Philip Lord


I was born in East Dulwich, by Peckham Rye in SE London in 1945, just a few weeks after the end of the war (my mother recalls looking out on sandbags from the labour room!). When I was born my mother was only 19 years old, having married the previous year. She was a very strong, dynamic personality and caring one, and she has probably been the greatest influence on my life. She was ambitious for herself and for me and my brother.
I suppose my background could be described as skilled working class; my father was brought up in very large, poor family in Deptford, just off the Old Kent Road (I imagine very similar then to Islington), and my mother’s father, a clerk, was the son of a invalided railway worker from Peckham. There is a legend in the family that one of my father’s forebears was Sir John Fowler, the Victorian engineer who designed the Forth Bridge; another legend has it that another forebear lost the pub he owned and ran in the East End on a bet on a horse. I suspect the former is through an extramarital affair, if true.
I would describe my education as fractured, with no long spells of stability and in many ways I regret that; in other ways I think it has given me flexibility. During childhood my parents moved around a lot – from house to house and my father from job to job: from East Dulwich to Forest Hill, back to East Dulwich, then to Redhill in Surrey, then a spell living with my grandparents as my parents were trained as publicans. I had therefore been to many schools before I arrived at Risinghill: first a primary school in Forest Hill, a junior school in Redhill, then (after failing the 11+) briefly to a secondary modern School in Redhill, and another in Nunhead in SE London. At Nunhead I passed the “13+” to go to Northampton Technical School and thence of course to Risinghill when it opened. Soon after getting into Northampton we moved back to Redhill in Surrey, and I commuted to Northampton and Risinghill schools from there – a train journey to London Bridge, then on the tube to Old Street (for Northampton) and to the Angel (for Risinghill). It must have taken a good hour. A few other Northampton boys had similar commutes, but I think mine was the longest.
I left Risinghill when I was 16, with four “O”- I remember clearly when walking away from the school thinking that none of my schools had taught me how to think; I was slightly let down. On reflection now the contrast between Northampton and Risinghill was in the latter’s favour. Though Northampton no doubt gave a superb technical training, outside of its core subjects of metalwork, technical drawing and maths the teaching was pretty appalling. It may be because of the impending closure of the school, but in subjects like English, geography, history we seemed to be subjected to a stream of indifferent supply teachers. I remember a term or two of English simply comprising dictation, we went over the industrial revolution and Jethro Tull countless times in history, one geography master amused with risqué stories. In all these areas I am self taught. There was no chemistry or biology to speak of (I don’t think Risinghill did these either) – something I have missed in my working life. I remember a distinct improvement when I got to Risinghill (and for the first time I enjoyed gym and PE – we could more or less do as we wished under supervision, and I particularly remember playing tennis).
I suppose influenced partly by my mother, by the example of my brother who was at grammar school, and my inherent ambition I knew I wanted to study more. It was debated at the time whether to stay at Risinghill to try for “A” levels, but it was decided I should go to Croydon Technical College to do this – it was closer to home in Redhill; I suspect too it had more resources and a wider range of options. My mother says she discussed the decision with Mr Duane; before she died she still remembered and admired him. At Croydon Tech. I obtained three good “A” Levels. The contrast with Risinghill was interesting, one was treated as an adult – I remember we were all as addressed as Mr (or Miss) this or that, and there was freedom to spend one’s time more or less as you liked.
During the end of my stay at Risinghill and while at Croydon Tech I started to get involved in politics – the young socialists, CND, anarchism. In part this was a natural progression given my family’s left-wing sympathies and their primary concern for fairness, but it was strengthened by the commuting to school over the years and the social contrasts and environmental ugliness I saw. The travelling time gave me time to think and dream. This political – perhaps moral - engagement shaped my youth and future paths. When Risinghill was so publically closed in 1965 I followed the story keenly in the press – education was intimately part of my libertarian socialism. Again, when Leila Berg’s book appeared a year or two later I bought it – but then found I could not, did not want, to read it. Perhaps it was too close to my heart and too close in time. It remained unread on my bookshelves until the 2000’s.
