Remembrance of Things Past

Mostly about growing up the 1950s in Ilford, Essex.


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[71] Another Picture Blog

Another blog post just based on a few pictures, found mostly on Facebook. They will illustrate Blogs Past and Blogs to Come!

You have, of course, already read my first picture blog: [58] A Picture Tells a Thousand Words

These, again, are fairly random as I just take them as I find them. As always, you can click on a picture for a larger view.

Heating

EletricFire

This is quite an old portable electric fire, typical in design of the fifties. We certainly had these. This one has one bar – so it was 1 Kilowatt. Similar ones could have two or three bars, thus allowing different heat settings. The grill prevents children from having accidents with little fingers, but it didn’t prevent inquisitive boys from doing experiments with melting and burning things. (There were, of course, always matches around.)

(Health and Safety note. Please treat all fires carefully and don’t use your electric fire on the lawn outside!)

GasFire

A more modern gas fire, typical of the sixties. I am sure we had one like this. They were still free standing and portable from room to room. But one like this would have stood in the fireplace, perhaps in front of an unused coal fire crate. You could turn off the gas, disconnect and move to another room. If you waited too long after turning it on before lighting (with a match) you could have a little explosion of gas. The gas, as now was poisonous.

Modern electric and gas fires look better, now usually looking like real coal fires. When they came in, ‘coal-effect’ fires were (You’ve guessed it) for the rich and posh. Nowadays, safety regulations apply and they are fixed, sometimes in an old real fireplace. Chimneys and flues control smoke and gas emissions. Only registered, professional engineers now deal with gas installation. Gas fires light automatically without matches.

(My best friend at school went to Cambridge University at the same time as I did but we went to different Colleges so I didn’t see him. College rooms, mostly small bed-sits, were heated by gas fires, smaller and simpler than this one. As people could easily do in those days, he turned on the gas in his room deliberately without lighting the fire and killed himself. It was said that he had difficulty with his height, especially with girls. He was the same height as me. We were both very short. This used to be an easy and common means of suicide.)

ParrafinLamp

A paraffin heater of the fifties or sixties was just as dangerous. The clip at the front enabled you to lift up the top to fill up a container with paraffin, a highly inflammable liquid that could easily be spilled. A wick had one end in the liquid, its other end was lit with a match.

The fire was portable. You could carry it round the house, even when alight!

fireplace advert

This picture shows a lot more than the fireplace, which was very sixties. The chair is typical of the time as is the lamp. Note also the carpet, much like the ones we had, just a rectangle – not covering the whole floor. The rest of the floor was probably lino.

If you look closely at this advertisement you can see the Valentine telephone number, followed by: (20 lines). This meant that there was a telephonist able to take up to twenty calls at a time.

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This is how she would do it, a switchboard. She would wear headphones for incoming and outgoing telephone calls and use cables connected by jack-plugs. (Yes, I did say ‘She.’ It was a woman’s job!)

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Babies

Babies used to be transported in prams like these, even in the seventies. Our children were pushed around in something like the one on the right. They were good for walking but not useful for car or bus transport.

The Maclaren Baby Buggy revolutionized baby and toddler transport. It was foldable and easily portable. Designed in the late sixties, it has been produced worldwide.

Like so many other companies, Wikipedia reports that the Maclaren Company went into receivership in 2000 and was taken over a family based in Monaco and Switzerland. Production moved to China. Many other similar buggies are now available.

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Sweets

This may be an early shop or a more modern reproduction. It seems to be selling groceries and sweets, which was not typical of the fifties. But the sweets are typical, in large glass jars. They were carefully tipped into the scales until the 4 oz mark was reached. (That’s four ounces, a quarter of a pound. They were not sold in any weights only per 4 oz. That was about 6d or 9d, in modern money 2-4p.)

FrysFive

This is obviously a large metal plate that would have been fixed outside a confectioner’s shop for advertising. Fry’s Five Boys was just a small bar of milk chocolate, moulded into five pieces with the faces of these boys. The last one is so happy because he realizes he is being given Fry’s chocolate!

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Education

The desks are typical, with their inkwells and space for keeping books. They were usually arranged in pairs. Teacher’s desk and chair are also typical. I always remember them on a raised daïs.

Both black boards shown here are also typical. One is fixed on the wall, one can be moved around and has a circular black writing space that can be wound round.

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This is a blackboard rubber (eraser) about 20 cm long. Some teachers were said to throw them at errant pupils but I don’t remember this actually happening.

They would fill up with chalk and had to be taken outside and beaten with a ruler to remove the dust.

(Yes, I can remember doing that with carpets!)

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We called this a pair of compasses. You could draw circles with a pencil using it. We all had our own box of geometrical instruments – compasses, two set squares, pencils, pencil sharpener and ruler.

