The school that was new when my nan was there in the 1920s
This week’s Revelations prompt is memoir. It asks if we have considered writing one, and if so what it would be called. This blog is as close a memoir as I think you’ll get from me. Most of it was written contemporaneously but there are personal elements where, especially at the beginning I delved into the past. Of course this isn’t the whole story by any means, but then I guess no memoir could ever be such. There are elements that are too personal, or too dull. Then again you need to be able to remember enough of the past to write about it and I’m a poor historian. Not that it has stopped some people writing pretty much fictitious accounts of their lives. But. I digress. Instead of talking about me, for a change, I’m going to share some of my grandmother’s memoir. She left us a handwritten account of her life from around the time of her birth in 1920 up to around the 1960s. I have typed it up, though as yet haven’t done anything with it. I know I should.
She started writing when she. was 64, just 3 years older than I am now. She had already been a widow for 4 years and having married at 18 and had my mum at 19, she already had grown up grandchildren, in fact I was already. married! What follows are a few excerpts, nan left school at 14 and while intelligent and as well educated as you could be by 14 I’ve corrected a little of the grammar. As well as shortening some sentences, otherwise it is as written.
Nan’s early life
Let me go back to West Cornforth, County Durham where I was born in 1920. I was the 8th child and my sister Jean came along 5 years later. This was the order: brother George, sister Myra, brother Ralph, sister Florrie, sister Mary, brother Joe, sister Doris who I never met as she died aged 9 months then me and sister Jean.
I was born in a 2 up 2 down terraced house with a backyard and an outside toilet. It was a pit village, which of course is a coalmine, and where my dad worked a slag works.
I’m afraid I don’t know much about it except that my dad used to break rocks up and he told my mam that there would be an accident there one day, caused by a fall of stone. He said that someone would get killed and that it would be him. It came true. (He was only 37 and nan was 5, Jean was just a baby. She wrote that the funeral was one of her earliest memories.)
I think my next memory was when I must have been 7 years old, we had a very old school and then this lovely big school had been built at the other end of the main street from the other one. I can remember all of us children marching along the street. I was holding my friend’s Irene Dickenson’s hand; she was 4 months older than me. We lived opposite each other and were friends for as long as we could remember. We are still friends now,
Life was very difficult for my great grandmother, and as soon as they. were able the children went out to work to support her and the younger children. In 1930, when nan was 10 the family moved south for better job opportunities.
Life in the south
2 of nan’s sisters had found a house for them all to live in. This is how she described it:
We all trooped in, more or less feeling our way, as it was nearly as dark inside. There were lighted candles all over the place; the gas hadn’t been connected so that was a great outlook for the weekend (no Sunday dinner). Mam said later “I could have just turned around and walked out again”, but she didn’t and we lived there for just over 3 years.
It wasn’t a bad sized house, 3 rooms up and 3 down. Big double gates at the front leading into a yard, the front door on the right and, straight ahead stable doors, as inside was a stable. There were still the places for the horses although it couldn’t have been used for years. There was a loft with a little window, brother Joe nearly 14 years old was always swinging about in there.
It was a dark house, the door led to the middle room, the front room one way, into the kitchen the other way. That was quite a size, leading from that was a walk-in larder. There was a little garden, and the toilet was down the bottom in the corner covered with some sort of creeper (it looked nice in the autumn, lovely red). Beyond that was a long wall, over that was an orchard which wasn’t ours of course. There was no bathroom; to be honest I can’t remember how we managed to bathe. We must have had a rota system because I suppose it took place in the kitchen
We were soon sent to school, the two of us (nan and Jean). It wasn’t far from where we lived, that was the best thing about it. It was a church school, very old and such a contrast to the one I had left, I didn’t care for it at all. It was a girl’s school the boys were next door. There were two teachers, Miss Riden and Mrs Linnell and a very young one, Miss Chalkley. Miss Riden must have been about 60 years old she was the head mistress. They were nice, I suppose but I don’t think I learnt much during the 4 years I spent there. I must admit I was a very good writer but I was doing grown up writing, what a shock, I had to go back to joined up print. No loops I was told. I loved writing essays and such so I didn’t go much on that. I also liked reading that was a nightmare.
I must have had an accent you could cut with a knife, a good old Doggy twang, Doggy was the slang word for Cornforth. Eventually I was talking one way at school and back to normal as I called it at home. I got the mickey taken out of me at home, I can tell you, especially when a school friend came for me and spoke my name. It sounds like ‘Jine’, instead of drawing the ‘a’ in Jane, I still don’t like it to this day, but there you are when in Rome do as the Romans do. But I was always known as Jane Ann at home, but the Ann got knocked off even at home, pity really.
After a year I was picked with 6 other girls to go in for the 11 plus at Ware grammar school. I really did want to go there, more so when I saw it, we were taken all round and I wanted to go there more than anything in the world. But I didn’t know anything about the system, unless I’d been a real genius, I had no chance.
Unfortunately despite passing the written exams, at the interview nan felt she was disadvantaged by her accent and that she had no dad. Her sister was prepared to pay uniforms etc, but they weren’t given the chance. Nan was bitter about this all of her life.
I was in my last year at school, due to leave at Xmas 1934 and I wasn’t looking forward to it. I had mixed feelings about leaving, my keenness for learning had gone, but it was safe I suppose. I just didn’t know what I was going to do, I would have loved to have gone into hairdressing, but the pay was about five shillings (25p as of now). Some salons only took you on if you paid them so that was out for me so the alternative was factory work.
My first job was at a place called the Cortecine Works, they made linoleum (floor covering), what a place. I hated it on sight. I was to start 7.30am until 5pm Monday to Friday and on Saturday 7.30am until midday. My wage was eleven shillings and nine pence (not 60p). Luckily our Myra had bought me a bike just before I left school, but what a ride. It must have taken me half hour at least to get there. I went there in the dark and came home in the dark, horrible weather, snow, rain, fog, you name it, I was out in it.
I soon got another job; It was a much better factory, and I did enjoy it there, everyone was friendly as well. I was what was known as a run about. The girls worked on a line of radio valves or electric light bulbs and if any of them needed spare parts they switched a red light on and I was there to see to them, it was a good way of getting to meet people. We used to laugh and joke. Once I worked on a bench doing a bit of welding but that was a bit tedious, sitting still. But it was all in a day’s work and so different to the last job. I think I got a few coppers more as well, and as I was very shy it did me good, brought me out as you might say.
This is just a small snippet of the memoir. Which goes on to recount her memories of meeting and marrying my grandad, of my mum’s birth and childhood as well as the traumas of war. But maybe more of that another time.