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My Recollections of St James's School (1922-29)

by Eva Clough

My earliest recollections of St James's School are of going to Sunday school there. As I started to go to Sunday school when I was two years old my memory of that time is a bit sketchy. A friend of my mother's took me there. She was the pianist in the Primary Department and I remember her as a lovely, plump and happy person.

When we went to Sunday school we were given a metal tray containing a thin layer of sand and a thin stick like a wooden skewer with which we learned to draw in the sand. Most weeks the Superintendent of the department, Miss Woods, would produce a long wooden box containing candles and if it had been your birthday that week you would light the appropriate number of candles while the children sang a birthday song for you. I remember we had a long chart on the wall which was called the Cradle Roll. I am not sure at what stage the babies' names were put on the roll but I think it was probably when they were baptized at St James's Church. I do not remember whether it was when a new baby's name was added to the list or when they had a birthday but we did have a little ceremony occasionally which involved a tiny cradle holding a doll. Someone was chosen to go out and rock the cradle while the children sang a song the words of which were:

"Our babies' names are on the roll
We love to see them there
God bless them all and keep them safe
Within thy loving care."

I vaguely remember starting day school. In those days children could start school any time between the ages of three and five. As I had a younger sister at home I did not start school until I was nearly five, and I was a big girl for my age (so I was told) I was not put into what was then called the ‘babies class' which at that time was taken by a young teacher Miss Seacombe, but was put into the second class. I am sure the teacher of that class was a very nice person but she had a habit of reprimanding you by pushing up your sleeve and giving you a rap on your forearm, and I was convinced at the time that this had something to do with her name, which was Miss Armstrong.

I have not many memories of my time in the Infant School except for one traumatic experience which must have implanted itself on my memory. There was some sort of roadwork going on near the school and just outside the rear gate there was a tar boiler which one day set on fire. The whole area was filled with black smoke and there were a lot of flames and of course the school had to be evacuated. A door was opened on the other side of the school which must only have been used in emergencies, as I had never seen it opened before. The space between the classroom door and the outside door formed a little vestibule and I was amazed to see the Christmas tree stored away in a corner there. It must have been kept from year to year and I had no idea it was hidden away there.

Although I can still clearly remember the face of Miss Norris, the teacher who taught the top class in the infants, I do not remember much about my time there. I must have learned to read at that time but I have no recollection of what books we used.

I clearly remember the layout of the ‘big school' which was in the front of the building. As you went in through the door, there were three permanent classrooms along the right side. Standard One, Standard Three and Standard Seven occupied these.

The rest of the space was divided into four by screens which could be moved when they wanted to use the school for a party or a concert or a dance. Standard One seemed a small room after the bigger room in the infants but I liked it there because if my memory serves me right it was the only room in the ‘big school' which had a fireplace and in the cold weather the fire used to be lit, which made the room very cosy. Mrs Pendlebury was the teacher of that class but I did not stay with her very long as they needed to put up some more children from the infants, so to make room for them they put the top six children into Standard Two. This was a much bigger room and was the room near the entrance and there was no corridor in the school anyone visiting the school had to pass through there. There was a rack of rifles in this room on the wall and I was rather apprehensive about these as I id not realise at the time that they were dummy rifles used by the Church Lads Brigade for drill. The teacher of this class was Miss Tonge and she was the teacher who taught us real joined up writing. I only stayed in that class six months so that is perhaps why I have never been a good writer.

After Standard Two we moved into the second permanent classroom, which again was rather a small room. Miss Young was the teacher there and I was already quite familiar with her as she was quite involved in the Church and Sunday school and I had already been to some of her parties. She was very fond of history and liked us to perform little plays dramatising some of the historical stories. I remember having to play the part of the little girl questioned by the roundheads as to ‘When did you last see your father?' and I had to weep and wipe my eyes and say in a tearful voice ‘A long, long time ago.' I stayed in that class for nine months and then for some reason they changed the timing of my school year and we were moved into Standard Four, a reasonably sized classroom on the front of the left side of the school.

