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Knottingley and Ferrybridge Memories




"School is a dirge that everyone hates, to learn words in French and historical datesÖ"
David Garritt - Wakefield Tutorial School c 1959

So wrote David, an old school pal of mine when we were being asked to write a poem as part of an English assignment. Pretty clever we all thought, but all of this came later when I went to school in Wakefield.


My school days in Knottingley started in 1949 when I was dragged one morning by my mother at the unearthly hour of 08.45 to commence my education at Chapel Street School. I had been Ďdrip fedí, warned about this for almost a year before it actually happened, and in truth I was not too certain what it all meant. Up to the actual day of starting my little pal Alan and me did all of the things that four year old tots do like splashing through pools, mixing mud pies, roaming around enjoying ourselves and generally getting mucky. Afternoons were usually taken up with getting cleaned up after the morning escapades, visiting granny at Pear Tree Cottage in Spawd Bone Lane and playing with the local children in the farmyard opposite. And that usually meant another clean up before returning home. Halcyon days indeed.

On a bright September morning in 1949 at the age of 4 years and 10 months, all of this tomfoolery stopped suddenly and forever. To make things worse Granny moved to the new Manor Fields bungalows. I still saw Alan but less so than before because he was to start school in Pontefract. Why this should have been I never discovered because he only lived twelve doors away from me and I was to start my schooling in Knottingley.

I was upset, I objected, in fact I think I went on protesting for many weeks after.

"You will like school" I was told by my mother, my grandmother, my aunts uncles, cousins, even the old lady next door who must have been well into her eighties. What did they know?

"You will make new friends". But I had a friend, I did not need anymore. "There will be new friends boys and girls of your own age", I was told repeatedly.

Girls, who needed girls? Up to then this was a species I had rarely encountered. The only girls that I knew were my three cousins and they were very old, teenagers by this time. In truth, I was suspicious.

"See you at lunch time", said my mother giving my hand a squeeze, "I will be here to collect you to go home for dinner". Well that did not sound too bad, I thought, as I trudged reluctantly through the large wrought iron gates and down the short drive. Home at lunchtime eh, little knowing that I would be returning in the afternoon and every other day for the next three years.

I am sure the first thing that I must have noticed was the large play area. What I wasnít prepared for was the mass of children; some my own age, others bigger, clearly older and wiser. The surprising thing was they all appeared to be enjoying themselves. I must have recognised this very quickly because I can remember just chasing around aimlessly with everyone else, until suddenly from nowhere a large hand bell was rung.

"I am Miss Grimshaw and I want all the new ones to come with me." I looked around to see what would happen next. Did that mean me? No one moved. Suddenly I was being pushed forward by older children. "That means you lot", and other words of encouragement from those who could afford by virtue of their age and seniority to be smart and confident.

There were about 25 of us, girls and boys all of similar size and age. Some were dressed smartly in lumber jackets and ties, others not so well dressed. Some wore spectacles; some of us even wore caps on our heads. What we all had in common was we were new, we looked dazed, some were even crying. Above all we were each fearful in our own expectation and bewilderment. We gathered near the door in front of a youthful looking teacher bespectacled in rimless glasses.

"I am Miss Grimshaw your teacher and if it helps I am also new today." She stooped, and then whispered this with a kindly smile as we all gathered around her; "Just follow me, girls to the left hand cloak room, and boys to the right".

We were told to hang up anything that we did not need on the metal pegs provided. "Just find a peg and hang up your hats and coats and if you have brought gloves, get your mums to sew them onto the sleeve of your coats then you will not lose them."

I remember clearly that she then whisked us off across the playground to visit the toilets. These were in a narrow corridor with a long gutter for the boys on one side and doors to toilets on the other. The roof was open to the sky, so if it rained we would all get wet. The only experience I had at that time of an outdoor privy was the one at the bottom of the garden at Pear Tree Cottage, and my mother always went with me to stand guard in the dark outside the door. However, the next surprise came later when I went off to wee after my playtime bottle of milk. There was a queue and a line of boys standing silently at the wall each one enveloped in clouds of steam rising from the trough. I suppose now I would recognise this as being my first culture shock, the first of many that were to follow.

Chapel Street school was the forbidding territory of its Headmistress, Miss Wake. Or was Miss Wake the forbidding Headmistress of Chapel Street School? We were soon to find out. First we were herded into the first year infantís classroom on that sunny September morn. The room smelled of the blazing coal fire and hints of the bare wooden floor having been recently scrubbed. There were other strange new aromas which later became associated with chalk, powder paint and school milk. Then of course the inevitable body smells that unfortunately emanate from a group of four and five year olds.

If we were nervous then so was Miss Grimshaw, whom as we learned later was fresh as a daisy straight out of teacher training college. She was my first teacher and like ones first girl friend never to be forgotten. My first girl friend was Angela or so my Mother told me years later. She remembers me coming home from school one day and blurting out. "Donít worry about having a little sister Mum, Iíve got Angela now". Such was my first encounter with the opposite sex, so that didnít take long did it?

Much of my recollections of those early years at Chapel Street School revolved around first encounters with many new friends, teachers, classroom discipline and the way by which early learning was introduced to us.

In 1952, King George the sixth died. I can recollect very little other than it was an event that happened during my last year at Chapel Street School, if that is the correct phrase. By then, I was one of the big boys being taught by Miss Wake in the top class. All this was soon to change when in a short time we were all to move to the junior school. Once again we would become the new children. Isnít it funny how this status repeated itself throughout school life?

On that particular morning it was clear something was afoot because assembly was gloomier than usual, not that this early morning ritual was ever anything other than a sombre occasion. From what I recall we sang "Onward Christian Soldiers" for the second time that week. It took me fourteen years to recognise that every school had its own hymn and this was certainly Chapel Streetís way of encouraging our spiritual lives.

We had finally stopped singing, exhilarated as ever by thoughts of "marching on before". This by the way we did every play time, particularly as some of the children in the early 50ís still had fathers and elder brothers serving abroad in some war, somewhere. That or, racing around the covered wagon that stood in the middle of the playground, whooping and shooting imaginary arrows at a group of girls twirling a long skipping rope. As the hymn finished, Miss Wake announced quite simply that the King was very poorly and that we should all pray for him. This of course we did, whilst at the same time peeping to see which one of us was not closing their eyes or placing hands together in the time honoured manner that we had been taught.

To our young minds, the King was a very distant figure who worked in London. Exactly what he did or where he lived we were not too sure, but as some one whispered. "He earns more than my Dad does at Bagley's". We also knew that he wore a crown on his head because he did in the school play that we had acted in front of our parents at the end of last term. Anyway, by morning play time he was dead. We were told this by Mrs Wiltshire the school care taker who lived in the house next to the playground. She leaned over the wall and told us not to make too much noise that morning because the King was dead. So, I suppose we shot fewer arrows at the girls and yelled quieter war cries. By lunchtime everything was back to normal and I am unable to recall anymore until a young Queen Elizabeth succeeded him on that cold wet June day in 1953 when we all became the "New Elizabethans".

Roger Ellis

[Memories Index]


Also by Roger Ellis:

Sunday School Days
Legend of the Iron Man

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