On the 16th of May 2017 I returned to the brick lined alleyway, which led to the school building. There were two entrances one for boys and the other for girls. This was historically true but obviously, in 2017, sexual segregation has long since gone.
Mel, one of the teachers, came and introduced herself. She had arranged for me to speak to two classes about William Tyndale sixty years ago. Needless to relate although the buildings were, more-or-less the same, everything else was different. Strangely enough the “Herring bone parquet-flooring” floors I had walked on so many times before were the same.
The children were told I was a special visitor who had attended the school when I was their age sixty-four years ago. In 1953 everyone was regimented. We had to stand to attention whenever a teacher entered the room; when our name was called in morning registration and especially if a teacher spoke to us. Everyone marched smartly to or from the hall from our classroom. There was absolutely no running, talking or pushing in the corridors.
Miss Carpenter, my form teacher, was nice but posh. She didn’t always understand our Cockney accents. None of us sounded our ‘aitches’ and sometimes just for devilment we’d speak in Cockney rhyming slang. My example was saying “apples and pears” instead of stairs. The children were very excited by this and hands were shooting up in the class. The teacher calmed them down by reminding them of the question time at the end of the talk.
Miss Reason was a much older teacher who’d taught for many years. Miss Reason made me the ‘ink-monitor’, and each day I took the big enamel jug of ink from the cupboard and filled up the inkwells in front of each pupil. Nowadays, of course, no one uses ink pens and so the children didn’t really know what I was talking about. This is another example of change in an everyday school matter.
Miss Latham, who had a terrible reputation was my form teacher from 1954 to 1955. She always had her hair, tied in a bun. She always looked quite fierce because she wore a tweed jacket and skirt with brown brogue shoes. And boy could she stamp those shoes. On more than a few occasions when she caught me not paying attention, she would scream “Davis, go and stand in the corner, with your hands on your head, you stupid boy”. This was usually followed up by “Face the corner, you are not going to show off to the rest of the class!”
After registration Miss Latham gave us a ‘mental arithmetic’ test. She would pick on any boy or girl. The question s were completely random like “What is nine times twelve or what is seven times eight?” This lasted 30 minutes but felt like two hours. This was followed by a half hour spelling test. Usually only those that could do spelling got the really hard words.
After my talk one little girl said that “ Miss Latham sounds as bad as Miss Trunchbowl in the book Matilda by Roald Dahl.” “Yes,” I said, “that is how she was”.
The children were very excited to ask their questions, which they’d been ‘saving’ up for me.
What subjects were you taught? English, Composition-English exercises-Reading-Recitation, spelling, grammar. Arithmetic, Geography, Nature Study, Art, Handiwork (raffia weaving).
What did you wear to go to school? I had my first pair of long trousers, at the age of nine, my two older brothers had worn them before me.
What did you eat? School dinners were horrible, but we were made to eat them.
What punishments were there? Write lines, you could be shouted at, slapped, or caned.
What does it mean to be slippered? Hit on your bottom with a trainer shoe
Were you ever slapped? Yes, I was once slapped very hard around my face by a teacher.
How many were in your class? Forty to forty-five, sometimes more, sometimes fewer.
Did the teacher have an assistant to help? No, there was no such help for the teacher in those days.
Question time took a long time but I think that they enjoyed it as much as I did.
My wife, who accompanied me, distributed copies of my school reports to the children to read. We made enough copies for the children to keep as a memento of the talk.
Before we left school the school secretary showed my entry record into the school with my name and address and my Fathers name. Strangely enough my Mothers name didn’t appear. As I looked down the other names of children who joined school at the same time as me, I saw the name of my very good friend Mickey Bishop. Many years later we worked for the same employer.