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Conway Primary School Remembered; 1949 - 1955


I remember my very first day at school aged five. All the kids and their mums were standing around, waiting to be enrolled onto the register to start their very first day. Many of the kids started crying and were throwing tantrums when their mum's finally left to go home, leaving them there on their own. I was put into Miss Moy's class, who was the infant's teacher. The classroom had folding canvas camp beds, which we had to lie on during our mid-afternoon sleep. We were given our own individual cloth bag that had wee animals and other pictures sewn onto them, so we could identify them as our own. These all hung on the wall by a coat hook to keep our belongings in.

Later on, as older kids, I remember when we were dished out the cod-liver oil capsule and also how, after they were given out, at two to each child, the playground was covered with these spat out golden brown capsules, great to squash under your shoe. I also remember the sad polio epidemic and the dreaded polio shots that we lined up for and received in our upper arm that ached for ages afterwards.

I recall Mr Bull, the headmaster, a large and intimidating man, who always wore his trademark large blue and white spotted bow tie and a flower in the lapel of his blue pinstripe suit (he lived up on Grossmont Road in a big old house overlooking Winn's Common).

I remember the school assemblies every morning in the hall and the hymns we sang, with so much gusto, accompanied by the piano. One morning at assembly Mr Bull summoned me to the front, because I'd been talking to a mate. For this offence, and in front of the whole school, he commanded me to spell “Elephant”. Highly embarrassed at my predicament I began with “E.L.E...F”. and the school hall erupted into laughter. I was so embarrassed, I felt as if the ground had opened up under me and, very red faced, I was told to return to the assembly.

During assembly we all were assembled into lines of our class. We stood whilst we sang. Occasionally, a child would faint and fall down. This was not too uncommon in those days of poorer families when some children didn't get enough. We'd sit while we listened to speeches and so on. Whilst we sat we fidgeted and as the floor was a wood pattern parquet floor you were in danger of getting a splinter in your backside.

Colin Weightman at 10 - Conway School photoI well remember the wee fella who had to endure being forced to stand on the teacher's desk at the front of the class while she removed a splinter, with her tweezers, from his bare bum on show to the entire class; of both boys and girls! I never ever complained of having a splinter at school after that and I would endure it until I got home for mum to remove it.

School dinners were held in the assembly hall. We sat at long folding tables and benches. The smell of overcooked boiled cabbage was always thick in the air. The duty teacher would patrol the dinner tables and if you didn't eat enough dinner you couldn't go up for your 'afters' (pudding). There was always usually 'seconds' if you wanted more to eat. Some times I stayed for school dinners but most often I went home for a meal.

The pig bins were always a smelly sight, lined up out the back of the kitchens in the playground with the slops of the school meals and kitchen waste. This was collected to feed the pigs kept up at the back of St. Nicholas Hospital. I have heard that one boy would scoop some of this mush from the bin and plop it in the playground, as if he'd been sick. He would then be allowed to go home early. But he got caught doing this trick once too often and was punished for his deceit.

When school was over for the day there was an evening teatime function if you wanted to go. I think it cost about 6d to attend. It was like a club and was held in the assembly hall and the adjoining classrooms. We could do art or play games, and we had cocoa and jam sandwiches for tea.
I made a picture out of pieces of scrap coloured cloth, which were glued onto some cardboard paper, and some weeks later I was told that my picture had been selected to be exhibited at an art exhibition in Central London. I went with my parents up to London to see it there, proudly displayed, hanging on the wall with my name beside it.

I remember the two separated playgrounds, with the wooden door in the wall between them; one playground for the infants and one for the bigger older kids. Also the boy's toilets, next to the girls, by the front gate, on Gallosson Road where we boys held fiercely contended competitions to see who could pee the highest up the urinal wall. (If you were too clever at peeing too high you could get your own back!)

Once, while the girls were playing at their skipping games, I noticed three pennies on the steps where the girls had tied their skipping rope to the railing. I picked them up and went out of the playground to a shop on the corner of Orissa and Conway Roads where I spent them on three ice lollies. When I returned back through the school gate I was questioned by Miss Simms, the playground supervisor, about the money. I told her that I had picked it up from off of the stairs and had spent it on the lollies, one for my sister, one for a friend and one for me. I was taken up to the Headmistress and was given a lecture on theft and was then put in the cloakroom and made to stand there and watch the ice lollies melt away, which seemed to take flipping ages.

Months later my mother had to visit the school for some small reason and she then came to our class to visit me. I was called out to the classroom door and the teacher spoke to my mother. She asked my teacher how I was getting on and she replied that I was getting on fine, except for that thieving incident!
“ What thieving incident?” was my mother's shocked reaction.
The teacher gave her a brief explanation; so from my mother I got a loud telling off and a good clout round the ear 'ole, in front of the class who, of course, were all watching us intently. Fifty years later my younger sister, Ann, says that it was her that took the money, quite innocently; she thought she'd found it and gave it to me; but I'm blow'd if I can remember that, though.

