Tag Archives: Hillmorton Junior and Infant School

Scrap Book Project – School Assembly and a Theft

School Assembly, 1966.

In the years 1960 to 1972 going to school was a rather simple and uncomplicated process.  Every day at junior school I would walk to the Hillmorton County Junior and Infants and after we had larked about in the playground we would line up and go to the classroom for register and that completed would line up again and march off to the school hall for Morning Assembly.

Morning Assembly was a daily part of school life and everyone was obliged to attend.  This was easy to enforce, we lived in a village and in theory everyone was Christian so there were no multi-faith issues to concern the teaching staff and no exemptions on moral or religious grounds.

Going to a Christian Assembly was, and still is, the law.  The duty on schools to provide a daily act of Christian worship dates back to 1944 but was strengthened as recently as 1988 in the Education Act of that year and today the Department of Education requires that all maintained schools in England must provide a daily act of collective worship which reflects the traditions of this country.

I used to like Assembly. I liked Bible Stories and Sunday School.  The Headmaster Mr Hicks used to stand up and tell us a story and then we would sing a hymn and say some prayers and then all file out again back to the classroom.  Once a week on a Friday the Reverend Keane from the Hillmorton Chapel would come along and I liked that even more.  I thought Reverend Keane was a really nice man.

Dunsmore school

In 1966 I left the Hillmorton school and went to Dunsmore School for Boys which had exactly the same morning procedure of morning assembly and where the Headmaster Frank Hodgson used to front up the daily gathering.

A couple of years later I fell in with the school mischief pack and we came up with a prank that we thought would be really good fun.   This is what happened: every morning the school had the assembly and as we trooped in to the main hall we would collect a hymn book from a cardboard box and on the way out we were supposed to put it back again. By this time I had lost interest in Assembly and apart from the members of the school Christian Society no one really liked going and some of us hatched a plan to close it down.

The plan was brilliant and simple, if the three of us (me, Michael Cowell  and Simon Howells) didn’t actually return our hymn books each day then eventually there wouldn’t be any to hand out in the first place and that would put an end to Assembly!

Hymn Books

Actually I have now revisited the plot and the thinking behind it and I have to say that it wasn’t that brilliant after all and it was most unlikely to have ever been successful, not least because there must have been something like a thousand hymn books and at the rate of one each per day for the three conspirators this would have taken two complete school years to achieve and during this time someone would have been sure to notice.

Actually they noticed a lot sooner than we gave them credit for and after a week or two, maybe a month, our stash of books was discovered in our desks and we were called to see the headmaster to explain ourselves.  Someone, one of the teachers I expect, must have been snooping in our desks and I am certain that would now be seen as an invasion of privacy and an infringement of our human rights but this was 1968 so none of that liberal tosh applied back then.

He really made a terrible fuss about it and I remember thinking at the time that in my opinion he seemed to be unnecessarily over reacting to what was after all only a silly prank. For a while it was touch and go, mum and dad were called in as well and expulsion seemed on the cards but I put up a decent defence and my punishment was commuted to no worse than six of the best from Frank Hodgson’s garden cane and the sentence was carried out the following day, which gave me time to take the appropriate steps to lessen the pain by wearing triple underpants and thick trousers that morning.

It turned out that at the same time as our hymn book heist quite a lot of other school property was going missing as well and turning up in second hand shops all over the town and the headmaster suspected me of being the criminal mastermind behind the thefts. Most of the school orchestra’s musical instruments went missing and eventually the finger of suspicion turned towards the Welsh music teacher, a nasty aggressive bully called Mick Self, and soon after he was caught and charged he spent some time sewing mailbags at her Majesty’s pleasure at Parkhurst prison on the Isle of Wight.

Great Hymn Book Robbery

Scrap Book Project – School Reports

From 1960 to 1965 I went to the Hillmorton County Junior and Infant School in the village where I lived and three times a year at the end of each term I had the traumatic experience of taking home to my parents a sealed brown envelope which contained the dreaded  ‘school report’.

This was never a happy experience for me because generally speaking my academic progress from one term to the next could only be described as ponderous and disappointing as I plodded my way through junior school towards an inevitable failure in the eleven plus exam.