Can_Opener

Food and Drink

A key mechanism opening a tin of something like Spam. Corned beef came in a tin a bit like this (but they were not cylindrical tins, they were rectangular with rounded corners so that the key could turn the corner.) The key was stuck to the top of the tin. Sardines had something similar.

They were difficult to use and didn’t always perform perfectly. The sharp metal edges were as dangerous as they look!

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I’m going to use that word again. These revolutionized home consumption of beer. Before these, there was just bottled ale. These provided something similar to the draught bitter available in pubs and it was cheap. It started the trend towards drinking at home rather than in pubs.

Opening was as easy as … as easy as using a key for corned beef!

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When fruit squash was relatively cheap, sold in concentrated form to be diluted, Lucozade was expensive, undiluted, fizzy, with its bottles wrapped in something like cellophane.

Its upmarket image was based on advertising as a tonic: ‘Lucozade aids Recovery.’

Later it changed its image and became a sports drink (when sports drinks became fashionable!)

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Typical knives of the fifties, before stainless cutlery came into common use. There was a time around the late fifties when Dad gave up his job and started a small business selling stainless steel cutlery, when it was new and trendy.

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Miscellaneous

This ingenious device was common. It sat on the telephone table. You set the slider to a letter and it opened to reveal a page or two of telephone numbers, with a surname beginning with that letter. The slider was the only automation. Entries were handwritten on lined paper and you had to keep them up-to-date yourself. It was an early version of our Contacts app!

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We had a sewing machine like this, trestle driven with the feet. (Sewing machines were always Singer.) I remember Nan using it sometimes, threading bobbins and sewing. This was not as dangerous as it looks. It has a protected piece of metal to prevent you from sewing your fingers.

It could fold down and convert into a small table and we used it like that a lot. Many later had the sewing machine removed and were used just as tables in pubs.

A really typical dressing table with the stained, light brown wood and large mirror. Mum had one like this. (We didn’t have painted walls. It was always wallpaper.) Furniture was always stained wood, sometimes dark mahogany, sometimes lighter like this.

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I cannot claim to speak from experience as a young boy when describing women’s underwear. Going by all the adverts in newspapers and magazines, all women wore these tight, controlling girdles. I will say nothing more about underwear. (Maybe later.)

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Inside a London Underground train with its plush seats. I’m not sure if this is a Central Line train. You could open the doors and move between the eight carriages. Some, but not all, carriages were Non Smoking.

Seeing an empty carriage like this was not unusual.

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I end with a picture of the Beehive Lane shops from the Cranbrook Road end. This picture could be from the fifties. The corner shop is the grocers, Greens. That clock was always there. The Post Office would be a couple of shops to the right. Notice the absence of traffic.

Thanks to all those who have provided these pictures.


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[70] ICHS – Part Three

In a fairly random pattern I will continue where [62] ICHS for Boys Part One and [66] ICHS – Part Two left off, looking next at some more subjects and their teachers from the first three years.

English

As a core subject we had English for one period a day from the First Form to the Fifth Form. In the first year our teacher, Mr Lowe, was known as ‘Selwyn.’ Don’t worry, I’m not going to do every teacher of every subject for every year! I can’t even remember most of them.

Selwyn was in his last year of teaching. He seemed pretty old to us and was a bit absent-minded. He lived in Fremantle Road just a few yards away from the school and it seemed as he had always been there.

English lessons were supposed to come in five categories and unfortunately I can’t remember exactly what they were. They could have been Grammar, Poetry, Drama, Essays and Comprehension but there were also plays and books.

What I do remember is that at the beginning of each term he would tell us which days were which – maybe Monday Poetry, Tuesday Grammar … He asked us to remind him and every day he would ask. Needless to say the boys said every day what they wanted so the mixture was not what it should have been. We didn’t have essays as often as we should have done!

In those days everyone at school took English seriously. We studied grammar and were always expected to use proper English with perfect grammar and spelling. In exams, this applied to all subjects.

I will come back to English Literature around the Fifth Form, for reasons which will become obvious then.

French

It was always assumed that all the staff at a Boys’ School should be men. As for so many things, perhaps we just assumed it without any evidence.

There were two exceptions. The school secretary, with her own office opposite the Headmaster’s office, was Miss Glasberg. Typing and secretarial work were so much jobs for women that it would have been very unusual for a man to do this. (See [20] Sex Discrimination.)

The other exception was Miss Scott, a French lady who taught us the language in the First Year. Again with no evidence to go on, she was presumed to have been employed in exceptional circumstances in the post-war situation. We had no idea what these circumstances might have been.

Having done a little training as a teacher I now see how our teaching was influenced by the education of the teachers. I think Miss Scott had done a course at University on pronunciation!

