Tag Archives: Hillmorton Junior and Infant School

Hillmorton County Junior and Infants School

The Hillmorton County Junior School was an old Victorian building with high ceilings and partitioned classrooms with rows of old fashioned wooden desks and attached lift up seats. The classrooms smelt of furniture polish and chalk dust and the in the corridors there was an ever present odour of carbolic soap seeping out from under the washroom 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 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 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 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 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.

Decimilisation 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 Latin solidus) 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!

A Life in a Year – 20th December, 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’d 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.

A Life in a Year – 15th August, Academic Achievements

When I was a boy I rather liked going to school even though for many years my academic achievements were quite poor.

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.  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 eleven-plus 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.  Sure enough in 1965, as predicted I failed my eleven-plus in Spring and was sent to secondary school in September in the bottom grade at Dunsmore School for Boys (now Ashlawn School).  For me, life at secondary school didn’t get off to a brilliant start and in my first year I was in form D.  To put that into perspective that is form D out of A to D; A and B were grammar streams, C were the hopefuls or maybes and D were the hopeless and the write-offs.  A and B studied Latin and Grammar and joined the chess club and D did metal work and wood work and smoked Players No. 6 behind the bike sheds.

Just as at junior school I was hopelessly misunderstood by the teachers so these were not happy days.  I fell in with the back of the class trouble makers and consequently made zero progress in my first full year and was doing best in report book entries and detentions.  I’m afraid I just didn’t find school very stimulating and I was about to set out on frittering away what might otherwise have been five productive years.  I wouldn’t say that I didn’t enjoy school, just that I found it a bit of an inconvenience.  Not as bad as my sister Lindsay however who when she was fourteen went down with the longest recorded case of tonsillitis in medical history and stayed off school for eighteen months until they told her not to bother going back.

I managed to make my way through nearly five years without making much improvement and then sometime in 1970 the penny dropped and I suddenly started to do a bit of work.  In June I sat nine ‘o’ level exams and passed six (failing all of the science papers) which was a bit of a shock for just about everyone.  Not particularly wanting to go to work at this stage and much to the irritation of the headmaster, Frank Hodgson, I exercised an option to stay at school and go into the sixth form to study ‘A’ Levels.

I was on a roll now and the Maths teacher, Mr Wilson, was even determined that I would pass my maths exams so I had another couple of attempts at ‘o’ level before he had to admit defeat and I took the alternative CSE exam which I passed at grade 1, an ‘o’ level equivalent.

It was a complete turnaround in approach to school and learning and soon I became determined to go to University which meant I had to pass all three ‘A’ levels with good results.  I took the exams in June 1972 and on 15th August received the results, I had passed them all, B,C,C which meant that later that year I would be off to Cardiff University and work was postponed for another three years.

Mum and dad burnt the clogs!

A Life in a Year – 3rd August, 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! 

A Life in a Year – 26th June, 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

A Life in a Year – 21st May, Hillmorton County Junior and Infants School

The Hillmorton County Junior School was an old Victorian building with high ceilings and partitioned classrooms with rows of old fashioned wooden desks and attached lift up seats. The classrooms smelt of furniture polish and chalk dust and the in the corridors there was an ever present odour of carbolic soap seeping out from under the washroom 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 of course and with segregation a thing of the past we were free to choose 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 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 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 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.

More late morning lessons then lunch break with a quick dash home 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.

This picture was taken on 21st May 1965 in the school play ground to celebrate an RNLI fund raising day at the school.

A Life in a Year – 15th February, Decimalisation and the end of £.s.d.

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 new 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 Latin solidus) 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 four pence ha’penny.  I told you it was hard!

A Life in a Year – 21st January, School Sports

Generally speaking, when I was a boy I used to like playing sport, especially football and cricket even though I was never especially good at either.  At school, when we were lined up against the wall and team captains made their selections I suppose, generally speaking,  I would be in the second wave of call ups in between those who were considered to be the best (those who everyone wanted on their team) and those who were completely hopeless and were avoided like the plague.  I suppose you would describe me as average, as with everything else in life.

School sport at Hillmorton County Junior School was really just about having a bit of fun, P.E. in the playground, a gentle game of rounders and French cricket at the nearby recreation ground and the annual Sports Day at the end of each Summer Term.

But in 1965 when I left the Junior School and went to secondary education at Dunsmore (now Ashlawn School) all of this changed and the whole thing took on a new dimension and became altogether more competitive and serious.  Dunsmore was a school that was proud of its sporting pedigree and achievements and expected all of the pupils to play a full and active part.  Because I was going to school in Rugby this meant Rugby Football and this was a whole new terrifying experience for me.

