Near Norwich the
Norfolk Broads & Coast
by Michael Yaxley 2006
"It is history with memories we hold in our hearts."
The first years of one’s life are normally the years that one treasures most and for many children going to school is the first experience of being outside the care of their family. The children who had just turned five and started school in Cawston in 1954 will probably still remember that first Tuesday in September when their mothers brought them to Ms. Tuthill’s infants class at Cawston Primary School. I was one of them. Ms. Tuthill was already at the school when we arrived. She showed us to our desks and our mothers waited outside looking through the small glass window in the door.
All of us proceeded through Cawston primary school at the same pace with a double
class in either Ms. Tuthill’s class or in the second class with Ms. Meddlar who took
on some of the 6 year old children and all of the 7 year olds. At the age of 8 we
were all upgraded to Mr. Jones’ class where we stayed for 1 or 2 years before going
on to the last class run by the headmaster, Mr. Kett.
2. School Attendance
The school day would start with the recording of those present in the dark blue school attendance register. It was like a ritual when the teacher ceremoniously called out our names in alphabetical order and we answered “Yes Miss” or “Yes Sir” in our high-pitched voices sitting on small hard wooden chairs behind our desks. If a pupil did not answer there was dead silence until the teacher asked, “Does anyone know where he/she is today?” Frequently a child would stand up and give the teacher a note. It would be opened discreetly but the teacher’s body language would often reveal whether he or she found the reason justifiable.
In the 1950’s there was no national curriculum, with the exception of religious education, and teachers were very much in control in the schools and could develop lesson material as they pleased. At Cawston school we were lucky as this led to a positive development. The teachers succeeded in giving us an all-round development, including knowledge, skills, concepts and attitudes and the way in which we were able to use our own unique tastes and talents in a useful and meaningful way.
3. Ms. Tuthill’s class
In Ms. Tuthill’s infants class there was always an unforgettable smell of the putty-like modelling material called plasticine. We tried to create the popular ‘Muffin the Mule’ from plasticine, which some of us had seen on television. Muffin was a piece of wood shaped rather like a mule and became a TV favourite with children. We played numerous games and learned to spell, count, draw and read elementary texts with the aid of illustrations, pictures and the teacher’s blackboard. I remember that the first book I read at school was one of Enid Blyton’s book called ”Noddy” which featured Golliwogs, the black-faced woollen dolls.
On Mondays, some of us brought flowers to school and it was the duty of one girl (never a boy) to put them in an empty jam jar of water. We picked the flowers in our gardens or gathered wild flowers from the fields and hedges over the weekend. I remember that in the springtime we would collect sticky buds that started to appear on the trees which we would also put in a jam jar of water and observe how the leaves slowly developed. The traditional teddy bear was very popular with all children in the 1950’s and some of us in Ms. Tuthill’s class still brought our favourite toys to school. The boys often brought their small steam engine or motor car and the girls brought their favourite doll with them.
Hours were then spent in Ms. Tuthill’s class learning and singing nursery rhymes like “Little Bo-Peep” “Miss Muffet”, “Old Mother Hubbard” and “Baa Black Sheep”. At this age we were unaware that most nursery rhymes written several centuries ago had a political background. They did, however, provided us with hours of enjoyment, learning, reciting and singing them completely out of tune together with the teacher.
After we had mastered some of the basics of spelling, reading and counting, Ms. Tuthill taught us the former British currency based on Pounds, Shillings and Pence with the aid of cardboard coins and fake banknotes. The metric system was not introduced until 1971 so we struggled at this very young age to learn that there were 12 pence in a shilling and 20 shillings in a pound. In addition, we needed to know that 21 were worth a guinea which was also a common way of pricing higher-priced products in the 1950’s. The system was made even more difficult by the fact that the largest coin was not always the most valuable one. On top of this we were also taught the complex weight, volume and measurement system that only existed in Britain and its commonwealth countries. For all of us this was not easy and was very time consuming to learn.
Now and again it happened that one of us had a runny nose. Ms. Tuthill would immediately attend to us in her unfailing kindness. As infants we all pulled funny faces, pinched each other and even scratched one another. Only on a rare occasions were naughty infants told to stand in the corner with their face to the wall for 30 minutes.
