Memories of Leigh
Memories of our School
In 1990 our school, at Butts, now St. Thomas C.E. Primary School, was one hundred years hold. We held a ‘Centenary Week’ of celebrations to mark the event. This article, by Irene Rowland, was originally written for our Centenary Brochure.
It tells us about life in our school just before the last war.
The Schooldays Memories of Irene Rowland
Butts C.E. pupil (1931-1939)
The Infant School
Our teachers in 1931 were: -
Reception Class Miss Berry (Later Mrs Atherton).
2nd Class Mrs Carr
Top Infants Miss Whitehead (Headteacher of Infants)
Earliest memories are of us gathering for hymns and prayers and Christmas and Harvest-festivals, which were joyful occasions. There was always a huge Christmas tree in the Top classroom around which we sang : ‘Away in a manger’ and ‘Santa Clause is coming to Town’. We made our own paper decorations including crayoned lanterns and tissue paper balls.
We learned to read from thick, tiny cards with a picture at the top. Occasionally, till Class 2, we used slates, but not after 1932. We modelled clay on clay boards and took the boards home to be scrubbed.
With our morning milk, which cost two and half old pennies weekly, we could buy biscuits - one arrowroot and one Lincoln cream. Some mothers used to bring hot drinks to the gate, at playtime, on cold days.
The Junior School
In Standard 1 and Standard 11 there were fireplaces tended by Mr. Hayes. These were lovely and warm. On cold days we used to warm our bottles of milk on the pipes as very often the milk was frozen.
In class we did a lot of Arithmetic - Mental, Mechanical and Problems. Great emphasis was laid on hand writing, which was called Transcription. English lessons were deemed very important along with History and Geography. One memory is of the class chanting "Aberdeen is the Granite City". I didn’t know then that I would marry a boy from Aberdeen.
We had lessons in embroidery and knitting for the girls and there were paper crafts and painting. We had books supplied by OXO and Colgate’s Toothpaste with pictures for us to paint.
When we went from writing in pencil to writing in ink the result was often very messy. The Ink Monitor’s job was to mix the ink and replenish the inkwells.
We did P.E more in the form of a drill. There were games lessons and Country Dancing. Games played were football, handball and rounders. Our own games in the schoolyard were seasonal in turn like hopscotch and skipping ropes. We played ball games like "Queenie" and "Donkey". There was also whip and top and chalking a brightly coloured top was very popular.
Singing lessons were quite enjoyable, and often quite noisy, especially a rendering of "Jolly Waggoners" and "Sly Reynard the Fox". We enjoyed singing carols at Christmas time and learned all the old familiar ones like ‘Good King Wenceslas’. A popular one was "Hark, Hark, What News the Angels Bring". This was known, years ago, as "The Owd Ark" and called "The old Leigh carol".
Drama formed part of our time-table. The Christmas of 1934 saw the pupils of Standard 11, under Miss Peters, giving a concert, which consisted of a Minstrel Show, a play called ‘The Princess who would not Smile,’ and two of the boys reciting and acting, "You are old Father William".
We had our daily hymn and prayers. One favourite was "Come and sing with Holy Gladness". The boys would sing the verse applicable to them and the girls doing likewise. There was the piano and also a harmonium.
On Friday afternoons we could take our own books and sometimes board games. Also, on Fridays, most of us got our weekly half-penny which was spent on sweets, often taking ages to choose whichever one to get the most of.
During these years Annual Flower Services was held in church. Children took flowers to school on the Friday and later some of us took them to Miss Whitehead’s home, where they were placed in the bath, and then taken to church on the Sunday afternoon. They were sorted out and we took them to the altar. Afterwards they were taken to the Infirmary.
If we were naughty we got our hands slapped but anyone using bad language could get their mouths washed out with soap and water.
Mr. Hayes, the caretaker, was very kind to us and used to let us get warm near the cellar on cold, frosty mornings.
Some of us attended Sunday School from a very early age. We used to have a stamp album and each Sunday we attended we were given a stamp.
School trips were held annually and I can recall two clearly. The first was to Liverpool to visit the zoo and to go on board the Liner ‘SAMARIA’. The other trip was to the Lake District where after lunch, at Windermere, we sailed to Ambleside and went to Grasmere to visit Wordsworth’s cottage.
A local outing was in the spring of 1938 to see their Majesties, King George VI and Queen Elizabeth, on their visit to Leigh. It was raining but we didn’t mind as we got a lovely wave from the Queen, who was dressed in blue as she passed us in Market Street.
