High Days and Holidays at Pontypool Town School

Boy Writing-1875-Albert-AnkeWe copied our stories in our best copperplate handwriting

 

 

Schools today have a variety of oases in the annual desert of school life; I don’t mean holidays from school but events within the school year. There’s the annual school outing to some place of interest, the annual Christmas Party, visits by a variety of guests, sports day and so on.

 

At Town School we had only three such occasions as far as I can recall: St David’s Day, the annual Scripture Exam and the Christmas gifts which J.P. Lewis, the headmaster, used to scrounge for us from various businesses.

 

I briefly referred to St David’s Day in a previous post. I suppose this was our most popular day since we were guaranteed a half day’s holiday. In the morning we had what was euphemistically termed an eisteddfod which was rather a grand name for our humble efforts at singing, reciting and writing poetry. But we all knew for certain that, after it was all over, the afternoon was ours.

 

The annual Scripture Exam enjoyed a much higher profile; for one thing we knew for certain that the Vicar of Trevethin and his curate would visit us to do the “examining”. For those of us in the top class, the event was preceded by many weeks of preparation of our models. These were a collection of dioramas which we made by collecting shoe boxes from the local shoe shops. As my Uncle Percy Gregory owned a shoe shop this presented me with no difficulty at all.

 

The lid of the shoe box was glued on the side of the upturned box thus presenting a sort of stage on which we built out models with a background behind. We were allowed to choose almost any story which we’d learned during our year’s scripture lessons and make a model based on it. I always chose something to do with shepherds and sheep as Mr Petty had a rubber stamp of a sheep and was always able to supply the necessary cotton-wool to represent the sheep’s coat. I must have cut out and clothed a whole flock of sheep which were then stuck on the stage with little flaps under their feet and a shepherd was stuck there looking after them. The background was invariably a bright blue sky and a few hills. A few days before the exam these were all arranged on trestle tables down the school’s narrow corridor for everyone to admire.

 

There was one particular model which appeared year after year. It was a most superior shepherd scene as it not only had sheep and a shepherd but there was also a house, all made of plaster of Paris. It looked really realistic and every year, at its annual appearance, I was filled with admiration. Imagine my utter joy and delight, therefore, when, in my last year at the school, Mr Petty gave me the job of repairing the model and repainting it just to freshen it up a bit.

 

During our scripture lessons we spent quite a lot of time learning to recite psalms, chant some of the Church of England catechism and learn all ten commandments. The learning of the commandments didn’t present much trouble; it was keeping them we found difficult. On the great day the vicar and the curate shared out the classes between them and came around to ask us questions about the stories in our syllabus. They always seemed quite easy questions and each one usually resulted in a veritable forest of hands thrust skywards to give the answers. I liked the young curate, Rev. L.C.Bartle Jenkins as he always seemed very friendly with a happy disposition – not quite as serious as the vicar.

 

Another feature of the exam was our story writing. Again we were allowed to choose which story we would like to retell and we wrote it out on foolscap paper; it was the only time we ever used such large sheets. The event was always very carefully staged by the teachers. About a week before the exam we had to write out our stories. These would then be collected in, carefully corrected by our teacher and then returned to us. Then we were given new sheets of paper and told to copy out our stories once again complete with corrections and in our very best copperplate handwriting. When we were about half way through we were told to stop and the papers were collected in once again. On the day of the exam our stories would be given back to us and we continued to write but with no sign of the corrected copies. This event was obviously well timed as, no sooner had we started to write, than the vicar or curate arrived in the classroom and walked around to see our stories, not completed of course, but well on the way – and with hardly any mistakes. We went along with this bit of sanctified skulduggery in the hope of earning the afternoon holiday. And we always did! At the end of morning school, the headmaster and Vicar would come around the classes to say how well we’d done and the Vicar always asked the headmaster to give us the afternoon off, which he always did.

 

J.P. Lewis, the headmaster, spent a lot of time, in the weeks before Christmas, writing to various large businesses all over the country asking for any free gifts they might have which were suitable for children. On our last day a selection of these were given to our teacher and were shared out amongst the class. They were all quite small and cheap items but I loved receiving them. Some were simple pictures to colour, others were puzzles to solve and occasionally a model to cut out and construct. I remember one Christmas receiving a model coconut-shy. I loved it. They all carried an advert of some sort for products such as Borwicks Baking Powder, Bisto, Oxo etc.

 

In 1881 Robert Louis Stevenson wrote in Virginibus Puerisque: “To travel hopefully is a better thing than to arrive”.  The days I have described helped us to travel hopefully through our young schooldays; it’s always good to have something to look forward to.

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