At Hillmorton County Junior School the Headmaster was Mr (George Edward) Hicks who was a decent sort of chap but he never seemed to take to me and in days when favouritism in the classroom was acceptable I found him to be quite unsupportive and 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.

For slow learners there was no such thing as special educational needs or additional support mechanisms and the class was set out in a Victorianly 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.

School Days Beamish Museum

The reports were handed out by the form teacher and there were strict instructions to take them home without opening them.  I must admit that I was tempted now and again but never had the courage to tear open the envelope that was marked ‘private and confidential’. My friend David Newman used to open his and on one occasion it was so bad that he posted it down a drain at the side of the road.  This wasn’t something he could hope to get away with of course because at the bottom of the report was a perforated line and a tear off slip that parents had to sign and had to be returned to school just so teachers knew that the report had been delivered as instructed.

I would dutifully take mine home and hand it over to mum who would put it somewhere safe ready for dad to open when he got home from work.  There then followed a nervous hour or so waiting for him to come through the door, get changed, sit down and open the envelope.

I knew it was going to be bad, it always was, and a sort of tide of disappointment spread over his face like red wine spilled over a white tablecloth as he read down the single page of comments that confirmed that very little progress had been made again this term.  He never lost his temper or got cross but when he had digested the full horror of this term’s sorry effort I’d be subjected to a lecture on how I needed to work harder (blah, blah, blah), how I had to make more effort (blah, blah, blah), how I needed to think about the eleven plus exam (blah, blah, blah) and how this all was if I didn’t want to work in a factory all my life (blah, blah, blah).

I have often thought that in the interests of fairness that parents should have to bring home a work report for the benefit of their children’s amusement – imagine Prime Minister David Cameron’s…

Arithmetic – Excellent, David’s expenses claims are brilliantly prepared

English – Good grasp of English but tends to be bombastic and rude

Economics – Very weak with little grasp of basic economic principles

Geography – Weak, doesn’t seem to understand the concept of Europe

History – Poor, needs to understand that Britain no longer has an Empire

Science – Obsessive interest in nuclear power

Religious Instruction – Needs to stop picking on religious minorities

Gym – Very poor, needs to get himself in shape

Summary – David needs to pay attention to what other people are saying and to take other people’s views into consideration.  He has a tendency to be confrontational, argumentative and rude.  He can be very stubborn and dismissive of other people.  He needs to address these issues or he may not get re-elected in 2015.

School Lessons

On Friday 20th December 1963 I took home possibly my worst school report ever and I had sunk to my lowest possible pitiful academic level.  In the overall assessment I scored a dismal 10 out of a possible 100 which put me firmly amongst the dunces.  Dad wasn’t too pleased that day I can tell you as he read down a succession of comments that was nothing to be proud of:

English – ‘Andrew is not working hard enough – I expect a more serious effort in January’

Arithmetic – ‘Weak – Very disappointing’

Religious Instruction – ‘Not good enough’

Science – ‘Average’

Geography – ‘Not good enough’

Practical Work – ‘Quite good when he gets down to it’

Music – ‘Little interest shown’

The form teacher’s general report said – The above remarks tell their own story, Andrew has got to work harder’

Hillmorton County School

Luckily I  think he may have read my sister Lindsay’s report first which was always far worse than mine but nevertheless I had some explaining to do that night that’s for sure and I expect going out to play was out of the question that weekend but although it was an awful report there was surely some room for optimism that dad had either missed or overlooked:

Handwriting – ‘Excellent’, so, it wasn’t all bad because although I was a confirmed dunce in all subjects at least I could write quite nicely and this presumably helped the teachers understand just how hopeless I was! I probably wasn’t doing myself any favours there.

Scrap Book Project – The Eleven Plus Exam

The eleven plus exam and secondary education obligations were  introduced in the Education Act of 3rd August 1944.  It was the only significant piece of legislation relating to post-war social reform that was passed by the coalition government during the war years.

When I went to the Hillmorton County School and moved from primary to junior classes in 1962 everything about the curriculum was about preparing children for the eleven-plus exam because this determined what sort of secondary school they would go on to.  Interestingly I don’t remember anyone really adequately explaining this to me at the time and if they had I might just have made a bit more of an effort!   Pass this and you could go to a grammar school like Lawrence Sheriff, fail it and it was off to a secondary modern school like Dunsmore or Fareham which were designed to be more technical than academic.

