Staff and Boys’ C S Kipping Memories

Last updated: 31 July 2009 (amended slightly when transferred to WordPress, April 2016)

This page is partly up to you, although I do have a lot more material about Mr Kipping, thanks to the archives kindly loaned by John Clifford or donated by relatives of Mr E Davis.


One of Ken Foley’s favourite CSK stories:

Kipping came to the heart of the Black Country from a well-spoken middle-class background. During the war years staff were thin on the ground due to war service. WBHS was short of a German master, presumably off fighting for us. In an effort to fulfil the school’s obligation to provide German tuition, Kipping decided to teach himself the German language.

Being a “chemist”, he bought an appropriate German magazine and obviously was able to recognise the proper nouns common to both languages, and worked out the bits in between with the use of a dictionary. He then let himself loose on his pupils teaching them “on the hoof”.

Some time later he was stopped in the middle of Wednesbury by the mother of one of his German pupils.

“Mr Kipping, you are teaching my son German. My husband and I lived in Germany for a few years before the war, and I have to say, they do not speak German in Germany like you do.”

“Madam”, came Kipping’s reply, “they do not speak English in Wednesbury like I do either!”


John Foster pays tribute to CSK in The Problemist chess magazine in September 1991:

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Cyril Stanley Kipping 10th October 1891 – 13th February 1964
A personal appreciation by Dr John Foster

C S Kipping was born into a distinguished family; his father was Professor of Chemistry at Nottingham, two of his uncles by marriage were also professors of Chemistry at Oxford and Manchester. His brother became lecturer in Chemistry at St John’s, Cambridge. At the age of 6, his father moved to the post at Nottingham and this led to Kipping entering Nottingham High School at 11 and subsequently Trinity College, Cambridge to study Chemistry.

He was a great enthusiast for tennis and his chess interest also seemed to flourish around this time too. His paternal grandfather had apparently defeated Paul Morphy during a demonstration in which Morphy played blindfold against 8 contestants, winning the other 7 games. Around 1909, Kipping was introduced to Emanuel Lasker by Mr Derbyshire, the well-known Nottingham chess enthusiast. He took a double first at Cambridge and by 1910 his problems were being printed. They were immediately acknowledged to be of the very best quality. He seemed at the time to be destined to become a research chemist, but apparently tired of it and became a schoolmaster. He taught at Weymouth College till 1918 and was a lieutenant in the OTC.

His later years wore dogged by numerous difficulties with the governors of the school and he was bitter that his successor had set about reorganising the school after he had left, the only headmaster for 32 years. One presumes that chess in school suffered this fate – he did at one time make it part of the syllabus and taught it with a large board which fitted on the easel with moveable pieces. Generally described as rather gruff and dry, he was nevertheless thought to have been a kind human being with a sense of humour, frequently most marked when the joke was on himself.

Kipping died in 1964 at 72, described in one chess journal as the greatest problem editor of all time. He was Problem Editor of Chess Amateur till it went into extinction in 1930; from 1935 till 1958 Problem Editor of Chess, and General Editor of The Problemist from 1932 till his death. In 1957 he was made International Judge of Chess Compositions by FIDE and in 1959 he was one of the 2 Englishmen to receive the newly created title of International Master of Chess Composition. For many years he ran the International Problem Board, which attempted to fulfil some of the present functions of the PCCC. He is credited with 7000 problems, though by 1930, out of some 2000 then composed he only selected 147 as worthy of printing in his book “The chessmen speak”. He used a number of pseudonyms; readers of The Problemist in the 1950s will remember C Stanley, S Henry and S Mere.

I only met CSK once and that was 45 years ago when I walked into his study as a boy of 10 for the oral of what was then the infamous 11-plus examination. Apart from being terrified out of my wits, the only other thing I remember was a bizarre series of questions which seemed to be arranged around knowing which English counties were being pointed to on a large map with their names covered up. The interview ended with my being asked if I would give him a pound for the change on his desk. I said no because I hadn’t got a pound; he then proceeded to count it, there was less than a pound and he pronounced my decision justified. Years later still thinking on this odd question, I realised he had probably counted the money incorrectly. I suppose I should have noticed this; altogether it was the strangest interview I can remember.

