Dodging cowpats on the way to school

A CHILD walking from school in the middle of Ipswich would be amazed to see a herd of cattle approaching.I recalled recently in Kindred Sprits the days of the Ipswich livestock market held every Tuesday until the 1970s at sites around Princes Street.

David Kindred

A CHILD walking from school in the middle of Ipswich would be amazed to see a herd of cattle approaching.

I recalled recently in Kindred Sprits the days of the Ipswich livestock market held every Tuesday until the 1970s at sites around Princes Street.

Bernard Jasper, of Ivry Street, Ipswich, was a pupil at St Matthew's School, Ipswich, in the 1940s and on his journey to school he would often encounter cattle and other 'evidence' that it was market day.

Bernard recalls those days and tells us what life was like at the original St Matthew's School when it was so cold in the winter pupils worked in gloves, coats and scarves to keep warm in the classroom heated by an open coal fire. Getting better marks in class was rewarded with a place nearer the fire!

Bernard said: “As a junior school boy in the 1940s, just after World War Two, I walked to and from my home in Ranelagh Road, to St Matthew's School, which was in the now disappeared St Matthew's Church Lane.

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“I was always rather apprehensive on Tuesdays, as that was the day when cattle were driven from a rail head near Princes Street bridge, along Princes Street, and into Portman Road.

“On many occasions I can remember, as an eight-year-old on my way home from school for lunch, being confronted by what seemed to me to be a massive herd covering the width of the road, bearing down on me at a rate of knots. The herdsmen were usually at the back, driving them on.

“Such a massive tonnage of large animals approaching me was frightening. However, they always seemed to purposefully avoid any pedestrians, including myself.

“The main danger was the possibility of slipping over on the pungent and very numerous freshly-laid cowpats liberally scattered on the road and pavements. Can you imagine this happening now in Princes Street? How times have changed!

“The original St Matthew's School building was to a youngster like me at the time, a rather formidable Victorian place, with what seemed like cathedral-size classrooms that had windows too high to see out of.

“There was no central heating of course; the only warmth in winter was a coal fire in one corner. I can remember that my class of 50 pupils would wear gloves, coats and scarves in the winter months. Weekly tests were held, and those who gained the higher marks were allotted the desks nearest to the fire!

“During the Second World War years, my class had to go into the school shelter when the air raid siren went off, and we continued the lesson there until the 'all clear' sounded.

“I have a 'taste' memory which is still rather off-putting. In the winter months, the daily milk delivery would be put in front of the open fire, which resulted in it having a sickly flavour. We would have to drink our third-of-a-pint bottle of warmed up milk at morning break.

“For football, cricket and other organised games we were marched down to Alderman Road recreation ground, having changed at the school. For swimming we used St Matthew's Baths; in the summer months we went to Broomhill pool.

“The teachers were pretty strict, and the lessons were what we now call formal, but this particular church school had a very good reputation for teaching the 'three Rs' extremely thoroughly, and I am grateful for the grounding that I had, and the fact that a high percentage of the pupils passed the 11-plus. I went on to Northgate Grammar School in 1949 well prepared for taking on what was on offer there.

“The St Matthew's School building became outdated, and the late 1950s and 1960s development ripped that whole area apart. The school needed replacing.

“Nevertheless I was sad when it happened, and when I stand at the corner of Handford Road and look across the roundabout towards the Wolsey Theatre, I can picture the old building in its original position; this would be more or less astride the north bound carriageway of Civic Drive, with part of it probably sitting on the roundabout itself. Both staff and building have long gone, but I am grateful for what St Matthew's did for my education.”

Mary Clay (nee Fletcher), who now lives in South Carolina USA, has her own market day memories.

She said: “During my childhood my family lived on the corner of Portman Road and Friars Bridge Road. One day I was looking out of our window watching a herd of cattle being driven down Friars Bridge Road, when one cow came ambling up to the window and casually looked in at me.

“I had the net curtain over my head and got tangled up in it as I screamed. My dad, who was deaf, was napping in his armchair with the newspaper over his face. I must have made quite a racket because it woke him up and he got tangled in the newspaper. What a sight we made, like something out of the Keystone Kops.”

Frank Symonds, of Ipswich, used to earn pocket money on market days. Frank said: “I spent every morning at the cattle market during the school summer holidays in the 1930s helping the drovers get the animals into pens. We were armed with a short stick to prod the animals with. At the end of market day I would again help the drovers through the streets with the animals. For this I would get a sixpence (2.5p). This does not seem much today, but with that I could buy a bottle of Tizer drink and a two-penny bar of Cadbury's chocolate.”

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