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 just never seemed to take to me and in days when favouritism in schools 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 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 never made much impact at school and casually ambled through four years of education, three times a year at the end of each term taking home a disappointing school report and enduring a lecture from dad on how I had to work harder because one day I would be taking the eleven-plus exam.

The structure of the eleven-plus exam consisted of three papers:

  • Arithmetic — A mental arithmetic test.
  • Writing — An essay question on a general subject.
  • General Problem Solving — A test of general knowledge, assessing the ability to apply logic to simple problems.

This established a tripartite system of education, with an academic, a technical and a functional strand. Prevailing educational thought at the time was that testing was an effective way to discover to which strand a child was most suited. The results of the exam would be used to match a child’s secondary school to their abilities and future career needs but the exam became a fiercely competitive annual scramble with parents pushing hard for their children to pass the exam and join the elitist group going forward to the stuck-up grammar schools where they could learn Latin and join the chess club whilst leaving the failures to move on to technical drawing and smoking behind the bike-sheds.

And so it came around and 1965 was a mixed year for me when it came to passing exams.  As predicted I failed my eleven-plus in Spring and was sent to secondary school in September in the bottom grade at Dunsmore (or Duncemore in my case) but to compensate for that I did get my Leaping Wolf certificate in the Wolf Cubs and passed my Elementary Test for swimming a whole length of the swimming baths and that was quite something let me tell you, the certificate was signed by the examiner, Mrs Dick, who was a fearsome creature, Councillor Pattinson, the Chairman of the Baths Committee and Jim Duffy, the Town Clerk no less!

More about Academic achievements…

Scrap Book Project – The Annual School Outing (Away Day)

In the 1960s one of the highlights of the school year was going away for the day on the annual school outing.

When I was at junior school at the Hillmorton County school this was usually a simple affair with a trip and a picnic to somewhere fairly close by.  Dovedale in Derbyshire was about the furthest the teachers would venture to take us but it was more usual to stay within the county of Warwickshire and trips would inevitably be to Warwick Castle or Shakespeare’s Stratford-upon-Avon.

I can certainly remember going to Stratford-upon-Avon for the day and visiting Shakespeare’s House on Henley Street in the town centre, Anne Hathaway’s House in Shottery and Mary Arden’s House in nearby Wilmcote.

One special trip from the Hillmorton School was an outing to London and a visit to the Science Museum in South Kensington in about 1964.  I had been to London several times of course because my grandparents lived in Catford and we used to visit and stay there regularly.

The Science Museum has always been one of my favourites.  I liked Stephenson’s Rocket and the replica coal mine, a sort of early interactive experience where we stepped into a dark world of a Welsh mine.  The exhibit may not be there anymore because since all the country’s pits closed in the 1980s you can go down real ones instead.  But my real favourite, and I agree that this is not especially exciting, was an exhibit that explained ploughing and tilling and was in a glass case with three tractors and three different types of plough and when you turned a handle then the whole thing moved and explained the sequence of farming. I was delighted to see that that particular exhibit was actually still there forty years later when I last visited the museum in 2002.

The junior school annual outing was generally a well behaved affair that can’t have been too stressful for the teachers and we would obediently form organised lines and follow them like sheep from place to place as we went through the day.

This was not the case however with school trips at secondary school when the day was a perfect opportunity for mischief and mayhem.

The day started with a lot of pushing and shoving waiting for the coach to arrive because, a bit like the classroom, it was essential to get the back seat and be as far away from the teachers, who inevitably sat at the front, as possible.  When I say coach what I really mean of course is the most ancient and worn out vehicle in the fleet partly because the school would have paid the lowest price possible but mostly because the coach operating company was not going to provide its best vehicles for a bunch of unruly school kids.

On account of the age of the bus and the worn out state of the engine it would take a couple of hours to get to London including a fifteen minute stop at a service station to let the engine cool down and give us an opportunity to run around the car park and for no reason other than we could, to cross the bridge to the other side of the M1.

After we had arrived in the capital we would go to the Tower of London, or Buckingham Palace or to some other sites as part of the formal part of the day.  Once we met the MP for Rugby, William Price, who took us on a tour of the Houses of Parliament.  In the House of Lords he carefully explained that it was absolutely forbidden for a commoner to sit on the red leather chairs so we then spent a few minutes trying to force other kids into the seats in the hope that someone would have their heads chopped off.