We spent the whole of the first term learning how to speak French properly while learning virtually nothing of its vocabulary or grammar. We went through its sixteen numbered vowel sounds in order, picking up just a few French words as examples. We learned some of the vagaries of French spelling, with its accents and cedillas, much easier that English spelling. We must have been taught thoroughly because I can still remember much of it. (It did take a whole term just for pronunciation.)

The first four vowels, numbers one, two, three and four, were approximately as the English vowels in ‘meet’, ‘mate’, ‘met’ and ‘mart.’ Number five is a longer sound, a bit like number four, as in ‘marsh’, then six, seven and eight are heard in ‘mott’, ‘moat’ and ‘moot’ (Not as in ‘mute.’)

The second half were a bit more difficult, starting with number nine, best seen as the German ü. It’s a mixture of numbers seven and eight. Ten and eleven were similar to each other (but different!), both a bit like the first vowel in ‘murder.’ Somehow French ‘eggs’ and ‘ears’ managed to use both sounds. (In the singular ‘un œuf’ and ‘un œil.’ In the plural the vowel sounds changed for ‘des œufs’ and ‘les yeux.’ Don’t ask me which were ten or eleven!)

Twelve is the unaccented vowel of the word ‘the,’ known as a schwa. (I only learned that in studying Russian. We think of it as unaccented and insignificant but it gets accented in Chinese, even carrying different tones.) That just leave thirteen to sixteen, the four nasal vowels sounds.

I remember nothing else of Miss Scott. Perhaps she only taught us for one term, or perhaps we had a whole year of pronunciation. I can say little of her successor, Mr Loeser except that he was Czechoslovakian, with an accent, possibly another refugee from the War. He may have spoken good French but his English was sometimes hard to understand.

He was followed by Mr Stenner, who was strict and taught boringly and rigidly by the book. We worked through the text book by chapters. First we had time to look at the book and learn the new vocabulary listed at the start of each chapter. Then there was new grammar – things like verb tenses.

Then we went round the class one by one in alphabetical order. (For many classes in the early years we sat in alphabetical order as directed by the teacher.) We read the set text of the book, sentence by sentence, getting the pronunciation perfect, and we translated it into English – going over it again until he thought we had the best English equivalent. Sometimes it seemed that it was not so much the literal translation of the words but getting perfect idiomatic literary forms of English.

Mr Stenner will get another mention later.

I don’t think I have mentioned homework yet. We didn’t have it at Junior School but it started at ICHS – carried home in those leather satchels – two or three subjects every night – or each subject once or twice a week. You have to know about it for the next topic.

General Science

We had General Science for the first two years before splitting into Physics and Chemistry with Mr Bown. (He was known as ‘Pinhead,’ perhaps because he had a small, bald head.) He was not popular. He was strict and bad-tempered, sometimes threatening violence in a believable way. We were frightened of him. He may never have actually stuck any of the boys but we thought he might.

He was one of the worst teachers and was notorious for not marking homework. Homework was always collected when due but would be unmarked when returned to us. Every few weeks he would try to catch up, rushing through an attempt at marking the work he had missed. Partially marked books would be returned and he would be in a bad mood – always blaming the problems on us!

I remember in particular what could have been the best lesson we ever had, demonstrating the effects of water on sodium, potassium and other metals. He had tried to mark a few week’s work, gave us back our books and punished the whole class for poor work by saying that we would not have the demonstration. We had to spend the lesson in silence, copying up what we would have seen if he had been bothered to do it for us. (Maybe he didn’t like this demonstration and did the same every year!)

I don’t think anybody liked him and it was a relief to end General Science.

Latin

I cannot remember the name of our Latin teacher, perhaps because we never used it. We had the same teacher up to the fifth form. I am told that it was a Mr Morrow, which is vaguely familiar. He was known as ‘Solly.’ (I don’t know why.) We liked him because he spent much of the time talking about things that had nothing to do with school, sometimes about sailing. In those days Latin was a standard part of our education. We learned all the declensions of nouns and conjugations of all the tenses of the verbs, which helped both in understanding grammar in English and French and in the meanings of English words with Latin roots.

He wasn’t very strict and we didn’t behave perfectly in his lessons – but we were never really disruptive.

I remember our first year Latin exam. Exams were in our form room and as we were ready he delivered the papers to the invigilating Mr Jermy. He announced to the class that he had put in a word by mistake that we hadn’t covered yet in lessons. The word SAXUM meant rock, which he wrote on the board. It’s strange what useless things we remember in later life!

We had to study one book of the Gallic Wars by Caesar and went through it chapter by chapter. I think by the time we did ‘O’ Levels we could do many of the chapters from memory without needing the Latin!