We often walked around the playing field in the spring and summer and Ms Tuthill would teach us the names of the wild flowers, trees, bushes and birds. I remember that Ms. Tuthill would take us for short nature walks around the village and we all had to hold hands for fear of getting lost. She taught us some of the basic rules on the roads as pedestrians. In the 1950’s, there was not much traffic in Cawston and the village seemed to be growing with shops for all needs, one bakers, two butchers, bicycle repair shop, a fish and chip shop with a café and several grocery shops. We walked with Ms. Tuthill to Cawston station yard to see a freight train pulling in and once we took our drawing pads and hopelessly drew a black and white cow sitting in a field near the school. I remember that mine looked more like a monster from a science fiction film, but Ms. Tuthill never admitted this. Related Link:
On one nature walk we bumped into the local policeman along the Norwich Road on his bike who stopped to talk to Ms. Tuthill. I remember how we were all frightened until he smiled at us and departed as quickly as he had appeared. The village policeman lived in the police house at the Woodrow and he seemed to know about everything in the village. Related link:
Our daily exercise in the infants class was to run twice a day half way up the playing field. I never did know whether this was for our benefit or for the benefit of the teacher who just wanted a short break from so many screaming infants.
4. Ms. Meddlar’s class
In Ms. Meddlar’s class we literally spent hours reciting our tables up to 12 x 12 is 144. At that time we were not sure what came after 144 as counting seemed to stop there. We also spent hours learning and reciting the “Lord Prayer” as Ms. Meddlar prompted us while we mumbled away. We also spent hours reciting the “Creed” which we all found much more difficult and most of us never learned it properly.
At this age of 7 we could write short sentences that we constantly practised under Ms. Meddlar’s strict supervision. Some of the writing paper we were given was without lines, so we had to draw straight lines with the aid of a12 inch wooden ruler. And then the regular spelling test would start. Ms. Meddlar ensured that no one ever got 10 out of 10 as she would always throw in a one or two syllable word that we had never heard of before. We were never allowed to check our own spelling tests but had to give our spelling books to the child sitting next to us. Ms. Meddlar always paid attention to our handwriting and ensured that bad writers improved their penmanship as quickly as possible by continuous practice.
In Ms. Meddlar’s class we would regularly be given books in large print to read at home. Ms. Meddlar would call each of us individually to her desk to tell her about the book. If you were unable to summarise the story you would not be allowed to exchange the book until you could tell her the story. It was really amazing for us to see how she could have read so many books and memorised all these stories. In all honesty, most of us were more interested in reading our weekly comics like the “Dandy” and “Beano”.
I shall always remember how Mrs. Meddlar frequently asked us to draw the tree standing in the middle of the playing field with a hard black pencil on a scrap of old newspaper. It was always difficult to differentiate the drawing of the tree from the black newspaper text.
Needless to say, we all got black fingers from the newspaper print. Those who convinced the teacher that he or she could draw the tree showing the trunk, branches and twigs in the right perspective would then be allowed to draw the same on a piece of white paper. This was considered to be quite an honour.
Many of us had childish habits like nose-picking and nail-biting. Ms. Meddlar would not tolerate this so it was done outside in a corner of the playing field or in the toilet where she could not see it. If a child in her class started picking or biting his or her finger nails Ms. Meddlar would immediately intervene and lecture us about body hygiene. I remember once that a girl came to school in a frilly blouse. This did not go down well with Ms. Meddlar. She told the girl not to wear the frilly blouse any more as she did not want her classroom turning into a fashion show. Ms. Meddlar, however, did not object to the boys coming to school with shiny hair after using brylcreem.
In Ms. Meddlar’s class we also started practicing to sing hymns. Our minds were not always set on the hymns but more on the world shattering singalongs that accompanied television advertisements such as “Murray Mints, Murray Mints, the too good to hurry mints” and our favourite “The Esso sign means happy motoring”.
5. Mr. Jones’class
The change from having two female teachers to a male one, Mr. Jones, was not easy as we all assumed that men were stricter than women. We were all used to admiring the dresses and blouses of our teachers and smelling the fragrance of Yardley's ‘Lily of the Valley’. Now we had a man standing in front of us wearing a white shirt, light-coloured jacket and plain dark trousers.
At the age of eight many of us were quite good at reading and were now given abridged editions of children’s books with medium-size print to read, such as “Black Beauty”, “Treasure Island” and “Robinson Crusoe”. Reading aloud and discussing texts in the classroom was encouraged a lot and helped improve our communication skills. We also learned poems that most of us did not really appreciate and understand. They were recited in the class until we had them in our heads. What had been known as spelling in Meddlar’s class now became known as dictation. We were given more difficult sums to do, now called arithmetic, based on the tables we had learned in Ms. Meddlar’s class. I can remember that we often did complicated sums on the black board, especially long divisions and multiplications.
History and geography appeared on the timetable and at last we knew where the countries of the Commonwealth were (including those which were becoming independent) and how many kings and queens had ruled England.
