Burnley Grammar School

Childhood - Schools


Year: 1959         Item #: 1607         Views: 700,552         Comments: 2,557

Burnley Grammar School

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There's pleny of room in the modern-styled gymnasium for muscle developing, where the boys are supervised by Mr. R. Parry, the physical education instruction.
Source: Lancashire Life Magazine, December 1959

2557 user comment(s) below:-

Comments by Jake on 14th March 2012  

Reading Stuart’s post made me recall a lad in my class who hardly ever seemed to wear a vest for PE. Sometimes he just didn’t bring one at all, other times he would start the lesson in his vest and take it off later on, mostly in the gym although I do remember him running outside shirtless as well. We did shirts against skins games quite often and this boy was almost always a skin as he had his top off anyway. The full kit was white vest and red shorts, white socks and plimsolls and most boys wore all the items allowed.

Comments by Pete S on 11th March 2012  

In reply to Marks earlier comment about punishment...If we didn't perform to the teacher's expectations we were taken out of a lesson to be given either laps of the field (anything between 10-15 laps being the norm), or a fitness session outdoors on the yard regardless of the weather. Obviously punishments were done with stripped to the waist and could be quite brutal during a freezing winter.

Comments by John Lavender on 4th March 2012  finswimmerjohn52@yahoo.com  http://www.northern-lights-finswimming.co.uk

@ Victoria : I think there are probably a few of the Boys who were in the photo who have subsequently seen the photo and may even have commented. Over 70,000 hits [and counting] makes the page popular by any-one's standards.
I would speculate that the local paper was anxious to publicise 'their' Grammar school and that the Gym was probably thought to epitomise the Modernity aspect.
The photographer/reporter from the local Paper probably took two or three Photos and just selected the best; I think he would probably be interested only in the Teacher, as far as names or personal details were concerned.

Comments by Stuart on 4th March 2012  

Judging by other posts, at my senior school, we had a pretty relaxed approach to PE and cross county kit. In the gym we wore shorts, plimsolls, socks and a vest. For cross county we were allowed to wear PE or rugby shorts, plimsolls/socks, and a rugby shirt/vest/t-ehirt mix.

What's interesting is that while a lot of boys wore all of the kit allowed, a small number always wore less, so half a dozen boys always did PE striped to the waist, and a couple chose just shorts/bare feet. For cross country some of these boys ran shirtless, and one lad always ran in nothing but shorts, so even if it was raining and freezing cold he never wore a top or any footware.

I wonder if other people had similar classmates who chose to not wear items of kit, even if they would have been allowed to, and if anyone else ran cross county shirtless and with bare feet ?

Comments by victoria horsfall on 3rd March 2012  sootyhorsfall@hotmail.co.uk 

does anyone know names of boys in the photo

Comments by Gareth on 28th February 2012  

I went to a catholic high school in Newcastle in the 80's. the PE Kit was white shorts, white socks and a long sleeved house shirt depending on what house you were in. However the house shirt was only worn for outdoor games like football and rugby. Indoor PE and basketball was strictly bare chest. As an 11 year old kit i remember being mortified at having to take my top off in the gym, though this shyness soon wore off. I think it was healthy and made you very body conscious and by the time you got to what was then 5th year or 6th form you kind of felt proud about showing your body off to the mates and in 6th form i rmember a few of the lads had developed hairy chests and they got so much respect, they were kind of seen as 100% all man! so funny thinking back. Regardless if pe was indoors or outdoors it was strictly no underpants under the white shorts, so different from my kids today.anyone else at st Cuthberts in the 70s or 80s?

Comments by Mark on 17th February 2012  

Apparently a shirtless outfit is still de rigueur in some countries in eastern Europe. I recently saw this documentary on Russian intitutions for juvenile delinquents. The boys are not allowed shirts for sleeping, exercising, work in the brickyard kilns and a number of other activities. I wondered if it is all right to treat these youths so harshly although they are criminals.
Here is an excerpt:

Comments by Sid on 17th February 2012  

I agree completely with your comments. These days the lads have it too easy. I do think that nowadays they are mollycoddled.
As I have logged previously, historically I am sure all things considered we were better for having to paricipate in pe & games wearing virually nothing except short flimsy shorts & no top or pants. With all this excercise I can only remember one obsese lad. Furthermore, I am sure we did not s "suffer" from the colds & sicknes that now seem so prevelant. The cold never hurt us nor did the sun in the summer.
We did have swiiming lessons but we wore trunks. It may have been an interesting experience to swim naked

Comments by Jim on 17th February 2012  

Crikey, kids these days don't know they are born.