Gym and PE

We called it PE (Physical Education) but it was nearly always in the school gymnasium with its wooden floor and all the standard gym equipment. There were wooden ladders at the side which we could climb; ropes hanging downwards; a long wooden vaulting horse; benches, mats and medicine balls.

We weren’t taught much about actual gymnastics. Often it was more like circuit training. Sometimes there was a game called ‘Pirates,’ a sort of tag version of tag, which involved staying off the ground.

I think I was vaguely interested in Gymnastics. Once I went to Gym Club, which did give the opportunity for a little bit of individual tuition. But it was about five o’clock, after waiting around at school, and just wasn’t convenient (or perhaps I wasn’t that keen.) I only went once.

For PE we just wore shorts, vests and the standard black plimsolls that were still the only gym shoes available

Games

Games were outdoor activities (in all weather), for a double lesson each week. The teacher had two classes of 32 together so there was not much in the way of individual tuition. I can’t remember the names of any Games teachers but we didn’t have Ron Pickering. He taught at Wanstead, another Grammar School in Ilford.

Through the winter, games meant Football. We played three separate matches, a first team, second team and third team. I presume that the teacher selected the teams somehow and he looked after and refereed the first team match. Second and third teams looked after themselves. I was third team material so I never had a word of education about football, apart from what I noted in [61] Match of the Day.

I’m not sure why but football wasn’t always on the school field at the back of the school. Sometimes we went somewhere else.

Just once, when the weather was really bad we were told about offside. Perhaps it’s not surprising that I grew up without a love of football. (For football we had to buy football boots and socks.)

In the summer the sport changed to Cricket. The arrangement into teams was as for Football (and again I was third team material) so I was never told anything about the rules of the game or how to play it. I have picked up a lot from watching it on television but it far too complicated. I think if the ball hits the body it should be LBW whatever else happens – much simpler!

You well be getting an idea already of my memories of how we were taught in games. I mustn’t forget Athletics. Once a year, for just one double lesson, in the summer out would come shot put, discus, javelin, hurdles, high jump and long jump and the teacher would do his best to tell some of something about each of them. Yes, without worries about Health and Safety, a few boys would be left throwing the javelin on the school field. I always felt that I might be good at long jump but there were no other opportunities for athletics.

Diversion

It wouldn’t be the same without a bit of side-tracking and backtracking. This is about water.

My earliest memory is of being dropped in the bath. I think it was my father and I must have been about one. I also remember at a very young age, on holiday somewhere like Margate or Clacton, stepping from a very small seaside pier on to a small boat and falling between the two into the water. I grew up with a fear of water, especially a fear of putting my head under water. It’s not quite so bad now but it’s still with me.

Swimming

At some time we moved to a sort of rota where a third of us went swimming every week. We had to catch a bus and walk to the swimming pool at Ilford. We took swimming trunks in a rolled-up towel.

Lessons started at the shallow end. All we had to do was glide from the middle to the side to gain the confidence for proper lessons at the deep end. I could never do this. Soon teaching concentrated on the able pupils and a small number of non-swimmers entertained ourselves at the shallow end. I never learned how to swim, never developed the confidence to glide to the side and kept my fear of water. I don’t think the teachers were interested or even aware of me or other non-swimmers.

There was a brand new swimming pool and a new gymnasium built somewhere around the time when I was in the Fifth Form or Lower Sixth. I still couldn’t swim. In the Sixth Form I remember standing at the shallow end while a classmate showed me how to do two lengths underwater!

[At about the age of fifty, I did gradually learn to swim a little. At first I could only swim along the side, now I can manage a length in some small pools.]

 I have made a few minor changes about names and nicknames, thanks to those whose memories are better than mine.

Sorry, it’s been a rambling blog with no pictures. Before you get the wrong idea, I want to make it plain that I loved almost everything about my years at school. I have always enjoyed learning new things. I loved Mathematics and Science and languages (because of the logical structure of their grammar.) I liked reading and writing and anything that didn’t involve too much physical activity. The only times when I didn’t enjoy lessons were when Mr Bown was not in a good mood.

More to come …


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[16] Highlands School (2)

I have talked a little in my last blog about my two Primary Schools, Grange Hill and Highlands. Now we move to the basics of education, the Three Rs.

Reading

Education then was said to consist of the Three Rs – Reading, wRiting and aRithmetic. We certainly started with them. I cannot remember learning to read but I must have done it, presumably at school with some help at home. I can say that our early reading pre-dated all the varieties of phonics. We only ever used normal letters and correct spelling. I can remember a series of books called ‘Janet and John’, which we may have used. They were about – wait for it – about a girl and boy called Janet and John. As Wikipedia notes, they were typical, English middle-class children. (We were not then a multi-cultural society.)

(There was another series of Ladybird  books for children, including a graded sequence of books designed to teach basic reading. We used these with our children in the late 70s.)

