|Article by Trevor Cooper, 2009
Like many children in the 1950s, I started school at the age of four: there was no such thing in those days as Nursery or Playschool, so it was quite a shock to got from playing at home to attending school. It was in 1956 that I found my school life starting on a September morning at the County Infant School, Burton Latimer.
Because my mother worked as a postwoman in the mornings, it was always my Aunt Freda who would take me to school. She was a teacher, and on arrival at the Infants School, she would deposit me with Mrs Williams (the Headmistress), and disappear up to the Junior School where she taught.
Like many children, I would do anything to get out of going to school. On one occasion I even locked my Aunt Laura in with the geese that we kept at the bottom of the garden in Higham Hill. She had gone to feed them, and I had shut the door of the pen and slid the bolt across. My freedom however was short-lived. My Aunt Freda soon arrived, heard Aunt Laura shouting for help, let her out, gave me a smack, and promptly hauled me off to school - with me no doubt bawling* my eyes out.
The second teacher I had was Miss Hornbuckle. She was a tallish lady with glasses. She was strict, and appeared somewhat frightening to me. Things in her class were a lot different from Miss Pack's, as we spent more time learning than playing. We did not have desks, but sat on tiny rounded-back chairs at small round tables. If my memory serves me right, Miss Hornbuckle later married a Canadian and went to live in Canada.
Both Miss Pack and Miss Hornbuckle had classrooms at the side of the school, and their windows faced Evans' Chicken Farm, (now the playing field). Then only thing was that if the wind blew in the wrong direction, all the windows had to be shut, even in warm weather, due to the smell from the farm. These classrooms were situated at one end of the Hall, and from them you went into Assembly each morning. One embarrassing moment used to take place during Assembly. If it was your birthday, you had to come out to the front and stand on a chair while Mrs Williams would read out your birthday cards. You then had to tell everyone what presents you had got for your birthday.
At the other end of the Hall was the Cloakroom, in which I think was a staircase to one side. The stairs led to the Staffroom. At that end of the Hall on one side, there was a Wendy House, while on the other side stood a workbench. In the Hall was a square-shaped radio, of the type they would use in factories during the war. There was also a gramophone, and on this they would frequently play a record of "The Flight of the Bumblebee". I think this must have been the only record they had. It's no wonder that I've hated that tune ever since! Sometimes we would have music lessons in the Hall. Out would come - from a cupboard - a drum, tambourines, castanets and triangles. I always wanted to play the drum - but always got a blooming triangle.....
The four classrooms were situated around the Hall, and it was now that I move on to my third teacher. Somehow I had skipped a class, because there were four classrooms. Anyway, I ended up in Mrs Williams' class. This I think was the largest classroom, and the only one I can recall having a fireplace in it. This served a dual purpose. In winter, Mrs Williams would dry your coats in front of the fire if you had either got them wet by playing outside, or they had go wet when you had to go outside in the rain to use the toilets which were at the top end of the playground. The fire also came into use for drying the knickers or trousers of the small children who had started school for the first time and had - on rare occasions - had a slight accident .... Anyway, there always seemed to be a cloud of steam rising from around the fireguard.
Mrs Williams was the Headmistress of the Infants School, and she was perhaps the teacher you feared most. I recall that she wore glasses and always had her hair tied in a bun at the back. Near the end of her life I went to see her a Pytchley, where she lived, and her hair was still tied in that familiar bun as it had been nearly fifty years previously.
Around the walls of her classroom were pinned the Times Tables, which we learned to recite in parrot fashion: " Once one is one, two ones are two," etc, etc ..... It was in her class that I was made milk monitor, and at playtime I would give out those little bottles of milk that would contain about a third of a pint, together with those waxed-paper straws. Because the milk was always kept outside in metal crates until it was wanted, it meant that in winter you had about half an inch of iced cream to get through, and in summer the cream would go off.
Mrs Williams could be strict at times, and on one occasion I got the wrong side of her and received a sharp rap with a ruler across the palm of my hand as punishment for my misdemeanour. However, having said that, she did have an eye for spotting something in a child. During P.E. we had to climb a rope cargo-type net in the playground. I have never been keen on heights, and was scared to climb it. She got the caretaker to paint coloured circles on a wall, and I had to kick a ball at the colour of the circle she called out. Later, when I played football competitively, I would imagine her calling out those colours and my aiming at them. In this way, I was able to score many a goal.
