"Mother, I've been put down into 2b." So she said, "well work your way up".
My first school (in 1908) was Eastern Board, infants and juniors and then you went to Kettlewell School in George Street, the ‘Kipper College’, because you could smell the kipper factory from there.
In those days you didn’t move up the school by age but by grade. If you had done all the work in one grade you were moved into a higher class. If you got into the top class, Mrs Arthur’s, before it was time to leave you stayed there until you did leave. I didn’t really want to be in her class because everyone was terrified of her. However, the teacher said to mother, I think she should apply for a scholarship at the High School (Tynemouth High School). So, mother said alright, but you can understand we can’t pay for her because she’s only one of a big family – I’m number 12 of 13 Bakers. So, I sat the exam and I passed, and I went to the High School. The grading exam involved reading out loud to the Headmaster. Some of my friends were really nervous about it but I wasn’t. My father had all the works of Shakespeare and we read out loud at home, each of us taking a part, so I was used to reading out loud.
We had a uniform of navy gym dresses that had to be two inches above the knee when you were kneeling on the floor. There was also a white blouse and a tie with green and yellow stripes. In the summer the girls wore straw boaters with the school colours on the hat-band. The boaters were really uncomfortable. Girls who went to a school in Lovaine Place in North Shields wore Panama hats that we thought were much better, so we got a deputation together and asked the Head if we could have the hats changed. He said yes, so we didn’t wear boaters anymore. One more thing about uniforms. Some of the children at the High School came from the orphanage in Mariners Lane, Tynemouth. They didn’t wear the school’s uniform but kept the uniform that they had in the orphanage. I always thought it was a shame that they looked different when they came to school.
Mr Heaton, Pa Heaton we called him, was the Headmaster when I started. We loved him, we really adored him, although looking back he was in a way too strict. Boys hadn’t to walk with girls out of school. Even the Middleton twins who lived at the top of Cleveland Road couldn’t walk together because nobody knew they were twins – a bad name for the school. They didn’t know that we all met in the back lanes as we went home.
I left school when I was 16. I left school a few months before I should have done because I had terrible trouble with my eyes. I got iritis, extremely painful and I had to have drops in when I was in year 1, class A. Well, I went back after three months to sit exams, but I hadn’t done anything, and I came home and said “Mother, I’ve been put down into 2b” and she said “Well work your way up”. I was back in the A class within a few months, but the iritis came back when I was in year 5 and I left then.