County Life?


  49. Nigel Jarrett Says:

    Clive – I am indeed the Nigel Jarrett of Monmouthsire County Life but I’m also the Nigel Jarrett of the South Wales Argus, which I left a few years ago after thirty years on the staff but for which I am still the music critic, god rest my arpeggiated chords. I had to wait thirty years for a picture byline, as we hacks call it, so I’m writing my whimsical quarterly column in MCL around my portrait – taken, incidentally, by the legendary Argus ‘snapper’ Mike Lewis – so any dodgy syntax or mis-spelling in the text can be ascribed to the inattentiveness caused by my delectable fizzog and the need to keep it as prominent as possible. (The fewer the words, the bigger the picture.) More than these, I am also the Nigel Jarrett who wrote Funderland, a collection of short stories published in October 2011, available at Waterstones, W H Smith’s and all other bookshops, on Amazon and ebay and drooled over by the Guardian, The Times, the Independent on Sunday and several others – all of which is history, but for a moment I was piquant flavour of the month. I am also the Nigel Jarrett of embittered recollections about West Mon School. But you know that. Do buy Funderland, everyone. It’s probably £0.01 on Amazon now, so grab a bargain and increase my sales. I owe it all to Major ‘Chippy’ Wood, the West Mon English master who got me started in the junior forms only for me to be seduced by science later on. Perhaps that’s why I disliked the place.

  50. emrys lewis Says:

    In 1953 I was a member of the seven a side team that won the inter house competition. I still have the tiny cup we were all given. Tom Rosser was a member of the side and I remember him as a lovely gentle person. I,m not certain which of the two Tom,s it was but with his great height and super temperament I’ll alwaysremember him. Sad to hear of his passing

  51. Dennis Williams Says:

    Just looked in on this site after some time to hear about the sad passing of Alan “Tom” Rosser. I don’t know why, but as you get older you lose your perception of time. I was surprised at first when I read that he was 79 but I’m in my mid-50s myself, and I have to keep reminding myself that even the youngest teachers from my day are now almost certainly all retired, and those still around are in their 70s and 80s.

    As I said in my previous post, my mother wrote a note addressed to “Mr Tom Rosser” when I had to leave school early one day to go to the dentist and we frantically had to hunt for another envelope just as the bus to school was coming down the road (who remembers “Mr Ballard” who had his surgery at the top of a sidestreet just around the corner from the town hall – he only died himself a few years ago having lived well into his 90s!).

    Katie – a number of people have posted stories on this thread about the sadists and child-haters that they experienced at the school. Let me assure you that your father was not one of them. He only taught me for one of my four years there but he was a good and decent man and I remember him with fondness.

    Whilst I’m writing, the female German teacher who took over from Olaf Meyer whose named I couldn’t remember was Jenny Phillips.

    Somebody mentioned the chemistry teacher Hiscox or Hiscocks – his lessons were unintelligible and put me off chemistry for life. We had double chemistry first two periods and every week at 10.25 we were treated to the sight of him boiling water in a glass chemistry beaker over a bunsen burner. Once boiled he would stir in a spoonful of loose tea, add milk and drink it from the beaker, invariably leaving a layer of tealeaves on his moustache!!

  52. David Powell Says:

    I was at school 70-76 and mainly have fond memories of my time. I also especially remember ” Dai Rat ” the rather odd biology teacher.. I am very sorry to hear that Alan Rosser has passed away. he taught me in the last year of “o” level Biology. He was humourous and relaxed, in every way a gent. One day he turned up at my parent’s house (on the mountain in Upper Cwmbran) He was trying to find the address of a local farm. I don’t know who was more surprised when I answered the door, me or him.

  53. David Powell Says:

    I seem to recall being told that Wild Bill (Edgar) Hiscox went to Cambridge University, got a 1st class honours in Chemistry and a rugby blue. I don’t know if that is true. is anyone able to confirm that? I can see him now, in his tweed suit, strolling to the new building with a cigarette cupped in his hand, smoking surreptitiously.

  54. clive barnby Says:

    Dont know if Wild Bill had been to Cambridge & was a rugby blue. I believe he had played rugby for Blaina.

    Had a lad in my class called Duncan Lewis who did a good take on Edgar. I remember Edgar talking once about a problem that would need to be referred to “the Ministry of . . . uh, the Ministry . . . of . . . uh, . . . uh, the Ministry.” Mimicking Edgar’s confusion about which ministry was the approriate one was one of Duncan’s party pieces.