Mr. Jones gave us ‘still life’ to draw and paint by bringing to school flowers like
chrysanthemums and carnations. This was difficult as most of us were used to painting
by numbers which we had received as birthday or Christmas presents . We also started
to draw each other’s faces and this was hilarious for the entire class. We were given
projects to do. I distinctly remember two of my projects. I had to gather information
about oranges, a rare commodity in those days that were gradually appearing in the
shops. Import of oranges to
England had been stopped during World War II. The other project was nature related and I observed the growth of a wild-growing gooseberry bush on the hedge opposite to our house. This project took several months as I drew the leaves and buds on a weekly basis as they slowly developed until the gooseberries were ready to pick. Neither oranges nor gooseberry bushes determined my fate, but I still like to eat them. Related Link:
6. Mr. Kett’s class
I spent one year in Mr. Kett’s class starting at the age of ten. He was a kind and fatherly figure and created a stimulating environment in the top class. It was mainly in Mr. Kett’s class that we learned what arithmetic was, which was now being called mathematics. Mr. Kett was a real expert on local history and taught us about Norfolk industies e.g. the manufactures of cloth, shoes, printing and bookbinding as well as the old farming systems. We learned about the "Cold War", which began as a geopolitical, ideological, and economic struggle between the Soviet Union and the United States. We also discussed current affairs subjects like the Suez Crisis and the European Community (Common Market), the precursor of the European Union that was then established. We learned about Commonwealth history and geography with the aid of maps and charts that had been fixed to boards around the classroom.
In this class we also learned how to write short essays on various topics, to answer questions effectively and to research topics. We started to learn about English grammar and punctuation and realised that there was a ‘system’ to every sentence we uttered. We were also taught manners and how to behave properly which helped close the gap between behaviour problems shown by the different groups of pupils. We were taught, inter alia, not to hurt other people and their feelings, not to damage other people’s belongings, not to interrupt and not to cover up the truth.
Each classroom had a wireless set fixed to the wall between the teacher’s desk and the classroom door. At certain times of the day the BBC would broadcast school programmes. I remember in particular a series we listed to in Mr. Kett’s class about old China and its emperors. Once a week we would listen to a different story about China and then summarise it in our exercise books.
One day in 1959 it was announced at school that we would learn to dance and go to Aylsham primary school to dance with the pupils there. I had gained a lot of weight in the latter part of the 1950’s and was given a correspondingly ‘big’ dancing partner. I assume that the teachers thought that the weight criteria made us compatible as a dancing couple. For weeks we practiced a number of dances before going to Aylsham one late afternoon to dance in front of the teachers and governors of the school. During the dancing classes were also learned how to stand and walk properly and the girls learnt how to accept when a boy asked you to dance and to say "thank you " at the end of the dance. We learned a lot at the dancing classes and that was appreciated. However, for me it had one drawback. I would not have been so embarrassed dancing with a fat girl if one of the teachers at Aylsham primary school had not been the mother of my aunt’s husband who knew me well.
On another occasion Mr. Kett organised an Easton’s coach to take us to visit Norwich. We visited Elm Hill where Mr. Kett explained to us that it was the grand throughfare of Norwich in earlier times. We went to the cathedral and admired this breathtaking piece of Norman architecture. We visited the castle and learned that it was completely different in Norman times. Finally, we were driven to Mousehold heath, the highest point over Norwich, where in 1549 Robert Kett and his rebels made their camp before swooping down to besiege the city. On the way to and from Norwich Mr. John Kett asked us to take note of the names of the pubs we passed. A few days later he explained to us the historical meaning of many of these pub signs and we then had to draw our favourite one. Related Link:
We also visited Cawston church on a few occasions. Cawston church is full of commemorative embossed brass reliefs and Mr. Kett asked us to make brass rubbings as a way of learning about the history of the church. We created them by laying a sheet of white wallpaper on top of a brass relief and rubbing the paper with graphite or wax. One day we all cycled to Haveringland to visit the church and to make a drawing of it. Mr. Kett took this opportunity to tell us about the history of the old aerodrome and the village of Haveringland with the famous stocks.
Shortly before we left Cawston school I remember Mr. Kett talking to us about our future education and careers. We were at that time living in the manufacturing and agricultural age, rather than the present day information age. In those days many of us were thinking about our careers and whether we would have a blue collar job or white collar occupation. I remember how we were told that several school children who had attended Cawston school in the past were now secretaries, receptionists and support assistants. Some of the former school girls at Cawston were also working in typing pools in big offices typing correspondence and contracts. Despite his encouragement most of the boys still wanted to become train divers.
