Maurice Upperton

14 May

I arrived at Cuddington County Primary School, Worcester Park, aged six or seven and was dropped into Mrs Thorburn’s Class. New faces, little tables; feeling alone. Class 3, elder brother put in class 5.

Three weeks’ later promotion to Mr Upperton’s class 4. Mrs T had spotted something in me. Times table dynamism, no doubt. Astute woman – severe but astute. Mr U didn’t want a 35th or 36th member of the class when the uncompromising Head, Miss Iris Smith forced me upon him. He pouted like a spoiled child. A spare desk had to be found. I was placed in an alcove, separate. Not only was I new and a year young but now, also, in a recess. I felt odd. I was an inconvenience. Mr U was odd too.

Later, in class 7, our 11+ year, he was my teacher again. I have a stronger recall of this time. 1961. Mr U was a formal, suited man – usually brown or green tweed – quite dapper as befitted this neat little, pinched specimen. Half moon glasses over which he peered, perched on his nose precariously – his forefinger regularly prodded the specs back up to the safety of the bridge so he could relax into his piercing study of the individual under scrutiny. A decade earlier it would have been a pince-nez below his slicked Hitleresque hair. A strong but squeaky voive, a fob-watch running from lapel to top pocket (or on smarter days a waistcoat chain), a shiny dome and thinning hair, mirror-polished brogues which squeaked, not unlike his voice – are amongst many  impressions I retain of a man I didn’t like much.

He much preferred girls- their hard work, their general lack of interest in sport or being naughty, their desire to please. They fussed tirelessly over wickerwork and lino cuts, cried when they got the 15times tables wrong and pleaded for more sessions of country dancing. Boys he found tiresome. We didn’t have much time for him either – save for that lingering fear that smart, pinched, stern, controlled, neat, small men-with-strident-voices, can engender.

But. But…he could tell or read a story like no other. Most afternoons saw me tripping home in a glow of Huck Finn’s tribulations, Gladys Aylward’s heroics, Just William’s impishness and so much more. Uppity’s squeaky hectoring voice metamorphosed into a child’s aural delight as he navigated his way through the narratives: accents, gender and age-related diction, a brilliance of drama and timing, breath-holding and release – the story-teller’s power crackled across the classroom as we lay our heads. Occasionally I would be moved to glance up, intuitively knowing that it was the time to meet that extra grimace of expression, the edge of meaning that a facial contortion can give. Uppity rarely failed to satisfy.

For all his buttoned-up suits Maurice Upperton opened up new worlds each afternoon. Forty years later I met him at a past-pupils’ function. He was in his 90s. He didn’t remember me. His voice still squeaked. I still didn’t like him but his Huck Finn voice remains so strong in my ear.

9 Responses to “Maurice Upperton”

  1. Melanie August 20, 2014 at 8:38 am #

    Astonished and pleased to find your recollections of Mr Upperton. I was one of the girls who wanted to please and loved country dancing in Class 6 in 1965. I wish my memory was as detailed as yours so I am stealing from you to help me write a story inspired by that time. Thanks, Melanie

    • Paul Guthrie April 23, 2016 at 9:58 am #

      My memory was jogged by reading your response, Melanie. I adored Mr Upperton who I had for Class 6 and 7 (1966-8). I do not remember any gender bias although he did like several girls whom I also liked! He often handed out notes on local history which I have kept. We had a great day out to Box Hill when I fell into the River Mole. Also he took us to the Bluebell Railway. Mr U. cast me as the black boy in Tom Sawyer. A make-up lady came to black my face for the play. I remember Class 3 with Mrs Thorburn, a really fine, no-nonsense teacher. I remember the assembly when Miss Smith told us that Mrs Thorburn died (as did Mr Wiseman who taught Class 4. Remember his tweed jacket with leather elbow patches?). A brain tumour. Around 1965 I was walking with my mother along Salisbury Rd from the park. I looked up and saw her pruning roses in her garden. She gave me a big smile. We moved to Pinner in 1968 and I was heartbroken to leave Worcester Park. Many happy memories of the school and Cuddington Avenue. So sorry I missed the past-pupils function. Hope there’ll be another.

      • Stephen Fay August 20, 2020 at 11:28 am #

        My My My, here I am at age 72 writing about a school teacher, Maurice Upperton, who taught me when I was aged 9 in Class 4 at Cuddington Primary School in 1957. Without a shadow of doubt he was my favorite teacher in all my 7 years at the school. Why? Because he cared about his pupils. Not just in the 3 R’s but in all aspects of life. I found fractions in maths hard to grasp and got in quite a state over them. He spent time with me and a standard ruler explaining to me the science of the fractional figure. This he did after class as I had got in such a state over them during class that fear had taken over and I was to put it bluntly in a right frightened frame of mind. His care taught me all about fractions and I have never forgotten what I was shown. This was only one aspect of his teaching skill. I remember he said to us that learning in the classroom was very important, but also learning outside of the school room was also of great importance. To this end he would from time to time take the class on a local outing. My memories are of a visit to Leith Hill and Friday Street. He explained and named the different trees and plants. Also explained why the Public House at Friday Street was named the “Stephen Langdon”. We all climbed the tower on the Top of Leith Hill. Mr. Upperton explained why the tower had been erected. The Hill is 943 feet high and the tower made it 1000 feet which was as high as a mountain. He also, prior to leaving on the outing, printed us, on the duplicator, all a simple map to follow. I still have mine! I also have photographs that a took on an old roll film camera of the man himself. Some in class and some outside. Also he was without peer when he read us a story. Almost taking the part of the characters in the book. One I remember in particular was “Wind in the Willows”. He impersonated a wonderful ‘Toad’ voice.
        Now I know he was regarded as rather ‘old school’ in his manner, dress and hair style, but he cared. I never cared for football and still don’t which put me at odds with other male teachers. I never heard Mr.Upperton mention the game unlike the teacher we moved to in our final year. He took a great dislike to me because I was useless at football and he obviously loved it.
        I recall Mr. Upperton going to Canada for a long holiday and sending postcards home. I still have mine with a picture of the ‘Empress of Canada’ liner pictured.
        In 2002 I met him again at the 50th Anniversary of the opening of the school. He was 95 years of age and he remembered me. I showed him the photo’s I had taken back then. These he did not recall being taken. He was a talented teacher without reproach.