    Got an acceptable pass at O level in chemistry but never
    really got the hang of the subject & didnt think I had it in me to do a further two years for A level.

    • Dave Powell Says:

      At a social function recently, I met Edgar’s son ,who lives just outside Abergavenny.. He is now a retired Dentist. He has confirmed that Edgar did go to Cambridge, did get a first and was a rugby blue.

      • clive barnby Says:

        Thanks for the info on David Filer & Edgar Hiscox, Dave. There was a Filer’s shop in Old Cwmbran. Dont know if it was run by David Filer’s family but quite possibly a link there somewhere.

      • David R. Powell Says:

        I was there from 1967 to 74 and can confirm that Filer’s shop in Old Cwmbran was in David Filer’s family, he later left to teach Physics at the County..
        Other members of staff at this time included an Art teacher Ed? James who once commented ‘The Art doesn’t matter but you won’t go far wrong if you have the Craft!. He moved on to Caerleon. Pottery acquired its own dedicated teacher (a lady whose name escapes me) during this time.
        A French and German teacher John Watkins who was known as Kubel (German for bucket?).
        There was also Clive (Smiler) Morgan in Physics he also left to go to Caerleon. and was replaced by Ken Lloyd.
        In English there was a teacher called Rob Bedford who left rather mysteriously in the holidays one year and was replaced by a C in W vicar, Rev. Brunning, who taught in clerical cape until Bill Simmonds arrived.
        In Maths there was Brian Medhurst who drove a very old and battered Minivan which he would park near the steps. One winter the snow dislodged a large piece of Bathstone from the eaves which demolished the roof of the Minivan! It was later replaced with a slightly newer but even more battered Minivan.
        In Maths there were also Mike (Abdul) Miles who later kept a small antiques and collectibles shop in Abergavenny and Ken (Flapper) Rees who was a silent partner in an Abergavenny Garage which still trades as Rees Bros although now owned by someone else.
        A lady Maths teacher Cathy Thorp later joined the department
        There was another Physics teacher who I think was called Edwards. His father was the Scoutmaster in Victoria Village and the school used to borrow their attractions for the summer fete.
        A Biology teacher called Martin Preece or Reece joined for about a year after Les Bennett left but WMS had such an effect on him that he married and emigrated to New Zealand!
        In Latin there was Alec (streaky- he grew lillies that often left streaks of yellow pollen in his white hair) Edwards. His son David did teaching practice at WMS in English I believe, sadly David was later killed in a road accident in North Wales.
        In History there was Dr Bill Lambert who later left to work for the WJEC.
        The support staff should also be mentioned. Paul Harris the Physics an Chem technician, the Biology technician Miss Irena (no one could pronounce her Polish surname and a library technician Mrs Williams. not forgetting , of course, Big Percy the groundsman ans Little Percy the boilerman.

  55. Dave Powell Says:

    Does anyone remember Bede…Mr Gale, Maths. A rather eccentric man from Llangynydr who had spent time working in the aircraft industry before becoming a teacher.

  56. Dennis Williams Says:

    It’s 40 years ago and the memory fades and whilst I remember Mr Gale I don’t remember much about him as due to the way the timetable fell he only taught me for a couple of terms in one of my early years. Yes, I would say eccentric but definitely harmless. For some strange reason one year there was a reshuffle of teachers part way through the year – possibly caused by “Noddy” Jones retiring at Xmas or Easter? Anyway, we were being taught Maths by Mr Filer at the start of the year but Gale took over after Xmas or Easter whilst Filer took over our Physics. Filer later left to teach at the County but that’s another story entirely!

    There was another Maths teacher who mainly taught A level (I think) – was it Mr Miles? – quiet man, beard and always smoked a pipe. I used to think I was good at Maths until faced with differential calculus and a couple of weeks of dy/dx had me running to Jack to get out of it as fast as possible!

    • clive barnby Says:

      Dennis mentioned in his comment in response to Dave Powell’s query re Mr Gale there was a Mr Filer who taught maths & physics. Would Dennis know if Filer had been an old boy of the school? There was a D.P.Filer in my day as a pupil. Didnt know him very well, can’t remember what the initials stood for (I have some old school magazines) but he did maths & physics at A Level. If Dennis was at West Mon 40 years ago, Filer would have been in his 20s if it’s the same one.

  57. Dennis Williams Says:

    Clive, I couldn’t tell you if he was an old boy, but it could well have been the same person as he was definitely D P Filer (I think his first name was David) and the age is right.

