I grew up in a small Wiltshire village and commenced school at the local Infant School and progressed to the Junior School, known as the “Top School”. Both were Church of England schools and took both sexes. The normal leaving age from the Junior School was 14 years. All the boys wore boots to school and our fathers fitted them with steel tips and brads and sometimes hob nails to the soles, to prolong their life. They could also produce sparks from the paving slabs. The toilets were separate, outside the main building.
As it was a C of E school the village clergyman came frequently to provide Religious Instruction, but he was “other worldy” and his talks went over our heads. I had become a choirboy at seven years, as my father was a lifelong chorister and bellringer at the village church. I remember being upset at my first Good Friday service because the Vicar read from the Bible in his serious voice that the heavens darkened and there was a great storm, when outside the sky became dark and lightening flashed, followed by thunder. I looked around to see if there was a purple cloth to be “rent in twain”, as the Vicar read about in the temple. When I went home the storm was over and I soon recovered. There were no May Day celebrations in those days, with no dancing around the maypole and I have since read that these were regarded as pagan. Driving through the village a few years ago I noticed that the tradition has been introduced at the Infant School by a young teacher.
In those days before the NHS we had Hospital Sundays. Once a year, “by kind invitation of Miss St George and her sister”, the grounds of their house were opened and the nearby town silver band played, “followed by a silver collection”. We all processed after evening service in our “Sunday Best” to listen. It must have been late summer into autumn as insects came from the shrubs around the lawns to pester us. To add to my confusion the nearest of the three village public houses was the “St George and the Dragon”. The other pubs were the “Cross Keys” and the “Lamb”, all within stumbling distance of each other. The “Lamb” had been closed for years and lost its sign, but was still known to all as the “Lamb”.
Does anyone recall Empire Day? My memory of it is very vague, but I think we marched up and down the playground and sang the National Anthem and shouted “God Save the King”. We probably had readings from Rudyard Kipling and a half holiday and had seen all the pink places on the World globe. I have been told that at some schools the children attended in scout or guide uniform, but we had neither troop in our village.
Early at the school there was excitement in the playground. An aircraft flew over, possibly the first we had seen then. Times changed and as war loomed we were to see many more. Milk was delivered to the school, a bottle for each child to be consumed at break. Often this was not very appetising as it had been left outside in the sun. For a time we were given Horlicks tablets, which were pleasant, but whether this was an advertising promotion, or a national attempt to improve our health I do not know. When we left school to go home for lunch (dinner?) sometimes we were accosted by salesmen distributing cheap advertising promotions, for example a cardboard figure threaded on twisted cord which rotated as the cord was stretched, which advertised cigarettes or tobacco.
I always ran to and from school causing neighbours to say “he will never put weight on” and my companions gave me the nickname “Skinny”, which is difficult to believe now!
We had an annual Sports Day and I was entered for the 100 yards race, but I was a poor starter and only began after the others had left the start.
Our schooling was necessarily limited, more or less to the “Three R’s”. My reading was satisfactory thanks to my parents, but my arithmetic was always poor for years, due I believe to the schooling. My handwriting has always been childish – “just link up the letters”, but actual writing (composition) was satisfactory, probably led by the reading. Once we were asked to write about our parents and my piece caused much amusement. The Amor males have generally had blue chins and I wrote that my father was “clean shaven and has a beard”. Natural History was covered well, with beans grown on blotting paper, etc. We were told to collect wild flowers and press them in our schoolbooks and I remember proudly fastening a teasel between the pages, but the head did not flatten and the book was always distorted.
The Head Master took the “Top Class” which seemed to consist of essays, poetry and especially gardening. The school garden produced fine vegetables (on reflection I wonder where they went as there were no meals prepared at school), tended by the older boys, closely supervised by the head. In the classroom the black board was covered with the names of vegetables unheard of in the gardens of our parents, such as “kohlrabi” – “write it carefully in your books”. At home, if I “helped” my father in our garden I could earn my Saturday penny pocket money (1d, when 240d = £1), but no exotic vegetables there! The Head was fond of giving his class essays and would write helpful sentences on the blackboard, for example “Sunday Afternoon Tea – We had bread and butter and jam”. One boy in his class, from a poor home told me this and said “We have bread and jam, or bread and butter, not all three”.
I only sat in the top class when our teacher was ill. As my age approached 11, the Secondary Grammar School entrance examination loomed. Many of my colleagues said they did not want to go there as they wished to get a job as soon as they could leave at age 14. The secondary school was then fee paying but the County offered a limited number of “Free Seats” which depended on performance in the entrance exam. and parental income. A friend and I were lucky to obtain the only two “free” seats from our village that year. After that is another story, perhaps for another time.
Before that the prospect of the second World War intervened. Soon we were collecting waste paper from our neighbours. I took my offering to the school in my wheel barrow, after first examining any books. Likely books were held back for reading before taking them to school. Some of our neighbours had such gems as the adventure stories of Rider Haggard. The school had a small library, but only one of its books I still remember, “Dr Doolittle” with one character in particular, “The Push-me-Pull-You”.
Around this time my step-grandmother gave us her piano. (“All nice little boys learn the piano”). Our church organist was a piano teacher and lived nearby, so I began, but I have no ear for music and despite her perseverance I was hopeless. I took one examination and achieved grade 1 for Music Theory but my practical playing was terrible. Luckily with the prospect of war my teacher joined the ATS and my music lessons came to an end.
Bridport History Society delves further back in time on Tuesday June 14th when we hear about “A Freezing Horror: the wreck of the Halsewell East Indiaman” from Philip Browne at 2.30 pm in Bridport United Church Main Hall. All welcome, visitor entrance £2.50.
Cecil Amor, President, Bridport History Society. Tel: 01308 456876.