Posts Tagged ‘coal fires’

Town School junior section

June 14, 2008

It was a journey of only a few yards to move from Town School Infants to the Juniors. Classes one and two were at the Infants’ end of the corridor. It was another large room and divided by a heavy green curtain. Class one was taught by Miss Lewis, a cheerful, red-faced dumpy character who was the sister of Mr J.P. Lewis, the headmaster. The younger Miss Gameson, tall, angular and not very experienced, taught the second class. The furthest extremity of this room was partitioned off as the staff room. Two other classrooms in that building ran off the same narrow corridor where Mr Hughes and Mr Rees taught. These were separated – more splendidly than classes one and two – by a sliding glass partition. It didn’t slide all that well so it was only opened on really special occasions.

Finally, at the end of the corridor, there was the hallowed ground of the headmaster’s office, large and lino’d with high, glass-fronted cupboards containing the precious stock of books, pencils, rulers etc. Around the corner was another corridor with class three off it where Miss Brooks taught, and at the end, the porch which contained the hand-basins and hooks for coats for use by the boys. Narrow double doors off this corridor also gave access to the small playground where we also did our “drill”. (There is a photograph of this playground in my much later post on the Centenary Book.) On the far side were the boys’ toilets. The girls’ toilets and cloakroom were in another room at the back of the building.

The heating for these classes was provided by iron tortoise stoves. In winter, the luckless caretaker had to arrive at work at the crack of dawn to light the temperamental stoves which were often difficult to get going, but, once they were alight they provided a great deal of heat so that it was impossible to sit too near. Sometimes the tops glowed red with the heat. On severe winter days when we could hardly write because of cold fingers, we were allowed to go out in twos and threes to warm our hands by the stove for a few minutes.

In those days it was common to refer to the classes as “standard one” and “standard two” etc. This was because, previously, you only advanced from one class to the next when you had reached a certain standard, not on your age. Consequently you could get a mixture of ages in the same class. Promotion according to age was not fully implemented at the time I’m speaking about and there could be a slight overlapping of ages; for instance, I was in the “scholarship class” for two years.

The only other classroom was known as “the bungalow”. This was on higher ground at the back of the main building and was reached by a flight of stone steps. It was figuratively and literally “a cut above the rest” as it contained class four, which was “the eleven plus class” and was also referred to as “the scholarship class”. Scholarship indeed! Each year about half the children opted to enter the examination which might lead to a grammar school education. To urge us on in this ambition, our teachers constantly reminded us that success in this examination was the only way to ensure a really good job when we left school.

The class was in the very capable hands of Mr Petty, the finest and most dedicated teacher who ever taught me. He had such a dynamic effect on my life that I want to say a lot more about him in a future entry. The room had a small cloakroom just inside the door and the rest was used as the classroom. Right at the front, near the teacher’s high desk, was a coal fire with a high metal guard. This was the only form of heating so that, if you were unlucky enough to be seated at the back of the room, there was an advantage in that it was difficult for the teacher to see what you were doing, but a disadvantage in that you were in danger of freezing in the winter. Sometimes the temperature was so low that we were allowed to sit with our coats and gloves on. Lighting was provided by a series of gas lamps high up on the walls around the room. They weren’t often used as it necessitated Mr Petty walking around the class with a lighted piece of paper in his hand and turning on and lighting each globe separately; and, obviously, doing a second round later to turn them off. There was one advantage of being in class four: to the side and rear of the classroom was a small playground and this was reserved for class four children only.

Compared with the spanking new Park Terrace school, a short distance away, resplendent in red brick with the novelty of a playground on the roof, Town School was traditional, solid, being built of stone, in rather poor repair and very old, having been built in 1838 as the plaque on the outside wall announced to all who passed by. I well remember the high jinks and celebrations in 1938 when we celebrated the centenary of the school. I still have the small booklet which was issued to us all at the time as part of those celebrations. See my much later blog on the contents of this booklet. Even the glass partition was pushed back to enable the headmaster to talk to two classes at once.