7. Eleven-Plus Examination
At the age of 10 or 11, depending on our date of birth, we sat the so-called “Eleven-Plus Examination” (also called ‘scholarship’) that determined our immediate future. The “Eleven-Plus Examination” consisted of a series of questions based on the ability to solve problems using verbal and non-verbal reasoning and logical thinking. Those who passed made it to grammar/high school and those who failed were fated to take needlework or woodwork.
The entire nation in those days talked about the controversial “Eleven-Plus Examination” as success in this led to an academic education at grammar school, and perhaps university, while failure led to what was often an inferior education at secondary modern school, from which students usually went straight into work. Only a couple of pupils in my year passed this examination. At Cawston, the few that passed continued their education at the more academic Grammar/High School at North Walsham and the majority who failed were destined for the more vocational Secondary Modern School at Reepham that was opened in 1960. The success of school children in this selection process at eleven became the measure by which the primary schools in the 1950’s were judged. Below are a couple of sample “Eleven-Plus” questions as they were in the late 1950’s: century ago, children's futures were often sealed at the age of 11 when they took the '11-.
1) In the table below, some numbers appear only once, some twice, some three times, and so on up to six times.
2 6 4 2 8 8 2
9 2 7 5 4 7 9
7 9 9 2 5 4 7
5 3 7 7 6 2 4
a) One figure occurs the same number of times as its own value. What is the figure? 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9.
b) Two columns add up to the same total. What is this total? 16, 21, 23, 27.
c) What is the largest figure in the column with the smallest total? 5, 6, 7, 8, 9.
d) How many figures appear only once? 1, 2, 3, 4.
e) The number of figures in the table is equal to the product of two of the figures. How many times does the larger figure appear? 3, 4, 5, 6.
f) Find three figures next to each other in a row so that the product of the first two equals the third? (i) 2, 7 ,5; (ii) 3, 7, 7; (iii) 4,2,8; (iv) 6, 2, 4.
g) How many figures from 1-9 inclusive appear an odd number of times? 1, 2, 3, 4.
2). In these questions, you have to find the word in the list of possible answers that is most like the three words in capitals and is different from the rest.
e.g. YELLOW, BLUE, RED Answers: Paper, Paint, Colour, GREEN, Brush, Ink
a) COAT, BOOT, COLLAR Umbrella, Stick, Pipe, Tie, Ring, Railway.
b) BOAT, TRAIN, CAR Sail, Motor-Cycle, Move, Row, Tube, Watch
c) ROAST, BOIL, STEW Joint, Oven, Bake, Prepare, Serve, Burn
d) WRITE, ETCH, CARVE Engrave, Chop, Trace, Shave, Whittle, Shear
e) GARDEN, HAYFIELD, PASTURE Desert, Farmer, Orchard, Cattle, Vegetable, Crop
f) JAM, SYRUP, PAINT Tar, Water, Soap, Sugar, Fruit, Paper
g) PILLAR BOX, FIRE ALARM, LAMP POST Post Office, Traffic Signal, Fire Engine, Policeman, Telephone Wires, Lamp Lighter
h) FENCE, HEGDE, WALL Bush, Tree, Post, Brick, Pattern, Border
8. Assembly Hall
The spacious assembly hall was the focal point of the school and faced the playground. The morning prayers with a bible reading and a few words from the headmaster took place here before lessons commenced. In preparation for the short morning service we learned psalms and bible passages. The two top classes seemed to know the hymns by heart and the young ones soon picked them up.
The assembly hall was also where the entire school would meet for official announcements, meetings, for school dinners, bazaar, concerts and parties. Attached to the spacious assembly hall was the school kitchen that was closed off by a door and two hatches that were opened to serve the school meals. The assembly hall itself had large glass windows on two sides. One side of the assembly hall had large doors that led out into the playground. From here the teachers sipping their cups of tea could observe the children in the morning and afternoon break playing outside.
The assembly hall also had a wireless attached to the wall at the double-door entrance to the school classrooms. It was in this hall that we all listened to Norwich City’s greatest achievements by reaching the semi-final of the 1958–59 FA Cup as a hird division side. The game we listened to was the semi-final replay against first division side Luton Town, which Norwich lost.
9. Playground and Discipline
The playground was at most times a peaceful place but there were occasions when thumping, pinching, pushing, slapping and kicking took place. However, this did not happen very often but when it did Mr. Jones would shout “Leave him alone and come here straight away”. This did not automatically mean corporal punishment. I cannot remember the cane being used at at all. I do not even remember boys being given warnings but I do remember a boy being told to write a 100 lines for pulling the plaits of the girl’s skirt. Verbal intimidation in those days by calling another child by a name that hurt and offended him or her, something that school children nowadays are taught not to do, was really no great problem in the 1950’s. Bullying, the wilful conscious desire to hurt or frighten someone, also took place at school, but was considered harmless in those days less than it is today.