The teacher of the class was Mrs Stones a rather plump lady. We had long desks which were quite an effort because of her size. I think she must have suffered from a stuffy nose, as she always seemed to have a bottle of eucalyptus oil handy, which she would dab on her handkerchief to her nose. Consequently I always associate the smell of eucalyptus with the memory of Mrs Stones. One of her favourite lessons was Scripture, as we seemed to spend a long time reading the book of the Prophet Amos. At the end of the room were some cupboards on the wall and one of these contained some old bibles and new testaments and my friend, Edna, and I, as we were the monitors used to spend most of the Scripture lesson sorting out all the loose pages which had fallen out of the bibles. Mrs Stones was a very generous lady and used to reward a penny or even two pennies for each errand we did and even on occasions a threepenny bit which seemed a fortune to us in those days.

We had no hall in the school so P E as we know it now was unheard of. If the weather was fine and the teacher felt inclined we would be taken into the yard for drill. We would stand in rows and all perform exercises together on the teacher's instructions. Sometimes we would play singing and action games. One I remember was:

Oats and beans and barley o
Oats and beans and barley o
You and I and all of us know
How oats and beans and barley grow
First the farmer sows the seed
Then he stands and takes his ease
Stamps his feet and claps his hands
And turns him round to view the land

I had moved through the rest of the school so quickly that I was only eight years when I reached Standard Four and while I was in that class they decided to make St James's into a Junior School instead of an all age school, so the children from Standard Five, Standard Six and Standard Seven had to leave St James's and either go to St Thomas's, Queen Street or the Central School which is Harper Green School now. So I had to stay in Standard Four a long time because there were now no classes to move into. We did have a change of teacher though Mr Dunderdale, who used to take Standard Six, left and so did Mrs Pendlebury and Mr Hay the Headmaster, who had previously taught Standard Seven, taught us then.

As some of us had already spent a year in Standard Four, some of the work we did was a repetition of the previous year, but as it was with a different teacher a lot of it was new. As we had done most of the Arithmetic before my friends and I used to be given the answer book and be left to mark the work of the other children. I had by this time decided I wanted to go to the Grammar School and as my parents could not afford to pay the fees it meant that I would have to pass the Scholarship Exam. I knew it would be easy as no one had passed the Scholarship for the Grammar School from St James's for about seven or eight years. But most of my cousins were already at a Grammar School so I meant to have a try. I badgered the headmaster to give me homework and he obligingly provided me with exercise books and books to work from, but it was no easy task to get him to mark the work when I had done it. I remember once I had completely filled an exercise book before he found time to mark it.

Around this time we had to start sorting out in the school and clearing out all the cupboards as the school was to be rebuilt. We had been working to pay for a new school at the Church and Sunday School for a long time. We had sales of work, concerts, dances, and whist drives, besides lots of individual efforts like potato pie suppers, selling sweets, having raffles, etc. so now we were ready to move out of the school while it was rebuilt. So for a few weeks we ha a glorious time emptying boxes of costumes and props, emptying cupboards of books, etc. many of the things had not seen the light of day for ages and a lot of it was being thrown out, so we were allowed to take anything we wanted before it was put in the bin. To us this was a treasure trove indeed. My poor mother must have been fed up with all the rubbish I took home. All kinds of dog-eared books and knick-knacks. I think my most prized possession was a Japanese Kimono and fan. That was used quite often for concerts in the back yard.

While the school was being rebuilt we had to go to St George's School which was only used as a Sunday School normally. It was a dual-purpose building serving as both Church and School. We were a bit stuck for space, as we had to have four classes in one room, one class being on the platform which on Sunday was the Chancel. There was a big organ in the room and Mr Hay, the Headmaster, used to like playing on it so we had lots of singing lessons. One of the tunes I remember him playing was ‘The Lost Chord' which was quite a favourite of his.

While I was there I took the Scholarship exam. For the first time but I did not pass it but I did pass the exam for the Central School and after spending twelve months there I did pass the exam for the Grammar School at the second attempt so I never went back to St James's after it was rebuilt.