SCHOOL DAYS IS HAPPY DAZE
WEELAND ROAD SCHOOL
all thought from the start that Mr. Wilfred ‘Chad’ Radley was very
formidable. Clearly he was new and the first thing you are taught as a
teacher is start as you mean to go on. It is possible to relax on
discipline but difficult to tighten up on it. He lived by that rule and on
our first morning as fresh new juniors we were made to tremble, and I
guess every one of us wished they were back in the tender clutches of Miss
Wake at Chapel Street School.
assembly was even more formal at Weeland Road. A bible reading, a prayer,
a hymn of which Onward Christian Soldiers featured regularly. This
was followed by the head masters morning address to the whole school. His
mood changed from day to day depending on whether there was a problem or
not. Such issues usually meant misbehaviour and it was not uncommon for
the culprits to be brought in front of the whole school for punishment.
This usually resulted in a front of school caning and as the parable goes,
the rod was certainly never spared.
again on a sunny September morning I found myself in a strange new
environment. I recall things were not as bad as three years previously.
The majority of the class was still together; the others had gone to the
new school and its indoor toilets. I already had one older friend at
Weeland Road, his name was Leonard and he immediately took me under his
wing, at least he did on that first morning. I learned in later years that
it was not accepted protocol for older boys to be too friendly with the
new juniors. Len and I were great pals out of school but it did not serve
his image to associate in the playground with those who were younger than
himself - cricket and football being the only exceptions to this
schoolyard rule. I recall being shown around by him and feeling very grown
up because I had a friend who was an older boy.
Cherry was our new teacher and unlike the brief encounter that we had with
Mr. Treadgold, I can only ever remember her smiling once at her class. She
was strict on discipline; she did not allow talking in class or discussion
unless it was in the free expression sessions and then only quietly. Her
manner commanded obedience and eventually our greatest respect, although I
think that came very much later as it always does with school children.
Rarely do we ever think why our teachers in those days needed to be so
detached, but as we so can frequently be heard to say now…"It
did not do us any harm at the time".
the first time we started to do real lessons, as we called them.
Arithmetic replaced sums, English, and my all time favourites, history and
geography of which I was passionate. The boys did art - the girls did
needlecraft. For the first time, I learned that our ancestors, the ancient
Britons lived in caves and dressed in animal skins. That had never
occurred to me before; I thought that we had always lived in houses.
School children of that age are so timeless, don’t you agree?
also read more. The majority of us devoured every book in sight. Some we
read twice, simply because we enjoyed them. Miss Cherry read to us, to
describe the meaning of words, she told us short stories…"On
Sunday, I went for a walk, it was an ambling walk." Why I
should remember that one word and phrase I do not know but it stuck in my
mind. She gave us a good grounding in English and English Literature and
by the end of the first year we knew the simple outline of many classics
stories that in my case have remained with me to this day.
are now starting to call that period from 1945 to 1955 The Lost Decade,
whether that is the correct term by which it should be known only time
will decide. It was a period of transition because most of the accepted
values were still pre-war. The majority of teachers trained before the
war, and most of the senior male staff had served in the war. Those who
were new out of teacher training college had been trained in the style of
teaching that belonged to pre conflict era, one of strict formality. The
classrooms were old and smelled of previous generations of pupils. It is
impossible to reproduce that smell in the modern schools of today but it
is one that most of us will never forget.
old Victorian schools like Weeland Road were dark and gloomy and it was
impossible to see through the windows. If we chanced a sneaky look up from
our books we took the risk of being caught and punished. If we did and
were successful all that we were able to see was Bagley’s smoking
chimneys. We had central heating that was coke fired hence the enormous
stack of fuel in the playground, which we were not allowed to climb or use
as missiles. Several times a day Mr. Dawson the school caretaker came
through the door, no knock, no excuse he just came in with his bucket and
stoked up the fires. There would be some crackling and spitting and if the
day was wet, great clouds of steam filled the room with an acrid yellow
sulphurous stench. "Good for the lungs", old Mr. Dawson
would tell us as we coughed, "Clears the tubes". We were
told that he had lost an eye serving in the First World War. This made him
a hero to us youngsters.