They can wear what they like for school sports of which they have an endless choice if they bother to do any exercise at all.

No freezing cold gyms on Winter mornings and cross country runs wearing practically nothing in the frost and snow.

No corporal punishment to worry about.

We were subjected to a pretty tough regime in the 1950's/ early60's but I am sure it was much more stimulating than school life today which seems totally boring in comparison.

Looking back it was really great fun trying to outwit the very strict teachers knowing what the consequences could be if you failed.

Also as a result of all the sport and physical exercise obesity in children was unheard of. We were really pretty healthy despite the austerity of the times.

Materially kids are so much better off these days but are they physically and spiritually. I am not so sure.

I can't remember much of the Latin I was taught but the phrase ' Mens sana in corpore sano ' springs to mind.

Comments by Steven on 16th February 2012  

We had a similar system for PE at my school to what Pete described, with different coloured shorts as part of the kit. It was white shorts if your surname was in the first half of the class register, black shorts for boys in the second half. Then for football or basketball in the gym both groups were divided again as shirts or skins, so there were four teams in total. For full size football games we all wore black shorts and half the boys played in skins.

Comments by Pete S on 10th February 2012  


This was in the mid 80's and we lived at time near the England/Scotland border. We remained barechested for football, each team distinguished through different coloured shorts (black or white depending which class you were in) The only form of rugby played was touch rugby on the yard or when inside and it was teams of 5 against 5.

The other school operated a barechested or skins policy indoors but usually played vests vs skins for football but went barechested for cross countries like us.

Comments by MALCOLM on 5th February 2012  

Regarding Pete S's post. What decade are you talking about here and what part of the country?

Do you know whether boys in other schools nearby had to be ouside barechested in all weathers or was your school the exception?

Did you wear shirts for football/rugby.

I went to an all-boys school in London in the sixties where shirts were optional inside all year and outside in the summer for PE but shirts were always worn outside for football or winter PE.

Comments by Pete S on 4th February 2012  

The school uniform listed our kit as a vest, shorts, ankle socks and plimsoles. However after changing for our first PE lesson we were to find our teacher thought differently. After being taken outside and lined up on the yard he walked up the line letting us know what was expected in terms of effort and when he reached the end of the line randomly picked a boy and made him face the class and take his vest off. Regardless of the activity,the time of year or the weather,indoors or outside, we remained barechested until we left. As you moved up the school there was no shortage of girls watching and eyeing you up, indeed that's how my wife first saw me.

In response to Robert's excellent comments regarding his grandchildren, given the current financial climate I am surprised that boys aren't being encouraged to exercise barechested or in vests. Parents would save a small fortune!

Comments by James on 27th January 2012  

We wore shiny,satin shorts for outside games without underwear and anyone would easily have been noticed as they were so brief and would have been caned.They were worn mainly for aeshetic reasons.They offered no protection from the cold and I remember some boys crying because of the cold when wearing these skimpy little numbers.

Comments by sid on 26th January 2012  

I think Robert's comments about his grandchildren wearing long johns bears out my previous ideas thatboys & youngmen of today are softer & cannot cope with cold weather or strict regimes

Comments by Robert on 26th January 2012  

What an evocative picture. I was at school in the early 60's, and had forgotten the PE regime. It was bare-chested, or a white singlet at best (no cosy T shirts) despite the lack of heating, and no underpants, for whatever reason. Looking at today's footballers, I must have been a trend-setter, because for some time I got away with wearing trunks (like tight boxer shorts of today), which usually showed a few inches below my skimpy PE shorts. This failed when we were allowed to wear coloured shorts, but I still had my white trunks on, which were then very obvious. The cane soon put a stop to that fashion, but I did still get away with white Y fronts under darker PE shorts. Strange that today my grandsons (15 and 17) often wear long johns under their shorts when training for football with no adverse comments. Must be sheer bliss!