Before turning up on day one in September some during the summer holiday I had to be kitted out with the new school uniform and all of the appropriate new sports kit from the school outfitters, J M Squires at their shop in Sheep Street in the town.  The claret and blue reversible rugby shirt was made of a heavy cotton, the navy blue shorts were baggy and voluminous and the socks were too big and itchy.  To complete the kit there was a big pair of old fashioned ankle length boots made of stiff leather with nasty cork studs nailed into the sole. As well as the winter sports kit we had to have P.E. kit of sky blue doublet, white shorts, ankle socks and white plimsols.

First year sports afternoon was on Friday and so at the end of the first week I packed all of my kit into my duffel bag and looked forward to being on the playing field.  Naturally I was a bit apprehensive because although I had never played rugby before, or ‘rugger’ as people used to call it (presumably to differentiate it from the place) I knew that it had a reputation for being a bit rough and some of the other boys were considerably bigger than me.

The changing rooms were at the back of the playground and smelt permanently of stale sweat and carbolic soap.  They were functional and stark with rows of pegs for our clothes and wire baskets for our shoes, no lockers in those days and any valuables had to be handed in for safe keeping.  As soon as we were changed and ready we were required to line up for a kit inspection before being released through the blue double swing doors and out onto the playing field.

For the very first lesson we were given some basic instructions about the rules of the game and the general principles involved.  Not all the rules of course because there are a lot of them and they are quite complicated and then the games master, Wynn Morris, split us up according to size and his judgment on whether we would make rugby players or not.  Morris was a rugby fanatic and walked and talked with an arrogant swagger that struck fear into us boys.  It must have been obvious to him that I was most unsuitable for the scrum and with little spindly legs he probably didn’t think I had the pace for the wings so I was in the group of potential scrum halves, that’s the poor chap who puts the ball in the scrum and then gets jumped on the minute it comes back out again.

After about thirty seconds I knew that rugby football wasn’t my thing but for the entire first term until Christmas every Friday afternoon was a miserable two hours of being bellowed at by Wynn Morris and being tried in a succession of different positions to see if we could find one that was suitable for my non existent talent for the game.  I hated it and as the winter wore on it got colder and wetter and muddier and when it got colder and wetter and muddier the kit quadrupled in weight and I barely had the strength to lug it around the field without the added burden of picking up an odd shaped ball and running with it.  Finally however, after what seemed an eternity, the whistle would thankfully blow and it was all over and there was a mad undignified dash for the warmth of the changing room and the communal hot shower.

When we returned to school in January 1966 we all changed and trooped out as normal but today there was a surprise because Morris called all the first years together and amazed us with the question, ‘right, hands up all the boys who want to play soccer?’ (it works best if you can do this with a thick Welsh accent and say the word ‘soccer’ with a distinct sneer of disapproval for such a pansy game); of course a forest of arms went up into the air and he looked scornfully at us all and said, ‘right, all the boys who want to play soccer, go and stand over there’ and he dispatched us contemptuously to the touch line.

There was real exhilaration and anticipation about this development because at least it seemed certain that we would be playing our preferred choice of Association Football.  This excitement started to wither away however as we were kept waiting on the touch line while Morris spent half an hour or so with the rugby boys as he prepared them for the afternoon’s sport.  This was completely deliberate of course because it was cold and wet and we just stood around getting damp and miserable.  It was obviously a well rehearsed routine that he would stage every year and I bet all of the other teachers knew about it and were probably watching from the staff room window and pissing themselves laughing.

Finally the rugby match got under way and Morris strutted over to us with an evil leer on his face and things were about to go from bad to worse. ‘Right’, he said, he always started a sentence that way ‘all you boys who want to play soccer (pause for effect) ‘you’re going on a cross country run…’

And so in full rugby kit and football boots we were sent for a couple of laps of the field and then through a succession of farmer’s muddy fields, along the Grand Union canal tow path and back to school along the Kilsby Road. I had never been on a cross country run before and found the going quite tough at first but gradually I started to pull ahead of most of the others and I started to enjoy it.  I finished in the top six and decided that cross country was a whole lot better than getting roughed up on the rugby field and the following week elected to do it by choice.  This meant different kit of course more appropriate to running and a pair of suitable running shoes and no doubt my parents were delighted by another trip to J M Squires and the additional expense.

It was worth it however because finally I had found something (apart from Religious Education that is) that I was actually good at and fairly soon I was in the under 13 school team and every weekend representing Dunsmore in inter school races.  Actually we had a brilliant team and in 1968/9 the under 15 we had an exceptional season and the school magazine for that year reported:

‘The U15 team yet again had a very successful season winning the Town Championships, the Newbold Road Relay and as usual all their league matches, thus once again retaining the League Shield.’