know now that there is nothing wrong with these old methods and the way by
which we were taught. This was a time of pre Beatles and the Bob Dylan -
Jean Baez’ songs of freedom and the Vietnam protests, we did not have a
young attractive blond haired teacher, fresh out of college strumming her
guitar whilst we sang along. We had traditional songs, Early One
Morning, Barbara Allen and the British Grenadiers. We enjoyed them,
but how I wish now we had sung Strawberry Fields or Blowing in
the Wind to a guitar accompaniment of a delicious blond.
I could not see Mr. Hargreaves strumming a guitar or Mr. Whitehead playing
I am the Walrus on the piano. That song in particular would have
been most inappropriate because of John Lennon’s unsubtle words, but it
would have amused us, as it eventually did in the 1960’s. Instead we had
the school percussion band and we made one hell of a racket. Our pianist
was Mr. Whitehead a portly stiff man for his young age and a very good
piano player. He made our Gilbert and Sullivan rendition of Behold the
Lord High Executioner and Dance a Cachucha sound very robust
and extremely professional. We were proud of our performance and I am sure
it cultured a sense in music that influenced a whole generation because
eventually our era was to hit the 60’s - bang on!
think I first noticed the changes when names such as Lita Rosa, Dennis
Lotis, Ronnie Carol, Dicky Valentine, and someone called Elvis Presley
started to be talked about in the schoolyard. Our own young Jimmy started
to sing these songs and shake his hips, which I could never see my father
doing when he sang in the Knottingley Male Voice Choir, which incidentally
was also conducted by Mr. Hargreaves. But that’s another story.
this turbulent scene came Tommy Steele, Bill Haley and Lonnie Donegan. The
songs in the National Songbook would never sound the same again and
neither would our school lives and those of others. By 1957 it was time to
leave Weeland Road and the course of our impending teenage lives would be
etched in stone forever. We were not the part of the Lost Decade anymore
and didn’t our parents know it? We did in fact play our part in
preparation for the decade to come when suddenly on 01.01.60 everything
back to school matters.
for that was Mr. Radley’s nickname, burst into our classroom one rainy
morning brandishing a cane and looking furious as he glanced around the
room. "Come out you", he called, eyeing his victim across
the room. Everyone looked alarmed and in the direction of this notorious
class member, someone whom we all respected but feared. He was the
archetypal rebel, destined one day to become the Cock of the School,
a title that was not earned easily. Basically this meant that he was
the best fighter. "Come out", Chad called again as he
slapped the stick, as we always called, it into the palm of the opposite
hand, proceeding to then bend it almost double with both hands. Hey up we
all thought, something’s wrong here, this could be good. Everyone was
trembling in silent anticipation at the drama that was evolving before
out!", he called again, totally ignoring
our teacher Miss Joan "Betty" Davies who must have been as
alarmed as we were. Slowly he stood up and advanced in the direction of
the headmaster. "Hold out your hand, you know why don’t
you?" Thwack! the cane descended and connected. "Now the
other". The cane came down but instead of connecting our hero
caught it in his hand and in one sweep wrenched it out of his assailant’s
hand. Then, quick as a flash he snapped it into two pieces, uttered some
appropriate expletive that cannot be repeated in these pages. He dodged
around the dumbfounded Chad, turned at the door, threw the pieces across
the classroom and disappeared down the gloomy corridor and out of the
school door. His departure was accompanied to the sound of cheering that I
feel sure must have been heard at the Police Station next door. That was
enough excitement for one day, but remembered for a long time to come. We
never did find out what prompted this incident but I suppose it could have
been where The Caine Mutiny got its name.
