A century of memories

NOW time for some nostalgia! Today we bring you vivid memories from ROD CROSS who was a pupil at Clifford Road Primary School between 1951 and 1957. He has since moved from Ipswich to Southampton, but has fond memories of the school.

NOW time for some nostalgia! Today we bring you vivid memories from ROD CROSS who was a pupil at Clifford Road Primary School between 1951 and 1957.

He has since moved from Ipswich to Southampton, but has fond memories of the school. He was a primary school teacher until he retired last year.

WHEN I first started in the infants department in April 1951, I was oblivious to the finer aspects of the school's architecture.

To me, Clifford Road Primary was merely the school my elder sister attended, my father had attended and most of my neighbours and their children had attended. As such, it afforded a rite of passage.

Of course, back in the 1950s, children were not broken in gently with nurseries, playgroups, or pre-school initiation procedures.

So like everyone else, I was simply taken to school on the first morning of term, handed over to Mrs Mulley, the kindly and highly-experienced reception class teacher and that was it: no sentimentality, no hugs and tears, no mothers hovering around the classroom door.

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I can still recall the sights and sounds of that first morning. The cavernous classroom with its high ceiling, and windows so far from the ground that you couldn't see out; the little wooden tables and tiny chairs, scrubbed almost white over the course of time; the severe-looking, brown, wooden clock staring down from the wall, its face covered with what I later discovered to be Roman numerals.

As I gazed around wide-eyed, I noticed the lead soldiers in their fort, the box of contented-looking farmyard animals, the wooden building bricks and the sand-tray. Bottles of milk, smaller than I'd ever seen before, were lined up around the heavy, steel guard in front of the open fire. A newly-sharpened pencil lay on each desk, alongside a little writing book whose cover resembled the type of blue paper I'd only previously seen used for sugar bags.

All around, I could hear the buzz of noisy chatter created by the high-pitched voices of 30 or so very small excited children. And pervading everything was the peculiarly heady, classroom smell - a mix of smoke from the coal-fire burning in the grate; polish used for waxing the shiny, wooden floor; and maybe of one or two slightly damp infants.

I was suddenly aware of Mrs Mulley asking whether I knew any other children in the room. When I shook my head, Mrs Mulley led me to a vacant chair and said, “You can sit next to Richard. He's new today as well.”

That was 56 years ago, and despite living many miles apart, Richard and I are still in touch today.

After an assortment of activities to help us settle, it was time for play. The tarmac that covered the trenches dug when the air-raid shelters were established under the playground in 1939 made excellent railtracks and a happy 15 minutes was spent chugging merrily up and down.

Once play-time was over, there was more copywriting, colouring and a story until, as I watched both hands on the big, brown clock reach XII, Mrs Mulley stopped the class and said that lesson time was over and that we could all go home.

Upon reaching home, I ate my dinner, related my experiences to the family and began to play. At 1.45pm, I was dismayed to be informed that it was time to return to school. I had assumed that school was over for the day. By 2pm, I was back in the classroom for two hours before school finished at 4pm.

In September, I moved into Mrs Coates' class next door. It was here that I suffered the indignity of being singled out by the school doctor as being too small.

Consequently, I was given a jar of thick, sticky malt to take home every Tuesday afternoon. This had to be taken twice daily, supposed to 'build me up'. One day, whilst running home from school, I tripped on the pavement with the jar in my hand. The glass shattered and the treacly brown substance covered me from the neck down. At least, malt was off the menu that week!

We also encountered William Appleby and his 'Singing Together' radio programme for the first time. This was broadcast every Monday morning. His cheery greeting of “Hello, schools!”' always received a less than rapturous response from us and when his trilling soprano accomplice launched into the opening bars of such sturdy English classics as 'Hearts of Oak' or 'The Keel Row', we resigned ourselves to 20 minutes of unremitting misery. Only the threat to make us sing solo forced us to join in, albeit half-heartedly.

John Collins taught the nine to ten year olds. It was in this class that we constructed a huge Tudor town, each of us contributing a Tudor building whose external beams were affected by the use of black-painted matchsticks kept in place with an incredibly strong, sweet-smelling glue. Mr Collins was also very keen on puppets so we all made puppet-heads from papier-mâché and the best were used in the annual puppet play.