After that it was time for lunch so we would parade off to Hyde Park or somewhere similar and eat our sandwiches.  Most of us used to carry our sandwiches and our raincoats in a duffle bag, which was a sort of draw string canvas bag which no self respecting school kid would be seen dead with these days.  They were about forty centimetres deep with soft sides and a rigid round bottom, they were lined with plastic that used to split and break off and around the top were some brass rings where the cord passed through and was tightened to close it.  Even though our sandwiches were in airtight Tupperware dishes they always tasted of chlorine because these were the same bags that we used to take our swimming trunks and towels to the baths for our weekly lessons and it was impossible to get rid of the smell especially after you had left them in there over the weekend.

After lunch it was free time and this was the opportunity to let our hair down. Out of sight of the teachers the first thing we did was to take off our caps and maroon blazers and roll them up into our duffle bags and then we made for the city centre.  Sensible kids did more sightseeing or a bit of shopping but I always hung around with the boys who wanted to misbehave and do silly things.  On one trip I remember that we wasted a whole afternoon by buying a ticket on the underground circle line to the next stop and then going all the way round, again, just because we could and it felt as though we were doing something wrong.

On another occasion, when I was about fifteen, one of my friends, Paul Connor, who was more sexually advanced than most of us, arranged for us to go to Soho because he had heard that it was possible to see live sex shows. He was confident that the way to do this was to go to a dirty book shop and just hang around and then someone would come and ask us if we wanted to go through to the back room.  We did this and we didn’t have to hang about too long at all (probably no more than a few seconds) before a man came and asked us what we were doing there (we were only fifteen and probably had no more than ten shillings each to spend) and Paul told him we wanted to go into the back room.  He told us to follow him and he took us down a corridor and opened the door at the end and ushered us all through – back onto the street!

At five o’clock or thereabouts we had to return to the rendezvous point for the trip home. Someone was always late or worse, lost, which meant thirty minutes of adrenalin filled panic for the teachers but eventually everyone turned up, sometimes accompanied by a police officer and by the time everyone was accounted for it was back on the bus to eat the last of the chlorine sandwiches on the way home.

school-trips-and-feeling-homesick

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 on squeaking hinges.

The picture above is from about fifty years before I went there but it looked very similar in 1960.

The classrooms smelt of furniture polish, dark blue ink and chalk dust and in the long 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.

These pictures are of my grandchildren visiting a similar school at Beamish Village Museum…

School Days Beamish Museum

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.

School washroom facilities

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.

Map of Europe School 1960s

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.

Beamish Museum School

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.

School Milk

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 – Hillmorton Chapel and St. John The Babtist Church

Wesley Road Chapel Hillmorton

When I was a boy I used to like stories from the Bible and  although a lot of the learning bits about going to school I found thoroughly uninteresting and a bit of a chore I did enjoy religious education and especially used to look forward to morning assembly when once a week the Minister from the Methodist Chapel, the Reverend Brian Keene, nearby used to attend and tell a story or two in a short sermon.

Some of my school reports from this time revealed quite stunning results in religious education and at the same time as I was without fail picking up a disappointing sequence of Ds and Es for the important subjects like arithmetic and English I was consistently being awarded As and Bs in religion.  In 1963 I scored an unbeatable 100% in the end of year exams.

Strictly speaking we were a Church of England family but the Parish Church of St. John the Baptist in Hillmorton was in a sorry state of neglect and significant disrepair on account of the fact that the Vicar had little interest in his parish or his congregation because he preferred his drink.  People use to say that you always knew when he was coming because the beer bottles used to rattle in the whicker basket that he had attached to the handlebars of his bike.   He didn’t hold many services in the Church, well, certainly not as many as he was supposed to, and there was definitely no Sunday school.

For this reason I was sent to the Methodist Chapel where the Reverend Keene and the Sunday school teacher Christine Herrington made us feel most welcome.  I liked the Reverend Keene, he was down to earth and amusing and later he used to come to secondary school to teach religious studies and take a weekly assembly there as well.  I remember that he smiled permanently and had a most pleasant disposition that was appropriate to a minister of the church.  One morning in 1969 without any warning the Headmaster announced at morning assembly that following an operation he had died suddenly and I was really sad about that.

