Rhoda Woodward Tribute 10: My own school memories from 1930 to 1939

Rhoda Woodward’s most ambitious contribution to the history of the village of Adderbury was her account of the Schools of Adderbury. In the first two parts of this account she wrote about the Boys’ School, the Girls’ School and the Infants’ School, using material in the archives of New College, the log books maintained at the schools from 1872, HMI Reports and entries in the Parish (later Deanery) magazine. The final section recounted Rhoda’s memories of her own schooling in Adderbury, and it is this section that we are re-publishing here as the final element in our tribute to the work of Rhoda Woodward.

My own memories of the Infants and Girls Schools date from the 1930s. It is likely that not much would have changed since the beginning of the century. Toilets were still outside, cold and bare, with rusty chains that worked most of the time, except when there was a spell of severe frosty weather. The only hand washing facilities consisted of a chipped sink in the corner of the porches: each one had a cold brass tap, a bar of household soap and a damp roller towel fixed to the back of the door.

Inside, the walls were still painted over the bricks; in spite of all the requests by HMI they never did get plastered. As no-one lived in centrally-heated homes, I suppose we were reasonably warm; each week one pupil was chosen to check the temperature of the rooms and record the results in red ink on a chart which was usually pinned to the cupboard door. As long as the thermometer did not drop below sixty degrees Fahrenheit it was considered to be quite warm enough. A large tortoise stove which burned coke heated the pipes which ran round the rooms. Teachers used to put a pan of water on top of the stove to disperse the coke fumes.

In spite of all the so-called improvements to the windows in the infants school, the big room always seemed gloomy. On very dull days the teacher would have to lower the big lamps from the ceiling, which then had to be lit with a match. It was necessary to get the wicks turned up just the right amount or they would smoke, making the glass black with soot. Both the teachers and the caretakers, who would have been responsible for filling up the lamps with paraffin and trimming the wicks, must have been very relieved when electricity, which had recently come to the village, was installed in 1936.

Physical exercises, or ‘drill’ as we called it, was done out in the playground or, in the case of the older girls, in the road outside the school, as there was not much traffic went up and down Mill Lane at that time. If there was snow on the ground or it was pouring with rain, we would perform our ‘knees bend arms stretch’ at the side of our desks with all the windows open – usually just as the room was getting warmed up. All the windows had to be opened using a long pole with a hook on the end, as they were high so that children could not see what was going on outside and be distracted from their work.

There was no such thing as P.E. kit, although we were supposed to wear plimsoles. We girls had to tuck our frocks in the legs of our knickers, which at that time had legs threaded with elastic. If this broke one leg of our drawers would hang below our skirt and make us the laughing stock of the rest of the class.

At playtime the sound of singing could be heard as we played the same rhyming games as our grandparents must have done; after all, they taught us the words. ‘The farmer’s in his den’, ‘Nuts and May’, ‘Ring of Roses’ and ‘The Good Ship Sails through the Illy Allu O’ are a few that I remember.

Some games changed with the seasons in some mysterious way that I never did get to know when or of any set date. For a while it would be whip and top time; we made our own whips from a length of string – the best sort came from the Co-op grocery parcels. A top cost a penny but were often kept from year to year. Sometimes we would put coloured paper or chalks on the top to make them look pretty when they spun. Then there would be a time for skipping ropes and then ball games. There were quite a few different games could be played by throwing a ball against a wall. In the girls’ school playground we used to throw quite large balls against the wall at the side of Moorey House, but they never complained, although it must have made quite a noise inside their house.

I started school at five years of age. We were each given our special peg for our coats; I do not know how many children could read their own names but probably could recognise their own coat. The new ones sat in small chairs behind small tables, in the small room known as the babies’ room, the second term ones on long desks behind us. I remember that first morning: one of the older children brought round shallow trays of sand for our first lessons; we learned to write the letters and figures that our teacher, Miss Dale, wrote on the blackboard in the sand with one finger, a new figure or letter each day. On Friday we were taught to do small sums and words from the 1,2,3,4 and the A,B,C,D that we had been taught. As each week went by , more and more numbers were added, so that we learnt to read at the same time; it was a very simple but effective way of teaching. When we could show teacher that we could do the lesson, after the blackboard was cleaned we were given another tray and a lump of plasticine; teacher worked with the ones that were a bit slower to learn. While teacher was concentrating on the new ones the next class would be using work cards and a tin of counters to help with the arithmetic, and while they were being taught we would be given the plasticine again or pastels and a drawing book with black pages separated by a sheet of tissue paper.

