31. The bellringing thing

If you have been following my blog, you will have realised by now that bellringing has played a significant part in the life of the Scott family. The first documentation, discovered by my brother Mike, the family historian, states in the notes of  St. Paul’s Church, Winlaton, Co. Durham: “In 1847 Zachariah Scott, Sexton, was one of the ringers.”. Since then, one or more of the family has rung church bells, particularly in Tibshelf, Derbyshire and North Shields, where the main family homes were, but now, wherever the descendants of Zachariah have come to reside.

Church bells have over time played an important role in society, particularly when church-going was either compulsory or an expectation of any ‘proper’ person. For much of this early period clocks and watches were rare and expensive, so the church bell(s) could be heard for great distances and tall towers containing the bells made this possible. Even now when it is quiet and the wind is in the right direction a distant church clock can sometimes be heard. Imagine how it was with no cars, buses or aeroplanes.

The ability of a bell to be heard over long distances meant that not only was a ‘call to prayer’, but a warning in times of trouble. However, bells which are designed for ringing in peal are a much different thing, and this is based upon the way they are ‘hung’.bellfrt

The bells are attached to a wheel with a rope around it and it rotates 360o. Each time it does this, it strikes once. This means that once it starts moving, it cannot be stopped, speeded-up or slowed-down until it next reaches the top.

This may be seen here: Bells in action

Some towers can ring tunes with a carillon, which uses hammers on the side of each bell and is either mechanical or has a kind of giant keyboard.

Change ringing is the name given to the method that is usually heard in the UK and a few places around the world. A ‘change’ is literally what it says: two or more, adjacent bells change places e.g. if two bells ring in the order 1 – 2 then they swap so that 2 rings before 1 (2 – 1) then that is a change.

Now comes the complicated bit so you can skip the next bit if you wish and go to *.

Bells always start in the order 1 2 3 4 5 6 (or however many there are). This is called ‘rounds’. Any bell now can only do one of two things: it can change places with the bell next to it, or stay where it is e.g. from rounds a new order might be 1 3 2 5 4 6 because 2 & 3 swapped as did 4 & 5, but 1 & 6 stayed where they were. This is regarded as one change. With six bells there 720 possible different changes of order, and with seven there are 5040 possibilities.

There are two ways of knowing what change comes next: the easiest is call-changes where the conductor calls out the change e.g. ‘2 to 3’ in the case above then ‘4 to 5’ to arrive at the order shown. The other system is ‘method-ringing’ where each ringer memorises a pattern which has a name, and there are lots of them. These are the ‘methods’ and are carried out without shouted commands (more or less)

Winchendon Place Doubles_cr

The diagram shows the first ten changes of a typical method. The red line shows the simple path of bell no. 1 (the treble), while the blue line shows (part of) the more complex route of no. 2. The other bells are executing an identical path to bell 2, but obviously starting from a different place. 120 changes later it ‘should’ all come back to rounds.

Five bell methods like this are called doubles methods, six bells are minor, then triples and so on

Every method has a name. The one shown is Wichendon Place, but there are many, some common and some rare and thus, usually complex. Most tower bands would aspire to ring for Sunday services with a practice night during the week, but there are groups who meet at other times and places to hone their skills. ‘Peals’ usually consist of around 5040 changes and last about 3 hours 10 minutes (without stopping or going wrong). Quarter peals, lasting ~45 minutes are often rung to commemorate special events.

Like most hobbyists, there are those who are interested in ‘grabbing’ the most different towers, the most peals, winning competitions for good striking or just going on an outing to a few towers with a meal and a pint or two.

There is much more that I could add. Perhaps I might come back later.

For details of our tower and links to other ringing sites try www.christchurchringers.org.uk

30. Is it a record?

Back along when the world was in black and white, ‘records’ were thin discs of black shellac (the resin of a female beetle, believe it or not). They were 10 inches (254 mm) in diameter with a hole in the middle. A spiral groove ran from the rim to the centre on which were ‘indentations’ which carried analogue sounds. The sound was re-created by placing a needle in the groove and rotating the turntable, which carried the record, at 78 rpm. The record player was called a gramophone. The turntable was powered by a spring which was wound with a handle and the tiny movement of the steel needle was amplified by a mica disc to some form of cavity e.g. a horn which amplified further. The record usually had another recording on the reverse side and labels on each side to identify the music.

Such then was the home sound system of my childhood, but in a technological explosion in the 1950s records became discs, shellac was replaced by polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and the power was electricity for both the motor and the amplification through loudspeakers. With such advances, it became possible to have discs of differing sizes 7, 10 , and 12 inches; then they mucked about with the speed 16, 33, 45 and 78 rpm. This was an attempt to a) get more information on a disc, b) make the disc more portable and c) to improve the quality of the sound. This sound quality became known as high-fidelity and hi-fi was the holy grail of what we now call the nerds of the period. Large sums of money was spent by people, who could afford it, to achieve perfection by controlling the speed of rotation to the nth degree and the weight applied to the sapphire or diamond stylus, which had replaced the steel needle. When stereophonic sound came along then the grounds for acoustic pretension knew no bounds, even if it meant sitting at the apex of a triangle subtended by two sets of speakers called woofers and tweeters and which cost a fortune.

