I loved Collingwood Infant School. I hid in the cloakroom because I didn't want to leave on my last day.
September 1939 – and the following six years – in which time I aged from 6 years to 12, so all this is thinking back about sixty years. Much has been written about those years by many other people but I shall set down my impressions of how I now view my time as a child in North Shields.
Sunday was special. A morning walk with Granda, followed by a roast dinner at Gran’s house, then Sunday school. I think it was always sunny! That early September day was different. What was all the noise about, just as we came out of the path by the golf course? “Best get home quickly” said Granda, without any explanation of the strange noise and hooting of boats on the river. “Thank goodness you’re safe”. I was later to be told that a war had started, whatever that meant.
Those walks were a feature of my childhood but many pathways are no longer there. I seem to remember duck ponds near St Anselms school and where there is now ‘The Pheasant’. Surely there was a gateway to cross the railway line as you walked inland from the Plaza?
Infant school was Collingwood and how I loved it – I hid in the cloakroom because I didn’t want to leave on my last day. However, I know that furniture was stored there from bomb-damaged homes. How old was I, when I thought I could stay in the cloakroom for ever? My first classroom had delightful wind chimes on the door and we wrote on slates. My teacher was adorable but I think she called me a chatterbox, as I and others accompanied her down the road to school. I thought she meant I was fat, red and round, with an oblong slit for a mouth.
Junior school was a different matter. I should have started at the old Chirton building, which we’d been told had no corridors, but that was as nothing to the fact that it lurked behind a huge stone wall. One night during an air raid, I did wish for a bomb to remove it from the landscape and so it did! There followed a period of many different schools in North Shields. Many could only give us shared days, but eventually we were all fixed up with part of the top floor of Queen Victoria. Our headmaster insisted that we remembered that we were a separate school, ‘Chirton’. Those were the days of corporal punishment, even for low marks in the weekly mental arithmetic test. We were to take the “11+” to determine our next school. Our decision was that we friends went to the High School together or not at all. Parents must have had a say because we did not move on as a group. Some of us spent the last year of the war at the High School, homework, uniform and new subjects like chemistry and a foreign language. Low marks this time usually meant detention or extra work.
Apart from school and playground games, there was ‘tiggy’ and ‘tin-a-block’ at a time of little road traffic. Our favourite place was by Billy Mill, where there were whitewashed cottages and two farms. The side of the original Cannon Inn had a wonderful high wall for ball games. The field of mainly unused chicken houses, afforded spots for hide and seek or just hiding from grown-ups. Days seem to have been mostly sunny and it was a happy time. Maybe there were few sweets and no fruit but that did not seem to matter to us. When fruit did appear again, it usually meant a rushed trip to Barry Nobles in the town. I couldn’t understand the fuss about the strange flavours and textures. Clothes troubled me more because of the discomfort felt as you grew out of things and you were persuaded that they were perfectly good enough to be worn.
Who else remembers travelling fairs coming to North Shields? What can others say of radio programmes, books and perhaps piano lessons?