Clitheroe Royal Grammar School

Childhood - Schools


Year: 1959         Item #: 1602         Views: 166,761         Comments: 757

Clitheroe Royal Grammar School

Led by Stuart Bennett (Captain), right, the cross-country team returns from a practice run around the nearby country-side.
Source: Lancashire Life Magazine, November 1959

757 user comment(s) below:-

Comments by Chris T on 17th May 2020  

Showing sweat demonstrates the benefits of good PE teachers and a sensible approach to a PE kit.

Comments by Toby P on 7th May 2020  

Hi Daniel & Chris, thanks for your replies. It's funny by instructing half the class to strip to the waist it added a big element of competition to the lessons, certainly on the gym it was normal for all boys to show sweat either on their bare tops or with vests sticking to tops too.

Comments by Daniel on 4th May 2020  

Toby P - like you I was one of those boys regularly picked to do PE bare chested, although more in the gym and for football than cross country. A few times my teacher decided to have us run in teams rather than as individuals, with each boy scoring points for his finishing, so half the class - including me - were instructed to take our vests off. As I recall the bare chested team tended to be more successful - maybe it encouraged us to run that bit faster?

Comments by Chris G on 3rd May 2020  

Toby P - When I started at my first school, we were expected to wear vests all the time for PE. Once topless PE was introduced we were all expected to strip, and we were all quite happy to do so. At my second school, vests were required to be worn all the time, except for the end-of-term measurenent/weighing session. So there no one was ever singled out to strip, we either all did or none of us did.

Comments by Toby P on 2nd May 2020  

Chris, I was always sporty throughout school and was singled out by the teachers to strip off for every session. Indoors was fine and made sense but before every cross country our teacher picked half the class (around 15/17 of us ) to strip off our vests and run bare chested. When I asked about continuously being stripped off outside I was told it increased my toughness, physique and I was a young man! We also did the same for football with vests being left on the sideline. Did you find your teachers picked certain boys to strip far more than others?

Comments by Chris G on 2nd May 2020  


While it is certainly true, as comments here demonstrate, that many schoolboys ran cross-country bare-chested in the past, I can vouch for the fact that this was not always the case, and in many cases it was not even an option.

During my, now rather distant, schooldays in the fifties and sixties, I attended two secondary schools, in both of which cross-country running formed part of the exercise regime. At the first of these, I was among a minority of day-boys at a small boarding school in a country town in the English south midlands. When I arrived, standard PE kit was shorts and vests, underwear or commando optional, but after I had been there a couple of years, topless PE was introduced throughout the school, a development that was widely welcomed. When it came to outdoor activities, however, tops were required at all times, and especially whenever we left the school premises for runs. At my second school, in a rural location in the northern home counties, where I was part of the majority boarding population, tops were required for all sporting and PE activities, especially those, such as runs, taking us off the premises, although there were a few lads who were bold enough to strip off their tops once they were out of sight of human habitation. The only time that we were allowed to be topless in the gym being at the regular end-of-term weight/height measurement session.

So, I would submit that the picture is an accurate representation of the cross-country running dress-code at some boys secondary schools for the indicated period (1959), even down to the motley collection of tops and shorts being worn.

Comments by John on 1st May 2020  

To return to discussion about this photo I can’t understand why these lads are not stripped to the waist for cross country as so many schools made lads run during that era. It also seems strange that even if they had been allowed to wear shirts or vests that by the time that they were at the end of their run that most of them hadn’t got really hot and sweaty and taken their tops off.

Comments by Tyrone on 16th April 2020  

David R.
As you say in years gone by no one worried about ball blacking or other such initiations. I never experienced that, but at my first scout camp, I do remember being told "something would happen one night" I just had to wait. It turned out that the custom was when we were in our sleeping bags, We would be dragged out of it by the older scouts our pyjamas removed and pushed out of the tent and made to run round the field once naked. It happened it was done with and that was it. Needles to say when I was one of the older scouts I help carry out the same initiation with the new younger scouts. That is how life was.

Comments by David R on 16th April 2020 

There's some wonderful, evocative memories here. Essentially, those early experiences of communal showers after PE or having to be on the 'skins' team taught us as much about learning to accept things and just get on with it as it did about sporting skills. Even, as William mentioned last October, a ball blacking was just one of those things that happened.

Comments by Biggles on 13th April 2020  

Since you do such thorough research about school PE kit requirements and post them here, have you ever come across schools that mention nude swimming for boys in their curriculum?

