Shared Memories: ‘School Days’ by Maureen Kershaw

With most Schools being closed now and home schooling underway, my thoughts turn to education. School photos would come with the slogan ‘Schooldays are happy days’ – but were yours? I mostly hated it from starting at age 4 to leaving at 15. My Infants School was Brudenell and although I can’t recall my first day I certainly remember many others. There was no pre-school nursery or half-days in preparation, we just went for the duration. Mostly I screamed when Mum and I reached the School gate as I just wanted to be at home. I’d run out of the playground and chase after her – only to be taken back to School. After dinner (it wasn’t lunch then) I’d return to School where the afternoon would start with a sleep on wooden folding beds. On each one was a number  and a grey Army blanket. I don’t think I ever slept, I couldn’t see the point. Instead, my bed being next to the sand-pit enclosed by wooden fencing, I would constantly play with the door latch until told off by the Teacher. Any of my classmates who wriggled about had to stand on their bed and the Teacher would swaddle them with the blanket – don’t think that would go down well today! When told to “wake up” we would fold up our blankets and camp beds, standing them up against the wall, behind a curtain. It was then story-time and we would scramble to get a good seat on the coconut matting – so rough and scratchy! At some point there was the daily ritual of queuing up for a spoonful of cod liver oil, which was washed down with a small amount of National Health orange, the latter being the more favourable. Due to ill health during Infants School, there were gaps until Mrs Mannion’s class, where most of my memories stem from. ‘Sums’ using silver metal counters kept in 4-Square tobacco tins. Drawing on blue paper similar to the bags which sugar was packed in – with stubby wax crayons. Wax polish comes to mind too and we would polish the wooden tables where we would sit for lessons. Three names come to mind from class, non-identical twins David and Anthony Callaghan and my favourite, David Barrett who emigrated to Canada. Christmas was the best time of course with the big Tree in the Hall, the making of paper chains and cut-out lanterns. For the Christmas party we would carefully carry from home, potted meat sandwiches or a jelly/blancmange in a dish, with our name underneath.

On to Junior School and it was the Annexe of Queen’s Road County Primary. Such Annexes sprung up around Leeds, probably to cater for the all the Post-War children. A single storey prefabricated building covered with pebble-dash, with three classrooms,the middle one of which was used for Assembly and dinners. Miss Gill  taught P.E. and always wore white ankle socks with white pumps. Miss Lamb who took Standard 1A 1, lived on Mavis Lane, Cookridge, though goodness knows why I know this. No knowledge whatsoever of lessons but I remember looking out of the window at a big house behind the playground which had lovely pale blue curtains in one window. On to Standard 2 and another annexe, this time a very old Church building, All Hallowes Institute. The favourite Teacher for many, Mr Griffiths,  would spit through his rapid Welsh accent. He stood for no nonsense and was known for this throwing of the blackboard rubber. When it landed across the classroom, being wooden and the size of a small scrubbing brush – we would all duck whether in its range or not, but it was fun! He also used a ruler as a deterrent and anyone feeling the “thwack” on their upturned palm was certainly taught a lesson.

The only other All Hallowes Teacher I remember was Miss Cohen, a small white haired and bespectacled lady who taught the girls Needlework. Miss Cohen would sit at her tall desk, the chair  ‘built up’ with cushions. Cross stitch was worked on and when the fabric was distributed, everyone selected the primary colours, but not me. I chose a chocolate brown which I stitched with yellow and purple. Funny how those colours are still favourites of mine, but not worn together. Two memorable points from that year were a fire in the mattress factory next door which enforced a short period away from School and the other – the arrival of the Ryan Twins. The Singer Marion Ryan travelled around the Country and at the point of her Cabaret work in the Leeds area, her twin sons Paul and Barry were schooled with us. I think many were rather in awe of the boys. The only occasion I remember speaking to them was the day I took into School a glossy brochure of The Ten Commandments film (belonging to my Sister) with the boys asking to read it.

The next two years were spent at the ‘big’ School, Queens Road C.P. A typical old School building with stone staircases, draughty windows and bitterly cold and horrid outside toilets. We did at least have new brighter lights as electricians from Allenby & Stokell on New Briggate replaced the old ones with modern fittings. Classes averaged 40 pupils, but it was never too much for our Teacher, Miss Birkby. My sister had been taught by Miss Birkby nine years earlier and some of her traditions continued. I refer to Miss Birkby asking girls to go round to Edgar’s Confectioners on King’s Road for a brown Turog loaf. Each morning started with Assembly where we would sing ‘All Glory Laud and Honour’ – changing the words ‘bless-ed trinity’ to “Wakefield Trinity”.There would sometimes be a thud as a child fainted – or worse. A Teacher would skuttle out to return with the Caretaker who would cover the offending floor with sawdust. Following Assembly Miss Birkby would start with the daily spellings. Five words would be written in her beautiful handwriting onto the blackboard – each word having to be spelt out five times. There was never an excuse for mis-spelling ‘Parliament’ as we were instructed to pronounce the second ‘a’ – Parli-a-ment. School seemed more interesting in those years as I desperately wanted to pass the 11-Plus Examination. Occasionally we would have ‘Films’ and a TV on a trolley would be wheeled in. What the films were I haven’t a clue.

Each year there would be the opportunity to take part in the School’s team of English Country Dancing for Children’s Day. If selected for the team, rehearsals took place in the Hall and a length of yellow fabric for our dress, plus a small amount of white for the collar and cuffs, and a paper pattern was distributed. The rehearsal took place on the Friday at Roundhay Park then on Saturday morning we would arrive at School, dressed ready for the dancing at Roundhay. We boarded the bus outside School very excited at the day ahead, until we collected the team from Quarry Mount School. I was mortified to find that their girls had to sit on our knees – and our pristinely ironed dresses!

I did pass the 11-Plus for my School of choice, Thoresby High, but then it all went downhill.

Next time: Big School

Many thanks once again Maureen, and until next time…..