33. The Licensed Victuallers’ School, Slough


This History was written in 1969 when I was teaching at Licensed Victuallers’ School in Slough.

The following, unpublished, History from the foundation of the School in 1803 up to 1969 was gleaned from the minutes of the governors in the school. It is a bit ‘warts and all’ and this may have prevented it’s publication at the time.

Slough has undergone massive changes since 1969 and the reader should keep in mind that any reference to ‘now’ means ‘in 1969’.

The site is now occupied by a Tesco supermarket and the later Royal Hotel opposite the school gate is no more.

The School itself moved to Ascot in the 1980s .

Introduction to The History

In the Borough of Slough, Buckinghamshire stands a cedar tree. To the rear of that tree there is a group of buildings, some old, some new. These buildings, and the grounds which surround them, make up the Licensed Victuallers’ School. The real School, however, is not made of bricks and mortar, but of the pupils and staff who live and work inside the buildings, and those who have been fortunate enough to do so since its foundation.

The school opened in 1803 in the London of George III and has continued without a break since then. But the world has changed much and the school with it.

This is the story of the Licensed Victuallers’ School from that day to this; a story of buildings and of people and of the life and times in which they existed.

Chapter 1    Certain benevolent persons

In 1793 the guillotining of Louis XIV and Marie Antoinette took place in France and war broke out between France and Britain. Education as such barely existed in this country: only one child in twenty-one received any education at all and England was described as the worst educated country in Europe.

Peel’s Factory Act of 1802 reduced the hours of apprentices to twelve in any one day. It also stipulated that reading, writing and arithmetic were to be taught to children in the factories by a suitable teacher, but this clause was largely ignored by factory owners.

In London the living conditions were appalling. Disease and plague were common visitors, finding access by way of open sewers and cesspools. Polluted drinking water was often drawn from wells into which adjacent sewers had seeped, or flowed directly from the Thames: “the biggest sewer of all.” If the unfortunate Londoners escaped these causes of death, the rats helped to spread the cholera, typhoid and scarlet fever. Press gangs still roamed the riverbanks, and many children joined their elders at sea with a little push from the gangs.

Into this London, “certain benevolent persons” – chiefly William Robert Henry Brown – established the school.

The Royal Charter of the Incorporated Society of Licensed Victuallers, granted in I836, describes the formation of the Society: “In Seventeen Hundred and Ninety-three, certain benevolent persons of the trade of Licensed Victuallers, with a view to relieve their sick, infirm and distressed brethren in trade, and for the purpose, as far as in their power lay, of mitigating the evils of poverty and the ills consequent on age, did form themselves into an association or society called the Friendly Society of Licensed Victuallers“.

On February 8, 1794, the first copy of the Morning Advertiser was published, and its profits granted to the Society. (This makes it the oldest continuously published paper, although it was specifically targeted at publicans and those in the drinks trade).

The Charter goes on: “It was then determined to found and maintain a school, and a school was accordingly founded and established in Kennington Lane, in the County of Surrey, for the clothing, educating and putting out in the world of the children of such deceased, decayed and distressed Licensed Victuallers as should need the aid and claim the support of the said society.”

Thus came the foundation of the Licensed Victuallers’ School in 1803.

A site in Kennington Lane was leased from Sir Joseph Mawbey. Sir Joseph was a baronet and Member of Parliament for the County of Surrey from 1780 until 1789. He inherited a large fortune from his uncle, Joseph Pratt, who owned a large distillery in Vauxhall. So large was this distillery that in one year it paid £600,000 in revenue; this at a time when pints of brandy, rum and beer cost l/6d (7 ½ p), 3/6d (17 ½ p), 2/-(10p) and 2d (1p) respectively.

Sir Joseph Mawbey invested some of his money in copyhold estates belonging to the Duke of Cornwall, in Kennington, and it was one of these estates that was leased to the Society.

1The original copyhold premises in which the school began in 1803.

(From an oil painting at the school)

The initial meeting of the School Committee took place in the Fleet Street offices of the Society on January 19th, 1803, and it was decided then to appoint a school mistress, preferably someone on the ‘benevolent fund’ of the Society. By the 13th of the month Mrs Sarah Wilkinson had been appointed the first schoolmistress at a salary of 20 guineas (£21) per annum. On January 18th,1803 the first twenty children were “elected” to the school.

The ‘election’ to the school must have been one of the most unique methods of choosing pupils of any school, but for all that, it remained until quite recent times.

Application was made by people on the benevolent fund, and their names and conditions circulated to all members of the society for election. The votes of the members depended on how much money they had subscribed. A considerable amount of soliciting and canvassing went on and of course, members of the Committee each had their ‘pet’ candidates whose names were freely advertised.

The conditions for entry of a child into the school were: that the parent should have been a member of the Friendly Society for a full three years, that the child should have been born in wedlock and be between eight and twelve years old. Full enquiry was made into the financial situation of the parent(s). No child could be admitted without a certificate, signed by a ‘medical man’ that the child was free from ‘every contagious disorder’, and enquiry was made of the way of life and character of their parents and relatives.

On February 3rd, 1803, the first children attended to be examined medically, and they were all found to be in good health. The Rules of the School were read to their parents and relatives. Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday were set aside for visitors from 12noon to 2pm and 5pm until 6pm. These liberal hours must have created some problems and were later reduced at regular intervals. February 7th, 1803, saw the first lessons in the school.

Chapter 2              The Children 

If the reader is anticipating a watered down, classics-based, poor man’s public school, then he/she is decidedly wrong. The founders had their feet firmly on the ground. The syllabus was carefully designed to give the children a basic background education. It consisted of “Reading, Writing, Arithmetic, Household Work and Other Useful Things”. The children were “soundly instructed in religion, according to the doctrines and forms of the Established Church”. Needlework was collected and sold and the schoolmistress received 5% of the profits.

The school supplied the children with the following clothes:
Boys: Jacket, waistcoat and pantaloons with plain round hats.
Girls: Bombazine (twill) jacket and coat, with straw bonnets and white tippets (capes), plus all the necessary underclothing, etc.
(Shoes at this time cost 4/-(20p) per pair)

At Christmas, the children were given a week’s holiday from lessons although they were kept in school, since their parents could not afford to keep them.

By the following March the need was felt for a non-resident schoolmaster, and Thomas Layton was appointed at a salary of £20.

The hours of attendance of the schoolmaster were later increased to 7am-9.30am, 1pm-1.30pm and from 4.30pm until bedtime. He was to attend on all holidays he had from another school where he was senior master. His salary was raised to £50. If this rise was in proportion to his increase in work, then he cannot have attended much in the first place.