From Croydon Tech. I went on to Reading University to read mathematics and physics; I got in by the clearing system, but acceptance was a mistake – I should have taken a year out, and learnt better how to learn. But I had no family experience to refer to, nor access to the advice of a school or college experienced in these matters. I was the first in my family to go to university, like so many people of my generation. Reading was not a huge success, and came out with a poor degree, an honours 3rd in mathematics. During my time at Reading I got married, too early – another mistake!
Still interested in education I went on to take a postgraduate certificate in education, and then to teach at a boys’ comprehensive school in North London. I very quickly become disillusioned with teaching, but stayed out the year for the kids who were taking exams. There are some interesting parallels and contrasts between that school and Risinghill, but that subject is too complex to go into here.
I was lucky – I was offered a research job with the Medical Research Council at St Bartholomew’s Hospital Medical College (close to old haunts in Clerkenwell), where I was engaged in research into the health effects of air pollution – we were studying the health effects of the London “pea-souper” fogs. For the first few years I took evening study for an MSc in Mathematics, but then tired study and with family obligations I did not go on to do a PhD. I regret that now, and still have a lingering desire to finish the job and do one (nearly everyone in my family has been doctored). And personally, I was not happy during this period, suffering from clinical depression.
Release from the depression and an opportunity to move on came in the late ‘70’s when I landed a computing management job a publishers in Amsterdam. Our second son had just been born – and we moved to the Netherlands. My yongest son eventually went to a Dutch “kleuterschool” (an infants school), the eldest to a secondary school mainly for the children of EU employees at a local EU scientific facility. He had a wonderful education there – being taught in three languages according to subject – in English, French and German, and of course he picked up playground Dutch. I was impressed by the Dutch and EU education systems, they were well organised and gave kids of all abilities a broad education, the course materials were very well thought out. And the schools were relaxed; there was certainly no corporal punishment. More interestingly education was not politicised as it was, and is, in Britain.
I eventually came back to an IT job in the UK at the end of the 80’s, after a divorce, the family having all left the Netherlands before me. The job did not last long – but I was lucky enough to get a fairly senior computing job in the pharmaceuticals industry just as the previous company went bust. In the mid ‘90’s SmithKline Beecham offered me a job to build an electronic data archive. I got enthralled by the difficult and extraordinarily interesting problem of preserving our digital information. I feel I have become a well respected and well known expert in this field, and was elected a Fellowship of the Royal Society of Arts for this work.
I left the pharmaceuticals industry some 10 years ago to set up my own small consultancy specialising in digital archiving and preservation, but now have become semi-retired and moved to Scotland to be near both my and my partner Alison’s families. There is much to do (apart from decorating): more music, bird watching, photography, family history, travel, gardening and I shall always be studying – maybe even a PhD at last. And Risinghill.
After ending teaching Risinghill moved to the back of my consciousness until perhaps sometime around 2005. My disgust at the war in Iraq had revitalised my radical leanings and I read Leila’s book. It gave me insights hitherto I had lacked, and facts I was previously unaware of, but I found the book unsatisfactory. I think I found it overstated, perhaps naïve in several ways, though it was probably necessary at the time. I have not reread it since. On Friends Reunited, I found out about the Action Group, and responded to that, searched out my cuttings and made scans of them for the group – but then became inactive. Our new company had just landed a big contract in Europe and this absorbed huge amounts of time and energy, for a year or two, to be followed by two more long contracts in the Middle East. Now, having eased back from work I got an unexpected email from John - so here I am again, keen to finish unfinished business.
Just one last thought: for me the major educational bugbear was the 11+, which categorised people too early, often unfairly, and was socially divisive. In addition there was no real flexibility to move between schools if the original assessment proved wrong. I am just one of very many who have not been served well by this system.

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