Burnley Grammar School

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Burnley Grammar School
Burnley Grammar School
Year: 1959
Views: 991,586
Item #: 1607
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

Comment by: Rob Taylor on 24th November 2010 at 22:17

This photo certainly brought back memories. I could have been in the same photo just 4 years later. It is amazing how times have changed and what was acceptable then just would not be now. I suppose it is partly fashion and partly sensitivity. My friends and I at 12 and 13 yrs looked forwards to P.E. Much better than maths or chemistry! At 15 and 16 there was a definite split. Those who were sporty still liked P.E and all the training associated with school teams. However, lots of boys were no longer interested and worked out sophisticated avoidance tactics. At that age the P.E and games staff seemed not bothered as long as they has a core of fit boys for their teams.
I can remember exactly getting my first parcel of P.E. kit from the school shop when I was 12. Cotton shorts, light blue singlet and 'plimsols'. The letter home prescribing P.E. kit emphasised brining a towel and how important it was to shower. I have no negative memories about the showers. We were supervised through them, mostly to see that we got in and out quickly and were not late for the next lesson. Games was different. There was this big bath which we all jumped in to. Only some of the more 'developed' boys used the showers or walked naked from the changing room. The rest of us were just slightly modest. At 14, 15 and 16 things changed a little. Before then we had a no underwear rule to abide by. The teachers did not have much problem in checking, it was usually obvious. At the older ages there was a strange, very English way of signalling a different rule. At around14/15 the annual letter from the school shop had a different, longer, list of kit requirements. This was triggered by a wider range of sports but also by the demands of puberty. Boys P.E. Kit now included a Litesome Supporter. So you had to buy one or as it was suggested two. There was now a compulsory requirement for a protective box if you played cricket. Probably the most awkward point came when you had to go to the shop with your mum and the lady who ran it asked for your size! As neither mother or boy had any experience of such items it could be horribly embarassing. Looking back, I never did the washing so presumably we both got over it.

Swimming was a summer term activity. We only got to wear trunks when competing with other schools. Hard to believe now, although it was an all boys school so I guess the teachers were not bothered. I don't remember caring about this but I dropped the activity when I was 14. Surely they would have changed the convention after then? I did have a run in with a rather sadistic teacher, not from the P.E dept., but someone who covered. I was 13 and still in the shorts but no pants era. I think the P.E staff were annoyed with this teacher because I was pretty keen and good at P.E. As part of the lesson we had to run around the school field although it was a wet and cold day. I had ended up on my backside covered in mud but finished OK. Then we had to go into the gym, our plimsols were covered in mud and left outside the building on racks. So we were barefoot with just shorts. I was really upset when I was told, along with 4 other boy, to take off our shorts as they were a disgrace for being so muddy. Then we had to go through the last 20 minutes of the gym lesson naked. I don't think I cared about being naked so much as the injustice of the decision. The teacher was an arrogant bully. That is the problem with education. It radicalised me. I complained to the Head Teacher...about the decision to force me to go on rather than shower and clean up. You know what? He agreed. Was that when the rot started or did he realise he might have a problem teacher. Whatever, nothing came of it although I felt emboldened to go to the Head whenever I had a complaint. He must have regretted being sympathetic. Overall tough, wierd but life forming without regrets.

Comment by: Steve James on 13th November 2010 at 21:54

Despite the seemingly harsh environment I experienced with PE at school. I soon began to excel at both cross-country and track.
I had a very slim build well suited to wearing the briefest of shorts and actually learnt to embrace exposure to the elements so often encountered during these activities.
The PE Master would coach his best boys from 4th to 6th forms persuading us to put in extra time after lessons. His attitude to this training was even more intense than the regular PE to which so many boys found abhorrent. However he would not accept a weak performance from any of his 'elite' team and we certainly got to realise this.
Being too 'lightweight' for football or rugby I was consequently selected to be one of the 'lucky' boys to represent the school for cross-country on a regular basis.
We would be entered into various inter-school events throughout the Midlands mainly on Saturdays during autumn and winter terms for cross-country and occasionally track races and athletics.
Sir would coach us with intensity with the aim to gain kudos both for himself and the school.
Sir maintained the ethos of 'shorts only' strip for all training as well as all of these competitions as he argued that seeing us performing so lightly clad made us seem superior in the eyes of the opposing teams giving us the advantage.
On so many occasions we shivered and froze our balls off for the good of the school!
I recall more than one time where the boys we were competing against were made by their teachers to very reluctantly strip down to only shorts because the visiting team had done so.
If we performed well, Sir was jubilant. A poor result and every boy suffered as the ongoing training and coaching regime intensified fourfold in preparation for the next event!

