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
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.
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.
Cawston primary school in the 1950’s
provided all the books, writing paper and other resources we needed. As we grew
older we used pens that dipped into inkwells until we received a fountain pen as
a birthday or Christmas present. We were also given text books at school at the
start of each term; many of which had been previously used. The kept the books
in our desks and only took them home to do our homework. The text books had to
last for many years and it often happened that you received a text book in a bad
condition from a school boy or school girl who had already written some answers
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.
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.
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 currency 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: Business History
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: Public Houses
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.
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”
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”.
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: War Memorials, Roll
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
We also discussed current affairs subjects like the
(Common Market), the precursor of the
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
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
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
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.
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
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:
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.
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.
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.
BLUE, RED Answers: Paper, Paint, Colour, GREEN, Brush, Ink
a) COAT, BOOT,
COLLAR Umbrella, Stick, Pipe, Tie, Ring, Railway.
TRAIN, CAR Sail, Motor-Cycle, Move, Row, Tube, Watch
BOIL, STEW Joint, Oven, Bake, Prepare, Serve, Burn
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
side. The game we listened to was the semi-final replay against first division
side Luton Town, which Norwich lost.
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 Cawston school 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
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.
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
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:
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
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
Religious Education was taught in all 4
classes at Cawston school. 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.
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.
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
Cawston school 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.
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
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
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 St. John’s Ambulance 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.
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
The Sports Day at
Cawston primary school
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.
Cawston primary school also had the “house
system” which was a traditional feature of
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.
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
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
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
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.
would be a poorer place without the school.”
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.
Books Containing Cawston History