Burnley Grammar School

Childhood - Schools


Year: 1959         Item #: 1607         Views: 688,720         Comments: 2,479

Burnley Grammar School

Image scaled down from 800px to 740px wide. Click the image to view the original.

There's pleny of room in the modern-styled gymnasium for muscle developing, where the boys are supervised by Mr. R. Parry, the physical education instruction.
Source: Lancashire Life Magazine, December 1959

2479 user comment(s) below:-

Comments by Ben on 22nd December 2018  

Did the boys ever complain that they had to swim naked at school?

Comments by John on 21st December 2018  

Daniel P,
My school experience was like yours, I was 9 when the local education authority decided that boys must be stripped to the waist for PE for health and safety reasons. Until then wed been allowed to keep our vests on for indoor PE, we got changed into full football kit for football outdoors.

When I started at senior school some lads were shocked that they had to be stripped to the waist for indoor PE,; theyd come from primary schools where theyd always been allowed to keep their tops on. They were equally horrified to discover that cross country runs also had to be done barechested.

Comments by Roy on 21st December 2018  

When I was at school in the 1960's we did PE indoors stripped to the waist as soon as we started secondary school.This would be Year 7 in today's numbering.For cross country we usually waited until Year 9.

Comments by Daniel P on 20th December 2018  

Rachael, we started stripping to the waist indoors from 9yo, being barechested/stripped off (as the teachers would say) came the following year.


Comments by June on 20th December 2018  

No the boys only swam naked in their boarding houses or weekly class lessons. They were allowed to wear their black or navy blue speedos in whole competitions or gala where they were external guests or parents.

Comments by Ben on 20th December 2018  

To June and Ivor,

Doing PE in just shorts is one thing, but making them swim naked is a bit different in my opinion.
Were there any female teachers or female school staff who could watch the boys swim naked?
I read that in some schools the boys were also naked during swim galas in front of mixed spectators. Was this also the case at your school (Ivor) and your sons' school in the case of June?

Comments by William on 19th December 2018  

For gym we were stripped to the waist from age 11.
If we forgot our shorts we did not have to do the lesson nude but the gym master would throw us the first pair of shorts that came to hand from lost property. These had not been washed and wearing them was not pleasant. I forgot my shorts only once.
I'm sorry one of your boys found the regime a bit too hard. None of us liked being frozen stiff. The attitude towards nudity at school and at home was "You're all boys, what are you fussing about" with the implication that those who fussed were cissies. A very small number of boys never got used to it. Most of us took it in our stride and were not embarrassed, unlike some young men you see at swimming pools today having a shower with shorts on. What is the point of that when the shorts are chlorine soaked? I never wore a jockstrap at school.

Comments by Rob on 19th December 2018  

Rachael,at our boys grammar school in the late fifties we all had to be stripped to the waist from the first PE lesson aged 11.

Comments by Charles on 19th December 2018  

William. Physical hardship and humililiation doesn't turn boys into men. Making boys run in sub zero temperatures has nothing to,do with the transition to manhood.
Tenderness, respect and love are essential parts of bring up children
I remember the arbitrary rules at school.
A pe teacher so obsessed with his precious new gym floors that everyone bar himself went barefoot. These were his power trips.
Extremely Harsh regimes such as many of us endured were unnecessary.
Many of our teachers were severely damaged by the war and should not have been allowed anywhere near children as they took out their trauma and pain on us.
Personally I would not have wanted my children anywhere near these kind of people.

Comments by Rachael on 18th December 2018  

Hi Ben, William, June. My two boys are 11 and 12 so I'm guessing boys wouldn't start stripping to the waist until they turn 13?

Comments by Ivor on 18th December 2018  

The state school I went to in the mid 1950s had a policy of nude swimming for the first three years, and all parents and boys knew that this was the case, so there was no argument about it and everyone accepted it. From the fourth year upwards trunks were optional, but most boys simply continued to swim without them as they were so used to it, and to wear costumes seemed somehow to be more embarrassing! What was more, there was a strict no pants underneath shorts for all indoor PE lessons during the other two terms, so woe betide any boy who forgot his kit because it meant PE in the nude. Again, it was school policy and there was no argument. It didn't happen all that often as we all knew what would happen, but inevitably it did happen from time to time when someone for example had accidentally forgotten their kit or else left it on the bus! To think that all of us were used to this

Comments by June on 18th December 2018  


Good to hear from you. We had friends whose boys went to grammar school and seem to have shared the same conditions as you did then. My three boys were all boarders in a public school (or private independent school if you prefer) in the 60s. As said two of my boys had no problems whatsoever with the conditions as you describe. Communal showers (often only cold water), gymnastics without tops etc. Naked swimming and wearing shorts up to age of 13. They all loved their sport. Around 14 and thereafter they were allowed to wear jockstraps and quite understandably. Yes it wasn't just the harsh Spartan conditions but also doing what they were told and without questioning authority that made them great men that I am ever so proud of.

