Saturday, 7 April 2012

The Windmill Inn

I attended St Gerard's School, Clapham Common South Side, from 1968-73. As I recall some of my most productive hours back then were spent in the public bar of the Windmill Inn. Ah, far happier less complicated times.

The Windmill stood on Clapham Common, set back slightly from the main road, directly opposite the front of our school; and on hot summer's days many is the time my attention was drawn from 'Harry' Horn's waffle about the importance of chess and Dickens; or Jim Smith's over-enthusiastic take on some battle or other in this country's distance bloody past, and through the classroom windows across the A3 past a clump of trees to the frontage of the pub. So tantalisingly near; yet so unattainably distant.

The Windmill Inn Clapham Common

Towards the end of the Fifth Year a few of us in the class, having already abandoned our school uniforms, used to pop into the bar at lunchtimes. Most of us were pub users anyway, had been for a while.

Funny really, just how quick we made that transition from snotty nosed school boys to young urbane men of the world. Not so very long before the pub had served another purpose for. When fractiousness exploded amongst us boys, the chilling words would be intoned: “Right, behind the Windmill after school, you’re dead”. 

Oh, the expectations of those words. Two young Achilles’ pitting their martial prowess in hand to hand fighting? No. More like two scared lads. By the end of the school day they were wondering whether a note from their mums might excuse them from the imminent ritual. No chance. The attendant baying mob had paid to see blood; and blood they’d get.

Pushed together the crestfallen warriors would trade a few unimpressive slaps. One would then escalate events by putting the other in a neck-lock. Within seconds they’d be rolling around on the ground. This was the cue for crowd participation and they started to kick the remaining dignity from the fallen heroes. 


  1. It was Richard Horn & Des Smith.
    The School was on the A24 not the A3, the A3 turned right from the Old Town towards Clapham Junction.

    I too was there!!

    1. I was there from 1962-69 and remember Des Smith as a pupil there before he went to teachers training college. Does anyone have any photo's of the school?


  2. I too was there during the same time period. It was a poor education really. Ironically, I went onto several elite universities and ended up as a teacher and literacy consultant. I still dream of the old place, from time to time. One of the best teachers was a student teacher that we had great respect for, a Mr Smith. He was not a disciplinarian and never got wound up. He was all the better for it and we soon stopped mucking about. He was only there for a few months in the early 70s but he introduced us all kinds of ideas and took us out the zoo and a theatre to put on "The Long, The Short and The Tall". His experimental lessons stayed with me. I even tried out his "cops and robbers" lesson involving alibies up in Scotland, while going through my PGCE. The kids LOVED it; their regular teacher helped me teach the lesson as she become a solicitor for the gang of robbers and I, a the commissioner of police briefed my detectives. It was Smith's lesson all over again and it was the one that gave me the confidence that I could think. I met a few of the pupils years afterwards at Canary Wharf when they won an award for a student newspaper; they sent for me and we went to see "The Mouse Trap" and had dinner at their hotel. Their old teacher had accompanied them. And they told me that they still remembered "that lesson" as the best one they ever had, even if their memories of the student teacher that gave it had naturally dimmed. Much of what we learn at school is forgotten and lessons fade away - but Mr Smith (not to be confused with Desmond Smith) remains with me as a formative influence who also went onto influence students I taught years afterwards. Our thoughtfulness and actions have consequences and can resonate for decades afterwards. No doubt that student teacher from the early 70s will never read this, even if he still lives.

  3. There are a few typos above but it still has the gist of what I wanted to say.

  4. I was there between 1958-1963. The staff were simply vicious. Canings daily. She inspections in the playground every morning. Pity the boys who had to walk across the common. Teachers of unworthy note...Mr Carling, Mr Price, Mr Elliot, Mrs (Ma)Davey, all wielded the cane. Mr Price (3a) actually smoked in the classroom. He told us we were an unworthy lot who would amount to no good. In modesty, I have done very well in life as, I am sure, have many of my classmates from that time. All I recall is prayers, the Angelus Bell, being caned for some minor infraction, then being caned by your class master (for letting him down) and then ditto for your House Master on a Friday afternoon after detention.
    It belonged in the dark ages and I do not regret having left at 15 being told I would regret it for life. However, again, in modesty, I have been hi
    highly successful in life, became quite literary and artistic when I left, have been successful in business and my son obtained a double first at Oxford. My classmates were Leach, Farrelly, Wortham, Fitzgerald, Fache, Piatrowski, Gold, Wynne, Critchley, Willows, Foley et al.......

  5. I too was there at that group were Rory Farrelly, John Gold, Joe Willows, Dan Begley et al.

    I agree with the above inasmuch as the whole ethos was based on regimen, religion, discipline and punishment.

    Others in the Class were Mountain, Morson, Cantwell, Harris, Kennedy from memory. The head boy was named Bennett and was a hero....

    Mr Meheghan was the aged Head and his lackey was Mr Carling, a psychotic if ever there was one. I recall little if ever encouragement or praise. The Houses were Campion, Fisher, Becket and Moore.
    I believe a school is as good as the staff and I recall three canings in one day, I could not write to do my homework. I was not a bad kid, maybe expressive but, did not really deserve the canings I received. In our first year we were being taught a science lesson when the teacher, a Mr Blake was interrupted by a boy from another class who had been asked to deliver a pile of text books. He had an expression on his face which the teacher di not like and was asked to change it...he did not really understood and the teacher said "right, lets see what the cane will do to change it...." The poor kid received 8 strokes before the nutcase ceased the punishment. I further recall a case of a classmate being caned wearing only gym shorts..the weal was so bad and the music teacher who administered it, A guy called Probert actually came to the classroom and the victim had to drop his trousers to show the teacher, a guy called Blake.....they both thought it funny????
    These days that could be construed as criminal.....

  6. Not sure how or why I find myself back at this page? just getting old I suspect :)
    ST G. not the best of schools with some less than adequate teachers but I suspect with some less than attentive students; myself amongst them.
    Canings were my speciality whilst there but more a battle of wills between the teacher and the student I can remember a couple of teachers giving up caning me as they became aware that it made little impression on or difference to me.
    Stay well guys

  7. Hello all, just came across this page . I was at st Gerards from 67 to 73. I have recently started a Facebook group:page 'Memories of St Gerard's Boys School, 63 South Side, Clapham, SW4'
    It would be good to see you there and share more memories



  8. My Brother Kenny Elliott (Elms Rd) and his Friend Keiran O'Connor (Cavendish Rd) went to St Gerards in the 60's, think they left in 66/67....They drank in the Windmill Pub too (often;)
    Anyone remember them?

    1. Remember Kenny, his younger brother, and Keiran very well. Kenny wrote the ITN News at Ten theme! I was a jazz organ player and worked with Kieran around bars and clubs in the 70's. Happy days. Pat Kirby.

  9. I was in St Gerards for one year, around 1962, then my family moved to Ireland. Luckily Ireland did not have the 11+ so it was like getting a second chance. I think most of those teachers did the post war emergency training and probably little else. I did a little better than it was assumed I would do. A form teacher laughed when my father asked would I be able to do take A Levels. I'm now a professor emeritus. Just goes to show. For a few years after leaving university in Dublin I taught in Newham and a lot of the older teachers were like those in St Gerards, used the cane too much and not that good.

    1. Michael, i'm sure I remember you, and recall you had a great sense of humour. Hope you will all join our Facebook page to keep in touch. Regards, Patrick Kirby.
      'Memories of St Gerard's Boys School, 63 South Side, Clapham, SW4'