I remember long ago seeing such a school curriculum which stated in the list of PE clothing requirements that stated "Swimsuits are not required for boys."

Comments by Sterling on 10th April 2020  

Mr Dando, There are already teacher shortages. Why would anyone enter a profession that subjects them to the constant stink of hordes of sweaty teenagers. Abolishing showers in schools would be irresponsible and regressive. Surely students in 2020 Should be able to shower in privacy.

Comments by Leeds Lad on 10th April 2020  

"Like the Octopus I have an 8 point plan for effective child protection."

Ha ha! Very witty. I like that!

Comments by Mr Dando on 9th April 2020  

Happy Easter and let us hope with Good Friday and the Covid 19 self-isolation all pupils get a permanent respite from the dreaded school shower.

Like the Octopus I have an 8 point plan for effective child protection.

1 Abolish all school showers

2 Boys to wear rash vests or one piece suits in the swimming pool.

3 No forced change of underwear rules for PE.

4 Both boys and girls to be allowed to wear tracksuits and bottoms for indoor and outdoor PE, regardless of inclement weather.

5 No requirement for boys to wear white shorts when girls get to wear black shorts.

6 No bare foot PE for indoor games. All pupils to wear socks and trainers to prevent foot infections.

7 All pupils to change in cubicles not open plan changing rooms.

8 Gender neutral sport activities so that boys are not forced to do rugby & football while girls do hockey and netball.

Here is another school that has a mandatory towel requirement for its pupils.

Boys will also need:

• black PE shorts (cycling shorts and long shorts are unsuitable)
• rugby shirt with house colour
• black football socks
• football boots and shin pads
• towel for shower
• gum shield

Girls will also need:
• black PE shorts or ‘skort’ (cycling shorts and long shorts are unsuitable)
• black football socks
• football boots and shin pads
• towel for shower
• gum shield

Pupils may be allowed to wear black tracksuit trousers or a black Uffculme PE hoodie (at the
discretion of the PE teacher). Sweatshirts with the School logo on can be purchased from our

• Black or white underarmour
• Black leggings for dance and trampolining only
Outdoor Clothing
• A waterproof coat is needed for some school activities, such as fieldwork and for movement to the detached classrooms.
• Denim jackets, leather type jackets and hoodies are not permitted, with the exception of the official Uffculme PE hoodies, which may be worn for PE only.

Let us learn from our recent history of state sponsored child abuse to become a voice for the voiceless!

Comments by John Silver on 9th April 2020  

Mr.Dando probably wore longjohns for PE and for swimming, with long sleeve vest to match.

Comments by Leeds Lad on 6th April 2020  

I must admit, it does seems strange that Mr. Dando is so against what is no biggie for the rest of us these days. Maybe he had an upsetting incident in his youth? I recall a Kenneth Williams song where the last line was "There's an octopus up my dando!" Who's to say the same thing didn't happen to him whilst he wasn't covered up, and he's been scarred for life?!

Comments by John on 28th March 2020  

Tim H,
Like you I am also in complete agreement with Anon.

Comments by Biggles on 28th March 2020  

I don't think anyone can take Mr.Dando seriously.

Comments by TimH on 27th March 2020  

Just to say that like Andrea & William I am in complete agreement with Anon.

Comments by William on 27th March 2020  

No, you are not alone. I suspect you have written what many contributors think. Not only is the constant repetition tedious, it is also frustrating that the contributor in question hardly ever responds to the points made against him relating to hygiene, fitness and bodily confidence.

He is also reticent about what drives him. He cites child protection but the vast majority in this country would think it daft to suggest that child protection requires boys to have their chests covered for swimming and their legs covered for gym. That would be a most extreme form of modesty, but there is no point speculating about motive because he asserts but he does not discuss, and thus I for one have stopped responding to his comments.

Comments by Andrea on 27th March 2020 

Further to the comments by Anon, it is futile for Mr Dando to be conducting his campaign on Historyworld anyway.

School uniform policies are a matter for individual school governing bodies and I doubt whether many of them base their decisions on the content of a forum dedicated to historical pictures.

Comments by Anon on 26th March 2020  

Am I alone in thinking that this excellent Website, dedicated to the celebration of twentieth century British social and family history, is becoming increasingly hijacked by a one-man crusade to rectify a perceived personal injustice dating back several decades. Personally, I am finding the persistent detailed tabulating of school PE kits rather tedious, not to mention disruptive of the general discussions.