Comments by William on 17th December 2018  

Rachael and June, I think that what turned boys into men was not just physical hardship, such as games afternoons in the winter when our hands were so cold we could not do up shirt buttons when we got changed. It was also having to do things we didn't want to do, getting on with them without making a fuss because we had no choice, and finding they weren't so bad after all.
At a boys' grammar school in the 1960s we wore nothing under shorts for gym, athletics or games. Our gym lessons were like the photograph. We had communal nude showers. I started off shy and would have avoided all these given the choice. But I became more confident about my skinny body, got used to the regime and even to like it. I didn't realise at the time but it was a good lesson for life.

Comments by Rachael on 17th December 2018  

Hi John, Thanks for the insight. As June said it makes men from boys and I'm all for that. Stripping off makes a lot of sense. I encourage my two boys to have their tops off in summer hols. If they had the chance I'd bet they'd love to do PE stripped off too.

Comments by Ben on 17th December 2018  

Hi Rachael, it is natural and more comfortable for boys to do exercise with tops off in Summer, but not in freezing Winter, especially outside.
Do your boys still have compulsary showers after PE at school?

Comments by June on 17th December 2018  


How old are your two boys? What school did they attend? My three boys all went to boarding school and the regime there was pretty hard. Two of them weathered the Spartan conditions very well but one of my boys found it all a bit too hard.

Comments by John on 17th December 2018  

My dad encouraged me and also my brother to play outside shirtless in summer, wed meet up with our friends and kick a ball about in the road and all of us would be shirtless. None of us were self conscious about being seen bare chested and that is a good way to be.

Some lads at Senior School felt awkward at first having to do PE shirtless but that was because they had been allowed to wear vests or t shirts for Primary School PE lessons. They soon forgot about being shirtless and started to enjoy PE. If boys had started doing PE shirtless whilst at Infant School they would never have felt awkward.

Lads today should be allowed to do PE shirtless if they want to, its far more comfortable than having a hot sweaty shirt stuck to your back. Im glad that I could enjoy PE in the 1970s, I dont know why schools started to make lads cover up all the time.

Comments by Rachael on 16th December 2018  

Hi John, Thanks for the insight. As June said it makes men from boys and I'm all for that. Stripping off makes a lot of sense. I encourage my two boys to have their tops off in summer hols. If they had the chance I'd bet they'd love to do PE stripped off too.

Comments by John on 16th December 2018  


How boys were treated in the past sounds harsh to most people now. We were allowed to wear running shiorts with inner briefs but not underwear and always wore socks and trainers. Running shirtless was no big deal actually, believe it or not we stayed warmer bare chested in the rain than we would have done with a rain soaked shirt stuck to our chests. The showers were always warm too.

Comments by JamesB on 16th December 2018  


The tawse ( always referred to as 'the belt') was the implement of choice of most teachers. The PE dept also used the gym shoe across the (thin) cotton shorts for minor offences though it still stung!

There were various weights of tawse , M -medium, H - heavy and XH -extra heavy. Most teachers used the H at my secondary school though there were a few XHs around . Most had 2 tails though 3 tails were available.

I understand that the tawse was used in north east of England in preference to the cane.


Comments by Ben on 16th December 2018  

A similar custom to toughen boys up in some institutions and boarding schools was to make them take cold showers even in freezing weather.
Same for making them swim in unheated pools all year round, including in winter, often naked.
As for what some others describe making boys run outside bare chested in just thin shorts in winter, I don't know how one coulld get used to that or even 'enjoy it'.
I can't imagine this happening today without a public outcry.

Comments by June on 16th December 2018  


Guess it made men out of boys!

Comments by John on 16th December 2018  


It was daunting the first time that we realized that wed be running stripped to the waist in winter. Part of the cross country run was on pavements outside residential properties and another stretch on pavement along a busy main road; I felt potentially embarrassed at the prospect of being seen
by adults that knew me.

