Prayers for a King
On the 6th February 1952 I was sat at my desk at school – Tattershall C of E School. The picture was a typical school scene, children poring over their books – working or giving the impression of work! Miss Winter, the assistant cook, who lived in a cottage in the High Street, made the short journey to work at school on her ancient sit-up-and-beg bicycle. On this particular morning, she came into our classroom, went over to our Headmaster Mr. Hanson (Tommy). They were in deep conversation for several minutes. We watched their serious faces and were mystified. This had never happened before. All was soon revealed. Instead of barking crossly to us to be quiet, Mr Hanson said ‘books away’. Well that was jolly good. Next all the school assembled before Mr. Hanson he then announced to us that The King had died. He explained that Princess Elizabeth would now be Queen. God save our Gracious Queen! Were we sad about the King? Excited for a new and lovely Queen? Yes, I think we were – both sad and happy. Then a short service took place, to pay our respects to the late King. Miss Winter always played the pale wooden piano for our Assembly, as she did today for this auspicious occasion. The piano shone out amidst the dark brown clumsy desks. We opened our frayed maroon Hymn and Prayer Book:-
‘Almighty God unto all hearts be open all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hidden. Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of thy Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love thee and worthily magnify thy Holy Name’ Amen.
The Lords Prayer was always said, so it would be today. A hymn would be sung, the hymn for this day I cannot remember. We usually sang lovely rousing hymns:- Holy, Holy, Holy Lord God Almighty, All things Bright and Beautiful, Immortal Invisible God only wise. As soon as the singing was over Miss Winter popped back to resume her kitchen duties.
Mr. Hanson had been telling us about Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip. They were away on a Royal Tour. They would have to come back now because of the sad news. We had been following the Tour from Newspapers, maps followed the route for us. Many photographs, all in black and white!
The School Run
I lived quite close to the school. I was ‘called for’ by a ‘big girl’ every morning. We went on to call for other children. One in particular had to have a spoonful of Castor Oil every morning, followed by a Mint Imperial – to take away the nasty taste! Luckily we were only offered the Mint Imperial! Onwards then sucking our mint, we continued to Tattershall C of E School.
Arriving at school
First to the dim cloakroom. I was always worried as to which was my peg, not named, but people were always changing – ‘This is my peg now, that’s yours!’ They tossed the coats hither and thither with gay abandon. I was rather confused. My Mum had told me to keep my coat clean and look after it. I didn’t like my coat very much – a brown gabardine with a big floppy hood, but I did try and do what Mum asked.
The two washbasins at the end of the room were a constant source of fun. The two cold taps were used to full capacity for anything other than hand washing! Varying from cascades, and fountains to fine spray, the floor was soaking, coats were soaking, the perpetrators were soaking! Did they care? Not one jot!
Moving into school the one thing that hasn’t changed is the smell! The mixture of warm sweaty little bodies and disinfectant is timeless. A spell as a school worker in later years, the smell was there , still the same, still pungent. I was transported back into my Infant School cloakroom.
Lessons would commence after the usual Assembly. Mr Hanson would speak to us all, the whole school, urging us to do our best. Telling us that the biggest room of all was the room for improvement! He had many, many of these little anecdotes. We were treated to them frequently. I really firmly believed that if I took notice and did as I was told, all would work out as promised by Mr. Hanson. When assembly was over work began. The one large room would have the screen partition replaced across, to form two classrooms. Two ‘big boys’ would proudly perform this task. The ‘big boys’ would be 14yrs or so, as in these times you started at school in the Infants , unless you ‘passed’ to go to Horncastle Grammar School, there you stayed until you left at 15yrs.
So of course we had ‘big girls’ as well as big boys. Some of these were nice cosy motherly types who would look after the little ones, and be helpful. Whilst others were a bit on the bossy side – nothing changes I suppose!
One lesson I do remember pretty well, perhaps more of a recreation really, Country Dancing, every Monday afternoon. Which was all very nice except for one thing – choosing a partner! Who should I choose? Should I choose now? Or will some one choose me? No, no, it was all rather worrying – I usually finished up with the last boy of all! I never managed to dance with the boy of my dreams until much later on in life! Once again the classroom had to be cleared by the ever willing big boys, a bit of a skive, better than work.
