As the thought of going home came nearer, even routine matters like writing a label for your trunk (so that it could go ‘luggage in advance’) and being called together to have train times and other end of term arrangements explained caused immense excitement. It was convincing proof the end of term had really come. Another event was the ’dorm-feast’. This didn’t happen every term, only when some influential individual managed to ‘sell’ the idea. Weeks before, there would be much discussion about what was to be included (and probably who was to be included) and gradually detailed logistics would evolve (finance, purchasing, concealment and disposition) We had to wait until the Master on duty had finished his rounds at about 11pm (everybody being apparently asleep) and had himself settled down for the night. Then in the dark or with the aid of a torch and much ‘shushing’ items would be distributed and we would pretend to enjoy the repast whilst trying to keep warm. As in many things the anticipation was better than the reality, but the fact we were doing something strictly against the rules was the main attraction as well as keeping a tradition going. Some people couldn’t be bothered to join in and were left in peace. Although I was caned several times for talking after lights out, I don’t remember us being caught because of the feasts. Perhaps, in hindsight, they turned a ‘blind eye’ despite the suppressed laughter and pattering from bed to bed. My most disastrous feast (or proposed feast) happened late on in my school days, when I decided to be original and fetched some chips from the chip shop and took them up to the dormitory wrapped in plenty of newspaper. I evidently thought they would keep warm enough to be edible. I ate about two of them on principle but never wanted to touch cold greasy chips again. The best feasts were in the top dormitories and by this time the shop which also served as the school tuck shop, had been taken over by a pork butchers from Brigg. So we had sausage rolls and a choice of buns and cakes to choose from and also ‘pop’. The previous shop had not sold much apart from toffees, boiled sweets, gob-stoppers and sherbet.
After 10 to 16 weeks away from home, we were exuberant with anticipation as end of term approached. It was a time of unimaginable happiness and ‘days to go’ before that blessed occasion, were marked in diaries for weeks before. People would get excited because it was the ‘last Latin lesson’, ‘the last history lesson’, ‘the last exam’, ‘the last prep’ etc etc. The end of term hymn, number 52 in the Brigg Grammar School Hymnal (‘Lord dismiss us with Thy Blessing’) was ringed around with red ink and asterisks in many hymn books because we always sang that in school assembly on the last day. But we weren’t so keen on the last line which said ‘those returning make more faithful than before’. On that last morning tears weren’t far away because of the emotion of the moment and because friends might be leaving. But the most exciting and enjoyable event, which we looked forward to all term, was the End of Term Supper, instituted by Mr Shute. This was for the boarders and there were nearly always the things we liked and plenty of them. It was well worth staying the extra night after the days boys broke up.
Going home in the train we would try to keep with the people we liked and get a carriage to ourselves so that we could smoke a cigarette. You could buy a single one of these from a slot machine on the station, and someone would have arranged about the matches. Also on the station there was a machine with which you could print your name on an aluminium strip and a weighing machine as well as dispensers for Wrigley’s chewing gum and Nestle chocolate. Sometimes we would have the opportunity to smoke going to school at the beginning of term, but that was more difficult as the train was often more crowded, and the adults wouldn’t put up with bad behaviour from us children. Once I took a nearly full packet of cigarettes to school and hid them by burying them in a tin at the bottom of the playing field. I was mortified when I dug them up again, ready for the journey home, to discover they were all soggy and horrible. As seniors we occasionally had a ‘draw’ behind the school pavilion or in the lavatory.
After dinner on Saturdays, we lined up to receive our pocket money which was fixed at 3d. This would be put on the bill at the end of term as ‘extras’. If we brought money of our own at the beginning of term we had to hand it in. We could then draw this up to a maximum of 6d a week as ‘bank money’. This would be spent in the tuck shop across the road during the dinner hour. We couldn’t go any further, until times became more enlightened and we were permitted to walk into town on Saturday afternoon for a limited time, if we weren’t required for games. As a senior, I was keen about football, and me and another boy were allowed to go into town on a Saturday evening to get the ‘Pink-Un’ Sports Paper or the Grimsby Evening Telegraph. This was a marvellous opportunity to have a pennyworth of chips and sometimes threepenniworth of fish and walk about the town for a while. We also slipped out at other times with or without permission.