We did warm up and stretching exercises before setting off on the run, running on the spot and star jumps, we quickly got warm. After a few weeks I started to enjoy shirtless cross country runs and would have hated it if the PE kit rule had changed and wed been made to wear shirts. Whilst running we forgot that we were barechested.

Comments by Rachael on 15th December 2018  

Thank you to those who replied.It must have been daunting being outside in the winter stripped to a thin pair of shorts.

Comments by Pete on 15th December 2018  

I went to a Catholic primary to middle school in London in the sixties. The strap or wooden ruler was on every teacher's desk and was used freely by most teachers. Normally 2 to 4 strokes on the hands.
I only remember one teacher who used the ruler on our buttocks over shorts. He was the joke between us boys when boys were in his class.
Although we dreaded him more than the other teachers who punished on the hands, thinking back it was probably less painful than being hit on the hands. Maybe because it was not the norm and unusual.

Comments by Frank C on 14th December 2018  

Hi to Howard and James B, The strap was certainly on the agenda at the Catholic College I attended circa late sixties to early seventies in Greater Manchester.Nasty little beast utilised on either the hand or the behind.The plimsoll for PE..

Comments by Howard on 13th December 2018  

jamesB, were there any other instruments used in Scottish schools, like the cane, slipper or ruler?
Or was it just the tawse?

Was the tawse also used in Scottish homes, or just in schools?

The strap on the hands seems to have been popular in Catholic schools, notably in Ireland. I presume the tawse, being a two tongued strap, was more painful.

I saw a BBC short documentary once in which was stated that the tawse was the casue of corporal punishment being banned in all of Britain.
A Scottish mother took the case to the European Court after her son was tawsed at school. The European Court forced the British Parliament to vote against all corporal punishment in schools.
I think Britain was the last European country to ban CP in schools, but I am not sure of this.

Comments by JamesB on 12th December 2018  


The tawse was always given on the hands- never on the bottom.

I doubt if there was any maximum officially written down . Depending on the severity of the offence the number of strokes given was 2,4 or 6. In my experience , 4 seemed a popular choice amongst teachers but not all teachers would give the same. I have seen boys get more than 6 but this was because they had been adjudged as having moved their hand. If a teacher decided a boy had moved his hand and even if the tawse had hit him, he was given that stroke again and an extra one for moving.


Comments by Andy on 12th December 2018  

Rachael, I never had shirtless pe lessons but we did have swimming lessons which were obviously done shirtless. I personally didnt see many people with chest hair, I think people tend to either trim it or not have much of it. I personally dont have much hair on my chest and never really cared about it.

I never really felt embarrassed about anything during lessons. It was just galas that were a bit awkward but even then i just got over it

Comments by Roy on 11th December 2018  

I agree with David G's comments re Josh. If that really happened it would be a classic case of child abuse.

Comments by Rob on 10th December 2018  

In the late 50's when all boys wore vests under their school shirts we had to strip off for PE from the age of 11 until we left at 18 and wear just shorts and plimsolls, indoors, and outside for athletics and cross country through the local woodland and open countryside. No-one was concerned about whether you had a hairy chest or not and we always had to shower after every lesson and there was no privacy at all there! we all had to get used to it and become men together.

Comments by Sam on 10th December 2018  

Rachael,  this was something that really worried me when I began to develop hair on my chest at age 15. We still had compulsory PE for another year and usual practice for boys' classes at my school was vests vs skins, with the teacher deciding which of us had to strip down. So I knew at some point I would have to be in skins and I felt nervous about being the only lad in the class with chest hair.
To my relief, when our first PE lesson of the term came around, I could see another boy had a patch of hair visibly poking out above his vest (more than I did, in fact) and that gave me encouragement, to know I wouldn't be the only one whose body looked a bit different. As it happened I kept my vest on for that first lesson while the other lad was a skin and didn't seem bothered about it at all. That definitely helped to ease my concerns. For the next few lessons I was picked to do it in skins and soon felt more confident about showing my chest hair, which thickened up more during the course of that year!

Comments by John on 10th December 2018  

The PE teachers didnt care whether lads had hairy chests or not, the school PE kit rule for boys was white shorts and pumps only for indoor PE. Outdoor team games were often shirts vs skins, if a PE teacher selected you for the skins team you stripped off your shirt immediately without question.