Comments by Mike on 23rd January 2012  michaelabbey@rocketmail.com 

I can report the same experience ( more or less )as Malcolm. At school in the late 60's we were told "no underpants" but boys who played in school teams were encouraged to wear swimming trunks underneath. Definitely a more comfortable experience. Also a great feeling of security on the rugby field!
More senior boys often took to a jockstrap although they were not commonplace.
Definitely the gym equipment was just like the picture.

Comments by Sid on 21st January 2012  

Well Malcom in response to your comments I do not think we really thought about no pants being uncomfortable we just got on with it.Howevr, our shorts were short
& tight so nothing flopped about.

As for jockstraps they were never mentioned & I don't think we knew what they were.

Comments by Malcolm on 20th January 2012  

Interesting photo and comparisons with more recent experiences. The gym shown was similar to ours but I don't remember playing in skins.
I am supprised that many older boys were expected to play games wearing nothing under their shorts, surely this must have been uncomfortable to say the least. At school in the 1970s we had a strict no underpants rule for games (gym, rugby, running etc) but older boys wore a jockstrap, again school rules.

Comments by Philip on 18th January 2012  

This is just how I remember gym and school and it was great fun. Working on bits of apparatus with the gym teacher helping and demonstrating there were loads of challenges. He was strict which was only right as we could have had some bad accidents if there was no control. I don't remember a single accident in the gym and we didn't have risk assessments. Like others, I remember pirates and killer ball.

We certainly didn't wear shirts or socks for gym, brief white shorts and no underpants and either barefoot or plimsols. Showers had water pumped straight fromt he arctic and they were communal and compulsory. If we didn't behave there was the slipper, a size 12 black plimsol, the strap or the cane depending on how bad we had been, they all hurt!

Comments by Andy on 15th January 2012  

Sometimes we did indoor P.E in just short no shirt but not that often but indoors always had to be done in bare feet.

Comments by sid on 15th January 2012  

To continue with this topic, as I have said I think previously PE without tops was accepted in our day.
Why does there seem to be such inhibition now & boys have to cover up.
During the summer countless lads are seen posing in the swimming pools or on the beach & even walking down the street topless.It does not make sense to me considering that there seems to be no inhibition in showing off designer underwear(in many cases more than the named waistband) by almost wearing low slung trousers.

Comments by Cornelius on 14th January 2012  chuibers@gmail.com 

i don't think it was compulasary at that time, it was more a habit for me.

Comments by Cornelius on 14th January 2012  chuibers@gmail.com 

I was transferred to that school for gym, and we had shirtless gymnastics (as a habit, no questions asked).Must say that it was good for me also to be like that, I improved a lot in the performances

Comments by Dave on 13th January 2012  

Hello Cornelius!

Was it compulsory or voluntary being shirtless for gym? What was your compulsory PE kit inside and outside?

Comments by Cornelius on 13th January 2012  chuibers@gmail.com 

Interesting topic here. Just to mention that i did my gyms shirtless as well on atheneum classes in the netherlands during 1970 -1973. (Stedelijke scholengemeenschap), it was great gymn though, and i learned a lot. Perfect!!

Comments by sid on 5th January 2012  

Well Derek reading your account it must have been mortifying for you. I suppose that as most schools are now co ed swimming without trunks would be considered a complete no no & would reult in absolute shock horror even if the lessons were boys only

Our school used the local Municipal Swimming Pool although not open to the public during our lessons we wore swimming costumes in the design of what would now be called speedos.

Was it better in the "good old days" when we could go into the local countryside & just be all boys together swimming without worryinh about wearing anything?

