Scrap Book Project – Hillmorton County Junior and Infants School

The Hillmorton County Junior School was an old Victorian building with high ceilings that soared into the sky and partitioned classrooms with rows of old fashioned wooden desks with years of scratched graffiti  and attached lift up seats.

The classrooms smelt of furniture polish, dark blue ink and chalk dust and the in the corridors there was an ever present odour of carbolic soap seeping out from under the wash room doors.  There were two entrances, one said boys and the other girls but these were from a previous time when the sexes were carefully kept apart.  This was no longer the case by 1960 and with segregation a thing of the past we were free to choose whichever was the most convenient.

I rather liked going to school!  The day started as early as possible with a bit of a play on the way there and then there was fifteen minutes of activity in the playground behind the building, two playgrounds one for the infants and one for the juniors.  At the back of the playground were the outside toilets with no roof and completely exposed to the elements.  I think it is possible that the girls had inside facilities, I can’t remember, but for the boys it was the most primitive of arrangements.

After the whistle blew we lined up and took it in turns to march inside to hang our coats and bags in the cloakroom.  In winter there were several rows of identical duffel coats with gloves on strings dangling through the empty sleeves and underneath in neat rows, wellington boots with puddles of water seeping from the compacted ice in the soles that was melting and spreading over the red, cracked quarry tiled floor.

The Headmaster was Mr (George Edward) Hicks and he generally led an assembly with a hymn and a prayer and a short address.  He was a decent sort of chap but he never seemed to take to me and in days when favouritism was acceptable I found him to be quite unsupportive.  I just enjoyed being at school, especially the play times, and wasn’t terribly bothered about the learning bits in between so I think he wrote me off at an early stage as being a bit of a no-hoper and advised my parents to buy me a pair of clogs and prepare me for a long dull working life in a factory, as he was certain that I was destined to be one of life’s academic failures.

I met him years later when he came knocking on the door collecting for the RNLI and I think he was genuinely shocked when I told him that I had been to University and had a nice office job with good prospects at the Council.

For slow learners there was no such thing as special educational needs, classroom assistants or additional support mechanisms of course and the class was set out in a strict hierarchy with the fast learning favourites at the front getting all of the attention and the dimwits at the back making table mats out of raffia.  I suppose I would have found myself about two thirds back from the blackboard.  I was a late developer!

I can remember two other teachers, first there was Mrs Bull who taught year three and had a ferocious look that made our knees knock with fear and then Miss Roberts who taught year four and was a bit of a pin-up who made our legs turn to blancmange when she looked our way.  Oh and Mr Etherington, who always had a cold sore and a drip on the end of his nose, I think he took the top class in juniors but I can’t be sure.

After morning lessons there was break time with more play and a bottle of milk for every pupil courtesy of the County Council.  The 1946 School Milk Act had required the issue of a third of a pint of milk to all school children under eighteen and this was a nice thought if not always a pleasant experience.  In the summer it stood outside in the sun and it was warm and thick because this was full cream milk, not the semi-skimmed coloured water that we have today, and in the winter it had a tendency to freeze and pop through the foil cap in an arctic lump that had to be sucked away before you reached the semi-liquid slime underneath.  No one knew about lactose intolerance in those days and it was compulsory for everyone and there were always teachers on hand to make sure that everyone finished their drink of milk whether it made them ill or not.

More late morning lessons then lunch break with a quick dash home for lunch and return as quickly as possible for more recreation in the playground.  Afternoon lessons and then it was soon all over and we were released onto the streets to make our way home.  Outside the school at the end of the day there were no rows of cars clogging up the streets because everyone walked to school in those days.  And we weren’t kept inside, in a state of paranoia until we were collected either.  There was no need to worry, you see, children knew instinctively to keep away from the strange people in the village and there were not nearly so many cars on the road at that time to knock us over.

The friendly little Hillmorton County Junior and Infant School was demolished sometime in the 1970’s and a featureless replacement was built at the top of Watt’s Lane.  They built some houses on the site and my sister Lindsay lived in one for a while which surprised us all on account of her previous history of serious allergic reaction to anything to do with being anywhere near a school building.

