Sunday, July 15, 2012

A Historical Perspective: School Days

We all have to get our learnings done before we can make our way in the world, and things were no different eighty years ago--at least in terms of that necessity for at least basic education. The form in which it comes changes significantly from generation to generation, and the experience my grandfather Les Parkinson would have had as an English schoolboy in the 1920s resembles that of the modern world in only broad strokes. Nevertheless, I find it an illuminating, if brief, perspective into a land more foreign than any country you'll find in the world today.

Incidentally, it would appear that back in the '20s, "glass paper" was just another name for sandpaper that has since become obsolete. The more you know...


In 1926 a General Strike took place and everybody went on strike, all the trade unions went out. Only teachers, hospitals, and police and fire stayed at work. Our school was located in New Ferry, the next town down the road. As there was no form of public transport we had to walk to school, a distance of about two miles. We took our lunch with us and stayed in school all day until going home time at 4:00 pm. School started at 9:00 am. Anyway, the strike was good for us, as we were able to cadge a ride from passing motorists, it was great.

The school was known as Chester Road Elementary School and took classes 4, 5, 6, 7, and X7, starting at about eight or nine years of age and leaving at fourteen years. The headmaster was Mr. Smith, he was a silver haired gentleman who always wore a blue suit and of course a white shirt and starched collars. Mr. Nicholls had standard 7 and X7; Mr. Billington was the science teacher, he had standard 6; Mr. Faulkner was the PT teacher, he had standard 5, and he was also the wielder of the cane for his lady love, the poetry mistress, Miss Lackland. Miss Lackland was a smasher as we lads thought. She was a good looker and young.

We didn't have individual desks in the classroom. We had long bench-like items running the width of the classroom with passage-ways between them. One of my pals was called Chuck Davis. He had a cast in his right eye. Chuck used to sit on one side of the passage-way and me on the other. He or I each day would drop an object on the floor as Miss Lackland was about to pass by, the other would pick the object up and at the same time look up her clothes to see what colour knickers she was wearing. This went on for a long time before she found out. I think one of the kids told her. Anyway, I was caught in the act, and Mr. Faulkner was her punisher, so she sent the class monitor for him and I got three strokes across the backside. We didn't do it again, but we vowed revenge and we got it, although we had to wait a long time.

This is one of my grandmother's class photos from some point in the 1920s. I find it rather sobering to consider that all of these children are most likely dead now.

The school was a fairly new building, a two storey building. It was a long building, half of it was for the boys and the other half for the girls. The roof was flat and was a playground for the boys in Standards five, six, and seven. Each teacher took turns at being duty teacher. When we arrived at school in the morning, everybody played in the ground floor school yard. The duty teacher at 9:00 am would blow a whistle and everybody stopped talking and stood still. Then the whistle was blown again and everybody fell in a line for their respective classes. On the third whistle the first class marched into the classroom on the ground floor and hung their coats on their pegs and then on to their classroom. Each Friday, though, we all marched into the big hall where we sang a hymn and said prayers.

About half past ten we had a break and went into the playground for fiteen minutes. THis was followed by more lessons until twelve thirty when we had nearly an hour for lunch. Then back to the classroom to two thirty, then fifteen minutes' break and then at four we went home. For the various subjects we had the same teacher in our own classroom except for PT, when we went into the gym or the yard when the weather was good. For science we went into the room used as a laboratory.

Besides the usual educational subjects we had gardening and woodworking, and one could choose which they took. The headmaster, Mr. Smith, took the gardening class. The garden was big and they used to grow vegetables, flowers, and fruit.

The woodworking was held in a separate building on the school property. There were two teachers, Mr. Woolsencroft and Mr. Harding. Woolsencroft was an airplane fitter during World War I, and he was a very strict person. One day during a demonstration when we had all gathered around his desk, he was showing us all the tools we would be using. He held up a piece of sandpaper and said what is this, I because I thought I knew said, "Sandpaper, sir." With that he hit me on the nose with the mallet he was holding and said, "It's not sandpaper, it's glass paper, don't forget it." That's what I got for being clever. I enjoyed working. The classroom was well fitted out with proper work benches and tools. I learnt a lot and have from time to time put it to good use.

Once a month we had what we called a "free" model, which meant we could make what we wanted provided we provided the wood. We made all sorts, trays, pipe racks, stools, etc. Each year Lewis's, a big department store on Merseyside, held a competition for the best model made by a schoolboy. One kid in our class won it with a radiogram cabinet. He was one of those kids who could do anything and his golden touch was his secret. That was Barry Lister, his father was a bank manager. Barry was one of those clever blokes, he won a scholarship to high school which was the stepping stone to university, while we had to leave school at fourteen years of age.

The one thing we never had was singing lessons. Poetry was the only thing I disliked, we all thought it was only "cissies" that loved poetry. The only poems, or bits, that I remember are (i) "Abou Ben Adhem," (ii) "The Burial of Sir John Moore at Corunna," and (iii) "The Charge of the Light Brigade." But I do remember the teacher and the revenge I had to get. To get to the roof playground the staircase passed the teachers' rest room. Chuck Davis and I always used to peep through the curtains to see what was going on. One day near to Guy Fawkes Night, Chuck had some fireworks in his pocket, so he lit a "rattler." We opened the door and looked in and there was Mr. Billington sitting on a chair with Miss Lackland beside him. They didn't see us but we saw him with his hand up her skirt, so we threw the firework in and ran up to the playground. Later Chuck wrote a note and put it on Faulkner's desk. It told him of what we saw in the rest room but not who we were. That afternoon during during break we heard a hell of a row going on and Miss Lackland had very red eyes that afternoon, but thank goodness we were never found out.

Past Perspectives:

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