I don’t suppose so many children go to Sunday school any more but I used to really enjoy it.  The origin of the Sunday school is attributed to the philanthropist and author Hannah More who opened the first one in 1789 in Cheddar in Somerset and for the next two hundred years parents right across the country must have been grateful to her for getting the kids out of the way on a Sunday morning and giving them some peace and quiet and a chance of a lie in.

In contrast to the Hillmorton County Junior School I seemed to be learning something at Chapel and what’s more I was being really successful.  Every year we used to take an exam, well, more of a little test really, and if you passed there was a colourful certificate with a picture of Jesus and signed by absolutely everyone who was anyone in the Methodist Church hierarchy.  I was awarded a first class pass three years running and even though the school headmaster had written me of as an educational no-hoper I wasn’t in the slightest bit concerned because I was becoming convinced that I was going to be a vicar.

The Wesley Road Chapel is a place with fond memories and I was disappointed and sad when I discovered last year that it no longer functions as a church and was to be demolished and the land sold for housing development and another little piece of my childhood will be swept away by the wrecking ball and the bulldozer.

I had heard it said that people went into the clergy after getting a calling from God and I used to lie awake at night straining out listening for it.  It never came.  I also understood that it might alternatively come as a sign and I used to walk around looking for anything unusual but this never happened either.

One night, some time in 1966, I think God dialed a wrong number and got dad instead because overnight he suddenly got religion in a very big way and we all started going to St John the Baptist which by now had got a new vicar.  His name was Peter Bennett and he was starting to deal with the problems left behind by the previous man who had retired somewhere into an alcoholic stupor.

At twelve years old I was too old for Sunday school and went to church now instead, I was confirmed in 1967 and joined first Pathfinders and then the Christian Youth Fellowship Association or CYFA for short which was (and still is) a national Christian youth club.  The good thing about CYFA was that I got to go away to youth conferences and camps and there were lots of girls there too.

Left to right – Reverend Peter Bennett, ?, Heather Salisbury, Elizabeth Salisbury, ?, Andrew Petcher, Katherine Bennett, ?.

I auditioned for the choir with my friend David Newman but whilst he was accepted on account of the fact that he had a good singing voice I was rejected on account of being tone deaf but to compensate for this disappointment the Vicar appointed me a server which meant that instead of choir boy blue I got to wear a scarlet cassock and had the important job of carrying the cross down the aisle at the beginning of evensong and putting the candles out at the end.

In 1969 there was a new face at the church when the Vicar got a Curate, a sort of assistant, called Haydn Smart and I liked him immediately. He was only about thirty and brought a new youthful dimension to St. John’s.  With Haydn as a role model I became even more convinced that I was destined to a life in Holy Orders.

Reverend Haydn Smart Hillmorton

None of this could last of course and with no sign of the calling, and with dad’s religious fervour waning, my attention began to drift off in other directions such as pop music, girls and woodpecker cider and gradually I just stopped going to Church and to CYFA, left the bell ringing group and all of my scripture exam certificates were put away in an envelope in the family memory box and simply forgotten.

Footnote:

In 2012 I visited the city of Padova in Northern Italy and dropped in to the Basilica of Saint Anthony (A Basilica is technically a double Cathedral because it has two naves) and inside there was a pile of postcards in different languages with an invitation to write to the Saint with a request.  I assume this could be like writing to Jim’ll Fix It Father Christmas or to ask for a cure for a gammy leg or something but I thought that I might use the opportunity to enquire why that elusive call never came?

__________________________________________________

Related Articles:

Mary Jones’ Bible

Hillmorton Chapel and St John The Baptist Church, Hillmorton

Childhood and Religion

Picture Stories From The Bible

The Miracle of the Feeding of the 5,000

_________________________________________________

Scrap Book project – Decimalisation and the end of Pounds, Shillings and Pence

The pre-decimalisation British system of coinage was introduced by King Henry II. It was based on the troy system of weighing precious metals. The penny was literally one pennyweight of silver. A pound sterling thus weighed 240 pennyweights, or a pound of sterling silver.

On 15th February 1971, after five years of planning by the Decimal Currency Board, Britain abandoned this medieval currency system and converted to a much simpler decimal system based on pounds and new pence.

