Spirit of Birkenhead Institute

The History and Heritage of Birkenhead Institute




Here is a speech made by Mr Malcolm at a BIOB Annual Dinner, and is reproduced courtesy of the BIOB. I have included it because Mr Malcolm has included some fascinating history of the B.I. into what was a 20 minute speech!  Mr Malcolm was a pupil as well as a teacher at the Birkenhead Institute.



The best laid schemes of mice and men ----------

A toast by Lenny Malcolm

Shortly after the Dinner of October 1998 Harold came round to discuss how it had gone and to start planning one for this year.  I made two main points: since it was to be a gathering of Old Instonians the emphasis should be on Birkenhead Institute and an attempt should be made to cover as wide an age range as possible.  Having painted myself into a corner, I sat down to write the history of B.I. from my view point from the 1930s to the 1980s, with many stories of incidents and individuals, of staff, pupils and certainly of those who would be at the Dinner.  When I had finished I sat back.  The history of Birkenhead Institute.  In 20 minutes?  I realised that it was an impossible task.  The stories would have to go for a start.  20 minutes!  This would allow for essentials only.

I would wish to mention the Junior School - Sadie Bowers, Head Mistress, a large lady with a sit up and beg bicycle, and Kathleen Booth - a School which was so successful until its demise was brought about by the Butler Education Act of 1944.

I must include the 23rd Scouts run by Don Coughtrie.  The time factor will preclude mention of others.  I'll just look at an old photograph to see if I can put names to faces.  This I found somewhat harrowing for I realised as I looked at the photograph taken in the mid-thirties that in twelve year's time, as Secretary of the War Memorial Committee, I would be including on the Memorial, among the 93 names of casualties, the names of Ted Mathews, JohnGullan and John Beckett.

A feature of the 23rd was the camping. Overchurch at the weekends on a site long since gone and then longer camps in the holidays at Brynbach in North Wales and Wootton Fitzpaine, north of Charmouth in Dorset.  I have revisited both these sites.  The one I have not been back to is Gatehouse of Fleet, this for psychological reasons.  I am sure most of you can look back at moments in your lives when opportunities were missed - I had one such moment at Gatehouse of Fleet.  One day we were divided into pairs and sent forth into the wild Kirkudbrightshire countryside with only basic materials and told to light a fire and prepare our own meals.  I wish, oh how I wish, that I had paid greater attention to my partner.  I had a letter from him only last year.  "Since Gatehouse of Fleet in 1938 I have learnt to become a first-class cook (references available)".  I wrote back immediately to offer my congratulations and to ask to see the references.  They have never been forthcoming.

I will have to refer to the third of September 1939.  Each pupil was given a gas mask and put on the train: the evacuation to Oswestry had begun.  I have been back there too. I walked round Oswestry High School, across the town to the Market Square and over to the Memorial Hall, for ever linked with the Ancient Order of Buffaloes, and then back to Cae Glas Park where the school assembled on arrival.  The great W.E. Williams, who taught history, moved along the serried ranks with a brown paper carrier bag collecting catapults and peashooters.  When he emerged he held the carrier bag aloft and at this, the start of the war with Germany, announced "Disarmament Conference".

Of course, all were  back in Birkenhead for the bombing.  This meant nights in the air raid shelters and the occasional detour to Whetstone Lane to avoid unexploded bombs.  The only damage to the fabric of the school happened on the thirteenth of March, 1941, when two incendiaries fell through the gym roof;  Gerry Hall was the firewatcher on duty.  He summoned assistance and the fire was extinguished.  The s
School did lose one pupil, A.R. Gibbons, who was killed when a bomb fell in Hamilton Street.

Part of the School's war effort was the farming camp held on the farm of Harry Blackburn at Great Barrow, on the far side of Chester.  I have been back there too and how it has changed.  The village pump, which once overnight suffered the indignity of being whitewashed has gone.  The arms on the signpost at the crossroads now point in the correct directions.  The White Horse Inn is still there but opposite it is the Post Office surrounded by modern housing.  No barns, no mushroom sheds.  I felt a pang of conscience as I walked along the main street as I had organised the last four camps and had been in charge of the cooking.  I thought back to Gatehouse of Fleet.  I wish, oh how I wish, that I had paid greater attention to my partner.  If any of you still harbour complaints about my cooking of fifty years ago I suggest you visit my partner of sixty years ago and see how far it gets you.  He lives at 1 Salem View.