There is a personal end to this story and it is both curious and ironic. The outcome of our first and fateful interview with CSK was that he failed me; in those days to fail the 11-plus was a major disaster and so he caused more trouble than any other human being in my attempt to begin my education. However, the story has a happy and unexpected ending. In the last few years, with children growing up, I had a little more time to pursue my childhood interest in chess and despairing of ever having enough time and energy (not to mention ability) to play it, I looked at chess problems, and remembering my old adversary’s renown – it was even known by people not at his school – I turned to look at Kipping’s problems partly in anger, partly out of curiosity. What a delightful treasure trove I found and so interested did I become in his style and ability that I felt he had introduced me to a new interest and an intense pleasure unknown before. Now not many people can do this to one in middle age, and I felt delighted to have him introduce me to the new world of chess problems. So dismissing explanations about “late development’ and such fanciful excuses, I hereby accept the gift of his passion for chess problems in lieu of education at his school as a true posthumous benefaction. Well, life is not all unjust – here is a case of all being well that ends well.

He mentions in “300 problems” how he expected to be called up for active service at this time. There has never been any explanation why he was not called to active service as most of his contemporaries were; he did not have pacifist tendencies. He next moved to Pocklington School in East Yorkshire until 1924, when he was appointed to Headmaster of the newly-created Wednesbury High School. Interestingly he became well-known at Pocklington for training a troupe of jugglers in the school which performed annually.

Described by one biographer as a curious blend of incompatible features such as a love of power and authority and an impish almost childish sense of humour, he wore the traditional mortar board with an ancient academic gown rolled into a bustle behind. Tall and heavily moustached with a dignified bearing along with a suit of Edwardian style which apparently was hardly ever replaced, he created the image of dignity in a rather Dickensian way. He also had a marked taste for conundrums and jokes in lessons, and although he was trained in science he took it into his head to teach Latin. He taught it as one student put it, as though it were a chess problem and provided one knew the rules then it was possible to extract sense out of a passage, though he showed no interest in the poetry and civilisation of Rome.


The Headmaster (by Peter Maddox, 1951-56)

Last updated: 21 June 2009

“O God, who art the author of peace and lover of concord …” the old man growled. Every morning that school was in session the boys assembled in hall with first-formers cross-legged, facing the high desk and the second set of swing doors, to prefects, on chairs, at right-angles to the first set — guarding that exit. Masters, gowned, with backs to walls, sat between blocks of boys.

But all eyes were on the Head — it could not be otherwise. He came from a different time; with fly-away collar, tie whose colours were lost in stain, and old-fashioned three-piece with black boots showing below the turnups. The heavy moustache, central-stained with snuff, dominated the unsmilingly fierce face — to the very young it was permanently angry — whose other features were the round wire glasses, inadequate to help the squinting eyes. Topping the powerful frame was the faintly brown, speckled, bald head which, revealed as he doffed his mortarboard at prayers, wrinkled slightly just above the forehead.

This was C S Kipping, MA, FCS, headmaster of Wednesbury Boys’ High School until 1958, and chess genius. He was a formidable, lonely figure whose only friends seemed to be his boys. And the school was his — had he not always been there? Dominating the days of staff and pupils, know to all as ‘Hezekiah’, ‘Ez’, or simply ‘The Boss’.

Perhaps, to most boys, the first sighting was at the corner of St Paul’s Road in Wood Green. There he stood, most mornings, under the church lych-gate, gripping a heavy ashplant stick and wearing a grey pork-pie style hat with front brim turned up, looking for his boys. They, in real, or mock terror, crammed unworn caps onto heads, and some tried to disguise their neglect of a recent haircut. “A gooseberry is a grape that needs a haircut and a shave …”. This, with a prod of the stick, was the early morning admonishment, imitated endlessly by countless boys.

