My memories of St. Margaret’s Elementary School seem scant, until I crossed the path of a certain T. Lloyd Jones, headmaster. I went in one door at five, came across Lloyd Jones about 11 and left at 15 without a thing to say I had an education.
I thought it was quite normal to have full to overflowing, frozen, outside toilets. Milk warmed on the radiators (disgusting!). With no money to spare, I lived amongst us truly poor people, with problems I didn't even comprehend. I started school in 1943, the Americans were in the war (the attack on Pearl harbour had happened in December of 1941), The RAF Dam Busters raid had happened in the May and the Memphis Belle becomes the first airplane in the 8th Air Force to complete a 25-mission tour of duty.
I have no recollection of V. E. Day, when I’d be about six and a half and half way though the first school. If there were street parties, I don’t remember a thing. I have only a vaguest memory of the wedding of Princess Elizabeth & the Duke of Edinburgh, which was probably because of my Mum showing me pictures.
No one told me that the 11 plus was designed to sort out the wheat from the chaff. This was before dyslexia was known and my reports always said "Should try harder" "Makes careless mistakes". How well I remember failing to spell sugar correctly during a spelling test.
You have no idea how much I appreciate computers now!
I was best described as a daydreamer with no academic qualities at all. I am sure I wasn’t expected to pass my 11 plus. There was no promise of a bike. (No money? Or no chance of getting through?) These were the years of corporal punishment. A leather strap was used for unclean shoes, being late or just failure to do something. I didn’t get it too many times but never believed the “This is hurting me, more than its hurting you” rubbish. Birching was a legitimate punishment, in the local paper of July 12th 1947, (I was nearly nine), it read: The father of two boys who were birched recently in Stretford has demanded a public enquiry. The two boys, aged 10 and 11, were accused of breaking into a garage and stealing property and £3 cash. They both received the maximum penalty - six strokes with a birch rod - at Old Trafford Police Station. The father, who said the boys had already received adequate punishment, asked Stretford MP Mr H L Austin, to appeal to the Home Secretary. Mrs Alice Titt, senior woman magistrate, is against birching. "I do not want a return to a Dickensian England. We have enough tough guys already. I believe birching to-day makes the gangsters of to-morrow". Four weeks later, it reported
Manchester Juvenile court on Thursday, magistrates refused to consider giving corporal punishment to a boy accused, with his brother, of stealing bugles and hats from the Boys Brigade, Old Trafford. The mother of the 10 year old boy had pleaded tearfully with the officials to give her son the birch: "I wish they had decided to birch him. It would have made all the difference." Also present at the hearing was Mrs Alice Titt, who recently protested against the recent birching of two boys in Stretford.
Lloyd Jones who seemed to think that punishment & humiliation would help pupils learn. He would stride into class, interrupt the lesson for something he wanted to do or drive home or get off his chest. One I can remember was “Tell me when a minute has passed” Only one lad got it right by counting 60 seconds. Not old dumbstruck here. I just thought you had to guess! Then there was the break a pencil easily, but put six together & you couldn't break it. It was meant to demonstrate "United we stand, divided we fall". Maybe Lloyd Jones was a union man & wanting us all to fight the bosses!
I can still see the day that one of the boys was strapped for something. I've no idea what his error was. The boy lost his rag & called Jonesy a “Big fat pig” (well, two out of three isn’t bad!) Lloyd Jones leathered him! By today’s standards it would be common assault. The lad’s parents came in the next day but so far as I know, nothing happened. Those were the times when teachers were locum parentis. You did something wrong in 1950, you got punished. Smacking, as a punishment, was commonplace & expected. People like head teachers, bank managers, doctors & solicitors were unassailable by normal people.On another occasion he pulled a kid out to the front of the class and started to smell his clothing! Why? Did he think the child needed humiliating? Did he think the child had any control over the way his life was run? Was there a complaint about him? Was it for health reasons? Wouldn’t the right thing to do, whatever was needed, was do it in private and involve his parents?
My own personal nightmare, with this man, was the day he decided we didn’t know our times table. He shot questions out. What is 8 x 7? What is 5 x 9? Everyone was panicking, would he catch you out? Would they get the strap? Would he send a report to your dad? The more that were wrong, the worse he got. He berated us! We were useless, wasting his time & the government’s money. We’d never get work. I just knew he was going to pick me! How right I was. “You! What’s your two times table?” I never got very far, I panicked and my brain went to mush. I was living proof that the entire class was a waste of space and maybe we were so bad, the Queen should authorize him to hang some of us as an example! He never seemed to question why we got it wrong. Was humiliation & the threat of punishment the best way to test us? Was it anything to do with the way we were taught by teachers that he led?