(£20 per annum is 8/- (40p) a week; £50 about £1 a week OR approximately 7d (3p) an hour)

The school continued to grow until 1806, when it was reported to the Committee that the school­mistress’s daughter was living in the school and was ‘receiving Sunday callers’. This was adjudged a major scandal and as a result it was decided to replace the existing staff with a married couple.

The same year the school building was purchased for £1,080.

The Committee appointed Mr and Mrs Adams, but they only lasted two years and were replaced by Mr and Mrs Hardy at a joint salary of £60.

In Parliament, Mr Whitbread’s Parochial School Bill was rejected by the House of Lords, who were suspicious of attempts to educate the poor, “lest they should be aware of their lowly state and desire better”.

In 1810 two boys gained the dubious distinction of being the first to be expelled, for continuous truancy.

In 1812, the year that war broke out with the USA, the children attended the first annual anniversary dinner of the Society. This event, which was to become a yearly treat for the children, was not simply a kind-hearted gift to the children. Although they were treated to food and drink, they earned it by parading with banners to soften the hearts and loosen the purses of the guests, and so help to raise the funds necessary to run the school.

Until 1813 the children had never been allowed out of school on visits to their parents, but in this year, perhaps as compensation for visiting times being reduced to 9am-12noon, and 2-5pm on the first Sunday in the month, they were allowed out on visits on three days each year.

The French/Napoleonic and American wars came to an end in 1815. The values of the school at the time seem rather strange today. One boy was sent, at the expense of the school, to Margate to improve his health by bathing, while another was severely flogged before all the boys for persuading four others to go absent, and two of the boys concerned were called upon to administer twelve lashes each on his back.

Accusations against Mr Hardy by a girl after she had left the school, although never proven, led to his dismissal and to the appointing of Mr and Mrs Lessington in 1819.

In the same year, the adjoining houses were bought from Sir Joseph Mawbey’s trustees, and the visiting days further reduced, so that now parents could only attend on the first Sunday in January, April, July and October between 9 and 12 noon.

One year after their appointment, the Lessingtons were removed and their post advertised. The post was so desirable that 116 applications were received, but only 11 couples were considered suitable for interview. Mr and Mrs Price were appointed.

The powers of the resident staff at this time were confined largely to the welfare of the children and even this was closely watched by a visiting subcommittee which changed monthly. The members visited at least once a week.

Until this time the people of London had been under the protection of only 4,000 watchmen who, armed with staff and rattle, patrolled the streets throughout the night calling out the time and the state of the weather. In 1820 the Metropolitan Police was formed to replace them and to fight crime.

The school doctor was also sometimes referred to as being an apothecary, or a surgeon, so it is difficult to know his qualifications. One such doctor had doubt cast on his ability when he could not find a cure for the outbreak of a strange disease called ‘The Itch’, thought to be due to the over-long storage of meat. After some considerable time three other doctors from the district were called in and the malady cured within two weeks.

The staff increased in 1829 when a second master was appointed at £30 per annum, including board. Shoes, by the way, had risen in price to 16/- a pair (70p) and haircuts were 3d (1p).

South Thames labourers marched to gain a wage of 2/6d (12p) a day. Three were hanged and 420 transported to Australia.

Meanwhile, back at the school, one enterprising youth set fire to the potato room over the boys’ schoolroom, with a phosphorous box. He was taken to the Watch House at Union Hall (police station) at the direction of the chief officer and later expelled.

This reference to the boys’ schoolroom should remind the reader that children (boys separately from girls) of all ages and abilities were taught in one room at one time. It was the usual method at the time that a few of the older brighter boys were taught a topic then returned to the class to teach the others. These “monitors” must have helped the staff, but it must have been a demanding task for them nonetheless.

 Chapter 3              Thirty Years On

The children at the school at this time must, as all children do, have thought that life outside looked more rosy than theirs, but even a cursory glance would have convinced them otherwise.

In 1833 the Factory Act cut children’s working hours to 48 per week if they were under thirteen years of age, or 69 hours if between thirteen and eighteen. Slavery was at last abolished in the British Empire. As a result of the Education Act, £20,000 was sent on the nation’s schools, while during the same period £30,000 was spent on the stables at Buckingham Palace.

Suits now cost 23/- (£1.15p), greatcoats 21/-(£1.05p) and whalebone stays for the girls 3/6 pr. (17p)

One unfortunate boy was confined to ‘the black hole’ for one week on bread and water, for ‘indecency in front of the girls’ and four others expelled for the same crime. This mention of the ‘black hole’ seems harsh, but as readers of Victor Hugo will know this was standard maximum punishment in schools in France as well as in England.

The Headmaster was reminded to take the children for walks, but the boys and girls were not to walk together nor were they to meet as a consequence of the walk.

In 1834 the Committee investigated the idea of building a new school. The first plan was to demolish the existing buildings and rebuild on the same site. Difficulties in obtaining surrounding land, however, led to a decision to move to a new site.

The Committee visited other schools and found many “superior” in many respects: they were larger, for example, and the sexes were completely separated, children stood for meals and there were no holidays.

In 1835 the surrounding land was obtained and the “go ahead” given for the new building. By August 5 the first plans were produced and by November the cost estimated at £14,000.Completion was expected to be February 1st 1837.

One of the frequent rumours of scandal circulated at this time. This particular piece of gossip suggested indecency with the girls by, and the general misconduct of, the Headmaster and his wife.

It is worth pausing at this point to discover how such rumours began and how they were dealt with. The Committee met on the morning of the first Tuesday of the month. On the particular Tuesday this rumour came to light, the meeting adjourned and a group of committeemen proceeded to the tavern where the scandal had been heard. The licensee gave the name of the person who was responsible and the party set off. After many cases of “I heard it from …” they arrived at the house of the mother of a girl at the school. The girl in question appeared at the afternoon session of the Committee and told her tale. The Head and his wife were also questioned.

The rumour had stemmed from the fact that the girl had witnessed the Head pushing his wife into a large new laundry basket in jest, and on another occasion she said he had run his hand through the hair of a girl he passed on the stairs.

This tyre of gossip occurred often, and although without foundation, it must have done much harm to the reputation of the school at the time.

A minor mutiny occurred when the boys were ‘forced to drink water when their beer went bad and when bread was short’. Threat of the black hole soon quelled this disquiet.

On an occasion when the children visited a local zoo, they were admitted for free, but the gentlemen of the Committee were asked to pay. The children were withdrawn and returned to the school, while the Committee adjourned to a tavern.

In October 1835 the Head and his wife resigned, to be replaced by a Mr Railton and Miss Dallimore, but by December Mr Railton had given way to Mr Baptiste Thomas.

