Clitheroe Royal Grammar School

Childhood - Schools


Year: 1959         Item #: 1602         Views: 153,722         Comments: 724

Clitheroe Royal Grammar School

Led by Stuart Bennett (Captain), right, the cross-country team returns from a practice run around the nearby country-side.
Source: Lancashire Life Magazine, November 1959

724 user comment(s) below:-

Comments by Thomas on 14th March 2014  

As far as shirtless cross country runs are concerned, it is certainly very rare these days if it happens at all. However, there are plenty of videos on youtube that show young teen boys training for cross country barechested, oftentimes alongside girls who are clad in just sports bras.

When I was on my school's cross county team not that long ago, it was not too different either. When I started out I used to run in a t-shirt and shorts, but as I spent more time training with my team mates some of the girls kept encouraging me to lose the shirt altogether, which I eventually did. I suppose whenever a new boy joined up, they had some sort of competition to see how quickly they could get his shirt off!

The teacher certainly never raised an eyebrow at most of the boys going barechested (or the girls wearing what might have been considered scandalous back in the day). To be fair, we usually trained in pretty hot and humid weather. For actual competitions though, a singlet/vest was the minimum attire.

Comments by Adrian on 13th March 2014  

I've been following the comments here for a little while and finally got round to adding my input. I must say, Oliver, you seem to have been let off lightly, so far anyway. It looks like there are around 20 people here who report running cross country shirtless and around a further 10 who ran shirtless and barefoot. In your first, rather inflammatory comment you effectively called those 30 or so people liars although I'm sure you didn't mean to.
I'm only a few years older than you and no-one I knew seemed to think it at all inappropriate for boys to go off on a cross-country run topless or barefoot.
It might be that, having stayed in the education system and been swept along by changes that result in topless/barefoot running being very unlikely at schools now, you find it less easy to remember the times that those of us who left the education system when we were still young can remember well.
For my part we were expected to go out on cross country runs shirtless as was, I'm sure, quite common at the time. We were told that we could wear our plimsolls or run barefoot. Most of us wore our plimsolls at first but abandoned them before the end of the first term. Our route had no streams but did include a couple of fields which sometimes contained cattle. To get out of the second field and back on the track we had to climb over a gate in the corner of the field. Next to the gate was a cattle trough which always seemed to be overflowing which led to the area around the gate being a quagmire. While negotiating this area with plimsolls it was quite common to pull a foot up leaving the plimsoll in the mud thus requiring a great effort to retrieve said footwear. It soon became clear that the barefoot boys were right and we all ended up running barefoot without any ill effect - happy days indeed.

Comments by Oliver Kerr on 12th March 2014  

Hi Richard. Sorry you feel you have to patronise me, but I am neither young nor ill-informed, I was born in 1956 and attended two secondary schools and later taught in several others in the Manchester area before a career change to the Dept of Education in the 1990's. I received the cane (twice) during my time t school, saw the introduction of computers, calculators, even felt pens. Saw the disappearance of short trousers, showering after Games and mandatory nude swimming! (although this was not a requirement at any school I went to) However I have NEVER seen or heard of anyone doing Cross-country in bare feet, even in pre H&S days there was far too much risk of injury, and no PE teacher I have ever met (and some of them were real bastards!) would send boys off school grounds without shoes or shirts/vests. I know it wasn't 'indecent' for boys to go without shirts (poor choice of phrase on my part) but it was considered 'inappropriate' by all the teachers I knew, fine on the school field, but outside the gates? Never!

Comments by Phil on 11th March 2014  

To Oliver - I'm not sure what the problem is. Quite a few people have commented that they ran cross country shirtless and barefoot many years ago. It was no big deal, except perhaps in the coldest of weather. There were certainly no "public decency" issues with boys exercising shirtless 50 years or so ago and bare feet gave as good a grip as plimsolls which were the only alternative then.
There is a short video on the internet of Ohope Beach School's 2011 cross country event. This is a primary school in New Zealand and most of the children ran in bare feet - the fact that some were wearing shoes makes it look as though they had a choice - the terrain was not all grassy.
We all had varying experiences in our schooldays and the lack of one particular experience in the life of one individual should not be taken as meaning that no-one else had that experience either. I appreciate that, in the interests of equality and political correctness, it seems that boys have become somewhat feminised recently and are discouraged or even forbidden from removing their shirts in situations where once it would have been quite normal and acceptable.