The boys were back in action again when the clock was coming round to 12 noon Mr Hanson would shout ‘Tables!’ Everyone jumped up, flung work into desks as this alarm was called. You may be thinking this was for our times tables. Oh no not at all. It was for tables to eat from. The folding tables that were kept in a shed in the playground. The desks were stacked to one side, tables and forms carried in hey presto! Transformation into a dining room!
‘Hands together, eyes closed’ instructed Mr.Hanson we obeyed meekly, heads bowed:- For what we are about to receive may the Lord make us truly thankful. Amen. The mumbled jumbled monotone of thanks to God now over, our meal had begun, scraping and creaking as we became seated for the meal
We had delicious lunches, they really were good, certainly didn’t qualify in any way to be at the butt end of school dinner jokes. Mrs Lea was the capable cook, ably assisted by Miss Winter (also pianist).
These lovely meals were produced daily, with little or no modern kitchen aids, everything produced from scratch. Other people who had helped with meals at different times were:- Mrs Jackson, Mrs Bembridge,(also ran a dancing class) Mrs Welbourn, Mrs Forman, Mrs Dent. We were served with such dishes as hot pot, savoury roll with lovely pastry, luncheon meat with roast potatoes cabbage of course, but nice shepherds pie, steak and kidney pie lots of pies. Sometimes we had roast meat – I seem to remember this being a bit of a challenge on the tenderness side!
We must remember also though, that it was still a time of rationing, after the war. As children we were aware that some things were in short supply, but didn’t really understand the full implications.
Teachers sat at the head of the table to serve out the food which was swiftly brought from the kitchen in metal tins and trays. After the first course we turned to our, as yet still unused, pudding spoons. We were not to be disappointed – what would it be for pudding today? Chocolate Sponge with Chocolate Custard, Spotted Dick, Fruit Crumble, Jam Tart, Toe nail Tart? Or my least favourite Sago FROGSPAWN, well that’s what we thought it looked like anyway! Milk Pudding Ugh! There was one exception though, one milk pudding was great – Semolina! A saucer of red jam was passed round. We were all able to help ourselves to a spoonful – then stir vigorously – turning your white Semolina into the prettiest pink that you ever did see! The taste was bliss, sheer bliss! A perfect end to the meal. What was the cost of these Culinary Delights? 2/6 per week (22 1/2p)
We gulped down the last of our water from the sturdy glasses – we were truly thankful as we had declared before the meal. We passed our thick white plates to the Teacher who had served us and eaten with us. The clumsy heavy cutlery clanked amidst the rush, everything stacked onto trays and conveyed back to the kitchen. Not much in the way of food went back though, the last dollops of ‘tates and gravy’ would be mopped up. Custard jugs would be well and truly scraped out, not a morsel remained!
Now tables back in the shed, classroom restored, all ship-shape.
What would the afternoon hold for us? Would it be:- Sewing, Singing,P.T. or A Nature Walk? The latter was my favourite. We roamed across the fields by the river, littered with cowslips and cow pats, looking with our teacher at the wild flowers growing in profusion. Some were gathered to bring back to put on our Nature Table, put into water in jam jars , their name written on a card alongside. We learned in a simple, enjoyable way, with a sunny feeling.
Possibly my least favourite was sewing. It did indeed for me, become a family joke! But the simple rudiments were learnt. Needles, pins, scissors had to be treated with great respect, no messing about! They could be dangerous! There was a lot of cross stitch about. Cross stitch on mats, cross stitch on book marks, cross stitch on collars. I must say I went off it in a big way. There was the old faithful binka, specially for cross stitch. Then there was something the teacher called ‘crash’ a material she cut out very carefully with an enormous pair of scissors. She cut out for me my bright pink dressing table set, which I managed to do very nicely. No not the dreaded cross stitch, but something called fly stitch. I still have two of the mats today Some of the big girls made blouses, aprons, and dirndl skirts. What were these thought I, they just looked like any other skirt to me.
We sat in groups chatting and sewing, small confidences exchanged, secrecy sworn.
