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School Days 1

At Hawkey's Lane pool we would have a lesson in the freezing cold water, after the leaves had been scooped off the surface


I was born on New Year’s Day 1953, in the late evening. Unlike all the fuss about the Millennium babies, there was no fuss at all. Whether this was because I was born late in the day or because the other child born that day had a harelip, I don’t know.

My earliest memories are of life in Holywell Road. I was aware of the fact that when the workmen’s bus went up Holywell Road and out onto the Coast Road, it was almost lunchtime. I can’t really remember what the Coast Road was like before it became a dual carriageway, but I remember Billy Mill on the north side of the road was in a rather rickety state. When we walked behind the mill it was like being in the countryside among farm fields.

Going on the bus to Whitley Bay we seemed to pass open countryside until we suddenly came to The Foxhunters Pub and then we were in the town again. From Holywell Road, we could go down the hill to the shops on Verne Road or round the corner to the shops on the Coast Road. I particularly remember going to the Post Office on the Coast Road. On one side of the shop was Atkinson’s the fruitier and on the other side was the Post Office. My Post Office savings account number was Billy Mill 8.

Between the ages of 3 and 4, I was admitted to hospital on a number of occasions. I can’t remember being in Tynemouth Infirmary, but I can remember being in the Fleming Children’s Hospital in Newcastle. The days were so long and there was nothing to do, we seemed to be left alone in bed for hours. I could see school children playing in the playground and knew that when that happened it was getting towards lunchtime. Visiting times were very restricted and I can’t actually remember being visited although I know I was.

In March 1957, when I was 4 years old, we moved to Brampton Place. That was a wonderful place to grow up because of the two large green areas in the middle of the street, where we played for hours. This was where I spent most of my childhood

In January 1958, a few days after my 5th birthday, I started school at Collingwood Infant School. The headmistress was called Miss Davison and my first teacher was Mrs Buck. Apart from Sunday School and church crèches, this was the first time I had been with a large group of children. I found it all rather overwhelming, but I soon made friends with Linda who was the middle child of 9 so she knew her way around.

January 1958 was very cold and snowy. Our classroom was the big room at the eastern end of Collingwood School. The icicles hung long and thick from the roof overhang on the north side of the classroom. The milk froze in the bottles and pushed the tops off. We used to line up the bottles on the south-facing windowsill to thaw, so we drank slightly warm milk with slushy bits in the bottom, in the afternoons.

Because of my previous illnesses, I had to wear long stockings. You couldn’t buy anything like that, but my grandma was a wonderful knitter of stockings, so she kept me supplied. My stockings were ribbed grey wool with elastic loops on the top. These fastened onto buttons on the bottom of my liberty bodice. Because the snow was so deep and I was so small the snow came over the tops of my wellies so by the time I reached school my stockings were soaked and I had to sit in the cloakroom and change into the spare pair which I carried in my satchel before I went into the classroom.

One evening my mam didn’t come to collect me. We had a telephone at home but schools didn’t have phones so there was no way of knowing what had happened although I knew my baby brother was ill. I was taken through to the Junior School and told to wait for someone to take me home. I sat all alone in a dark, silent cloakroom for what felt like an age but was probably only 15 minutes. I then remember being with a girl I vaguely recognised as living in Cartington Road.

We set off to walk the short journey home, but the snow was so deep that we had to walk down the middle of the road, in the car tracks. We were all right down Balkwell Avenue and into Sunniside but the track we were following didn’t turn into Brampton Place so the girl had to lift me over the snow ruts into a new track so that we could go down the road to my house where mam was looking anxiously out of the window, wondering where I was.

Although children were taken to school when they first started school, they were soon expected to walk to and from school without parents. When I was in the infants, I always walked up The Quadrant to the corner of Oswin Terrace and then crossed over to school. One day I checked that nothing was coming along Oswin Terrace and set off across it when suddenly people were shouting at me and a coal lorry was just in front of me and the coalmen were shouting and waving at me. Mr Connaty who lived at the top of Brampton Place, was the lollipop man who looked after Central Avenue outside St. Peter’s Church and he was shouting at me as well. I hadn’t seen the lorry coming round from The Quadrant into Oswin Terrace and nearly became a road accident statistic.

