The Nostalgia Column with Margaret Watson

Margaret Watson.
Margaret Watson.

IN RECENT weeks we have published a number of fascinating memories from readers recalling their childhoods in Dewsbury.

Among them was John Croft who wrote about the joys of Saturday morning shopping with his mother in Dewsbury.

HAPPY MEMORIES: John with his mother Mary (right) and his Auntie Evelyn on a day out at Blackpool.

HAPPY MEMORIES: John with his mother Mary (right) and his Auntie Evelyn on a day out at Blackpool.

Also of his time at Overthorpe Infants School where the only heating system was a coal fire, and his teacher came to school on horseback.

This week we publish other memories of his time at Overthorpe Junior School which reveals how much our education system has changed.

Also his happy memories of his time at Cliffe House and the days when Mr Grimes reigned supreme at Dewsbury Swimming Baths.

John writes: “Going to Overthorpe Junior School meant swapping the slate and chalk and the coal fire for modern classrooms which had exercise books and pens, a gymnasium/assembly hall, dining room and central heating.

“There were separate playgrounds for boys and girls, and even today, if you go past an old school building you’ll see that there were always separate entrances for boys and girls.

“Reciting the times tables parrot fashion, getting to grips with real (joined up) writing, using a pen with a nib dipped into the inkwell on the desk.

“Sums were about pounds, shillings and pence (£ and sd) and weights were pounds and ounces (lbs and ozs), which came in very handy when we visited the Beamish Museum and sat in the school room there. Our generation was the only one that could do the sums set by ‘the school master’.

“Do you remember studying the wall map of the world on which most countries were coloured pink because they were part of the British Empire?

“Friday afternoon was story time, a chapter from a Famous Five book read out by the teacher. Everyone faced the front, sitting at desks for two, seated boy, girl, boy, girl.

“No cheating, arms protecting your work and head buried between them to hide your work.

“Or alternatively pretend to yawn, throw your arms back and try to get a sneaky look next door.

“There were monitors for ink, milk, blackboard cleaning and handing out and collecting exercise books, which incidentally had all the weights and measures on the back cover.

“There was never a shortage of volunteers as the status of teacher’s pet was a coveted position for some.

“If you misbehaved it was the slipper or ruler if you had a male teacher, or otherwise you were sent to stand outside the headmaster’s office.

“When you went in you said ‘I’ve come for the cane sir’.

“It was like a scene from the film Kes.

“Most lads were like Billy Casper with a snake belt holding up a large pair of short grey trousers, which were waiting for you to grow into.

“The pockets would be stuffed with marbles, rubber bands and blotting paper pellets. No handkerchief, you had a sleeve.

“During my final year at Overthorpe Junior School, aged 10, we were informed that there was an opportunity to go and stay at Cliffe House, Shepley, for a fortnight.

“It was owned by Dewsbury Education Authority and is now owned by Kirklees. I don’t know how many could go, but it was on a first come, first served basis for those bringing 12/6d.

“My elder brothers had both been there so I knew what a treat it would be, and you can imagine my delight when I took the money to school and had my name added to the list.

“What a time we had there in January 1958. Two weeks away from home on what was a junior outward bound course in essence.

“We slept in a dormitory full of boys, with a dormitory full of girls along the corridor.

“Parents could visit during the middle weekend, and we all eagerly awaited their arrival on the bus so we could tell them that their hard earned money was being well spent.

“Another regular outing was going to Dewsbury swimming baths by single-decker bus from outside the school.

“I recall the teacher giving everyone a cardboard token to pay the fare.

“Once there, it was instructions from Mr Grimes, who was a larger than life figure in every sense of the word.

“He walked around the perimeter of the shallow end giving instructions.

“We had all followed the story of Eileen Fenton swimming the English Channel, so we were inspired to learn how to swim.

“Afterwards a quick shower and dry followed by a cup of hot Bovril or Horlicks and maybe a Wagon Wheel.

“If you imagine a penny farthing bicycle, the Wagon Wheels in those days were like the front wheel, whereas today, in comparison, they are like the back ones.”

LAST week I unfortunately attributed some of John’s memories to another reader called John, who has also been writing in these columns, John S Aspinall.

My apologies to both Johns for this mix-up.