Memories of School
Watford Live! Oral History Project. Interviewees speak about their memories of school.
“My earliest childhood memory I think, was the first thing I can remember was being prepared to go to school with having some gaiters on my legs and my mother doing up all the buttons on my legs as I was going to school and a nice little blue coat with lots of buttons. That was when I was, I presume I was five”
“My first recollection is about when I was five – going to Chater Infants School. It was mixed – boys and girls – and I have very little memories of the school. One teacher – because I had lost a lot of schooling as I had pneumonia, which was rife in those days and I came back to school – I remember her slapping my hand with a ruler because I was biting my nails and it was not nice at all. That put me off school at a very early age”
“I was in the choir. Yes, and once a year we used to have a competition at the Town Hall and Chater School always beat us every time it seemed (laughs), yes because it was judged. In the Town Hall, the small Town Hall. Some of us did a floral dance all round, we had things, bells on our…and little things waving around.”
“I remember as a little child apart from the gaiters, I can remember the liberty bodices. We used to wear a liberty bodice. Do you know what a liberty bodice is? It’s a bit like a camisole but a little thicker with buttons down the front. I think all the girls had a liberty bodice under their dress or whatever they were wearing. It was quite the thing a liberty bodice. Why it was called a liberty bodice I have no idea! (laughs)”
“So, when I was almost five after Easter, I started Watford Fields School. I cried for my mum about every day for a fortnight. Because we never had a nursery school unless you were very hard up then you were allowed to go to Wiggenhall where the depot use to be, there was a nursery there at the bottom of Deacon’s Road.”
“Our desks I remember particularly, and I think its rather amusing to remember we didn’t have pens and papers or pencils, we had slate and a bit of chalk, with the slate at the back of the desk. When we were doing any writing we had to use chalk and that was my first memory of school.”
“We went out onto the playground, a short playground, I remember, sort of, we would form a chain of kids “who wants to play Cowboys and Indians?” and such like but you know by the time we collected a chain of kids the break was over. In the Junior School we had various crazes which usually got banned after a while (laughs). I remember, instead of playing marbles we played the same game with ball-bearings and that got banned because of going on the grass and the caretaker was moaning because it messed up the lawnmowers.”
“This is Watford Fields when the war started, 6 I was. In those days we celebrated St Georges Day. We went to school in our…we tried to dress in red, white and blue. We might have white socks with blue stripes, and red ribbons in our hair. We used to parade around the playground. Friday afternoon was toy afternoon when you were in the infants. All took a toy. Things weren’t too bad in those days. We could only go there half day to Watford Fields. Because the soldiers took it over. So one week we went there in the afternoon I think it was and another week we went to Victoria Infants. I think it was the soldiers. It was taken over and we couldn’t go”
“I used to do a lot of knitting and what used to happen was I used to knit socks for the soldiers during a lessons believe it or not, I’d sit there, we done them on 4 needles, in a round and I’d be listening to everything that was going on. Of course, I had to do all the paperwork and that, but if it was just talking I’d be sitting there knitting and then I’d hand it to the teacher to turn the heel for me because I never did get the gist of doing it, it never worked out, but she done the heel for me then I finished the rest of it.”
“There weren’t the pressure on doing all this getting exams and all that. You did what you could. And you weren’t put in these special classes for special lessons. You were just graded. A, B and C I think it was. A, B and C – B upper and B lower I think. C, they had a very motherly teacher. A lot of them came from poorer homes. They were a little bit slower shall we say …and she was such a lovely teacher. She used to bring them on you know. They did what they were capable of so they didn’t get left behind. They were all together and they did what they could.”
“They were teachers, but they didn’t install anything very nice. If you were academic, probably even at that age, it would show. They knew which ones were going to the grammar and which ones were going to the secondary modern. After losing a lot of schooling I can tell you which category I was in, but that didn’t matter as you grew older. I think that is just something I recall – as I must have been 10 then as you were 11 when you went senior school.”
“On the corner of King Georges Avenue on Whippendell Road was allotments, and they were school allotments, and if you were in the C classes at school, you had to go down there and dig them over. I was a little bit above that, I went to the woodwork class – ha ha ha!”
“We learnt our times tables by rota and I was reading from the Janet and John books and in the junior part of the school we had a reading list. Enid Blyton was banned so we had this reading list of approved books which was mostly sort of classics.
The Cassiobury Estate was increasing and the school did get rather overcrowded. It wasn’t built large enough and there were a lot of private schools in the area. I think the assumption was, you know, that children would be divided between Cassiobury School and Private Schools. And on the Cassiobury Estate at that time we had a public school which was in a private house in Woodlands Drive that disappeared in the mid 50s. I think it’s largely been forgotten about by local people. There was Rosebank School which was a similar establishment in Mere Walk that kept going until the 1970s. They were small private schools in private houses.”
