When I first started at Aske’s there were no windows at all in the music rooms. Towards the end of the 1950s two windows were opened up behind the banked seating in the main music room as shown in figure 4.
Entrance to the music rooms was through two sets of very thick blast proof steel doors set at right angles to one another with an ‘air-lock’ in between. Inside there were wash basins and showers for washing off the residue of poison gas. Both inside and out there still many signs about washing and decontamination. On the outside of the building there was a large sign identifying the building as a “Gas Clearance Station”. On entering through the blast proof steel doors the first large room was used as a music store, practice and tuition room for instrumentalists. Then passing through this room one came into the main music room used for class teaching. Both rooms were large in terms of floor space probably twice the size of a normal class room but there were drawbacks consequent upon the origins. The first was that the room was constructed of reinforced concrete yielding, I would imagine, an ‘interesting’ acoustic which was probably not helped by the relatively low ceiling as befits a bomb shelter. In addition the thick reinforced concrete roof that formed the ceiling was supported by four large pillars interrupting the sight-lines of Mr Smith who was also obstructed to some extent by being behind the upright piano he played to accompany us. Surely an invitation for small boys to make mischief.
However despite all this and with the support of London County Council’s peripatetic teachers for woodwind and other instruments the music tradition thrived. A number of boys played in the London Schools Symphony Orchestra and were allowed to wear on their blazers the shield shaped enamel lapel badge with LSSO in the four quadrants. Among those boys was my friend and sometime climbing companion, Alan Vincent, who played the French Horn and won a scholarship to read music at Clare College Cambridge. Alan went on to become an Inspector of Music in London and Kent schools as well as directing a number of choirs and musical groups.
Mr Smith had been the woodwork teacher before taking over as the music teacher. And so using his woodworking skills he built a double tier of wooden seating along the back room of the music room so that a whole class could be seated and when required stand to sing (See figure 5). He was also a keen amateur ‘hi-fi’ enthusiast and in the days before stereophonic sound, and with very little available from shops, he built a complete sound-system for the music room with a turntable at one end of the banked seating feeding through a home built amplifier system into a massive speaker array mounted diagonally across the opposite corner of the room (figure 4).