When we reached Standard Four, things really began to happen: weekly games sessions on Alexandra Park, swimming at Fore Street Baths, even a day trip to Orford Castle. We studied Captain Cook, pressed wild flowers, and did an 11 plus test. Although its significance was far, far greater than the SATs of today, we had no lengthy revision sessions, no booster classes or endless practice papers. We just came in on Wednesday mornings as normal, completed our tests in arithmetic, basic English and verbal reasoning (then known simply as 'intelligence') and thought little more of it.

The assemblies themselves were little more than a hymn, a prayer and a rollicking. They were but a brief prelude to a long, drawn-out school day. In the summer term, for instance, junior-aged children did not finish until 4.30. This was to allow for a two-hour lunch break, enabling children to get home for dinner with the family. Only a handful braved a school dinner, while sandwich lunches were unheard of.

How we filled the rest of the day, without recourse to television broadcasts, videos, DVDs, interactive whiteboards and the ubiquitous computer might seen something of a mystery. We did have one other radio broadcast apart from 'Singing Together'.

This featured a boy called Peter and a man he referred to as 'Uncle Tony'. Every Tuesday afternoon, we would hear about their adventures together in the woods, where 'Uncle Tony' would astound his 'nephew' with his unfailing ability to identify everything from edible fungi and animal spores, to carnivorous pond creatures and distant bird song.

In those pre-National Curriculum days, individual schools had complete autonomy over what they taught and for how long they taught it. For example, the nature study broadcast, which lasted all of 20 minutes, provided our entire ration of science for the week - quite a contrast to the high profile that science enjoys today.

At Clifford Road Primary, we also had a minimal amount of scripture (RE on today's timetables), PT (PE) and something called hygiene (PSHCE). The latter included lessons on dental health and personal cleanliness.

Handicraft was the equivalent of today's CDT, though there was little evidence of any of the design or technology elements. What we did have, was a clear case of gender discrimination with the boys making working models from cardboard and lolly sticks, whilst the girls sat passively sewing.

We were also taught a smattering of geography, history and art. The latter consisted of either drawing with charcoal, which was both dirty and extremely fragile, or painting with powder paint, the correct mixing of which I never quite mastered.

The bulk of the timetable, of course, was devoted exclusively to the 3Rs. We read copiously: individually, in pairs, in groups, around the class, to the teacher, to each other, non-fiction, fiction, stories poems.

Writing incorporated stores (which we called compositions), tedious reports recording 'Our News', comprehension, dictionary work and spelling, as well as repetitive exercises on punctuation, parts of speech, collective nouns, homonyms, synonyms, similes, metaphors, proverbs and anything else considered essential for everyday living.

Finally, there was arithmetic which revolved around learning the times tables from one to 12; working out sums using the four rules of number; and solving problems that tended to feature men either digging up roads or filling baths with water. We may have had no idea about how to construct a line graph, draw a net for a cuboid or conduct a traffic survey but at least we could work out the number of threepences in £23.16s.9d - and all without a calculator!

Perhaps the latter example best illustrates the difference between education then and now. It was no better, no worse, just different - and in keeping with the simpler and less sophisticated way of life in the mid-1950s. This was the era of black, shiny-toed plimsolls, pink blotting paper and navy-blue raincoats; of blackboards on wooden easels, crates of milk with paper straws, and straight rows of iron-framed desks; and of short trousers and gym-slips, 'Yes, Sir' and 'No, Miss', and corporal punishment.

These were the days before biros and felt-tips, anoraks and trainers; before texting and mountain-biking, computers in the living room and TVs in the bedroom; and before such terms as obesity, dyslexia, dyspraxia, autism and attention deficit disorder imposed themselves upon the nation's collective consciousness.

Yes, life has changed a lot since the school celebrated its 50-year anniversary in 1957 - and even more so since it first opened a century ago in 1907. Yet Clifford Road Primary School has survived all those changes and outwardly I think it has changed little.


If you recognise yourself in these pictures, we'd love to hear more. Write with your memories to Star Letters, The Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN or e-mail eveningstarletters@eveningstar.co.uk.

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