“Mothercraft. My friend and I we were always chosen to go up to the clinic which was in the Avenue then and fetch the doll, a big doll, baby-sized. Then we brought it back and used if for mothercraft. We used to have to bath this doll.”
Julie Fiskin and Jim Norman:
Julie: “Then we went to Junior School where they separated us. The girls were downstairs and the boys were upstairs and that was in the same location.” (Julie asks Jim if he remembers if they had upstairs for the boys and downstairs for the girls.)
Jim: “Where was this?”
Julie: “Chaters, Chater Juniors that would be”
Jim: “Well no, actually, not when I went. When I went, we were mixed in class and just separated at play time. The infants were mixed all the time, but in the juniors we had mixed classes, but separate playgrounds, so it obviously changed from when you were at school.”
Julie: “Yes, in a few years there were lots of changes.”
“The toilets were across the playground that wasn’t very nice to go, especially if it was raining or something like that. I went up to the big girls – as we use to call it – and the girls and boys were separated in the Junior School, the girls were on the ground floor and the boys were upstairs and we had our own playgrounds as well, but I learnt recently that in 1956 they were merged and the who school became coed. I was very glad I wasn’t there then because I hated being with the boys and their rough and tumble.”
Interviewer: “What age did you leave school?”
Doreen: “15, it just came in for that extra year.”
Interviewer: “That’s right, because it was 14 wasn’t it?”
Doreen: “Yes, which wasn’t very good because they weren’t organised for it really. We used to play up a bit. Well, I remember pinging cherry pips at the blackboard (all laugh).
Interviewer: You didn’t did you?
Doreen: Well, it was because we, as I say, a lack of interest I suppose. We thought we were going to leave school. Because I don’t think it came in…we didn’t really know much about what was going to happen until nearer the time. So I think we were disappointed in a way.”
“Most children our age had a school uniform which would comprise shorts for the boys and a skirt or dress for the girls, but everyone would wear a shirt and a tie, so we would have a school shirt and tie. And we would also, at two of the schools I mentioned, wear a cap as well. The boys were expected to wear a cap, and touch the cap if they saw a teacher, or an adult.”
“Mr Tucker, he was about 7 foot tall, at least he seemed to be when I was a child. He used to hit you with a ruler if you ever did anything wrong. You had to stand in front of him with your hand up like this and he seemed to be up in the ceiling somewhere and he used to whack you on the hand with a ruler. I got the cane several ties when I was at Grammar School, but it was nothing like being belted by Mr Tucker and his ruler. He’d get shot now of course, not allowed to do that, but they did it often enough to us. I don’t remember complaining much about it, it was just one of the things you got, you know.”
“I got caned for smoking once when I was on my way home from school. The Sports Master came cycling along Durban Road East and I had just put the cigarette in my mouth and he took the cigarette from me and said “come and see me tomorrow”, so I knew what was going to happen. When I got the cane for smoking when school was finished for the day, I certainly didn’t say “Its nothing to do with you because school’s over”. Well, you didn’t in those days.”
“Senior School was different at Victoria Secondary Modern. I liked school then, it was something I really enjoyed. There were lots of things such as singing and drama and dancing and all the things you excelled at, so they were happy memories rather than the sad ones in Junior School. It was a girls school. The boys were across the playground again.”
Interviewer: Was that in Addiscombe Road?
Jim Norman: “The playgrounds were separate”
Julie: “Yes, you could just see the boys across the wall.”
“I went on to Watford Grammar School. I wasn’t any good at exams and I failed all my mock GCE and that particular year I was having to leave at sixteen. The Technical College which is the one in Hempstead Road brought it in that you had to pass your GCE to go to the technical college, so the fact that I failed in my mock they wouldn’t have me for a Secretarial Course. So I had to go to the Further Education College in Queens Road but I liked it there, but I could only stay a year. It was a two year course, but my mother couldn’t afford to keep me for anymore ‘cos there was just my mother and me”
“He paid for his children to go Watford Grammar School.”
Christopher: “Yes. £5 a term. That’s what my parents had to pay when I went to the Polytechnic Secondary School. £5 a term. That’s what you paid for your child after 14. The only schools you didn’t have to pay was Watford Central School. You had to pass to get into that school only, or fail to get into Watford Gramma School and pass above the line. Watford Technical School in Queens Road, it was still going then and the School of Music was there as well. You got in there, that was free I think to get in there if you passed the exam to get in. I don’t know what sort of exams it had in those days but there lots of little exams that people could take.”