Story: Marion Graham (Firshill History Group). This is a fuller version of the article from the printed edition.
It’s that time of year again – back to school after the summer holiday, or first-day ever at school for the little ones. We have all been swamped with the papers and media advertising “back to school essentials” for weeks and this made me think of our Group’s memories of schooldays which we made into a little journal a while ago. Maybe some of our recollections will stir a few memories for older readers and give younger ones an idea of what it was like at school for us.
Our oldest member was Annie Neal, who recalled starting at Pye Bank School when she was five in 1917! She did not like school because the teachers were very strict and, because she was a bit of a fidget and quite giddy, she was often in trouble which in those days usually meant a few strokes of the cane. The only part of going to school that she ever liked was the weekly swimming lesson at Chatham Street Baths in Neepsend where she quickly became the best swimmer in the class. School holidays would mean an occasional picnic in Roe Wood when she and friends would take a bottle of water and some bread and jam and would think they were having a rare old time. As a very special treat, they might sometimes be able to go to the seaside for the day with the annual Pitsmoor Working Men’s Club outing and that would be the highlight of the summer holiday. Nobody ever went away on holiday to stay.
Anne Murdoch found it quite scary when she first went to school at St Jude’s in the city centre. When her mother took her into the classroom on her first day the teacher was sitting on a very high chair at a high desk and seemed to tower over her. There was a large open fire burning at the front of the room with a huge fireguard round it and a row of little milk bottles standing in front of it – to take the chill off! She came to love her time there and was really upset when she had to leave and move on at 11.
Several of our members attended Ellesmere Road School and they remembered the annual May Day celebrations. There would be dancing round the maypole holding different coloured ribbons and weaving patterns around the pole and then the crowning of the May Queen who was voted for by the children each year. Most of the pupils from Ellesmere Road School went on to Burngreave Senior School where they all, without exception, remember the head mistress, Miss Yates, who was a very strict disciplinarian and ruled the school, if not with an iron rod, then at least with a very well-used strong cane! At the time of the Sheffield Blitz in the war, Burngreave School was hit by a bomb one night and part of the school was demolished. However, all pupils still had to attend and classes carried on in the parts which had escaped damage. I myself had just started at Southey Green School when the war began and for some time we had to go to classes in various houses (home study) where the teachers would come and take lessons. This was so that air-raid shelters could be built in the school grounds and when we were able to go back to the school we had air-raid practice sessions when we all had to file out to the shelters wearing our gas-masks, which we had to carry with us at all times. The gas masks were tight on our heads and had this horrible rubber smell inside them. We stayed in the shelter for about 15 minutes and then filed out again. When we took off the gas masks we were given a boiled sweet to take away the nasty taste of the masks. Luckily, we never had a real air-raid during school time. My husband, Milton, went to school in Lancashire and he remembers that when he was about 9 and the war was on, he and his classmates were taken out to local farms to pick potatoes and if they managed to fill one of those big bags, 56lb, they were paid the princely sum of about 12p in today’s money.
Lewis Boam attended All Saint’s School where, again, the discipline was very strict and the cane came into use quite often. Truancy was punished by several strokes “on the rear-end” which usually served to prevent any further absence! Lewis’s wife, Janet, the youngest member of our group, attended Newhall School in Attercliffe and recalls her first day as fine until her mother, who had taken her into the classroom and stayed with her for a while, left to go home which Janet didn’t like and screamed the place down! She has vivid memories of asking to go to the toilet and then dashing out of the playground with her teacher hot on her heels. She settled in though and later went on to Hartley Brook School which she took to straight away because it had grass surrounding it – something which was completely different from Newhall. She has fond memories of her time at Hartley Brook.
If present-day schoolchildren get as much out of education as we did, despite our lack of all today’s technology, they will be fine in the future.