Chapter 4              The New School

The Laying of The Foundation Stone on January 21st, I836

Of all the events that have taken place over the years, this occasion must have been the most grandiose. From the reports of the day it is possible to recreate this day:

Procession from the Horns’ Tavern, Kennington.
Policemen to clear the way.
Beadles of Lambeth Parish.
8 past committeemen (4 abreast and each carrying a gold-headed wand with a white favour at the top)
Full Military Band. (4 abreast)
Past committeemen. (4 abreast with wands and favours) Past trustees. (4 abreast with wands and favours
Past chairmen. (4 abreast with wands and favours) Stewards of the day. (4 abreast with wands & favours)
School Banner.
Under matron. Schoolmistress.
Girls. (2 abreast)
School Banner.
Under Master. Schoolmaster .
Boys. (2 abreast)
Surgeon . Editor of Morning Advertiser.
Ministers of St Mark’s, Kennington.
16 Present committeemen. (4 abreast wearing pink
6 present trustees. (3 abreast with rosettes)
Clerk of works.
Architect and Junior.
Solicitor . Chairman of the Committee . Secretary
A nobleman. Rt Hon Lord Viscount Melbourne, Prime Minister to King William IV. A nobleman.
The Rt. Hon Charles Tennyson D’Eyncourt MP
Benjamin Hawes MP
Other visitors.
Policeman to close procession.

 Programme of the Ceremony

The band plays “See the Conquering Hero Comes”.
Enter Lord Melbourne.
National Anthem.
Anthem: “Lord of All Power and Might”.
Senior boy reads address.
Chairman reads inscription on brass plate to Lord Melbourne.
The First Stone of The Licensed
Victuallers’ School
Anno Domini MDCCCIII etc.
 The chairman then exhibited to Lord Melbourne the glass vase containing coins of the realm, and plans and elevations of the building.
Laying Of The Stone.
Children sing thanksgiving hymn written for the occasion.
Lord Melbourne’s Address
National Anthem.
Procession returned to the tavern.
In the evening a dinner was held at The Horns Tavern, Kennington. Tickets 12/6 (~60p) including one bottle of wine.

Legend has it that Charles Dickens was present at the stone laying and that his report appeared in a newspaper the next day. However, Dickens worked for several newspapers at the time, including The Morning Advertiser itself. Whether Dickens penned the following report is not known. This does not detract from the fact that it gives us a very clear and detailed picture of the occasion:

“The coup d’oeil of the procession was imposing and gratifying in the extreme; and the order and interest of the scene lost none of their effect and advantages by the peculiarly favourable state of the weather. The day was comparatively mild and clear. Several patrons of the procession were irresistibly impressive – but none more so, (after contemplating such varied classes of society joining in this act of enlightened charity, viewing them from the humble tradesmen up to the Prime Minister), than the children – girls, then boys – already in this distinguished and rapidly advancing school.
Their general appearance had obviously the most gratifying effect on the company assembled, not only in the rooms of the tavern, but all along the road. No badge of charity marked the costume of the children to deprecate the value of the duty performed by the more successful competitors in the struggles of the world. The dresses were neat,
respectable and most comfortable, such as would do no discredit to the children of the most opulent tradesmen; no grotesque coats or frocks, no yellow stockings, nor farcical dwarf cap. On the contrary, while an example is set of what ought to be done in such institutions, the children were attired as if they belonged to respectable tradesmen, who could afford to defray the expenses of their board and education and thus not made every hour to feel they are “the objects of charity”, but have the nobler sentiment instilled into them, that the more prosperous protect them, and thereby impose on the children the obligation of becoming exemplary and successful members of society in order thereby to pay off the obligations they may be under, by going and doing likewise in their turns.”

 2The School in 1836, from a copy of NAAFI News 1949. (Photo courtesy of NAAFI)

On May 3rd, 1836, King William IV granted the “Royal Charter of Incorporation” and the Society became the “Incorporated Society of Licensed Victuallers”

In March 1837 the new school was handed over and the children returned from Grove House, Camberwell, where they had lodged during the building work.

King William became the first Royal Patron of the school, thereby forging a link with the Royal family, which exists today.

Boys and girls uniforms in 1837, on the accession of Queen Victoria.

The paintings are of dolls held in the school by Maung Tin Aye, son of The Burmese Ambassador in 1969

Chapter 5              Under Royal Patronage


Plan of the School on completion of rebuilding in 1838. Taken from the title deed of the building. (Permission of the NAAFI)

On her accession to the throne in 1837, Queen Victoria became Royal Patron of the school.

For many years after the rebuilding, the school improved and progressed as all good schools should. Life around London, however, was not progressing quite as well.

In 1847 and 1853 there were two severe outbreaks of cholera which put the school into quarantine for the safety of the children. Those responsible for the public health of the city did not, however, learn much from these outbreaks, and in 1858 the open sewers still existed. These sewers, and a particularly hot and dry summer, produced what has come to be known to historians as the ‘Great Stink’, when an unbelievable nasty stench hung over the city for weeks.

In 1851 the children visited The Great Exhibition in Hyde Park. The building housing the Great Exhibition was designed by Sir Joseph Paxton, who, ten years earlier, had also designed the grounds of the Royal Hotel in Slough.

The war of 1854-1855 in Crimea claimed the lives of several of the old boys, and held the interest of those children still in the school.

The move into the new building had not altered the day to day running of the school much. The holidays remained as few as ever: Easter Monday, Whit Monday, Michaelmas Day and Christmas Day, only one of which could be overnight. The children, however, did have much more reasonable holidays from schoolwork, but at these times they remained at school.

Since its establishment in 1803, 995 children had entered the school and were catalogued on leaving as follows:
Apprenticed                                        248
Sent to service                                    403
Taken by relatives and friends       200
Died in school                                     22
Expelled                                              10
In school                                             112
Total                                                     995

At this time the staff consisted of two masters, two mistresses and the matron.

The VIP Visitors Book was started in 1843 and remains in perfect condition to this day. It contains the names of all the leading brewery families from that day to this, as well as the other important visitors to this school.

One of the most distinguished of the school’s visitors was the Nawab of Bengal in 1870.

Prince Ali Kuhr Baldoor and his brother Soliman Kuhr Baldoor wished to “express the great satisfaction they had experienced in visiting this noble institution. They had been particularly struck with the cleanliness of the rooms and every arrangement for the comfort of the children, the admirable ventilation and accommodation supplied throughout the building and with the healthy and intelligent appearance of the children.” (VIP Visitors’ Book entry.)