In the infants, I remember enjoying P.E. when I loved climbing to the top of the ropes and the climbing frame which was a bit like a house with a chimney on the top which you could come down, like Santa Claus. I also liked making patterns by drawing round cardboard or wooden shapes and making things with plasticine. We were all given a board and piece of plasticine and sat in our seats, making pots, people and whatever there was enough plasticine to make. In reception class, we often sat down at 1.45 to listen to ‘Listen with Mother’. I liked this because it was something, I had always done at home, so it was very familiar to me.

When I was 6 our radio stopped working and my dad decided to buy a television. I used to see television when I visited my grandparents in Sunderland but to be getting our own television was very exciting. I remember on the day the television was being delivered, my friend Pat and I talked about it on the way home for lunch. After I left her house at the bottom of Cartington Road, I ran round into Lanercost Road where I could see our roof. We already had an aerial, which had been left by the previous owners of the house, but I was eager to see if the men were on the roof adjusting the aerial.

Favourite programmes were Blue Peter and Watch with Mother (Monday – Picture Book, Tuesday – Andy Pandy, Wednesday – Flowerpot Men, Thursday – Rag, Tag and Bobtail, Friday – The Woodentops). For a long time, my friends in the street did not have a television so they all crowded into our house to watch Top of the Pops.

In September 1960 I transferred to Collingwood Junior School which was a separate school although the infant and junior schools shared the same building. The old headmaster, Mr Dobson had just retired so Mr Ainley started at the same time as I did. From our top infant classroom, we could look through to the juniors, but I don’t ever remember going into the juniors (apart from that snowy afternoon) until I became a pupil there. With all the big children, it was rather frightening at first.

I remember my mam suggesting that I ask Peter who lived on the other side of Brampton Place if he would take me to the Juniors for my first morning and show me where to go because I had no idea. It was hard being the eldest child because there was no one to help you out and parents didn’t go into school very often although Collingwood was more welcoming to parents than many schools in those days.

My main memories of Collingwood were very happy. Collingwood had a lovely hall and stage and I remember spending hours on that stage practising with the choir. Once a year a travelling theatre group came to the area for a week and gave performances on our stage every day. Children were bussed in from other schools and the top class had to help to welcome them, that was great fun. The performances consisted of a number of small sketches, each one introduced by a lady who stuck her head through the gap between the curtains and said, “item number ….”.

I remember that until about 1962, the junior dining hall was used as a classroom for girls from Ralph Gardner School with Miss Nellie Laverick (who lived in Brampton Place) as their teacher. This was because the secondary schools were very full because of all the children born straight after the war.

I also remember that in my last year at Collingwood it was decided to create an extra class from pupils in the A and B streams in an effort to get more 11+ passes. There were about 14 in the class which used the staffroom at the back of the stage as their classroom. Taking those children out probably reduced the A and B classes to about 30 because there were about 110 in my year group. This experiment must have been partly successful because there were more passes than usual that year – 8 boys and 4 girls to the High School and about 3 girls and 2 boys to the Technical School. However, I don’t think the extra class was ever tried again.

In my last year at Collingwood, my teacher was Mr Liddle, the deputy headmaster. He had ‘Betsy’ his strap which he kept in the inside pocket of his jacket or in his desk drawer. It was 6 or 8 inches long and 2 or 3 inches wide. It was black with a tiny squared pattern on it like you get on the back of plywood. I got a close look at it when, as a prefect, I was sometimes sent to get it from the classroom when someone (almost always a boy) had misbehaved.

One afternoon after a wet playtime, I was taking it from our classroom, along the long corridor, when I met my little brother coming back from the toilet. I showed Betsy to him and he touched it with one finger and vowed never to come that near it again.

