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The Early Years

The school was founded in 1894 as Battersea Polytechnic Secondary School in Latchmere Road, SW11, a Technical Day School for Boys attached to the Polytechnic. The school taught "a thoroughly sound and useful knowledge of the Applied Sciences and Technology" in preparation for "the workshop and manufactory, or general trades", and quickly established a high reputation: several pupils won scholarships to Oxford or Cambridge, and many gained posts as draughtsmen, analytical chemists, teachers, etc.

The original school began its work with 35 boys. In 1895 girls were admitted, and the numbers quickly increased to the maximum then allowed, viz, 80 girls and 120 boys.

In 1905 it was decided to provide separate schools for boys and girls; the boys remained at the Polytechnic, and the new maximum of 150 was soon reached.

In 1909 the school moved to the Pupil Teachers Centre at the top of Latchmere Road, Lavender Hill, Battersea, and in 1918 governance was transferred to the London County Council (LCC), the school then being renamed "The County Secondary School, Battersea".

In 1923 the name was again changed, to "Battersea County School", and the school prospered under the headmastership of Mr Arnold W Smith.


The continuing growth of the school made a relocation from Latchmere Road inevitable, and in 1926 a new site was bought at South Lodge, 45 South Side, Clapham Common. The building was begun in 1927 and on 28 June 1929 the school was formally opened by Lord Monk Bretton, Chairman of the LCC; construction costs totalled 46,000. The school was near the birthplace of one of the most illustrious residents of Clapham - Henry Thornton (see next section) - and from 1929 took his name.

In addition to chemistry and physics laboratories and specially fitted rooms for art, geography, handicraft and gymnastics, there were 15 classrooms, together with a playing field (behind the main building), two tennis courts, two fives courts and a playground.

When the school opened in 1929 there were 261 boys. By 1934 that number had increased to 421, and in 1948 it was 450.

Mr W D ("Taffy") Evans, who had previously taught at Latchmere Road, was appointed Head Master in 1927, on the death of Mr Arnold Smith.

The Clapham Sect

The Abolition of the Slave Trade Act was passed on 25 March 1807 with a majority of 114 votes to 15 in the Commons and 41 to 20 in the Lords. The Clapham Sect was an influential group of like-minded social reformers in England, active during the period 1790-1830. Its members, four of whom (their names being particularly remembered by OTs) are listed below, were mainly prominent and wealthy evangelical Anglicans who shared common political views concerning the abolition of slavery, missionary work overseas, improving the morality of public life, and reform of the penal system:

  • Zachary Macaulay (1768-1838) - estate manager, colonial governor (Sierra Leone), settled with his family at 5 The Pavement, Clapham in the early 1800s, established a school for African children at 8 Rectory Grove
  • James Stephen (1758-1832) - lawyer, (practised in the West Indies), returned to England in 1794 and moved to South Side, Clapham Common, to be near Wilberforce and other Sect members
  • Henry Thornton (1760-1815) - economist, banker, philanthropist, Member of Parliament for Southwark, lived at Battersea Rise House, West Side, Clapham Common (the Sect"s headquarters, also Wilberforce"s residence). The Sect, whose members all lived and worshipped in this part of South West London, was concerned with various social issues of the day, including abolition of slavery, missionary work overseas, and - an ever-topical theme - generally improving the morality of public life.
  • William Wilberforce (1759-1833) - parliamentarian, leading abolitionist (made first speech on this subject in the House of Commons in 1789), Henry Thornton"s cousin.

Devout Christians, the group published a journal, the Christian Observer, and was also credited with the foundation of several missionary and tract societies, including the British and Foreign Bible Society and the Church Missionary Society. The 1807 Act did not per se abolish slavery: this was achieved through further legislation enacted in 1833.

A blue GLC plaque commemorating the campaigning work of the Sect - particularly Wilberforce - is displayed at Holy Trinity Church, North Side; it also notes that they worshipped here.

As some OTs may recall, for a number of years, pupils and staff attended a service here on 10 March, to mark Henry Thornton's birthday.

The Clapham Society

If you're interested in Clapham, past and present, you may wish to find out more about the Society, a registered charity involved in a wide range of local issues, including planning, roads and transport, and conservation (particularly the Common). It's newsletter has featured articles on the history of HTS and the 2005 OT reunion.