Comments by Oliver Kerr on 11th March 2014  

Reply to comments by Matthew
I know what Mathew is saying, and agree completely with him. I was at school a few years after that and it was exactly the same. At our school we wore t-shirts in the gym but I know that friends at other schools didn't, and indoor football was always shirts V skins, although we always wore shirts or vests for outdoor PE! Nude showering was compulsory, and heaven help anyone who tried to 'skip' it, and while we swam at the local council pool, so like Mathew we all had to wear trunks, but a couple of the boys in my patrol at Scouts went to Manchester Grammar which like many other 'Public' schools, famously had compulsory nude swimming for all the boys! We also did X-country in all but the most severe weather, dressed only in shorts and running vests or t-shirts (AND shoes of course!) with the PE teacher following us on a bike in a full tracksuit!!!
What I am very dubious about is these claims of boys doing X-country completely topless (round the school field perhaps, but certainly not out on the local streets and footpaths) and the frankly pretty unlikely claim of running X-country in bare feet. This is Britain guys, not S.Africa! Professional runners and modern schoolboys manage to run through puddles and mud without their shoes 'quickly disintegrating' and the potential for foot injuries is very high. With the possible exception of a few 'sadistic' PE teachers (and there were some!) I doubt this ever happened!

Comments by Richard on 10th March 2014  

To Oliver - you are obviously young and ill-informed. In the 60s there were no computers in schools or homes; there was corporal punishment and some boys ran cross country barefoot, shirtless or both. Just because it might not happen now does now mean it didn't happen 50 years ago. I'm sure boys were a lot tougher then and it wasn't thought of as indecent for boys to be seen outside without shirts.

Comments by Matthew on 10th March 2014  

To Oliver. In the 1950s and into the early 60s, the school system had total power over us - conscription in post-school life would take the control to even greater levels. I never ran in rain or snow but, in my case, PE (including running) was always done stripped to the waist and wearing plimsolls and there was the compulsory communal shower afterwards. There was no swimming at my school but I had a friend who went to an all-boys school where swimming was done naked throughout his secondary school career (11 - 18)

Comments by Oliver Kerr on 9th March 2014  

Oh come on! Doing cross country running barefoot and topless? I just DO NOT believe that on the grounds of safety and public decency! There is a few too many erotic fantasies going on here!

Comments by Richard on 6th March 2014  

Those lads look positively over-dressed! It was a little later when I was at secondary school but we always ran barefoot and stripped to the waist. These boys may have had to wear a bit more as the photo was going in a local paper, perhaps - what they are wearing is hardly uniform. We used to run through deep mud and streams - any footwear would not have lasted long so bare feet were the only sensible option.

Comments by Adam on 28th February 2014  

Good for you John! It's interesting that you've found some of today's teenagers so accepting of people who prefer to exercise shirtless, even though they don't choose to do so themselves. I can't help thinking they might be more likely to go shirtless if it was something they had experienced at school, as we did in my day (and clearly yours too). The majority of PE lessons at my school involved Shirts v Skins so I had to get used to being shirtless from a young age. I remember the first time I was a Skin and had to strip to the waist it felt a bit strange but, like John, I soon found I actually preferred it. We weren't required to do cross country shirtless but one summer's day another boy in my class asked to take his top off and was given permission to do so. When I saw that I decided to join him, along with a couple of other lads, and I loved the feeling of freedom, of the elements on my bare skin. After that I ran shirtless whenever I could and have continued to do so. I think it's a shame that boys today aren't given the same opportunity because, as far as I know, Shirts v Skins just doesn't happen in schools any more.