Scrap Book Project – Noah’s Ark

When I was a young boy I used to like bible stories and when I was quite young my parents gave me a book called ‘Picture Stories From The Bible’.  It was appropriately heavy with a burgundy cover with its title in gold letters and inside it contained water colour comic strip style stories of the scriptures.  God was depicted as a booming voice from heaven, angels would swoop about in the sky and occasionally descend to earth to give helpful advice or deliver messages and the stories were full of sagely old men with kind faces, white beards and flowing robes.

  

I read the stories over and over again, for me some of the best were David and the slaying of Goliath, Moses and the parting of the Red Sea and then, there was Samson who used his tremendous strength to defeat his enemies and perform other heroic feats such as wrestling a lion, killing an entire army with nothing more than a donkey’s jawbone, and tearing down an entire building with his bare hands.

At the time my favourite was always the story of Noah and his Ark and I can remember being slightly sceptical to read that he allegedly lived until he was nine hundred and fifty years old which even at seven years old seemed a bit farfetched to me.  Adam, the first man, did nearly as well but only lived until he was nine hundred and thirty.

My favourite story about Noah now however, is not the Ark, but the fact that after the great flood he settled down and became a farmer, experimented by planting some vines and invented wine.  We should all be eternally grateful to him for that!

Inside the front cover, on the copyright page it says that the book was produced in 1943 and was the work of M C Gaines and was published by Bible Pictures Incorporated Ltd of East Street, Oadby, Leicester.  It turns out that this was in fact an American publication and that Maxwell Charles Gaines was a pioneering figure in the creation of the modern comic book. He was co-publisher of All-American Publications, a comic-book company that introduced fictional characters as Green Lantern, Wonder Woman and Hawkman. He went on to found Educational Comics and reproductions of the classics in picture format and ‘Picture Stories from the Bible’ was a collection of individual comic style weeklies.

The Old Testament and the New Testament were sold as separate books but my volume has them both in the same book.  I imagined that it might be rare and valuable but research shows that there are a lot of them for sale on ebay and other auction sites so sadly I am not going to make my fortune by selling it!

M C Gaines died in a motorboat accident on Lake Placid on 20th August 1947.

If you like Bible Stories then take a look at this:

The Miracle of the Feeding of the Five Thousand

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Related Articles:

Mary Jones’ Bible

Hillmorton Chapel and St John The Baptist Church, Hillmorton

Childhood and Religion

Picture Stories From The Bible

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Scrap Book Project – Ivan Petcher

March 27th is a very special day to me because in 1932 that was the day that my dad, Ivan Petcher was born.  I don’t know anything about his childhood of course and there is no one to give me any clues so my story fast-forwards to 1947 and the year he met my mum.

From the way dad used to talk about being a teenager I have always imagined the post war years to be an almost idyllic existence, Enid Blyton sort of days with long hot summers, blue skies, bike rides, ripping-yarn adventures and picnics, where young people were polite and had good manners and didn’t spend their evenings hanging around Tesco Express with a bottle of cider, frightening the old folk and no one had heard of the concept of anti-social behaviour.

These were surely days of optimism with a country led by a Labour Government that had been elected in the summer of 1945 with a landslide majority and a promise to make everything better and which had embarked on a radical programme of nationalisation including coalmining, electricity supply and railways.

These were the days of the new National Health Service and the Welfare State all based on the optimistic principles of socialism.  And to add to all this good news the United States announced the Marshall Plan to pay for the reconstruction of Europe and that meant over three billion dollars was on the way to the United Kingdom to rebuild its bombed-out cities and its shattered economy.

This was the year of the inauguration of the United Nations which meant peace for ever more and the year that Princess Elizabeth married Prince Mountbatten.

Life was not so idyllic however in the big cities just after the war so I suppose it was nice to have a holiday and that summer mum left London for a few days with a friend in Rushden in Northamptonshire and at some point during that week she met my dad.  He was sixteen but looked younger, he hadn’t finished growing so was still quite small, his nickname was Pid as in little piddy widdy, and he he had boyish face and an impish grin with piercing cobalt blue eyes and a distinctive hairstyle with a fringe that flopped over his forehead in a Hugh Grant sort of way.

He obviously made an immediate impact on the young girl visiting from London and they spent the next sixty years together.