Comments by Mr Dando on 26th March 2020  

The arrival of Easter in both 1986 and 1987 meant the end of compulsory school showers for outdoor sports which included rugby, football and cross country. There were no showers for summer or indoor sports. Girls had the option of wearing tracksuit bottoms but we were forced to be bare legged when we were 13 and 14.

Let us use this period to campaign for Gender neutral PE kits with fully modest gear for indoor, outdoor and swimming sports.

Here is a school that still mandates this misery!

PE Kit

Children must be provided with a change of clothing for PE and games. Parents will be informed when their child is swimming and they will be informed of any special requirements for games.

A towel is needed for showering after PE.

PE Uniform

Plain white T-shirt

Black PE Shorts



Optional for outside lessons:

Plain black/navy tracksuit

Spare socks


Girls: One piece costume

Boys KS2: Swimming trunks

Boys KS3/4: Swimming shorts.

Let us stop the towel requirement and allow both boys and girls to wear gender neutral one piece costumes that cover the legs for swimming. It is vile that young boys are forced to wear trunks and only older boys get to wear shorts in the pool!

Comments by Bernard on 25th March 2020  

Danny - when I was at grammar school in the 60s we went out on cross country runs as part of our normal p.e. However, we had cross country teams who competed against other schools. I was not nearly good enough myself to be in a school team but I did turn up on Saturday afternoons and act as a marker so that the visiting team did not get lost. Our oldest team would have looked similar to the boys in the photo regarding age though not in dress and cleanliness when returning from a run.

Comments by Chris G on 25th March 2020  

Danny, the caption also says "led by Stuart Bennet (Captain)"

Comments by Danny on 24th March 2020  

The fact that the runners are returning is not in question here since the caption itself says that " the cross-country team returns from a practice run".

But the fact that the runners seem much older than 16 or 17 and that that they had a "captain" instead of a coach or teacher, or if such independent teams even existed in schools concerning competitive sports in country-side running is what is in question.
Unlike other competitive team sports like football and others that you mention country-side running was mostly done as a physical exercise and not as a competitive sports.

Maybe others who did, or rather were made to do, these country runs can tell us if they had actual teams for this at school.

Comments by TimH on 22nd March 2020  


We've been through most of this before.
The photo is probably staged but they are definitely 'returning', not setting out - look at the way the gates are.

In the 50s, 60s & onwards most schools would have football teams, cricket teams, etc., and these would have 'Captains' - to lead them out and receive prizes on behalf of the teams.

In those days youngsters had to grow up quicker - it was the society they lived in - I'm happy to say they're 6th Formers - 16/17/18 year olds.

Comments by Danny on 21st March 2020  

The guys in the picture are no schoolboys, they all look at least 18 or 19 and probably in their early 20s.

The caption also confirms this by saying that it is a "cross-country team" and led by a "captain".

So it is probably some sort of sporting club and voluntary, unlike cross-country runs at school which were probably obligatory and led by a coach or teacher, not a team captain.

So the title "Royal Grammar School" must be some mistake since I don't think that grammar schools had boys that old.
Maybe someone else may clarify this further since I am not familiar with grammar schools.

Comments by Ross on 15th March 2020  

Oh wow these lads aren't muddy at all! Can't have been much of a tough cross country run.

When I was a lad we ran around the school sports fields and in winter they were often waterlogged and extremely muddy. So muddy it was actually better to run barefoot which we all did without any hassle.

Comments by Chris G on 26th February 2020  

And not just hygienic, but sociable as well. I spent three 6th form years boarding at my second secondary school, and for us 6th formers the shower-block formed a most agreeable social club for baths or showers first thing in the morning and last thing at night, as well as a practical cleaning-up facility after a muddy game of rugby or a sweaty cross-country run. And no "towel dance"! We just stripped off

Comments by John on 25th February 2020  

Mr Dando,
After playing sports and getting hot and sweaty it is hygienic to have a shower and if using a single sex changing room and showers why on earth is there a problem with showering naked and communally?.

Comments by Mr Dando on 19th February 2020  

It is time we ended compulsory showers and full or partial nudity in British Schools. Here is another school that inflicts the dreaded shower on its pupils!

Indoor: Boys & Girls
A white Immanuel sports polo shirt*
Navy Blue shorts (loose fitting)
White sports socks (ankle length)
Indoor training shoes

Outdoor: Boys & Girls
Navy Blue Immanuel outdoor shirt*
Navy Blue shorts (loose fitting)
Navy Blue Immanuel football socks*
Plain Black Navy Blue tracksuit bottoms (optional)
(to be worn at the teacher’s discretion)

A towel will be needed for drying after showers.
Watches valuables will be kept safe whilst in PE.