The Society's publications include The Story of Clapham Common, The Clapham Sect and a new, lavishly illustrated book entitled Discovering Clapham. Individual membership is currently 6.

For further information visit the website:, or contact the Membership Secretary: Jennifer Everett, 30 Trinity Close, London, SW4 0JD (020 7627 4770).

South Lodge

Before its purchase by the LCC for the school's use, South Lodge was the home from 1896 to 1920 of the family of Frederick Gorringe (1832-1909), owner of the former department store in Victoria.

The house probably dates from the late 18th century, and is first mentioned in 1800, being referred to as "a new handsome house, built with grey stock bricks, the front standing in an oblique direction with the road. It is the property of James Webster, Esq.".

It was later the home of Dr Edward Taylor, who is described as "one of our leading physicians who took much pride in his numerous carriages and horses which he housed in his extensive stables that still stand upon the left-hand side of the carriage approach to the house".

School Houses

There were originally six: Cavendish (green), Cook (dark blue), Macaulay (light blue), Pepys (maroon), Stephen (scarlet) and Wilberforce (yellow).

They were later reduced to four - Clarkson (green), Macaulay (blue), Stephen and Wilberforce - as, according to the Autumn 1952 issue of the school magazine, "The old House system was not capable of easy working. Greater selection for House teams was afforded, leading to a higher standard of play in general and to keener competition all round".

As noted in the following section, all six Houses were "revived" in the post-1969 school song.

"Still Henry Thornton's known for labours philanthropic..."

There are three known versions of the school song, which comprises three verses. The original, composed by Eric Gilder, 1911-2000, a former pupil of the school (1926-31) who in his later years was variously a pianist, conductor, arranger and broadcaster, refers to the six Houses in the second verse: "Macaulay, Cavendish, and Cook, and Wilberforce besides, With Pepys and Stephen top the list of men we take for guides".

In his unpublished autobiography Eric Gilder, who was among those present at the first day of term at the renamed school at South Lodge, in 1929, writes: "No longer would we sing, discordantly and incoherently, the old Latin School Song" [of the predecessor Battersea County School].

The 1951 variant quotes the four "new" Houses in substitution for the original lines:

"Macaulay, Stephen, Wilberforce and Thomas Clarkson too - These famous names have shown us all ideals we should pursue".

The rewording was evidently inspired by a "humbly submitted" proposal from another OT, Robert G J Wood (1946-54), which featured in the same issue of "The Thorntonian" quoted in the preceding section. He had suggested, as "possible suit modern requirements" (i.e. to reflect the reorganised House system introduced the previous year): "Macaulay, Stephen, Wilberforce and Thomas Clarkson too - These famous men have shown us all the things we ought to do".

Brian Eady (1962-9) has traced the third and final copy, which dates from around 1969, shortly after the school became a comprehensive, and which he recalls being sung at the 1970 prize giving. In this version the names of the six original Houses and associated text, as Gilder's composition above, re-appear in the second verse, but the last two lines of the chorus are changed to:

"Green, silver, black and gold, my boys - Green, silver, black and gold"

incorporating the colours of Aristotle and Battersea (Tennyson Street) schools.


In his notes Eric Gilder also mentions the "maroon and blue of our [Battersea County School] blazers and caps". With the move to Clapham the colours were to be the more familiar "black and silver" of the school song, viz, black blazers and caps and grey trousers. The badge - consisting of three thorn bushes bisected by a chevron - was adapted from the crest of the Thornton family; the minutes of the Governors' meeting held on 19 February 1929 record that Mr H G Thornton had agreed that part of his coat of arms could be used for this purpose.


Ted Smith (1957-63) writes: "During one of our lessons I remember Mr Cooper [Latin master] telling the class that the School badge as originally proposed had the shield, the chevron and the thorn bushes as in the final version, but also had a motto - "Virtus Thorntoniensis", which he translated as "Thorntonian Vigour"."

Wartime Evacuation

Pupils were evacuated to Chichester from October 1939 until July 1943; the initial relocation, in September, was to Bognor Regis and the immediate surrounding area ("a blunder, as there were no grammar schools in that town": Donald Bishop, 1934-41). They were boarded out with local families and attended the Chichester High School for Boys (CHSB).