    As I said, he left to teach at the County in what would have been somewhere around 73/74-ish.

    • clive barnby Says:

      Must be the same one or a big coincidence if there were two D. P. Filers, of about the same age, whose specialties were maths & physics. Thanks for your response, Dennis.

      I think it may well have been David Filer. I believe he was from Cwmbran. There were some Filers in the old town – I think there was a Filer’s shop (tho may not have been related). He was friendly, at least in the first couple of years with a John Rogers, who lived on The Lowlands & became a lecturer in Drama & English at Cross Keys college. Filer would have gone to university in 1965 & there was a tendency for old boys to return to teach. In 73/74 he would have been about 26/27.

  58. amos2008 Says:

    This David Filer would have been way after my time at West Mon, but I remember a man named Archie Filer who was a contemporary of my father. He was a singer – a tenor I believe – and did some singing as a solist locally. I have a vague idea that he was either in a local Pontypool choir or might even have conducted it. Whether he was a relative of David Filer I cannot say, but it’s possible that a visitor to this blog might remember him.

  59. Jane Says:

    Does anyone remember my brother Lewis (buncha) Keyes 1950-1956/7

  60. Helen Says:

    Hi, this has been a fascinating read. I’m hoping in light of this that someone can help shed some light on a bit of family history for me. My mother’s brother attended West Mon towards the end of the 1950’s and was tragically killed in an accident involving a bus at the bottom of Blaendare Rd on his way home from school. His name was David Russel Dobbs (known as Russ). As far as I know, the accident happened around March 1960 but I can find very little detail anywhere. It was never talked about much due to the deep affect it had on my grandmother but as both my grandparents have now passed Away, my mother and I have been left with very little information about Russ and would love to hear anything that people remember about him in school or about the accident. Thanks

    • clive barnby Says:

      I remember the incident, tho I wasnt a witness to it. It took place on 24th March 1960. I didnt really know Russell, he was a year ahead of me. There was a Clive Dobbs in my year, lived in Blaendare, above the school somewhere & I believe Clive and Russell were cousins but it is a long time ago, perhaps I am wrong. The school decided to establish a memorial trophy in his name, & I think it was first awared in 1961 to Jones House for their efforts in rugby. I dont know if it is still awarded – the school has undergone some changes since then.

    • Rhys Price Says:

      Hi Helen,
      If it helps I was in the same year at West Mon but not in the same class as Russell.
      As I remember Russell was walking around the corner of the wall of the bridge over the railway line at the bottom of Blaendare Rd. at the same time as a bus came around that corner.
      The bus came very close to the wall and Russell was trapped and crushed against the corner with the tragic result.
      As I remember this accident did result in a separate footbridge being built alongside the bridge.
      Their definitley was Russell Dobbs memorial trophy but for what it was awarded I don’t know.

  61. Dennis Williams Says:

    I’ve just discovered that former teacher Billy Watkins passed away a few months ago at the age of 80. I only knew him as a Geography teacher but those of you from a decade or so before me would probably remember him for his sporting prowess. He had played rugby for Newport, Wales & the Barbarians but by my time he had given up rugby – at least, I only remember him running one of the cricket teams. I seem to remember hearing that he took over as Deputy Head from Len Morgan before the school went comprehensive but as I had been gone for two or three years by that stage I couldn’t swear to it.

    • Craig Smith Says:

      I can confirm that Watkins was Deputy (newly installed) when I arrived in Sept 1980 (he was still in the deputy headship when I left in the summer of ’85 and I believe he left not long after). He was certainly of the ‘old school’ mentality – and I don’t particularly look back in fondness as someone who was far too quick with his fists (I’m not sure he would have survived when corporal punishment was outlawed in ’87…). He did though carry his position well and earned respect from those he taught. He always wore his gown for assembly as I recall. I, for one, shall not forget getting clobbered by him in a geography lesson for my phonetic mispronunciation of Llanelli…

    • Nigel Jarrett Says:

      I was at West Mon when Billy Watkins joined the staff. He boosted the Geography department, then represented by the unmentionable ‘Shoony’ Price, by 100 per cent. Watkins had just finished playing rugby and introduced basketball to the school, a sport in which it did well for a short time. I remember that Chris Russell (from Caerleon?) cottoned on to the game. I don’t know what effect Watkins had on rugby at the school; when rugby was being played or talked about, many of us were behind the bike shed making jokes about the staff. Price was a bad-tempered, ruddy-faced joker who rode a motorbike to work. The nascent and short-lived West Mon Jazz Club, of which I, Roger Davies, Phil Mansell and others were founding members, used to meet there. I think we once knocked over a large globe so Price, in minatory mood, banned us, though he must have allowed us in there to start with. (The club had only one record, Ken Colyer’s Isle of Capri, which we played incessantly, though we all enamoured of Erroll Garner and did impressions of him.)

