1Wartime School Days
& My Early Days at King Edwin’s School
In 2003, Michael Hayes and June Davey, nee Lilley, sent to Acorn an interesting account of life in Edwinstowe in the thirties and forties, as it affected their school days.
Michael came to live on Fifth Avenue when he was almost five and attended the Council School. He and June, were in the same class,
Michael reveals that there were three classes in the Infant Department whose headmistress was Mrs Cox. He recalls that Mrs Staniland, who lived ‘up the Lidgett’ (now known as Rufford Road), taught the reception class. His junior teachers were Miss Muriel Woodhead, who became Mrs Bradbury, Miss Watts, daughter of Earl Manvers’s chauffeur, who became Mrs Fisher, and Miss Doris Fairfax. The senior teachers were Miss Martin, daughter of St. Mary’s Church’s Master Bellringer, Mrs Bradbury and Mr Laurence Walker, who died tragically after being struck on his head by a cricket ball while he was playing for Brunt’s Old Boys.
Michael has a vivid memory of Miss Martin inviting all her pupils to give her a farewell kiss when she left to get married. He claims to! remember the taste of her vivid red lipstick.
“When Miss Martin, the Standard 5 teacher, left to get married, she was superseded by Miss Betty Mitchell, a student teacher and daughter of a police sergeant. Her first act was to appoint me as her chief monitor, which didn’t do me any favours with my classmates. She stayed with us for only a short time but she was a great influence, making me ‘really aware of myself.’ I met Miss Mitchell again, while shopping with my mam and dad in Nottingham. A familiar voice suddenly boomed: ‘What are you doing in Nottingham, Michael Hayes?’ I turned round and there she was, in the uniform of a policewoman! I never heard any more of her after that. Another of our pupil teachers was Mercy Broughton, who lived on Mansfield Road.
The Headmaster, both before and during wartime, was Mr Perry, magistrate and Edwinstowe’s ‘Captain Mainwaring.’ He was Commanding Officer of Edwinstowe’s detachment of the Home Guard, the countrywide voluntary defence force immortalised by the TV series ‘Dad’s Army.’ In early parades the men carried broomsticks, as they had not then been issued with rifles.
Mr Perry gave permission for the school corridor walls to be painted with murals depicting war scenes, and they were very, very well done. Edwinstowe was a refuge for many evacuees during the war and our family had a Sheffield boy, John Walker, staying with us for three years. During his stay he passed the grammar school entrance exam and he attended the Brunt’s School, Mansfield. While he was there he was introduced to algebra, and my parents had great difficulty in helping him with his homework.
On reaching Standard 7, I asked Mr Walker if he would be teaching algebra, and he replied, ‘Don’t bother your head about it. You’ll never need it.’ Little did he know that I would spend much of my working life as a Mechanical Engineer, in which profession I was obliged to use algebra as well as more complicated branches of mathematics, almost every day.
Billy Bushby, an evacuee from Worthing, was in our class.
Every class had its ‘character’ and ours was Edwin Marson. At any time when the teacher was busy with something other than teaching us, Edwin was called on to entertain us. He would leave his desk and stand in front of us, rocking from side to side as his imagination ran riot, relating the adventures of ‘Tommy and his Magic Bottle.’
There were no excursions in those days, other than “nature walks” when we were taken across the fields, usually towards ‘the island wood’ where the different trees, wild flowers etc. were pointed out to us. Later we were allowed to go potato picking to Greenfield’s and Naish’s farms to help the war effort. In addition to football and cricket, we played various games which may not be known to children of today. They came into “craze” one after the other but I cannot recall the order. The boys’ games were – “husky, fusky , finger or thumb”, played by teams, “chariots”, a fairly rough game, “dobbers”, or marbles, usually played on a course of holes, and roller skating where we used apple cores (cogs) to mark railtracks with junctions on the asphalt of the playground, and formed trains in a crouched position called “the little man”. We never failed to get some poor soul who didn’t have skates to push us around in the trains along the tracks in the yard. Meanwhile the girls played ‘hopscotch’ and “skipping the rope” and clever tricks bouncing a ball against floor and wall.