After the school became co-ed (the end of the world was predicted) the school got Miss Smith as head. She may not have been of this century, but as a devout Christian she did listen to what pupils had to say against religion. A firm believer in God, copper plate handwriting & that not everything was lost. She was thin & tall and spoke with a “posh” accent. Before she took over, she ran the girl only part of the school. I can hear Barbara next door, trying to speak in a standard BBC pronunciation. I think Miss Smith must have told her, it was the bedrock of civilization & the British Empire.There was another good teacher called "Harry" Harper. Although he probably knew he was at the arse end of the educational world, it was him that gave me a chance to shine. In the early '50s, my only true talent may have shone though. On a Friday afternoon, one of the class had to stand up and give a talk on any subject of their choice & interest. Nothing was barred, nothing was given to you nor you were forced to talk. Any lack of any skill in mathematics and a complete failure to spell would not stop that great team of Arthur Mee’s Children’s Encyclopedia & me! It was that kind of information a young kid could absorb. The Egyptians were on the next page to steam engines, followed by "Tales from the Bible"! The original 8-volume set had a blue binding; later editions were issued in brown, and later burgundy bindings (the ones I had). The original title was the “Children’s Encyclopaedia”, but in the 1922-1925 edition, the diphthong was dropped, and it became “Children’s Encyclopedia”, a spelling which was retained through subsequent editions. These volumes were immensely popular throughout the English-speaking world: several generations of children throughout the British Empire were brought up on The Children's Encyclopedia, with it's moral & very certain outlook of Arthur Mee, he believed the English were best and that children needed information to absorb easily & interestingly. My specialties turned out to be astronomy, elephants & the duck billed platypus! After the talk on the stars, my nickname was "Prof". Not "Stupid" as I first thought it would turn out to be.
The education was wide. There were woodwork classes, (I can still smell that glue heating up on the gas burner) and leather work. We made book holders, raffia covered stools and purses for the family. The small bookcase I made was still on the windowsill when we cleared out Dad’s house after he died 50 years later! The woodwork classes were held at a school on Princess Rd., I think.
We walked to our school allotments too. We grew vegetables to sell our folks in the schoolyard. I can still see Mum buying a swede or turnip! Do you remember the tale about hydrogen peroxide? The deafness maybe? Well one day Harry Harper said something along the lines of “Turn over those sods” in connection to digging. In all innocence, I swear, I said. “Who’s a sod Sir?” He threatened a meeting with T. Lloyd Jones the next morning! It didn’t help me sleep & I bet it cured any constipation I may have had that night! Nothing happened, but I was waiting for God to strike me dead at any second. Another time, one lad got a gardening fork through his foot after larking around. In those days you didn’t sue people. It was Gods punishment for acting stupidly!
We swam at the baths in Chorlton, how well I remember trying to do my length and feeling I was about to drown in the deep end! Got fished out with a pole & had to sit in the warm baths with all the other failures! I never took to swimming in Manchester, it was all chlorine & freezing cold. The poor guy, who was pulled out of class & smelt at, often had no costume. One time they hadn’t got one to let him borrow, so he was made to swim nude! This was in an era when no one did nudity, ever! What did they expect to achieve? What control did he have over his parent’s money? I would have thought that new clothes, shoes or a swimming cossie was well below the need for food & rent!
The famous Eagle comic’s first edition was sent round school for us all to see & read. It would be a collector’s item now! I saw one on EBay. It’s asking price was £125! Dan Dare, Digby, the Mekong & its centre page spread would become world famous. This was dated April 14th. 1950. I think its cost was 6d (two & a half pence) It was in the June of 1950 that the Korean War started (it went on until I left school in 1953) & The Peak District becomes Britain's first National Park.
We had trips out too.
We saw the Halle Orchestra at the Free Trade Hall.
We even went to the cinema to see Hamlet (a film made in 1948 with the late, Sir Laurence Olivier.)We had a visit to a factory making hot water bottles. (Why? What to do with rubber? Where does rubber end up? Learn your tables or you could end up working here?) It was here we got a taste of the adult world. When one of the lads asked if they’d got rubber balls, the guy said, “Are you being rude or do you really want to know?”
The local power station was visited to see how we got our lights. No farms, no countryside, just stuff in easy reach of us townies!
We were once marched up to Alexandra Road to wave flags, as the car of General Montgomery went past at high speed. Of course I saw nothing! Well either that, or I was too small to see anything!
If school days are the best days of your life, my life must have been shite!
The sad thing is, I can still see faces, but not remember many of their names. There are no existing class pictures that I have. Mum may not have been able to afford one or they may not have taken them as not enough could afford to buy them soon after the war. There was Brian Donald, Paul Kallenberg, there was a smart guy with a withered arm, Peter Dixon, Wilson, Challenor, Ann Snow, Dorothy Worral, (a friend of mine in the next class, that was in the youth club in the church), a lad who had very nice handwriting & blotted as soon as he wrote, I think he was called Charles. Nogger Quint. There was a lovely girl, whose dad had a chip shop. Who was that one eyed boy I had my first fight (& last) with? And loosing it too!
My best mate next door, Billy Mottram, passed for the grammar school but I think it was too much for him, so he ended up back at the Central school, which used our playground, so I saw plenty of him. I have seen names from my school in my year on Friends Reunited but I’m ashamed to say, I recognized very few of them. I remember us once having a Jewish lad who was excused religious education but choose to stay! We were astounded when he said he found it interesting! We sure didn’t!
I never like to play sport, at school or anywhere for that matter. Dad got me football boots & a cricket bat, in a vain hope I would. I think he was very disappointed that I hated any kind of sport. It wouldn't help that he decided to invest money he didn't have, into items I never wanted nor used. We played games at a terrible muddy field that was attached to an old closed school building between College Rd & Burford Rd. How come, when you don't play any sports, you can always remember that time you got hit with a cricket ball! I would sometime volunteer to run round the field instead of playing a normal game. I used to kid myself I could do that ... until I did one long distant run with the boy scouts in Alexandra Park. It nearly killed me & I came in a valiant & knackered last!