The standard LP (long playing record) was the 12 inch version which carried several tracks on both sides and was later called an album. Single songs were on 7 inch discs and the standard optimum speed was set at 33 rpm LP and 45 rpm otherwise. It should be noted that one of the selling points of LPs was the design of the sleeve or cardboard jacket that it came in. These were the very early days of TV and few people had their own means of recording from radio or TV so the purchase of recordings was the only way most people could listen to their favourite star when ever they wanted to. This resulted in the rise of the pop-star, groups, recording studios, TV programmes like Top Of The Pops, and the hit parade.  The Top 20 was an eagerly anticipated 1 to 20 chart of the best selling records, usually broadcast on a Sunday night on radio, when the Saturday sales had been tallied. This was also boosted by cafes (and later, pubs) which had record-playing machines called juke-boxes which played singles for anyone prepared to pay. At home the gramophone became a record-player, which might play a stack of discs, one after the other. These were often portable and could be played in your own room while parents might boast a radiogram, which combined radio with record player in one polished item of furniture.

For a short time cassette recording was king. You could buy your album on a pocket size cassette tape and play it on smaller and smaller portable machines. It was no good for single recordings, but you could record directly from the radio and make your own album. In the world of the pretentious the car version took over, and things like 8-track stereo with 10 inch speakers in the back would make your ears bleed. It was always a joy when their cassette player ‘ate the tape’.

It wasn’t until 1982 that the CD (compact disc) was born. Now an ubiquitous part of our computer storage, the retail CD was an audio device which gradually replaced the disc album. The cost of the player and its unsuitability for singles, meant that it never vanquished the record player entirely. Since then it has matured into storage of data and a reincarnation in 1995 to DVD (Digital Versatile Disc) which like its older sibling can be recorded over more than once. Of course there are the born-again record listeners who claim that the CD does not have the ambience of a record and this has resulted in sales of turntable record players.

I seldom hear of the discos of my children’s youth. Record shops where teenagers used to listen, in a booth, to the latest hit with their friends, or pore for hours over which album to choose are gone. I hope the music channels I see while idly browsing through my digital TV are an adequate substitute for the young nearly-adult and not just enjoyed in private.

As I write type this in to my desktop computer (although I could have dictated it directly), I am listening through my old hi-fi speakers, to a track,  that I have downloaded from the web, to the same pc. I have it saved on my hard-drive along with thousands of others and I can cast it to my tablet or phone, should I choose to. If I use them then I would use headphones or earwigs so that I do not intrude on others, but I fear that the world would cease to intrude on me and that would be sad.

29. A lost village

While trawling the web for material for my website I stumbled upon a reference to ‘The lost village of Havelock Place’.  This intriguing reference has rattled round the inside of my head for some time and it has taken until now for me to do something about it. A few years ago I walked the footpath between Backworth and Seghill taking a few photographs on the way, but little remains of the site of the ‘village’.

It must be said that villages have come and gone all over the world, but coal mining has spawned a good many of these in this part of the country as mines will always be ‘worked out’ sooner or later, but in the meantime workers must be housed while the coal is there, and the village abandoned when it is gone.

The particular coalmine in question was Backworth C-Pit. Backworth in Northumberland was particularly rich in coal seams with several ‘pits’ sunk to reach the richest seams. Some were connected, but others were on opposite sides of a major fault, (90 fathom fault), and so the coal seams were not connected and so separate shafts needed to be sunk.

C-Pit was sunk in 1856 and lasted until 1895. The village of Havelock Place was also known as ‘C-Pit Row’ or just ‘C-Pit’. There were two rows of houses, set at an angle alongside a waggonway which carried the coal down to ships on the river Tyne at Whitehill Point, near Howdon. The West side was Waggonway Row or ‘The Long Row’ and the other was Fisher Row or ‘The Short Row’. The largest house at the top of the village housed the colliery Manager. This later became a school, before reverting to a house.

Each house seems to have had a garden and an outside ash closet (toilet or ‘nettie’) with an attached outside water tap. At some time there was a shop in the middle of Fisher Row and a house was used as a Methodist Chapel until a purpose-built chapel was raised at the South corner, along with a ‘Good Templars’ Hall’ (temperance hall).

One of the by-products of most pits was clay and. C-Pit produced ‘blue-clay’, which was particularly good for making bricks. In 1877 Henry Foster & Co. built a brick works on the opposite side of the waggonway and although the pit closed in 1895, the Hotspur Brickworks continued until 1967.

No doubt residents of the village worked in the brickworks after the pit closed, but the village itself was demolished in 1938, leaving very little beyond two footpaths and rows of trees where houses once stood.

fisher-short-row

Footpath and trees where Fisher Row once stood. Nothing remains of Waggonway Row except the changes in direction of the footpath.

There are more coalmine sketches here

28. Walking about a bit

When I retired in 2000 I returned to my home town of North Shields. Having been away for 34 years, with only occasional visits, I decided that I would explore the, much changed, area and keep fit by ‘walking it’.

To begin with, I was obviously restricted to the distance I could walk in a day, but once I worked out the bus routes and the benefits of a free bus pass/Metro Gold Card (unlimited travel on the local rail at a small fee), then I could go as far as I wished and walk from station to station, station to home or vice versa. Sometimes the absence of public transport meant the use of the car, but rarely.

Around the town

The first revelation was the conversion of the Albert Edward Dock and the adjacent timber yard to Royal Quays Marina with the adjacent Redburn Dene and Chirton Dene. Closer to home was Smith’s Dock where it was possible to walk and take photographs until the ‘cleaning-up’ began.

Up the coast

Of course the coast from the North Shields Fish Quay to Blyth is always a joy. I actually walked from Tynemouth pier to Blyth keeping entirely to the rocks and beaches where possible (not in one day!). It means a bit of tide-table watching, but very interesting. What had been done to Blyth Harbour while I was away  was a revelation, but the refurbishment is already starting to look a bit tired. The Tall Ships Race this year (2016) should jazz it up a bit.