We were all expected to know the three Rs by the time we went into the big room the following year. After that first year, there were always end of term examinations, which were  all written out by the teachers on the term’s work, and a report, also hand written, though I believe the main part was done on an ancient copier by the boys at the boys school.

Even at that tender age we had the usual history and geography, tables, problems, addition, subtraction, multiplication and mental arithmetic, nature study, sewing, knitting and singing, accompanied by Miss Dale on the piano. The vicar came to give scripture lessons once a week and on other days we had bible stories and sang hymns.

Our teachers often read to us, especially the younger ones, to illustrate a history lesson or to tell us about places in other lands. Even the older ones enjoyed listening to stories, which would sometimes be a chapter from one of the classics. They had a way of making it all sound so real.

As we got older, lessons gradually became more difficult but had to be done properly; if not, it was not unusual to be asked to stay in at playtime and do the whole lesson again. Talking was not allowed in class time and along with any other misdemeanour could result in having to write out 50 or 100 words again at playtime. All words had to be of at least five letters and could not be copied straight from a page from the dictionary; two words the same would always be noticed. Most other schools seemed to get lines, but we got WORDS.

Year after year, if any new books came we would be asked to bring a sheet of brown paper, which was easy to obtain as all groceries from the Co-op were delivered in a brown paper parcel. We were then taught to cover the books to keep the original ones clean and sometimes to renew covers on the older books.

The first arithmetic books had squared pages and the writing books a wide space and a narrow one: this was to teach us to keep our figures and letters to a uniform size. History, geography and nature study books had a plain page between the lined one, which was used to draw maps or to illustrate a lesson. There was also what was known as rough books; these were for a first effort when we had to write a composition or essay. Any spelling mistakes or bad English would be marked with the dreaded red or blue pencil and, when corrections had been made, copied into our best writing books. Should any of these mistakes be repeated, which they often were, there would be more blue pencil and a not very complimentary remark and all to be written out ten times.

Sewing class was always a very important lesson, or hand work as I believe it was called in the infants school. For the first ones we had to fray the edges of a piece of material and later to stitch a border with coloured silks. Then there was wool work; with a blunt needle with a large eye we made borders and designs on canvas. When we had progressed to a larger rectangle, it could be folded into three and two thirds stitched together to make a bag with a flap. With two press studs added, we had a handbag, which in those days was called a pochette, which was proudly tucked under our arms when we went to Sunday School and which housed our secret treasures.

As we moved up in class, we began to make clothes, starting with a baby’s bib, which, like future garments, had to be faced with bias binding, which we had to make ourselves by cutting strips of a contrasting material on the cross. There was a special way of joining these strips so that it made a longer piece and did not pucker when it had been sewn with running stitches and then turned and hemmed on the wrong side; the ties also of the binding had to be over-stitched. Other garments were pinafores, a nightdress, several different types of frocks – the first very plain and graduating to gathered skirts, and finally, in the last year, our own choice of material and pattern. This was the only time we were allowed to use the sewing machine.

We were allowed to buy the things that we had made or, if we did not want them, they were sold at the end of term. As well as clothes we did embroidery cushion covers and table runners; this was a long narrow cloth placed across the centre of the table when it was not being used for a meal. Sometimes some of the gentry ladies, who still visited quite regularly, would ask for something like this to be made specially for them. Only the very best needlework scholars were chosen for this task.

Nobody at that time had thought of forming a P.T.A.; we had fetes and concerts to buy the equipment that we needed. When the West End tennis courts were built we raised money for tennis racquets; there was enough to buy cricket bats for the boys and some large rubber balls for the Infants. We had to find sixpence to play on the courts: I think that would have allowed two of us an hour. The headmistress gave up her evening to coach us. Our very best purchase must have been in 1936 when we raised enough money at a concert to buy a large electric wireless. All three schools could then enjoy a new form of teaching as we listened to the schools radio programmes. Our prize possession was carefully returned to its cardboard box and pushed from school to school by two of the older boys on a wheelbarrow.