      • clive barnby Says:

        I recall in my first year at WMS being taught geography by “Benny” Newman, the music teacher. I think Alan Bath, who (later on) came to teach economics, also did a bit of geography teaching. . . so tho’ Siwni Price was the only geography “full-timer” (& did all the A-level teaching) I guess a number did it as a “side-line”. I dont recall Bill Watkins teaching me geography until about the 4th form. Did A level geography, wasnt very good, why Siwni & I never hit it off probably but he was “OK” with others who were better at the subject – never got the hang of geomorphology, map reading . . .

        Bill Watkins retired from rugby when he was relatively young, only in late 20s, I’d say. I never got the impression he was keen on fitness training !! And tho he was coach of the Colts, the under 15s, the year I played for them, he never seemed that interested. Often, he didnt turn up for games & we were left to find our own way to places like Blaenafon for matches.

      • Phil Mansell Says:

        Thanks, especially to Nigel, for the mention of the West Mon Jazz Club and the honourable mention for Chippy Woods, who was indeed an exception in the madhouse. Also for casting me as a Man of Mystery. Not really, just following a trajectory that led directly away from West Mon and Pontypool! And yes, a fairly humdrum career to correspond with one of the pictures you painted – Cambridge at that time was so full of talent even I couldn’t believe I could compete. Enough for now,
        Phil Mansell

      • Nigel Jarrett Says:

        Phil – a few of us wondered if mention of you in these recollections of West Mon might catch your attention. Good to make contact! I don’t wish to be a Porlock person or the long-lost cousin who turns up on your doorstep unannounced with a wife and six kids, but it would be interesting to exchange a few notes. I’ve remained in contact with Roger Davies, who’s recovered from cancer but is as incorrigible as ever; he lives in Ivybridge, near Plymouth. You can Google me or click on my website, which is My email address is Of course, life is now an over-the-shoulder view of memory lanes. Well, almost.

        Reply Comments

  62. Dennis Williams Says:

    Billy Watkins wasn’t one of my favourites either, but it’s so easy to forget how different things were in those days when judged by today’s standards and outlooks….

    Interesting what Nigel says about Clive “shoony” Price being bad-tempered. He must have mellowed considerably by the time I got there, as he was very popular and regarded as something of a gentleman. An older second cousin was a pupil at West Mon in the mid/late 1950s and he once told me a story about the time when Price hit a pupil on the head (in jest rather than anger) with a cardboard tube. “Yes, you do that again…” threatened the pupil so Price promptly hit him again…only for the pupil, a stocky 4th/5th former, to stand up and flatten Price with a right hook! This would have been in the 1955/58 era so possibly someone from that time might recall or be able to confirm the story.

    Clive Price’s motorbike ultimately led to his death. I was long gone from Pontypool so only heard the story 3rd hand and a year or so after it happened but apparently somewhere around 1981/82 he suffered a heart attack whilst riding his bike and crashed. Whether it was the heart attack, the crash or a combination of the two that killed him I don’t know, but I also heard a rumour that a family member riding pillion (possibly a daughter?) was also killed in the accident.

    Losing Bill Watkins and Tom Rosser in the space of a year makes me wonder who’s still around from that time. I know that Max Horton and Frank Whitty etc are long gone, I’m thinking of people like Clive Hall, Alan Hodge, Bill Simmons, Glyn Hughes, Bennett (swimming), Tucker (Art), Ken Lloyd (Physics/Chem), David Williams (Biology), Karen/Kathy/Kerry Graves (History) and Mal Cox (Physics, I think he replaced Ken Smith). They would all be into their 70s now, but, some of them would have gone up the hill to the 6th form college after the school went comprehensive.

    • clive barnby Says:

      I was at West Mon late 50s/early 60s. Ken Roderick & Alan Hodge are still alive . . . or they were a couple or so years ago – they were at a school reunion event. A lot of the names Dennis mentions are unfamiliar to me, so guess they came late 60s or after – recall Clive Hall who replaced “Con” Sumption in the early 60s. Glyn Evans, also woodwork, died 2-3 years ago. Siwni Price could be OK but was “respected”.

