Below is a further chapter from A Kerridge Childhood written by Enid Simpson. For a full introduction and index to all the stories please see the head page.
The transition from the Infants School to the ‘Big’ School in Bollington must have been uneventful for me, as I recall nothing to mark the event. The Council school, where we were transferred, was an old building (which my Dad had attended in his youth). The building followed the practical style of the age, it was soundly built but had nothing of beauty to adorn the inside or outside. It bordered on the street and was surrounded by an iron railing with a gate that was locked securely once lessons began. A good proportion of the village children attended as well as those from the outlying areas of Kerridge, Adlington, Whiteley Green and Pott Shrigley. No provisions were made for these children by way of school buses or dinners. The long walk, maybe 5 or 6 miles each way, had to be made, despite hail, rain or snow. One thing I do know, these children were never late for school – only those who lived close by shared that distinction.
There was a concrete playground which was bisected by the River Bollin and the big girls were allotted the playground on the other side of the bridge which spanned the brook. Inside the school, stone steps led upstairs where the higher classes studied. Infants and lower classes had their rooms on the ground floor. There was a cloakroom and a row of washrooms at the head of the stairs, lavatories were down the yard. The world of that time bad not discovered the psychological use of colour, and so all the walls were painted a depressing green, or drab brown, with a nondescript yellow for relief. The desks were made to seat four children and seats were attached by iron supports. Children had to climb in and out of their seats, especially those allotted to inside seats.
The desks themselves were simply a slanted piece of wood with a long shelf underneath on which to keep books not in use. Pen and ink were in common use, so each child had an inkwell which sat in a hole specially made for this purpose. Each Friday, the boys who were ink monitors had the job of mixing the powder with water and bottling it all for the coming weeks’ supply. What a messy job, and how they loved it!
Having to be absent a long time because of sickness, I missed the time which should have been spent in Standards 2 and 3, and picked up when I reached Standard 4. We had a male teacher, Mr. Billington, who was a truly gifted teacher. Much of what he taught us has remained with me and, though the subjects were limited, we did learn thoroughly. Each morning began with Religion and we read and learnt more from the Bible there than from Sunday School. Then came Arithmetic which preceded Playtime. Geography and History were also morning subjects. English and Reading were afternoon lessons and my favourites. I had read so much during my illness that I was familiar with a lot of literature, and was ahead of my classmates. All our lessons were shared with another class, thus Standards 4 and 5 learnt together, as did 6 and 7. We only separated for different levels of the same subjects.
Tuesday and Thursday afternoons were days when boys and girls took completely different lessons. Girls had sewing and boys did woodwork. The only lady teacher on the staff, Miss Barber, took all the girls for the sewing lessons, and right from the beginning there was no love lost between us – and I’m not really sure why.
As we progressed with the basic sewing – run and fell seams, buttonholes (which I couldn’t do!), herringbone and feather stitches, the time came for us to ‘make a garment.’ We were given a choice of three things and told how much material to bring for each one. I can only recall my choice – a petticoat. The idea was that we should be shown how to lay a pattern on material and cut it out, and all that we had learnt in basic sewing would be put into practice on his garment.
Well, things didn’t turn out quite as they should. When Mother was told how much material to send, and what kind, see was up in arms. “Far too much – she’ll just cut it to waste!” she snorted. Being a practical woman and with no money to spend on frivolities, she bought the material that she thought the best and cut it out to her own ideas. I took the ready-cut garment to school the next day and presented it to the teacher. When she saw it, she was just as angry as Mother had been. “You were told to bring material to school for me to cut out,” she stormed. I was caught between them. Mother hadn’t the money to spare for surplus material and Miss Barber had to give a lesson in cutting out. I hated sewing!
The teacher made my life quite miserable that year. She could not accept the situation and gave me as little help as she could, making unpleasant remarks that as it wasn’t one of HER patterns, she could not say how MOTHER wanted it made up. It’s a wonder I had any love for sewing at all after the bad introduction I bad. There was no love of needlework implanted in me at all.
Practically all the children of my school days were in the same situation as me – we were all poor. But, strangely, we were not aware of it. We were lucky enough to have resourceful parents and I’m sure we felt quite well off by some standards. Mother always made our school dresses and kept us smartly dressed. Ingenuity and a lot of planning went into this as money was not forthcoming.
I well remember some of the girls in my class. There was Annie Leigh who had one glass eye. Sometimes her eye socket was inflamed and she could not wear the false eye and would come to school with a large celluloid patch over it. Her close friends were allowed to peep under the shade and view the empty socket – it resembled a pink pocket – gruesome lot that we were!
Nancy Marsden was one of a large family, whose clothes were always hand-me-downs. Doris Snape, whose father had been killed during the war, lived with her mother and grandmother in a tiny house on a low income. Emily Archer was another one from a large family. She had learned early in life that those who shouted loudest were the ones that were beard. No-one ever called her Emily, it was always “EMLAARCHER”.
Then there was Annie Gee, who was a pure albino, with white hair’ and pink, weak eyes. Dorothy Ottley was the most affluent as her father owned a saddler’s shop which had a thriving ironmongery side to it. Dorothy, who sat next to me, had great difficulty with English and composition (essays). I can’t remember how it started, but I used to do all her English lessons for her. Ironically, her parents were able to afford the necessary fees for her to attend the local high school in Macclesfield, something I would loved to have done.
Alice Cook was another of the class. Her father was the cricket professional, and so was at home during the weekdays – something looked on as a bit queer because every other man worked either at the Mill or was in his own business. Mr. Cook coached would be cricketers and did some Green Work on the local cricket field. Naturally he was the star turn at the Saturday afternoon matches.
Of the boys, I can only remember Arthur Leighton, Alec Snape, Eric Hopper, Bobby Green and Hughie Archer, brother of the pert Emlaarcher.
Although our school subjects were somewhat limited, what we did learn was thoroughly taught and remembered. Much emphasis was put on neat handwriting and presentation of work. We memorised tables, poems, songs, hymns, and many historical dates. I shall never forget ‘The Deserted Village’, Gray’s ‘Elegy’, ‘Lochinvar’ and ‘Vitae Lamparda’.
Although the school was set in the heart of the countryside, we were confined to the classroom. Silence was insisted upon and so was a good deal of awe and respect for our teachers. Periodically, Mr. Allen, the ‘School Board’ – now known as the Truant Officer – visited school and examined the resister to see who were the persistent absentees. He was a man who used biting sarcasm and we all used to squirm as he called the offenders out in front of the whole class to demand why that child had been absent on a certain date. Naturally, the child could barely remember and was so petrified with fright that he became speechless. The children were the same ones each time and the usual reply (in a frightened whisper) to the question “Why were you absent on Tuesday last week?” was “Mam had to go out and I had to mind the house.” Daddy Allen would glare down his huge beak of a nose and bark “Why – would the house have run away?” These kids usually had a baby to look after or an ailing grandparent, as well as the house.
Then there was the Punishment Book. Corporal punishment was administered – but fairly – and each caning was recorded in this book and the reason for it. Of course, I was never caned, I was much too tired to consider being naughty! There were never any after-effects, except a boy nursing his bruised hands for a while. It usually had the desired effect of acting as a deterrent to further mischievous behaviour.
On the whole, I enjoyed school – it was hard, discipline was strict and there were none of the visual aids or learning tools that today’s children have. No gymnasium or library, no visits to museums or even nature outings. On the other hand, every child at school-leaving age could read and write, no learning disabilities or dyslexia problems seemed to exist then. Juvenile delinquency was unknown and psychology was just a word in the dictionary.
© 1985 Enid Simpson