Then what of the School's Tours abroad?  9 European Countries visited in 20 continuous years - no time.  And the Dramatic Society?  There are many tales there but no time. That is a pity for there is that story of E. Wynne Hughes and the Birkenhead Brewery - but there is a fund of E. Wynne Hughes stories.  (I do not know what to do about that boy - everything I say runs off his back like duck's water.
Now you boys I want to make it clear that snowballing is out of bounds.)

To go on would be most unfair for I can claim that I knew him better than most and can vouch that he did a great deal for B.I.  He left an impression on a number of Old Boys.  To put the matter in  perspective, it is only the minority here who will remember him - only those who were at school between 1929 and 1950.  To the majority, his name will mean as much as those of William Connacrer and Jimmy Smallpage do to me.

So into the fifties which was a difficult time.  It was no part of my job to see the situation from the point of view of the Education Authority but, looking back, the School was too small to be economic and there was no room to expand on the Whetstone Lane site.  The solution of the Education Authority was anathema to many - the school should combine with Rock Ferry High School.  That reminds me that I am still investigating a matter from 1953.  Rock Ferry opened one day to find that their goal posts had been painted black and gold.  In connection with this, I would like to see Thomas Hodgson afterwards.

The protests started with a meeting called by Reg. Lockyer in the Liberal Club in Claughton Road.  A number of us met to concoct a letter to the Ministry of Education in London: Eric Webb provided the facts, I drafted the letter, Roy Dorrity signed it.  With the assistance of a number of people dotted round this room, I organised a series of Dinners - 3 in Birkenhead Town Hall and 2 in the Masonic Hall, Clifton Road - concentrating on well-established Old Boys who would carry most clout: - The Lord Cohen of Birkenhead, Sir Herbert Manzoni C.B.E., the City Engineer of Birmingham, Schofield Allen Q.C., LL.B., M.P., the Recorder of Blackburn, Professor Hallett of Durham University, W.L.  Cottier, the Medical Officer of Health for Willenhall, and many more.  John Allison supplied me with a list of names and I consulted a copy of "Who's Who" at the Birkenhead Library and was heartened by the support I received.  Then there was the subterfuge with the Chairman of the Education Committee but, alas, no time.  The plan was eventually withdrawn.

I hope that those at the Dinner will appreciate that academic work proceeded apace in Whetstone Lane.  Should I drown them in letters?  S.C., Subsid., H.S.C., were replaced by G.C.E.  O and A, and then along came C.S.E. and, later, G.C.S.E.  The syllabi were continually changing and much hard work was done by pupils and staff.

Then there was Ingleborough Road:- Athletics, Rugby, Cricket.  In all the years I spent at square leg looking at the pavilion, the memorial to the 83 casualties of the first World War, including Wilfred Owen, I never imagined that it would ever be occupied by Tranmere Rovers.

Then in 1970 came the move to Tollemache Road.  I have no wish to get embroiled in the relative merits of the Grammar School/Comprehensive systems.  The decision was taken by politicians elected by the majority which is known as democracy.  The education authorities were as fair as possible:-  Park High combined with Hamilton, Rock Ferry with Kirklands and B.I. with Grange.  One of the main advantages was the improved facilities and one of the main disadvantages was that the School more than doubled in size with the loss of a degree of friendliness, Is that not the way of the world?  Small banks and corner shops have largely gone and in a few years' time Birkenhead was to be absorbed into Wirral.  I remember the 1970's as a period of hard work tinged with sadness. In 1972 Dennis Hughes died having been on the staff for twenty years and he had certainly thrown himself enthusiastically into the life of the School.  In 1975 Miss Cojeen retired after thirty three years of valiant service.  I did have one piece of good fortune. I was so busy that I failed to realise that the buildings in Whetstone Lane were being demolished.  If I had, inevitably I would have been drawn there to recall stories of  Johnny Paris, Bertie Bloor, Tiger Lewis et al and many Old Boys. I would only have got upset and so it was as well that I did not know.