Should one of us finish the set work before the end of term, the headmistress would often bring a pile of her own mending for us, which was also supposed to teach us to make do and mend. Instead of the usual darning one year I was given the task of letting a piece into the back of a waistcoat that belonged to her husband, who was also headmaster of the boys school. Shortly afterwards there was a school outing to London: we went by train and while on the platform I was reminded by some friends that the Headmaster was wearing the waistcoat and how I would be in big trouble if my stitching came undone. I did not enjoy my day as I was worried that his waistcoat would fall off, and was very relieved when he arrived back at the station all in one piece.

During the last two years at school we were taken to Deddington by coach to cookery classes, which were held in a rather dingy hall. There was a cold tap but no sink, except a portable one which was erected in the middle of the room, with a large bucket underneath to collect the waste water. Each week two girls would be responsible for emptying the bucket: should it overflow, the penalty would be having to get on our hands and knees and scrub the floor.

In the mornings we would plan a meal and go across to the grocers to buy the ingredients: we were able to buy the dinner at cost price to eat for our midday meal. In the afternoon we would make cakes, each pair would have to complete their allotted cleaning job – usually something had to be scrubbed – and write notes on the day’s work. We did learn quite a lot of practical, plain cooking methods.

There were only two teachers to each school after the Infants, which, after the first year, had the six to eight year olds in one room. The age group eight to eleven were in the small room at the girls’ school, with eleven to fourteen year olds in the big room. We left school at fourteen.

These were pre-war years and there was not much choice of employment. A few girls went to work in one of the shops or factories in Banbury, although there were not so many then. Most school leavers went into domestic service; it was not unusual for the job to be arranged by one of the parents or relatives without the boy or girl having much say in the matter. There was certainly not much advice from the schools on planning our future.

There was, however, a reasonable amount of health care. The health nurses still called to inspect heads at regular intervals. Oh, how we dreaded that we would be called out to go into the porch to have stuff put on our heads: I only remember that there were one or two that did. There were not many school rules, but we were not allowed to wear jewellery and long hair had to be tied back and not loose on shoulders. The dentist called and there were medical tests and eye tests: if there was a problem the health nurse would come and give an extra eye test. A test card was always pinned up in the school.

Everyone walked to school, very few people would have owned cars. Some children came from outlying farms or Milton but still seemed to get there on time. Being late was a serious offence. We always seemed to form groups and walk down together, the older ones looking after the younger ones. After the first day children went to school on their own; if your mother brought you to school you were called a titbab.

The number of pupils according to school photographs was always well over fifty to each school and thought by inspectors tom be overcrowded when they came. We all got very excited when we read in the Deddington Deanery Magazine that ‘A church senior school site had been approved and secured by our Managers on the Milton Road, and that they had instructed the architect to prepare detailed plans for the practical subject rooms and three classrooms to be the first stage. Until the Board of Education has told us just how much they require it is impossible to estimate the cost, but at Mr. Stilgoe’s suggestion it was agreed to set to work to raise money for the school.’

Adderbury and Bloxham held a big fete as they would have used the school as well as Adderbury and we bought blue stamps with ‘Adderbury School’ printed in white lettering, each one costing a penny. However, it was not to be; when a new school finally came it was for a new generation and on a different site.

When I left school in July, 1939, war clouds were gathering and by September we were at war. Pupils were no longer expected to go into domestic service: there were more opportunities as people were needed for war work and to fill vacancies in jobs when men and women had been drafted into the forces or to do war work.

Rhoda reverted to the school log books to tell the story of Adderbury’s schools in wartime. She brought her history of these schools to a close by showing how they changed once all senior pupils moved to secondary schools after 1950. She then concludes her history in the following words.

A tribute should be paid to all those hard-working people who through those years cleared ashes, carried coal and cleaned the schools. The canteen ladies who managed to prepare all those meals on wartime rations and the Institute caretaker who kept the Institute boiler fire going by begging old shoes and rubbish to help out the coke ration. The Adderbury schools could not have survived without them

We were always told that our school days were the best years of our lives. It is only years later that I have come to realise how well we were taught. The discipline was hard to take at times, but must have stood us in good stead when a few years later we were called up or had to take any type of war work we were told to do – something which brought an new independence we had not known before.

Rhoda Woodward

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