Now, talking about getting belted, I remember when we were being taught how to speak 'proper' English. The teacher would correct us when we dropped an 'H' or said “fred” instead of “thread” and so on. Well, I mean to say, our natural accent was 'Cockney' just as plain as a Welshman has a 'Taffy' accent and a Scouse has a Liverpool accent and so on. So there we all were, trying to talk ' properly,' just as the teacher insisted we should.
Try as she might, she couldn't get us to speak the way she wanted us to pronounce things, or should I say “Fings”. Some of us did manage to successfully carry out demands, but some unfortunates just couldn't, try as they might. When they kept getting it wrong they were then ruthlessly punished by her.
The boys would receive a hard smack across the knuckles with a ruler, and the girls were required to stand on their desk seat and received a hard smack on the thighs of their legs.
Despite the punishment that these kids got, they still could not pronounce certain words just the way the teacher insisted they should, much to her great despair.
She'd ask wee Charlie to stand up and say, “Thirty Feathers.”
Poor unsure Charlie would timidly reply “Tha, Tha, Firty feavers”
Frail little Rosemary would be asked to say, “Harry's Father Threads Three Threads”, then with her tiny frame, she'd draw in as deep a breath as she could and then rapidly reply, “Arry's Fa'fer Freds Free Freds”!
Years later now, Cockney is finally a recognised legitimate language, an accent widely spoken without the bad connotations that it generated back in those far off days of the 'Queens English' as being the only correct way to speak.
I've had trouble with being self conscious sometimes, when I speak in certain company, simply as a direct result of this stupid bullying that we kids received, all those years ago at Primary School. However, I feel all right nowadays if I come out with something like, “Firty fousund feafers on a frushes froat” or “Bread an' bu'er in the gu'er”!

An incident that I recall was when one of the horse-drawn milk floats overturned in Bebbington Road at the side of the school. The noise was, as you can imagine, very loud indeed as all the glass milk bottles, along with the wire milk crates, crashed onto the road as the float tipped over when its wheels mounted the kerb. The horse must have got spooked by something. The milkman eventually unharnessed the frightened horse and walked it up and down the road until it calmed down. What a mess there was strewn all over the road: broken glass, tipped over crates and milk running in the gutter. All the kids' faces were pressed against the windows of the classrooms that looked out over the accident scene.

I remember one day whilst walking home after school as we walked up Orissa Road alongside the back of the old Beasley's Brewery buildings. I heard the loud throbbing sound of lots of aeroplanes' engines. I looked excitedly up and saw the planes; they were all flying in formation. Suddenly, two of the planes collided with each other and then, it seemed in slow motion, wings and pieces of fuselage broke off and began to fall, spinning to earth, followed by the two planes. Being a young child, I wondered if what I was looking at was for real. Later on, though, the evening papers were full of the tragic story, with big headlines reporting this spectacular air accident. From memory, I believe that one plane crashed into the Thames and the other into the Plumstead Marshes, with the loss of at least one pilot's life.

Outside the gate on Gallosson Road one afternoon there was parked a rag-and-bone man. He had plastic bags, each with a goldfish swimming around in them. He said to the kids that if they brought him some clothes he'd exchange the clothes for a goldfish. Well, the result was that many kids went scampering off home, soon to return with their 'good' clothes and (remembering that many kids didn't possess any or very little in the way of spare clothing in those days), this was without their parent's knowledge or approval; and swapped the clothes for the goldfish! This led the school to tell the children that they must not do this, and that they must not deal with this trader; and he was told by the school to go away; and he was never seen again in the area.

I remember the Harvest Festival, when we took some produce along, if we could, such as spuds or a cabbage; and how it was all piled up in the assembly hall with the storks of corn. The celebration then got under way with your usual singing of such hymns as 'We Plough the Fields and Scatter' and 'All Things Bright And Beautiful'. I think the produce was later given to a home or a hospital.
Also, I think that this was the time that they judged which child had grown the best nasturtium plant from seed that they had been given many weeks earlier. I always had a go, but I never managed to win. I loved their patterned leaves, and the orange trumpet-shaped flowers of these so easy to grow plants.

Every now and then the 'Nit Nurse' would do her rounds of the school.
When she got to our classroom we were all told to line up: boys in one line and girls in another.
We then slowly filed towards her as she closely scrutinised each child's hair and head for these pesky little passengers. Her nimble fingers and extra fine metal comb moved deftly and efficiently as straight-haired and then curly locked youngster's heads were pushed this way and that as each head was inspected for immigrants. Then, wet-haired and with cold disinfectant dribbling down your neck, you were done and the comb was dipped back into the deep beaker full of that strong-smelling chemical and disinfectant, before the next child's turn.

Each year would bring with it another cycle of seasons. Every day we walked to school and back and often to and fro at dinner times as well; we thought nothing of it then; you just did it, and in all weathers and in all seasons.
The other seasonal things came and went as if by magic, such as the marble season, where you played marbles at school or along the gutters all the way home, being ever mindful of the drains. The cigarette card season, where you flicked your 'fag' card up against the wall, with the fag card nearest to the wall being the winner, and then they took all the other cards. The conker season, when you went over to Bostall Woods, to try and find the biggest, and shiniest, dark brown horse-chestnuts. Then, with a meat skewer, you drilled a hole through the centre of the conker and threaded a string (a bootlace was best) on to it. You then did serious battle with your opponent, each taking it in turn to hit the conker which you held up for your opponent to hit and try to smash and break it. If you broke your opponent's conker you won and it became a 'Oner'; if your opponent's conker was a niner (nine victories) you took his score and added it to your total and it became a tenner and so on. There were many tricks used at trying to harden conkers, such as soaking them in vinegar and/or baking them in the oven.

My younger sister Ann says that when she used to walk to school and back on her own she was absolutely terrified of the big tall brewery chimney that used to belch clouds of black smoke. I only found this out from her around fifty years later on; amazing what went through us Common kids' minds in those now distant far-off days.

Colin Weightman.



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