A few years after I left Cawston primary school I began to appreciate how lucky we were not to have been caned. One boy from a neighbouring village who was regularly caned at primary school by the teacher told me that the cane never really hurt as he would wear a Teutonic arse shield, i.e. short Bavarian leather trousers, under his normal trousers which helped deflect the sting of the cane. Teachers at his school seemed to be strong disciplinarians, probably men who had just returned from war service and expected high standards.
Society was very different in the 1950s than it is today. There were many rules which were important and were not to be broken. Our upbringing at school and home was much stricter than it is today As children we knew what was right and wrong and which rules we should not break. All of us were accountable for our actions and doings and there was no such thing as the “grey area”; either you did right or you did wrong.
The playground at Cawston school is where we ran around and played games such as hopscotch, marbles and Ring-a-Ring-o’-Roses. Skipping ropes were a great favourite with girls, although sometimes boys would also join in a game. The game was played in good and bad weather. Two girls would hold the big rope at each end and the other girls had to jump over without tripping. When it was wet the rope would slash on the ground in the puddles of water and the boys had to jump out of the way. We also played the supposedly weight-watching game of hoola-hoop that became popular for a while in the 1950’s.
The playground became a place for exchanging views about television that was up and coming in the 1950’s. Those children who did not have a television set were always angling for an invitation to the homes of friends who were connected to TV. We would all sit together and gaze at the flickering picture on the tiny screen, which was housed in an ugly wooden cabinet. Televisions were monochrome and only had one channel, the BBC. As a child most of us watched Cracker Jack (the show with tasteless jokes, pop star guests and a singalong finale); Blue Peter (the show for the 5 to 8 year olds) and “Dixon of Dock Green” (insignificant everyday crimes with a benevolent fatherly figure called Dixon). In those days we watched TV for pleasure and it was impossible to become addicted to it.
10. School Dinners
None of us will ever forget the bell at school that rang to announce the start of school, at break times, lunch time and the finish of school in mid afternoon. For most of us with empty stomachs the most important ring was for dinner. School dinners were served in two sittings; the infants and second class first, followed by the two higher classes. The dinner money was collected once a week by the teacher and marked off accordingly in the register. The Labour government of 1945-51 tried many times to provide all meals free of charge but eventually decided that this was unrealistic for budgetary reasons.
School dinners were served at noon in the assembly hall. Tables and chairs were set up for this purpose and we all had our place at the tables. Before entering the hall we all stood in a long row behind the door. When ready, the teachers let un into the assembly hall. After having taken our places at the tables we were told, table by table, when to the go to the hatch to collect our first course. This self-service system functioned well and the teachers ensured discipline at all times. On empty stomachs and with a plate full of food in front of us a short prayer (“For what we are about to receive, may the Lord make us truly thankful”) was said before we were allowed to start eating.
The daily meal consisted of a small portion of meat with potatoes and vegetables. On Fridays a portion of fish replaced the meat. The food was served to us by three kitchen cooks (ladies dressed in long white aprons) who stood behind the hatch in the kitchen. Second helpings of potatoes and vegetables were often in great demand. After we had all finished eating the first course, we were sent to the second hatch to deliver the dirty plates and cutlery. The dessert was called “afters’ and in the same fashion was collected on a self-service basis from the hatch. It consisted invariably of a 2” x 2” inch square of light or dark coloured pudding with custard or chocolate sauce. Although many of us criticised the daily meal it was, generally speaking, good and nourishing. We just had to accept the fact that the custard was often lumpy.
On Fridays, when we ate the fish at school most of us dreamed about Mrs. Stackwood’s fish and chip shop which produced excellent fish and chips always wrapped in newspaper. Her fish and chip shop and café was very popular shop Cawston in the 1950’s. Admittedly, her fish and chips were better than those at school but she did not have to cook for some 100 hungry kids at the same time.
We were told by the teachers to eat our plates clean. It was assumed that children would eat anything on empty stomachs. And so it happened that when the teachers were not looking we would quickly pass the food we disliked to the next boy or girl. The nursery rhyme we learned in Ms. Tuthill’s class sums this up well:
“Jack Sprat would eat no fat,
His wife would eat no lean,
And so between the two of them,
They licked the platter clean.