The Henry Thornton School (HTS) teaching staff at CHSB included:

  • W D Evans, Head Master
  • R S Bramble (Physical Education)
  • A H Collins (English)
  • W J Cooper (Latin)
  • L B Cundall (Geography)
  • G W Dix (Art)
  • C W Gribble (French)
  • F Haill (French, Games)
  • C E Jeremy (History)
  • S W Read (Chemistry).

Frank Haill and Mike Collins remained at CHSB after the war, having accepted posts there.

Donald Bishop also writes: "The HTS buildings in London had warm enclosed corridors. CHS classrooms opened on to fresh air. In the winter our staff wore overcoats! HTS 6th Form included teaching of Economics, Economic History and British Constitution to Higher Schools level. These subjects were not on offer from CHS, so there could be no joint classes. Pupils from both schools made friendships in youth clubs, sport, church and so on."

And from Eric Jennings (1936-41): "I recall being billeted with 9 other boys in a bungalow on [Pagham] beach for several weeks or months before transferring to Chichester. I will always remember that bungalow - it was formed by two full-length railway coaches as the sides, with the space between built over with a peaked roof. The main centre of the structure was the living room and dining room. The railway coaches were divided into bedrooms. That was quite an experience - 10 boys at the beach!"

Don Appelbe, who started at Clapham in 1938 and was at CHSB from 1939 until 1943, recalls: "From 30 August to 1 September [1939] we mustered every morning on Clapham Common in expectation of imminent evacuation. We came prepared every day with rucksacks containing toilet gear, pyjamas, etc, and of course our gas masks! Whereas in prewar school in Clapham we had forms A, B and C in each year, at Chichester we had only one form per year. This was partly due to not everyone from HTS being evacuated and also to the return to London by many pupils during the September term. I also remember that [at Clapham] we had a "Tuck Shop" during the mid-morning break where (if we were solvent) we could buy drinks, sweets and lovely cream buns. The "Tuck Shop" was set up on a trestle table in front of the main entrance to the school."

Keith Weston (1937-43) also has memories of what was happening in Clapham at around this time: "The air raids which were expected during the early months of 1940 did not occur, and during this period a school was opened in South West London to cater for those, like myself, who had returned to the capital. Henry Thornton was the building assigned for these pupils and took on the grand title of "South-West London Emergency Secondary School for Boys at Henry Thornton School, Clapham Common". If for no other reason it must be famous for the length of the name! Mr [W R] John, the prewar deputy headmaster, was headmaster. As a Thorntonian I was joined by boys from other schools in the area: Battersea Grammar, Bec, Wandsworth Secondary, Strand and Emanuel are some that come to mind. September 1940 saw the start of the blitz, and cloakrooms were reinforced to provide some shelter from the air raids. An anti-aircraft battery was set up on Clapham Common, opposite South Lodge. I believe at this time boys were given the opportunity for a second evacuation."

Postwar Period

After the war it was "business as usual" at the school under Head Master W D Evans, who retired in 1951, being replaced by D B Gaskin, from Emanuel School. In 1954 Senior Master C W Gribble also retired, having served on the teaching staff since 1920. He was succeeded by another stalwart of the early years of the school, C E Jeremy (who had also been an HTS pupil, from 1909 to 1913).

At Christmas 1955 Mr Gaskin left to become Head Master of Moseley Grammar School, Birmingham, and for a term Mr Jeremy served as Acting Head. In Spring 1956 B J F Dorrington joined the school as Head Master. Despite these changes at the helm, the 1950s were a period of relative stability for HTS.

Gordon Holt (1952-9) recalls: "The school at this time was still a small and cosy community, with a total number of pupils which cannot have been much more than 450. This had obvious advantages but also meant that there was limited scope to develop specialist and extra-curricular activities. Nevertheless, it has to be said that the teaching staff at that time were (by and large) a dedicated lot and did a fantastic job with what they had to work with. In retrospect, the school was clearly underfunded and impossibly cramped. The biology laboratory completed in 1954 was allegedly the only building work carried out since the school had been built, and certainly until I left in 1959 nothing further was done to improve facilities. Just one example of the way in which accommodation had to be doubled up was the use of the Art Room as a form room, which meant that some of us had to make do with tiny lockers in the corridor. Of course, a major inadequacy was the lack of a suitable playing field. One of the abiding memories of all those who attended the school at that time must be the long journey by Tube and bus to the LCC playing fields at Rose Hill - not that we boys minded, as it was quite an adventure to be let loose in South London with a shilling or so in our pockets! However, despite all this I think being at Henry Thornton in the 1950s was a genuinely good experience for most pupils."