Let us end this practice and allow pupils to wear tracksuit bottoms for both indoor & outdoor games without the "discretion" of the teacher. Children must be given a right to modesty!

Comments by Chris G on 17th February 2020  

Dave, some interesting points there.

It was towards the end of the 1950s that my school intgroduced topless PE. I moved on to another school three years later, and i never kept in touch, so I don;t know how long it lasted there. The school itself closed some time in the 1980s anyway.

I don't think that the Governors would have had much involvement in the decision. They were never much in evidence anyway. I think it would have been most likely the PE master who had the idea, and tghe head who sanctioned it. They were both fairly young men, as indeed werre mostd of the staff.

As far as the boys were concerned, pretty well everyone, myself included, thought it a very good idea. We were of an age, and it was a time, when boys playing out shirtless in warm weather was the norm, so actually being shirtless in front of our peers was nothing new to most of us.

I think the people most concerned by the introduction of topless PE at my school were our parents, particularly our Mums. PE lessons minus our vests soon led to going to school on PE days minus our vests, and within a few weeks most, if not all, of us had given up wearing vests altogether, even in winter.

Comments by Dave on 17th February 2020  

Thank you for the answers. So it seems shirtless PE kit was
decided and approved by the board of governors but it wasn't the case everywhere.Am I right? By reading the comments it's clear that the majority of schools had a shirtless PE rule from about the 40's till the mid 80's (or it became rare earlier?). You have mentioned even though it still existed so you didn't know back then but it was a rarity by the late 80's early 90's. What was the reaction of boys having to be shirtless for PE in your schools? Was it a talk theme among you? What do you thing why shirtless PE was became so early nowadays. Boys still swim shirtless even in mixed swim classes so what's the difference?

Comments by Mr Dando on 16th February 2020  

I can think of nothing more terrible than forcing a child to strip down to their underwear and go from their classroom to the hall and do gymnastic. Incredibly, in Muswell Hill London they still do this.

Physical Education
A timetable is displayed in the staffroom of hall times for
Children undress down to vest, pants and bare feet for
PE in the classroom and go to the hall carrying their
shoes (so they have shoes in case of the fire alarm
going off). Key Stage 2 children wear PE kit.

Please let us stop this inhuman treatment of our kids. If the teachers think this is okay, make them teach lessons in their underwear.

Comments by Frank C on 16th February 2020  

John, Chris G. I suppose it was decided and approved by the board of governors at the school and I was lucky to gain benefit from that.

Comments by John on 16th February 2020  

Chris G,
It’s a pity that you missed out on more years of the great topless PE rule for lads. Looking back I think it should have applied all the way through my Primary School years, so I feel that I missed out too. I had a friend who went to a different school where lads did topless PE from age 7.

Comments by Chris G on 16th February 2020  

John - I must say that I envy you, even though my school PE days were a long time ago. I only got in three years of topless PE,as it wasn't introduced into my first secondary school until I was in the third form, and when I moved on to another school for myu sixth form years, PR vests were mandatory at all times and without exception, except when we were being weighed at the end of every term. Funny, that!

Comments by John on 15th February 2020  

Frank C,
I was also fortunate enough to enjoy shirtless PE in the 1970s, it was much more comfortable than having to wear a vest or t shirt as we had to do until age 9. I enjoyed the freedom of barechested PE too.

Comments by Frank C on 15th February 2020  

Dave,Andrew and Luke, I was fortunate enough to experience the skinless regime in the early 1970s. I liked the freedom and bare chested policy.

Comments by Luke on 9th February 2020  

Hi Dave,
No, I don't think shirtless PE was widespread by that time. To be clear, it wasn't even a general rule at my school - it was a rule imposed by the individual teacher who took my PE class. His view was boys shouldn't require more than a pair of shorts, plus footwear - so from then on my class all had to go bare chested.
However, my brother, who was two years below me, had a different PE teacher and to the best of my knowledge the boys in his class were always allowed to wear their vests.

Comments by Andrew #2 on 9th February 2020 

Dave, barechest PE did exist late 80s to early 90s but at the time it seemed totally normal to me and initially assumed other schools did the same. Looking back now I suspect it was going out of fashion and most school even then were allowing tops but cant be 100% sure.

Comments by Dave on 9th February 2020  

Hi Luke!

