Hackney old boys go back to school for first time since 1948

PUBLISHED: 12:00 12 March 2016 | UPDATED: 09:30 14 March 2016

Robert Long, Leslie Cohen, Harry Cogan, Bobby Hopwood and Dennis Palmer at the school

Robert Long, Leslie Cohen, Harry Cogan, Bobby Hopwood and Dennis Palmer at the school


Five East End old boys were invited back to school – for the first time since 1948.

The men get to grips with the new technologyThe men get to grips with the new technology

Classmates Robert Long, Bobby Hopwood, Harry Cogan, Dennis Palmer and Les Cohen took an age to walk around Queensbridge Road Primary School on Friday – and not because they’re all 82.

Every corridor and every classroom had a story behind it and the group took great pleasure in recounting their old tales to headteacher Sarah Bailey OBE as she showed them around.

Joker of the pack Bobby had everyone in stitches with one yarn.

The old and the new - the group with Year 3 pupilsThe old and the new - the group with Year 3 pupils

“I remember one boy putting his face against this classroom door from outside and looking in at the children,” he said. “He was writing on the steamed-up glass and when the teacher saw him he sprinted at the door and kicked it right in

his face. It knocked him straight over.”

Humour was clearly an important tool during their time at Queensbridge Secondary Modern, as it was then known. The friends were just 10 when a bomb was dropped metres from the playground, killing 80 people. School friends lost fathers in conflict, so the ability to laugh and make people smile helped them get by.

The old boys to youngsters during an assemblyThe old boys to youngsters during an assembly

Memories of corporal punishment came flooding back for the friends, many of whom did their national service together in Egypt.

All believed both should be brought back. “It was a different world,” said Robert. “In 1948 you’d get three on each hand if you stepped out of line. If you played the fool then you would get the stick or a board rubber thrown at you – and you wouldn’t do it again!”

But the men’s preconceptions about today’s youth were dashed by the polite and respectful children they met at the school.

Frances Fathers, who inspired the boys to succeed in lifeFrances Fathers, who inspired the boys to succeed in life

And they were delighted to see their successors filling the assembly hall they sat in 70 years ago.

The old boys’ entrance also remains intact, and the men proudly posed for pictures underneath it.

Some modern advancements did leave them in disbelief, though. “They’ve got flush toilets!” Robert observed, with genuine wonder.

The friends have been meeting up every year or two since 1950. Until his death, they would often be joined by their old English teacher Frances Fathers, who they credit with introducing them to the arts.

“We’d never seen anyone with two suits before,” said Robert. “We were poor East End boys. It was inspiring – we all wanted to be like him. He’d take us to the opera and to the Roman ruins in St Albans. He drove us to succeed in life.

“We became company directors, businessmen, taxi drivers, local government officers and even a chairman of a district council.”

The friends all gradually moved away from Hackney, though mostly to the same area in Hertfordshire.

“A lot of us moved to Cuffley or Cheshunt,” said Harry. “The newsagent used to stock the Hackney Gazette, there were so many of us!”

As their visit drew to a close, the men paused to take in their surroundings. “Just being here has been really emotional,” said Dennis. “It’s been amazing.”

Before going to their usual meeting place in Snaresbrook, the boys, all sportsmen in their day, thanked Mrs Bailey by presenting her with a framed photo of their football team, who won the league and cup.

“Which one are you?” she innocently asked Robert.

“I’m not in that one,” he said. “I got dropped for that guy there [pointing]. I haven’t spoken to him since.”

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