Immediately after the Dinner of 1998 I wrote to Harold to draw attention to his inability to spell correctly the word "Questionnaire".  He replied immediately.  "You were the first one to spot my deliberate mistake.  A prize for this will be forthcoming eventually".  I hoped for some culinary delicacy but have received nothing.  I wondered how I could prise my reward from Harold's grasp and decided to run a competition.  One of the features of B.I. of the 1930s was the appearance of the janitor of those days, one Russell by name, to toll the bell above the bicycle shed before each session to cause boys to hare along Hollybank Road.  During the demolition that bell was purloined.  I would award "Harold's Prize" to the first at the Dinner who could trace it. I would have to give clues - but alas, no time.

So into the 1980s and in 1982 it was time for me to leave. 48 years after crossing the threshold in one direction I crossed it in the other,  taught for three years elsewhere and then retired.

If I had to associate my time at B.I. with only one word I would choose the word "friendship".  I was fortunate in that the generation before mine produced men who became colleagues and then friends.  I am thinking particularly of  A.O. Jones, W.E. Williams, Robert Hall and Reg. Bolton.  In my own generation Dennis Hughes and then three whom I still see regularly - John Allan, Norman Bailey and Rene Cojeen.  Then there are the ghosts, not all departed this life, whom I have met at Brynbach, Wootton Fitzpaine, Oswestry, Great Barrow, Ingleborough Road and Whetstone Lane.

I serve on a committee with a man who was semi-educated at Park High School.  Since this is a private meeting I will admit, somewhat reluctantly, that Rock Ferry and Park High were worthy opponents but I will continue to decry them in public.  The result is certain banter in which I have an unfair advantage since I visited both Rock Ferry and Park High so often with Rugby and Cricket Teams that I got to know members of their staffs and, through them, some of their weaknesses. It always ends the same way:  when my friend reaches the end of his tether he says "Well, they are still both open".  To my credit, I say nothing but I know what I am thinking - no sixth forms, both flooded with girls, the "new education" and, in a strange way, I am not sorry that B.I. is no more.  I put on my rose-coloured spectacles, get out my numerous photographs and dream of times past.

I thought my days of giving reports were well and truly over but I will give one more.

Report on Birkenhead Institute - "While not perfect, in the main was successful for over a hundred years and certainly provided the framework for many friendships".

Who would have forecast that the lad who entered B.I. in 1934 would in 1999 have the honour of asking fellow Old Instonians to stand?

I propose a toast.  "To the spirit of Birkenhead Institute".


 Here is some information about Teachers and Staff of the B.I., courtesy of the BIOB:





Miss Irene Cojeen (the Heads Secretary) is in a Nursing Home in Bromborough. She reached her 97th Birthday earlier this year. Mr Malcolm is still in touch with her and he arranged a cake for the day. The cake was paid for and sent from The Old Boys with our best wishes. (Please see below).

Miss Nancy Price is well and is in a Nursing Home in the Lake District. Your Editor is in [ouch with her nephew and receives regular bulletins on her health and well being.

Mr Len Malcolm lives near St Stephens Church in Prenton. He is in good health. He is an excellent speaker and gave a talk at one of our Dinners some years ago. He attends most of the Annual get togethers and is a strong supporter of the Old Boys Association.

Mr Dave Jones lives in Prenton. He is still involved with the Art Scene. He attends all of our functions and is still in fine voice.


Here is a eulogy written by Mr L.T. Malcolm about Miss Rene Cojeen. The eulogy is reproduced courtesy of the BIOB:



Miss Rene Cojeen

Miss Cojeen, Irene Isobel, passed over quietly in her sleep on Friday March 14th, 2008, 10 days short of her 98th birthday. Rene served faithfully at Birkenhead Institute from 1942 to 1975 and, as the school secretary, contributed in a major way to the management of the school.

She spent her later years in Derwent Lodge in New Ferry and through her window would watch the boats sailing to and from the Isle of Man, an island to which she was very attached. She received a commemorative plaque from the Manx Society for her work for them.

It was fortunate that on her 97th birthday she was delivered of a splendid birthday cake inscribed “From the Old Instonians” which she was able to share with other residents. This she very much appreciated. She retained her sense of humour to the end.

The funeral service was held at Tranmere Methodist Church.



Here is a great photo from 1965 from Mr Ken Richards, (A.K. Richards),  of the old Physics Lab at Whetstone Lane. The boards on the wall in the background were actually blue, rather than black, and had recently been installed. The pupils include Robert I. Johnson, and me in the foreground! Very many thanks to Ken for this great photo, and it was good to be reminded of those Physics lessons in 1965 at the B.I..