There were his strange classes: he taught German, and whilst the Gothic script caught his ambience, the pronunciation was odd as he had learnt his own grammar from texts, receiving little guidance in speech.He was a chemist whose anarchic lessons suffused hilarious danger as he demonstrated the corrosive power of acids and alkalis on desktops, parts of his clothing and, occasionally, his own gnarled hands. The effect of active metals tossed, casually, onto bowls of water, was a speciality. And then there was Scripture Knowledge — a process whereby, in the first and second years, the Bible was read aloud, each member of the class being required to read three verses in turn with short explanatory interjections or, sometimes, broad meanderings into wider topics. Always he avoided the embarrassing bits: no ‘Song of Solomon’, and King David’s dallyings with Bathsheba were not for tender ears. Nevertheless his reading of the latter story in morning prayers, after the public citement of a senior member of staff for adultery, became legend!

Most of all there were the chess lessons. First there was a home-made, ledged board which was propped at the end of the first-form room on which he would demonstrate the moves. Later one would graduate to the classes where he would play the best dozen or so form members in sequential matches. A winner would get 3d, a draw merited 2d and a ‘good’ loss, 1d. Many of these games were played with his own, crudely-carved, homemade chessmen. He has been acclaimed as one of the greatest of chess problemists and drew a huge correspondence on the game — letters arrived addressed simply to ‘Kipping, England’. His devotion to chess and its primacy in school affairs was absolute.

Throughout school life one was aware of the language and the legends. The cry of ‘Come here, you bleeding little swine’, whilst pursuing mischief-makers down corridors, would not fit well into modern schools. His sending a boy for ‘cough medicine’ during a Governors’ meeting, which came, together with tablespoon, two of which seemd to cure the problem, was well-known. He, mischievously, claimed to have gained his Cambridge degree by cheating at Greek. There were sports visits from other schools during which accompanying staff would enquire about the oddly-garbed man on the touchline, asking if the Head should be informed! He wore a gown in such tatters that on Speech Day he had to be persuaded to borrow one from another member of staff. And there was the eternal punning, repeated year after year, ‘I’ve no doubt the boy will try, after all, he is very trying …’.

Then there was the private life in the decaying schoolhouse beyond the playing fields. No Mrs Kipping here to minister after a stressful day, few colleagues and no adult friends, but often there were boys. Boys who would join him for tea in his uncleansed rooms; boys who would play table tennis on the table with a hole in one end; boys who would watch him light a cigarette from a piece of wallpaper casually torn from the wall; boys who would report to other boys having seen the drawer filled with halfcrowns; boys who would play chess until they had to leave, and leave him to his cats and thoughts in the old house. His mind was private and he did not share those thoughts but, perhaps, sometimes they mused on how a son of one of the great chemists of the early part of this century had become head of an obscure Black Country grammar school. Or, maybe, they wondered about a time that was lost.

Even in the 1950’s his time had gone. Parents muttered about his lack of ‘being modern’. None dared to confront him but, sadly, few showed sympathy for a man rooted in the expectancies of the twenties and thirties. His conservatism was not popular with, nor understood by, post-war parents, and his manifest aberrations not part of the welfare-state minded adult whose thoughts were tuned by the new bureaucracies.

When he went, sad tales filtered back: About his attempts to interfere with the new regime; about his being seen, continually, on the fringes of the school boundaries; about his lonely vigils on St Paul’s Road, cut off from the core of his life for the previous thirty years, and from the boys to whom he was eccentrically dutiful. No more at prayers would he ask God to ‘Defend us, thy humble servants in all assaults of our enemies’. His humble service to his boys had passed and his unseen enemy, post-war modernity, had won.

Written by Peter Maddox for The Bugle , and published on 7 October 1999.
Peter comments, “I suppose that this is a long overdue tribute to a man who has fascinated me throughout my life.”

I shall not look upon his like again …

C P Vale’s extended account of C S Kipping’s life and work.