Heading West

Moving West from Royal Quays drives one away from the riverside and although there is a bit of industrial heritage to see, it’s mainly pavement-plodding until you get to Willington Gut, although there were some good photos to be had when they were building the second tunnel. If you want to stay with the interesting stuff then it is probably best to take the Metro to Howdon and find your way through Willington Quay to the footpath and bridge over Willington Gut, under the viaduct and out on to Hadrian Road. You could, of course, miss out this bit and take the Metro to Hadrian Road.

In passing, there is another route from Howdon down to the viaduct along Wallsend Burn, through Richardson Dees Park, then South to Swan Hunter’s and the riverside.

Although you are away from the river, there is a view of A&P Tyne ship-repair yard from Davy Bank, but nothing worth going down the bank for. Just beyond the roundabout there is a path on the left marked by a red steel whalebone arch which leads to Hadrian’s Wall Path/cycleway. This walk takes the route of the old Riverside Line railway. Passing the former Swan Hunter Shipyard and Segadunum Roman Fort (well worth a visit), the path comes to a temporary end where the railway line crossed the road.

You now have two options: you can return to the ‘footpath/cycleway’ at the other side of the road and follow the railway-line route all the way to Byker , and the bridges over The Ouseburn or  return to the pavement for a far more interesting walk.  The footpath/cycleway has trees on one side and buildings on the other,  most of the way, so there only a few places where there is a ‘view’. However further along the path there is a spur which takes you down to the riverside route.

Taking the ‘Low Walker’ route keeps you in sight of the river and the new developments at the former Neptune Shipyard. Further along, you turn down towards the giant yellow cranes at what was ‘The Naval Yard’ and is now a busy enterprise park dealing with offshore technology. At the furthest end of the site there is an entry to a riverside walk, which is joined by the other footpath from the spur.

The riverside walk is one of my favourites, as the river is on one side and trees where the industrial heritage once was. Tar-works, lead-works, shipyards stood cheek by jowl along the bank and only warning signs to stay out of the river give the slightest hint of their existence, although the paint works on the opposite bank give some idea that it was ever there. Eventually you will reach St. Peters Basin marina with its ‘bascule’ bridge; then onward, after a stop at the pub, takes you eventually to Newcastle Quayside.

The Ouseburn/Jesmond Dene option

An alternative route now would take you up through the Ouse Valley, past a number of pubs, a tunnel under Newcastle, an urban farm and even stables. The route then cuts left towards Manors Metro and Newcastle, right towards Byker or under the bridges for quite a long trek overland to eventually reach Jesmond Dene at Armstrong Bridge. As I said at the start, all of these routes go in either direction, and this one is best pursued by starting at Jesmond Dene via one of the Metro stations and travelling downhill to the river.

Newcastle-Gateshead Riverside

I will not attempt to describe the myriad of walks in Newcastle, but there are a number of routes from the quayside to the city, my favourites being the ones leading to Christ’s Hospital or through the old castle itself.

There are a number of short walks on both sides of the river, taking in the ‘tilting’ Millennium Bridge, the Baltic gallery of modern art, with its splendid views of the city, the Sage Music Centre and the St. Mary’s Heritage Centre.

The Loop

On one rather ambitious day I took the Metro to Gateshead, walked down to the Swing Bridge and set off West on the South side of The Tyne. There are a number of ‘artworks’ in the early stages of this route which then settles down to a nice flat path along the river, under several of the Tyne bridges. After a bit of weaving in and out of housing you reach the spectacular Dunstan Staithes. Once a centre of coal exporting, the disused staithes were restored for the National Flower Show some years ago, but despite some vandalism and neglect since, there is talk of their restoration. However I digress. The route carries on over the river Team, past the Metro Centre and over the river Derwent to the next river crossing at the much-maligned Scotswood Bridge.  Once over the bridge, the home run is along the famous, but much-changed, Scotswood Road to a point where a path drops down along the riverbank, with its several artworks, and so back to the quayside. The whole route is about 9 miles and my knees were better then.

South to the coast

There is little to commend walking East from the Swing Bridge on the South bank, but the walk from the Pedestrian Tunnel  between Howdon and Jarrow, itself an experience  (should it ever reopen) or from the replacement bus though the tunnel, gives a nice route along the river past Bede’s World (worth a visit) and The Venerable Bede’s own  St Paul’s church. However there is a long urban stretch along the main road which eventually dips down to the riverside, past The Customs House (theatre), ending at the South Shields ferry landing and back over the river, where a bus is always waiting to take you up the bank.

The Lees

There is a very good, if long, walk from South Shields ferry landing out to the river mouth and along a beautiful coastal path right on the cliff edge. Assuming you want to leave the mile-long South pier for another day, the route passes Frenchman’s Bay, Marsden Grotto (worth a stop-off) Souter Lighthouse (worth a visit – National Trust) past the Lime Kilns to the beaches at Seaburn and the piers at Roker. A trip back by bus to South Shields or from Seaburn or Monkwearmoth Metro, home, completes a 9 mile walk. If 9 miles in one go is too much for you then starting from the South Shields  ferry landing, passing through the centre of town and South Marine Park, takes you to the end of the pier. There is then a much more direct route avoiding the winding cliff path which follows the later stages of The Great North Run to Marsden Grotto, Souter Point and Seaburn Park before heading West to the Metro at Seaburn (about 7 miles).

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Photos of many of the places mentioned are on my website at www.jimscott.co.uk

Recommended reading: Tyne View by Michael Chaplin and published by Port of Tyne £18.99 at Amazon

I was going to recommend Metro Walks by Peter Donaghy and John Laidler published by Nexus in 2006 at £3.99, but  I see that it is out of print and available at Amazon at £55! I think I’ll hold on to my copy.