Comments by Sid on 3rd January 2012  

Well James it must have been worse for you when you had to share the lesson with girls. At least our school was all boys & all male teachers so to a certain degree it was all males together

Comments by Derek on 3rd January 2012  

At Berkhamsted School for Boys in the 1950's we had excellent gym lessons in the normal curricula of the day. On any particularly hot day in the summer, with no notice, the master would take us to the school pool as a treat. We had no swimming gear with us so we swum naked, age about 14-16. As kids we just assumed this was normal practice.

One day we were having a naked swim, when the Head Master, assuming the pool would be out of use in the middle of lessons, walked in with prospective parents, a couple, who had brought their son and their two teenage daughters in school uniforms complete with hats. To say that we made for the safety of the water quickly was an understatement.

Comments by James on 2nd January 2012  

Dave,Inside we wore the shorts which I described,no vest and barefoot.Outside vest and satin shorts.Bit chilly in winter dressed in skimpy kit.

Comments by Dave on 2nd January 2012  

James, what was your whole PE kit inside and outside?

Comments by James on 2nd January 2012  

In reply to Sid's comments,we too wore shorts without underwear in the seventies up to my leaving age of sixteen.We wore brief satin shorts,which were fashionable in that era for games,cross country running,and yes we did share the gymnasium with the girls when it was too cold for them to go outside for their games.These shorts were very shiny and filmy and anyone foolish enough to wear underwear would easily have been detected.I felt quite ridiculous wearing miniscule shorts at adolescense.

Comments by Sid on 1st January 2012  

I have recently discovered this site & find the history interesting because it is my era i.e. boys schools in the mid 60s. I have just caught up with the previous comments & I am surprised by the comments made by Dick 26 Sept 2010. re the fact that up 18yrs of age boys only wore briefs for pe. I assume pe lessons were seperate genders. Perhaps Dick can advise & what year was this. I cannot see it being allowed in more recent years besides in more recent years haven't boys changed to boxers which could present a problem. At least we were allowed if nothing else to wear shorts although they were very tight.

PE & sports were very physical but had the effect that by the time we left school we seemed to be more manly than todays youth.

Comments by Eastender on 26th December 2011  

Re comments by will & the Welsh Marshes. It seems in the sixties normal for no underpants &teachers did check us to see if we were wearing any.Perhaps it was the era but no one seeemed to think anything about it. It just semed the norm. We were more nieve or just not so inhibited abiut our bodies.

Comments by Will on 25th December 2011  

Very similar to the late 60s on the Welsh Marches - pe with shorts, and no underpants, and the master lined us up in a row in the gym, and put his fingers down each shorts at the front, to make sure we weren't wearing underpants - I think he got quite a thrill out of it - cheeky ******

Comments by Robin on 24th December 2011  

I attended a large boys-only secondary school in the 1980s.
The PE year was divided into six half-termly blocks of football, basketball, cross-country running, volleyball, athletics and cricket.
The outdoor PE kit was a plain white football shirt, white shorts and white football socks and trainers. The indoor PE was done in shorts, bare chested, with teams either “skins” or “bibs”.
With regard to underwear, most boys wore white vests and y-fronts. Pants could be kept on but vests had to be taken off when you took off your white school shirt.
At the end of the lesson, everyone had to undress for a communal shower.

Comments by James on 16th December 2011  

We wore short trousers at secondary school and they were compulsary.I had my first girlfriend at thirteen wearing short pants and my second girlfriend at fifteen still in short pants,although her younger brothers half my age were in long trousers.I finaly wore my first long trousers at sixteen.

Comments by peter on 11th December 2011  

I was at a Northern Grammar School in `59 onwards. It was as has been described here; the H Teacher ran it like a public school.

I loved going bare chested but was very shy too. There was no bullying, body image issues like the girls had and still do. And now the lads have it too.

There were some sights as you can imagine. Who cared? To this day I go without a shirt whenever possible. Feel sorry for the girls! . .

Comments by Paul on 9th December 2011  

I certainly remember pe in the 1970s in just shorts, in the gym and on the playing field in the spring and autumn term. I particularly recall playing soccer with no top and barefoot when it felt really cold in October with cold grass covered in dew. I remember other boys playing cricket in summer barefoot and barechested wearing pads to protect against the hard ball - but that was for pe not games (which had different kit rules). I also remember communal showers and one time when I accused another boy of using my towel. He denied it but let me share the one he was using. It was only after everyone had left the showers that I saw my towel (with the same pattern) hanging on the radiator - someone else had covered it with his. Hoe embarrassing was that?