In our spare time we played the usual games, informal football with piles of jackets as imaginary goal posts, cricket with chalk marks on walls to act as stumps, rounders where you had to hit the person with the ball as he was running between ‘stations’. All of these led to noisy arguments as to whether someone had really scored or was really ‘out’. There was one game which unfortunately had to be played near the entrance to the field where it was narrow and the ball sometimes went into the garden next door. The person who threw it obviously had to somehow, get it back. One day that person was me. I chose a place where I knew other boys had been over so decided to risk it and climbed over the hedge and threw the ball back. However it wasn’t so easy to get back, and before I could make a move, the owner came dashing out of his house like a terrier out of his kennel, grabbed my arm and hustled me into his kitchen. Pushing me roughly onto a chair, he began to rant and rave with every word that came into his head. The more I tried to apologise and explain the more he bullied. I was terrified and bewildered because I didn’t think I had done anything that wrong, but the police court and prison cell seemed at the point to be the likely outcome. It was a real relief when the school bell went and he decided to let me go without taking me to court ! When I got back I was told he was an ex-policeman.
Once over the age of 10, I went into the main school and came up against the harsh realities of school life – the sternness and unpredictability of Masters, the higher standards demanded, the phenomenon of homework, the pranks of schoolboys.
I was still a year younger than the average age of the class, which continued all the way up the school. In the first term I found the work difficult and came 18th out of 25, but by the end of that year, I was 3rd out of 31.
Most of the staff had their peculiarities and different thresholds of temper, and it paid to remember these so that you knew how far you could go. Offences considered more serious were of course dealt with by caning. Being cheeky to Masters was rare, and would have been punished on the spot with a clout. Bullying or persecution was not uncommon but would never be reported by the victim as one of the first golden rules instilled into the ‘new boy’ was that you do not ‘blab’. But ‘answering back’ Matron or the Housemaster’s wife would probably earn a few strokes. Although dreaded and very painful (and the usual long wait outside the Housemaster’s study until he was ready to deal with you compounding the agony) the effect soon wore off and didn’t really alter your behaviour, it only made you more careful not to get caught. Surprisingly, talking in the dormitory after ‘lights out’ or being out of bed seemed to be the commonest cause of being given the cane. The Master on duty came round the dorms once or twice after listening at the door. If he heard talking you had to own up or the whole dormitory would be punished.
During my times at school, I got the cane 6 times. I recorded these in a little notebook as follows:
‘Times I have had the Swish’
1. Three strokes. For talking to Billy Newby at his bed. (aged 10 or 11)
2. Four strokes. For playing football in the dorm and breaking a picture. June 1924 – aged 11.
3. Three strokes. For ‘wragging’ Bell for snoring in dorm at his bed
4. Six strokes. For talking after lights out. Matron heard me say that I didn’t care about the stick, so got 2 more. June 1925 – aged 12. ‘Could not sit down in class and it bled a bit’
5. Three strokes. Talking after lights out.
6. Five strokes. ‘Wragging’ – ‘Old Lower’. Fetching several boys from Old Lower. Waking Matron up.
Total Number of Strokes = 24
There was supervised prep for an hour and a half in the evenings, Monday to Friday. We were supposed to spend half an hour per subject but conscientious ones often did more and finished off their homework after supper.
We were expected to do more, but on our own at weekends, working in the day room amid the hubbub and chasing about. The Master on duty in prep was usually giving more attention to the books he was marking than to what was going on and towards the end of the period there tended to be paper aeroplanes flying about, pellets of paper propelled by elastic, notes being passed and sometimes the exciting game of seeing how far you could move from desk to desk around the room without being spotted. You made use of the empty desks and looked innocent and apparently hard at work every time the Master looked up. Impositions were often earned for talking or other misdemeanours whilst in prep. The favourite imposition given by Masters and Prefects was ‘100 lines’ (eg ‘I must not talk in class’ or I must not be late for meals’ or ‘I must bring my hymn book to assembly) The completed work would scarcely be glanced at, the offence probably forgotten and it simply encouraged bad writing so had little or no positive use. Carbon paper was a bit too obvious, and attempts were made on occasion to make multiple pens by joining two or three together to speed the work. One of the Assistant House Masters (Mr A.E. Read – or ‘Old Man’) always set ‘cubes’ as a punishment (eg 672598) These had to be worked out in full, but of course he knew all the answers from the efforts of other pupils. Some of us kept copies of the workings of these so that if he set the same one again, it saved a lot of time and effort.