Comment by: Dan on 12th November 2010 at 21:41

I can't see why PE kit contains shirts nowadays.What's the purpoese of shirts for sports?
Isn't freedom of movement important for gymnatstics for example?

Comment by: Morgan on 12th November 2010 at 15:38

I recall the prefects having pyjamas and dressing gowns! The staff quarters where adequately heated whilst us boys would shiver. Complaint was not an option. In my case I received a greater trashing a during home leave if I was seen to be a sissy. Certainly it was a harsh regime but we didn't have crime as a result!

Comment by: Alan on 12th November 2010 at 09:46

Yes, I remember the local school outfitters who supplied the games kit for my prep school. If we wanted just pe kit which consisted of white cotton shorts, white socks and plimsolls, we had to strip off and he would fit the appropriate size. We all liked them tight which he allowed. He lost a load of business as my school year (age 12) were asked to trial cotton briefs for pe as apparently they were better fitting. Only wore them for a year as they got ripped and basically they were hopelss and we went back to the shorts. We never wore shirts for pe in all the time I was there and swimming was naked and the only time trunks weer allowed was on open days.

Comment by: Mark on 11th November 2010 at 15:58

Well Morgan, now that you mention that the school was for children of military personnel, that rings a bell.
It seems that in several armies around the world, officers used to wear pyjamas whereas for the lower ranks nudity was the rule for bed.
Strange how this tradition found its way into a British boarding school.

Comment by: Morgan on 10th November 2010 at 23:04

The boarding school I attended in the late 60's was attended primarily by the children of military personnel and had a major discipine ethos. One house master regularly carried out inspections late at night. Looking back on it I believe he was a sadist who had a thing for punishing boys. He would give an entire dorm six stingers with the slipper if he found a lad in the dorm had slipped on a vest or shorts to combat the cold. I often wonder if some of these men where at all suitable for such positions. It was rumoured that boys in a dorm with a different head of house where allowed to share beds enabling them to have two sets of blankets and gain head from each others bodies. I would not be surprised if this was true given the gentleman in question however. He was one of those games masters who took a little two much interest in lads showering and drying properly and insisted on marching us into the freezing cold for outdoor games and used the gym in fine weather.

Comment by: Mark on 9th November 2010 at 17:02

Morgan, I am familiar with shirtless PE and naked swimming classes but I have never heard of boarders having to sleep naked, although I wouldn't be surprised if this was the rule in some boarding schools at that time.

Comment by: Morgan on 7th November 2010 at 17:08

Perhaps if schools today adopted the sporting and discipline traditions of my day then we wouldn't have a disfunctional society or require ASBOS! At my Boarding school I remember in winter the condensation freezing on the inside of the glass in the dormitory. We still had to sleep in the buff and we didn't have heavy quilts like today, just a sheet and blanket. The heating never worked properly so if you doddled around and didn't get to the showers quick smart you had a freezing cold shower first thing to wake you up, and often you're bare backside would feel the rath of a size 12 plimsole! It toughened us up and made men out of us! We also swam in our birthday suits and the pool was freezing cold. Two morning a week week we had swimming first thing (which made us very alert for the day's clsses) plus two afternoon swims. Any of the masters could use the slipper and for more serious infractions we had to report to the deputy head at the end of classes. A lad sent to the deputy head had to return to his dorm to strip off then proceed through the drafty corridors to queue outside the office. Standing naked with your hands on head in the corridor for all to see was as much a deterent as six welts of the cane on the bare behind. I can say it didn't do me any harm, even though it was harsh even by the standards in those days. I have hardly ever had a cough or wheeze in my life and I put it down to those formitve teenage years!

Comment by: Steve James on 6th November 2010 at 20:44

By the time I reached the 5th form, most of us boys were more conscious about our bodies and how we looked. Rules for PE kit were the same as for the younger boys in that we wore nothing but white shorts and plimsolls for PE, Athletics and cross-country even in the autumn and winter terms!
Black shorts were reserved for games , football, hockey and rugby. It was fashionable at the time to wear all trousers and shorts as low as possible below the waist but PE shorts looked silly if pulled down low or with the waistband folded over.
Myself and a few other boys found the answer to looking and feeling good in our shorts.
The local outfitter's in the town had always supplied both the school uniform and all other school kit. They also offered a tailoring service for alterations, repairs etc.
The owner was oldish but he knew what we wanted, we could select our shorts, I remember mine were thin white nylon split sided athletic shorts, he would adjust the fit and lower the waistband to whatever level asked for. Perfect! The only downside was you had to stand on a table wearing nothing but the new shorts as he fiddled about taking measurements and putting tailors pins in place. I remember he kept getting me to take them off and on again several times as I stood there butt naked!
The cost was nominal and it soon caught on with many of the other boys, there was developing competition between most of us to get the lowest, briefest fitting shorts that you could get away with even extending into the sixthform!

