Sunday, 20 May 2012


What do you remember of your first days at school? I thought I'd see how many memories I could bring to mind, just snapshots taken out of context.

We lived in a block of flats which had shops underneath and Mum leaned out of theflat window to take a photo of my first school, St.Mary's, in Westminster. On the left-hand side, just past where the car is parked, was the school playground and every playtime Mum used to come down the road to pass a cup of cocoa through the railings.  The windows on the right of the entrance belonged to my classroom, the teacher's name being Miss Purdy. This was reached by climbing the steps in the echoing cavern once you'd passed the entrance. Perhaps this was the days when married teachers weren't employed. The classroom had a rocking horse in it which I don't remember playing with and I did so want to have a go. In the afternoons we had to rest, which struck me as a daft idea... I can't remember whether there were the desks we associate with 1930s classrooms, one or two seater forms plus a desk with lift-up lids. I can't imagine we sat round tables as infants do these days. Whatever was there Mum could see the 'horse's tail' bow with which my hair was tied when she leaned out of the window. 

I remember a boy, name not remembered, who was smacked by the headmistress, Miss Vickery, and the charm bracelet she wore jingled interestingly each time her hand landed on his palm. I'm sure she didn't use a ruler.

This memory must come from later on - painting pots were old paste jars which were emptied and cleaned in cold-water sinks near the toilets. Looking back perhaps these had originally been outside loos and had had a see-through roof put on sometime in the past to make them 'indoors'. This photo is from Market Lavinton Museum's site.
Somewhere, but where I thought they were, of course, they aren't, if you see what I mean, I have some of my first sums written in coloured chalk and Times Tables (Mum never threw anything away - I know where I get that trait from!) But I can't find them for love nor money. Perhaps they'll turn up when I'm looking for something else... 
This is another 1938 photo, with the school in the background. There's that horse's tail bow, and some of the children I used to play with who lived up the street on the right, behind these buildings. I wonder what happened to them all? I expect they were evacuated, too, as mostly parents Did As They Were Told in those days as Authority always knew best. The only names Mum has written underneath the photo are Kathleen Mahoney and Vera Cox. I have no idea what I'm holding, a toy of some kind, though not my dear old teddy. Interesting that this photo was taken in June, the other children are in summer dresses and I'm in a hand-knitted jersey - nothing's changed there, then!

We weren't far from some sunken gardens in Millwall where I remember an Italian selling ice cream from his handcart with a sunshade over it. Nowadays you'd wonder where it was made!

Walls used to have sellers on tricycles with a huge refrigerated box on the front - who would stop when you waved at them - and you could choose what you wanted. Snofrutes were water ices in a cardboard cover and were tasty with a strong fruit flavour, not at all chemical. Someone I used to teach with and still have contact with, lived just a few streets away and she remembers them too...

.There was a jellied eel shop, too,with chunks of ice and eels cut up into pieces among them - which didn't appeal to me at all! I can't remember my parents eating them.

We lived quite near Strutton Ground where there was a second hand shop and one time we passed it there was a velvet bonnet, real or theatrical, hanging in the doorway and that was something else I coveted. No such luck, no money for frivolities.

Well, schooldays pre-war seem to have slid into all kinds of other memories, too. Maybe I'll do When I Was Evacuated sometime. I hope it triggers memories for you, too.


Bernard said...

You were very lucky to have those 'school-day' photos. I can remember all my three schools and all the goings on, but the only photos, and they were the 'official group' ones, were at the Grammar school. I guess infant school and junior schools must have taken group pictures but I expect they cost money! Mom would probably have said "Sorry we can't afford that! I've hungry mouths to feed." - and back they went. I'm going to document (blog) all bits about schools soon. At the moment I've only got as far as me being four.

Sylve said...

People just didn't take photos of buildings in 'those days', only people, it seems. Look forward to reading your piece when you post it.

Kath said...

What a great Mum to pass a cup of cocoa through the railings!
We had outdoor loos as well, they were freezing and ponged, with no locks on the doors. Our grammar school was only marginally better. it was a wonderful art deco style building, which has sadly been demolished for a more modern eyesore.

Sylve said...

Developers have no sense of beauty or historic value in old buildings - Aylesbury has lost the Nestle building, the 30's electricity payments building, which would have made a lovely cafe at the 'improved' canal end and in this village the lunatic Asylum was demolished. Other places kept theirs and made them into desirable apartment buildings. Profit comes first...