I was so good at cross country running that I even went on with a couple of the other boys to represent Rugby Town in County and District events and the best thing about that was that I never had to play rugby football ever again.

In addition to sports afternoon every week we had a couple of sessions of Physical education (P.E.) in the school gym.  In addition to Wynn Morris the sports masters were David (Molly) Sugden and Taffy Thomas who used to put us through our paces doing sit-ups, press-ups and climbing the wall bars, a lot of which would surely contravene health and safety regulations these days.

What would almost certainly contravene all regulations these days was the punishment regime regularly handed out. I think it was about toughening us up but Wynn Morris in particular used to enjoy spanking boys with a slipper.  This was much worse than the cane because you couldn’t take double underpants precautions in advance.  In fact you couldn’t take any sort of underpants precautions at all because we weren’t allowed to wear them under our gym shorts and we had to do P.E. with our tackle flapping about and unprotected.

Punishment could be for anything really, mostly trivial stuff like not getting changed fast enough, having untidy kit or looking at the master in a funny way.  Once selected for a slapping all the other boys were sent off to the gym to warm up and the victim had to stay behind.  Morris would fetch the worn white plimsol that he would use for these occasions say ‘bend over’ and then whip down our shorts and apply two or three slaps to our exposed bare buttocks. Nobody seemed to think there was anything wrong about this it was just an accepted part of the Dunsmore sports routine.

Hillmorton Infant and Junior School

Until I was five we lived in a variety of houses in Leicester and in 1958 we had moved home from Ledwell Drive in Glenfield to Chislehurst Avenue in Braunstone and in September 1959 it was time in life to go to school.

The Ravenhurst Primary School was about a five hundred-metre stroll across land waiting for houses to be built on it and I used to walk there with my friends John and Michael Sparks who lived on the other side of the road.  The teacher’s name was Miss Bird and her classroom had alphabet pictures on the wall, ‘A’ for alcohol, ‘B’ for beer, ‘C’ for chablis and so on and it was here that I started to learn to read using the ‘Dick and Dora books’.

In the 1950s, Dick and Dora were supposed to be average kids, living a typical English life with their parents and their pets, Nip the dog and Fluff the cat. (You will notice here that even in a children’s book the dog has a name that implies that it will bite you.)  Their unexceptional and almost idyllic middle-class existence of playing in the garden and once a year going to the seaside was the basis of a series of books designed to teach children to read.

I liked Dick and Dora but I didn’t get long at Ravenhurst School because after only a couple of terms we moved to Hinckley where I went to the Grove Road Church of England Primary School and very soon after that moved to Rugby and went to the Hillmorton County Junior and Infants school where they had ‘Janet and John’ books instead which were very similar and taught four to seven year old children how to read by progressively incorporating and repeating key words in the development of reading skills.

With three shools in the first year I wasn’t get a good chance to settle in and I blame this for holding me back and making me a disappointing pupil for the first ten years or so of school.

The Hillmorton County Junior School was an old Victorian building with high ceilings and partitioned classrooms with rows of old fashioned wooden desks and attached lift up seats. The classrooms smelt of furniture polish and chalk dust and the in the corridors there was an ever present odour of carbolic soap seeping out from under the washroom 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 of course and with segregation a thing of the past we were free to choose 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 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 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 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.

In Mrs Bull’s class it was time to learn arithmetic and to prepare us for adding up and taking away 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.  There were twelve pence in a shilling and twenty shillings in a pound 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

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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.

Free school milk was discontinued in 1970 by the future Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and which earned her the unflattering nickname of ‘Thatcher, Thatcher, Milk Snatcher”, but I think she was called far worse than that later on!  Actually however she only stopped free school milk for eight to eleven year olds because Harold Wilson’s labour government had stopped free milk for secondary schools two years earlier in 1968 (notice how Wilson, Wilson milk snatcher doesn’t have the same newspaper headline appeal) so perhaps Oxford University was a bit mean when in 1985 it prevented her from receiving an honorary degree because of her history of education spending cuts.

More late morning lessons then lunch break with a quick dash home 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.

Like most things in life going to school was a completely different experience from that of today both for the pupils and the teachers.  Years ago I had an ambition to be a teacher but am so glad that I didn’t pursue it.  How proud I am now however that Sally has done just that but I wonder just how different she would have found teaching children like us in the 1960’s from the modern teaching methods that she is accustomed to now.

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

This is the school in about 1900, a long time before I went there but looking much the same and with the barbers, ‘Chopper Hall’ , the house next door.