Comments by John Lavender on 27th February 2014

I have been following this thread for a while and note the comments. I'm an older person and have no qualms about running Shirtless, like Dave I used to try and do without a Vest or Tee in Gym/PE class at school and used to prefer being on the 'Skins' Team when it came to "Skins v. Vests" for any team games played in the Gym. I run shirtless when ever possible as well. I'm training for an off-road event including obstacles at the end of March (which I intend to do shirtless in view of the extreme wetness/mudiness-likleyhood of the event); last week I was doing a Shirtless run and Obstacle Practice at a local Outdoor-centre, I had finished-up and was going to get showered-off when I got talking to one of the Centre Staff. They had no objection to me running shirtless personally and that the *kids* present at the centre probably would not mind but that any *parents* picking up their kids Might, so they asked me to stick a shirt on for my walk-back to the Changing rooms, which I did.
)I think it might have been half-term for some of the local schools).
What does this say about the Parents, as opposed to the Children?
I did a shirtless Run yesterday at the same place yesterday, involving more muddy off-road sections and Obstacles Practice, I cam across a group of about 6 or 7 16-18 year olds practicing Bouldering/Climbing on a large Boulder edifice. I stopped with them for about 5 minutes and we had a general chat about what they were doing; they were cool about my Shirtless-ness although of course they were dressed for THEIR activity including the customary 'Slogan' Tees and hats.
I explained that I was 'old-school' and that running shirtless as such wasn't really a big deal for me and I got the impression that they did not mind at all. The day's weather was cool - around 7c and breezy with occasional Rain squalls interspersed with brighter intervals. I had around 50minutes out on the trails at the Centre and the Obstacle Course and felt fine afterwards, no ill-effects.

Comments by Martin on 25th February 2014 

re: Andrea's reply,
We were the same for swimming, as I stated we had to wear normal swimwear for 'official' swimming lessons, gala's, competitions etc. The school swimming lessons when we all went in the pool completely naked were additional, and were held on weekday lunch-hours, Wednesday being mixed boys and girls, and Saturday mornings being mixed and open to everyone, swimwear was optional and most of us went nude!
With regard to changing for PE, we had to use the classrooms for things like sportsday, (because of the numbers involved) but for normal PE and country dancing lessons we had a changing room, and of course at our school boys and girls did these lessons together, all of us had to strip-off, we were only allowed to wear a pair of shorts with no underwear, shoes or tops, and the no-tops rule applied to the girls as well! I didn't like PE or country dancing as I wasn't any good at them, but at the end of the lessons Miss Newman (who took us for PE) always told us all to take our shorts off and go in the showers with nothing-on. Somehow I doubt if a female teacher would be allowed to supervise a crowd of naked 11 year old's in the showers THESE days! I confess that I might not have liked games or PE, but I DID love going in the showers, I could have stayed there for hours!

Comments by Phil on 23rd February 2014  

Martin - I think you must have been at school later then me. I was at a boys grammar school in the 60s and we did "proper" cross country runs - along a rough track, out on to a road and on to a large area of open countryside where we ran on paths, across grassy sections, through a muddy stream and around the edge of a ploughed field. We did this all barefoot and shirtless throughout the year but mostly in the winter. There was probably less broken glass around then but plenty of sharp stones etc but no-one ever came to any harm. I don't think I could do it now but youngsters feet are tougher than adults or they were then. From seeing visiting schools cross country teams it seems as though it was not uncommon - some teams wore plimsolls, some ran barefoot.
I never knew what a jock strap was - I heard of the boxes that cricketers wore but otherwise nothing was allowed under shorts for any p.e. or games and certainly no shoes or shirts!

Comments by Andrea Smih on 16th February 2014 

This is a repeat of a post I made under the Burnley Grammar School thread, but relevant as it's about primary school pe.

There was no nude swimming when I was at primary school in the 1960s. The boys wore swimming trunks and we wore one piece bathing costumes.

For pe. I generally wore a pe skirt or shorts and a T shirt. As there were no changing rooms we had to change in our classroom along with the boys, so by the final year I got quite adept at putting on my pe kit before removing my school skirt! I was still flat chested when I left primary school so changing into the T shirt wasn't an issue (I generally wore a vest anyway), but a few of my more 'developed' classmates were allowed to go to the toilets to change.

Comments by Martin on 10th February 2014 

In a very similar vein I will repost what I posted earlier under another page. I was at Shears Green Primary School in Kent (southern UK) from 1979. Our school was a normal local primary school with just over 400 children from 7 to 11½ years old. PE and country dancing lessons were always mixed but we were only allowed to wear one item of clothing, thin cotton shorts for the boys and knickers for the girls, we ALL had to do the lessons barefoot and topless (even the girls!) although girls who had started to 'develop' could request permission to wear a t-shirt. However the school was MOST famous (infamous?) for it's nude swimming lessons in the schools indoor pool, this went on from the late 1960's to the mid 1980's and was girls nude swimming on mondays, boys on fridays and MIXED on wednesdays, I seem to remember there was mixed nude swimming on saturday mornings as well. Look up Shears Green Primary on facebook, there are many memories from former pupils about it!