the Kid Catcher.
in those days, truancy was the exclusive domain of one man whose job it
was to ensure that we all went to school. It was a rare occurrence in the
1950’s and the 60’s for any pupil to be absent from school without
good cause. This much feared Lone Ranger rode around Knottingley on his
cycle and if you were caught, you were dragged back to school and
punished. Needless to say it was a lonely and thankless job. Once hauled
back, the cane usually did the trick, pain being the quick and most
effective deterrent for every misdemeanour. The
cane almost always worked, as each one of us found out sometime in our
this School Child Finder General was launched on the trail of our
hero, and it took him two days to finally track him down. He managed to
avoid the police and the Kid Catcher but was eventually found living in
Buller Wilds Cave in the Womersley Road Quarry. Forty-eight hours later he
returned to school amidst cheers, triumphant a hero to the entire school.
The only punishment that he received was the one stroke of the cane on the
hand for which it was originally intended. That
is how legends are born.
all schools, Weeland Road was full of characters. There were the studious
ones and those not so clever. We had a good soccer team and a very good
cricket team. Hardly surprising really as the main schoolyard game of the
winter was football and in the summer months it was cricket. This was
played with an old skellowed bat that must, like everything else have been
pre-war. A brittle yellow sponge ball that appeared to get smaller with
each season and wickets that were painted on the wall. The rules were
simple. The person, who fielded the ball bowled, if he then got the
batsman out, or who so ever caught the ball, he then batted.
were very fair playground rules, unless there was an argument between
batsman, bowler and catcher. In the absence of an umpire this usually
resorted in fisty-cuffs. If the duty teacher needed to intervene then the
headmaster became the umpire and we all knew what the meant. Need I say?
Road had always been renowned for its choirs. This was due to the
experienced teaching and musical skills of Mr. Harold "Gaffer"
Hargreaves, who in partnership with Peter "Mr. Piano" Whitehead
became the influential force in our musical education. The schools sole
aim in music each year was to win at the Annual Pontefract Musical
Festival. Therefore recruitment into the choir was considered to be a
prestigious aspect of school life outside the daily drudges of academia.
method of recruiting new singers into the choir started early and every
pupil was made to sing solo in front of their mates. I can remember now
that the set piece was always Early One Morning, this being the
first song one turned to in the National Songbook. Now, I found it
difficult to stand up their and sing this song with 30 pairs of eyes
watching and audible sniggers coming from the back row. I was told that I
had a good voice but this did not help one bit. It must have been sheer
torture for those who had never sung a note in their lives. Several pupils
just stood there and never opened their mouths and who could blame them.
Surprisingly, young Jimmy never made the choir.
the new choir was formed and we started to have daily practice. The first
year that I joined the choir was probably 1956 and up until then the
school had an excellent record at the festival. The choir always won at
least one of the three classes. There was the set piece, the hymn and the
song of the choir’s own choice. We had never won the hymn and 1956 was
no exception. There was also the boy’s solo class of which three
soloists were chosen that year to represent the school, Geoff and Tubby
and me. The absurd song we sang was a
simple piece of nonsense that went...
post man, the paper boy, the piano tuner too, they all come the front way
like visitors do, but cook’s friend Emily who’s ‘fraid of growing
f...a...t, pops in the back way…pop’s in the back way and has a little
chat." And so on...
were four others in the class from various schools in the Pontefract area.