Readers will be aware of the Beatrix Potter stories for children, beautifully illustrated. I can remember my first of many visits to the Children’s Library, where I brought home one of these. I loved the pictures. We certainly used the library regularly after that. I can’t remember how old I was. On my first visit, together with the Beatrix Potter was another book, which was a great disappointment to me. It was called the ‘Story of Rayon.’ I thought it might be a story, but it was a children’s book about the production of rayon. After that, I looked inside carefully before choosing library books.

Writing

Writing at school was very different then. We wrote in exercise books and used a simple ink pen or pencil. Each desk had an inkwell for our pens. I can remember that when the nib of a pen was broken the teacher would supply a new one. For some reason, we had to take the new nib into our mouth and suck it for a few seconds before use. It must have had a waterproof oil to preserve it before use.

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At Primary School, none of the children ever used a fountain pen or a ball-point pen. (Teachers could use fountain pens. I don’t think we ever saw ball-point pens at that stage.)

The quality of writing was important. We learned how to shape each letter. At Primary School, we stuck to what I later learned to call printing. We simply did not do joined-up writing. Cursive script was not acceptable at Primary School and was never taught. (Somehow, we all started to do it when we went to Secondary School.)

There were lessons in formal handwriting, when we would try to produce perfect, artistic script. (Mr Adlam taught us to do a simple form of Gothic lettering with a broad nib.)

Arithmetic

There were, of course, no calculators but we all did ‘sums’. Without calculators, it was more important to be able to handle numbers (and our complex currency!) We learned tables and had to know from 2 x 2 = 4 up to 12 x 12 = 144 by heart. We learned Long Multiplication so that with a pen and paper we could work out 123 x 456. [It’s 56088. We may not have done quite such difficult sums at first.] We did decimals and Long Division, so we could work out 123 ÷ 456 [That comes to 0.2697..]

School_plimsolls

Other Subjects

With just the one class teacher, there was no formal timetable and we must have covered other things – History, Geography, Religious Instruction (RI), Art, Music and PE, about which I remember little. RI certainly included the Bible stories of the Old and New Testament (and nothing of other religions). Art was based on powdered paints, which came in just three colours, to be mixed to make others. Music was singing, accompanied on a piano, with occasionally the chance to use percussion instruments.

For PE, once a week, we had to remember to bring shorts and plimsolls in a bag. For many years, the only trainers [US: sneakers] seen in England were the simple, cheap, black, Chinese made plimsolls shown in the picture. All I remember of Geography is that we would be given a map of the World (printed as described above), showing the location of two or three cities, a few days before end-of-term exams.

The other thing I remember being taught, in our final year, was Country Dancing. We did the Valeta, the Gay Gordon and one or two others whose names escape me. (‘Gay’ had a quite different meaning then.)

Exams

We knew nothing of SATs. We did not know what was in the curriculum (if there was a curriculum,) nor did our parents and, for the most part, no-one wanted to know. It was up the school, presumably dictated by the local education authority. They did their own testing, when appropriate, and had examinations at the end of every term (or sometimes just twice a year). Parents received a report at the end of term with examination results. In every subject, the report would show exact percentage results from exam and position within the class.

The school report was almost the only contact of parents with the school. In addition to exam results, there was a comment on ‘Conduct.’ This was what interested our father. He wanted to see: ‘Good’ or: ‘Excellent,’ and was never satisfied with ‘Fair.’ (One word was all we ever had.)

Discipline

There was corporal punishment. The Headmaster had a cane. It was very rarely used. Perhaps it was the threat of punishment, or perhaps we were just well behaved. I cannot remember any child ever being punished, or any action of disobedience or disrespect to teachers – at least at Primary School. The class size of forty was not a problem.

There were House Points awarded as incentives – for good work (neat writing and drawing) and for remembering PE kit.

Mr Adlam

There was no way of knowing how classes were defined, but we assumed some sort of streaming. The top class of third Year Juniors was always taken by Mr Adlam. All teachers tended to keep the same class, which meant that they could re-use material. It is clear that Mr Adlam taught mostly the same topics from year to year.

Most teachers then were women. Mr Adlam was a middle-aged, pipe-smoking man. (I don’t think he actually smoked while teaching. He did smell of tobacco.) He had a charismatic approach. Somehow, we both loved him and feared him. Behaviour in his class was always perfect.

[Think back to the blog about carol singing. When we were much older and went round the streets of Ilford with the Youth Club carol singing and collecting for charity, we knew where Mr Adlam lived. Even at seventeen or eighteen, no one dared to knock on his door and ask for money!]