In 1857, the School gained the freehold of the land from the Duchy of Cornwall, at a cost of £3,500. This meant that both the land and the building on it were the property of the school.

To celebrate the wedding of the Prince of Wales, (later Edward VII), to Princess Alexandra of Denmark in 1863, the children were treated by the governors to a dinner of “Olde English Fayre” – Brash Beef and Plum Pudding. In honour of the occasion, the Prince of Wales became Royal Patron of the school.5

Plan of the building in 1870 from London County Council survey of London 1956

Note the disproportionate size of the boardroom compared to the boys and girls’ schoolrooms, and the high wall which divides the playground at the rear.

Mr Hammett was appointed head teacher in 1880 after a number of staff dismissals. In 1881 he was replaced by Mr Whitmore, whose wife became matron. Under Mr Whitmore, mark books were issued to the staff for the first time, to keep a record of the children’s work. Entry for the College of Preceptors Examination was considered, since there had been no public examinations in the school. There was a suggestion that French might be added to the syllabus, but this was considered “unwise” and the plan was abandoned.
Doctor Monday was appointed school doctor and held this post for many years. One former pupil describes him as a ‘dirty greasy old man, who diagnosed all manner of illness by examining only the backs of the children’s hands’. His cure-all was a noxious brew known as the “black draught” which had rather dramatic after-effects.6Engraving of an Anniversary Dinner in the Victorian era.

The children are seen in procession in the centre

In 1882 the ‘Smalley Prizes’ were presented for the first time; let the inscription on the Smalley Tablet tell the story.

“To the Memory of William Smalley, for 36 years Secretary to the Incorporated Society of Licensed Victuallers. Born 25th Oct 1809, Died 5th Nov 1880. Educated at the school, he devoted a lifetime to its service and by his energy ability and industry, as well as by his constant benefactions, earned the respect and gratitude of all friends of The Institute. This Tablet Commemorative of his honourable and useful career and of his untiring solicitude for the interests of The Society was erected by The Governor and Committee. A.D. 1882”

This tablet was erected in the schoolhouse in London and later transferred to Slough. The date of his death has led to a great deal of invention by the children, of gruesome tales of death by fireworks, but the truth bears no relation to the legend.

After the Great Exhibition building had been moved to Sydenham Hill to become the Crystal Palace, it was visited annually by the schoolchildren until it burned down in 1936.

Around, this time (1882) came the first idea of building a swimming pool. In addition, the former objection to the teaching of French was reviewed and both French and Latin were added to the subjects taught.7

View of the school prior to 1888, as the shop on the left was purchased by The Society in that year and demolished to make way for the swimming pool.

In 1884 a set of dummy muskets was purchased and a drill instructor employed to drill both boys and girls. He was a veteran of the Crimea, Sergeant Thomas Sullivan, and held his instructor’s post for the next 24 years.

On one visit to the School, the dentist extracted 106 teeth from 54 girls and 59 boys without anaesthetic.

In 1886, Mr Wallis gained the headship. The subjects examined at this time were: reading, spelling, writing, mental-arithmetic, English grammar and scripture.

(Note: no French or Latin examination.)

One year later, to celebrate Queen Victoria’s Jubilee, the children were each presented with a special Jubilee shilling and a pocket handkerchief by the Governor.

In the same year the school leaving age was raised to 15 years. The buildings and land of Young’s Marine Store next to the school were bought and the buildings pulled down to make way for the proposed swimming bath, which was to cost £2,500 plus £70 for the heating.

In 1890 the Head’s salary was raised to £120 and an ex-Royal Horse Guardsman appointed to be bandmaster for the school’s brass band.

The standard of education had improved to such an extent since the early days in the school that in 1891 the boys were given the highest grade of ‘Excellent’ in the College of Precentors examination; a distinction they attained 20 times in the next fourteen years.

8After 1890, with the swimming pool on the left

The swimming pool was opened on the 16th of April 1891, at a final cost of £3,248:17s:4d ,which was just a “little” more than originally estimated, even though the heating was provided by the laundry boiler.

A man and a woman were appointed to teach the children how to swim. Not only did the children have the pride of owning one of the few indoor swimming pools in London, but the boys were also allowed to use the nearby Oval Cricket Ground on Wednesdays and Saturdays.

President’s Day, the school prize day, is mentioned in the school records for the first time in this same year. The prizes in those days were not books, as now, but medals for good conduct and work.

Although the school had by this time reached a position not unlike today, it was not until 1891 that free and compulsory education became a fact throughout the nation at last

An applicant for the post of first assistant mistress mentioned qualifications including Scripture, Physiology, Botany, Geometry, Blackboard Drawing, Music, Drill, Needlework, Cutting Out, Cookery and Domestic Economy. All this for £60 per annum. (She got the job.)

One master, who was found to have been educated at a Wesleyan college, was dismissed the moment this came to light. The reason for this seemingly harsh act was that he might not follow “the doctrines and forms of the Established Church” adhered to in the school

Another surprising dismissal, in the light of earlier examples of beating, was that of a master for using corporal punishment.

In 1893, the Headmaster gained the title of Superintendent, which he holds to this day, and for the first time carried sole responsibility for the running of the School

The clothes in 1897 at the time of Queen Victoria’s Jubilee

Again paintings of dolls by Maung Tin Aye. 

Chapter 6              Into the Twentieth Century

One former pupil, or ‘old boy’, tells of life in the school at the turn of the century:

“The children were given numbers and were addressed by them.” The Head was taken to task about this; his reasoning was that it was the practice in public schools and, apart from that, there were 20 children called Smith in the school. So how otherwise could one distinguish between them?

“The lighting in the school was by means of plain gas jets, some of which were arranged on large iron chandeliers which the more adventurous children were ready to convert to gymnastic equipment from time to time.” Incandescent lighting was added, in 1894, but only to the committee room.

“The boys’ uniform changed, from black Eton jackets and trousers with white Eton collars and a mortar board, to a grey suit with cap”.

It is amusing to note that the cry of “Crow” was used, then as now, for approaching staff. This cry seems to originate from the black gowns worn by staff.

“The children rose at 7am (6am in summer). They spent a total of 6 and a half hrs in the classroom, nowadays, just 5hrs.

The subjects taught were scripture, arithmetic, algebra, history, geography, grammar, singing and French, taught by a genuine Frenchman!

“Boys and girls were still completely separate, and children could attend the school from 7 to 15 years of age. If the weather was fine the children were often taken for a walk, in strict crocodile of course, either down by the river to Battersea Park or to The Tate Gallery.

When boys left the school at 15, they were given a “bible, a prayer book, two suits, two sets of underwear, one hat, one pair of boots, an umbrella, a tin trunk to put them in and a sum of money.” This was not the end, however, as help was often given with night school and examination fees. The girls received the equivalent.