I didn't know that in the late 80s to early 90s shirtless PE rule had existed. Was it still widespread back then?

Comments by Andrew on 8th February 2020  

David, although our official PE kit included a vest our teachers simply made every boy strip off to the waist. It was a simple and effective method and demonstrated boys do not need a top for PE or games lessons.

Comments by David H on 15th January 2020  

Hi Luke,

Our introduction to skins and vests was a boy being singled out and made to drop his vest in front of the whole class. The teacher walked down the line and picked boys at random to join him, with a stern warning that those left in vests would strip off for the next lesson. Of course everyone knew there was a 50-50 chance of being a skin but it was obvious some of us (me and a couple of others) were picked to strip off nearly every session. It was really rare for me to wear a vest I have no idea why I picked out to strip off so much. Cross country was done either in skins or vests while for outdoor fitness sessions held on the field, sometimes the whole class would be told to strip off but more often the teams were games tops, vests and skins.

Comments by Luke on 13th January 2020  

Hi David H,
From your reference to Army selection I'd guess you must have been at school around the same time as me (late 80s to early 90s). It seems your PE teacher took a similar approach to mine! The official PE kit was a vest and shorts but he immediately made it clear boys were required to do his lessons in skins. If the class had to be split into teams, half the boys were picked to wear bibs and the rest remained as skins.
Like you, I'm glad I was made to exercise bare chested at school. Yes, it took some getting used to at first but long term it certainly encouraged me to work harder and take greater pride in my body.
If it had been optional, I doubt I'd have taken my vest off voluntarily at first - how about you?

Comments by Ross on 12th January 2020  

Chris, I think I fall into your third group. At primary school PE was mostly done in vest, underpants and bare feet and if you didn't have a vest then you went topless, moved up into my first middle school where indoor PE was done in a pool shirt, shorts and pumps, oh how luxurious and those that forgot went without. Then we moved house into a different area and I started my second middle school where indoor PE was done topless, and barefoot with shorts only. After a year and a half this came as an initial shock but soon I was used to it and came to enjoy the freedom especially when doing gymnastics.

Plus I might as well add we showered after every lesson, boys only and yes we showered nude. It wasn't an issue at all it was just been hygienic and clean. Alot better than spending the day sat in your own sweat!

Comments by David H on 12th January 2020  

Hi Chris,

During an Army selection course in 1995 the male candidates found ourselves in the gym for fitness tests. With the group split into teams of skins and vests the tests began.

It didn't take too long before our vests started to cling to us while we could see each member of the skins team sweat freely.

Halfway through the PTIs changed things around. The skins team were made to put their vests on and we were made to strip to the waist for the second half.

I was lucky at school. I have no idea why my PE teacher picked me to strip off lesson after lesson in all kinds of weather but I'm glad he did. I'd recommend bare chested exercise to any boy. They'd notice a difference in their physique, others bare chests and outlook after a couple of months. They're supposed to be young men after all!

Comments by Chris G on 10th January 2020  

Reading these threads it is apparent that boys experiencing topless PE fall into two groups, those who started at their school in the prior knowledge that PE was always done topless, and those who had toplessness introduced once they had started. But there is actually a third group - those who suddenly had tops imposed on them after one or more years of toplessNess. I had this experience when I changed school at the age of 15. After three years of PE without a vest, suddenly I had to wear one, and found the experience uncomfortable and restrictive. Did anyone else have vests reintroduced after a period of topless PE?

Comments by Josh H on 9th January 2020  

Yes the youngsters of today seem to be very self concious and as I said in my last comments even the 20/25 age group

Comments by Ian on 8th January 2020  

At the age of about 8 in the 50's, a friend took me to the local swimming pool - a huge place (50 yard pool) with a large changing room. After changing, we walked unsuspectingly to the pool down a wide corridor which we later found out was called "the showers". It was the first time we'd seen grown men naked and we freaked out!
From then, I really wanted to shower naked, but never had the courage, until one day a few years later in secondary school our PE teacher told us to strip off and shower properly. We also had to let adults go first, which meant we had to queue for several minutes naked.
Of course we did as our teacher said as he was strict and keen on corporal punishment. Fortunately he was not allowed to administer the belt poolside but only in the changing room. Men would often congratulate him on using it.
How times have changed! But I still enjoy swimming and have totally lost my self consciousness in the showers. I think I would not have come to enjoy it had it not been for him and believe youngsters today are missing something which basically a great pleasure