Comments by Mark on 23rd December 2013  

To Spence again we would only see the girls on Sports Days etc.
I do recall on one Sports Day when after Running the mile race stripped to the waist a few girls came up to me and spoke to me.

Comments by Mark on 23rd December 2013  

Yes we were always stripped to the waist whatever the conditions.
When we went outside the school grounds I don't recall anyone making any comments.

Comments by Spence on 21st December 2013  

Were you aleays stripped to the waist outdoors, regardless of weather/time of year? Did you do cross country through streets where you could be seen by the public? If so, what was their reaction?

You say you never saw the girls. Did you never use the playing fields at the same time?

Comments by Martin on 18th December 2013  

Reply to Mark: My previous comments about boys and girls at my school doing swimming lessons together completely nude and doing PE 'topless' related to Primary school, ie we were all under 12, and while swimming nude was optional, topless PE was mandatory for everyone! I then went to a boys only Grammar School, but even in the Co-ed Secondary Modern school I very much doubt PE lessons would have been mixed, largly because of the much greater number of pupils at secondary schools! I do know that we would NEVER have been allowed to do cross country 'topless', out on the local streets a vest was considered the minimum for 'decency' and running barefoot simply wouldn't have happened, I am slightly skeptical that anyone actually did 'proper' cross country in bare feet, there would have been far too many opportunities for foot injuries from tree branches, broken glass, sharp stones and other debris. I think the limit of outdoor barefoot running would have been round school fields, and given the number of inconsiderate people who exercise dogs on school fields, that also would be a potentially rather unpleasant activity (YUK!) As for the enthusiastic discussion about types of jockstraps, we never used them, I don't recall ever having seen one in all the time I was in secondary school, and certainly never wore one (not that I ever had very much for it to support, sadly!) the only 'protection' we ever wore was a cricket 'box' they were mandatory and were held in place by wearing swimming trunks under our flannels, the ONLY time we were allowed to wear any form of underwear for PE or sport.

Comments by Mark on 17th December 2013  

I went to mixed schools throughout my school career and doing mixed PE was unheard of.
What the girls wore I don't know but boys were always stripped to the waist for indoor PE and many also went barefoot.
For outdoors and cross-country again we went stripped to the waist and again some lads went barefoot.

Comments by Martin on 15th December 2013  

I went to Shears Green Junior School in Kent, from the 1960's until the late 1980's boys and girls did PE and country dancing together, before the lesson we had to take ALL our clothes off and were only allowed to put on one item of clothing, cotton shorts for boys and PE knickers for the girls, everyone (even the girls) did PE topless and without shoes or underwear. Girls in year 6 were allowed to wear t-shirts or vests if they wanted to, but ONLY if they had started to develop noticible boobs! After PE and dance lessons we had to take our PE kit off and go in the showers naked, we also had nude swimming lessons in the school pool, this was for everyone, right up to 11 years old, girls only on Monday, Boys only on Friday and mixed nude swimming lessons (for which we needed our parents written permission) on Wednesday and Saturday morning, which were always very popular! Shears Green has pages on facebook and Friends Reunited and there are many, many memories of those days, many people think now that it was a bit 'weird' but we really enjoyed it at the time

Comments by Iain on 14th December 2013  

Like Dave I was shocked at having to do PE and cross-country stripped to the waist especially as I wasn't very well-built or muscular.

Comments by Dave on 7th December 2013  

When I started at Secondary School in the late 1950s I was shocked to find out they we had to do PE stripped to the waist.
After a few sessions indoors we were told we would be doing cross-country going out of the school grounds - again stripped to the waist.However I soon got used to it.

Comments by peter on 1st December 2013  

The pe kit at my secondary school in the 1970s was just white shorts. I was more bothered I suppose with being barefoot than without a top. In the hall that we sometimes used our soles became black with dust within a couple of minutes and climbing wallbars in the gym meant getting boys' barefeet in your face, or climbing onto your hands which I didn't like. PE outside was also sometimes done in shorts only which could be cold and the wet grass made it quite unpleasant until you got used to it. I always did cross country in plimsolls thankfully, though.