Here is a great photo from 1965 from Mr Ken Richards, (A.K. Richards),  of the old Physics Lab at Whetstone Lane. The boards on the wall in the background were actually blue, rather than black, and had recently been installed. The pupils include Robert I. Johnson, and me in the foreground! Very many thanks to Ken for this great photo, and it was good to be reminded of those Physics lessons in 1965 at the B.I..


Several pupils have remarked about the former Art Teacher Hetty Rosenbloom, who taught Art at Birkenhead Institute from 1944 to 1946. Former B.I. pupil John Baker remembers her well. (See information below from John Baker). Harry Burkett, (BIOB), also remembers her as an interesting lady teacher. According to the information I have, Dave Jones was Hetty's best pupil, and of course, Dave went on to become an excellent Art Teacher at Birkenhead Institute.  Hetty is pictured in the 1946 school photograph, and also in the Pupils' web site in the "Your Memories (2)" page.  Hetty is also on the Flickr web site of B.I. photographs. I understand from Dave Jones that Hetty was replaced as Art Teacher at the B.I. by her husband, Mr Davies, who held the position until Miss Price took over.

"Dave Jones, due to his artistic talent was always Hetty's favourite pupil and I'm sure he could tell you more about her than I. 
I recall Hetty as not the best looking lady I ever met but sort of "avant garde".  However she was obviously a good art teacher having prodded me into getting a credit in art and architecture.
Hetty is not in the 1943 photo as she was not at the school in those days. She is , however, in the 1946 photo positioned to the extreme left of the staff, wearing her usual glasses and what looks like, if memory serves me correctly, her grey suit." (John Baker).

Here is an excellent article by former B.I. Pupil James Stewart about Mr E. Wynne-Hughes, former Headmaster of the Birkenhead Institute . James was a pupil during Mr Wynne-Hughes's time as Headmaster.  Mr Wynne-Hughes was Headmaster for 21 years from 1929 to 1950.

Therefore, James's memories of this charismatic and significant Headmaster are very important, and a real reflection of life at the B.I. at this time. Many thanks again to James for this great article:-


E. WYNNE-HUGHES MA.Cantab. MSc.Wales.


Headmaster, Birkenhead Institute


James H Stewart


          A slim dapper Welshman of medium height with a ‘presence’ that could be felt throughout the whole school, Wynne-Hughes presided over Birkenhead Institute through most of the 1930s and the 1940s. He was never seen without his academic gown, worn over a good grey suit, his tie in a Windsor knot, and sporting a small trimmed Welsh moustache. He sits in the central chair in all the senior school photographs, as he did in everyone’s consciousness, students and staff alike. He was a strict, but fair and kindly man, and with his assistant head Mr Harris shared the only official right to wield the cane in cases of extreme discipline, a right always there but not too often used. His two masters’ degrees, one from the University of Cambridge and one from Wales, somehow express his academic character, as he spoke perfect received English and was also fluent in his native Welsh. I only discovered this in the upper sixth form where we had Idris Davies as our art master, and overheard them arguing outside the art room in Welsh, which somehow illustrates the private nature of his life outside the school.  I for one now wish he had run Welsh language classes for us. He taught religious studies throughout the senior school, strictly unexamined, as he believed not all subjects should be just for passing examinations, and later in the upper sixth ran classes in ‘civics’ or general public affairs and discussions around interdisciplinary studies.


          He sported a gold tooth, around which arose a legend that the gold came from the Klondike, which stuck to him out of his earshot as a nickname, shortened to ‘The Klon’ which was whispered around the class if he was seen approaching when maybe a little mayhem was in process between teachers’ changeover. His presence in the corridor was sure to restore order without a word being said! This also worked in the staff room next door, as one day somebody broke the staff room window throwing a ball, at which point The Klon appeared in the doorway and all the staff present lined up in front of the window to greet him!! He was, however, generally liked and respected, and was extremely fair to all, although maybe a terror to the unruly!