We were very close with the church, having regular visits from the clergy. Many of us were in the ‘9am Choir’ and most of us attended Sunday School.
Walking Day, which in the early days were held on Saturdays, before being changed to Whit Sunday, were wonderful occasions. We walked either with our class, or with the Rose Queen, or with the Scouts (there being no Guides for a time), or on the banners. Walking Days were followed by Field Days held near the bottom of Mill Lane. There were Sunday School trips and choir trips, nearly always to Southport and Christmas parties held in Bedford Church School.
In 1935 and 1937 we attended the Lenten Missions that were held and at the end we were presented with a certificate.
Over the years there was a Kings Messenger Group which many of us joined. We had a badge and a certificate.
On Good Friday evenings there were always a Magic Lantern show, with slides of Jesus and his disciples. We always sang " There is a Green Hill". Admission was one penny.
School Sermons were held annually for which we practised hard. Everyone tried to wear a white dress and the boys a shirt and tie.
Weekly subscriptions were collected every Monday morning. This was usually from one penny to six pence and the proceeds went to the church.
May Day was always a happy day. We used to see all the horses dressed up and it was the start, for us, of the May Queens held throughout May.
In 1933 the Rose Queen was from Butts Sunday School and all who acted as Flower Girls and Trainbearers were from Butts School, the Maids of Honour being from Bedford. Mrs Cruickshank, from Hall House, the wife of a local doctor, crowned the Queen.
The Silver Jubilee
In 1935 we had a party and a holiday to celebrate the Silver Jubilee of King George V and Queen Mary. We all received commemorative mugs. About 1932 or 1933 a lot of us went with school to see the King and Queen drive by on the newly opened East Lancashire Road.
To commemorate the Silver Jubilee trees were planted by local school children on Holden Road. Butts School, represented by Gerald Dunne and Marian Carrington, planted two.
Empire Day, on the 24th May, was always celebrated. We sang "Land of Hope and Glory", "Today is Empire Day," and marched out under the Union Jack. This was usually held by a Cub or a Scout. Some of us dressed to represent countries of the Empire and we made daisy chains to represent the sun never setting on the Empire. We then had a half-day's holiday.
In 1937 a huge Bazaar was held at Bedford Church. Butts School had a Toy stall amongst which there was a beautifully polished wooden pencil box, all fitted out, for 2/6d.
During these years one of our favourite occupations was going to the Cinemas. We nearly all went to Saturday matinees and all had our favourite film stars. Shirley Temple and Judy Garland were favourites of many of the girls.
Times were hard, for many, in the 1930’s. Some children had to go for free dinners and free clogs. A lot of fathers were out of work and consequently a lot of children were poorly dressed and in fact sometimes couldn’t come to school.
One time that stands out very clearly is the Diphtheria epidemic of 1938. The school was closed for a time as many children were ill. In the summer a lot went to Prestatyn Open Air School.
We were looked after, heath-wise, with visits from the doctor, dentist, nurse etc. We were encouraged to clean our teeth by completing a card for each day, morning and night. When this was full we were given a small tin of Colgate’s solid pink toothpaste. Toothbrushes were sold with plain wooden handles.
The year 1938 brought the shadow of war and then a temporary peace. However we saw air-raid shelters being built, some near where our new Infant School stands, in what was the Alder mill yard. We tried on gas masks, which was an awful experience at first. We found the perspex eye-piece steamed up and it was difficult working while wearing them. We generally wondered what it was all about. We saw our teachers become very solemn, some days, when the news was bad and as I came to the end of my time at Butts, in July 1939, war was declared in September. A number of the boys who had been in their last year, in 1938, found themselves soldiers later in the war, most of them being in the Royal Army Service Corps.
It was the end of an era.
There was no school uniform in our day. Some girls wore gym slips, or kilts in winter, if they were lucky. Some boys wore jumpers with matching woollen ties. A lot of children wore clogs.
A lot of the "big boys" we had known went into the forces and served in all theatres of the war. Sadly some didn’t come back, amongst them two cousins, both in the Royal Air Force, Sergeant Alfred Boydell and Flight Sergeant Thomas Horrocks, from South Avenue, who flew with the Dambusters Squadron.
We were all called upon to put up with unpleasant things during the war, but I am sure the Empire Day traditions, instilled in us, and all the wonderful teaching we had, stood us in good stead.
Irene Rankin (nee Rowland) (1990)