      • Dennis Williams Says:

        Thanks Clive, yes, most of those I mentioned would have started after your time. If I remember correctly, wasn’t Evans the woodwork teacher married to the woman who worked in the school office?

  63. Katie Says:

    Yes he was married to Jacqueline Evans who was in fact a cousin to my father alan rosser or as you knew him long tom rosser.

  64. Get More Information Says:

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  65. Patrica musson Says:

    does anyone remember a friend of mine Bill Bowen who attended West Mon and who would have left in1947 he would have been 17 .from there he went to usk agricultural college graduated 1950 went to Kenya He lived in Llandogo with his mother i knew him in 1949 i was at Monmouth Haberdashers Girls Schoool ( habs ) if you know where he is, please tell him that i would love to hear from him in his golden years you are right the years have gone by in a flash i can be found at i now live in Toronto and run a a pet shipping business with my son
    Pat Tingey- Musson few people retire in this country

  66. Nigel Jarrett Says:

    Phil – a few of us wondered if mention in these prolix recollections of West Mon might catch your attention. Good to make contact! I don’t wish to be a Porlock person or the long-lost cousin who turns up on your doorstep unannounced with a wife and six kids, but it would be interesting to exchange a few notes. I’ve remained in contact with Roger Davies, who’s recovered from cancer but is as incorrigible as ever; he lives in Ivybridge, near Plymouth. You can Google me or click on my website, which is

  67. Howard Michael Smith West Mon 1953 - 1959 Says:

    Nigel, I was the West Mon pupil who had my head cut open by that psychopath Garnett. He always picked on me during double Maths particularly on Tuesday mornings, usually I managed to duck the brutal chalk board rubber (solid wood and a hook screwed in the end of it). I suffered from severe migraines from that particular incident since. Garnett was also a pervert and should not have been supervising naked boys in compulsory swimming lessons. We all remember having to parade past him while he inspected all over; whilst he stood on the so called diving board and which we had to step on for inspection in turn. Can you imagine that going on now?
    What a school! Do you remember Mr. Major Muscle Taylor the Enlgish Master, what an eccentric.

    • Nigel Jarrett Says:

      Hi. I remember you – vaguely! I always suspected something more was going on at those poolside inspections. But, of course, it’s only recently that sexual exploitation in all-boys schools has been recalled. In those days we had no words for it. I’m certain it went on. The stories of Saturday night calls for boys of School House to help carry Garnett back to his bed from the Hanbury are true. I witnessed it once, though I was never a boarder. Taylor is mentioned elsewhere in these posts. He was certifiable – schizoid, I believe. I often wonder what those characters were suffering from and I suspect it was something to do with the war, viz, they’d fought and suffered; we were the fortunate and privileged beneficiaries of their sacrifices; ergo, they hated us. Well, some of them. It all seems such a long time ago. To many of us it was frightening and it blighted our school days. I never took school seriously as a result. At least, not seriously enough.

  68. Howard Michael Smith Says:

    Nigel, it is a relief to know that I am not the only one to see WMS in the way we experienced it way back in the 1950’s………

    I may have some old photos of WMS SPORT-days etc. hidden in the attic – can this site and comments accept photos?


    • Nigel Jarrett Says:

      Not sure. Send a message to the guy who set up the website. It would be marvellous to see pictures of our co-casualties, though not everyone saw the place as we did. Faces are starting to blur in the memory.

  69. Lionel Barrell Says:

    Nigel, very interesting to have your take on our experiences at WMS in the 50s. Thank you, too, for your advice on the legal implications of any names still living.
    I have no recollection of Garnett boozing. His immaculate appearance always impressed my old man but they never met in the pub! He didn’t pick on me in class, despite my name, his main target being Mansell Jones. PT must have been a nightmare for Maurice Jenkins who got a lot of stick – sorry, Indian club.
    Garnett once gave me a cup to replace THREE school ties which I’d ‘won’ for coming third in three races on Sports Day. The second place won a Jubilee ash-tray: later, at the Sixth Form Xmas hop, I presented one to Miss Francis, Head of the County School!
    Then there was the board rubber. I went to a Reunion at the school from which I retired and a guy the size of a brick out-house came up to me and, instead of saying, “Mr B, good to see you”, greeted me with, “You never f…..g missed with that f…..g board-rubber, but we loved you for it!” Depends how it’s done, I suppose!
    No, I don’t condone that sort of behaviour but how about the other side? – a likeable rogue had done a particularly good piece of work so I patted his shoulder with a “Well done” to which he shrank away and said, “Get off, don’t you touch me!” and meant it!