Tubby went first for Weeland Road but finished last, I went next, stumbled
over a word and finished second and Geoffrey bless him came first. We were
pleased with that result but poor old Tubs was inconsolable.
the choir class we took the two moth eaten pre-war banners for the set and
chosen piece but missed the hat trick by loosing out again on the hymn. We
had to wait another year for that to come our way. But come it did
in 1957 when we relinquished the two tatty banners and for the first time
in the schools history won the equally moth eaten pre-war banner for the
hymn. But, who cared what it looked like, we had won it and the school was
happy. For us, we had made history and for a while we were treated as
celebrities. Photograph in the Pontefract & Castleford Express,
acclamations in morning assembly and a visit from the Vicar of St. Botolph’s
who wanted to hear us sing. I cannot remember which hymn it was, it could
even have been Onward Christian Soldier, but who cared, we
was good at Weeland Road, it was hard and well disciplined and with that
we had no regrets. In the early to mid fifties this style of school life
was the expected form. If we got into trouble, we faced our punishment and
came back smiling the following day. I can remember getting a real old "jacket
warming" as it was called from Chad because I opened the main
hall door as he was coming through, hitting him on the forehead. It was
accidental, but the red lump on his forehead and the bruise that formed
the following day made the thrashing much easier to bear.
you were unlucky enough to get the cane it hurt at the time, but then you
forgot all about the pain by the time you went home. It was never worth
going home and saying "I got the stick today dad" to gain
sympathy because the majority of parents only said…"Well, you
must have done something wrong". In certain cases some children
would get an extra thrashing from their father for misbehaving at school.
There was a certain justice and it was tough but all part of the game.
Radley forbade us to snowball in the school playground because he said it
was too dangerous. Anyone caught throwing a snowball was…you have
guessed it… caned. One very snowy winter’s day whilst waiting for the
bus at the bend on Weeland Road, myself and three other droogs waiting for
the green West Riding bus were having a snowball fight with those on the
other side waiting for the blue South Yorkshire bus. This fight continued
until the two buses arrived simultaneously. Unfortunately, a snowball
struck one of the open bus windows and showered the passengers sitting
inside or so we were told. Someone complained and after dinner we were all
tracked down and escorted quick march to the office.
you were all snowballing eh?" Our knees
knocked and we each shook our heads and tried to look innocent.
"Form a line", he commanded giving us a menacing look. There
were about fourteen of us all lined up, including two of the girls. What
we expected was a sound lecture delivered in a loud ferocious voice, but
from nowhere he produced the whippiest cane I have ever seen. It simply
just appeared as if it came like magic from up his sleeve or down his
trousers. "Hold your hands out, both of them", he
commanded. We obeyed. He then proceeded to cane the hands of each boy and
one hand of each girl. Geoff was on the end; he came out of the office
last with a broad smile across his face. "I was
on the end, so by the time he got to me old Chad was tired, so it did not
hurt half so much." At that we all forgot our pain, even the
girls, who mainly through shock were crying, now started to laugh. Oh
neighbours at Weeland Road School were the Knottingley police who occupied
the station next door. They paid us the occasional visit, not to teach us
traffic safety because there wasn’t any traffic in those days. If
Sergeant Scott suddenly appeared in the school, accompanied by the
Headmaster everyone shook until he finally disappeared back into the
Police Station. We then awaited the outcome of the visit, which was always
conveyed at assembly next day. Someone had broken a window or misbehaved
on the bus home, nothing ever very serious.
only had one brush with Sergeant Scott and his code of law and that was
during one lunchtime. Living at the far end of Knottingley towards the
crossroads I had permission, along with a few others to leave at five
minutes to mid-day to catch the bus. This meant a quick dash to the
cloakroom, grab my coat and scoot across the zebra crossing and down to
the bus stop. The lollypop man was always "Uncle" Pat Driscoll
who in his own inimitable way had ideas about discipline from another age.
