Born in Potterton Lane on 16 November 1912, I started
school when I was three years old. Then I was put into the
babies class where I soon learnt to read and write. (Infant
prodigy? No! I just loved school and tried hard.)
The school was divided into three classrooms:
1. Infants and Standard I, presided over by Miss Handcliffe
(a lovable middle-aged spinster) with an infant helper.
Married women were not employed as teachers; ladies had to
resign on marriage. Most of the ladies were not trained;
pupil teachers first and then uncertificated teachers.
My memories of the earliest years are few. On Friday
afternoons, Miss Handcliffe handed out to the well-behaved
and the also-rans, small star-shaped biscuits, each having
a dab of icing in the centre. This was a treat in 1917.
We sat in rows, learnt our two times table and a few
hymns, and listened to stories. We had to sit with our arms
folded on the desk and our forefingers of our right hands
over our lips. If we wanted attention, we uttered "Um! Um!
Um!". At playtimes we went onto the girls' playground.
In Miss Handcliffe's room, we always used slates and
slate pencils. Most of the boys, in the period 1917-20, wore
home-made jerseys and the easiest way of cleaning the slates
was to rub your sleeve over them. Half the children did not
use handkerchiefs so the top of the sleeve cleaned your nose
and the bottom the slate. I believe the girls (and some of
the boys) were a little more fastidious.
However, most children came with a clean jersey most
Mondays. Many were poor. If you began to eat an apple,
someone would say "Save us the core!" and then "Leave some of
it!". I was lucky and often had my apple at break-time.
II. This classroom was presided over by Miss Grimshaw and
contained Standards 2,3 and 4.
She worked us hard. We learnt our 3-12 tables over the three years with her.
Whatever she said was "Gospel Truth". I remember her
telling us of the Hundred Years War with France, which she
said we won. Aged eight, I could not understand this. At
the beginning of the war, the English ruled all France. By
the end we had only Calais left. I was put in my place and
told that the English had won the war - "Don't argue!".
Miss Grimshaw was religious (Church of England) and
she knocked her beliefs into us at the age of 6½ - 10. She
believed in the Divine Right of Kings. Our King was
appointed by God and we must never say or do anything
against him nor against any of his lords and ladies to whom
we should all make obeisance. We had to learn by heart the
C. of E. creed in which were the following words "I believe,
etc .... I must be cop-tent with my station in life unto which it
has pleased God to call me". What a load of cobblers! (There
are photographs of Miss Grimshaw and the Headmaster, Mr Booth, in "Bygone Barwick". Editor)
We sang grace at the beginning of each afternoon
session conducted by Mr Booth, the Headmaster,who was hard
of hearing. He stood in the small door of the screen
dividing him from Miss Grimshaw. We were never told the
words and had to pick them up. For about three years, I
sang "For tewrissee we bless etc.". The real words sung to a
very fast tune were "For what we have received .. " Father
heard Alfred, my brother, when he was five singing a grace
which ended "the bread of life sent down from Heaven". Alf
sang " the red of mice sent .. ". Father loved to hear him sing
this and I don't think corrected him. Whilst Miss Grimshaw
taught needlework to the girls, Mr Booth taught us drawing
using HB pencils, which he kept sharp using his penknife.
III. The Headmaster, Mr Arthur Booth's Room.
To even out numbers, a few of us were promoted early to
Mr Booth's room. Here discipline was strict. Mr Booth used
to walk the local footpaths in autumn and cut his own canes.
He kept a store of these in his home at the schoolhouse. We
had a friend in the widow Mrs Robshaw, the school caretaker,
who always burnt any canes left out after school, but Arthur
Booth never ran short of his much used weapon.
At two minutes to nine prompt, he came into school,
pulled on the pole which rang the bell, picked up his cane,
came out through the girls' entrance and smacked any boy's
behind or legs if he was still in the playground. He then
marched us in. The first boy held the door and when the
lines were cleared, he shut it with him on the inside.
Then we had prayers and a hymn conducted by the
Headteacher standing in the doorway of the screen. "Open
the door!" and in came the late boys. "Hold out your hand!"