Singing Together this was another favourite. It was a Radio programme. Radio featured quite prominently in our education at that time It was a real treat, away from normal lessons. When Barry Appleby, in cheery tones, announced it was time for Singing Together, we were ready with our pamphlets, ready to turn to whatever page he instructed. We learned many songs from this programme plus facts about the composers and all about the instruments in an orchestra and some music theory. I often think of Barry Appleby when I am at a concert. The pamphlet to accompany the programme was very interesting, but like everything else, well nearly everything else, was just printed in black and white. There was a lady singer, Miss Aylwood, I think who sang the lines of the song for us listen to, she sang in what some of us called her ‘operatic voice, or as my Gran would say ‘yawping!’ After that it was our turn – The Cuckoo is a pretty Bird, or On Wings of Song, Sleep my little One Sleep, Deck the Halls with Boughs of Holly or Greensleeves, Greensleeves is my Delight. I remember singing Greensleeves for our neighbours and they gave me a shilling (5p now) They were lovely people, I was so pleased, thank you Barry Appleby.
The Radio This box of delights, was an enormous square wooden box maybe 2 or 3 ft with a small central speaker, like a brown furry dinner plate. It stared down at us from its position of dominance on the broad window-sill, its brown control knobs out of our reach!
In younger classes we were treated to ‘Music and Movement’. The precise over encouraging tones of the ‘best B.B.C.’ Lady Announcer bidding us to ‘jump like a bunny’ or stand straight and tall as a tree – plod plod here comes a giant! Sometimes the hoppings and ploddings of the over zealous bunnies and giants had to be brought into check by our teacher! So much was our enjoyment, we gave our all and more!
Playground and Playtime
Released from learning for a precious quarter of an hour Games to be played, races to be run, footballs to be kicked . Girls played at shopping , houses and Mumsie sorts of things taking on important role play. There were ropes to climb bars to swing on – Health and Safety would have had a field day. In good weather skipping ropes would be out. Sometimes two would be tied together to form a really long rope – then a long line of children skipping effortlessly, in unison, skirts swaying, pigtails bobbing – good skip what you like a dolly or a pe pper – good skip what you like dolly or a pe pper……
Spring was a good time too to try out your leap-frog skills. Lying latent over the Winter – let’s see can we still do it? Yes get some one to bend then you leap over, then you bend over, they leap over you!! On and on leaping and bending all around the Playground. Yippee Look Out!!
The playground was indeed, a hive of activity. For the most part it was time well spent. There was much chasing and catching. ‘Dips’ were being chanted ‘It is fair and very very fair that you should not be it!’ I certainly didn’t want to be it and was jolly glad to be dipped out! ‘One potato two potato three potato four, five potato six potato, seven potato more’. Fists were counted for this one, they were the potatoes! This year next year sometime ne ver. Tinker, taylor, soldier, sailor, richman, poorman, beggarman thief. These last two chants could be used to count up your plum stones (or cobs) to tell you when you were getting married and who to, so always try and get five stones! Quite a lot of sweet swapping went on at playtime. Two aniseed balls for a Spangle? Was that fair? Some people thought so, and happily sucked their swapped sweet, a bargain struck. We didn’t have many sweets or crisps no whole packets or tubes. Perhaps two or three sharps toffees (Sharps the word for toffee, claimed the adverts) or luminous sherbert lemons, or liquorice comfits (rats tails) Pear drops – no thank you, no nail varnish today! Bon-bons, well this sounded posh, I could never quite like them, although I wanted to! The Infants would have had their milk before they came out to play. One third of a pint in a chunky little bottle with a thick circular cardboard top. A hole was pressed through, in the centre, for the straw to go through. These tops were saved and were used as the base for making woolly pom-poms. Most children glugged their milk down in a flash but I hated this milk that was going to do me so much good. If anyone fancied another bottle they were welcome to mine!!
Small groups sat around playing more sedate games such as marbles, jacks and dice, chatting comfortably with so much going on all around, seemingly oblivious and in their own little world. For the most part everyone played together very well. But as ever since time began, there were the odd bullyish types. Prowling around, picking on quieter people inflicting a Chinese Burn, ouch! Pointing, teasing and taunting in their mimicky voices. Sometimes it developed into a nasty incident – rolling and fighting in the dust. Spitting, fur flying, like a couple of cats squaring things up. Not a pretty sight. Help had to be found in the shape of a teacher, to restore order. ‘Inside, Inside,’ we all shouted when the whistle blew, we surged back to our desks.