One certainly did not argue with him. He must have been brought up in the
school of hard knocks too because rumour had it that he had been a
sergeant in the army.
this particular day, I knew that I was late and stood more than a fair
chance of seeing the bus go before ever reaching the crossing. I shot into
the cloakroom, grabbed my coat and cleared the three steps in one down
into the front playground. I reached the first Beliesha beacon on my
right, then dashed across the Zebra and took the short cut to the left of
the beacon on the opposite side. In my haste I didn’t notice that the
person on duty that morning was not Uncle Pat but Sergeant Scott. As I
ignored the black and white striped post with its flashing orange ball, an
arm shot out and grabbed me by the collar. "Now then sonny Jim and
where do you think you’re going"? I must have thought it
was a silly question because I gave him a glib answer. "For
the bus, I’m going for my dinner". I
answered, still trying to run while he still had me by the collar. It must
have looked something like a Disney cartoon from Looney Tunes. "Oh
no you’re not, go back, walk, and go around the correct side of
the post". I was whimpering now. B...but, I’ll miss my bus",
I stammered. "Go back" was his only unconditional answer
to my pleading as he pointed across the Zebra. I glanced up to see the bus
just rounding the bend.
walked back across the crossing, turned dutifully at the other side and
walked back. The bus had stopped and was picking up passengers. "My
bus", I pointed. "Don’t you worry about the bus
laddy", was the only sympathy I got. Still only halfway across I
could hear the bus setting off, but I did not say a word. I rounded the
post, this time on the correct side and then whimpered again I said. "Look
I’ve missed it now". "No you haven’t son",
the Sergeant said as he walked out into the middle of the crossing raising
up one white cuffed arm. The bus stopped at the crossing in front of the
sergeant "Now there’s your bus, you go and get on." He
smiled. "Enjoy your dinner and in future, walk". All was
well, but ever after that I always checked who was on duty before I ran
across the Zebra crossing and cut the corner.
were lucky, I suppose, as school children in the fifties. The sixties were
yet to arrive and the radical changes that decade was to bring. John
Lennon, Paul McCartney, Mike Jagger, they were still at school just as we
were. Fred Trueman was taking wickets and allegedly telling the Indian
High Commissioner to "Pass the salt Gungha
Din". Schools were still in a very pre war mode, except for the
new Englands Lane School of which we were all very envious.
year we paid a visit to the "New School" as it had become known,
together with the other children from Knottingley schools to listen to the
West Riding String Quartet. They played classical music that few of us
could understand unless your name was Geoff. He did because by this time
he was developing into a fine pianist. He was already into his fifth piano
grade and clearly had his sights set on the Royal College of Music.
was good to visit the school and see how the other half lived. It was
modern, fifties standard and very different to our old Victorian
surroundings. But, maybe we were all happy at good old Weeland Road
School. The new school had a courtyard area where, if the weather was good
we could sit and listen to classical string quartet music. If the weather
was not so good the concert was held in the new assembly hall, complete
with stage, potted palms and royal blue curtains. I imagined that it was
just like the radio concert from Palm Court Hotel. Was it every Friday
night? I don’t remember, but I recall my Dad listening to the programme
quartet concerts must have made an impact on me because I remembered them
so clearly. Two violins, a viola, and a cello all professionally,
performed by men dressed in black evening suits with black bow ties. The
only time, I ever saw anyone dressed this way was when my Dad went out to
sing with the Knottingley Male Voice Choir or at the Huddersfield Choral
Society Concerts. But that’s another story.
was a young schoolboy’s dream, it meant long lazy days, I don’t mean
academically because the pressure was always on for us to learn. I rarely
arrived home before six o’clock in the evenings. Either I went to John’s,
Harry’s or Leonard’s houses, had a game of cricket in the Greenhouse
or went roaming around the quarries, which in those days held no dangers
for youngsters. We caught newts, waterboatment, watched tadpoles grow into
frogs and went bird nesting to the Valley Woods.
came the day when I was told I was to learn to play the piano. Shock?
Excitement? I don’t remember. What I did know was that Mr. Whitehead was
to be my teacher. This meant a journey up to Pontefract every Wednesday
evening after school because he lived in Love Lane. Well, at least after
the first lesson I was able to find middle C, not that I was ever asked to
find it, much to my disappointment.
went well for a while, or so I thought until one evening at the Pontefract
Operatic Society production of Franz Lehar’s The Merry Widow, Mr.
