We didn't write with pen and paper, we had sand trays and used to use our forefinger to write the words
Father was out of work when I was six years old and got a job in the North Eastern which was in Willington Quay on the north shore of the River Tyne, so we had to move there to be near the work. I well remember walking from the ferry and Mother saying, “Not far now – just where those trees are”, which turned out to be a privet hedge. Our new address was 20 Westmoreland Avenue.
It was a very short walk to the Addison Potter School, just down a short back lane and across Clavering Street and into the school gates; I could see it from our front window. We didn’t write with pen and paper, we had sand trays and used to use our forefinger to write the words. It was easy to shake the sand and begin again if mistakes were made. We used small shells for counting and doing simple arithmetic. The teacher used to read books to us; I was always fond of poetry.
When Christmas came and the teacher gave us all a small present, mine was a dolly clothes peg in a dress of wallpaper stuck with paste. Money was short in those days. I remember being sent back to school by mother to get a ticket for the Mayor’s Tea Party. I must not have liked anything charitable and was reluctant to ask for the ticket. It was a good party, really with fun and games and a good tea; perhaps we got a packet of sweets or something, I can’t quite remember.
At seven years of age we went to the juniors, another building in the same school yard. My first teacher in standard one was a Miss Harle; she was very nice. Some years later, I met her on a train, it would be twenty-eight years later, whilst taking Dorothy and son Alan on an outing. She remembered me, and by a fluke I got her name correct.
I don’t recall much more of the junior school, but I do remember going to the Stephenson Memorial School, down by the ferry, now the Tyne Tunnel. The tram cars came by regularly from North Shields to Wallsend. Many times I couldn’t hear the teacher, I’m totally deaf in the left ear.
We began in standard four, which would be the seniors, and were taught by a Miss Marrny. She certainly was a martinet, but she did get the knowledge into us. We said our times tables for a whole hour every morning. I have never forgotten them. Our headmaster was a most kindly man, a Mr Jewels. He would always come in to see us every morning, he gave us something to learn and expected any one of us to be able to say it any time he requested it. It was like this: “That it is by no means difficult to write a book, is a fact mercifully concealed from a large, though diminishing, number of people”.
My next teacher was a Miss Rigg. She wasn’t a very good teacher, a bit flippant, I always thought. Our next teacher was a Mr Scorer. His favourite saying at the beginning of class was, “I want two eyes and all your brains”. His son was in our class. They were always mixed classes; he became a weatherman. I remember hearing him once on the radio in later life after I was married. My next teacher was my favourite; she was a Miss Nicholson. She used to read us nice poems on a Friday afternoon, always a sort of story. There was one about a mariner I particularly liked. I remember her becoming engaged to be married and she twiddled her engagement ring a lot.
We had reached our curriculum and marked time until it was time to leave school at 14 years old, except we went to cookery classes once a week in our last year. Our cookery teacher was a Miss Cowan; she was nice and had a sensible approach to cookery. The first thing we made was plain white blancmange and stewed apples. Next, I think we made an apple dumpling, a whole peeled and cored apple wrapped up in pastry. My first attempt at pastry wasn’t all that good. It didn’t look smooth enough; perhaps the pastry was too dryly mixed, but it tasted okay. Also, we made marmalade and a prize was given to the girl who cut the peel the most finely. I didn’t get the prize; I was always too quick to achieve that honour.
We took home what we made, paying the cost of the ingredients which was mainly just a few coppers. My best success was the steak and kidney steamed pudding called “pot pie” in those days. Mother couldn’t afford the seven old pence. Our neighbour, Miss Cottiss bought it for her husband’s dinner. He said it was the best he had ever tasted. It contained ½ lb of steak and kidney. We took our own basin.
She was well off compared to us; her husband was always in work, he worked on a wherry, a small shallow boat for fast sailing. The wherry was used to ferry antimony across to Cooksons, which was opposite the Stephenson Memorial School. I don’t know what was made from it, but there was always a lot of white powdery stuff around Cooksons. The antimony came in strong wooden boxes and he was allowed to bring some home for firewood. Always he kept Mother supplied, so it helped out the coal to heat the big black range where everything was cooked, even jam.
At the senior school, we liked Fridays. For a special treat, we could have the cabinet gramophone in our classroom and listen to the records. There was a very limited choice; I remember Dame Clara Butt singing ‘Land of Hope and Glory’ in her deep contralto voice and the great Caruso tenor singing operatic arias and Peter Dawson, an Australian baritone, singing ‘The Cornish Dance’.