In 1898 the inspector of schools for the army remarked on visiting the school that: “In no schools have I seen better work than I find at the LVS.”

Such was the standard of education received that one boy called Hewitt was 3rd of 2044 candidates in the College of Precentors examination.

In 1898 the Old Students’ Association was formed.

To celebrate the Coronation of Edward VII in 1903, the School was illuminated and the division of the sexes was relaxed so that boys and girls were allowed to mix for perhaps the only time in their life at the school.

In 1903, 30 boys were taken to see the Royal Installation of the South London Electric Trams, which were brought in to replace those drawn by horses.

A major breakthrough took place in 1904 when typewriting and shorthand lessons were given to mixed classes.

In 1909 the headmaster Mr Wallis resigned after 24 years’ service. He was replaced by Mr Appleton, a certificate trained teacher, who gained a science degree while employed at the school.

In 1910 George V became the Royal Patron of the school.

A pupil named Tom Farrants hit the national headlines when he rescued a boy drowning while on holiday. This was held up as a shining example of the benefits of having a school swimming baths and teaching swimming to the young pupils.

Mr Coleman was appointed headmaster in 1911 at a salary of £150. National Insurance was introduced and a list of staff salaries drawn up. It serves to illustrate the very large staff and the expense involved in running the LVS.

Masters:                 Head £150                        Mistresses:   Head £140

1st      £100                                                       1st      £60
2nd      £65                                                       2nd      £45
3rd      £55                                                       3rd      £40
4th      £45

Part time teaching staff:
Shorthand and typing                 £55
Two swimming teachers            £26 each
Cookery                                          £21
Drill                                                £30
French                                           £52
Domestic Staff:
Cook                                              £40
Two kitchen maids                    £17 each
Parlour maid                              £20
Four housemaids                      £17 each
Three laundry maids               £26, £20 & £17
Engineer                                     £85
Two porters                               £68 & £41
Needlewoman                           £46
Matron’s asst.                            £40
Nurse                                          £32
Girl’s attendant                         £21

The first school magazines were published in 1912. The reason for the publication was not to publicise the school, nor to improve the children’s English, but simply to raise funds for the prevision of football equipment, since a football field had been procured the previous year. The price was 2/6d (25p) for two copies per year.

In the first edition of the magazine are details of the swimming pool and of the competitive events held in it. As well as the usual swimming races there were such exotic events as plunging, bobbing for corks, tub racing, chariot racing and diving for plates. The pool was 40 feet long and 20 feet wide, sloping from 3ft6ins (1m) to 6 feet (2m) deep.

Christmas parties were always held after the turn of the year, sometimes even as late as February. The Governor, then as now, played Santa Claus, and the children had a moving-picture show and a sing-song to Mr Hans’ Quadrille Band. (Mr Hans also taught the brass band.)

The second edition of the magazine tells of the school sports at High Beech in Epping Forest. They were held there at the King’s Oak in those days, and until well after the school had moved to Slough.

Later magazines tell much of life in the school seen from the children’s viewpoint. One such event was a cricket match at the Oval, between Jockeys and Athletes, in which well-known personalities such as Bombardier “Billy” Wells and Steve Donoghue took part. Wells was a heavyweight boxer and Donoghue a jockey who was a legend in his lifetime. The ex-king of Portugal, Dom Manuel, umpired the match for a time.

The school had one of the first scout troops to be formed. The school also had a very fine band, which played at many notable functions. It consisted, remarked one old boy, of “brass, woodwind and concussion“. The band was recognised as one of the best in the district and played at the christening of the daughter of Sir Robert Baden-Powell, the Chief Scout, and later at a recruiting rally for the army.

In 1914, when war was on the minds of all the children, they visited Balham Palladium to see the “Great British Army” film. They were filmed in procession to the theatre and returned there after a meal to see the film in which they appeared?

Arrangements were made for possible air raids. Every basin and bath was filled with water when not in use and respirators were bought for the children. The basement was used as an air-raid shelter and the staff and senior boys fire-watched from the roof.

The magazine of 1915 tells of “Our Zeppelin Raid” and of life in wartime London; the recruiting rosters; the parks used as parade grounds and camps. The Crystal Palace was full of sailors when the children paid their annual visit. Ambulances full of wounded were a common sight in the streets of London and the streets and bridges were occupied by guns. The funeral processions of children killed in Zeppelin raids, and internment camps such as that at Alexandra Palace, all helped to convey to the children the horror and reality of war.

In the Old Students notes, a Mormon writes in praise of Salt Lake City, Utah, and of his conversion to the faith. Letters were also received from Old Boys at “the front” and several of their names and decorations appear on the war shrine in Kennington Church.

In 1917 the Headmaster married and his wife became Headmistress. 

Chapter 7              The end of an Era

In 1920, Albert, Duke of York, who was later to become George VI, visited the School. In the speech by the Governor it was pointed out that “The cost of the upkeep of the school is £14,000 a year and it seems best to move out to the country, when a suitable site can be obtained, so that the health of the children can be maintained at its highest standard and also to enable us to teach the senior boys gardening, agriculture etc, so useful to our young folk, the future citizens of this great empire.”(cheers)

The Duke, in his speech, agreed with the idea and as always in such cases, the idea was credited to him.

Without further ado, a site with a suitable building on it was purchased in Slough and the London building sold to the Navy, Army and Air Force Institutes (NAAFI) who still (in 1969) occupied the building, the facade of which is retained under a preservation order. Now called ‘Imperial Court’!

So ended an era and perhaps, what is more important, the stigma of “Institution” began to diminish with the move.

Chapter 8      ‘The Biggest House in Slough’

The site chosen for the School in Slough, (then in Buckinghamshire) was immediately adjacent to the railway line. It was a fine choice of site, allowing both a sense of country life and easy access to London and other notable places. The proliferation of new buildings around the school property in the years that followed indicates that many other bodies besides the ISLV thought the same.

Slough, and particularly the site chosen for the school, had its own history, worth a slight digression to see the effect on the school after its move there.

Slough, as a single borough, was a ‘new’ town, that had grown out of an army equipment dump at the end of the 1914-18 war. There are, however, records of lands and houses around the Upton and Chalvey area which were given to the followers of William the Conqueror. These grew into villages which, as they increased in size, merged into one another. The main industry of Slough was the mining of clay and the making of bricks, and it was for the transport of these that the Grand Union Canal was extended into the town. The coming of the railway took much of the traffic from the canal, but the importance of Slough as a main line station was delayed for many years by Old Etonians in the government, who thought that the building of a railway station would be a bad thing for nearby Eton College, in that it might tempt the boys to run away, and would bring the undesirable element of London too close for comfort. The trains of The Great Western Railway did, however, stop at Slough. Since there was no station, tickets were sold from the windows of the North Star Hotel.

