I lived down the lane and was in the schoolyard first every morning, usually out of the house by 8.30 am.
I started school the day I was five. My mother was a very busy woman, helping in my Dad’s shop, Thompson Butchers, New York. She was cooking all the men’s breakfasts when I wanted to go to school, and I couldn’t wait till later.
My friends Wally and Nancy Heron, neighbours’ children, escorted me, and Nancy presented me to Miss Storey, the class teacher sitting at a very high desk. She looked down at me.
“What’s your name?”
“Your name is not Babsie. It is Margaret Patricia.”
I was astonished! “Mammy, my name isn’t Babsie. It’s Margaret”, I told her at dinnertime. She didn’t seem surprised and I assume she had found time to register me properly!
I stayed with Miss Storey until Christmas and to my sorrow, I didn’t transfer to the lovely Miss Chatt when she started after Christmas but had to stay with Miss Storey the rest of the school year and the one after.
My friend Patty Miller started in January and so could recite the pretty rhymes that Miss Chatt had taught her. I envied her, her classroom, with the paintings round the walls and windows and I’m sure Miss Storey was jealous of Miss Chatt’s lighter touch with five-year-olds. In our class, we had to grow up quickly.
I remember one little boy started with Miss Storey. Halfway through the morning he got up and went to the door.
“Aam gannen Yem”
“You aren’t allowed to go home yet, it’s not dinner time”
“Aam gannen Yem for a cacky” he gasped
“What did you say?”
“Aam gannen yem for a shite” he yelled as he ran out the door. No-one had shown him the outside toilets. He had all our sympathy. We were all terrified of Miss Storey.
“One, two, three, four, how many quarters in a whole?”
“I don’t know” I sobbed after she had repeated the question three more times. I didn’t know what hole.
We cut sticky paper into patterns, but my hands sweated so much it stuck together. My knitting was a mess because of the same complaint. The needle wouldn’t go through the cloth as it was soaked in perspiration.
The next year we moved into a young teacher’s class. She was straight out of teacher training college and determined to rule with a rod of iron. No-one was seven, we were all six and a bit.
“Stand up and say the Lord’s Prayer, one by one.”
No-one could say it all through except Grace Watson who went to church three times on Sunday. As we faltered, we went out. Twenty-nine little hands were held out. Swish, swish, swish. All caned. What a monster. She gave me ten out of ten for writing each week, but it was fear as well as pride that spurred me on.
After that, we had Miss Glendenning whom I worshipped and Miss Pratt who I loved. I did my best work for them. They were pretty and kind, and I don’t know if they ever raised their voices. Certainly, they had no trouble from any of us, we were so glad to be with them after our first three years.
I lived down the lane and was in the schoolyard first every morning, usually out of the house by 8.30 am. One day I decided to call for a friend, but she was always late, and I should have had more sense. I waited and waited for her till it was terribly late and we ran through the gates as the teacher rang the bell. Line up – swish, swish, swish. How I hated it. The only two times I had the cane and I thought I was innocent of the charge each time!
Mr Sparkes started as Head; he worked wonders and dragged the school into the twentieth century, ordering PE equipment never before dreamed of – forms and mats! What luxury! The whole place seemed lighter. We had Miss Sadler who was lovely and then Miss Lucas. They were all good teachers.
We had Empire Day and some of us were dressed up. The next day we had to write a composition about it. “Mary Smith was Rule Britannia” the teacher readout. We stared blankly. Nothing wrong with that. Mary Smith was “Rule Britannia” and that was the name of the figure on the back of the pennies “Rule Britannia”.
I was seven when I contracted scarlet fever which affected my eyesight. No-one took any notice when I said I couldn’t see and then I “got wrong” at school for copying. They should have known I wasn’t copying the answers because my schoolwork was usually all right. I was copying from my friend the work that was on the blackboard. It was a long time before they realised I needed glasses. My schoolwork picked up, but then it was interrupted by the war.
No school until air raid shelters were built. We went in the morning to get our marks and our milk, and then my friend Patty Miller and I played indoors if it rained – houses, with dolls and prams, then dolls houses with cardboard boxes to make up a village and supplement the pukka dolls houses we had. We were outdoor kids really, we each had large tricycles and did circus tricks on them to the amusement of my Dad’s customers, and we went for walks with dolls’ prams, bottles of water and jam sandwiches.
Back at school full time, and our games were more grown-up. Some of them were quite violent and have since been banned; multy cuddy or many horses. One big girl stood against the wall with her team crouched down with their heads in the bottoms of the girl in front. The other team took running jumps and landed as far forward and as hard as possible on the other team’s backs! If the first team didn’t collapse and the second team held on, it was a dead heat. In fact, we were so strong and determined, it was a dead heat every time. We loved it.
Some of the kids were very poor, no socks or stockings in winter and no wellies. Scabs on their knees which festered and didn’t mend, ‘dickies’ in their hair, thin clothes that were never mended and yet in winter they made the longest slides and went down them at a terrific rate with great balance and panache! They were Queens of the yard.
Academically, I fared quite well at school, always near the top, but never top. Mr Sparkes gave us a couple of speed tests when we were about to sit the Scholarship and I passed to go to the High School at North Shields: Tynemouth High School. My other friends went to Shiremoor Modern which didn’t have a very good name, and some of my friends who went were as good as, if not better than me.
I heard that Mrs Storey went back to teaching during the war and was used by the Headmaster to bring children (usually boys) up to scratch before they left. She would take sandwiches to school and eat them while giving the pupils extra lessons in reading. She would be very good at that and it was a matter of pride that everyone could read and write. It should still be the main priority in schools today.