Bus incidents

As WBHS served quite a large geographical area, most of us travelled to school by bus, ultimately arriving at, and departing from St Paul’s Road from either Walsall or Wednesbury. To our misfortune, the workers at Elwells, the engineering works at the far end of St Paul’s Road also used these buses and one of their shifts finished at around 4.00 pm. Thus we were in competition with ‘the werkuz’ for a place on the bus home.

No doubt my contemporaries will remember the spirit of the time, in which ‘the werkuz’ were seen as the next best thing to war heroes. The war heroes from Elwells abandoned any semblance of orderly queing as soon as buses arrived at the stop and we were pushed out of the way and often left standing on the pavement waiting for the next bus which could be anything up to half an hour later (the service was very scanty, it being the height of WW2).

Someone must have mentioned this to CSK, because one famous day he appeared behind the queue for Walsall just before the bus came and as it stopped, stepped forward, thrust his stick (evidently recently hacked from a tree) in front of the werkuz and said “Come on you boys, get on this bus.”

There was not one word of protest. It was, I suppose typical of the times, and of the man and the social class to which he belonged.

On another occasion, it was Ken Hopkins who intervened on our behalf, this time with a bus conductress. On this occasion as the bus drew up, said conductress leaned out and shouted “I ain’t havin’ any of you school kids on this bus, there’s only room for the werkers”. Hopkins, an irascible man, thrust his face into hers and said acidly, “This is a public service vehicle and you have no right to keep these boys off.” Awestruck but grateful we got on.

Anyone else remember these incidents?

P S Clift


Making chess pieces in the detention shed

I remember the boss’s shed that stood on the sports ground. It was used mainly to manufacture chess pieces from dowelling of various diameters. Anyone who broke the school rules or upset the boss had to go to the shed on Wednesday afternoon (the half day break) and make the allotted number. Mostly, as in my case, it was due to the fact that one was on the ” slack attendance list” — which meant that one had not put in the minimum number of appearances for the Wednesday afternoon sports sessions. Some of us thought that as we had to go to school on Saturday morning, we should be able to stay away if we did not wish to watch sport. I made quite a few pawns in my time. I was “promoted” once to making a knight, but as it was totally unrecognizable as such, it was back to the pawns! The thing was, it was a great laugh and I really enjoyed it.

Ben Beards


Various brief anecdotes

Mr Kipping’s house was to the left of St Paul’s Vicarage, almost over the entrance to Wood Green High School, and had a huge garden behind it.

 

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The house was in a poor state of repair, and the wallpaper was in shreds, hanging from the wall in his study. Visiting the house was an ordeal for a pupil, but it did allow confirmation of the rumour that he used to light his cigarettes by tearing off a strip of wallpaper, and poking the twist into the coal fire!

Heading for school down the passage between Woden Road East and St Paul’s Road, two pupils were surprised to find CSK standing at the end (presumably to catch boys cycling down the passage!) wearing a beret, Frank-Spencer-style. They had no escape; they were already committed to the passage when they saw him. As they reached him, he asked if they liked his hat, and when they were lost for words (or stifling giggles) he added that he had to wear it as his roof was leaking!

Like his successor, CSK was adamant that boys would wear their schoolcaps at all times. Both have been known to shout across Wednesbury town centre, “you boy!” and punish an unfortunate victim for not being properly dressed. ECW managed in Wolverhampton, too, in the 60s. CSK takes the prize though, for putting a boy in detention for not wearing the cap when on holiday in Criccieth, Wales, in August!

As we know, his speciality was Chemistry, taught in a most unorthodox manner at times. He would tell classes what they should not do in the lab, and then proceed to do the forbidden acts, to show them the consequences. Most chemistry teachers have dropped a little Sodium or Potassium in a beaker of water, but CSK was more generous than H&S would allow today – and the ceiling of the lab bore the scars to prove it. As he did himself – caused by dipping his already gnarled thumb in nitric acid, to show them what might happen.

When Ken Hopkins took over much chemistry teaching, if he were absent, and CSK had to take his classes, he would always take the precaution of locking up the chemicals with which CSK might inflict spectacular damage on himself or the lab!