A shrewd Frenchman by the name of Monsieur Carlo Dotesio got wind that permission to build a station might be forthcoming. With this in mind, he purchased the land from the North Star as far as Wexham Road. On this land he built “the biggest house in Slough,” in yellow brick with numerous bow windows. He travelled to Paris to buy Louis XIV and Louis XV furniture (since they no longer had the use of it) and Gabelin tapestries from the Palace of Versailles. The grounds around his building were landscaped by Sir Joseph Paxton, the architect of the Great Exhibition and Crystal Palace.

In 1841 his “house” became the Royal Hotel. The main building stood where the science block stands today and on the north side, where the sports hall stood, was a large hall for the convenience of passing travellers. The present Royal Hotel was then the stables and servants’ quarters.

So frequently did Queen Victoria and her Consort stay overnight when travelling to and from London, that a large room on the first floor was set aside for them.

10From a drawing on stone by J.C.Bourne. A print hung in the later Royal Hotel.

Near to the hotel, on a hillock, stood a tiny wooden hut. It contained the first long-distance magnetic telegraph in the world, which joined Slough with Paddington.

A murder took place at Salt-Hill in Slough in the 1840s and the wanted man boarded the train for London. He was apprehended on arrival and so gained the distinction of being the first criminal caught with the aid of magnetic telegraph.

The signal discs for the railway were changed by “policemen” in top hats and tail coats, who stood on a bridge over the line. These were for the ease of mind of the passengers rather than for any useful purpose since only one train occupied the lines at any one time.

The area around the hotel was much different from today.  No road passed near to the railway on the east side and the drive leading up to the hotel wound its way through the grounds from Wexham Road, although a footpath passed close by where Mackenzie St. (Brunel Way) now stands. A large double gate stood opposite the station for the use of travellers.

In 1849 the Windsor branch of the line was opened, thus removing the need for a large overnight hotel in Slough, and by 1852 the hotel had closed and Dotesio had moved on.

The coach house and servants’ quarters were converted into the Royal Hotel at a later date.

11Slough Station on the occasion of the leaving of Queen Victoria’s special train

The main building stood empty for the next ten years, although in 1858 the grounds were used for an “historic” political dinner attended by Disraeli, who was Chancellor of the Exchequer at the time, and 500 guests. His caustic speech filled three columns of the next day’s Times of London.

In 1863 the buildings and part of the grounds were purchased, through the generosity of a Mr McKenzie, and given to the British Orphan Asylum, who used it as a boarding school until purchased by the Licensed Victuallers.

12The British Orphan Asylum, from an undated photograph.

The view shows the front of the building, away from the railway line.

The bay windows in the centre of the first floor belong to a room set aside for Queen Victoria in its Royal Hotel days.

Chapter 9              A School In The Country

13The School after 1920, as shown in a (coloured) enamel boss in the centre of the firefighting shield, held in the boardroom at the time of writing.

An artist’s impression, since the name of the School in large gold letters spread in one horizontal line across the whole front of the building and not in three lines as shown. What later became the main drive is seen on the right.

On October 26th, 1921, the new school was officially opened by Her Royal Highness Princess Alice, Countess of Athlone. A reception was held in the boys’ main classroom and the music was provided by the band of The Royal Horse Guards. The name of the School was displayed in large gold letters on the back of the school building, facing the railway.

Two hundred pupils attended at this time and among the amenities were play sheds, fives courts, nine acres of land and a covered, heated, swimming pool. From the upper rooms one could see the Palace of Westminster, Windsor Castle, the Chilterns, the North Downs, Stoke Poges Church and Beaconsfield. It really was a school in the country.

In 1923 the Duke of York once more paid a visit to the school, this time to see the results of the move. This visit was, however, private and lasted only twenty-five minutes, but it was long enough for him to express his approval of the change.

The financial resources of the school, which did not charge fees, were very much reduced by the heavy expenditure on the new school building, and during 1924 many domestic staff were dispensed with and no new clothes were bought for the children. The Headmaster was asked to reduce the teaching staff and parents who could afford it were asked, to donate fifty pounds towards the upkeep of the school.

The Committee was dismayed to find that £122 worth of wine and spirits was consumed in that year, but seemed quite surprised to learn that they had been the only people with access to the liquor store.


Seen from the air in 1928 the school is in the centre with Slough Railway Station at the bottom.

The daily routine in 1928 is recalled by an Old Girl of the school.

7am Rise when woken by nurse.
7.40 Breakfast.
A list of tuck was made up and taken to a local shop to be prepared, for the following Saturday. The girls then dusted and swept their own classrooms.
8.45 Service held by the Headmistress in the girls’ assembly room.
9.00 lessons (mixed)
10.45 Break
11am lessons
12am Break
12.30 Lunch
2pm Lessons
4pm End of lessons
5.30 Tea
7pm Prep.
8.15 Bed
9pm Lights out, and seniors to bed
9.30 Senior lights out

Lessons were held on Saturday mornings, but on Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday afternoons, all children played games. On Sunday mornings the pupils walked in line to morning service at St Mary’s Church.

On President’s Day there were displays of needlework cookery and woodwork. The President and Committee also attended a stage show at the school.

Every July, until 1956, a Garden Party was held in the grounds on visiting day. This too was attended by the President and Committee. This was a great money-raiser for the school and thousands of pounds were raised on these occasions. There were stalls, a gym display and a theatre show. Ballroom dancing lasted on the lawn until almost midnight. The bar on the occasion was supplied with beer free by a large London brewery, and this was sold on the night at a reduced price, and such was the quantity that all who visited the school in the ensuing weeks were also entertained.

However, such was the expense involved in maintaining the school that the money raised at the Garden Party did little to ease the financial difficulties, and in 1928 the building and site were put up for sale for £55,000.

The intention was to rebuild the school elsewhere at a cost estimated at £30,000. As we shall see, both these prices were wildly optimistic and no offers were immediately forthcoming.

The Meredith and Drew sports prizes were donated in 1930 on the centenary of the firm, a biscuit manufacturers who would one day become KP (as in, crisps and nuts). By then the only offer for the site had been by Slough Council, who desired the site for a new town hall. The only site mooted as alternatives for the School were Glebe House in Hayes, Kent, and Haycroft in Surbiton, Surrey.

Chapter 10          The Happiest School in Britain?

