ID: DJG_VSD / Douglas J. Gurton

TitleVillage School Days
AbstractOver the years the village has been most fortunately favoured by the selection of headmasters, headmistresses, and teachers appointed to educate the children of the village, and we who were pupils should feel eternally grateful for the care, dedication, and knowledge imparted to us at school, although not fully appreciated at the time. I well remember my first day in the Infants' School. After the preliminaries sometime previously of recording personal details, I was measured and weighed, and allotted a peg in the cloakroom for my cap and coat. I found myself in a class-room of about 30 girls and boys, roundabout the same age as myself, but possibly a little older, as the majority appeared to know the routine. I was allotted a small single desk behind a little girl with long plaited pig-tails, and given a small blackboard and piece of chalk. The first lesson I had was to learn and pronounce the simple vowels, also copy the letters which the teacher chalked up on the large black-board. A session of pronouncing the vowels then followed, and I thought we all sounded like a lot of donkeys braying. The lesson concluding, we were told to clean our blackboards. I cleaned mine in an unorthodox manner, and the little girl in front, promptly jumped up, put up her hand, and declared to the teacher what I had done. I was very properly admonished, and told that the small felt pad on the desk was to be used in future, not spittle and sleeve. At the first opportunity I twisted the little girl's pigtails under the top rail of her seat, causing her to cry out. I was promptly taken in front of the class, smacked, and made to stand in a corner for the remainder of the morning. Hence I well remember my first day at school.

Mid morning we all went out into the playground, it was not ashphalt in those days, but loose gravel and very dusty. The little girls clustered round the teachers like so many chicks, but we boys were left to our own devices, and I remember that "Cowboys and Indians" was a favourite game as most of us had seen "Tom Mix" at the local cinema. However, playtime over, we boys found the teachers waiting to confiscate the various "cap revolvers", etc., which we had previously taken into class. These were returned to us after classes.

Daily routine was assembly in the main hall, girls on right, boys on left. Entrance of the Headmistress, accompanied by the teachers, we were greeted with "Good morning children", to which we replied, "Good morning Ma'am", the girls dropping a form of curtsey and the boys bowing. Prayers and children's hymn followed, the hymn varied according to the season of the year. Dismissal to classes and calling of "attendance registers" then followed. Education was not limited to the three "Rs", we always had Scripture lessons, and we had to learn prayers and the 23rd Psalm. As we progressed we had knitting lessons, and I made myself a "muffler". There was also basket-making, and raffia plaiting, also crayon drawing. Near Christmas time we coloured and made paper chains and Chinese lanterns, for decorating the class-rooms also to take one or two specimens home. Every year prior to World War I there was the Annual Prize Giving, attended by the School Governors, in my day, Countess de la Chapelle, Dr. John H. Salter, Rev. Wm. Carter and Rev. W.E. Anstey. "Silver Oysters" were awarded for scholastic ability, "Silver Starfish" for good attendance, and "Silver fish" for swimming ability. These small tokens were exquisitely made and highly prized by the recipients. Apparently this custom was discontinued during the Great War, and books as prizes were awarded instead. The School Governors visited the schools quite frequently. Dr. Salter was very keen on swimming instruction being given, and quite a number of the senior girls and boys qualified in the Marine Lake, which had been constructed by Mr. Geo. H. Wombwell a close friend of Dr. Salter. Swimming Galas were a feature each year, and we smaller children were allowed to attend as spectators.

On the occasions when the Governors attended the schools it was not an infrequent sight to see the girls walking up the street hand-in-hand with the Vicar and Minister in line across the full width of the road. There was no vehicular traffic in those days, and it was quite a care-free and jolly occasion.

On attaining the age of 8 years, girls and boys went into the senior schools. We boys crossed the road to the boys' school, and we found the discipline firmer. We had a Headmaster in addition to lady teachers and assistant male or pupil teachers. Education was more concentrated and regular examinations were held, and results published on the notice boards. In addition there were examinations by a Government Inspector periodically. Like others I dreaded the occasion, as usually the Inspector carried out a searching examination, and we were afraid to offend by giving the wrong answers. I remember one Inspector who had a very pronounced Northern accent, taking us in reading. He did not like our pronunciation, and in the end we ended up giving pseudo Northern pronunciation much to the amusement of others. Our speech was somewhat slovenly, and we were sternly reminded to pronounce our "aitches" - "in Hereford, Hertford and Hampshire hurricanes hardly ever happen".