He would explain the lesson to us, drawing on the blackboard and leave us with a task involving writing and drawing. Every piece of work might have a tick when marked. If it was good, it could be marked ‘G’, ‘VG’ or ‘Ex’ for one, two or three points towards House Points. It was so hard to get a mark of ‘Ex.’ I can remember trying really hard at drawing the red cells within a diagram about blood – and being disappointed with a mere ‘VG.’

I can remember lists of new words to learn, written on the blackboard. Once, one of the words was ‘candid,’ which he said meant completely honest. As an example, he said: if your wife asks you whether she looks nice in a new dress, and says she wants your candid opinion, it means you must tell the truth. Of course, he added, she still wants you to say yes even if it’s not true! (I don’t think Mr Adlam was married.)

There were many things that Mr Adlam taught, that I have heard others say he also did on other years. He went through human skeleton in a series of lessons, and did digestion and the alimentary canal from end to end in another series. As we did the skeleton, we used card, scissors and glue to construct our own skeleton, week by week, which we proudly took home at the end of term.

Craft work with scissors and glue was part of the syllabus. I remember knife-edge folds made in card, and envelopes made from variously coloured pieces of card to take home. When it came to pressing on knife-edge folds, or gluing together, his motto was: “Keep on doing it until you can’t do it any more … Then keep on doing it!”

I wasn’t all work. Once a week he would read to us the continuing story of Moonfleet by J Meade Falkner. It was the same book each year, an adventure story with smugglers. Mr Adlam would write up a list of characters on a side blackboard and the list stayed up there. He had to explain why one significant character in the book was marked as ‘(deceased)’.

The_Mikado

At the end of term, in a little entertainment for the whole school, we would always see Mr Adlam, dressed in full regalia, sing a Gilbert and Sullivan classic song. There was ‘A More Humane Mikado’ who would “make the punishment fit the crime,” and the Modern Major-general’s Song from the Pirates of Penzance.

I will leave the Eleven Plus until I consider Secondary Education, which may be next time …


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[15] Highlands School (1)

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It’s time for a serious look at part of growing up in the fifties. I am going to start on Education.

[Don’t believe the picture above. Being left-handed was not acceptable.

I can’t believe that a teacher would have been allowed to do it then.]

Primary Education

In those days it was straightforward – Infants, then Juniors, and then Seniors. Infants (First, Second and Third Years) were combined with Juniors (First to Fourth Years) into a Primary School. Then we had the Eleven Plus exam and went to Secondary Schools (First to Fifth Years, with optional Lower Sixth and Upper Sixth). I have no idea how the years fit into the modern system of Years and Key Stages.

I will start with Primary Education, up to age eleven. I went to two Primary Schools. The first, believe it or not, was called Grange Hill. It has long since disappeared. I spent two or three years there and remember a Mr Grey as one teacher. (We never, ever knew or wanted to know the Christian Names of teachers. Such a level of formality was unthinkable. We called them ‘Sir’ or ‘Miss’. At primary school, the teachers used our first names. They were ‘Christian’ names, not forenames or anything else.)

Then we moved a mile or two and I changed schools to Highlands, still an active Primary School. All my Junior education was at Highlands and I particularly remember Mr Adlam. (Everyone ever taught by him remembers Mr Adlam. I will come to him later.) Everything in this post will combine my thoughts on both schools, mostly from Highlands. All of my primary education was within the fifties.

Highlands

School Day

I was going to say that the class size was 32, formally arranged in pairs of desks, four rows of four columns. But I have found an old class picture, which shows me I was wrong. It was bigger than I thought. There were 40.

The teacher had a much larger desk at the front, raised on a platform by about twenty centimetres, and the front of the class had a large, fixed blackboard. Teaching was mostly by writing in white chalk on this blackboard. Sometimes coloured chalks could be used. A board rubber, made of a felt pad attached to a wood block, was used to erase writing and make space for what came next. (We used the word rubber. Now they are called erasers.)

There was an additional wraparound type of blackboard, which was portable. [Imagine a horizontal piece of wood at about two metres from the floor. Hang a flat sheet over it. Join the back of the sheet to the front a few inches above the floor. Now put this in a wooden frame on wheels so that the sheet can be rotated. Turn the sheet into blackboard material. As you turn the blackboard, writing on it, line by line, what disappears at the top eventually reappears at the bottom.]

As you know, we walked to school. (If you didn’t know, go back and read the earlier blogs!) The teacher always called the register. As each name was called, you answered, “Here, sir,” or “Here, Miss.” Names would be ticked off in the large book on the teacher’s desk at the front, collected later by the school secretary.

We went into the school hall and the day always started with an Assembly, taken by the Headmaster – a short religious service with formal prayers and a hymn.

Our class teacher taught us for almost everything. My memories are there might have been exceptions sometimes for music and Physical Education (PE – We also called it PT), but I am not sure.