June and Michael recall an absorbing interest of Edwinstowe schoolchildren in the days of the Second World War – collecting army badges, which were worn on coloured cloth belts. Michael’s belt had a yellow middle band, flanked by green, and fastened with a snake buckle. Badges would be obtained from relatives and friends or begged from servicemen. The proudest boys and girls would display complete circles of badges.
Another hobby was stamp collecting, and the disabled son of Headmaster, Mr W. J. Perry, ran an enterprising business, from his house at the bottom of the school field, selling packets of stamps. Postage stamps, including German issues, were available in Woolworth’s, Mansfield.
French knitting was popular with both boys and girls. Multi-coloured balls of fairy wool were purchased from Mrs Meakin’s shop, (now shared by Robin Hood Plaice and Pizza Hood BBQ Grill. The wool would be wound round four tacks, stuck in the end of a used cotton bobbin, and passed through the bobbin hole to produce a woollen strand. The strands would then be coiled to make cushion covers.
Virtually all the village children spent Saturday mornings in the Major Cinema, tickets costing tuppence downstairs and threepence in the balcony. The programme was adapted to the audience, usually comprising news, a short comedy, the main film and the all-important serial. “It was crucial not to miss the new episode of the serial, to see how the hero and heroine managed to survive the predicament they were in at the close of the previous Saturday’s instalment.”
Apart from the rare sighting of passing enemy aircraft, nothing much of the war touched the village, though there was occasional distressing news of the imprisonment or the death in action of Edwinstowe servicemen. There was one unforgettable occasion when, in Michael’s words, “ a German plane machine-gunned the colliery headstocks and the church spire, and fired a hail of bullets over Second Avenue, narrowly missing Johnny Higginbotham. I recollect that we rushed down to the field opposite the ‘Island Wood’, beside the path leading to Archway House (or the Riding School, as we called it,) to see a crashed RAF plane, and how disappointed we were that it was only a Tiger Moth training aircraft. The distant night sound of the blitzing of Sheffield and the glow in the north-western sky left a lasting impression.”
Boys and girls played “top & tail”, a game of “tigger” or “catch” when it was necessary in making the catch to touch the victim’s head and bottom simultaneously, (Imagine the consequences of that these days). “Hot rice” or “ralico” was another game of catch where a ball was used to “tig”, but the ball could be fended off by a clenched fist only. I suffered my first “6 of the best” at the hand of Mr Walker following a window being broken when we were playing this game.
My Early Days at King Edwin’s School
I didn’t get off to the best of starts at Edwinstowe. In fact, I was two days late in arriving there. The year was 1951 and the international situation tense and threatening. The Korean War was still being fought and, nearer to home, in Europe, the “Iron curtain” was clanking into position. The government’s reaction to these serious situations was to order that selected men who had military service should be called back for a further fortnight’s training. I was one of these reluctant reservists and while the new school year was slipping into gear at Edwinstowe, I was still two hundred or more miles away at Lulworth camp on the Dorset coast.
So it was, that on the last Monday of August, somewhat apprehensively, I cycled the nine miles from Worksop to Edwinstowe to begin my teaching career. My class was standard 7, just under thirteen and fourteen year olds. I can picture them to this day, some I can place in the exact seats that they occupied fifty-five years ago. In those days of limited specialisation I taught them for most of the time, other teachers just taking over for science, art, woodwork and cookery. Not that I was unoccupied on such occasions: not taking my ease in the staff room. I usually found myself timetabled to take English with one of the other classes and when I asked what branch of English I was to take I was invariably told, “poetry and drama”. The latter really meant play reading and I soon discovered that some of the books that were used were the same that had bored me as a pupil some years earlier. After a short time these remained in the cupboard and were replaced by more practical activities such as miming, movement and improvisation. These seemed to go down quite well with the children. I certainly enjoyed them.