Not straight away of course because his new girlfriend had to go back to London to finish school and here is something else that I find absolutely charming.  These were days before mobile phones, skype and instant messaging, even before regular telephones so the only way they had of keeping in touch and keeping the romance going was by sending each other letters and photographs.

They kept this up for three years before dad was called up for national service in the RAF and he moved to London where he stayed until they married in 1953.

In 1948 dad left school and went to work for his father in the family business, a grocery store in Rushden, but they sold that sometime at the end of the decade and they all moved to Leicester and dad got his first proper job at Jessops.  I don’t know how much he earned, it couldn’t have been a lot, but from photographs it would seem that he spent quite a lot of it on clothes and he was always a smart, well turned out young man with an impressive wardrobe.

The picture above was taken in 1947 and his clothes look a bit shabby and worn through and they are in total contrast to the one below taken two years later on holiday in Skegness.  It’s a bit of a surprise to me because I don’t remember him being particularly interested in clothes and he would make most things last much longer than they could be reasonably expected to but for a couple of years in the late 1940s he obviously cared a lot about his clothes and his appearance.  Or perhaps, judging by how much he had grown in two years, replacement clothes were a regular necessity during that time.

I like this picture, dad was eighteen and looks smart, self assured and full of confidence, mum was sixteen and looks really happy to be with this really special man.

 

Scrapbook Project – Gardening

Gardening is a life skill that it is a pleasure to pass down through the generations.

My dad used to love being in the garden and at weekends he would put on his working clothes (burgundy check shirt and courdoroy trousers) and his worn out old gardening boots, which I think may well have been his National Service issue boots and toil away for hours, mowing the lawn with an old Qualcast push mower, tidying up the flower beds and borders and most of all looking after the vegetable plot at the bottom of the garden.  There were always a couple of rows of potatoes that needed earthing up, cabbages that needed to be inspected for cabbage white caterpillars and some rows of beans that needed tieing in.

Gardening Seeds Growing Sowing

One of the nice things about this was that while he did this he encouraged me to help and passed on his knowledge and his tips – always sow runner beans on June 6th is one that always sticks in my mind for some reason.  To encourage my interest he would let me have the responsibility of looking after the easiest plants, the lettuce and the radish, those that could be relied upon to germinate quickly and to grow without too much trouble or the need for constant attention.

In my turn I taught my own children about seeds and plants and gardening and growing fresh vegetables so I was delighted this week when my daughter sent me this picture of my granddaughter looking after her seedlings in a way that I can remember doing myself under the supervision of my dad.

International Women’s Day

On a visit to Riga and the Hotel Latvia in March in addition to enjoying the Skyline cocktail bar we decided to eat there as well.

The food was excellent and there was a reasonably priced self-service buffet but what was especially good about his meal was that it happened to coincide with ‘International Woman’s Day’ and there were free cocktails for all of us and flowers for the girls.

To be honest I had never heard of ‘International Woman’s Day’ before, it certainly isn’t that big in the United Kingdom, and to be honest I have to say that I thought it was a bit odd to have it on a Saturday, which is a day really reserved for sport, but it turns out that this was just an unhappy coincidence because IWD is held every year on March 8th and is a day of day of global celebration for the economic, political and social achievements of women around the world.

It all started in New York when in 1908 fifteen thousand women marched through New York City demanding shorter hours, better pay and voting rights.

Then, in 1917, with two million soldiers dead in the war, Russian women chose the last Sunday in February to strike for ‘bread and peace’. This turned out to be hugely significant and a contribution to the overthrow of the Romanovs and four days later the Czar was forced to abdicate and the provisional Government granted women the right to vote.  That historic Sunday fell on 23rd February on the Julian calendar, then in use in Russia, but on 8th March on the Gregorian calendar that was in use elsewhere.

It has since become very important in Eastern Europe after a 1965 decree of the USSR Presidium that International Women’s Day was declared as a non working day in the USSR “in commemoration of outstanding merits of the Soviet women in communistic construction, in the defense of their Motherland during the Great Patriotic War, their heroism and selflessness at the front and in rear, and also marking the big contribution of women to strengthening friendship between peoples and struggle for the peace.”