We had a break, mid-morning at which we all drank free milk, provided in a third of a pint bottle, with a straw. Bottles had a metal foil top, pierced by the straw. The milk, like all milk then, had a thick, creamy layer on the top. We called the break playtime. [US: recess] I may come to what we did at playtime in another post.

I will also leave lunch and School Dinners for another post. (I may just try to obliterate School Dinners from my memory.) The mid-afternoon playtime break came without milk. School ended at about half past three. (I can’t remember. For Secondary School, it was ten to four.) We never had any homework.

At a child, dates and time were not important. There was probably a clock in the school hall but we were never aware of what the time was. None of the children would have had watches. (Watches were an expensive luxury. Perhaps some children would be given one at Secondary School.) At appropriate times, like the beginning and end of the lunch period, a large, brass hand bell would be rung. We kept working until the bell rang and we were told to go.

Teaching Aids and Printing

While the methods and procedures of Secondary School are quite familiar to me, I have difficulty in remembering details of exactly how we were taught before that, at Primary School. It certainly involved a lot of use of the blackboards and chalk. (Even up to the 80s, it was just blackboards. Later, gradually, coloured felt-tipped pens came into use and blackboards became whiteboards.) We wrote in exercise books but I cannot remember the extent to which we may have used text books.

It was before the automation of computers and computer printing so that it was almost impossible to produce paper worksheets. I remember two specific processes.

Stencil printing allowed a sheet of paper to be printed in just one colour. I still used it in the early eighties when I was a teacher for a few years. It was slow and messy with wet print, and involved turning a large drum once for each sheet. (In offices, this was the only practical way to produced typed letters and documents – if you wanted more than the two or three you could manage with carbon paper.) By doing the same process twice, you could overprint in two colours. It was the only way to produce exam papers.

Even more primitive was the way that pictures were produced at Highlands. An inked pad and a rubber stamp could be used to stamp one word or a small picture on to a document. (Mechanical devices could do dates or one-up numbers.) At school, they had a large engraved roller, which enabled them to print an outline of the World map on to a single sheet of paper. That was the best they could do for Geography.

No Hobgoblin nor Foul Fiend

Before I leave this topic for now, there are two things that I remember clearly about Highlands School. Firstly, its motto, proudly displayed with its coat of arms: ‘Manners Makyth Man.’ I never heard anyone at school refer to the motto but it is something I try to follow. I was also struck by the archaic language, as also found in hymns.

In assembly and in class we sang hymns and songs by following the words shown on a screen ahead of us. Not all of the hymns were familiar elsewhere and my favourite was ‘To be a Pilgrim,’ taken from Pilgrim’s Progress written in 1684 by John Bunyon. I can’t say that we understood all of the words, which were rather obscure, but it was great fun singing them:

Who would true valour see, Let him come hither;
One here will constant be, Come wind, come weather
There’s no discouragement – Shall make him once relent
His first avowed intent – To be a pilgrim.

Whoso beset him round – With dismal stories
Do but themselves confound; His strength the more is.
No lion can him fright, He’ll with a giant fight,
He will have a right – To be a pilgrim.

Hobgoblin nor foul fiend – Can daunt his spirit,
He knows he at the end – Shall life inherit.
Then fancies fly away, He’ll fear not what men say,
He’ll labour night and day – To be a pilgrim.

This is quite a long topic so I will split it. More to come, including Mr Adlam

Highlands Picture

 


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[3] Religion

[3] “Our Father, Which art in Heaven”

At the moment, I am in a cold house surrounded by disruption in the process of replacing a gas central system, so it would be sensible and appropriate to continue on the subject of the last blog – with what we had then to keep us warm in the winter. We most certainly did not have central heating.

So … my next topic is going to be religion, starting with the Church of England. I will widen my remit by starting a few hundred years ago. I can say what I want. It’s my blog.

King James Bible

The King James Bible, officially the Authorized Version, was completed in 1611. For hundreds of years it was the only version of the Bible authorized for use and it was the only version that was used – in churches, in schools, and elsewhere. (With various errors of transcription, there were several variations in spelling and punctuation, generally collated into a single version from 1769) Its language was archaic, using forms which in the context of religion we just accepted as right and proper. The singular forms for ‘you’ were ‘thee’ and ‘thou’ and there were lots endings like ‘sayest’ and ‘sayeth’.

It always felt that the language of the Bible was slightly outdated because it was written a little before our times. The style gave it a sense of awe and history. It may have felt Victorian. I don’t think we knew it was as old as 1611. We certainly didn’t know that the language forms were even older than this. It had been a deliberate act to use forms that were already archaic when it was written back in the times of King James. Scholars of English will note that the plays of Shakespeare, written at almost the same time as the Authorized Version, rarely used the archaic forms!