 

 

27. The church and me

I may have mentioned, somewhere along the line, that I am a church bellringer, yes a campanologist and have been so since an early age. At that time I was also a chorister in a choir of around twenty boys and a dozen or so men, most of whom has been boys in the same choir. Now there is no choir and we find it hard to get enough ringers for a Sunday service. Indeed when I lived in Devon there were five or six churches with bells, within half an hour of my home and only one of them could get a regular Sunday band to ring. As is my wont, it got me thinking how things have changed.

My paternal grandfather and his antecedents were bellringers, both on Tyneside and in Derbyshire, so their church-going credentials go without question. My maternal grandfather had been raised a Primitive Methodist, but never attended church in my memory although his bible knowledge was so good that my grandmother feared the ‘knock’ of Jehovah’s Witnesses, who he used to tie in knots until they almost begged to leave. As he could not read or write, this was some feat.

The generation before them was altogether different, particularly if the family were non-conformists. Sunday, The Sabbath’, was strictly observed; meals were prepared on Saturday, cooked on Sunday, and the washing-up waited until Monday. Activities in the strictest homes would be confined to walking or reading, but only The Bible!

Before the time of Cromwell, you could be fined for non-attendance at church, but this was mainly to keep a check on Catholics. When non-conformists came to power, then that Elizabethan law was repealed. However most people, even in my time, would attend church on Easter Day and everyone would have knowledge of the important festivals, Christmas, Palm Sunday, Good Friday, Easter, Ascension Day, and Whitsun. Most of these were bank/school holidays and even Ascension Day was a half-holiday. Most children of my generation and before were expected to attend Sunday-school either during the morning service or separate from it.

Good Friday, until fairly recently, was celebrated in my home town, by the many non-conformist churches with a March of Witness. Hundreds of people in their best clothes would parade through the town, each chapel with its own ‘supporters’ accompanied by bands of The Salvation Army and The Boy’s Brigade. The streets would be lined with people watching, and a service would be held in the town square. There were several Methodist Churches in the town, Presbyterians, Baptists, the Salvation Army and probably others. Such have the numbers dwindled that last year it rained heavily and for those who turned out to march, a service was held in what has become the United Reform Church in that same square.

The Church of England did not get involved in’ the march’, but the main church had two or three ‘satellite churches’ around the town to cater for those in different areas, as there were so many regular church attendants. Then, of course there were The Roman Catholics who always did their own thing.

Apart from the traditional weddings, although they are now more likely to take place on the beach, and christenings, which appear still to be an occasion to wear the full ‘Ascot’ outfit, there were the civil functions. Mayor’s Sunday was a day with processions, soldiers and bands to fill the church and singing to raise the roof. Harvest Festival, not only filled the chancel with gifts of produce, but the gallery was adorned with nets for the ‘harvest of the deep’. That reminds me that the same church had galleries on three sides; such was the size of the Victorian congregations. These were removed as long ago as 1951.

Churches of whatever denomination have always had more to offer than ‘religion’. They are social communities and always have been. The Church Hall kept the secular side separate and whist drives, pie and pea suppers, and later discos kept the church at the centre of the community.

As a once-convinced Christian I still find it hard to see the dwindling congregations of mainly middle-class elderly people who keep the services going with rising costs and dwindling collections. More and more of these once vibrant and elegant buildings have been demolished or converted to another use. Where will it end? I cannot guess, but fear the end is not too far away.

See more of Christ Church and bellringing

26. Christmas Past and who will be the ‘First Foot’?

There has been a flurry of recent TV shows taking us back to the recent past. Christmas always plays an important part in such programmes as it sticks in all our memories. With the danger of sounding like Del Boy’s uncle Albert – ‘after the war’, although it is an exaggeration to say people had nothing, they certainly had very little. The stockings we hung from the mantelpiece, of our ubiquitous coal fires, were our own, not giant ones bought for the purpose. Into them were put, by our parents, nuts, oranges, apples, perhaps a coin or two and maybe a toy car or such. There would be other presents, wrapped in the thinnest of Xmas paper, from aunts, uncles and grandparents, but many of these would be scarves, gloves and other items of clothing. There would, of course, if affordable, be the main item that you had hinted for and even written a letter to Santa about. My first such, was a single ball-point BIRO pen and boy was I ‘chuffed to bits’. It was the precursor of today’s ever-present BIC, but I remember its wonderful blue, hexagonal shape. It leaked like mad, but it was mine. Today it would be a smartphone, a tablet, a bike or a hoverboard, but that pen was the only thing for me.

A visit to church was the next order of the day. My father being a bell-ringer and a chorister, we kids went with him, and eventually joined him in both enterprises. Mum stayed home to prepare the big meal . I cannot imagine buses running that day so we may well have walked the mile or so there and back.

We could not afford a turkey, if such a thing was even available. We did, however, have a chicken, but never at any other time of year. Like a scene from Dickens, fathers always carved, and I clearly remember one year when the chicken skidded off the plate and was pinned to the wall to prevent it falling further. It was highly amusing to us, but it took months of lotions and potions to remove the grease stains from the prized wallpaper. I vaguely remember Fuller’s Earth being the solution, but I digress. There would be home-made Christmas pudding and brandy butter, which, as I recall , was butter and sugar (which grated like sand between your teeth) with a smidgen of brandy, or even just brandy essence.

The rest of the day was given over to playing with any toys or games we received until the arrival of the elders. We always looked forward to the visit of my maternal grandparents and mother’s brother and sister, for although they had sneaked in during the night, with the presents we could never find, their arrival preceded another round of exchanging presents. Their visit was also for the ‘Christmas Tea’. This was even more of an occasion than dinner as it involved crackers and paper hats, scones (some of which) had a three-penny piece inside wrapped in grease-proof paper, and of course homemade (and iced) Christmas cake.

The evening was passed with the adults playing cards for pennies (Newmarket was the favourite game), eating mince pies and perhaps drinking cheap sherry until either we were put to bed or the elders went home.