During our last year, we learned to swim. This involved walking to the open-air swimming pool in Hawkey’s Lane and having a lesson in the freezing cold water after the leaves had been scooped off the surface. At the doorway, there was a small blackboard where the temperature was chalked up. It usually said about 50 degrees Fahrenheit, but no one ever believed it, it always felt like ice. I also have a vague memory of going to an indoor learner pool in the old Jubilee School, opposite Christ Church. It wasn’t until after I left Collingwood that the learner pool was built there.

In the last year of junior school, everyone sat the 11+ or grading exam as it was also known. The rest of the school had the day off and we sat papers in the morning and afternoon. In 1964 there was a printing error on the time of the maths papers. Schools still didn’t always have telephones so when the problem was realised someone was sent round to notify the schools of the correct times but not every school was informed in time, Collingwood being one, so a few weeks later we had to sit a new maths paper and the rest of the children got another free morning.

A few months after the 11+ exam, one morning the top year was all told to wait in the hall after assembly – we knew the results had arrived. While we sat and listened in fear and trembling, the complete High School then Technical School lists were read out in alphabetical order. I thought I had failed because they read MacDougal before McCree – strictly alphabetical rather than the more usual telephone directory order that treats Mac and Mc as the same. It had never occurred to me that I would fail, and my heart stopped until I heard my name next. When both lists had been read out, those who had passed were allowed to go home to tell their parents whilst those who had failed went back to the classrooms. It took until after playtime for everyone to get back and settled down.

I started Tynemouth High School on 1st September 1964. I had never been in the building before and this time there was no one in my street to take me. I had an idea that I used to pass it on the bus to North Shields when I lived in Holywell Road, but I wasn’t certain that it was the building I had in mind. So, the day before term began, I told my mam I was going to walk to the school to find out how long it would take, I didn’t like to say that I wasn’t sure where it was. I took my friend Joan who was 8½ with me. Luckily the school was where I thought it was. We had a good look at the outside and noticed that there were separate boys’ and girls’ entrances.

The next day we were put into classes according to alphabetical order. I was the only child from Collingwood in a class with no one I knew – very frightening. I found myself next to a girl who was lonely too; her twin sister was going to Central High School in Newcastle. My new friend was Alison MacDougal, the girl whose name had caused me to think I had failed the 11+.

I can’t remember very much about those first days at school except that we seemed to be perpetually lost. I do remember that our timetable included a lesson in the library, and we had no idea where the library was. In the end, Shelagh, one of the Collingwood girls, asked her elder sister who had just left the school and reported back that the library was hidden away in Room 6 although in later years it moved to Room 20 which was the newest ‘hut’ or prefabricated classroom.

I found the first few weeks extremely tiring. I had to walk there and back twice a day, carrying a satchel that seemed to weigh as much as I did. The number 6 bus went from St. Peter’s Church to Hawkey’s Lane Methodist Church, via the Coast Road but it was a waste of time trying to get on it because it was always full of children going to St. Anslem’s Catholic School in Lynn Road and they were a rough lot who did not like ‘High School Snobs’ as they called us, so I walked until November when I got a bike because I lived just beyond the 1 mile limit. There were special buses from Percy Main/East Howdon (because it was so far) and Marden/Cullercoats (because there were so many pupils from that area), but we just had to get on with it.

One of my main memories of my early days at Tynemouth High School was assembly. Not because they were particularly interesting but because the school hall was rather like an amphitheatre with a bank of fixed seats up the west side of the hall. In those days every pupil had a set seat for assemblies according to their schoolhouse. My seat was about halfway up so I had an excellent view of everything. Because we were in houses all year groups were mixed together so I sat between two girls from 4th or 5th year who were very kind and helpful to me.