He walked down the row and gave each boy a bit of stick. He
went back up the row and asked each one why he was late. If
he was not satisfied with the answer, the boy got another
taste. Then, "Come out all those who were absent yesterday!"
If Mr Booth was not satisfied with your reason, you got one
or two strokes. So if you were absent yesterday and late
today, you could start the day with four taps of the cane.
The boys' urinal was a piece of tarred wall with a step
up about a yard from it. Nearly all the boys stood on the
step to urinate hence the tar was seldom wet. The really
clever ones could pee over the wall. Mr Booth used to creep
round and belt any he found standing on the step.
Inevitably, Mr Booth crept round at the right/wrong
moment and received from over the wall some of the contents
of a boy's bladder. There was hell to play and after that,
when contests took place, there was always a look-out.
Four subjects were Mr Booth's forte: arithmetic, writing,
drawing and singing. All our songs were from the National
Song Book, which contained the nineteenth century songs of
Britain and Ireland. Our days did not change much. Every
morning, scripture for 20 minutes, then arithmetic until 10-
45, break until 11- 00 and then writing. Most afternoons we
had an hour of drawing or the boys did a bit of gardening.
Arithmetic, known as sums, was strict - no talking! -
and when you got your five sums right you were sent out to
play in the yard. Regretfully, I wasted many a 20 minutes
after doing my sums; I could always get them right. When Mr
Booth found a great improvement in the number of sums the
class was getting right, I had to leave my book on his desk
and hence the copying stopped. I used to feel sorry for
some of my peers who got the stick for each sum wrong.
The classrooms were heated by tortoise stoves and in
cold weather we often started the day in a temperature in
the low forties. We were sometimes allowed to keep our
coats on (some did not have a coat) and on the coldest
mornings we would be made to stand up and do "physical
jerks" to warm up. I've seen girls cry because of the cold.
The stoves were never kept on all night.
In both Miss Grimshaw's and Mr Booth's classes history
started at 1066. We had to learn by heart the sovereigns up
to Queen Victoria and their dates. I can still repeat 1066-
1087, 1087-1100, 1100-1135, 1135-1137, etc. We learnt
something of the wars (which we always won!) and a lot about
our civil wars (which the Yorkists won!).
We knew more about our Glorious Empire "on which the
Sun never set" than we did about our coalmines, industries,
plains and crops. We learnt by heart every promontory and
bay around England (not Wales or Scotland!) and about our
mountains, and Heaven help you if you could not give the
names of the rivers which flowed into the Yorkshire Ouse.
About once every three years, Mr Booth organised a day
trip to York. It cost 3/3d, which was split up as follows:
2/- fare (one of my father's wagonettes), 1/- tea and 3d for
lemonade when we stopped for a break at The Wild Man. It
was a marvellous day out, spoilt over the next few weeks
when we had to write compositions on (a) The Walls, (b) The
Minster, (c) The Shambles, including Whipmawhopmagate, (d)
I was awarded a County Minor Scholarship in 1924 and
started at the Central High School in Leeds in the September
of that year. Mr Booth retired in 1925 and was followed by
Gilbert Ashworth, who was not appreciated by parents because
of his local connections. He played the violin, and my
brother and many others learnt to sing the sonnets of
Shakespeare of which I had never heard.
The writer of the above article is well qualified to
comment on his own schooling as he became a headmaster
himself. Jack Reed trained at St. John's College in York and
took up his first permanent teaching post in Sherborne,
Dorset, in 1938. During the war he was commissioned as a
pilot, flying Wellingtons on anti-submarine patrol and
piloting flying boats to and from America. After the war, he
returned to Sherborne and became deputy Head in 1949. After
a spell of four years in charge of a school in Devon, he was
apppointed Head of Port way Junior School in Andover,
Hampshire, where he now lives after retiring in 1974.
During his dynamic and unconventional leadership, the
school acquired a heated swimming pool, a large pet garden,
an unusual adventure playground, a new school library and a
large teachers' staff room.
His activities were not confined to school. He became
a magistrate and Chairman of the Winchester Prison Board of
Visitors. He had to retire from these activities at the age
of 70 and now he says, "apart from washing up the breakfast
dishes and doing all the shopping, I do nowt!" (Except for
writing articles for "The Barwicker", of course! Editor)