Comments by Matt on 25th November 2013  

Like Mark I had to do cross-country stripped to the waist and barefoot running almost entirely on pavements.

Comments by Mark on 4th November 2013  

When I did cross-country we all were stripped to the waist and barefoot running mainly on pavements and grass.

Comments by Andy on 1st October 2013  

Mostly paths some grass some dirt and pavements . I new the rules if we had P.E that day you had to do it . Not having the right kit was not a reason for getting out of it. So if you forget you trainers you did it in barefeet.

Comments by peter on 30th September 2013  

That seems tough. Did you run across rough ground or just on grass?

Comments by Andy on 29th September 2013  

I went to school in the 70's I remember forgetting my trainers and we had cross country and he made us run in barefeet

Comments by Phil on 11th September 2013  

Those lads were lucky.
We were bare-chested whatever the conditions.

Comments by David on 12th August 2013  

The winters in the 1960's always seemed to be cold and again at my school we always had to do PE stripped to the waist whatever the the weather.
This also included doing cross-country bare-chested.

Comments by Nigel on 5th August 2013  

I well remember coming back to school after the Christmas holiday in January 1963 with maybe upto a foot of snow on the ground.
The boilers had also frozen and we were sent home for the rest of the week.
But when we came back on the following Monday we had PE and we still had to strip to the waist albeit indoors in the cold gym.
A few days later we had to go outside and again we were all stripped to the waist.

Comments by Rob on 29th July 2013  

If you were in the pack those playing at No.8 flankers or locks would often hold onto the shirts of those plaing in front of them in the scrum

Comments by Rob on 27th July 2013  

Hello Rob (from another Rob!)

I am very interested by your comment (7th June) that you sometimes played rugby bare-chested. We were not allowed shirts for any indoor activity, but outdoors kit always included a t-shirt, football or rugby shirt, though we were allowed to take them off if we wanted during tennis, cross country and athletics. A junior school friend of mine who went to a different secondary school told me they played shirts v skins rugby but I never really believed him until I saw a brief clip of such a game on a TV local news programme - this would have been late 60's.

Going shirtless never bothered me but I would have been terrified of playing rugby like that. When the ground was rock hard during dry weather, and probably with a few odd stones and twigs on the surface, I guess it must have hurt like hell tackling and being tackled and your bare chest and stomach being scraped along it, causing grazes and sometimes cuts. It was bad enough on our bare knees! Was it really like that or am I imagining it to be worse than it was? And what exactly did you mean about it being difficult in a scrum? I am fascinated - tell us more!

Comments by Mark on 3rd July 2013  

Lie Daniel I had to do PE stripped to the waist in all weathers but I actually enjoyed it.

Comments by Daniel on 1st July 2013  

Those lads were lucky. We had to be stripped to the waist whatever the conditions.

Comments by Neil on 20th June 2013  

At my school in the sixties it was the usual practice for boys to do PE and games while stripped to the waist.
Few objected and if you did you would probably end up doing a detention outdoors while being again bare-chested.

Comments by Ben Whalley on 18th June 2013  

Aye, when I was a wee lad we used to sprint naked out in the cold. Most of us died, but I was the only one left in my class. Aah, they were the days. 1902 - best years of my life! Then, If we survived, we ate each other. It was like lord of the flies. I especially liked roasted heart on a stick.

Comments by Rob on 7th June 2013  

We often played football while bare-chested and also rugby.
It was a bit difficult for boys in the pack having to do the scrums while stripped to the waist.

Comments by Peter on 5th June 2013  

Quite a few lads(me included) not only went stripped to the waist for PE but when about bare-chested in school at break times etc.

Comments by Barry on 4th June 2013  

When I went to secondary school we boys were all told that we had to do PE stripped to the waist and I also quite enjoyed it.