My least favourite lesson of my first year was handwork with one of the junior classes. I think it was Standard 4. Facilities were not ideal. The only space available was the dining room across the field and the only equipment I was given was a box of scissors of varying degrees of bluntness and a bottle of a tacky substance called pollywog gluten, a supposed glue that was very reluctant to set. My only teaching aid was a blackboard and a very unstable easel. Not surprisingly, with scissors that wouldn’t cut and glue that wouldn’t stick, no models of great intricacy were attempted. Bookmarks, calendars, greeting cards and such like were the usual products of the class.
Fifty or so years ago, the accommodation at King Edwin’s was not sufficient for all the pupils. This meant that one of the classes had to have most of their lessons in the refreshment room of the Welfare Hall. And for my second year’s teaching, it was decided that it was my turn, and that Standard 7, to occupy that outpost of education for the next twelve months. It wasn’t as lonely as it might seem as timetable commitments meant that both the children and I had to be at the school for parts of each day. Conditions at the hall were on the primitive side, the children working on large trestle tables and sitting on chairs that in the forces were classified as “seats, folding flat”. This is exactly what they did if the unwary sat on the front half of the seat and leaned forward. Then the silence of the lesson was broken by the clatter of the collapsing chair and the thump of the falling body. However, we all survived our year at “happy valley” – just one of the names it was given – though were pleased when it was over.
While normal school lessons formed the basis of day-to-day activity there was always something extra either in progress or in prospect. Mr Dixon believed that while a good general education should form the basis of every child’s time at school, it should be supplemented and enriched by as many additional experiences as it was possible to arrange. So it was that when I arrived in 1951, some of the children had just returned from a week in London where, as well as seeing the usual sights, they visited the Festival of Britain exhibition on the South Bank and, in lighter vein, enjoyed themselves at the Festival Fun Fair at Battersea. Even more ambitious schemes lay ahead. At the end of my first Year, I went with a party of youngsters to Paris, three years later to Oberammergau and, two years after that, to Ulvik in Norway.
As weeks slipped by in my first term, I was made aware that Christmas was a very special time at King Edwin’s and that the principle event was a concert which performed for parents and friends on three successive evenings. Each class had to contribute, usually by putting on a play, the school choirs adding tuneful interludes. I was expecting to have to prepare a play my class but as the festive season approached, I was also asked to repeat the process with another class. So, having never produced a play in my life I had to face the prospect of staging two! Time was short, so it was back to the playbooks to find something suitable. In the end, I opted, if my memory is correct, on “Fairy Gold” for Standard 5 and “Burglar Bill” for Standard 7. Neither was by William Shakespeare but they served and, I hope were satisfactory.
In the years that followed, the Christmas concert was replaced by a pantomime and Christmas parties were over, thoughts turned to preparing the school choirs for their busiest time of the year: The local music festivals. Rehearsals were intense, at dinner times, after school and, sometimes, during lesson time. Such effort was often rewarded, the choirs were usually highly placed and sometimes the winners of their class. There were other occasional high days too. On one occasion the senior choir sang at the annual rally of the County Federation of Parent Associations, which was held at Nottingham University.
And so the memories roll. Sport and games featured prominently and the school usually fielded a strong football team. Occasionally I was entrusted with the care of the junior team, usually at their most distant away fixture or on the coldest of days! Sports’ Day was another popular event, arousing keen rivalry between the four teams into which the children were divided. Star performers went forward to represent the school at the Dukeries’ Sports, which took place on a Saturday afternoon. Budding Olympians progressed even further and participated in the County Sports, a very prestigious event.
After nine years I left the King Edwin School but didn’t move far, just crossing the village to St. Mary’s School where I stayed for twenty-five years, the remainder of my teaching career. In that time I also conducted two W.E.A. classes in local history in the village, gave talks to various organisations, have preached the occasional service in the church and conducted services in the chapel. One particular occasion that gave me especial pleasure was when I was invited to join the writing team that produced the script for the Millennium Pageant. Edwinstowe has played a great part in my life and I frequently bless the day when I was appointed to the King Edwin School, all those years ago.