Phyllis Millen and I were in the same schools all the way through to eighteen. So I won’t comment on her reflections except to say I can’t remember going to church or about Bernard Fishwick!
In Reception we had little play equipment. I remember using chairs to create shapes like cars and boats. Derek Biggs and some of the ‘big boys’ made things out of wood for us to play with. There was, for example, a primitive, hand- painted steering wheel. Presumably they were doing some sort of woodwork but I certainly never did any.
Mrs Reeves did lots of PE on the playground. Exercises were done on individual coconut mats. She gave us points which were put on a chart in the classroom. We also had individual cards on which our “stars” were recorded. She also removed them when necessary. A large cupboard was moved out from the wall and a reading corner created.
I didn’t go into Mrs Young’s class at all. Some of us went from Mr Fry straight to Top Class for two years. I guess that was based on perceived ability.
The most exciting event as I moved up the school was the arrival of Bert Blake as Head Master. An ex-professional footballer who taught basic skills; his mantra was always “step-push”. He taught us cricket too; I could bowl an ‘off-break’ in Primary School! Some of us were taken up to the “Big School” to watch a coaching session by former Somerset professional cricketers, including Horace Hazel, and I was in a demo. Fantastic! We came away with cricket magazines printed in the late forties in aid of Arthur Wellard’s benefit. He was a very famous Somerset player. Bert got our dads to make us bats out of bits of wood so we could practise on the playground. We played football on the original ground in Lipyeate Lane. I’ve no idea what the girls did. Bert didn’t neglect them, however, for he often took PE when we played lots of mixed games like skittleball and of course country dancing. He taught us basic gymnastics in the dining hut. He used to roll up his trouser leg and show us his well-developed calf muscles. Quite often there were accidents but First Aid was rudimentary.
I suppose he started what we’d today call after school activity. We wanted to stay behind every evening but Bert wasn’t having that especially after some-one smashed a window. We played football on the playground. He joined in. The goals were dining room benches so the ball had to be kept down. “Step push!” For penalties and free-kicks the goalie was removed but the playground was on a slope so there were lots of misses.
We had Xmas parties. Charlie Chaplin films and one year a conjuror who produced razor blades from his mouth on a piece of thin yarn. We also had Father Christmas; unfortunately we spotted Mr Anstis’s trousers under the red robe.
One year we had a school play. There was an evening performance but so many people turned up, we, the children, were asked to leave, walking home in the dark, on our own, through barely lit streets. Un-thinkable today.
Phyllis and I did the 11+ in February 1954. It was preceded by lots of practice in the dining hut. Back then we had our reading ages measured using the Holborne Reading Scale. I recall being miles behind my chronological age, being told the exact reading age and given a verbal message for mum that something needed to be done at home. She borrowed some readers which were handed over in the playground. I was teased by…..better not say who!! Next time I got a sixpence for being 18 months in advance. I recall the County Library Service setting up a lending library and listening to stories of Milly Molly Mandy.
As part of the process parents were invited to list their preferred secondary schools. When I passed the first part my family received a letter inviting me to go to Midsomer Norton Grammar for what was called the interview. Dad and I went by bus. We met Fred Maule, the well-known Timsbury Cricketer, who was accompanying his son Reggie. This second phase could last five minutes; twenty or even a whole afternoon depending how well we’d done. The letter indicating that I’d passed arrived while we were on holiday. I remember reading it over Dad’s shoulder and then getting on my bike to cycle to the cricket ground. I recall being stopped in the street by Mrs P who asked whether I’d passed. Her child hadn’t. The 11+ was very important. Potentially life changing.
Once our futures were settled I remember doing some gardening. As I pulled out a weed Keith Davis drove his fork not into the soil but into my hand. Bert took me to Paulton Hospital where I had a tetanus injection in my bum!
I had four teachers in my 11+ year. It must have been very difficult for Bert Blake. Mr Anstis left at Christmas. Two female teachers did a term each and Mr Dando, who stayed years, arrived for the last week of term.
The majority of my classmates went to the big school; Phyllis and I to Midsomer Norton Grammar School. Back then there was a 13+ too. It was the parting of the ways. We caught the school coach from outside the New Inn (Gus and Crook) at 8.15 am and arrived back in the village at 5.30pm to hours of homework. We wore expensive uniform; I have it in my head that setting me up cost twice Dad’s weekly wage. Much of the stuff came from a specialist supplier in Bath. A shop called The Don at the top end of the town. While most youngsters left school at fifteen we went on to 16, 18 and then to College or University. Re-integration in the holidays was an issue; former friends talked about their school and their teachers. My new friends were the other side of Midsomer Norton. Fortunately I was good at sport and possessed the football!
While at Primary School we celebrated the Coronation. There were sports on the Secondary School field with prizes like boxes of Maltesers; tea in the school hall and then we were given our Coronation Mugs. I still have mine. I believe that there was a bonfire / beacon on the Sleight. The weather that day was poor. Of course some of us watched events from London on television. There were very few sets in the village but my friend Keith Lewis’s family had one. Lots of us crowded into the Lewis’ front room in Lansdown Crescent.
The coming of the tele was a real event. I think I first saw it in 1952 at Wayland Cox’s house; cricket between England and India. I saw the funeral of George VI at another house and also the ‘Matthews’ Cup Final. Sally and I were invited to the Robin’s family home in the High Street (Jill Robins) to watch Billy Bunter starring Gerald Champion. We got our own set in September 1953. Duck, Son and Pinker from Bath arrived with two sets. We chose the 12inch Bush over the Ferranti and with an ‘X’ shaped aerial on the roof we were away. Back then though there was an hour for children between five and six and it then shut down until the news at 7.45pm.