Another interesting thing is that although Latvia doesn’t care to remember or celebrate much about the Russian occupation they seem happy enough to continue with this day off from work arrangement.

In these days of equality it is important to be fair of course and I am pleased to say that ‘International Men’s Day’ is an international holiday, celebrated on the first Saturday of November.  It was first suggested by Mikhail Gorbachev in 1999 and was supported fully by the United Nations.

Scrap Book Project – Fishing

These days I can’t really understand the point of catching fish but I used to go fishing for about three years between ten and thirteen years old.  I had a three piece rod, two parts cane and the third part sky blue fibreglass with a spinning reel which, to be honest, I never really got the hang of, a wicker basket, a plastic box for my various floats and miscellaneous bait boxes for bread, cheese, garden worms, maggots and ground bait.

Fishing was generally quite boring but one day became quite lively when my friend Colin Barratt (who was forbidden by his parents to go to the canal on account of not being able to swim) fell in while struggling to land a four-ounce Perch with a home made rod and line.

He had turned up just as we were about to go to the canal so we made him a rod from a garden cane with a bit of string and a nylon line and hook and persuaded him, against his better judgement, join us.  One minute he was standing on the towpath with his garden cane rod and bit of string and there was an almighty splash and Colin was thrashing about in the water, spluttering and gasping and generally struggling for his life.  Between us we dragged him out without having to jump in ourselves and took him home and left him dripping and bedraggled on the doorstep.  We didn’t see him again for about three months after that but to make him feel better we told him that it was a monster Pike that had pulled him in.

This story was not all childhood fantasy I have to say and had some dubious foundation in fact because there was always a story that there was a big fish lurking in the reeds on the opposite bank to the towpath that was alleged to be a trophy pike which is a rather big fish that can live for thirty years and grow to over thirty pounds in weight – always supposing that no one is going to drag it out of the water on the end of a fishing line that is.

We never really caught very much, a few greedy perch, the odd roach and loads and loads of gudgeon but there was never enough for a good meal.  Sometimes if we were fishing too close to the bottom we would bring up a crayfish and the only sensible thing to do was to cut the line and throw it back, hook and all.

Actually by the time I was thirteen I had tired of fishing in the same way that I had tired of Boy Scouts and Saturday morning cinema because by this time I had discovered girls and the only good thing about the canal towpath after that was that it was a good place for snogging.  I didn’t really like catching fish at all, I thought it was cruel, so used to dangle a hook in the water with no bait attached while I concentrated on adolescent activities.

Water always had a special attraction and when we weren’t messing about on the canal there was always Sprick Brook where we used to fish for minnows and red-breasted Sticklebacks and take them home in jam-jars in the days before goldfish.  Sprick brook ran under the railway bridge on Hillmorton Lane and was just the sort of place where you could have an accident and no one would find you for days until someone organised a search party.

I still find fishing completely pointless and I am always amused by people who have twelve foot rods and sit on one side of the river and I always want to ask them why they don’t just get a shorter one and go and sit on the opposite bank?

Maybe it is because fish are just too smart.  One time in Portugal at the  the ancient town of Ponte de Lima I walked across a bridge that crosses the River Lima into the town and watched some men optimistically trying to catch the huge carp that we could see clearly swimming in the water below and teasing the optimistic fishermen on the bridge above.  They were big fish and had been around a long time so I don’t think they were going to get caught that afternoon.  If it was a pike that pulled Colin into the canal that afternoon I like to think it knew exactly what it was doing!

Scrap Book Project – Shopping and Home Delivery

Rugby Town shopping

Shopping was completely different fifty years ago and wasn’t nearly as easy as it is today when one single car trip to the out of town supermarket  once a week is all that is needed to complete a full shop.

For a start we didn’t have a car so it really wasn’t possible to transport all of the weekly shopping home in one go.  On market day mum would catch the Midland Red R76 into town to buy fresh vegetables and then later in the week she would go into town again to go to the butchers and the International Stores which until Fine Fare arrived was the only big food store in town.

She had to go shopping twice a week for the simple reason that we didn’t have a fridge so keeping food fresh was a bit of a problem, especially in the summer.  If she forgot something or needed it urgently there was Verdigan’s (later Winter’s) village shop on Lower Street in the village and a couple of times a week Mr Tucson’s mobile shop used to call by.

mobile shop

This is obviously not Mr Tuscon – but you will get the general idea!