In 1935 a legacy was received from Lord Woolavington amounting to £15,000. Since no reasonable offers had been received for the site in Slough it was decided to compromise and stay in the town, but to put the money towards the cost of building a new school-house. A fund was launched throughout the brewing and retail branches of the trade to raise the rest of the cost of the building.

15Schoolchildren, parents and friends at High Beech, Epping Forest on Sports Day (Date unknown)

The foundation stone of the new building, which is now (in 1969) the main building, was laid in 1936, the same year that George VI became Patron of the School.

The opening ceremony was performed in July 1938 by HRH the Duke of Kent.

The post of Headmaster was taken by Mr OSJ Dowell in 1936 at the tender age of 30. Within three months, according to the staff at the time, he had transformed the school from a real institution, in the worst sense of the word, to “the happiest school in Britain”.

The above quotation clashes slightly with the description given by an old boy of the time, of his being caned every morning at assembly on suspicion of his stealing. The prefects administered their own form of punishment with a cricket stump.

There were four teachers on the staff at this time:
Mr ‘Dan’ or ‘Tot’ Thomas, who taught at the school from 1929 until 1968 when he retired. (He was a great hero of the boys both on and off the sports field.)
Mr ‘Pep’ Sparks, another colourful character, who is reputed to have walked the dormitories in nightgown and cap, carrying a candle.
Mr Davies, the third and last master, was the youngest of the men and the fourth member of staff was a lady, Miss Powell, whose responsibilities included the welfare of the junior children.

Although the classes were “mixed”, the girls and boys were separated by a wide aisle. They were not allowed to mix out of class. When boys entered the school they were taken to the rear corridor by Mr Thomas, who told them “That is a girl and that is all you need to know. If I ever see you near one, you’ll never know what hit you!”

The houses at this time were Watney, Woolavington and Barclay.

The first annual reports were issued on the children after the move to the new building in 1938. The school band had deteriorated, and in 1939 it was dissolved and the instruments sold.

When war broke out, temporary air-raid shelters were built in the grounds. These were later replaced by underground reinforced concrete shelters, each holding fifty persons. Trenches were dug at the rear of the school both for the children and for a local regiment. Soldiers drilled daily on the playground and the domestic science room was taken over for their refreshments.

Staff took turns on night duty and were rewarded with the next day off. During the holidays the children were kept in the school for safety and the staff took staggered holidays.

Extra children, distressed by the war, were admitted to the school. In 1941 a Dornier III aeroplane strafed the school in broad daylight and the children watched it shot down by a gun battery at the nearby gasworks. The next day Mr Sparks took the boys to see the wreckage.

The dormitory discipline, which was very rigid, was relaxed on the night that the Bismark was finally sunk. Feasts were held in the dormitories with ‘blitz-damaged’ food which could be bought very cheaply without coupons. One such ‘feast’ consisted solely of sardines, and the smell lasted for days.

It was as far back as 1946 that married quarters were first thought of for teaching and domestic staff, but it was to be twenty years before the finance could be raised and the planning permission obtained. The teaching staff had also put forward the idea of separate boarding houses for the children, but up until the present day these have not materialised. The idea has been toyed with at least once in recent years, but no action has been taken.

In 1946 the Duchess of Kent visited the School on President’s Day and presented the prizes to the children. Local council workmen were sent to repair the potholes in the drive before the Royal party arrived. No sooner had the departing royal car turned the corner after the ceremony than the workmen returned and removed the surfacing they had earlier laid. Unfortunately for them, the local press were on hand to observe, and the next week the papers ridiculed the offenders.

The Most Honourable the Marquess of Carisbrook GCB, GCVO, (a grandson of Queen Victoria) accepted the Presidency this same year.

Fee-paying children were suggested as a way of supplementing the finances of the school, but this still did not happen for a number of years.

Mr and Mrs Harris, who had replaced Mr Dowell and Mrs Coleman in 194l, were themselves replaced in 1945 by Mr and Mrs Webb.

When His Majesty’s Inspectors of Schools visited the school in 1948, they found 76 boys and 61 girls in residence. As a result of their visit many improvements were made in school facilities and staffing: a woodwork master was employed, pictures were allowed on the walls for the first time, and a senior mistress was appointed in charge of the junior section which it was decided to separate from the main school at the earliest possible time.

At about this time, the building over the swimming pool was demolished by a falling tree and has never been replaced. The heating system had not been in existence since the water supply had been damaged during the construction of the main drive. The marble tiles which covered, the sides of the pool quickly became cracked by frost and were replaced by rough-cast concrete.

The inspection resulted in the recognition of the school as ‘efficient’ by the Ministry of Education for the first time.

Mr and Mrs Webb left the school in the summer of 1949.

Chapter 11            Expansion

In the summer of 1949 Mr Hart and his wife, accepted the posts of Head and Matron.

The Whitbread Travel Scholarship was first awarded in 1950 for pupils to spend their summer abroad. The scholarship is open to all the children, day and boarding, whether fee-paying or assisted, to enable them to learn at first hand of the life and customs of countries other than their own.

In 1952 Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II became Patron.

From time to time there have been those who have tried to change the name of the Licensed Victuallers School. One such attempt was made in 1953. The alternatives were ‘The King William School’ and ‘The Queen Adelaide School’, but the idea was not successful.

It was again suggested that fee-paying pupils from the trade be admitted in 1953, but in 1954 it was decided to admit pupils from outside the trade, both to swell the coffers and to increase the numbers to produce a sounder educational unit. The first fee-paying children entered the building in January 1955.

16Black and white image of the coat of arms presented to the School by the Old Scholars’ Association in 1955

With the increased numbers it was essential to increase the staff and facilities again, and also to widen the range of taught subjects.

It was decided to build a new junior block, laboratories and class rooms, and an assembly hall to be financed by public subscription. An appeal was duly launched and the necessary money raised.

In 1958 a sports field was acquired at Taplow, and the covered play-sheds at each end of the main block were walled in with glass to make two new classrooms.

The foundation stone of the new build was laid by the President, Lt Col W Kingsmill, DSO, MC, in January 1959 and the buildings were opened in March 1960 by Princess Alexandra of Kent.

17The equipment for the laboratories was presented by Messrs Guinness, the brewers.

18The Science Block and Assembly Hall in 1960


20The Junior School, 1960

In the summer of 1966 a block of six staff flats was opened in Wellesley Road, at the rear of the school, and three houses in the same road were purchased to house additional staff. Several international cricketers played in the celebratory match to open the pavilion at Taplow that same summer.

After a further inspection by Her Majesty’s Inspectors in autumn 1966, it was decided to build a craft/domestic science block, a giant sports hall and study cubicles for the boarders.