          Wynne-Hughes ran the school very successfully throughout World War Two, maintaining very high academic standards and sending a good number of boys to university in spite of the disruptions of nightly air raids and spells of evacuation. The PE master Mr Cartwright drilled the sixth formers in rifle drill in the playground, and his woodwork shop, another of his domains, had a stack of .303 Short Lee Enfields along the wall. The basement, which was the school dining room where Wynne-Hughes presided over dinner with the saying of a formal grace, was reinforced with pit props for use as an air raid shelter. Staff also did overnight fire watch duties. Fortunately the school survived without damage although areas of houses in Borough Road near by were swept clear one night with a 1000lb landmine. In 1939 into 1940 the whole school, including staff, were evacuated to Oswestry, an expedition which I missed as my parents lived out in rural Wirral. It may well be that Oswestry was a deliberate choice, as Wynne-Hughes’s most cherished school tradition was the presence of the war poet Wilfred Owen in the list of old boys. Owen came to Birkenhead with his mother from Oswestry before the First World War, from Oswestry Grammar School. His work was not in our book lists, but many of us will have read him later in life. In common with most official evacuation schemes the boys returned in good time to enjoy the attacks by the Luftwaffe. During the war Wynne-Hughes ran a prisoners of war fund in the school so that we could subscribe small sums to food parcels and comforts for old boys taken captive.


          Daily morning assembly was a formal event held in the gymnasium with the headmaster presiding from the high platform stage. Classes mustered in the corridor and filed in, the youngest in the front row, and the prefects down the side, with staff along the opposite side beneath the long balcony.  A hymn would be sung from The School Hymn Book, the Lord’s Prayer said, and one of the prefects would read a selected passage from the King James’s Bible. The headmaster would then make various announcements, with news of old boys and recent degrees and honours, and the school would file out to a march hammered out on the school piano – quite often Men of Harlech for some strange reason! Students not wishing to take part for reasons of religion or conscience would wait in the corridor for the religious part of the ceremonies to be over. They would then enter for the announcements.


          One effect of the war was younger members of staff leaving for the armed forces, and new older teachers arriving to take over, including the first ever women teachers to the senior school. My memory is of a fairly large number of grey-haired staff, some actually coming out of retirement. Most of these were experienced people and the comings and goings created very little apparent disturbance. Senior students were also going into the armed services, their higher education deferred until the end of the war emergency period into the 1950s. One comment in the Visor immediately after the war was that old boys were now visiting out of uniform.


          Wynne-Hughes’s next task was to steer the school through the radical changes of Butler’s Education Act, and the end of the old School Certificate and Higher School Certificate curriculum, into the new ‘O’ level and ‘A’ level programmes. These changes were not welcomed by the staff as they imposed quite new ways of working and new tasks to be fulfilled. School books had to be obtained by the school, rather than purchased by the students, for example, and as cash was tight we were asked to sacrifice what we could of our beloved text books to boost stock. The whole admissions system changed as it adjusted to the new eleven plus standards, and the Junior School as we had known it disappeared. These changes must have been a difficult ending for the old headmaster after a long career in a traditional borough grammar school, but he seems to have soldiered on through the early stages of these transitions at least until the end of the 1940s. The school was no longer able to choose its students by interview and upon past records, recruiting them at eight years of age from a geographical area reaching almost to Chester, but became restricted to the immediate catchment area around Birkenhead. The loss of the wide variety of students from all backgrounds in life, from shipbuilding to farmers’ sons, including a large cohort of scholarship entrants, was seen by staff as changing the nature of the school intake, and the educational tasks involved.  Wynne Hughes seems to have retired soon after 1949, but the school was fortunate in having Mr Malcolm, one of its own old boys, to take over, along with others, and to guide it into its last decades, without losing too much of its old tradition.


Here is an extract from a speech by Mr L.T. Malcolm, which refers to Mr Wynne Hughes, who apparently was B.I. Headmaster from 1929 to 1950:

"Then what of the School's Tours abroad? 9 European Countries visited in 20 continuous years - no time. And the Dramatic Society? There are many tales there but no time. That is a pity for there is that story of E. Wynne Hughes and the Birkenhead Brewery - but there is a fund of E. Wynne Hughes stories. (I do not know what to do about that boy - everything I say runs off his back like duck's water. Now you boys I want to make it clear that snowballing is out of bounds.)

To go on would be most unfair for I can claim that I knew him better than most and can vouch that he did a great deal for B.I. He left an impression on a number of Old Boys. To put the matter in perspective, it is only the minority here who will remember him - only those who were at school between 1929 and 1950. To the majority, his name will mean as much as those of William Connacher and Jimmy Smallpage do to me."

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