In early days the Playground was just padded earth, very dirty and dusty indeed. I’m sure we all got very dirty, or even filthy. Later on we did have concrete to play on, but no safety surface. There was a lawn, this was a lot of fun. Hand stands, cartwheels, girls walking around like crabs or two girls skitter skattering so fast, round and round whirling, giggling hopelessly with dizziness and finally falling over in a heap! Some of us just liked to make long daisy chains to wear as a pretty necklace. For Princess Elizabeth’s Coronation the garden was planted up with red, white and blue flowering bedding plants. Mr. Hanson said it would look magnificent. It did, it cheered up the grey wet day that it turned out to be.
P.T. as it was known took place outside in the playground. There was a limited amount of equipment available. Most of it hung on the wall, in school, in drawstring bags – or like the hoops, just hung on a convenient hook. There was an odd assortment of plimsolls, also in a drawstring bag, just in case you didn’t happen to have a pair of you own. Yes, I did have a pair of my own and had been warned on no account was I to wear a pair of school plimsolls! Anyway I didn’t want to – my own pair were white. I was very proud of them. I had to keep them well whitened myself. That was a nice job, daubing on this lovely gunky, strange smelling shoe whitener. Coloured bands were worn for team games, red, yellow, blue and green. The Leader had crossed bands, a sign of authority! We sat on oval cane mats to do the exercises in our teams. We played rounders, cricket and jumping. It was a great time for us all.
Occasionally we had to do a spot of ‘silent reading’. This seemed like a soft option for many. I always liked reading, and still do, so for me it was a great option. Some of the books at school were rather strange for children like us, in a country village. Opening the pages we read of Mother and Father. Father going to the office to work wearing a suit. Mother taking the children for a walk in the Park. Life for a lot of people was anything but a walk in the Park in those, now far off days. We called our parents Mam or Mum and Dad or Mummy and Daddy. Most people worked in agriculture or small shops. We played in the fields near our homes, or in our own gardens. It seemed hard to relate to the stories in these shabby reading books.
This was an essential piece of school equipment at this time. A large heavy blackboard supported by two pegs, on a substantial easel, these could be raised or lowered according to the teachers wishes. This board stood importantly at the front of the classroom. The teachers took great pains and pride in writing the work on the blackboard for us. All done in best ‘teacher’s handwriting. It was a great privilege to be asked to clean the board, a very dusty occupation – a job for ‘teachers pet’ A good feeling to see a piece of written work or ‘sums’ being reduced to dust! Mr. Hanson felt the need to pop into the canteen for a cup of tea after his exertions on the blackboard and we had to get on with our work. Later on we would queue up at his desk to have our work marked. Hopefully without too much red ink reprimand.
In the middle class writing practice would be on the blackboard. We had to copy it into our books. The letters had to look exactly like the teachers – then a piece of text to write in best copper plate. ‘January brings the snow, makes our feet and fingers glow’ If you finished before the others you had to get a writing card and do a bit more practice. There were plenty of writing lessons, they seemed to be very important indeed.
Or sums as we called them, was for the most part, for me, one of life’s unsolved mysteries and still remains so. There were books to work from with sums called ‘problems’. These involved working out how many men it took to dig a hole of a certain size, and how long it would take. On my part this called for calculated guesswork! About once a week small long narrow strips of paper were given out. My heart sank – Mental arithmetic! Name at the top of the paper, number one to ten down the side, just write answers only. A mixture of questions, addition subtraction, tables and money. A race against time – panic panic, please please may I get some of them right! Anxious moments, these same sort of paper strips were also used for Spelling tests
I didn’t mind that, spelling didn’t hold the same fear for me.
Smile you’re on Stage!
Sometimes when we were hard at work at our desks the main doors, with their magnificent decorative hinges, would burst open. In walked a lady of fine stature wearing a remarkable coat, trimmed with fur at the collar and cuffs. Her long greying hair piled high, like an elegant wedding cake ,prodded here and there with pretty pins, combs and other hair ornamentation. A few tendrils of hair were ‘having none of it’ they had escaped and hung down flamboyantly. Removal of the remarkable coat revealed a most extraordinary outfit. A tapestry of colour! Baubles, Bangles and bright shining beads. Nobody’s Mum ever looked like this! In a trice our pale piano was being pounded upon, like never before.