This was much simpler because in the years just prior to decimalisation, the circulating British coins were the half crown (2s 6d), two shillings or florin, shilling, known as a bob, sixpence (6d), the tanner, threepence (3d), thruppenny bit and my favourite pre decimal coin, penny (1d) and halfpenny (½d). The farthing (¼d) being practically worthless had been withdrawn as long ago as 1960.

Under the old currency the pound (denoted by the letter l for libra) was made up of 240 pence (denoted by the letter d for Latin denarius and now referred to as “old pence”), with 12 pence in a shilling and 20 shillings (denoted by s for Latinsolidus) in a pound.

Amounts of money were written as l s d, for pounds, shillings and pence.  5s was 5 shillings, often just written as 5/-. And 5s 6d was 5 shillings and sixpence – and was often, instead, written as 5/6.  In spoken English, the “shilling” word was often missed out – so a shopkeeper might say, “that’ll be 5 and 6, please”, meaning 5 shillings and six pence.

In an era before widespread computer use, monetary calculation, such as adding up sums of money, was more complicated than with a decimal currency.  When I was at primary school between 1959 and 1966 I had to learn arithmetic based on this confusing system and in Mrs Bull’s class three it was time for adding up and taking away and we would sit and chant out the times tables over and over again until we knew them off by heart.  That was boring but useful because I have never forgotten them.  Doing sums was a lot harder then because we were still ten years away from decimalisation and had to add things up in pounds, shillings and pence and that was difficult let me tell you. Try adding this lot together and you will see what I mean:

£4.12.06

£1.15.11

£   19.11½

—————

After decimilisation there was a completely new set of coins to get familiar with.  The 50 pence coin had been introduced in 1969 to replace the paper 10 shilling note and in 1971 we had the 10 pence, 5 pence, 2 pence, 1 pence and ½ pence coins. Between 1969 and 1971 we used to take half crowns into the school metal work shop and file down the edges to convert them to 50 pence pieces in a crude attempt to quadruple their value and then try and pass them off in the sweet shop down the road where the shop keeper had poor eyesight.

To commemorate decimilisation the Royal Mint sold souvenir wallets with each of the new coins and a short explanation.  Mum and dad bought one for me and my sister but I just popped the coins out from the cardboard holder and spent them and then a few days later I spent my sister’s as well and I feel really bad about that now!

The 20 pence piece was introduced in 1982. The half penny was withdrawn from circulation in 1984.  A smaller, lighter 10 pence piece was circulated from 1993 and similar changes were made to the 50 pence in 1998.  In June 1998 the £2 coin came into general circulation.

The answer to the sum is seven pounds, eight shillings and fourpence ha’penny.  I told you it was hard!

School Reports

From 1960 to 1965 I went to the Hillmorton County Junior and Infant School in the village where I lived and three times a year at the end of each term I had the traumatic experience of taking home to my parents a sealed brown envelope which contained the ‘school report’.

This was never a happy experience for me because generally speaking my academic progress from one term to the next could only be described as disappointing as I plodded my way through junior school towards an inevitable failure in the eleven plus exam.

At Hillmorton County Junior School the Headmaster was Mr (George Edward) Hicks who 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 and 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.

For slow learners there was no such thing as special educational needs or additional support mechanisms 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.

The reports were handed out by the form teacher and there were strict instructions to take them home without opening them.  I must admit that I was tempted now and again but never had the courage to tear open the envelope that was marked ‘private and confidential’. My friend David Newman used to open his and on one occasion it was so bad that he posted it down a drain at the side of the road.  This wasn’t something he could hope to get away with of course because at the bottom of the report was a perforated line and a tear off slip that parents had to sign and had to be returned to school just so teachers knew that the report had been delivered as instructed.

I would dutifully take mine home and hand it over to mum who would put it somewhere safe ready for dad to open when he got home from work.  There then followed a nervous hour or so waiting for him to come through the door, get changed, sit down and open the envelope.

I knew it was going to be bad, it always was, and a sort of tide of disappointment spread over his face as he read down the single page of comments that confirmed that no progress had been made again this term.  He never lost his temper or got cross but when he had digested the full horror of this term’s sorry effort I’d be subjected to a lecture on how I needed to work harder (blah, blah, blah), how I had to make more effort (blah, blah, blah), how I needed to think about the eleven plus exam (blah, blah, blah) and how this all was if I didn’t want to work in a factory all my life (blah, blah, blah).

