The Parish Of Middleton In Norfolk
Ringo writes about Middleton School where he was a pupil during the 1950's
Middleton school in 1950, a single red brick and carrstone building, with a slate roof. The headmaster’s house, incorporated at one end, classrooms at the other. Outside toilets, playgrounds front and back, gardens, orchards, garden shed, chicken hut and run, bike rack, large coal heap, overlooked by a tall bell tower, which was not used in my time at the school. Heating was by open coal fires, with back boilers linked to radiators, which were bled each day to relieve air blocks. The register was taken morning and afternoon for the infants, middle class and seniors and the attendance recorded on a small blackboard on the mantel shelf in the headmasters classroom.
Day one. – Straight in at five years old, no playschool, no school run for parents; most pupils, all local, walked or biked to school, as did infants teacher Mrs. Mowton, from her home in Beech Road, Kings Lynn. The youngsters were dressed in a hotch potch of clothes and shoes, many handed down through family and friends. All boys started school in short trousers, with wellingtons or “water boots” often worn for long periods; a welcome addition was the plimsoll shoe for indoors or games lessons. Children often wore caps and scarves and the headmaster, Mr. Harold Morgan, always a suit. Because of the short clothing, frequent scuffed knees and elbows and chapped legs were the norm, for all but careful pupils.
First steps on the learning ladder were with the aid of picture and letter cards and reciting multiplication tables from 1 x 2 = 2 up to 12 x 12 = 144. All writing and sums were copied from the blackboard using white chalk and slates, which were encased in a wooden frame. In the afternoons, coloured chalks were often used for drawing and coloured plasticine used to mould people or animals. New unmixed sticks were highly prized, as most had been mixed to a brown mass. Discipline, even with infants was fairly strict and swearing, which was pretty rare, or straying from the straight and narrow, was rewarded with an instant mouthwash using carbolic soap. All teachers were addressed as Sir or Miss and outside school hours, most elders were greeted using the full name, or Mr. and Mrs.
Most youngsters attended church Sunday School, and festivals with their parents. Collections were made of halfpennies for overseas funds at church and any money unclaimed at school went into the “waifs and strays” or Dr Barnado’s boxes. To keep everyone healthy, milk in third of a pint bottles, was available free during morning breaks. The school doctor came round once a term to give everyone the regulation check-up and to see in they needed to visit the school dentist in Nelson Street, in Lynn. The “nit nurse” also came round on a regular basis to check to see that nobody had head lice, or ringworm, or impetigo, which were contagious skin inflammations, usually on the scalp or eyebrows.
After the infants class, pupils moved up to the middle class to be taught by Mrs. Muriel Morgan. As well as the usual reading, writing and arithmetic; geography, history and music were added, as well as art and crafts. Those that had successfully moved onto writing with pencils, (paper was very expensive, compared to today’s prices) were allowed the delights of writing with the “dip in” pen used in conjunction with ink wells, which were refilled by the “ink monitor” every few days. These pens were hard to master as the nibs frequently crossed and smudges would appear on the paper, over hands and clothes; blotting paper was at a premium. Very few adults would have a fountain pen, as the cost was prohibitive. The library shelves were in a classroom that doubled as a dining hall, as a venue for parties, plays, whist drives and jumble sales. Trestle tables would be stacked in the corners for school dinners, which would arrive from central kitchens in Kings Lynn.
A new wooden classroom was built at the back of the main building, which was spacious and had eye level windows, which meant that lessons were frequently interrupted when farming activities became apparent on the surrounding land. In this new room a house point system was introduced for achievements in the classroom, or on the sports field. – Gummed paper shapes of varying value were displayed on a wall chart. Friday afternoon spelling tests were popular. Playground games included hopscotch, skipping and in the winter, sliding, which was frowned on. Everyone collected and ate the beech nuts when they were in season. Annual inter-school games included running, sack races, three legged relays and football and cricket were played on the Jubilee Field. Netball and rounders were played on the school field, or on the new playing field given to the village by the Thompson family.
Occasionally schools programmes on the wireless were listened to, and nature walks, mostly around Blackborough End were very popular. All manner of twigs and flowers were collected along with fossils and clay pipes from the hedges around the fields and allotments. Farm walks were arranged to watch the various activites and a visit to the sand works at Leziate was very popular. Any misbehaviour would result in a visit to the headmaster to receive a sharp whack with a cane, on the hands or buttocks. The caning was part of school life at the time, not vindictive, but still hurt for some time. Girls were not caned, but received lines or loss of privileges or detention during playtime.