Comment by: john on 6th November 2010 at 18:25

Although I was at secondary school about 10 years after the date of the picture, the gym class looks remarkably similar, both in terms of the kit being worn and the equipment being used.
Our indoor pe kit was white shorts, white plimsolls or bare feet, no shirt and for the first two years no underwear allowed. At the start of our third year, the pe teacher sat us all down and advised us to purchase a 'Litesome Supporter' (jockstrap) from the local sports shop.

For outdoor games in the winter we wore rugby kit and in the summer it was shorts and an athletics vest.
Showers were compulsary after pe lessons. The outdoor games changing room didn't have showers, but instead had one of the old style communal baths. You definitely didn't want to be last into that after playing rugby on a muddy pitch in mid-winter!

Ours was an all boys school, but my sister, who went to the local girls school wore a leotard for indoor pe and a hockey shirt and coulottes outdoors. At my wifes school on the other hand the indoor kit consisted of navy 'gym knickers'and a white polo shirt. She said that vests or a bra were allowed under the polo shirt (and that for some girls the change from the former to the latter was prompted by the pe teacher suggesting it was time).

Comment by: martin on 6th November 2010 at 13:38

Had to wear white nylon pe shorts,very smooth and sensual next to the skin,when worn solo.soon got excited in them ,wore them in bed and enjoyed them ,,then we had to wear a jockstrap.i liked the jockstrap..visible through our shorts.

Comment by: Mark on 31st October 2010 at 10:00

It is certainly not uncommon in sports schools outside the UK. Just watch this video:

Comment by: Lucas on 29th October 2010 at 09:33

It seems shirtless PE is still a rule in some schools:


Comment by: Mark on 27th October 2010 at 10:37

And then think that this outfit was actually condoned by parents! I once asked my mum why I wasn't allowed a warm shirt for PE like my sister and her answer made it very clear: because your sister is a girl and you are a boy.
The school policy was even extended to some house rules: our sister wore pyjamas to bed whereas even on the coldest of nights me and my brother slept in the buff.

Comment by: Steve James on 24th October 2010 at 22:19

I attended a boys boarding school in the Midlands between 1966 and 1971.
PT and Athletics were dominant activities in the school and were organised by an extremely overzealous PT Teacher. He regarded most boys, with the exception of a few 'prima donnas', as physically weak and in need of toughening up to meet his 'standards'.
He was quite relentless, setting fitness targets for each boy.
I made the mistake of answering him back on my first lesson, I was to soon regret this although unlike the other masters he rarely used corporal punishment on boys as he had many other more sadistic ways to discipline us.
The school was located out of town with playing fields and a dinghy lake formed from a disused quarry.
The school hall had to double as the gym so PT was often practised outside in the cold. There was a changing room together with a chilly long concrete walk-through communal shower partially open to the elements. There were multiple shower heads at different heights and angles to ensure that users got a thorough soaking. Showering was always supervised by Sir to eliminate boys shirking.
For all sports and athletic activities boys were only permitted to wear white shorts which were provided. No vest or tops no socks and definitely no underwear. The shorts were cotton but usually quite brief and low on the waist. I recall that when I entered the fifth year, nylon shorts took over from cotton and these were the athletics type with split sides they were much thinner and lighter. They were also very translucent when wet!
On my first lesson I was caught wearing my pants under my shorts and as a punishment and I was made to strip naked and stand up on a bench in front of the other boys for 10 minutes or so – very embarrassing.
Cross-country was at least a twice weekly event. Again boys wore just white shorts and plimsoles whatever the weather and all year round.
We would be set off in groups of similar level. Occasionally Sir would pick one group, usually with me in it, and half way round the course include a swim in the freezing dinghy lake from the wooden jetty to and around a buoy.
One of his favourite toughening-up activities was to line up a group of boys on the jetty have you lean forward in the diving position and one by one push you off. You never knew who was next.
Boys like me that initially could not swim had to endure swimming lessons in the same lake. The temperature was always freezing cold as it was spring fed and half an hour seemed like eternity for a typical lesson. You soon learnt to swim the required 100 yards. Boys were naked for all swimming activities even the inter-house gala races, but no one seemed to mind this.
The cross-country course often meant getting very muddy and this had to be cleaned off afterwards in the showers which were nearly always cold as the hot water always seemed to run out.
I remember on several occasions being particularly muddy from the very deep and wide so-called water jump. Before showering, Sir would then line us up naked against the chain link and hose us down with the fire hose, this was very forceful, extremely cold and it really stung on impact! He would instruct us to turn around in turn slowly whilst he directed the jet all over and not just on the muddy bits!
Happy days!