During the summer there were sporting highlights to look forward to such as playing tennis. The school had some tennis courts but not enough so some of us were sent down to the park on Scorer Street where there was more tennis courts. We also got an afternoon off lessons so that we could attend the school swimming gala, held at the open-air pool at Tynemouth. We had to find our own way there and back and spend the afternoon sitting beside the pool in whatever the north-east weather had to throw at us. Small wonder that the sophisticated pupils further up the school simply failed to attend that afternoon.

In my second year at the High School, my education was disrupted because in October 1965 I developed a sore leg which didn’t respond to treatment. After a few weeks, I was admitted to Tynemouth Jubilee Infirmary in Hawkey’s Lane (not far from school) where I stayed for a month on the children’s ward. When I was first admitted there were only boys on the ward, but gradually other girls were admitted.

This experience of hospital was considerably better than my previous experiences. Parents were allowed on the ward from after breakfast until about 7.00 p.m. except for 2 hours in the morning when we had ‘school’. Some of my teachers had sent work for me so I had to get on with that. There were a few toys and puzzles but we also had our own books and toys so there was always something to do. Whilst I was in hospital someone taught me to play chess. We also had a radio and television on the ward. If the sister wasn’t around, the nurses used to come to listen to the radio and sing and dance to cheer us up, but sister didn’t like them carrying on and making a fuss. With visiting times very relaxed there was always someone to talk to and someone’s mam would cheer you up if you were unhappy.

When I left hospital I still wasn’t allowed to walk, and we had no car so I would have been stuck in the house all the time if my mam hadn’t borrowed a wheelchair from the Dorcas Society. I had to keep my leg horizontal, so the wheelchair was a big heavy thing. I was wrapped in two big rugs with two hot water bottles when I went to North Shields. There was no such thing as access for the disabled, so I had to sit outside the shops with the babies and dogs because in those days there weren’t baby buggies and prams weren’t usually allowed in shops.

My dad knew the High School headmaster, Mr Cantle and when they met at a meeting, they decided that although my mobility was poor, I was fit to be at school, but I could not get there. So, Mr Cantle arranged for me to be transported to school by ambulance. Sometimes there were other children in the ambulance, being taken to the ‘Open Air School’ and occasionally there were patients being taken home from outpatient’s appointments, but usually I had an ambulance to myself. It could arrive at my house any time between 8.20 to 9.30 and could arrive at school to take me home at any time from 3.45 to 4.45 (school finished at 4.15). Usually everything was fine but sometimes I arrived late for lessons or had to leave school early. I spent a lot of time sitting in the school office waiting for school to begin or my ambulance to arrive. After 2 or 3 months my leg was strong enough for me to ride my bike so I could use that to get to and from school and my rides in the ambulances ended.

In my 3rd and 4th years the school staged a Gilbert and Sullivan production for three or four nights. Scaffolding was erected around the pillars in the centre of the hall and a stage effect was produced. The ground floor classrooms that were then backstage, became dressing rooms each evening. The disruption to school life was considerable which made everything even more exciting.

After my ‘O’ Levels I went into the Sixth Form which entailed staying at the High School but changing uniform from bottle green to chocolate brown and beige. At the same time, Tynemouth began comprehensive education and the High School became Norham High School although it didn’t move into the new building for a few years. Tynemouth High school had 4 stream entry, Norham High School had 7 stream entry, so not all the classes could get into the old building and some were educated at one of the other schools. In the Sixth Form, we used the small classrooms – 4, 5, 12, 13, which were situated on either side of the main door. In Upper Sixth the lowest ability groups sometimes used our rooms. We were amazed at the work they were learning which we had learned at a very young age.

During my time in Sixth Form, the Sixth Form College was built on our netball / tennis courts and one hockey pitch. Our leaving treat was to be shown round the Sixth Form College that opened a few months after we left. Such luxury. All we had had was a room next to Mr Curry the deputy-headmaster’s room, which had previously been a cloakroom. Mr Curry (known by his initials-GAC) was known to occasionally pop in for a quick game of cards with some of the lads. We did have a radio with an aerial made from a metal coat hanger passed through a milk bottle full of water.

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