Sea Legs | 3
Bookwell Infants

My new school was Bookwell Infants. It was I think about fifteen minutes’ walk from our house, down East Road, past the police station on the corner and down Egremont main street with its shops, banks and pubs.

It was an interesting route passing three sweet shops with loose sweets sold by the quarter from big glass jars, such as pear drops, pineapple chunks, Fox’s glacier fruits and mints, barley sugar. The shops on the main street were mainly small shops owned by families: butchers, bakers, grocers and greengrocers, two paper shops, two chemists, a shoe shop and a couple of clothes shops. The only larger shops were the Co-op, and Walter Wilson’s. Walter Wilson’s was very modern. I think it was the first shop in Egremont to go to self- service. There were no supermarkets at that time.

The far end of the main street widened out at the war memorial to form the market place where there was a market once or twice a week. Here I would bear right down a narrower road which led up the hill to Bookwell primary school. This was another enthralling road, with the high wall of Egremont Castle on one side and the Castle Cinema on the other. It was always exciting to look at the photographs in the cinema window, glimpses of which films would be coming, and if it was a cartoon I would ask my parents to take me on Saturday afternoon. A few years later, when I was in the juniors, I was allowed to go with friends. We sat on wooden benches at the front, and we went to see all the films starring Cliff Richards or Elvis Presley.

At the top of the hill was a drinking fountain, water streaming constantly from a pipe in the wall into a horse trough, and next to Brownriggs’ garages. I suppose it was from the time when Brownriggs had horses and carriages, but at this time they had only a couple of motor coaches and several hearses. The hearses were often parked outside, being washed or wax polished and we always used to look with morbid fascination, hoping to see a coffin, but we never did.

The school gates were just past here, the infants’ and juniors’ school adjoining each other. The juniors’ was on a higher level and could be accessed by stone steps from the infants’ yard. The building was all red sandstone and very old. I remember very little about the infants, except that we sat at tables for lessons and at the same tables for lunch. In the infants, I was taken and picked up by my own or another mother, but once I went up into the juniors, I was allowed to walk by myself or with a friend, and I came home for lunch.

We were not allowed to bring packed lunches. Retrospectively, when my own son started school, I found it strange that in our primary school, we never heard of either food allergies or asthma. There was no uniform. We did not change for PE, except that I think we wore plimsolls, the type with elastic. We brought them to school in a draw- string cloth shoe bag which we kept on our peg with our coat and I think we probably changed into them from our outdoor shoes when we got to school. Every day we were given a small glass bottle of milk, drank through a straw, before we went out to play.

We dreamed of going up into the juniors. We would watch the older children climb those forbidden, steep stone steps at the end of our yard, unable to see what went on up there. The juniors, however, could sit on their playground wall about 12 feet up from us with their feet hanging down, hands on the horizontal iron railings, watching us playing in our yard at the bottom.

So much of our everyday life in school at that time would now be considered dangerous. All the class rooms were heated by big iron stoves fuelled by coke, with a fire guard round them and a sheet of asbestos between the stove and the wall behind. We knew not to go anywhere near the stove. However, I remember only two health and safety incidents during my time at primary school, but more about them later!

Female, Born in 1954, North England
July 2021

Look up

"Look up"