The new buildings were opened by the Duchess of Kent in November 1969.

21New craft block 1969

22The Cookery Room

23Metalworking shop

24Woodwork room

Chapter 12            The School Today (1969)

Urban Slough is hardly the green and pleasant land it must have been when the school moved there in the 1920s. One local resident recalls that one could then hear the chimes of five church clocks every hour, from Windsor to Stoke Poges, but now the trains to the north, the traffic to the south, and aircraft overhead make this occurrence unlikely. Still, the green lawns and rose-beds make the school an oasis in a wilderness of concrete. The various building programmes have, however, reduced the green space to such an extent that only one soccer and one hockey field remain, hence the need to travel by rail to the playing fields at Taplow to enjoy the freedom necessary for good sport.

Children attend the school from all corners of the globe as boarders, and from all parts of Buckinghamshire and Berkshire as day pupils. But there remains a nucleus of children from straitened family circumstances who are still sponsored by the trade. Now, as always, this sponsorship is a secret which only the children themselves are free to divulge.

The teaching staff mainly reside on site. Those teachers who are married live either in the Wellesley Road flats and houses or in the junior block. The single staff live in the main building.

All the normal subjects are taught in the School plus a few extras such as Russian, pottery and economics, and most up to A Level for the Oxford Local Examinations Board. The facilities and equipment provided in the newer blocks are second to none and conditions in the “old” building will be equally good on the completion of the rebuilding.

The School (in 1969) remains totally independent and is financed partly by the fees, but mainly by the generosity of the Incorporated Society of Licensed Victuallers and those connected with the licensed trade.


The Licensed Victuallers’ School is not just another school, but a national institution in the finest sense of the word. Behind the name is one hundred and sixty-six (1969) years of tradition, yet the townsfolk of Slough who walk past the gates are usually quite unaware of the history and tradition expressed in the buildings ‘behind the cedar tree’.

© J. Scott 1969


32. “Mine’s a pint.”

I developed a taste for beer; way back in 1957, when beer was 1/- (5p) a pint.  Then the weekly wage was ~ £8 which equates to 160 pints. With the current wage at ~£500 a week and the price locally at ~£3.30, it is almost exactly the same.

I was well under age, but nobody bothered much back then. I said ‘developed a taste’, as I have never met anyone who enjoyed their first taste of beer and admitted to it. Still, we all persisted and became experts, or pretended to be. Back then many people drank ‘halfs’ and often in a dimpled glass mug with a handle.

Most local pubs served ‘keg’ bitter, which is pasteurised to keep longer and propelled to the tap using carbon dioxide under pressure. The resultant product was rather flat and any ‘head’ soon disappeared, but we knew no better. My experience of ‘real hand-pulled ale’ came much later, although it must have been around at the time. Competition between breweries was fierce: local brands included McEwan’s Scotch and Best Scotch,  and Newcastle Exhibition (stronger and dearer),  but  national brands such as Whitbread Tankard and Trophy, Watney’s Red Barrel, Ind Coope  and others came and went. Serious drinkers drank the stronger, bottled, Newcastle Brown Ale, known variously as ‘Dog’, ‘Newky Broon’ and ‘Jorny inti Space’ among others. There was also a weaker, lighter, companion call Amber Ale along with many of the bottled brands still on sale today. There was also a period when breweries brought the draught beer to the pub in tankers and pumped it directly into storage tanks in the cellar.

Pubs were different places in many ways. They were primarily the haunt of men. All pubs had a men-only bar, although often not labelled as such, it was understood. I was told that this was so that men could go directly from work in their working clothes without worrying about dirtying the furniture, but I suspect it was really a place to escape from wives and screaming children. You should remember that at that time wives were treated in much the same way as they are now in the Middle East and probably would only be taken to the pub at the weekend after cooking the meal , doing the washing-up, putting the offspring to bed and in the charge of grandma.

There was usually a lounge-bar  where women could be taken (women seldom drank alone).The drinks in the lounge were 1d or 2d dearer, even though they were served by the same staff and often from the same pump/bottle. This was a significant price difference when considering the price at the time. Some pubs had a small room (the snug) and often a ‘bottle and jug’ which was only accessed from the outside; where beer could be purchased in your own jug without entering the main building.

Although I am told that pubs near the shipyards opened early in the morning to fortify the workers, it was before my time and although it was a long time ago, I remember licencing hours being from around noon to 2.30 pm (2 pm on Sunday) and then from perhaps 6.30 until 10 or 10.30. It varied a little from one local authority to another, but only by half an hour or so. Hours on Sunday and Good Friday were shorter and still are, if the licensee chooses. Now, of course, licensees can apply for longer hours or close whenever they choose, whereas the old hours were strict, both on the customer and the landlord.

Spirits at one time in history were very cheap, but in my time were traditionally expensive. A single whisky was dearer than a pint of bitter until quite recently, whether because of changes in measure size or tax, but when offered a drink people used to say “do you mind if I have a short?” or even offer to pay the difference.

Drinking in company can be a very odd ritual of ‘buying a round’, something I was warned against while still at school. If you drink this way, in a group, then each person buys drinks (a round) for all the others in the group. This is fine in a small group, but can lead to over-indulgence by trying to keep up with the fastest drinker or losing friends by not paying when it is your turn.

Beer and spirits were just about the only drinks on offer in pubs at one time: even early ‘temperance’ hotels sold beer, to keep people off gin. However, when wages improved and people took package holidays, then Lager and Sherry appeared with all manner of small drinks and mixers to attract the ladies.

Now pubs are centres of entertainment and providers of food, with singers and musicians, piped music, fruit machines and menus to compete with restaurants, unless you know where to look to get a decent pint in peace!

At one time the nearest a pub came to food was a bag of crisps or a curling cheese sandwich in a glass case on the bar. Entertainment was strictly in-house with darts, dominoes, cards, bar-billiards and even shove-halfpenny and skittles, further south. Juke-boxes put an end to peace and quiet and even then you had to pay to hear your favourite hit record. Pool tables appeared in the late ‘7os, but are seldom seen since the millennium.

Fruit machines of the one-armed-bandit variety appeared, but their pay-out was strictly limited unless it was in a working men’s club (note the ‘men’). They, of course, might even have snooker tables, a function-room for parties and, best of all, cheap beer and longer hours. See more here

In the ‘60s there was a spate of building new pubs. Home entertainment was mainly through a small black and white television with only a few channels on offer. Now pubs are closing unless they can offer what people want and even then they tend only to be profitably busy at weekends even though the weekly cash pay-packet is long gone. See my closed pubs page


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.


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).


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.


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.