Posts Tagged ‘Mark Anthony;s speech’

Pontypool Town School’s great raffle

January 12, 2012

In the 1930s school funding was nothing like as generous as it is today. When I became the head of a junior school in 1984 I inherited a stockroom which was as large as a classroom and filled with hundreds of feet of shelving stacked high with all manner of exercise books, text books, pens, pencils, rulers, craft materials, art materials and a host of other things; we wanted for nothing.

But in Town School in the 1930s the entire stock of school¬†books, rulers and pencils etc. was contained in two small, glass-fronted cupboards in the office of J.P. Lewis, the headmaster. The room was not large but also contained the headmaster’s desk and the inevitable tortoise stove.

I remember the two occasions when all the children who were about to enter the Eleven-Plus exam at West Mon and the Girls’ County School were summoned to Mr Lewis’s study. We were each given two brand new, sharpened pencils, a pencil sharpener, a rubber and a ruler. We were told that, if we were to break the point of one pencil, not to waste time sharpening it but to use the other one. It is because of these two visits that I know where the stock was kept. Needless to say, these items all had to be handed back the following day for future use in the school.

The funding of the school was based on the average attendance figures which is why, as I explained in an earlier post, the headmaster used to get so very annoyed when whole families went hop-picking in September, the beginning of the school year.

Consequently the staff would organise from time to time some sort of effort to raise money for the school. It was during the 1930s that the BBC started broadcasting for schools; these were received on the wireless of course. There was just one snag: schools were not supplied with wireless sets to receive the programmes. As a result they had to buy their own. As a result, the staff at Town School involved both themselves and as many parents who wanted to help, in the manufacture of oven-pads. These were knitted squares of any colour which would form some sort of insulation when handling hot items from the oven. Each oven-pad was sold for 4d. After a month or so enough money had been raised to buy the much-needed second-hand wireless set.

I recall the grand occasion when two classes were assembled in Miss Brooke’s room to hear our first BBC broadcast. It was a music programme about Mendelssohn’s Hebrides Overture, also known as Fingal’s Cave. It takes about ten minutes to perform, but the broadcaster introduced it to us in small sections and explained what the composer was trying to do before we heard the whole piece right through. I really did enjoy it right through to the end when the seagull’s call is played on the flute.

The second broadcast we assembled for was on English literature: Shakespeare’s Julia Caesar, no less. The broadcaster told us that he had chosen just one speech from the play, the funeral oration by Mark Anthony which you’ll probably remember from your own school days. It begins: “Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears . . .” We were told what a clever speech it was and that after saying what an honourable man Brutus was, Mark Anthony repeated this with ever-increasing sarcasm so that the listening crowd realised that he didn’t mean that Brutus was honourable in any way and they rushed off with the intent of burning down his house. I was most impressed with this speech and thought what a clever chap this Shakespeare was. Later on, in form four, we read his “Merchant of Venice”. That was great too.

A short while later the school was given a second-hand tricycle by a doctor whose son had finished using it. It was in excellent condition and, wonder of wonders, it had a chain to drive it just like a proper bicycle. Most tricycles in those days had a fixed wheel so that when you stopped pedalling you stopped moving. Hence they had no brake. With a chain you could free wheel so a brake was needed in order to stop. We were informed that the school was going to raise funds by raffling the bicycle. Naturally, we all wanted the tricycle so we rushed home to ask for money to buy tickets the next day. The selling went on for a couple of weeks and then, on the great day the whole school was assembled in the playground for drawing the number of the winner. The ticket was drawn and the winner was РMiss Lewis, sister of the headmaster. We all laughed at this as a more unlikely person to want a tricycle could hardly be imagined. Miss Lewis was my class teacher. She was short and dumpy and had no children to give a tricycle to, so, after the laughter had died down she asked that all the children who were in her class and had bought tickets should have their names put in the hat and the draw should take place again. Only twelve of us in her class had bought tickets. Our names were put in the hat and the name drawn out was mine! I could hardly believe my good fortune. I was the owner of a tricycle with a chain! The cost of these now is over £300.

The tricycle had been kept locked away in the caretaker’s cellar. The door to this led off the playground and when we were playing in the yard we sometimes peered down the steps into the cellar’s murky depths to see the caretaker bustling about amongst the piles of coal, coke and wood.

Mr Lewis announced that I was the winner and that I could now have a practice on the tricycle on my own in the playground while the rest of the school went back indoors. My family were delighted with my win and all my friends wanted to see – and have a ride on – my new tricycle. I spent many hours using it for the next two years or so until I eventually bought my first “proper” bike, a second-hand fairy cycle for which I paid the princely sum of 2/6.

Tricycles – red fixed wheel, blue chain driven