When she died, I went to her funeral, not only to represent those hundreds of children she had taught, but also to say thank you for being a teacher I neither could nor would forget.
Playtime at school in those days consisted of us playing games like Tag, Off-ground Touch, Kiss Chase, Cops & Robbers, and Mums & Dads. I recollect we even went round in a Chain Gang singing "Sugar in the morning, sugar in the evening, sugar at supper time". I think that was a song at the time by Alma Cogan. But as we played, the Infants School days of both myself and my friends came to an end. In the September, we were to go up to the Junior School.
The Junior School was divided into two sections. There was the main part which fronted the High Street, and consisted of a Hall, corridor, cloakroom, storeroom and four classrooms; and the other section which was like a large two-storey house. This consisted of two classrooms (one up, one down) and the Headmaster's Study. Even the playground was in two sections, with a wall separating the boys from the girls. There was a green wooden door halfway along the wall. At the top end of each playground section were the respective toilets.
I will always remember with sadness the time I spent in Miss Stokes' class. Not because of my time spent there, but because of what was to happen towards the end of the school year. It is rumoured that someone apparently told her that she looked as though she were putting on weight. Personally, I don't think she was, because she always appeared slim to us. However, she did believe it, and started to diet. I have always been led to believe that she would eat nothing but stewed nettle leaves. Whether this is true or not, her dieting made her ill. Although we did not know it at the time, she began to suffer from anorexia.
In the corner of her classroom, next to her desk, there was a big white square butler sink. I recall that in the mornings, she would come into her classroom, go to the sink, take off her shoes, and empty the water that was in them which had come from the blisters and the ulcers on her legs.
Eventually, she got worse, and was finally admitted to Kettering General Hospital, where she died in the early part of June 1960, aged but just 47. I remember Mr Pentelow (the Headmaster) coming in to tell the class that she would not be coming back as she had died. All of us in the class began to cry, for although she had been strict, she had still been our teacher. Following her death, we were taught by Mrs Marks for a while. She kept poodles, and would sometimes bring them to school. It was ironic that she was to die tragically a number of years later, in a car crash.
Miss Clipson had two ways of punishing you if you were naughty. Girls would get a tap across the hands with a ruler. The boys, many of whom wore short trousers, would find themselves in a position where they were bent forward with their head under her arm. She would then raise the end of your trouser leg and slap you on the bare thigh.
At Assembly, Miss Clipson would play the piano, though children had normally entered the Hall to a record of The Prince of Denmark's March.
Sometimes, a school governor would be at Assembly. This was alright, unless it was my grandfather. He would stand next to the Headmaster and crane his neck to see if he could spot me. If he did, then a sort of expression of satisfaction appeared on his face that he knew I was at school. If he could not see me, he would be waiting for me at home. He would then ask me what hymn we had sung in Assembly, and would go to the piano and I would have to sing it again.
On occasions, other teachers would take us for lessons. Mr White would take us for Geography, and also for football. There was no playing field at the school then, so we were marched to the Recreation Ground in Pioneer Avenue.
Another teacher was Miss Arnold. She had taken over Miss Stokes' class - she was also the local Cub Arkela. On Friday afternoon, she would give us History. It is very ironic that at that time I would do anything to get out of the lesson, yet I ended up obtaining an A-Level in it, reading it at Essex University, and having a lifelong passion for the subject.
On May 5th 1961, my schooldays at Burton ended, as I moved to live at Southend-on-Sea. Miss Clipson had already moved there to take up the post of Deputy Headmistress at Prince Avenue School.
In the article, I have tried to mention the teachers I came in contact with. However, apart from those mentioned, there were others: Mr Pentelow (Headmaster of the Junior School); Miss Leach, Mr White, Mr Norton and Mr Chambers (all Junior School teachers); Mrs Freestone (the School Secretary); Mr Wittering (the Caretaker); and Mr Grainger (School Crossing Keeper). Whether you liked or hated school, those teachers taught us things that have remained with us all our lives. Many have now departed this life, but each one played a part in our early education and development.