    Nigel, you say that you are ‘certain that sexual exploitation went on’. Bearing your advice in mind, I can cap that: I was a victim.
    Of course I can’t prove it and I’ve never said anything about it but now, at my age, what the hell. The perpetrator was at WMS for only a short time, Spring term 1952, so was probably a student. If anybody remembers Upper 2, off the balcony, there was a back door leading to the stairs. He told me to go with him to the staff-room. We never got there. Fortunately it was a brief encounter and not too traumatic: the door could have opened, someone could have come up the stairs or, more likely, from the boarders’ quarters. He was the teacher who gave us French names: Bob ‘Raoul’ Willis, KA ‘Antoine’ Jones who corrupted my ‘Claude’ to Cludd, so, if any reader was there, he might remember. If that opens a can of worms, so be it. I am quite sure that the recent publicity on child abuse has exposed the tip of a massive iceberg.

    On a lighter note, Nigel, are you related to Jimmy Jarrett? Good rugby player, joined Gloucester, later became one of their top brass. A great guy. I hope he hasn’t gone to that RFC in the sky just yet: I can see us putting a team together in the other place!

    And even lighter, I wish you all the best for 2015 from la belle France. Now where did I put that bottle?

    • Nigel Jarrett Says:

      Dear Lionel. Thanks for your remarks. The things I do remember fondly about West Mon concern sporting achievement, though I never impressed Frank Witty and ‘Tiger’ Jenkins at cricket or Max Horton at rugby. (Horton was my mother’s cousin.) I do remember you as a sporting achiever, also (John?) Lucas, of School House, who as the years have passed becomes more Herculean in my stories of his javelin-throwing prowess. I believe the last story I told about him saw the javelin landing in the middle of Pontypool – well, it wasn’t far.
      I really disliked Garnett. He was the sort of person who blighted any small capacity one might have had for the subjects he taught, unless you were good at them. I’ve commented on that elsewhere on this site. I also believe he harboured his personal dislike of you, which could be intimidating when you passed him on the stairs.But I’m not entirely without sympathy for those guys who might have had a bad war (are there good wars?) and were faced with a motley bunch of insolent reprobates on demob. As a writer, I have a huge archive of material based on my West Mon days but, curiously, I’ve never used it, one of the reasons being that publishers today want work about the present, not some quirky past that fewer and fewer are able to recognise, Alan Bennett notwithstanding.
      I suppose that in today’s moral climate one is almost bound to look back on life and wonder if everyone was really as he seemed. I wasn’t aware of sexual abuse at West Mon; it was the physical sought that terrified me. (I tell a lie about the archive; my first collection of poetry includes Semper ad Meliora, which is about Ma and Pa Thompson. I still cringe at the cruelty inflicted on that poor couple by us unthinking delinquents. To mock a blind man; how awful. My defence is that I never took part, my shame, that I never betrayed those who did). Having been a professional music critic, It’s West Mon musicmaking that resonates – Mr Purse’s violin-playing in the Chem lab; Pa Thomson’s keyboard-accompanied singing; Arthur (Eccles) Thomas’s virtusos piano-playing at lunchtime. What was all that about?
      Some did fight back, one of them being Jim Jarrett. I recall Jim being hauled before DC Harrison after allegedly striking back at Eccles. He did indeed play magisterially for Gloucester. He was no relation. There were in Cwmbran three families of Jarretts, none of them remotely related. Odd.
      Good to hear from you cyberspatially. A happy new year to you and yours!

  70. Ray Hood Says:

    As a boarder from 1944 to 1949 and now at the age of 81 I must say that I have throughly enjoyed reading all the posts and had many a laugh out loud. Of course I remember Harrison, Garnett, Morgan et al and the tragedy in the pool of a fellow boarder but I also have some happy memories of lots of sport, friendships formed
    and some good teaching too.
    I suppose an outstanding memory is of the final trials for Monmouthshire colts at both rugby and cricket, doing well in both trials and Morgan saying that I had been selected but the selectors had discovered I was English and so I had been deselected.
    Ken Jones had left a few years before I was there but every time he was capped for Wales we were given a day off. Bryn Meredith was there too and I hope that pupils were given a day off every time he was capped. I suppose at my age you tend to look back wearing rose tinted specs but I must say I enjoyed my time as a boarder at West Mon.
    Ray Hood