Comments by Michael on 8th December 2011  

We were often sent out in the snow to do cross country runs wearing only thin white shorts, singlet vests, white ankle socks and white plimsolls. Nothing else.

At the turning point of the run, the PE master would be seen, sitting parked up in his big Ford Zodiac with the engine running, all toasty warm with his flask of coffee and the radio playing. The clever part was that he didn't park there on every occasion, but of course we never dared risk taking any short cuts in case he was there.

As we ran past in the freezing cold, he would mark off our names on his register. This was to ensure nobody had dropped out part way. Only by exerting ourselves to the utmost, could we hope to cover the distance in the time allowed.

By the time we arrived back at school, he would be there, waiting, with his gym shoe in hand. No mercy was shown to anyone coming in late.

I was late, once, because an elderly lady called me into her house to change a light bulb. Always obedient,
I had done so, hoping a minute or two wouldn't make any difference. But, even that small delay put me past the deadline and earned me the wrath of the gym shoe.

Comments by Simon Casey on 8th December 2011  

Thats just the way it was. Coaches and Games Masters where feared and games were hell instead of being fun, which they should be. At my prep vests and rugby shirts were purchased by parents re uniform list. However it was made clear on the first day that we'd never need the vest and rarely be using the rugby top. We soon discovered we'd receive a severe pinch to the nipples if we failed to try hard enough. Hence the reason for bare chests indoors and out in all weather. We used the playing fields year round, a very unpleasant place when snow covered and still no vest, underwear or sock. Those plimsolls were designed for dry indoor use only, yet we only wore socks and boots for rugby. I'm shivering remembering it.

Comments by eastender on 8th December 2011  

Just a further thought . The history of pe is interesting . When you think of all the comments regarding outside activities in the snow cross country runs, games & even naked swimming & nowadays the schools all close at the meerest hint of snow!!

Comments by eastender on 6th December 2011  

in response to the comments by collin 17 nov we did not wear any top but I recall our shorts were very short I am sure shorter that those in the photo.

We were told the no underwear rule was for hygenic reasons although showers were available.
I remember one boy told us he was going to flout the no pants rule aand was prepared to risk the consequences. He must have been a masochist. We all knew that the teacher would see the outline under his shorts (no boxers those days only briefs which showed up) He was made to go back & remove them & was slippered.

That was the way of the world

Comments by Simon Casey on 4th December 2011  

I also had a spartan regime in an now infamous prep school I attended as a boarder. Bare chested morning runs and cold showers par for the course. We had one sadastic games master who adopted a particularly harsh pumishment routine. He would regularly slipper boys after they had showered. He would have a line of still wet boys clad in only towels waiting in the corridor outside his office. In the depths of winter he would wedge open the outside doors to allow the elements in. The corridor was like a wind tunnel and we would shiver with the cold awaiting the slipper. One at a time we would be called in remove our towels and bend over a trunk for several whacks of a size 11 plimsoll. I received many a stinging rear in this fashion.

The cold wait was almost as bad as the slipper.

It prepared me well for a prefect with CP rights at my next school.

Comments by Ben on 1st December 2011  

This is how I remember PE at school in the late 1960s/ early 1970s. Gym classes were great fun with sessions just as this one divided into groups to work on pieces of apparatus be it a horse, ropes, bars, wall bars or any of the rest. Sometimes we played killer ball or pirates both of which were fast and furious but great fun. The two pe masters were both strict but encouraging and as long as you did your best they were happy but they always pushed you to your limits, great education.

I don't think anyone was embarrassed about being topless, white cotton shorts were the only gym kit we had and defintitely no underpants. Showers were cold and communal but no one was bothered about things like that, I laugh when I go to the gym these days and the showers are in cubicles.