New Year was something altogether different. Folk in the North and those in Scotland celebrated the changing of the year in a much less restrained manner than Christmas. Indeed I am told that Christmas in Scotland was quite a low key affair compared to Hogmanay which could go on for some days, not including the hangovers.

Preparations began earlier in the year in our family. Drink was purchased by contributing to a ‘Christmas Club’. Money was paid to an off-license throughout the year and beverages selected for the celebration. It was a matter of pride not to be found wanting at New Year so our house which normally did not have drink about the place, suddenly had a sideboard, bulging at the seams. Such exotic drinks as Advocaat (for making ‘snowballs’), Cherry Brandy, Emva Cream (or another British or Cypress sherry), joined the usual half-bottles of whisky, rum and gin. Beer was usually bought as required and for a time came in large cans for which you could buy a carbon-dioxide ‘tap’ impress your visitors, although it was claimed to keep the beer fresh if it lasted long enough or the gas didn’t leak. Having stocked-up, the parties began sometime in the evening of the 31st. These were as big or as small as you chose and could be at home or at a dance-hall or pub.

At about 11.55 pm everything stopped!

For those who were at home, a member of the family: male, preferably dark, was sent from the house and the door locked behind him. He had with him: a piece of (Christmas) cake, a piece of coal and a silver coin; I have heard tales of salt and bread, but not in our family! These were tokens of food, heat and wealth to be brought into the house by the FIRST FOOT who until this point had been freezing on the doorstep.

At precisely midnight usually sounded by the church bells ringing out the old year and bringing in the new year, or just the church clock, a watch or the radio (no TV, mobile phones or fireworks), the FIRST FOOT banged on the door to be let in which he duly was. By this time every body had a drink to toast the new year in.

THEN THE FUN BEGAN!

All that carefully bought drink came into play. It was then fair game to go ‘FIRST FOOTING’. Basically this meant you could visit all your friends and neighbours to wish them a Happy New Year and they could come to you. I remember a large group of us trudging from house to house from my home in North Shields to Tynemouth, back to Shields, and then to Tynemouth again, without any clear plan, or the help of cars (as we didn’t own one) or taxis as that would never occur to us. Whether it was freezing as it often/usually was, or snowing, it made little difference, except for falling down a lot more than normal. The best nights ended by getting to someone’s who didn’t mind making bacon sandwiches at dawn. Memories of people leaving their homes open with tables covered in booze with no thought of it being stolen are common. Gradually the numbers in the group would dwindle until it was over

New Year’s Day was another family day with perhaps a beef roast lunch and 4 o’clock tea to finish up the mince pies and Christmas Cake (with cheese, of course). Christmas Day, Boxing Day and New Year’s Day were strict bank holidays with NO shops open. Indeed some of the factories would close from Christmas Eve lunchtime until 2nd January. I suspect that it was unlikely to get any sensible work done over this period, but it was claimed that some machines took so long to start-up that it was cheaper to only do it once.

 

25. The ever-changing face of education

The changing face of education 11 to 16

It seems hard to believe, looking back, that in 1944 at the height of the Second War an Education Act was implemented that was to change education in this country for ever.

Education was made free and compulsory up to the age of 15 (later 16). Secondary schools were to be in three main forms: grammar schools, secondary technical schools and secondary modern schools. There were also church schools, direct grant and independent (fee paying) schools, but these were fewer and ran on similar lines.

Entry to the state secondary schools took place at around the age of 11 years and was decided by a group of examinations called the ‘eleven plus’ (11+) and this, along with grammar schools, still exists in some local authorities.

11+ was a set of tests taken within the primary schools; maths, English and verbal-reasoning were the usual. The examinations themselves were very good at doing what they wanted to do, but whether a child’s future should be settles at age 11 became a bone of contention.

On the result of the score achieved in these examinations the children were filtered into the secondary system: high scorers to the grammar schools, then the technical and finally to the secondary modern. My local authority called it ‘the grading exam’ which seems quite sensible.

Simple? Not really. Some authorities had a second chance for borderline candidates (including yours truly) and some had a 13+ examination for candidates who seemed to have been misplaced. Additionally, some authorities had more grammar school places by virtue of having boys-grammar, girls-grammar and mixed-grammar or even all three. The result was, that while one authority had 5% grammar school selection, an adjacent one could have 40%.

Concerned parents who cared or who could afford the fees either bought copies of old papers or sent their children to tutors to be ‘coached’, and there is no doubt that this can work for some children. Indeed ‘crammers’ still exist for those taking GCSE and A-levels.

It should be remembered at that time the country was recovering from wartime conditions and adults were glad of any work they could find and were used to doing what they were told. The job market grew and my friends who left school at 15 were seldom unemployed so the system seemed to be working.

As the 60s began, employment levels began to fall and parents began to question the limits placed on their children, by a system where there were no qualifications at the end of it. O-levels were not generally taken in secondary modern schools. The idea had been that practical education, unconstrained by examinations, would be better for those ‘less gifted academically’.

A new examination was born: the CSE (Certificate of Secondary Education). This began in secondary moderns, but filtered across the whole system, and on the borders between the types of school, both exams were taken by pupils who might fail one or pass the other.

Now it really got complicated. The ‘stigma’ of the secondary modern produced a school of thought that suggested that there should be a new type of school with a ‘comprehensive’ system with no entry examination, no streaming by ability, more subject choice and a ‘brave new world’. The government of the time embraced the idea with open arms and the authorities with enough money built enormous ‘comprehensive schools’ housing thousands of children in purpose built campus sites. The authorities with less money had to cobble together plans involving existing buildings and so in some areas there were middle schools, junior-highs, senior-highs, sixth-form colleges and so on.