On Friday 20th December 1963 I took home possibly my worst school report ever and I had sunk to my lowest possible academic level.  In the overall assessment I scored a dismal 10 out of a possible 100 which put me firmly amongst the dunces.  Dad wasn’t too pleased that day I can tell you as he read down a succession of comments that was nothing to be proud of:

English – ‘Andrew is not working hard enough – I expect a more serious effort in January’

Arithmetic – ‘Weak – Vey disappointing’

Religious Instruction – ‘Not good enough’

Science – ‘Average’

Geography – ‘Not good enough’

Practical Work – ‘Quite good when he gets down to it’

Music – ‘Little interest shown’

The form teacher’s general report said – The above remarks tell their own story, Andrew has got to work harder’

I had some explaining to do that night and I expect going out to play was out of the question that weekend but although it was an awful report there was surely some room for optimism that dad had either missed or overlooked:

Handwriting – ‘Excellent’, so, it wasn’t all bad because although I was a confirmed dunce in all subjects at least I could write quite nicely and this presumably helped the teachers understand just how hopeless I was! I probably wasn’t doing myself any favours there.

The Eleven Plus Exam

The eleven plus exam and secondary education obligations were  introduced in the Education Act of 3rd August 1944.  It was the only significant piece of legislation relating to post-war social reform that was passed by the coalition government during the war years.

When I went to the Hillmorton County School and moved from primary to junior classes in 1962 everything about the curriculum was about preparing children for the eleven-plus exam because this determined what sort of secondary school they would go on to.  Interestingly I don’t remember anyone really adequately explaining this to me at the time and if they had I might just have made a bit more of an effort!   Pass this and you could go to a grammar school like Lawrence Sheriff, fail it and it was off to a secondary modern school like Dunsmore or Fareham which were designed to be more technical than academic.

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 just never seemed to take to me and in days when favouritism in schools 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 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 never made much impact at school and casually ambled through four years of education, three times a year at the end of each term taking home a disappointing school report and enduring a lecture from dad on how I had to work harder because one day I would be taking the eleven-plus exam.

The structure of the eleven-plus exam consisted of three papers:

  • Arithmetic — A mental arithmetic test.
  • Writing — An essay question on a general subject.
  • General Problem Solving — A test of general knowledge, assessing the ability to apply logic to simple problems.

This established a tripartite system of education, with an academic, a technical and a functional strand. Prevailing educational thought at the time was that testing was an effective way to discover to which strand a child was most suited. The results of the exam would be used to match a child’s secondary school to their abilities and future career needs but the exam became a fiercely competitive annual scramble with parents pushing hard for their children to pass the exam and join the elitist group going forward to the stuck-up grammar schools where they could learn Latin and join the chess club whilst leaving the failures to move on to technical drawing and smoking behind the bike-sheds.

And so it came around and 1965 was a mixed year for me when it came to passing exams.  As predicted I failed my eleven-plus in Spring and was sent to secondary school in September in the bottom grade at Dunsmore (or Duncemore in my case) but to compensate for that I did get my Leaping Wolf certificate in the Wolf Cubs and passed my Elementary Test for swimming a whole length of the swimming baths and that was quite something let me tell you, the certificate was signed by the examiner, Mrs Dick, who was a fearsome creature, Councillor Pattinson, the Chairman of the Baths Committee and Jim Duffy, the Town Clerk no less!

More about Academic achievements…

The Annual School Outing

In the 1960s one of the highlights of the school year was going away for the day on the annual school outing.

When I was at junior school at the Hillmorton County school this was usually a simple affair with a trip and a picnic to somewhere fairly close by.  Dovedale in Derbyshire was about the furthest the teachers would venture to take us but it was more usual to stay within the county of Warwickshire and trips would inevitably be to Warwick Castle or Shakespeare’s Stratford-upon-Avon.

I can certainly remember going to Stratford-upon-Avon for the day and visiting Shakespeare’s House on Henley Street in the town centre, Anne Hathaway’s House in Shottery and Mary Arden’s House in nearby Wilmcote.