Comments by Chris on 9th May 2013  

My start to secondary school was a bit like Sam's, mainly because I didn't pay enough attention to the uniform list. Although it stated that boys had to wear a PE vest bought from the school shop, I made the (incorrect) assumption that an ordinary white t-shirt would do, as had been the case at primary school. When I wore it for the first PE lesson, the teacher was less than pleased. Why wasn't I wearing my vest, he wanted to know? I didn't have one, I told him. That seemed to make him more angry and, unsurprisingly, I was ordered to take my t-shirt off and do the lesson barechested. I was the only boy in the class without a vest and that felt really humiliating.
To make matters worse, when I went to the school shop the next day there were no vests in my size, so although I ordered one it still hadn't arrived when my next PE lesson came around. I hoped if I explained the situation to the teacher he might agree to let me wear my t-shirt this once. Wrong. My pleas fell on deaf ears and once again I found myself forced to do PE barechested. Tthis time it was cross country too and I've rarely felt so miserable as I did during that run. Oh, and I got detention as well. Thankfully my vest arrived the next day and I made sure I brought it to every lesson from then on!

Comments by Sam on 7th May 2013  

When I went to secondary school at the age of eleven my parents received info from the nedw school including uniform etc.
On looking at the PE uniform I noticed that therfe was no mention of a vest/singlet.
When I mentioned it at school the next day I was told that we would have to do PE topless.
I wasn't very happy and when I started at the new school I dreaded PE.
On the first day we trooped into the changing room and the other boys soon were stripped to the waist so I had to join them and strip to the waist as well.
What made it worse was that we had cross-country and had to run through the nearby streets bare-chested.
The other lads seemed to enjoy it and I soon got used to it myself.

Comments by Mark on 7th May 2013  

My father also made me go shirtless nearly all the time.
As soon as I got home from school I had to strip to the waist and I remained stripped to the waist for the rest of the day.
I was stripped to the waist throughout the weekend and I vividly remember sitting down to Sunday lunch bare-chested.

Comments by Tim on 31st March 2013  

Like Robbie I was kept shirtless most of the time and actually got quite used to it

Comments by Robbie on 28th March 2013  

Sam's comment reminded me of a friend I had at school called Tom, whose parents made him go shirtless a lot of the time. They were very into healthy living - no junk food etc - and believed it was healthier for him not to wear a shirt if possible. In summer Tom was almost always in shorts and nothing else, as was his brother who was a couple of years older than us and both of them would be well tanned. Tom was usually shirtless for playing sport, including PE classes at junior school where he was the only boy (or girl!) with no top on. The rest of us used to tease Tom about his minimalist PE kit, but he took it all in good spirit and made it clear he was comfortable with being shirtless.
When we went to senior school Tom was no longer the odd one out in PE classes because it was made clear that all boys were required to do it in shorts and bare chest. That didn't bother Tom at all as he hadn't brought a PE top anyway and I don't think he could quite understand why most of his friends, including me, felt less comfortable about having to take our tops off.
However, having Tom around definitely helped me get used to it because he was so at ease with being shirtless. I was nervous when we had to do cross country, in case any of my family or neighbours saw me running with no top on, but Tom just ran confidently and naturally and after a while I found I could do the same. I surprised Tom when we played tennis together on a hot day the following summer - of course he was shirtless as usual but when he saw me take my top off as well he gave me a sarcastic round of applause!
I lost touch with Tom after school but I'd be interested to know if he kept up his shirtless habit - and, if he had any sons, whether they were expected to follow his example.

Comments by Sam on 24th March 2013  

When I did cross-country I had to go stripped to the waist whatever the conditions.
Although I didn't like it at first I soon go used to it and eventually I went bare-chested whenever I could.
I remember there was one lad whose father kept him shirtless for most of the time and he refused to wear a shirt even when offered one.

Comments by Mark on 16th March 2013  

I think one major reason for doing PE shirtless was that when you got sweaty after vigourous exercise it was more comfortable not having a vest clinging to your sweaty back and sweaty chest.
Certainly I enjoyed doing PE stripped to the waist whatever the weather conditions and it also helped me when I worked as a builders' labourer in my vacations both from school and college.
I always was stripped to the waist on site.

Comments by Mick on 5th March 2013  

Like Paul I well remember doing bare-chested runs after lunch but during the lunch breaks.
We would be cheered on not only by fellow pupils but also by a group of workers on a nearby building site.They were of course all stripped to the waist themselves.

Comments by Dick on 21st February 2013  

At my school gym was done in underwear. Girls wore navy blue knickers and a white T shirt (bras where allowed for the over 13s). No footwear indoors but outside plimsolls allowed.

Boys wore only tight white briefs both indoors and outdsoors

Outdoors plimsolls were allowed.

X-country in the wet mud was great fun!