Children in the very large schools could easily become isolated as some year-groups were as large as whole schools used to be. Of course it worked well if the head and staff managed it, but some disasters occurred before it settled down. Later in some areas the junior/middle schools re-merged with their older pupils as new buildings replaced the old to become manageable size comprehensives.

During all this change teachers were supposed to manage the two-examination CSE/GCE system and it really wasn’t working well, as a grade-1 CSE was never meant to be equivalent to a ‘C’ grade GCE, but that was how it was perceived by parents and employers. The solution, if such it was, was to combine the exams into a grand cover-all examination the GCSE. The idea daft from the outset was to have single examination to try to avoid the image of failure. Grades were to go from A to G and everybody should fit in there somewhere. “How can we tell who is any good” cried the employers, parents, teachers and universities. “Well we shall call Grade C the borderline” said the powers that be. “Just like it was before you combined the two exams” said the cynics. “Oh goodness no” said the educational idealists “G-grade is still a pass!”

Needless to say the teachers just had to get on with it. The entries are split into ‘levels’ with different papers for different levels and the often forlorn hope that parents can be persuaded that ‘Johnny’ should be entered for Foundation-level making an A-grade unachievable on the grounds that if entered for the Higher-level he may get no grade at all.

That then is roughly how it stands. The government of the day cannot, however, help tampering with the system. The National Curriculum was introduced, where all pupils are obliged to study English maths and science to GCSE level; a worthy idea to bolster these subjects, but in reality it hampered the teaching of the individual sciences in favour of ‘science for all’ type courses.

A return to the pre-1944 School Certificate (continental Baccalaureate) system where a group of subjects must be achieved at one sitting has hovered in the wings for some time, but has never been enforced for fear of reaction from the ‘all men are created equal’ lobby.

Coursework carried-out at home held sway for a time, but the influence of the home situation and the rise of the home computer made this inherently unfair to some pupils and I hope and believe that any course work carried out is monitored carefully within the school environment.

If I have anything to say to the government of the day after 40 years teaching it is Leave It Alone!

Make sure teachers are properly trained and have an effective power to discipline children and parents alike then let them get on with it.

24. May I have this dance?

I stopped watching Strictly Come Dancing when the whole thing deteriorated into a circus by the show-off panel of judges. However it did strike me recently that they are restricted by the format to very few actual dances. Off the top of my head I can recall a dozen or more that were common in the dance-halls of my youth.

The dance-halls of my youth began in a local church hall on a Sunday evening where I was taught by girls older than myself, and girls of my age by older boys. The dance most used to begin with was the Bradford Barn Dance: this is a progressive dance where a ring of couples with boys inside and girls outside complete a sequence of steps which end up with a change of partner. It usually started the evening to break the ice and remove the excuse for ‘sitting-out’.

Another mixer dance is the Paul Jones where the type of dance changes when the music stops. You change partners with no right of refusal and may not dance with the same partner twice. The name of the dance is decided by a caller.

Most dances are for two people, but there were a few group dances I recall: the oddest was The Palais Glide where six (or more?) dancers in a line, boy-girl alternately – arms around waists – carried out a sequence of steps which ended with three or four noisy stamping steps forward; another was Strip-the-Willow, basically a Scottish country dance for four couples involving a lot of swinging round and linking arms and finally the Dashing White Sergeant another Scottish country dance, but oddly for two groups of three.

Before I move on to the dances themselves all of which can be found on You Tube, I ought to mention some etiquette of the dance hall. Entry was open to couples and to single people of both sexes, although I visited one many years ago which, some nights, had a minimum age limit (21?) for men (but not for girls). Males usually approached females and asked them: “May I have this dance?” Usually the request was granted, and after the dance the polite male escorted the female back to her seat. It was asking for trouble if a lady with her boyfriend was approached. Perhaps because the less physically attractive females might never be asked to dance, two females could dance with each other. Men would never do this!

There was one exception to the rule which was the ‘excuse-me’ dance which came in three forms gentlemen’s excuse-me, ladies’ excuse-me and general excuse-me; in each case a couple already dancing could be approached and the excused partner was expected to leave the floor or ‘excuse’ someone else.

You might have noticed that I said ‘some nights’ earlier, because in cities, one or more dance-halls were open every night, but Sunday. Smaller towns might only have one which probably was only open on a Saturday. Although village-halls might only have a gramophone or record-player, many dance-halls would have a live a three -piece band or even a full dance band or even two. Most people of my generation could dance to a greater or lesser extent.

The dances themselves divided into old-time and modern, or ‘easy’ and ‘difficult’, and there were plenty of them. The ‘easy’ dances tended to be old-time and had pre-determined steps which were repeated time and again these included: the Gay Gordons, Square Tango, St. Bernard’s Waltz, Boston two-step and Veleta. The more difficult dances were ‘free style’ where although the steps were learned you were free to move around the dance floor at will (always anti-clockwise for some unknown reason). These included: The Waltz, Foxtrot, Slow-foxtrot, Rumba, Tango, Quickstep, Samba, Viennese Waltz, Jive and Cha-Cha-Cha. If you could do most of these competently you could regard yourself as a decent dancer and people who did not have the early church-hall tuition I had, would pay for lessons rather than trample on some girls toes.

Things changed as music changed from what was known as strict-tempo into pop. You could waltz to Elvis Presley, but not to The Rolling Stones. The Dance made way for The Disco which produced dances which did not involve contact with your partner and which eventually did not involve having a partner at all. The Jive involved a lot of skill to do well, but the Twist involved none at all; the Shake involved even less as it consisted of standing still and, well, shaking with an intense look of concentration on your face. Back then there was always a chance to dance close to a partner for the Last Waltz which by this time was probably no more than a shuffle round the floor and the chance to make a new friend.