  71. Richard Barson Says:

    Richard Barson 1948–1955

    I too have appreciated strolling down memory lane and , with others, vividly recall my dislike of having to suffer the teaching of Garnett and Harris. However I enjoyed my schooldays with Churchill, Hagger, Moseley, Room and Wood, MFL being my career path, eventually leading to a number of Headships in various parts of the country.
    As an Upper 2 boy I recall being on the balcony one assembly morn, and parting with my breakfast, my discomfort was lessened by the kind intervention of Bryn Meredith as Prefect on duty at the time. How I followed his rugby prowess with pleasure. Thinking of the beautiful game Wales have just beaten Ireland much against the pundits prediction, I remember Gareth Curtis and Alan Foster both WMS Welsh schoolboy ” caps ” admired by Colts like me in 1952. Good to hear about others’ circumstances.

  72. John Williams Says:

    Just found this site.It brought back the horrors of my time at WMS,the sadist Lob Garnett who’s party piece (in my recollection) was to hold an indian club above my head while giving me a rollicking (for not being able to climb the ropes in the Gym) and to let it fall! Vince Taylor who was certifiable! My very first lesson in school consisted of EE Williams asking each kid what their parents did! Shonny Price who was described in the school mag. as riding a green painted tortoise called Vespa…Eccles,Drip,Tiger Jenkins..they all come flooding back!

  73. Gareth Jones Says:

    I was at WMS from 1959 to 1966 and I have just found this website. It’s fascinating to read all the comments about the school and its inmates. When I came to the school with friends from Griffithstown Primary it was all just too grim and intimidating – expecting some sort of welcome from our 1W form teacher “Duke” Mitchell all we got was warnings about our behaviour and threats of punishment if we didn’t conform absolutely. He was true to his word, too: a few weeks later he put me in detention for not doing a piece of homework. The school must have been going through a staffing crisis, because Mitchell took us for both English and History, B.A. Jones had us for Maths, Chemistry and Biology, Vince Taylor was both P.E. and R.I. teacher and Cyril Blake did Music and Geography. I wish I could write something pleasant about that lot, but I can’t. Vince Taylor was either unpredictable or stark, raving bonkers depending on your attitude to him: make your own mind up about someone who dangles a first-former over the edge of a balcony, sweeps into a changing room swishing a towel around to get pupils to clear out back to lessons, or shouts “Bloody Mary!” at the only Roman Catholic in our class, Jan Fulgoni. Cyril Blake was ex-U.S. Army, apparently, and worshipped the States; he would vehemently deny that there were any such things as the Cambrian Mountains, even though every Geography textbook included them; he once made us copy out for homework all the Ordnance Survey symbols – I wasted a whole beautiful September Saturday doing that; he loved putting on concerts and did his pompous best to make every piece as grand as possible, including making each verse of Adeste Fideles come to a shuddering halt, so that the audience would think that was the end, only to have the thing start up again for the next verse. The worst one, for me at least, was B.A. Jones, who seemed to think it his duty to give us all a weekly fingernail inspection, when we would all have to lay our hands on the desk for him to check if we had been biting our nails. If we had, he would rap them repeatedly with a ruler, at first with the flat but later on, as a refinement, with the edge. He was the only teacher in my opinion who merited the term “sadist”, since all this was done with a grin on his face. Why none of us ever complained I’ll never know – you just didn’t in those days. He also liked to lean out of the window and talk to a girlfriend down below, anything rather than teach us properly. My Maths performance plummeted in that first year and never really recovered.

    Those were the bad ones, but some teachers were truly decent members of the academic fraternity: John Moseley, the French teacher was admirable in his teaching and dignified in his demeanour; “Taffy” Evans, the Woodwork teacher, was always cheerful and approachable, though I was pretty useless in wood, shamefully, since my father was a respected carpenter and joiner at Pilkington’s glass works. Graham Harris, the Latin master, was my second favourite teacher in Form 1 to John Moseley – you can tell that languages were my forte – although he was a fierce disciplinarian. I never saw him hit anyone but plenty of ears were tweaked, as others have mentioned: that was better than having your fingers battered, though. He was just a very classy teacher with a huge fund of knowledge of his subject and I respected him enormously.