Comments by Howard on 10th December 2018  


I assume the tawse was used mainly on the hands.
Was it ever used on the bottom?

Also, was there a limit to how many strokes could be given on the hands?

Comments by Andy on 10th December 2018  

Seeing the comments on this post surprised me quite a bit. Im probably a bit younger than most people on here, having graduated from a boys only high school three years ago. We didnt have shirtless pe lessons at any time and I dont think it would be allowed today. However, we did have swimming lessons for about half a year, for which we wore trunks. If you forgot your trunks or PE kit you were given a detention and missed the lesson.

Comments by Rachael on 9th December 2018  

I've seen comments from other females so I don't awkward for asking if any lads were still made to strip off as skins if they had hairy chests or did they keep their vests on at that stage.

Comments by David G on 8th December 2018  

Hi Josh, I'm not sure why - but I don't believe you!
You may have had a fantasy about this happening-but it really doesn't help genuine posters to have confidence in this site if you post "crap". I'm sure there are better sites you can go to play out your fantasies!
PS your grammar isn't the best did you have a learning problem/dyslexia because the way you express yourself seems quite childish!

Comments by Josh on 6th December 2018  

Hi, I came from a small village near Bristol, and yes, our teacher used to punish us by caning ourselves. One time I forgot PE kit, and she ordered me to join the group taking off my shirt, then she take my shirt so that I cannot take on if I was cold. It was winter and extremely cold, moreover I was the only one bare chested but I was very angry so I offended her.. it was the end, she ordered me to run other 5 laps (400 meter each one) while the other boys were seeing me from the window because of cold. At the end she caned me and it was terrible because I still was shirtless until she let me go inside and gave me my shirt back, even though I prefer to remain shirtless because my chest was full of sweat and I didnt want to dirty a new shirt..

Comments by JamesB on 5th December 2018  


I attended a boys only school in Scotland in the mid-late 60's and we too had 'punishment periods' in the gym. Very hard work and if anyone was slacking then corporal punishment was inflicted.

Being a Scottish school, the cane was not used but the Tawse ( always known as 'the belt') was used extensively. This was usually a 2 tailed leather strap applied with enthusiasm on the hands of the poor boy. In gym class the gym shoe was used across a boys shorts. Our gym kit was exactly as shown in the picture and the 'no underpants' rule was the norm .


Comments by Alan on 5th December 2018  


It's was a boys only school, and yes I got caned

Comments by Howard on 4th December 2018  

Was it a boys only school or mixed?
Did girls get the same punishment?

Ours was a boys only school.

Btw, my previous post I left out that we wore plimsalls besides just shorts for outdoor running.
The plimsall was also used for whacking by teachers.
The cane was only reserved for the headmaster and that was only used for very serious crimes that affected the whole school.
Your school seems to have had a much harsher regime. Did you ever get the cane?
Any other posters here who got the cane at school?

Comments by Alan on 3rd December 2018  


The run was mostly country tracks across fields/woodlands near the school.

For a detention if you forget kit, you did your best to borrow a pair of shorts from anyone. Boys who turned up without shorts, did the indoor workout in underpants, then get caned. The detention had to be repeated next week, and counted towards your 3.

If we were late at school, for say after school societies, it was normal to see boys running in only their shorts, as part of their punishment.

Comments by Howard on 3rd December 2018  

Alan, we had the same detention punishments at my school, in just PE shorts although we also wore
If you did not have your PE shorts you had to do it in just underpants.
Also it was not actual runs outside of the school as you mention in yours. We were made to run around the large schoolyard.
Slipperings were also given for repeated detentions.

I find the running barefoot outside on gravel and in winter conditions in your school a bit harsh.
Did you get your punishment runs in just thin shorts in populated areas or just countryside?

Also what happened when a boy did not have his PE shorts with him for these punishment detention runs?

Comments by Alan on 2nd December 2018  

For normal PE we wore shorts/plimsolls, plus a vest for cross country.

Detentions involved a workout and run, then we had to strip to just shorts, same inside and out. Thus we had to run with bare feet and stripped to the waist, plus the cane on return if you got to your 3rd detention.

One of my parents friends had seen boys being punished like this, and spoke to me about it before I started at the school, along the lines of it being an effective punishment for a boy on a winters day. As I soon found out with my first detention, after a workout in the gym, we all had to line up outside ready for the run - it was freezing cold standing hands on head, bare to the waist in only thin shorts, bare feet on gravel.