By this time the band had gone to be replaced by multiple record decks and lurid flashing lights controlled by an expert with a microphone and mixing skills.

As far as I know the disco name has gone, but the idea lives on through a sequence of (illegal) raves and other incarnations to what exists today.

23. A village changed

If you read the previous post you will know that I lived in a remote Devon village for almost 30 years. It changed a lot during that time, but it only became obvious in looking back. Let me set the scene.

The village is set in North Devon between Dartmoor and the Bristol Channel. When I arrived in 1972 about 400 people lived in-and-around the village, with as many again within the parish boundary, mainly farmers. There were four or five small shops: two general stores, a dairy/butcher’s, a sweetshop, knitting-supplies (and bookie’s runner) and a post office. Outlying farms and even the village itself were served by a mobile greengrocer, butcher and the bread-man. There were two garages, a cobbler/barber, a café, a pub, a primary school, the doctor’s surgery, the church and two chapels. On the outskirts was a Methodist boarding school which provided employment for the residents and trade for the businesses. The primary headmaster lived in the schoolhouse and the doctor in the surgery.

The nearest towns, worth the name, were between, 9 and 22 miles away, each initially served by a bus service, once a week. Each of these towns had a hospital, but only the furthest had A & E.

There is a large village hall with its own playing field and children’s playground. It serves many functions, but becomes the main attraction for the annual Flower and Vegetable Show at the end of July. It has its own skittle alley: at its height and perhaps even still, there were 4 ladies’ and 4 men’s skittle teams competing at the highest levels of the district leagues.

The village is spread out on both sides of a winding road and the village square (which is a triangle really) is at the lower end surrounded by the church, the pub and the war-memorial. Fame, if such it be called, reaches the village ‘square’ each November 5th. On the tiny ‘green’, below an old oak tree, perhaps a survivor of an ancient oak-wood, lies ‘THE DEVIL STONE’. The stone has no real reason for being there as it is not characteristic of the geology of the area, and so the legend takes root. The stone is turned ‘To keep the devil away for another year’. The ‘turning’ is traditionally carried out by the bellringers, including myself back then, who ring the bells especially noisily before carrying out the deed using crowbars and a lot of grunting and groaning. Although the stone weighs something approaching a tonne, it would be quite easily turned if it were not for the fact that it usually rains in advance, which makes the ground slippery and the use of crowbars probably makes matters worse, but hey it’s showbiz! Although the ceremony has been highjacked by the church, it probably dates back to a time when the site was pagan, which is often the case where churches called St. Michael and All Angels were built. The legend still persists and when the men were away at war and the stone wasn’t turned, all manner of nasty things were said to happen. I recall that in my time there some lads, who had drunk more than they should, turned the stone by hand. They were made to re-turn it promptly by the locals!

It was into this that I arrived to be greeted on my first day with the words “Hello! You must be Mr. Scott – how’s your back?” There are no secrets in a village and I had ‘done my back in’ driving there! The postmaster always knew wives were pregnant before the husbands did!

In communities like this, intermarrying between families was common and probably still is, but I remember being in a party of friends where my wife and I were the only two out of the twelve who were not related to someone else.

The isolation of the village was a two-edged sword. It was a safe place to live: houses and cars could be left unlocked; children could walk to school, unaccompanied, and play in local woods undisturbed. The doctor always was his own dispensary and before the surgery was built, he used to leave your medications in a cupboard on the back of his house and you just helped yourself. Once the longed-for transport links like the M5 were in place then ‘visitors’ could arrive and leave the area before anyone knew they had been.

A car had always been essential along with the associated expense; prices in the shops were always more than a distant super-market and the choice was limited. Gradually for one reason or another, one by one the shops closed, one chapel closed, one garage closed and the bus services became fewer and fewer. Long before we left, there was only one shop/post office, the headmaster no longer lived in the village school and the pub has been close to closing.

Over the years houses have been sold to retired folk and to ‘weekenders’. This in turn made house prices so dear that the locals could not afford them. Indeed if it wasn’t for this I might still be there. Young families with children were in short supply when I left and from time to time school numbers became critical. At one time the sons of farmers expected to have a job-for-life, but what with mechanization and cost, this became less and less true so they had to ‘seek their fortune’ somewhere beyond the village.

When I was on the Parish Council, we arranged to allow some building specifically for local families. However there was no restriction who the purchasers might be after that. I know a lot of building has taken place, in the village both private and social.

Perhaps I write this through rose-tinted spectacles of a time when days were warmer and maidens tied ribbons in their hair, but I doubt it. I do hope that the picture is not as bleak as I feared it might be when I left, but I still have wonderful memories of my time there.

