My first introduction to education was at home where I had a succession of governesses, who taught reading, writing and arithmetic. Matches were used to illustrate addition and subtraction. We also had stories, all of which totalled about 2 hours a day up to about the age of seven and a half. For the next year I attended a local day school, Grimsby Girls High School, with my cousin, to prepare me for life at a boarding school. It seems that perhaps the village school was not considered ‘good enough’ and that mixing with certain of the village children was not ‘desirable’! The High School took boys up to a certain age, so from September 1920 to July 1921 I walked the half mile down the village to the railway station and came to enjoy these regular train journeys.
My memories of school life there, were of fire drills, waiting in the yard for the bell to go so that we could get back into school, and sitting waiting for attention from our form mistress, when she had been distracted by the ‘problems’ of little girls near the front of the class. I was always full of anxiety when it was my turn to go into the passageway outside, and tell the time from the big clock there. One memory I have is of a little girl who always seemed to have a terrible cold, but appeared to have great difficulty using a very inadequate handkerchief. My report from the school was very good except for singing (‘very fair’) – but then, don’t you always get good reports from Private Schools ?
I went away to boarding school at Brigg when I was eight and a half (September 1921) and my only memories of home after that time relate to holidays, which totalled about 13 or 14 weeks each year. Although most of us boarders passively accepted the official reason, that we had been sent there for our own good, ‘to make men of us’ and also appreciated the financial sacrifices involved, there was always a lurking suspicion that it was to get rid of us. My father knew the Headmaster of Brigg Grammar School, Mr Bryant, since he had been a pupil of his at Brighowgate School in Grimsby when he was a boy and had a high opinion of him. My Bryant was also a distant relative, by marriage. Despite everything being so strange and harsh, it’s likely I would have settled down sooner, but for another new boy who I was constantly put with. He was so homesick that he hardly stopped crying for the first month or two and this unsettled me and made me miserable. We were allowed to sit in the Head’s private living room with Mrs Bryant sometimes, but that was an ordeal in itself. We were excused football that term and dreaded the time when we would have no choice but to join in. The 16 week Autumn Term seemed like an eternity and there were no half-term breaks to look forward to in those days.
During the first term I was scalded rather badly and kept in bed for a week or two. There was no hot water supply in the wash-room and very hot water was brought in a galvanised can like a large watering can, for mixing with cold water from the taps.
There were about 8 or 10 wash bowls in a line, then a large space for movement behind them, then three cubicles with a bath in each. There was a rota for bath night (once a week) and the can of water was left in the middle of the floor and used as required, being poured out by Matron or her assistant. On this particular night, the barber was there cutting hair while we were washing and getting ready for bed. He was a jolly man and chatted and laughed with us. He discovered that I was ticklish and to avoid this I was rushing all over the place and ran into the can of scalding water, splashing it all down my leg. Mrs Bryant put oil on it which was considered to be the correct treatment in those days, but was later frowned upon.
There were about 50 boys in the boarding house which was divided into 4 dormitories. There was a fireplace at each end, but this was only used when the room became a sick-room when various epidemics broke out. The clothes list had required us to bring a ‘travelling rug’ to use on he bed during cold weather. For boys under 12, the fees were two pounds and five shillings each term and boarding fees were fourteen pounds and fourteen shillings. For boys over 12, these rose by about a pound a term. Some of the boys were weekly boarders, and they went home after school on Saturdays and returned on Sunday evening. Sometimes we would call them ‘weakly’ boarders !
Forms I and II (ages 8 to 10) were in the same classroom, a small tin hut away from the main building, presided over by an elderly full-bosomed spinster called Dolly Couldrey (she was known as ‘Dolly Pap Pap’ sometimes corrupted to ‘Dolly Pa Pa’) It was a big joke years later when she took the part of the Queen of the Fairies in ‘Iolanthe’ in the staff production. There were a total of about 18 pupils in the two forms, taught simultaneously. It was progress indeed when we moved to Form III in the main school building – away from Dolly’s motherly ways to the harsh reality of bawling tyrannical masters, but the most feared member of staff at that time was the only other female teacher, the scripture mistress. Fortunately, she soon married ‘Bumper’ Knight, the much respected Maths Master (after all, he got a century at cricket one day and was a most effective bowler) She stopped teaching and was alleged to have mellowed somewhat.
I remember being very reluctant to go back for my second term after the Christmas holidays. On a snowy night, father came with me as far as Habrough, where I had to change trains, as the train for Brigg did not stop at Great Coates. I had a surprise when I arrived at school. Instead of the elderly bearded, kindly ‘Bod’ Bryant in the boarding house, there was a new Housemaster, a youngish businesslike man – H.A. Shute B.Sc, together with his wife and young son, Guy. As I recall, I soon settled down as I knew a lot of the other boys by then. Shute was a good organiser, a firm disciplinarian and knew exactly what he wanted to do; it might almost be said that he brought the boarding house into the 20th century. He was also the Chemistry teacher and reorganised the lab, helped by willing volunteers, as he did everything else he came into contact with. I admired him as a teacher and was fascinated by the subject and when I had to choose a career, I decided I could do it as well as he did and, I suppose, modelled myself on him to a certain extent. Mr Bryant continued to be headmaster of the school for many years.