11. School Milk
In 1946, universal free school milk in bottles of one third of a pint was introduced. This free milk was provided all year round by the government to ensure that school children received nourishment at school. Just before the mid-morning break two
so-called ‘milk monitors’ in each class would go to the kitchen entrance and collect the crate of fresh milk for each class. They would then poke a hole with a plastic straw through the silver foil caps. The cold milk was refreshing in the winter months but in hot weather, the milk got warm and the cream at the top of the bottle almost turned to butter. On certain days the milkman would leave behind a few bottles of orange juice that were distributed by the teachers to those children who had performed particularly well.
Reflecting back I must admit that we had a healthier diet than our counterparts in the 21st century as we got the right food to eat and drink. The food and nutrient intake at that time was better than today. The higher amounts of bread, milk and vegetables consumed in the 1950’s are closer to the healthy eating guidelines of today. The milk we drunk at school increased our calcium intake and the vegetables on school dinner plates were in abundance. Our typical daily diet in 1950’s consisted of eggs or cereal with bread, butter and marmalade for breakfast; meat, potatoes and vegetables as well as a pudding with custard for lunch at noon; salad, bread, butter and jam, cake and sometimes biscuits for tea; and milk last thing at night. The most frequently consumed fruit were strawberries and rhubarb. Lettuces, peas, beans and tomatoes were the most commonly eaten vegetables. Jelly, tapioca pudding, rice pudding and banana splits were also very popular in the 1950’s.
Religious Education was taught in all 4 classes at . The teachers showed us the Christian culture in which we were growing up. Rev. Ames would frequently come to the school and talk to us about the bible and the church He was always a welcome guest and had a very stimulating way of explaining the bible. He would participate now and again in our scripture lessons and encourage us to attend Sunday school at .
The church has had a commitment to provide education for many centuries. State provision for public education came with the 1870 Education Act which supplemented the churches’ provision. This Act demonstrated the partnership between the state and the churches in education, which has continued to the present day. The Education Act of 1944 offered church schools increased state funding and control as “Voluntary Controlled Schools”. The 1944 Act also required all schools to have a short daily act of worship and religious instructions.
As Cawston school was is a Church of England school it had an impact on the school year. Ascension Day, for example, was celebrated by the whole school attending a service at Cawston Church. We went to school, the attendance register was marked off and we then walked to Cawston Church for the special service that had been organised by the Rev. Ames. After the service we went home. This was a day in May we all looked forward to as the weather was mostly stable in May.
One of the highlights of the year was the Cawston Church garden fete took place at the rectory in the summer. I also remember that we were given leaflets to take home advising our parents of this event. It was an exciting event for us at school and I remember how we would always talk about it for weeks. Some of us went with our parents to the fete which had numerous stalls selling home-made cakes and jams, second hand clothes, home made handicrafts, etc. There were various raffles with modest prizes. A lot of us won gold fish that were handed to us in small transparent plastic bags filled with water. The person who fascinated the children most was the fortune teller who sat in a small tent and was dressed like a gypsy. Only the adults were allowed to enter and have their fortune told.
13. Christmas at School
In the primary and second class we used to make simple Christmas decorations, like colourful paper chains that we hung up in the classroom windows that faced the playing field. Mrs. Meddlar used to read us Christmas stories which we had to read later by ourselves, and Christmas poems which we had to recite after her. One of the most fascinating Christmas stories we read at school in Mr. Kett’s class was an abridged version Charles Dickens’ “Christmas Carol”. From mid-November until Christmas we would regularly read a chapter of this book aloud and this unusual festive story undoubtedly added to the pre-Christmas excitement.
The school also had a Christmas bazaar in late November for which we made Christmas logs one year and our parents contributed with home-made produce, second-hand clothes and books, that were offered for sale. To make the Christmas log we used a piece of silver birch and decorate it with a small colourful candle and gold-painted holly and ivy. On the day of the bazaar tables were placed around the assembly hall and our parents would go from table to table and finally sit down on the chairs provided to enjoy a cup of tea and a home-made piece of fruit cake or a fruit bun. There was always a raffle for a home-made Christmas cake at the Christmas bazaar. One year it was decided that the winner of the cake must guess the number of currants inside it. I shall always remember that no one guessed the actual number of currants in the cake. There were only eight currants inside the cake; the rest were sultanas. In the end it auctioned off in support of the school.
The Christmas concert was held in mid December. Around Guy Faulkes’ Day (A Penny for the Guy) we would start to practice our singing and acting, so that we could entertain our families, friends and neighbours at the concert just before Christmas. Christmas carols were sung, poems recited and short plays, including the Nativity play, were rehearsed for the big day when we all did our best in front of a full house. In the infants class I remember standing on the stage with the class singing “O Little Town of Bethlehem” completely out of tune but with the support of the teachers whose voices raised above ours. One year we acted a few scenes from Robin Hood. As I was rather fat at the time I was well suited for the role of Friar Tuck, an overfed monk.
