Harry Rutherford's
Festival of Britain Mural

Saturday, 4 May 2013


 1939 – 1962

By Roger Chadwick

In September 1944, aged 5, with my mother, on the first day only , I walked down Mottram Road, up Grange Road, along Tinkers Ginnel and through the playground of LEIGH STREET SCHOOL to Miss Beaumont’s class in The Infants Building.    Clutching a small bag of cocoa and sugar, my first experience of education was making fudge sweeties!    The noise of other children was a bit frightening at first but the room, festooned with pictures and charts, was a fascinating experience.  Miss Beaumont was a tall lady with violent red lipstick and wore Lisle stockings with small tufts of red wool dotted about all over.  I could not take my eyes off this “fashion statement” and when I got home, my mother told me they were “clocks” – an ornamental design either woven in or embroidered on the side of a stocking.   Miss French was another tall teacher and noted for smacking unruly infants so I kept out of her way!   Miss Moore, a smiling, motherly and wonderful person, was the Head Teacher, who I came to know better in later years at church.  

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 Leigh Street School.

The war was on, everything in short supply. Even in the Junior Department we were told to write on the inside covers of exercise books and across the margins.  Any sheet of paper with a clean side had to be used.  Sugar bag paper was used for art work.  Those waxy cardboard milk bottle tops had to be brought to school for further use: raffia was worked around any available container to make “spell” boxes, those things we used at home with “spells” of wood to light the fire!  Nothing was wasted.   Old blotting paper lined precious jam jars for the beans and peas to grow on the window sills.  Tops of carrots were brought on saucers to grow foliage.  Woe betide any child who wasted anything!  The one third pint of milk had to be drunk even if it was frozen.  No child could leave anything on the plate of a school dinner.  “Get that down yer and stop messing about; the convoys brought that across the Atlantic”, warned my grandmother! 

I still do not leave a plate with any food on it!

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My first teacher in the Juniors was Miss Taverner but she could not keep order and the classes were rowdy.   Believed to be quite bright I was “expressed” through Miss Halton/Haughton’s class and into Miss Emsley’s third year.  Miss Emsley became Mrs Andrew and was just lovely!  I well remember her as a younger teacher with a quick stride and a handbag.  Likewise Miss Lees,  who was always smiling but reputed to be a strict disciplinarian.  Mr Drewett, a quiet and lovely man and Mrs Gaunt were responsible for Year 4 pupils (present day year 6’s).  Then there was Mrs Shaw who cared for the youngest class of entrants, seeming to be always asleep on canvas beds in the afternoons!

I found myself under the tutelage of Mrs Gaunt for two years and she was certainly the moulding of my education.  Being “expressed” meant two years in what was then called “the scholarship” class.   In those days it was the one great aim to get as many children as possible into grammar schools via the 11+ and at our school to make sure that we always beat St George’s CE School, our nearest rival educational establishment.  From 9.00.a.m. to 4.00.p.m we were kept at the grindstone.  “First Aid” English text books were studied and relevant parts memorised.  “A verb is a doing word”, we had to chant - “An adverb modifies the verb”  “An adjective is a descriptive word” – chanted in class, these phrases were never forgotten.   Grammar training and correct sentence formation both on paper and in speech was repeated over and over again and again until we knew how to write, how to speak and how to communicate. 

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Then of course, there were the tables – up to “twelve times” of course and for those who were expected to manage it – up to 13 and 14 times tables.  Highest / Lowest Common Denominators, Fractions, Percentages, Interest and Compound Interest, Mental Arithmetic both written and verbal had to be mastered. Imperial Measures, Rods, Bushels, Pecks, Acres, Pints, Jills, Quarts, Pounds, Stones, Quarters,  Hundredweights, Tons, 1760 yards to the mile 5280 feet to the mile, 4840 sq yds to the acres…… Yards, Feet, Inches, Eight Furlongs to the mile…  All these details were printed out on the backs of some exercise books and they had to be learnt. Most days we had cash sum to multiply like - £14.19s 4pence three farthings multiplied by 29.  Thence, in neat columns sums transferring farthings (960 to the £), halfpennies (480 to the £) pennies (240 to the £) sixpences “tanners” (40 to the £), threepenny bits(80 to the £), shillings “bobs”(20 to the £) half crowns(8 to the £) florins/2 shillings(10 to the £).   These sums had to be got right, especially when the Headmaster, Mr Walter Hugh Renwick entered the class at 3.40.p.m to set the homework for the “scholarship” children.  Children did not get much praise.  “You can do better….not good enough…poor work…untidy… write out the correct spelling 10 times.”. Et cetera!

Does this bring back memories to those born just before, during and just after the war?

I cannot say whether this kind of education was right or wrong.  Suffice it to say that even though I am no mathematician, mental arithmetic has stood me in good stead throughout life as has the grounding in grammar.  Class 8 at Leigh Street School in 1949-50 had 53 pupils presided over by a teacher who knew what she had to do, brooked no nonsense or interference, gave favours to none and criticism to all and made sure that everyone in that class could read and write before they went into secondary or technical education.  She wasn’t there to be liked or loved: she had a job to do and did it magnificently!

It did me no harm at all and I owe everything to that school and its staff. 


Leigh Street 1949

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Many thanks to Roger for sharing his memories and to the "Hyde Schoolday Memories" book that was sent to me by Joyce and Graham Sharp.


Susan Jaleel said...

Fudge sweeties?? When I started school in 1950 a wrap of cocoa and sugar was for dipping your finger in and sucking - a bit like sugar butties I suppose. Sweets (toffees in Hyde speak) were still on ration so if you were lucky enough to have some and found that you couldn't resist one in class, the teacher didn't make you throw it in the bin; instead you wrapped it in a piece of Izal toilet paper!

Like Roger at Leigh Street, we at Holy Trinity learned everything by rote, probably spending half an hour each morning after assembly on it when we weren't reciting the church-related stuff which the vicar injected into us.

How dreadful that children were "expressed" - they certainly weren't where I was, although a lot of emphasis was put on passing the 11+ and when I took it in 1956 there were 13 from Holy Trinity who passed, which was really quite good for a small school. To separate children by ability at the age of 11 was socially divisive, and I'm thankful that we now have the comprehensive system which provides every child with the opportunity to achieve something.

Hydonian said...

My dad read your memories of Leigh Street with great joy. He then had a good reminisce about "Spy" Haughton,an unfortunate name given to her due to the way she snooped around with her hands behind her back, Mrs Moore and Ms Emsley. Miss French was still there when I attended Leigh Street around 30 years later, and she STILL smacked unruly children!! Mr Drewitt was also still there. He was a lovely kind man.

Many thanks Roger :)

celtbard_2000 said...

Mr. Dewitt indeed a kind man. I. Went to house once with his son Christopher

celtbard_2000 said...

mr. Drewitt was a kind teacher. I will always remember how he would walk with his head to his side. I went to his house one time to watch a football game with his son Christopher