Discipline was strict, any misbehaviour was dealt with swiftly by use of a long brown strap than hung in the changing room for all to see and four to six strokes of it sobered up any bad behaviour very quickly. For anyone stepping out of line too often there was the cane which over thin gym shorts was not something you wanted to repeat.

Great days!

Comments by eastender on 28th November 2011  

The history in this picture is interesting. It brings to mind my secodary school days (all boys)in the 60s. I can still clearly remember my father had been to an open evening for parents of boys due to start in the following September & when he came home spoke about the uniform & thnme said " for pe it's shorts & pilmsolls no socks or underpants. This was just accepted as the norm also communal changing room & showers. I do not recollect any problems perhaps a bit of towel flicking but generally the whole concept of w=exposed bodies seemed to be a great leveller. Football was any old footie shirt & no particular loyalties so no oneupmanship. The shorts were short & no such things outside such as tracksuits not even in winter just very short shorts. Only one boy got modern with white nylon shorts, but after the first time playing rain after becoming see through he changed back

Also in this era most boys at secondary school were still wearing grey shorts for uniform including the cold winter of 1963 & did not go into longs until they were about 13 & this signalled the beginning of puberty.

Comments by John on 27th November 2011  

This photo brings back a host of memories. I went to a Grammar School near Birmingham in the early sixties (I won't name it because I don't want to upset the current school management, which I have no doubt is excellent). I hated PE with a passion. The PE teacher was "strict" and had a predeliction for administering the slipper for petty offences; being the last to get changed, for example. I once got five whacks for this mesdemeneour. To be truthful, this never really bothered me. However, on occasion he humiliated me. Initially gym kit was a pair od short shorts and gym shoes. However, in the second year we were instructed to wear swimming trunks underneath. After one lesson he decided to do an inspection. We were ligned up and told to drop our shorts. The other boys did as they were told. I was mortified. I was wearing nothing underneath. He insisted that I dropped my shorts and I protested that I wasn't wearing anything underneath. My protestations fell on deaf ears. I dropped my shorts and stood in the line fully exposed. The walkway to the girls gym was opposite, although thankfully noone saw me. This humiliating experience is still vivid in my mind. Thank you for the opportunity to share it. This is a History Site and this is the experience of a Grammar School pupil in the early sixties. By the way, I love the site!

Comments by OD on 26th November 2011  

Aaron, may I ask how does it feel to perform P.E shirtless? Were you embarrased at first? If so, is it because of exposing your belly, chest or nipples?

Comments by Dave on 26th November 2011  

I totally Agree with you Aaron in all the things you've posted.
Yes, the photo were taken in 1959 but why can't anyone posting about present experiences if it is similar to the photo.And you've written your opinion of the photo either. Yes you're right to correlate discipline and shirtless PE kit as well as being barechested it's much more hygenic and there isn't anything for restricting movement especially for difficult gymnastics exercises. T-shirts are not beneficial for gym.
I encourage you to write more posts even if it's connected with present day experiences. Past and present experiences have a place in here together.

Comments by Aaron on 25th November 2011  

Matthew sorry to offend you! I assume you meant me in your last comments. I am a young man who is interested in photography and history and that's why I wanted to view the 1959 PE photograph. A photograph can capture the mood of the time. everyone has noticed the minimal same kit and for that reason,the kit is not focal point of the lesson but the activity is. and you can see that the boys looked dedicated,enthused and engaged in the activity they were doing they looked relaxed and comfortable in each others presence. Of course I did read the posters comments,some said forced shirtless the norm pre 1980's,alot said they found it beneficial, some aked if it is still practised in some schools or would it never be brought back on a big scale. I responded to these comments being a boy of 18 who probably would be among few my age to have had both compulsory shirts and compulsory skins in my school time.I was a bit longwinded in my descriptions but I was only reiterating the consesus that maybe the old Style PE lessons were better wth the fulfillment and discipline that it gave boys,and that I started upper school forced to wear shirts and the apathy and discipline problems forced a change in policy to bare chest for boys and the better behaviour and enjoyment that came from it and that the modern equality pc brigade which promotes same rules for everyone is not necessary the best in some areas. I should have commented only on the picture I am sorry.