We were urged to sing:- ‘Tips of the tongue the lips and the teeth, tips of the tongue the lips and the teeth’, over and over faster and faster! The piano became louder and louder. Everyone smiling, striving to keep up until we could breath no more! WOW that was good fun! ‘The Owl and the Pussycat went to Sea in a Beautiful Pea Green Boat’ – Miss Macintosh says so. I could see this fantastic picture in my mind. ‘They took some honey and plenty of money wrapped up in a five pound note!’ Gosh such riches! Then there was the Quangle Wangles Hat on top of the Crumpetty Tree, overflowing with nonsensical delights. What an amazing afternoon when Miss MacIntosh came to call.
Yes we did have parties. The Dinner Tables were called into action on this Festive occasion. I remember sitting very close to an Advent Ring, how lucky for me, it had been sent to Mr. Hanson from Germany, I think. It was a lovely sight to behold with lighted candles and lovely red satin ribbon glowing in the candle light. There was plenty to eat – sandwiches, cakes, tarts, tinned fruit, jelly wibble wobbling around, great fun! Alas, no ice-cream, no fizzy pop, just orange squash, but that was a treat. Some children I noticed, from my privileged position next to the Advent Ring, just scooped the jam from their tarts and ate it from a spoon! Fancy being able to do that! Definitely not allowed at our house! I am no fan of Party Games. These followed the tea. Pass the Parcel, Musical Chairs, and oh no! Musical knees! The indignity and possibility of having to rush and scramble to sit on some horrible boys knee! I don’t remember Santa Claus paying us a visit but then Tattershall is a long way from Lapland! Especially in the fifties!
Christmas Trimmings were made. It was a great time for crepe paper. Two coloured
folded over trimmings were zig-zagged from every available corner – red and green, yellow and blue, pink orange, numerous garish combinations looking we thought, oh so pretty. Other trimmings were decked out with neatly nicked twisted streamers. How the paper stretched, you could make it reach anywhere – whoops!! Our decorations were festooned generously below the graceful high vaulted William Butterfield roof, a festive tribute. Over licked paper chains fell around our ears only to be enthusiastically licked again in hope of them saying up. Lots of cotton wool snow – a real avalanche! Such were our efforts for this special time of year.
Another time when crepe paper featured heavily. Dresses were made for the Concert, how marvellous they looked, trimmed with silver and paper frills. Some one had been very busy indeed. Not everyone was dressed up, just the main characters. We all sang of course, Christmas Songs and lovely Christmas Carols telling us of Baby Jesus Mary and Joseph, The Kings and The Wise Men at this magical time of year. I think the play I remember most was Cinderella. I danced at the Ball wearing a gorgeous pink dress borrowed by Auntie Mary from some kind person . I bounded along doing the Polka in my precious white plimsolls! The Fairy in her so pretty blue and silver dress waved her magic star wand. Come back Good Fairy, we need you now to save our School from despair.
Messy things at School
The blackest one, of course, was ink. Everyone’s middle finger carried a permanent black stain, inky finger, caused by gripping the scratchy pen. The wooden stem absorbed the ink as we dipped into the ink ready to write. No ball-point pens in school then. The ink was made at school from black powder mixed with water. The powder tended to float on top of the water. The boys mixing ink became spattered! Ink was dispensed into our inkwells from a can with a long spout. The Ink Monitors took great delight in this job. Our ink wells overflowed! Powder paint came a close second for mess. Again it had a tendency to float on water before we managed to persuade it to amalgamate! We mixed frantically in jam jars before transferring to the round paint palettes. Of course there were spillages. Not all accidental. To some it was great fun to soak the newspapers, protecting our desk-tops, with lavish brush loads of paint and water.
The Betterware Man
What’s that got to do with school? I hear you say, just you wait and see!. Well he came to our village with his case full of household products. It was a veritable Pandora’s Box. Always a very affable man he presented the lady of the house with a small free gift!! A salt funnel, a knitting needle gauge, or a tiny tin of polish, their own brand of course. The latter was a good one I thought. We were asked if we could bring it to school to polish our desk! We polished with great gusto and much elbow grease on our ancient desks. Again it was fairly messy – amazing how much polish tacky polish those small tins contained. Effectively we were delaying work for a little longer!