Perhaps you dear reader will tell me how wrong I am. I do hope so

22. Boarding schools and me

As a former grammar school lad, the idea of boarding school, neither entered my head nor my parents’ means. Having spent time in Nottingham during my teaching year, the idea of ‘moving away’ became attractive. However when applying for my second teaching post the idea of breaking free of Tyneside could only be achieved if I could get a job with accommodation provided. Although, at that time, some local authorities reserved council houses to attract staff, I was finally attracted by a ‘mixed’ boarding school in Slough and it was to that destination that I took my wife of one year and my son of two weeks, by night-sleeper on our big adventure.
The Licensed Victuallers’ School, then in Slough, now in Ascot, was adjacent to Slough railway station where a Tesco supermarket now stands. It was built as a ‘charity’ school for the children of publicans in the licences pub trade, to get them away, from the pubs and particularly away from London.(More of ‘charity’ schools later) Slough at that time, the late 1960s, was not the urban mess I find it to be now. Windsor, Eton, Burnham Beeches, and other green oases were within a short and safe walk or bus ride. However this is not meant to be an autobiography and as the accommodation was newly built, we really enjoyed our six years there’ and the friends we made.
The school itself had moved to Slough from Vauxhall in London to the site of what once was The Royal Hotel. A small digression here: Eton College would not allow the railway too close as boys might abscond; consequently Queen Victoria had to travel by coach to Slough to board the train. Her coach was housed at the hotel along with staff and visitors I guess. Once the branch-line to Windsor was built then the hotel fell into decline and although the staff quarters became the hotel I frequented, the main building and grounds became the school.
Because it was a mixed boarding school, and always had been, the accommodation was in two separated ‘wings’ above the ground floor teaching rooms, dining hall and kitchens. The accommodation for the younger boys was separate. There were always more boys than girls, which I suppose is not surprising. It had it’s own swimming pool, sports hall, labs and workshops with playing fields two stops down the line at Taplow.
The term ‘charity school’ is a misnomer as the parents of the children of licensees paid into a kind of insurance, which in the case of death or illness preventing the parent being able to continue in the trade, the child or children would be housed, fed and clothed until they left school. It was known as the best insurance policy of its kind. There were not many such pupils in my time, although originally they were the majority. The funding for the school in my time there, came mainly from the fees paid by the other, mainly ‘day’ children and by donations from the brewing trade at large. The LV is known as a ‘minor public school’ and although I don’t know the details of many other charity schools, I do know that sound investments, endowment by various guilds and religions with the land and property they own supports most of what is not covered by the, sometimes enormous, fees.
When I was learning my trade we visited a Borstal (look it up if you are too young to know what it is), but basically it was a young offenders institution. So when I first entered a dormitory at the LV and indeed later in Devon, it came as no surprise. A ‘dorm’ was a big room with beds down both sides, sometimes double bunks, exactly like those in HM prisons as seen on TV. Each child would have a locker and perhaps a wardrobe. The floors were wood, the showers/baths limited, and lights-out depended on the age, but never later than 11 pm for the oldest. There were recreation rooms with table-tennis, pool/snooker and TV. The overall supervision came under the care of the various house-masters and their assistants, but daily routine was administered by the prefects. I, like many of you, have read Tom Brown’s Schooldays, but in my experience I have seldom encountered serious bullying by prefects on younger boys. In neither of the boarding schools have the prefects been allowed to physically punish a pupil.
As you may, or may not know, I was/am a physics teacher and whether you like it or not, it is seldom a subject enjoyed by girls, although good ones are often very good. By this time I had been teaching mixed classes for nine years and decided that teaching boys was my way forward. I moved to Devon, lock, stock and a family now grown to two, a girl actually born in LV school (I like to think in the wines and spirits section of the, now, Tesco’s, but I never went back to check.)
The school, in Devon, was boys-only and administered by The Methodist Board of Management. That didn’t bother me as I had been a C of E agnostic most of my life. The school was about as remote from civilisation as it is possible to be in England. The adjoining village housed about 400 souls, the nearest town 8 miles away, one or two buses a week, so you see what I mean. On a good day you could see Dartmoor and could understand why they built the prison there!
When I started, pupils were mainly boarders, although local farmers’ sons came daily and Devon CC paid the fees for local boys rather than ‘bus’ them elsewhere. At the start of term the Paddington – Exeter train had reserved compartment(s) for the pupils from all over the country and indeed the world. Each boy would need a ‘trunk’ as he would not be leaving for some time. Tuck boxes were deposited with house masters to be doled out at intervals, before they ran out and the village shop, and finally school tuck-shop filled the need. Initially the dormitories were still ‘Spartan’, but gradually they were, subdivided, carpeted, adequately heated until the numbers sharing got smaller as they got older.
As I said, the pupils came from all over the world. There were arrangements with missionary schools in Africa and The West Indies; the sons of some members of the armed forces stationed overseas were entitled to fully-paid boarding fees, initially even when the parents returned, but this was later withdrawn. As the forces stationed overseas diminished the income fell quite drastically.
It seems a suitable time in my ramblings to get to the point. Boys who for whatever reason live together for most of the year develop bonds which last them throughout the rest of their life, which I see in those members of ‘The Establishment’ in government or business. The ‘Old Boys’ reunions of such establishments were and to some extent still are well attended. We took over a prep school and some pupils will have lived together for up to 13 years with only the school holidays with their parents. I was housemaster to one African boy who did not go home for seven years: he stayed with guardians in holiday time as some Hong Kong Chinese did. Can I say, as you will probably be asking yourself,  in all that time, in both schools, I was never aware of any (homo)sexual relationships between boys/girls, although some masters disappeared without saying goodbye!
It was at about the time of the declining income from boarding that the increased proportion of day-pupils grew and pupils who would once have been boarders, were ‘bused’ in from surrounding towns, leading to a further decline in boarder numbers. Finances were getting desperate and we like almost every similar establishment decided to allow and encourage the entry of day-girls.
We had for many years an arrangement with a sister school a few miles away. They visited us once a week for such worthy events as debating and drama and of course an occasional ‘disco’. It became increasingly evident to me that the boys then, particularly those without sisters, were not exactly sure what a girl was; how to speak to them or to behave socially in any way. The girls were no better, and these occasions were like two groups of animals circling round unsure what to do. It was all a bit weird. Once integration in the classroom was decided upon then it all sorted itself out. The shortcomings some girls in physics was still there, but far outweighed by the ‘softening effect’ of their presence in the classroom on the behaviour of the boys.
At the start, girls were introduced year, by year until the school was fully mixed. Now of course both schools have boys and girls boarding, although still more boys than girls. Whether the changes in boarding, plays it’s part in changes in the old-boy network or the make-up of future cabinets of political parties only time will tell, but it played an interesting part in my life.