Comment by: Michael on 28th September 2010 at 23:49

Yes, the photo brings back fond memories. I attended a grammar school in the 1960's. Although there was a long inventory regarding sports and PE kit, all the indoor lessons were conducted with the students barechested and barefoot. We were permitted only a pair of white shorts for gymnastics. Occasionally we could wear a singlet vest during the winter months but this was always at the discretion of the PE master. Outside activities were performed with a white vest, shorts and plimsolls. Lost or forgotten kit was never tolerated and I remember having to run barefoot around the rugby pitch as a punishment for my amnesia.

Comment by: Dick on 26th September 2010 at 22:28

gym kit for us in school up to aged 18 was simple.

Boys were only allowed to wear white briefs - nothing else

Girls were allowed navy blue knickers and white T Shirts and a bra if needed

Comment by: Mark on 14th September 2010 at 16:53

By the way barechested PE and naked swimming classes later on made that me and my brother both chucked our pyjamas at a very early age.
When we were 8 or 9 we started sleeping shirtless and by the time we reached 14 or so we both slept in the buff.

Comment by: Mark on 13th September 2010 at 13:29

Our shorts were a lot smaller than the ones in the picture.
I remember one teacher who used to make fun of the new boys who sometimes broke out in gooseflesh. "We have a few plucked geese again in here" he used to say.

Comment by: peter s on 17th August 2010 at 23:31

Remember these scenes well, around that time too. Gym teacher used to open all the windows in the coldest weather. We were always topless in there, I was so skinny I envied others who were more "manly" looking. I don`t envy them now. I was also amazedat the lack of self consciousness in general. Good school.

Comment by: cass on 8th August 2010 at 11:55

ron parry remember him well snigger snigger- mate of that pygmy grimes as I bitterly recall

Comment by: Rob on 31st July 2010 at 17:27

Not at all, David! As a special "treat" in the last PE lesson of each term we played a game called Killerball whereby the two teams (consisting of the boys from each of the two classes which were put together to do PE) had to score goals at the opposite end of the gym. Any tactics were allowed to get the ball in the goal - there were no rules at all! My class usually lost so rather than just use brute force and strength we hatched a plan at the end of one term whereby everyone but the biggest, strongest boy in my class was secretly paired up with a boy in the other class except their smallest, wimpiest kid. When the whistle sounded, we all went for our targets and just started fighting with them, meaning our strongest member was free to grab the ball, and only having to deal with their weakest team member, just keep scoring! It sort of worked, but backfired on us in a way because we were never allowed to play it again - I guess the teacher thought our tactics, original, inventive and intelligent though they were (in our opinion!), were just too violent to be allowed in school for a bunch of 13 year old boys even at that non-PC time!

I suspect the specifics of these sort of games and their names varied by region or part of the country - I lived in London - were there similar games in other areas?

Comment by: David Wood on 19th July 2010 at 21:05

Rob (2nd May 2010) has clearly had a sheltered upbringing. British Bulldog is a game in which one gang of blokes attempt to stop (by almost any means) another gang of blokes getting past them. Last man standing is the winner. Never played it against girls though. That might have been more interesting!

Comment by: Tim H on 18th July 2010 at 14:35

Strange how this photo brings back so many memories!

I can't remember what we wore for games at Primary school in Lincoln in the late 1950s. Moving on to a Grammar School in the 1960s it was white shorts and tee shirt with plimsolls (no socks) for PE. For football and cross country it was black shorts and a rugby style top with boots or plimsolls. No underwear until we got older - I can't remember any checks on what we wore under our shorts - most people wore briefs. (Our school wasn't particularly sports orientated).

In PE some of us started wearing vests and then went down to being barechested. When I went there shorts were baggy and lasted us as we got older, but by 1966 many of us had switched to the new shorter style becoming popular then.

The school wasn't sports orientated - if you were good at games, fine - if note you seemed to be forgotten - or so it seemed.

And, yes, I think PE & games like this did make us 'better' people.