The highlight of the school year was the Christmas party. The party was held in the assembly hall where we all lots of good food, music and games to play. The infants class would have their Christmas party earlier than the older school children. In those days we all believed in figures like Father Christmas and the Fairy Queen, so the beloved man dressed in a red robe with a long white beard was never missing at the party. The traditional game of musical chairs was always very popular and went on for ages. During my first year at school I was sick at the time of the party but was pleasantly surprised when someone knocked at the door and deliver a big parcel for me containing lots of fancy cakes from the party.
During mid November the photographer would come to the school and take an individual photograph of each of us. About two weeks later we were given the school photograph to take to our parents who inevitably ordered a few to send with their Christmas cards to distant relatives and friends and to place on the mantelpiece.
14. Valentine’s Day
Valentine’s Day, 14 February, in the 1950’s was eagerly awaited by school children as Christmas Day. It was a big thing in Norfolk which we talked about at school. One of the customs, which I believe was a Norfolk custom, was to leave a present on someone’s doorstep, attach a piece of string to it and pull the string away when the recipient tries to pick it up. It often happened that we had an anonymous present on the doorstep which we found after a knock on the door. Sometimes presents were wrapped in big cardboard boxes or layers of old newspapers, Inside there was something quite useless but it was the fun that counted and this all added to the excitement. I remember that every child at received Valentine presents from the family and neighbours. Typical presents in those days for boys included paint by numbers, do-it-yourself models, cap guns and for girls tea sets and hoola hoops. All of us received drawing and painting books, pencils and crayons as well as comic books.
15. School Welfare
I recall that the school doctor, a lady dressed in white, came once a year to examine us during our early years at school which I expect was one of the services being provided by the newly created National Health Service that was to provide everyone with a certain degree of medical care. Our mother was asked to be present. We had to undress and stand in front of the doctor in our white underwear for the thorough check-up.
We also had several inoculations at irregular intervals at school. In those days the same needle was used and the prick in the left arm was painful, especially for me as I was always by name the last in the queue and by that time the needle was nearly blunt. The doctor would prepare the needle while the nurse would hold us tight as we were all frightened of the blunt needles. Despite being immunised against several illnesses we all seemed to suffer once from the measles, chicken pox and whooping cough.
I also recall that on advice from the doctor I, together with others, were taken to the dentist at Aylsham. Not knowing what was going to happen I remember having a milk tooth extracted. Normally anaesthetics or gum-numbing injections are used for extractions but without any warning the tooth was just pulled out and I suffered real pain. As the tooth was already loose the dentist probably thought that I would not feel much. He was wrong.
Once a week after school Mr. Kett organised a first aid course named after the Brigade. The course took place in a corner of the school assembly hall and we learned the basics of traditional first aid step-by-step. After completion of each segment a nurse came to examine us by means of a practical examination when we were required to tie a triangle sling and bandage and to answer a few questions. If we successfully passed the examination we were ceremoniously awarded the yellow badge for the beginners course, the red badge for the intermediate course and the black badge for advanced course.
17. Open Day
The school Open Day in the summer was an event for everyone when we showed our parents the school successes. Our parents also had an opportunity to talk to the teachers. This was the day on which our parents were handed our school reports. This was also the day when our best work was displayed on large boards around each classroom. We showed our parents the content of our desks and they went through our books to see the work we had done and how it had been marked by the teachers. There were times when this became a sort of social event as I remember a few mothers and fathers meetings friends there who they had not seen for a long time and consequently indulged in long conversations.
18. Sports Day
The Sports Day at was always very popular as most parents and friends came to see us run and jump and fall down. We practised outside for months and on the day each class presented its best sport-boys and sports-girls to compete against each other in the so-called house system. Due to the size of my body I was not very good at sport and usually came last in every running game. In the infants class this did not bother me as both winners and losers received a picture book as a prize. In the other three classes, the winners and runner-ups were recorded after each game and later on that day were presented with a drawing book.
Sports Day was also an important social occasion for the entire village as the turn out was always very good and it gave our parents an opportunity to meet with friends. I remember that some of our neighbours came to Sports Day although they had no children at school. This was a truly social event where friends, relatives and neighbours could meet and have a chat while watching the games.
For the rest of the year the boys would regularly play football at Cawston school once a week and the girls would play netball or rounder's, a game similar to baseball, played with a bat and ball with an equal number of girls on each side.
