The high life

mauriceLeft to right: Maurice with friend Tony Dalton and biology teacher Mr Carr (1964)

In the third of a series of articles to mark Wanstead High School’s 100th anniversary, former student Maurice Tucker (class of 1965) reflects on his memories of dissecting a rat en route to becoming a geologist

I cherish my memories of Wanstead High School; the oak-panelled hall with all the names, the labs, the huts, the fives courts, the swimming pool, the traditions.

I realised from an early age (seven) that I wanted to be a geologist, so I knew which subjects to take (physics, chemistry and biology). For me, Mike (Jake) Carr (biology) was inspirational in my chosen path. We loved him; the admiration stemmed from him coming to school in leathers on his motorbike from Epsom, always an encouraging and a supportive teacher. I recall dissecting a rat and catfish (oh, the smell!), and cutting the aorta in a freshly killed rabbit in the A level biology practical exam was extremely messy!

Other teachers who had an impact on me were: Miss Alcock, with her corgi in the classroom and she talking to it in Latin (“sedate”); Mr Smethurst (history), my form teacher for several years; and Mr Simpson (chemistry), the mercury on the bench, lighting the gas from the taps and pulling the blinds down slowly behind his back!

I only recall one riot in the school – I can’t remember what the problem was but in assembly we all chanted: “WHS, WHS, what’s the matter with WHS?” Maybe it was school dinners!

Mr Cowan, the headmaster, sadly died during my time at the school, and, being form captain, I attended his funeral. A memorable and sombre occasion for a 14-year-old.

I played rugby for five years, then hockey, and played for Wanstead Hockey Club later; I also played cricket and tennis for the school teams. But it was a long walk every Wednesday afternoon to the playing fields by the river. And the cross-country runs around the three lakes in Wanstead Park (well, a stroll around one lake) were tedious. I was a Saxon, but we were always being beaten by the Romans. My brothers, Eric (1946–51) and Robin (1949–54), both went to Wanstead as well (sadly, both now deceased); Robin was a heart-throb to the girls and a discus champion. 

I am now a geologist, a carbonate sedimentologist (now attached to the University of Bristol). I still publish (the fourth edition of my textbook Sedimentary Petrology is just out) and undertake research, but only on limestones, rocks that fizz, any age, any place, all round the world. My latest topic is Fossil Viruses: The New Frontier in Earth Sciences, with a paper published in Nature magazine last July! 

Wanstead was a marvellous school – and I am sure it still is. In my sixth-form class of 52 students, all went on to higher education except for three. My close friends were John Saville, Tony Dalton and Bob Greatorex.

Abeunt Studia in Mores.

For more information on Wanstead High School, visit wansteadhigh.co.uk