Sea Legs | 4
Bookwell Juniors

When at last the time came for us to go up into the juniors, everything was very different.

Now we sat on benches at ink- stained desks made from wrought iron and wood, with round holes for the ink wells. The desk lids lifted and we could keep our work and books inside. For now, we still wrote in pencil, but in time, when we had mastered cursive writing, we would graduate to pen and ink. Biros were strictly forbidden until we were in the top class, and spoken about as if they were an instrument of the devil, although nobody really knew the reason for this.

In our class we had over forty children. If a teacher was absent, the partition doors between our class and next door would be opened, one teacher would go to the class without a teacher, and the other teacher would take both classes, all eighty odd of us. I don’t remember there being much misbehaviour, but if there was chattering in class, the offenders would be warned before being moved, to sit next to somebody of the opposite sex, or sometimes to sit at the front under the watchful eye of the teacher.

Misdemeanours were punished with a rap on the knuckles or the palms from a ruler, but serious issues resulted in the perpetrator being sent to the Headmaster for a serious reprimand, and the cane on the back of the legs. It was invariably the same few boys who were sent to the Headmaster, which suggests that it may have been a deterrent for the majority, but the offenders continued to offend.

As well as reading, writing and arithmetic, we took art, singing and P.E. As we went into the higher classes, we also went for nature walks in the summer, always down the same lane near the River Ehen. I think it led only to fields, as there was never any traffic and we were allowed to wander off, looking for wild flowers, before regrouping to walk back in pairs. When we got back to the class room, we pressed our flowers and looked them up in books so that we could find the names.

When we were in the top class, we took history and it was mainly local history. I remember trips to Egremont Castle and Calder Abbey. By this time, despite the size of the classes, I think everyone could read, and write about where we had been. Every year we went on a school trip. It was always to Seascale, usually on the train, and of course it was a steam train. We took a picnic to eat on the beach and played games. We were allowed to paddle in the sea, but we had to stay near the edge. We didn’t have swimming lessons until secondary school, which thinking back was a bit strange when we lived near so much water : the rivers, the lakes and the sea.

In the Juniors, not only did we have a yard for playtime, we also had a field. Every year, as the weather was getting warmer, there was great excitement as we waited for the announcement from the Headmaster, Mr Nixon, that we were allowed on the field. The field was strictly out of bounds in the winter, or if the weather had been very wet. In the dry weather, we had PE on the field, and we often played rounders with a wooden bat and a tennis ball. We had to hit the ball, drop the bat for the next person to pick up, then run. Some of the boys were prone to throwing the bat instead of just dropping it, although they were always told not to. One time, Steven F. threw the bat quite high and it hit our teacher, just above his eye. Blood was pouring from his head and he shouted to one of the boys to go for Mr Nixon. I’m not sure what happened after that; I think he went to hospital and had a couple of stitches, but was fine the following day.

The second health and safety incident involved the iron railings at the main gate. We used to look out through the railings at whatever was happening beyond, and one day David R. somehow managed to stick his head in between two railings but could not get it back. Teachers were called, but nobody could free David’s head. His mother was sent for, and eventually he was set free by Egremont Fire Brigade. Putting our head through the railings was added to the list (drummed into us regularly at morning assembly) of things we must never, ever do, which to be fair, wasn’t a long one.

Favourite games at playtime were skipping, two ball against a wall, and acrobatics on the field, our skirts tucked in our knickers. In icy weather we made slides in the yard. We only had homework maybe once a week and only when we were in the top class, possibly to get us used to it for secondary school. We got a report at the end of the year, but I never remember parents’ evenings. Possibly they did have them, but the children never attended. I can’t remember my parents getting involved with my education very much. Later, at secondary school, they would ask me if I had done my homework, but rarely asked to see it. My work was good, my behaviour was good, so I suppose there was no need. I never took part in any extra-curricular activities while I was in primary school, apart from Sunday school. As a little girl, I always wanted to go to dancing class. My friends all went, but my mother would never allow it. Retrospectively, I think it was possibly because the mothers were expected to sew costumes for the performances; I couldn’t see my mother doing that.

My mother often made decisions which I could not understand and never offered an explanation. Much later, when my own son was little, I made a point of explaining my decisions to him.

My mother didn’t believe in private education. There was a private primary school in Seascale, and she spoke of it very disparagingly. As time went on, during the sixties, married women began to become more independent, getting jobs and learning to drive. My mother flatly refused to try either, even though my father suggested both to her on many occasions. I’m not sure whether she believed in selective schools either, but that’s another story!

Female, Born in 1954, North England
July 2021


"Growing up"