The school gardens were tended by the pupils and all types of fruit and vegetables were grown. To escape lessons a few pupils were allowed to have extra gardening sessions, or oiling up the tools before winter. The Headmaster’s orchard was frequently raided for apples and pears, with the resultant caning, if caught. A large hut and run contained a dozen chickens which were looked after by the late Beverley English. I was always keen on gardening and still am, but it became less attractive when in direct view of the teacher in the new classroom.
Outings were arranged in conjunction with the Sunday school for all ages and parents. Before the bypasses, the slow and laborious coach trip to Hunstanton was via Kings Lynn, Gaywood, Wootton, Castle Rising and past Sandringham House, through Dersingham and Snettisham and the Lavender fields at Heacham. At the top of the hill, the children would shout in unison “I can see the sea”, before the short run into Hunstanton. Once off the coach everyone made for the railway, which incorporated children’s fun fair, café and pin machines to lose the pennies in.
A refreshing cup of tea was enjoyed, while the fathers waited for the pubs to open. Older children made themselves scarce and mothers headed for The Green for a picnic lunch, or to the beach for the usual games and paddling in the sea. Before swimming trunks were popular our usual attire was a woollen costume, which became something to behold when covered in sand and wet with sea water. Large towels were in evidence, as changing and drying was strictly private, which would be seen as quite humorous now. Everyone would meet up at the Kit Kat for an organised tea, before the trip home to brush off the sand and display the stones and shells collected from the beach. One school outing was to London, with a trip up the Thames and a visit to the Science Museum, all of which became the subject of an essay on our return. The senior class was taught by Harold Morgan and contained pupils up to the school leaving age of fourteen, when they would leave and work on farms, in shops, or in a few factories that were established in Kings Lynn. A few would pursue further education. At this time, the school leaving age was raised to fifteen and eleven plus exams were brought in to determine the last few years of compulsory education.
The classroom for the seniors was a collection of old desks and tables with the remains of wood working tools and a few old musical instruments. As well as the usual lessons, weather studies were set up in the garden with thermometers, wind speed and direction vanes and a rainfall gauge that was often topped up from the rainwater butt, with the resultant punishment in the headmaster found the culprits. Graphs and charts were kept up to date on the classroom wall and compared with R.A.F. Marham’s records. Arts and crafts included making papier mache puppet heads and lino cutting with small tools which were highly prized, if you did not have to use the communal ones which became blunt and bent. The resultant pictures were produced by coating the surface with a special ink roller, then pressing onto paper to produce a print, which was used on calendars and folders, also hand made.
During dinner times some children went home, others explored the surrounding area, including visits to the village pump, to collect number plate details from commercial vehicles, some of which still carried 20 MPH discs. The stables and barns at the “Crown” were also popular, especially when the Fry family came to live there in a caravan, something only seen when the pub and lay-bys were a regular stop for the Mart people as they assembled before descending on Lynn’s Tuesday Market place. A dangerous practice that was to die out when carbide, which was used in lights, became unavailable, was to place a small amount in a treacle or Andrews Liver Salts tin, which had tight fitting lids. A spot of water was added and the lid replaced. The resultant gas produced was ignited with a match or paper taper, dropped on a pin hole in the lid. A makeshift firework, which if the lid was replaced too tightly, would result in the tin seams exploding. Events which we looked forward to were a visit from the current Mayor of Lynn, or an educational film, followed by a half day holiday, something that would probably not fit into today’s schedules.
During the 1953 east coast floods the water could be seen rising in the fields across the Nar Valley where we could roam at week-ends. At the time, we as eight year olds didn’t appreciate the devastation and loss of life fairly near at hand. Children often walked to Setch to purchase goods from Porter’s Shop, who also came round the villages with a fish and chip van, with coal fired fryers. The current problem of crossing the A47 road was an ever present problem, even in the 1950’s when the traffic was not very heavy.
I left Middleton school at twelve to attend the new Alderman Catleugh school (now Springwood High) to be taken by bus, driven by Herrman Harrod of Wormegay. All country juveniles were mixed together and friends were made with people from far flung places such as Pott Row and Wiggenhall St. Germans. I then attended a two year engineering course at the Technical College, passed a few exams which gained me an apprenticeship and continued employment for 37 years. I was never destined to be an academic or a famous “old boy”, but I think I learnt enough to keep myself employed and hopefully myself understood by you, the reader.
George W. Cawkill (Ringo)