In 1916 our Headmaster, Mr William Hore, and his Assistant, Mr. Wilfred Brown, were both called to the Colours, and tragically made the supreme sacrifice. (Sometime ago I attended a social function in Wivenhoe, and was surprised to see a brass plate commemorating the services of Mr. William Hore to that community). The departure of the male teachers left the teaching staff depleted but this was adjusted by recalling teachers out of retirement, in one or two cases they were ladies who had taught our parents, aunts and uncles. Some boys rebelled under the feminine dominance, but they were firmly dealt with, and schooling proceeded smoothly until the end of the war, when another Headmaster was appointed, Mr. W. Mann, B.Sc. During the war-time years 1914-19 there had been no boy candidates for the county scholarships. In 1919 Mr Mann selected several of us to undertake the examinations being held at Chelmsford. I found the examination fairly easy possibly because it touched, on the level of the subjects I had just reached at school, including the poem "The Ancient Mariner" on which I was orally questioned. On return to school, the examination papers were handed to Mr. Mann who set them before boys in a junior class, with the result that they could have completed them with equable ease and success.

Teachers displayed a keen interest in the welfare of every child. Medical and dental examinations were regularly held. I remember having one tooth extraction by gas, and afterwards being supplied with a glass of hot milk - the first and only glass of milk I ever had at school. We did not have organised games of cricket or football, but some boys possessed real footballs or "pigs' bladders" with which we played on the meadows available - The Mount or Beecham's, before and after school, encouraged and trained by the pupil teachers.

The caretaking of all schools devolved upon one man, Mr Backhouse, who had to pump water for the header feeder tanks to supply the wash-houses and toilets, clean the class-rooms after daily use, and in winter-time clean and lay fires, clean, trim and fill the oil lamps then in use, a very full task for one man.

Some children walked miles to school, the Sheldrick family in particular, who lived at Rolls Farm. Under the care of Eva, Arthur and George, the other children of the family were marshalled and walked the whole distance both ways every day in all weathers, picking up the family provisions from the shops en route on the return journeys.

In August 1919 I was told that I had passed the scholarship examination and should commence at Maldon Grammar School for the Autumn term commencing in September after medical examination, etc. Although the distance is only 10 miles by road, pupils from Tollesbury had to travel by train, Tollesbury to Kelvedon, Kelvedon to Witham, Witham to Maldon East, a distance of some 20 miles, causing us to leave home by 8 a.m. and reaching school after 10 a.m. each day. There was no 'bus service to Maldon at that time, a service only having recently been inaugurated from Tollesbury to Colchester. My railway season ticket cost £2.10s. a quarter. Attendance at the Grammar School necessitated the provision of school uniform and games clothing at the expense of parents. At Tollesbury School there were no set rules as to attire except that we had to appear clean and tidy. The girls had to wear starched white pinafores in class. Most boys wore jerseys, some with the names of famous yachts embroidered thereon, and a number of us wore celluloid collars which could easily be cleaned by soap and water - they were not entirely comfortable. All boys wore sturdy boots, with hobnailed soles and iron shoed heels, all roads in the village were flint or gravel and hard on footwear. The girls wore mostly buttoned or laced-up boots. Each year school group photographs were taker, from the number I have seen there could never have been more sturdy, happy and well-fed youngsters in any town or village. They were indeed happy days. I was sorry to leave the school and my friends from early days in the three Infant classes and the 4th Standard we had reached in the Boys' School, consequently I was never able to take part in the cookery or gardening classes, which were regular features at that time, but I did escape having to learn script writing which was being introduced in 1919 and was able to continue writing in the bold copperplate taught previously.

AuthorDouglas J. Gurton
SourceMersea Museum / Cedric Gurton