Whitehead wandered across from the orchestra stalls during the interval to
see my mother. He expressed doubts regarding my future as a pianist,
saying that I would never become a piano player. Now that was no great
disappointment to me but it was devastating news for my parents because
they both played the piano, not well but they could play.
have heard Mrs Lilley is good", said my
mother, ever the optimist. My father wasn’t so sure, thinking it was good
money after bad. But I gave it a try if only to prove Mr. Whitehead wrong
and for the next five years I did learn to play, achieving four grades in
the pianoforte. Then came the sixties and more interesting music to play.
The first piece of popular sheet music that I bought was Johnny and the
Hurricanes version of Rocking Goose. I still have it today. Life
was never the same again.
that brought me to my last year at Weeland Road and eventually to school
in Wakefield. I lost contact with most of my junior schools friends. They
had gone to either the King’s School in Pontefract, Don Valley High or
to Ropewalk. Ian, Roy and I remained friends throughout those adolescent
years and beyond. The others eventually disappeared to University or
college as eventually I did myself. Geoff did make the Royal College as
had been the prediction so many years previously.
many varied ways, early school years leave a lasting impression. You
either love ‘em or hate ‘em. There is little middle ground. School
days are like most things in life, when you have it; you don’t
appreciate it but when it’s gone you miss it. To most of us, Chapel
Street and Weeland Road was something we each had to go through without
question. There is no doubt that we were made to do things and we very
rarely questioned why we were doing it at the time. There was also little
point in grumbling at home because we had been taught that parents and
teachers knew best. All that changed in the 1960’s a time of great
excitement and dare I say a friendly revolution that will never be
life for me in the late 40’s and 50’s was the ‘Golden Age’.
Classic standards of teaching, firm discipline, certainly under the rule
of Miss Wake and Mr. Radley, God bless both of them. Sadly, that system
has gone, along with school blazers, caps, ties, corporal punishment; view
that as you may, school milk, cod liver oil tablets and the dreaded Virol.
We had free swimming lessons once a week at Pontefract Baths, football in
the Greenhouse in winter and cricket in the Knottingley cricket field in
playtime we swapped comics, I bought the Eagle and eventually by exchange
managed to acquire Comet and Sun from Harry for the weekend and by the
following week I received the Hotspur from Ian. By 1957 all of this had
changed to The New Musical Express and in the words of one caring adult
who told me, "You are wasting your talents on that
rubbish". Nevertheless, this networking of children’s comics
was rife. I paid 4 pence and acquired at least four others. I suppose this
was an early type of black market network similar to video piracy of
Ho! Long live playground law.
can recall my school days well but I cannot remember my last day a Weeland
Road. Did we all go in the morning as usual and have lessons in the normal
way? I don’t know? Did we have a party or do something special, or did
we simply run out of the school gates when the bell was rung never looking
back or shouting cheerio to those friends we had made over the past seven
sixties were before us with all the liberalisation that decade was to
offer, in many ways the old guard and the establishment, whether they
realised it or not helped to create those changes. The old pre-war school
system as we knew it would go. Sound discipline would remain for a while
longer, but teaching skills and the tools to achieve academia would alter
only very slowly. Unfortunately, this transformation may now have passed
but it is time that will dictate when it will change again, but change it
will. Hopefully it will give rise to a newer fresher system somewhere
between what we knew and what we have today. One that will allow free
expression away from the hands of government control freaks.
took me another six years to realise that the poem written by my old
friend David Garrett about hating school and it being a dirge was not
true. I am also sure that in his own mind David did not believe it either.
Street and Weeland Road were good schools. We were taught well and the
teachers, although very strict, maybe unreasonable at times in our eyes,
moulded us unwittingly into products of the 60’s.
that is another chapter.
| PART TWO
Also by Roger Ellis:
Sunday School Days
Legend of the Iron Man