Comment by: Jim on 4th July 2010 at 16:13

I attended a boys only school in Scotland from 1965 -1971. We had always worn just white gym shorts in primary school. Primary school was mixed school and we had mixed pe classes- the girls wearing white vests and navy knickers.
It was no change when we went up to the secondary school. As I say we only wore white shorts, no tops or underwear. It may seem somewhat strange now but we had "underpant checks" where the pe teacher checked that we were not wearing underpants. The reader must remember that this was some 45 years ago and what is considered inappropriate now was acceptable then! Remember this was a time when corporal punishment in schools was also acceptable ( and even encouraged!) and I can assure you the "belt" was in daily use!
After any pe, swimming or games class compulsory showers following, naked in an open shower room supervised by the teacher. I admit all this was a bit of a shock at first, but we were all treated the same and it was soon the norm for classes.

PE was fairly hard work with lots of circuits, press ups, sit ups etc. I never really enjoyed it but it was accepted.

I appreciate that times have moved on and what was acceptable practice then would not be tolerated now-but I dont think it ever did any of us any harm!

Comment by: Sidona on 25th May 2010 at 15:42

At my secondary school (RC private) in Buckinghamshire in the mid 1950s, the specified PE kit was white shorts and PE vest; on economy grounds, those of us who regularly wore underwear vests, i.e. virtually all of us back in those days, got into the habit of substituting our normal everyday vest for the latter item. After I had been at this school for a couple of years, the PE staff decided that it would be healthier for us to do PE topless and took a vote among us on the matter. Not surprisingly, toplessness got a 100% vote. With this garb, "Shirts and Skins" was obviously out, so we had coloured sashes to distinguish teams when necessary. Although we were expected to wear vests between the changing room and the gym, this rule was honoured more in the breach than the observance and we soon got into the habit of "forgetting" to put our vests back on under our shirts after PE. As we had PE every day of the week, generally in the mornings, we ended up minus our vests for much of the school week and soon most of us didn't bother coming to school in a vest at all, much to the concern of most of our parents, who felt that all children should wear vests all the year round, regardless of climate. There was no prohibition on the wearing of underwear, although for the first couple of years, most of us freeballed. At one point, probably when we were 12 or 13 and one lad got accidentally kicked in the "privates", the PE master advised us that we should think about wearing some form of support, and mentioned a thing called a "jock-strap". I don't think any of us had ever heard of this item of clothing, and i don't think any of us took the trouble to obtain one, but most of us took the hint, and from then on we tended to keep our underpants on for PE.

Comment by: john on 11th May 2010 at 15:16

in my school we had to wear a jockstrap for all sport. It was compulsory ... I don't remember anyone having a problem with it either. Showers were communal ... don't remember anyone having a problem with that one, too.

Comment by: Crow on 7th May 2010 at 20:02

British Bulldog? A game where half the people in it line up facing a line of the other half, and each has to run through to pass the other side. The other side have to stop them. That's the aim whichever side's perspective you take. I only played it a few times. It's supposed to be really physical but it's actually psychological and needs agility, I got through by looking straight at one spot like I would be breaking through there, then turn sideways mid run and pass on the other side of the heaviest person in front of me. They couldn't respond fast enough so I got through. Once you engage in direct conflict you can't acheive the intended aim so I figured that wasn't really the point, just figure out how to pass, and do it.

Comment by: Trevor on 4th May 2010 at 18:58

Interesting that the picture is by far the most viewed and commented on on the Historyworld site. I attended a Secondary school in Yorkshire in the years 1972-79 and can well visualise our gymnasium and how it was very much like this one.

We we not required to be bare chested except for the occasional “shirts vs skins” basketball games. Sometimes outside in the summer (we had summers then!) one of the PE teachers would have his top off and nobody thought anything of it. I remember during one of the shirts vs skins games I was felt relieved to be a “shirt”. I was small and a little overweight. With hindsight, I felt it would have been better if we all generally did PE shirtless. As it was I did get a bit of a hangup and were I made to do PE bare chested I might have avoided having what was a substantial social handicap. People today may protest at boys doing PE shirtless. “What about those who are overweight, got acne etc?” they would say. My view is that one of the purposes of school (and PE in particular) is to get people to overcome these sorts of anxieties and pandering to them does them no good in the long term.

I go swimming at a local school (after school hours) and find that the boys changing room has individual cubicles for changing as well as individual cubicle like showers. The showers at my school were communal and nobody cared about being seen. Even one of the boys who even at the age of 12 was fully developed “down below”! I wonder which generation has the more body image “issues”?

Our PE teachers were among the more memorable (in a good way) and respected of all. Ron Parry sounds as he is the same. My only criticism in my case was perhaps that the less able pupils (like me) tended to get ignored slightly. However I enjoyed PE and never tried to avoid it. With the increase in children with no father around, good male role models are vital and PE teachers I feel are able to provide this. It is just a pity that looking at the 1959 picture, something of real value with respect to a boy's education has been lost.