It is said that he had a heart of gold that few ever saw. His St Paul’s Road neighbours might dread meeting him for a chat, but no more so than when he shared the bus into town with any of them. If he recognised one the ladies from the Road on the bus, he would usually shout down to the conductor, “I’ll pay for that lady”, much to her great embarrassment!

Old boys of my era will remember ECW often berating us in assembly for not singing with gusto, or for not paying attention or saying the Lord’s Prayer properly. CSK had another unwelcome and regular post-assembly habit – he would send a prefect round each class, mid-morning, interrupting any lesson, and asking that all boys wrote down whatever they remembered from the Bible reading that morning. The Responsible Boy then had to deliver the slips of paper to CSK in his study, I believe they were usually allowed to be anonymous – he seemed to be interested in how many were not concentrating, not who in particular!

At times CSK would take Divinity lessons, and usually brought in a pile of old “bun” pennies (so called because Victoria was shown with her hair in a bun) and sling them at pupils who gave correct answers to his searching questions.


A debt owed …

Professor Tony Pointon’s Bugle article, “A debt owed” offsite (A great article but surrounded on The Bugle’s site by many advertisements, some of them quite noisy – you have been warned!)


Tony Clarke (1948-55) recalls Mr Kipping…

Last updated: 16 Mar 02

When not putting The Fear of God up small boys, he would teach chess, German and chemistry as required by the time-table or absent staff. His chemistry, in which he had obtained his M.A.Cantab., would probably not be allowed today under the Prevention of Terrorism Act.

During these lessons he would often start quoting from a favourite poem which became indelibly etched in my mind (and, I suspect, most other boys of our generation.)

In fact, a few years ago I was driven to look up a copy of this poem as I remembered the title but could not recall the name of the poet. My researches took me to the library of Birmingham University where I was able to locate poet (Thomas Hood 1799-1845), and poem (The Dream of Eugene Aram, the Murderer):

‘Twas in the prime of summer time,
An evening calm and cool,
And four-and-twenty happy boys
Came bounding out of school;
There were some that ran and some that leapt,
Like troutlets in a pool.

Away they sped with gamesome minds,
And souls untouch’d by sin;
To a level mead they came, and there
They drave the wickets in:
Pleasantly shone the setting sun
Over the town of Lynn.

Like sportive deer they cours’d about,
And shouted as they ran, –
Turning to mirth all things of earth,
As only boyhood can;
But the Usher sat remote from all,
A melancholy man!

His hat was off, his vest apart,
To catch heaven’s blessed breeze;
For a burning thought was in his brow,
And his bosom ill at ease:
So he lean’d his head on his hands, and read
The book between his knees!

Leaf after leaf he turn’d it o’er,
Nor ever glanc’d aside,
For the peace of his soul he read that book
In the golden eventide:
Much study had made him very lean,
And pale, and leaden-ey’d.

(The poem continues for another 180 lines….)

Members of my generation would find the first 18 lines rather evocative. Usually, by the time that Kipping got to that point, something had distracted him and he would go off in some other direction.

A few of us ‘Amateur Trick Cyclists’ who read Adler, Jung and Freud with Jim Ladkin, have often mused as to whether Kipping identified himself with the Usher (remote and melancholy) watching the happy boys draving the wickets in at Wood Green on a summer evening. Not that I am suggesting that he was a murderer. (Man-slaughter more like!)


More memories from Ben Beards

Being at the school from 1944 to 1949 I have some early memories of the “boss” [C S Kipping].He always rolled his own cigarettes and he always packed the tobacco loosely and so when he lit up he would singe the middle of his moustache which was always a brown colour. He also got through an enormous amount of throat lozenges which he kept on his desk. If we lost early in one of his multi-board chess games we used to nip into his study and take a couple. I also recall his walking stick which he cut from a holly tree and the dirty old torn macintosh which he had stitched himself. His housekeeper threw it in the bin one day but the binman had his doubts and asked the boss if it was a mistake. It was! He wore it to school the next day!!!


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