The “Scholarship Class” at Town School

As I’ve already mentioned, classes in those days were not strictly arranged in chronological age, and as a result, I spent two years in what was called “The Scholarship Class”. It was when we sat the eleven-plus exam. It was sometimes referred to as the “top class”. I’m not certain whether there was any academic implication in the name or whether it was the fact that, physically, the classroom was at about roof level with the rest of the school.

Some of the other children I remember being in this class were: Billy Wootton who was quite a big lad and the only boy in the class who wore long trousers, a sign in those days of an “older boy”. Girls, of course, never wore trousers. There were also:  Jean Vaisey, Beryl Doe, Kenny Rice, John Harris, Dennis Virgin and two girls, whose surnames I forget, but were called Mavis and Myra. I’d love to hear from any of these, or any of their relatives.

It was the ambition of a lot of boys to go to West Mon and, each year, about 400 hopefuls would turn up at the school in fear and trembling to sit the three exam papers: English, maths and general intelligence. The girls, who wanted to attend the Girls’ County School at Penygarn sat a similar exam. The results of these exams, in order of merit, were always published in The Free Press. Approximately the top 90 boys would be accepted to enter the school and there were scholarships awarded to the five top boys in the exam; this meant that they did not have to pay fees. The rest of us had to pay fees, but they were reasonably small. After I had been at West Mon for a couple of years, all fees were done away with, I presume as a result of the 1944 Education Act.

The teacher in charge of the top class at Town School was Mr Petty who lived in Griffithstown. He was a slim, tall, angular man, with a very business-like stride and was a good disciplinarian. He was a member of St Hilda’s Church, Griffithstown. I recall some parents saying that, when the new head had been appointed, they thought Mr Petty would have had the job. In the event, J.P. Lewis was appointed.

Mr Petty was the finest and most effective teacher I had in the whole of my school days and I owe him a deep debt of gratitude. I marvelled at all he knew; no matter what the subject was, he seemed to know all about it. I was rather like the “rustics” in Oliver Goldsmith’s poem “The Village Schoolmaster” when he says of them:

“And still they gaz’d and still the wonder grew,
That one small head could carry all he knew.”

Mr Petty gave me a real love of the English language and literature which has grown throughout my life. Some of the lessons he taught were quite advanced for children of ten and eleven. For instance, we read Shakespeare’s “The Merchant of Venice”, parts of Dickens’ “The Pickwick Papers” and “John Halifax, Gentleman” by Dinah Craik. He also taught us the parts of speech and the structure of the English language and how to parse sections of the books we read. We spent hours sorting out the  subject, predicate and object of sentences and learning when and how to use relative pronouns etc. We also had a small class library where we could choose a book to read on our own when we had silent reading. I remember I chose H.Rider Haggard’s “King Solomon’s Mines”. Punctuation was also taught and I remember him reading a passage from “The Pickwick Papers” to illustrate how Dickens wrote really long sentences by using semi-colons. I was fascinated. Spelling of course featured very strongly in our lessons and Mr Petty would often organize a spelling B, which I loved.

Not only did we read a lot of poems, we had to learn some of them off by heart also. Mr Petty patiently explained how a poem was constructed and he would give us exercises in splitting the lines into feet with accented and non-accented syllables; he also explained about rhyming patterns. He then encouraged us to try to write our own poems. On 1st March each year we celebrated St David’s Day with a sort of mini-eisteddfod. We looked forward to that as we always had the afternoon off. One year he organized a competition to write a poem about Pontypool Park Lake. I remember spending hours trying to get the right meter and rhyming but, eventually, I managed to write two verses and was thrilled when Mr Petty awarded me first prize. It was a little paperback book about a mouse family. I remember the words of my first poem still:

I took this photograph in 1947, my last year in Pontypool

“It nestles in a leafy glade
Which nature in her wisdom made.
Upon its banks stand gnarled old trees
Whose branches tower amid the breeze.

Like sentinels they stand on guard
As if most jealous of their ward,
And on its silvery waters cast
Their cool refreshing shade.”

That’s it! It’s not Wordsworth is it? But, I suppose, it’s not too bad for a ten-year-old.

Maths was the other important subject, although we called it “arithmetic”. Those were the days of “The three Rs”. It was a much more difficult subject then because nothing had been decimalised. There were 4 farthings in a penny, 12 pennies in a shilling and 20 shillings in a pound. In length there were 12 inches in a foot, 3 feet in a yard, 22 yards in a chain, (where we get the cricket pitch length from), 10 chains in a furlong and 8 furlongs in a mile. Consequently long multiplication and division were a real nightmare. We also did mental arithmetic using short methods, many of which I still use today.

Lessons on general intelligence we had once a week and these were taught by the headmaster himself, Mr J.P. Lewis, who devised a set of rules which we had to learn and chant. These showed us how to answer some of the questions.

For our English lessons we used a few times a week a blue book containing exercises in English comprehension. Each chapter contained a section of a book, or perhaps a poem, followed by questions about it. Mr Petty was so keen on us doing well at this that he wrote out his own book by hand on wax stencils, ran them off on a Lion Menucator,* bound them in brown paper and fastened them together by punching all the sheets with holes and threading string through. He must have spent hours doing this. He produced over 30 books with something like 50 pages each. As we approached the exam time, I remember he arranged for those of us entering the exam, to go to school at 8.30 instead of the usual 9.00a.m. to have an extra lesson. Now that’s what I call dedication.