Site Developments: 1960s

Gary Copping (1963-70) comments that South Lodge (formerly housing a library and refectory), along with the adjacent Stowey House, was demolished when parts of the "new" school were built in 1967/8. "The buildings and grounds of both were the site of the new HT buildings, which included a swimming pool, theatre, classrooms, dinner rooms and admin block. The old school remained intact externally; however, the hall was converted into classrooms, and what were supposed to have been four squash courts at the rear beside the ATC huts were converted into four odd-looking, windowless classrooms. Outside rooms D, E and F along the top of the school fields were also two prefabricated classrooms."

Going Comprehensive

The school changed to comprehensive status, with increased pupil numbers (from approximately 450 to 1,500), in 1968. This was due to the influx of boys from two other local schools: Aristotle, Ferndale Road, SW4 and Archbishop Tennyson, Tennyson Street, SW8. The first head teacher was R A Heaton-Page. (After Mr Dorrington"s retirement at Easter 1966, HTS had two temporary Head Masters in the short remaining period of its existence as a grammar school: S W Read, 1966-7, and W R Davies, 1967-8.)

End of an Era

HTS survived as an "independent" comprehensive school until September 1986, when it lost the "Henry Thornton" designation and was merged with another local school, Hydeburn, at the latter"s site, Chestnut Grove, Balham. Younger ex-HTS pupils moved to the new school in 1986, the older boys (4th year upwards) completing their education at Clapham.

The remaining buildings comprising the 1929 school, ie, at the Elms Road end of the site, were used from the mid-1980s by the Inner London Education Authority as the Henry Thornton Centre of Clapham and Battersea Adult Education Institute. In April 1990 the Centre transferred to Lambeth Council, which continued its use as a community education centre, with Lambeth College running courses there from 1999. The buildings were demolished in 2003.

It is perhaps gratifying to record that the former HTS site continues to be used for educational purposes, the present occupancy being:

  • Lambeth College, at 45 South Side, one of the largest further education colleges in London;
  • Lambeth Academy, Elms Road, which opened in September 2004. The Academy, described as "a unique new secondary school for Year 7 pupils", is owned by the United Learning Trust, a not-for-profit educational charity, and managed independently of the local authority.

"Celebrity" OTs

These include: Jimmy Hill, OBE (football player/manager/pundit); Hywel Bennett and brother Alun (Lewis) Bennett (actors); Peter Katin (concert pianist); Peter Waterman (boxer); Bob Larbey and John Esmonde (TV scriptwriters); Tom Phillips (portrait painter); and John Edmunds (newsreader, formerly French master at the school).


Ted Hayward; Len Beckett (1941-6); Brian Bloice (1950-7); Jim Cocks (1949-57); Les Garrett (1938-42); Jeff Green (1951-8); Jim Harrison (1944-51); Bob Hay (1950-6); Alan Kurtz (1951-8); Terry Lawlor (1951-6); Mike Surridge (1947-52); Ian Ashman, former Principal, and Henry Ernst, Centre Facilities Manager, Lambeth College; Bernard Battley, Chairman, Cantate Publishing Group (incorporating Battley Bros, the former school"s printers); Ray Bruce, Head of Governor Services, London Borough of Wandsworth; Richard Childs, County Archivist, West Sussex County Records Office; Meredith Davis, Local History Unit, London Borough of Wandsworth; Graham Fielder and Ron Martin, Hon Treasurer and Secretary respectively, CHALOBS (Chichester High School for Boys OB Society); Mrs Paula Gilder, daughter of Eric Gilder; Graham Gower, Archivist, Minet Library, London Borough of Lambeth; Bridget Howlett, Senior Archivist, London Metropolitan Archives; Mrs Nancy Nielsen, niece of Mr C E Jeremy; Mrs Sandra Rowlands, daughter of Mr F E Haill; Alyson Wilson, The Clapham Society.