Comments by Andrea on 1st December 2018  andreatwo@hotmail.co.uk 

Fiona, the arrangements at your primary school sound similar to those when my son was at primary. The boys and girls started to change separately from the age of about 8 or 9. However as there were very few male teachers at the school, the boys changing area was often supervised by a female member of staff.

Of course it was different once they got to secondary school, where there were male and female PE teachers and separate changing rooms. Showers were available but rarely used, so I made sure he always had a can of deodorant in his kit bag!

Comments by Fiona on 30th November 2018  

Andrea - Yes Mum and I had, and still have, a very good relationship, and from my teen days onwards have been more like sisters than Mum and daughter!

At primary school we had PE two or three times a week, usually in the hall, but out on the field when weather permitted. Girls and boys were together, although we changed separately, us in our classroom and the boys in the cloakroom. At secondary school the gym had separate changing rooms with showers for boys and girls, we did PE at separate times and the only thing we actually did together was tennis in the summer term.

To answer your second question, I should have mentioned that I lost no time in taking up Mum's suggestion. By the time the new school term started, my bed-time routine had become shower, milk and biscuits downstairs with Mum in my dressing gown, and then straight into bed, au naturelle. All that changed when Dad came home was that there were now three of us to share the biscuits, and three of us sleeping the "grown-up" way.

Comments by Charles on 30th November 2018  

Ross. Yes were made to go barefoot outside if we changed at the last minute from gym to games outside. Gym was always barefoot.
I had forgotten about always having to bring trainers when we did PE. Boys who did not bring them went barefoot outside.

Comments by Andrea on 29th November 2018  andreatwo@hotmail.co.uk 

Fiona, you seem to have had a good relationship with your mum, which helped you deal with both the physical and emotional aspects of puberty.

It took a while to accept that my days as a flat-chested tomboy were over, so my birthday bras lay unworn in my drawer for a few months. Although mum and I weren't as good as you at talking about such things, at least she gave me that breathing space to come to terms with the idea.

When it came time for a 'back to school' shopping trip, she said she didn't really want to buy any new vests and by then I had to admit that wearing a bra for PE would be be more comfortable.

Just a couple more questions. Did boys and girls change separately for PE at your primary school and if not were special arrangements made for those of you wearing bras?
In my primary they were allowed to change in the toilets.

Did you have to revert to wearing nightwear when your dad was home? We didn't have central heating, so sleeping naked wasn't really an option.
On the subject of dads, although he never said anything, I do remember feeling embarrassed the first time one of my bras was on the washing line when he was at home!

Comments by Ross on 29th November 2018  

Charles. Seems like we went to similar schools. Were you ever compelled to go outside barefoot? I was quite frequently as I was never too happy about carrying around with me a pair of trainers plus alll my school books. Did you ever have a trainer check? We did. We all had to report inside the gym once changed and our teacher checked our trainers and if deemed unsuitable we had to take them off and go barefoot.

Comments by Fiona on 27th November 2018  

Andrea - looking back on it, I think I felt very "grown up" because I was about to go to secondary school and, for the last few weeks of my final primary school term, I was proud to be one of a select group of bra-wearers in a class where some girls were still wearing vests. With Dad away working, often for months at a time, Mum and I were very close and our "birds and bees" discussion had taken place over two or three relaxed years rather than an embarrassed Sunday afternon, so I was very well prepared.

Over the half-term holiday, Mum and I had a celebratory girl's day out, stocking up on cosmetics and "other" supplies, shopping for bras, indulging in a posh lunch followed by an afternoon at the cinema. Back home, as I was modelling my new purchases in front of the mirror, Mum started rummaging in my wardrobe, emerging with an armful of clothes and the observation that, as a grown-up young lady, there were things I didn't need any more. These turned out to be some vests, unloved, unworn but outgrown, whose existence I had forgotten about and whose fate was unquestioned, a nylon nightie of uncertain vintage that had been on my hit-list for a while, and my entire wardrobe of PJs, mostly serviceable although some had seen better days through regular usage.

On questioning the PJs, Mum said that, with duvets and central heated bedrooms, all a fashionable late 20th century young lady needed in bed were her birthday suit and a dab of perfume. During recent hot weather Mum hadn't commented when she found me experimenting with sleeping in just my knickers, but the suggestion that I should wear absolutely nothing at all to bed, presumably for keeps, made me feel VERY "grown up".