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6 Responses to “The “Scholarship Class” at Town School”

  1. When the sirens sounded in Pontypool « Reminiscences of Old Pontypool Says:

    […] the blitz started in 1940 I was in the scholarship class in Town School. (https://oldpontypool.wordpress.com/2008/07/03/the-scholarship-class-at-town-school) When the sirens sounded we were all sent home. Most children lived fairly locally and so were able […]

  2. Clive Barnby Says:

    In my days at Town School, Pontypool, Miss Williams was in charge of the reception class, Miss Hands (who married Mr Chessman, who taught the senior pupils) the next class up and Miss Lewis the final class in the infants section of the school. The thick curtain was still tho’ its colour I can’t remember.

    Standard 1 was taught by Miss Long and to leave you had to walk thro’ Standard 2 which I think was taught by Mac Harris. I say think because I jumped Standard 2 and went into Standard 3 which was taought by Mrs Hughes (nee Miss Brookes). Around about this time the senior section of the school was closed – with the opening of Croesyceiliog there were more places in the secondary schools.

    After Standard 3 I spent my final two years in 4A preparing for the 11 plus under the guidance of “Dicker” Hughes – Mrs Hughes’s husband. As earlier stated, 4A was in the annex or bungalow. There was a Standard 4B which – at least, towards the end of my days in Town School – was adjacent to Standard 3 and taught by Mrs Willis. I was one of three who passed the 11 plus and went to West Mon, the other two being the late Graham Baldwin, who became headmaster of a primary school in Cwmbran, and Nigel Gordon, who became a consultant psychologist in south east England. Jackie Gibbon (now Fitzgerald) and Diane Pask went to the Girls County, and others I remember passing the exam were Carol Rowlands, Jackie Miles (now Law), Philip Barnes, Brian Hale, John Jones, Andrew Neate, David Parfitt and David Williams.

  3. jp Says:

    Hi

  4. M G Davies Says:

    Town School

    I Think that our memories play us false and we try and put the bits together as we see right. My memories of Pontypool Town National School (full Title) began in 1945 when I entered the first reception class under the auspices of Miss Harrison, and graduated through the school class by class. Miss Williams was incharge of the infants section and taught in the second infants class, then I went into the next class to Mrs Maurice, who lived in the post office on Penygarn road, she also had a son Brian who went forward to West Mon School. During this time It was not common for schools to suffer shortages of teaching materials, which for a short time saw the pupils use the old method of doing our letters and numbers on individual slate tablets with white chalk instead of pencils and paper. From Mrs Maurice’s class we graduated into the junior school to standard 1 taught by Miss Lewis the sister of J P Lewis the headmaster. Real discipline and concentrated learning started here, Miss Lewis introduced you to corporal punishishment, used two wooden rulers to enforce her domination over the pupils, although these did not hurt very much they made a lot of noise clacking together which had the effect that she wanted. She met her match in a lad named Raymond Carter who would not be caned and when she tried to punish him he kicked her on the shins resulting in her being away from school for several months. Most boys during these times of rationing wore boots that had the soles studded and steel tipped toe and heel which really made it treacherous to walk down high street, many was the time that I forgot and went flat on my back.
    The next class in the same room devided by a curtain was being taught by Miss Venard a young teacher who caught the eye of Mr Chesterman and eventually married her. Mrs Hughes The wife of Dick Hughes was in charge of standard 3, this was the class that signalled the start of senior school as the pupils from Penygarn junior school would be placed either at Twmpath, Park Terrace or Town School, this also was where the division of pupils came into being, when at the end of that year you went to Standard 4 , those that were not quite West Mon/County School standard to be taught by Miss Willis, the remainder went to Standard 5 ( the bungalow)for concentrated learning and preperation for the 11 plus examination. Mr Hughes who taught this class was strict disiplarian who pounded the 3 r’s into his pupils. From there all pupils who did not pass the 11 plus went to standard 6 under Miss Long, who must have seemed like the good fairy to those who had been in Mr Hughes’s class.
    The strange part was the next class would not be standard 7 but Form 1, I never did find out the reason for this anomily. This class was taught by Mr Chestermen the husband of Miss Venard. Mr Chesterman was a teacher that would stand no nonsense and when needed he would send you along to the headmaster for punishment. The Last class was standard 7 taught by Mr Harris (Mac Harris) who was a little lax as he was now dealing with boys and girls who were looking forward to leaving and starting out on a career. The head master of the school was J P Lewis(jack) who had the experiance to know wether to use the cane on you or not. When he decided to use it, he was quite deadly and accurate in his deliverance, just catching the edge of your fingers and sending the pee dribbling down your leg from the sheer pain of it.
    During my time at Town School pupils were segregated by sex with seperate cloak rooms and seperate play yards, with the toilets in each yard Now when I look at the area where the school once stood now owned by the T.G.W.U office I am continually amazed that packed onto that small area on High street was a school that contained 11 classrooms 2 cloak rooms 3 play grounds (2 senior and 1 infants) and the headmasters study. The caretaker for many years was Mrs Strickland who lived on Coed Cae Terrace and was ably helped by her husband who smoked a pipe with Erinmore flake as his prefered choice of tabacco, Mrs Strickland was a Town Councillor. When Town school closed I often wondered where the contents went as in the introductry class was a rocking horse as big as a decent size pony, then the birds and animals that were stuffed and put into large glass cages and finally the church organ, all of which were kept in the corridor of the school.

  5. Shirley Jones Says:

    i was in town school and i can remember you could not see much out of the windows because they were so high lol

  6. Shirley Jones Says:

    my mother was there maybe someone on here remembers maime

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