Church Services

The Book of Common Prayer came a little later, in 1662. Like the Bible, the Book of Common Prayer remained as the single acceptable source, laying down rigidly the form of services in the Church of England. It used similar language. Through the fifties and sixties, every Church had its Matins and Evensong every Sunday based on the same words every time. Changes through the year were based on the equally rigid Church Calendar with Christmas, Easter and Whitsun. Prayers and Psalms for each week of the year were specified.

Services included hymns, generally chosen again to fit the Church calendar. We used ‘Hymns Ancient and Modern’, compiled in Victorian times with the same archaic language as the Bible and prayer book.

The Lord’s Prayer

As one of the best examples of the literary style of Christianity in the early Twentieth Century, here is this prayer, which was repeated often in Christian liturgy, in the form that was so standardized that we knew and could recite from the age of about six.

Our Father, which art in heaven, hallowed be thy name; thy kingdom come; thy will be done, in earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive them that trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation; but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory, for ever and ever. Amen.

[Those who know where I grew up will understand that to a five-year-old being taught the Lord’s Prayer, ‘Hallowed be Thy Name’ sometimes came across as: ‘Hello, Beehive Lane.’]

As with the Bible and prayer book, there was only one form. This was the only form of the prayer that we said at school, at least once a day. Christians nowadays will probably wonder at the style of the language.

It is worth noting that a Commission in 1928 attempted to modernize the Lord’s Prayer and failed dismally. They came up with just three almost insignificant changes – just three words. ‘Which art in heaven’ became ‘who art in heaven’, ‘in earth’ became ‘on earth’, and ‘them that trespass’ became ‘those that trespass’. In fact, such was the fondness for the old language that these changes were not accepted by the people and were never formally adopted. They were not to creep into common use for at least another fifty years! (The Roman catholic Church still held all in services in Latin when I was a boy. They later went straight to the proposed 1928 version for use in English.)

Growing Up

So what were things like when I grew up, in the fifties? Christianity was so much part of everyday life that we accepted it, especially in schools. We had a religious assembly every day with readings from the Bible, hymns and prayers and this continued through primary and secondary school life to the early sixties. We also learned all the stories from the Bible at school – about Abraham, Isaac and Jacob; Moses, Noah and others; and the New Testament Gospels about Jesus. We went to Sunday School for an hour each Sunday afternoon for even more education and stories about Christianity.

From the age of eleven, I joined the Church choir and sang twice every Sunday at Matins and Evensong, so I may have a biased view of the extent to which religion was practised. But I can say that churches were reasonably full, always packed at Christmas. Weddings were almost all church weddings, almost the only option then. Registry Offices were available for weddings but rarely used.

Sundays were treated differently with almost all shops and businesses closed all day. If you didn’t go to Church, you stayed at home. Life was based on the Christian year with the main Bank Holidays at Christmas, Easter and Whitsun, each one a time for special services. Good Friday, before Easter Sunday, was even quieter than Sundays. To most people the idea of women priests was inconceivable!

I can’t speak for the general public but at primary school we accepted it without question. At secondary school we may not have believed it all with so much fervour but we still joined in with prayers and sang the familiar hymns.

With the religion of the time came its values. The Ten Commandments were respected and most of them were followed. Perhaps the first ones to slip were Sunday observance and the one about adultery! There was some obscene language – not at school! – but never any blasphemous language. It was inacceptable. The third Commandment was clear: ‘Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.’ I can date exactly the first time I heard the expression “Oh My God!” used, and it came as a shock to me. It was, of course, on television, Big Brother in 2002, and Jade Goody. I still don’t like hearing it or seeing it but it has spread rapidly, often watered down into its initials.

It was not until the 1970s, with changing attitude to the Church, that newer versions of the Bible were allowed, starting with the Good News Bible. Gradually the archaic language disappeared. Later, there came other changes such as deviations from the Common Prayer services and, of course, women as vicars (perhaps soon as bishops). Numbers attending churches have fallen so much that large numbers of church buildings have been decommissioned and sold.

Other Religions

The Church of England was and still is the Established Church of the country. As I grew up, we simply did not see evidence of other religions. I never knew anyone claiming to follow the religions of Roman Catholicism or Islam or others, with the sole exception of Judaism. There was a sort of enclave in the area where I lived. Perhaps five to ten percent of children at school had their own Jewish assemblies at school. We had Jewish friends. It was easy to understand something of their religion from the Old Testament that told their story.

I will leave for now several questions. Why has Christian faith and commitment disappeared so rapidly in the last fifty years? Why has Islam risen as Christianity declined? How much are other changes in attitudes, family life and crime related to the decline of religion. Perhaps in another blog …

Hands

The very famous picture of praying hands is by Albrecht Dürer in about 1508. I remember it well from the Church where I sang in the choir. The picture may still be there.