    Our other teachers were, I feel, mediocre. Milton-Smith, the Art teacher, was a bit distant and never seemed interested in individuals, certainly not in me, though, again, this was a bad subject for me. “Hovis” Brown, the Physics teacher, like Ken Smith in our 2nd Year, had the annoying habit of showing experiments at the teacher’s desk in the lab. and making us crowd round to watch, o.k. if you were at the front of the crowd, useless if you were at the back. The headmaster, Roy Wiltshire, was quite new to the school, not that we were aware of that, and always seemed to want to make a big impression of strictness, which was fair enough for a head teacher. The Deputy Head, Len Morgan, was probably the greatest character in the school. The first time we saw him was on the terrace on the first day of term, getting us new boys into some sort of order; he seemed terrifying, with his big spectacles and swirling gown, but soon we learned that underneath this forbidding exterior there beat a heart of pure gold, for he was a warm, caring human being who was passionate about the school and its pupils.

    There were other pupils that came to our attention in that first year, notably the prefects. In one of the Pontypool Remembered books there is a photograph of the 1959 prefects in relaxed mood. Some we liked, others not. Timms, the head boy, and Robertshaw were proper rôle models for prefects, very fair and correct; others, like Jimmy Claughan, always seemed to be ready to pounce on each and every transgression and punish it with detention. Prefects’ detention was always longer and more arduous than teachers’.

    That’s only my first year at WMS: I could write reams about the rest.

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    Tragedy at West Mon (Revised account) | Reminiscences of Old Pontypool

  75. Geoffrey Richard Thomas Says:

    Just discovered this site. Since the last entry was 18 months ago, I’m wondering if there are any active members still. I attended West Mon 1953-60 and have mostly positive memories. As an ex-pat who has lived the last 47 years in Silicon Valley, California I am interested in establishing contact with others who intersected with me back in the “old days”.
    Geoff Thomas

  76. John Barnett Says:

    The little boy from Blaenavon

    1979 -1983 Does anyone remember (5M) when Billy Watkins whacked Pavett over the head and into the desk giving him a lovely black eye?

    Da iawn

  77. keith burton Says:

    I was at West Mon from 1954 – 1959 when for the first few years, we went to school on Saturday morning with Tuesdays and Thursdays off for compulsory games. I played for the Wasps with ex-Newport jerseys supplied by Ken Jones which were like nightshirts on us. We had proper blue and white stripes for the junior colts. Pontypool supplied the faded old jerseys for the colts, but being a bit older, they fitted better than the wasp jerseys.
    The first 15 played a game against Abersychan when the whole school had to attend at Skew Fields, Wiltshires orders. I played full back and it was the last time they played in (I think) blue and green stripped jerseys. After this we played in black jerseys with the full backs number 1, now 15. I was one of the younger ones having taken over from Ticker Pritchard who had left the term before.
    I remember Lionel Barrel at outside half and jimmy Claughn at scrum half, Jim Jarret in the pack in a game against Hawarden Grammer school in Cardiff. It was an awful wet and windy day with mud up to my shins but had a blinder. Caught everything and returned with interest, even had my name in the paper but can’t remember which one.

    • Geoffrey Thomas Says:

      Hi Keith, Just read your post lying on a beach in Hawaii celebrating my 75th with my wife who is celebrating her 70th. We overlapped at West Mon for many years, I started in 1953 and graduated in 1960. I well remember Sat morning school, my kids had trouble believing that story. Judging from your post you were one of the more athletic students. I tried rugby because you were required to, my father wanted me to emulate him, also he knew Max Horton well so my amateurish sickness notes didn’t work. But I was too slow to be any good at it. I was somewhat better at cricket, and Jimmy Claughan, who you mentioned, and John Lucas were good friends. I also consumed a lot of beer with Bob Dawkins and David Meacham who were pretty good rugby players so you probably knew them.
      After graduating from Imperial College in London, I emigrated to California and was able to enjoy a successful 40+ years in Semiconductor I.C. biz (more commonly known as the “chip” biz). Now I am retired I have engaged in conversations with some of my West Mon friends including the 4 I mentioned above. If you are interested I can provide email addresses. David Meacham emigrated to Australia over 30 years ago, but I was able to resume contact from our college friendship.
      To be quite honest, although your name is familiar, I can’t put a face to it. Of course the old mind tends to be slower nowadays, and it sounds like you may have been a year behind me. If so you may recall Michael Gough, who although short, was a real tough, mean prop forward and later became my brother in law. He passed about 2 years ago, but I often stay with his children when I visit the U.K.
      I don’t know how often you check this site, but I would like to exchange some thoughts about the old days. My personal email is:-
      You can also follow me on Facebook, which I use a lot since I have a large family.
      Regards Geoffrey Thomas

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