19. House System
Cawston primary school also had the “house system” which was a traditional feature
of British schools in the 1950’s. As far as I recall the houses were named after
former Cawston school teachers e.g. Mr. Chaffey. As of Ms. Meddlar’s class we were
divided into houses which had a name and colour. We were assigned to houses randomly
in each class. The main objective of the house points system was to promote unity
and teamwork as well as the sense of belonging to a school house. We earned merit
points in each class by recognition of our outstanding contributions to the school,
for very good behaviour and for exceptionally good class work. I remember that there
was always good-natured rivalry between the houses at Cawston school to see who would
obtain the most points during the school year.
Most points were awarded at the school’s annual Sports Day when the winners and runners-up got points that were added to the total that had been achieved for academic work. At each Sports Day the house points earned throughout the year were added up and the house with the most points won the House Cup.
20. School Holidays
Very few school children went on holiday in the 1950’s and those who did stayed with relatives and friends. The summer holiday for the majority of school children was spent in “Gardenia”, the own back garden. All the boys had a own small piece of garden where we used to grow diversified vegetables and potatoes on a smaller scale than in the larger family garden. The seeds would go into the soil as a rule on Good Friday eating hot cross buns and it was fun to watch the slow growth until it was time to harvest them in the late summer. We also went on the occasional excursion to the seaside: Sheringham, Cromer or Great Yarmouth. A lot of the school children were taken by their parents and friends to Booton clay pits to fish where I recall numerous large pikes being caught and enjoyed by the family for tea. We also cycled to the nearby villages; Heydon being the prettiest was one of our favourites.
In our holidays and leisure time many boys at Cawston school collected cigarette cards which were given free in a packet of cigarettes. They depicted famous personalities (sportsmen or women), trains, ships, racing cars, butterflies, birds, etc. The cards came in sets of fifty and if we had duplicates we would swap them until we had a complete set. Some of the girls collected shiny coloured cutout pictures of angels, cherubs, children, birds, trees, flowers etc. which they put in a scrap book. Another favourite with the girls were the small celluloid dolls. Some of the girls would make them clothes with pieces of cloth, needle and thread. As there was not much money around in the 1950’s entertainment was usually a do-it-yourself job. I remember that many girls in the village would play at shopkeepers by setting up shop on a windowsill. They would make their merchandise from clay and stones.
Aylsham had a cinema in the 1950’s, that was commonly known as the pictures. We all loved going to the pictures to see the Saturday matinee and I remember the many children queuing outside Aylsham cinema every Saturday afternoon. During our holidays some of us also used to walk or cycle to Aylsham sale on a Monday which at that age provided enormous enjoyment to see animals and goods being auctioned off.
The 1950’s were a decade of happy memories and modest economic growth. Many scientific and technological advances and industrial achievements changed our lives: television, nylon, rayon, plastics and atomic energy. I remember that one year we all had a favourite Christmas present and that was a small Bush transistor radio, that were becoming very popular. And then the word “Sony” soon became a household word for small radios. Some of our parents now began washing our clothes in washing machines that became available. And some homes acquired a refrigerator and vacuum cleaner which helped increased leisure time. By the end of the 1950’s there was a television aerial on almost every third roof in Cawston. All of these new appliances put a whole new dimension on peoples’ conversations and lives in the village.
When you look around at other country schools in the 1950s, mainly in a state of repair and a constant burden on resources, we were really lucky to have started at a newly built and modern school. Cawston primary school had no shortcomings like many in the country. There was a large playing field, hard surfaced playground, modern assembly hall with adjacent kitchens for school dinners as well as large and modern classrooms that were reasonably well equipped.
Our teachers at Cawston in the 1950’s could often be very strict, but were also young at heart and appeared to embrace new challenges. Compared to modern standards, the equipment available to teachers and school children was very basic, but we managed with these means. The pioneering spirit of the teachers undoubtedly helped us by providing an environment in which we felt secure and happy, giving us confidence, helping us develop our capabilities and recognising the individuality of every child. I think the education we received at their hands in this new school was better education than we might have received elsewhere.
“Cawston would be a poorer place without the school.”
“Village School” by Miss Read
Miss Read has become very popular for their humorous and vivid depictions of English rural life. In “Village School” Miss Read (in real life Ms. Dora Saint), a retired school teacher, describes the school year starting with the bitterly cold Christmas term that causes havoc with the school's outdated heating system, up to the hot summer days when school finishes. In her novel Miss Read describes a two-class school in the 1950’s where she is head mistress. She describes everyday life of the inhabitants of the sleepy village of Fairacre in the 1950’s with humour and irony.
Miss Read also wrote “Village Affairs” which is about the people of Fairacre who are worried about the possible closure of the village school. Miss Read loves the countryside and again in this book writes humorously about village life.