      • paul guthrie September 6, 2020 at 12:03 pm #

        Stephen: So enjoyed reading your reply to me. Only just discovered it while clearing months of unread emails. If I had known of the reunion, I would have been there.
        I lived at 46 Cuddington Avenue and the walks to and from school were enjoyable. I remember almond blossom along the way. On my last visit I met a family in the same road. The mother had been coached by Mr Upperton for her GCE Maths exam. He did this in his own time, without charging. The embodiment of a dedicated teacher.

        You may already know of local historian David Rymill. His book “WORCESTER PARK AND CUDDINGTON: A WALK THROUGH THE CENTURIES” is a wealth of info. Available from The Buckwheat Press, 77 Cromwell Road, Worcester Park, KT4 7JR. Price is around £9.

        It was a shock when Miss Smith announced in assembly (1966?) that Mrs Thoburn had died of a brain tumour. I was once walking with my mother along Salisbury Road one Sunday, looked up and there was Mrs Thoburn pruning roses in her front garden. We were lucky to have her. I remember my times-tables only because she taught them to me. I would write to her family to express my gratitude to having known her if I knew their whereabouts. I think that row of bungalows (?) has been built over.

        My experience of secondary school in Pinner was dismal. The council eventually closed it. Miserably bad headmaster and lazy unmotivated staff (with a few exceptions). Cuddington got me through it.

      • simplysorro September 6, 2020 at 12:43 pm #

        I’m enjoying these reflections on Cuddington and Maurice Upperton. I lived at 17 Cuddington Avenue with elder brother Erik, now aged 70(I am 69), and younger siblings Michael and Jane. I too remember the shock of Mrs Thorburn’s death. I also agree that the education at CCPS was truly excellent – and that secondary school was somewhat of a disappointment. And probably I was too.

      • Stephen Fay September 14, 2020 at 1:26 pm #

        Paul: Many thanks for mentioning the books of David Rymill. I have ordered and look forward to them.

  2. simplysorro August 20, 2020 at 12:03 pm #

    What wonderful responses and fond memories. I well remember the Box Hill trip where I told My U that I had little interest in nature study. He told me that I would live to regret my lack of interest. He was right. Messrs Thorburn, Pickford, Murphy, Wiseman, Holland, Guest and, of course, Iris Smith and others are very fondly remembered by our family – all four of us went to Cuddington. Our family remained very friendly with Miss Smith until she died, well into her 90s.

    • Stephen Fay August 21, 2020 at 5:46 pm #

      Oh yes your response re my piece on Maurice Upperton kicked my memory into action and the names of other teachers started the ‘old grey matter’ working. Others I recall were Mrs. Grout, Mrs. Guest, Miss Weaver and the school secretary Mrs Fennal. The first of those was my teacher in class 4. Miss Weaver left half way through my class 2 year (1954) to go, it think, to Holland. She was replaced by Miss Murphy. Mrs Guest was the teacher of my class 6 year (1958) I missed a couple of months of that year due to an accident. I skidded on my bicycle in the then rough surfaced part of Cromwell Road and fell in a heap with the brake lever of my bike stuck deep in the thigh of my leg. This severed muscles and nerves and walking for sometime was out of the question. A kindly couple that was passing helped me home and I was dispatched to Surbiton Hospital. I never discovered who the couple were but I was so grateful for their intervention.. I lived in Mortimer Crescent and Mrs. Thorburn lived just around the corner in the surfaced part of Cromwell Road. The relationship between myself and Mrs. Thorburn was at times prickly. I recall having great trouble with division in mathematics and was stuck on the same page in my exercise book for weeks. Thus it got grubby. She blew a fuse at me for this and I got a right slap on the wrist. Not exactly the way to help a struggling pupil or endear ones self to a child. Think today it would have ended far differently. One honour that was bestowed on me was at one harvest festival time. My mother had prepared a large decorated box of fruit etc for display on the stage in the school hall along side other gifts from various areas. It was far too heavy and bulky for me to carry to school and Miss Smith the Headmistress came to my home and picked the up the gift and yours truly and I was driven, in style, to school in Miss Smiths Green Ford Popular. I do have several photographs taken at the school if anyone is interested. These are not just of myself but school plays etc. I really, in the main, enjoyed my years at Cuddington Primary. Happy Days!

      • simplysorro August 21, 2020 at 7:11 pm #

        Good memories Stephen. I arrived in 1957 and remember the sharpness of Mrs Thorburn but that was intellect as well as demeanour. Wiseman slippered next for scrawling naughty words on Len Hodges’ maths book and Mr Holland, who I lived (football mad) was brilliant at throwing chalk left handed. The school atmosphere was fresh and friendly. We lived in Cuddington Avenue so like you, a short walk to school.

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