Mr Tucson’s mobile shop had a very distinctive earthy smell of decaying vegetables - especially potatoes I seem to recall which was especially strong in the summer.  He didn’t have a lot of stock on board, some boxes of wilting salad and vegetables, dusty boxes of cereal, some rusting tins of soup, spam, corned beef  and baked beans and a rack of 1960s teeth destroying sugary sweets.

The old clapped-out converted coach would pull up in the street and announce its arrival with several lusty blasts of the horn and then Mr Tuscon in his brown overall would stop the engine and move from the driver’s seat to the formica topped counter with a meat slicer and a set of shiny scales and assorted metal weights and wait a few moments for the customers to arrive.

I used to like Mr Tuscon’s mobile shop, I used to go to school with his daughter, Janice and I often wondered if she would one day grow up and take over the business.  Also in my class at school was my friend Dave Clark (not the one from the Dave Clark Five) and his dad had the best shop in Rugby at the top of Railway Terrace and was a sort of Marrakech souk where you could buy all sorts of useful household items.

Clarks - Railway Terrace

Mr Tuscon wasn’t the only delivery man who dropped by of course because getting things delivered was much more common in the 1960s.  I know that I can get things delivered direct from practically anyone these days but it really isn’t the same.

Newspapers for example. In the late 1960s  I had my first paper round and earned fifteen shillings (.75p) a week in return for getting up at six o’clock, six days a week, whatever the weather to lug a bag of newspapers around the village before going to school.  The papers were carried in a big canvas bag and as I was only small the newsagent had to tie a knot in the strap so that it didn’t drag on the floor.  I would be surprised if paper rounds exist anymore because to deliver to fifty houses or so would need a dumper truck to replace the old canvas bag on account of the size of the newspapers and the weight of all of the colour supplements.

paper round

This is obviously not me either – If I had had a mobile phone or a digital camera in 1966 then I would have taken a ‘selfie’.

The milk arrived on the doorstep early in the morning by Anderson’s Dairy who delivered the milk and the cream and the eggs in an electric float that purred around the streets in a sort of considerate way that didn’t wake every one up given the early hours of working.  You didn’t see the milkman except for once a week when he called on Friday night to collect the money and I was always fascinated by his leather wallet in which he stuck any notes, turned it inside out and it rearranged them by denominations as if by magic.  I have got one of those wallets now but I still can’t figure out exactly how it works.

The baker came by in the Sunblest van a couple of times a week with bread and cakes in a huge wicker basket and once a week the mobile fishmonger from Grimsby called by.  The Corona pop man would call every other week and leave lemonade, cherryade and orangeade and sometimes ginger beer, cream soda or dandelion and burdock.  There was never any Coke or Pepsi but I remember that he once started bringing Root Beer but I don’t think it proved very popular because in the UK we have never acquired a taste for this American favourite.  I didn’t like it that’s for sure and I still don’t.

A couple of times a year there was a delivery from the coalman in his leather jacket, flat cap and blackened face and he always seemed rather satanic and sinister to me so I generally kept well away.  Later the mobile chippy used to call down our road but I always thought that was rather dangerous, driving around the streets with a vat of boiling fat sloshing about as it drove round corners or made emergency stops!

What made me suddenly think of all this? Well, I am sitting in waiting for the postman to deliver me a couple of books that I have ordered from Amazon and I suddenly remembered that when I was a boy the postman used to deliver twice a day, once early morning and then a second time in the afternoon.  This was good at birthdays because if an expected card with two and six in it didn’t arrive in the morning then there was always a good chance that it would turn up later when some skinflint had only used the cheaper postal service for unsealed envelopes.

You don’t get service like that any more, sometime in the 1960s Mr Tuscon stopped coming along with the baker and the Grimsby fishmonger, people got gas central heating and didn’t need coal and milk became cheaper by the gallon in the supermarkets than in the pint glass bottles  and quite soon after that everyone got cars to go into town to shop and had fridges and freezers so only had to go shopping once a week.

Pop Delivery Lorry