One special trip from the Hillmorton School was an outing to London and a visit to the Science Museum in South Kensington in about 1964.  I had been to London several times of course because my grandparents lived in Catford and we used to visit and stay there regularly.

The Science Museum opened on 26th June 1909 and ever since my first visit it has always been one of my favourites.  I liked Stephenson’s Rocket and the replica coal mine, a sort of early interactive experience where we stepped into a dark world of a Welsh mine.  The exhibit may not be there anymore because since all the country’s pits closed in the 1980s you can go down real ones instead.  But my real favourite, and I agree that this is not especially exciting, was an exhibit that explained ploughing and tilling and was in a glass case with three tractors and three different types of plough and when you turned a handle then the whole thing moved and explained the sequence of farming. I was delighted to see that that particular exhibit was actually still there forty years later when I last visited the museum in 2002.

The junior school annual outing was generally a well behaved affair that can’t have been too stressful for the teachers and we would obediently form organised lines and follow them like sheep from place to place as we went through the day.

This was not the case however with school trips at secondary school when the day was a perfect opportunity for mischief and mayhem.

The day started with a lot of pushing and shoving waiting for the coach to arrive because, a bit like the classroom, it was essential to get the back seat and be as far away from the teachers, who inevitably sat at the front, as possible.  When I say coach what I really mean of course is the most ancient and worn out vehicle in the fleet partly because the school would have paid the lowest price possible but mostly because the coach operating company was not going to provide its best vehicles for a bunch of unruly school kids.

On account of the age of the bus and the worn out state of the engine it would take a couple of hours to get to London including a fifteen minute stop at a service station to let the engine cool down and give us an opportunity to run around the car park and for no reason other than we could, to cross the bridge to the other side of the M1.

After we had arrived in the capital we would go to the Tower of London, or Buckingham Palace or to some other sites as part of the formal part of the day.  Once we met the MP for Rugby, William Price, who took us on a tour of the Houses of Parliament.  In the House of Lords he carefully explained that it was absolutely forbidden for a commoner to sit on the red leather chairs so we then spent a few minutes trying to force other kids into the seats in the hope that someone would have their heads chopped off.

After that it was time for lunch so we would parade off to Hyde Park or somewhere similar and eat our sandwiches.  Most of us used to carry our sandwiches and our raincoats in a duffle bag, which was a sort of draw string canvas bag which no self respecting school kid would be seen dead with these days.  They were about forty centimetres deep with soft sides and a rigid round bottom, they were lined with plastic that used to split and break off and around the top were some brass rings where the cord passed through and was tightened to close it.  Even though our sandwiches were in airtight Tupperware dishes they always tasted of chlorine because these were the same bags that we used to take our swimming trunks and towels to the baths for our weekly lessons and it was impossible to get rid of the smell especially after you had left them in there over the weekend.

After lunch it was free time and this was the opportunity to let our hair down. Out of sight of the teachers the first thing we did was to take off our caps and maroon blazers and roll them up into our duffle bags and then we made for the city centre.  Sensible kids did more sightseeing or a bit of shopping but I always hung around with the boys who wanted to misbehave and do silly things.  On one trip I remember that we wasted a whole afternoon by buying a ticket on the underground circle line to the next stop and then going all the way round, again, just because we could and it felt as though we were doing something wrong.

On another occasion, when I was about fifteen, one of my friends, Paul Connor, who was more sexually advanced than most of us, arranged for us to go to Soho because he had heard that it was possible to see live sex shows. He was confident that the way to do this was to go to a dirty book shop and just hang around and then someone would come and ask us if we wanted to go through to the back room.  We did this and we didn’t have to hang about too long at all (probably no more than a few seconds) before a man came and asked us what we were doing there (we were only fifteen and probably had no more than ten shillings each to spend) and Paul told him we wanted to go into the back room.  He told us to follow him and he took us down a corridor and opened the door at the end and ushered us all through – back onto the street!

At five o’clock or thereabouts we had to return to the rendezvous point for the trip home. Someone was always late or worse, lost, which meant thirty minutes of adrenalin filled panic for the teachers but eventually everyone turned up, sometimes accompanied by a police officer and by the time everyone was accounted for it was back on the bus to eat the last of the chlorine sandwiches on the way home.

school-trips-and-feeling-homesick