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go back to the last page you were on School - The best years of your life? Part 1

Muriel Wells

Finding some old photographs of my Auntie Florrie's schooldays, brought memories of past conversations tumbling forth. I mused on them, then of my own schooldays and the contrast with the present.

Florrie was my only aunt whose bloodline I shared. I also resembled her in appearance and everyone expected me to follow in her footsteps. We were friends as well as relatives, and shared many interests and enjoyed doing things together but whilst I fulfilled some of those predictions, I also had a different temperament and talents. So my life's path eventually followed a very different course from hers.

Florrie Lucas, newly appointed headmistress of Ravensdale Junior Mixed Primary School, Wyken, Coventry, 1946

Florrie Lucas, newly appointed headmistress of Ravensdale Junior Mixed Primary School, Wyken, Coventry, 1946

I am fortunate to have a delightful little book, a pictorial record of Old Bedworth, and there is a photograph of Colleycroft School as it was in 1911. A simple little Victorian building with a small bell tower perched on the roof-ridge and gothic type windows, set high to discourage both daylight and inattention.

Auntie was born on January 18th 1902 and started at this school, as so many did, at 4 years old. My mother, who was born on 3rd March 1904, joined her 2 years later. They had a long rural walk from Marston Jabbett, but children in those times cheerfully accepted that they had to walk rather long distances. Some of their route lay along a narrow country lane and over a humpety canal bridge that spanned the Coventry Canal, and thence along the streets of Bedworth to their school. The poor little moppets must have been very tired on their arrival, and half frozen in the more severe winters that were prevalent then. Chilblains on fingers and toes would be painful and the worst weather saw them suffering from the "hot aches" as they thawed out. Have you ever suffered "the hotaches"? They are very unpleasant pains as the feeling returns to numbed digits. In summer the walk would be delightful, as they skipped or trailed along and explored the hedgerows en route. Their family had a dog who would escort the two little girls for a goodly part of the way to school and in the afternoon knew when to set out in order to meet them and bring them home, so grandma knew that they would be safe.

Sunday Scool Whit Walk, King Street, Bedworth c1905

Sunday School Whit Walk, King Street, Bedworth c1905 At the front is David Lucas, my maternal grandfather leading the pony that little Florrie is riding. Fanny, my maternal grandmother, and her sister Alice, are the two ladies in the road to the left of the policeman.

David Lucas with Doris and Florrie, circa 1911/1912

David Lucas with Doris and Florrie
circa 1911/1912

In the classroom they paid close attention to their teacher's instructions. Both were bright little girls and learned easily. They used slates and the squeak and screech of slate pencils was the only noise allowed. Times tables were recited and most of the learning was done by rote. The primers used for reading were dull by our standards, being based solely on the phonic method, and lacked the delightful illustrations that we have come to expect, but they did produce excellent spellers and readers! Even children as small as 5 years old were expected to sew neat and tiny stitches when hemming handkerchiefs. There was much undoing, before it satisfied the teacher---and tears!

I came across this account of a School Inspector's Report, and it illustrates the expectations of the time for even the very young.

"Colleycroft Infants' Class- Inspector's report (1903).
The work reaches a good standard in spite of the crowded state of the room, and lack of classroom accommodation for the large babies' class. The school has attained the full measure of success that was expected in 1901."

A class photo taken in 1907 shows 59 little children, (+ absentees?), with 3 teachers, one of whom would most likely be the head-teacher, as the headmaster had left, that year. Girls are wearing pinafores, of course. There are no wooden expressions or, ill-fitting clothing or signs of malnutrition as there are in so many classes of that period in the cities. My impression is that it was a happy little school in a pleasant country town.

The years rolled by, and Doris, my mother, fell victim to Rheumatic Fever when she was 9 years old. So ill was she, that it was thought that she wouldn't live to reach her teens. After a spell in a convalescent home at Stratford upon Avon, she came home too weak and sick to attend school. There was no provision for educational back-up and so her earlier bright promise was unfulfilled. Until she could walk again she was transported around in an old pram, as there was no money for a wheelchair. Gradually, over the years she recovered, but the Rheumatic Fever had left its effects on her health for the rest of her life.

Doris, (my mother), in her father's WW1 uniform

Doris, (my mother),
in her father's WW1 uniform.

I have a copy of his discharge papers and he wasn't called up until April 1918, when he was 37. So that dates this photo to 1918. About the time Mum was in the butter queue! (Aftermath).[1]

Florrie, meanwhile had gone from strength to strength, in her classroom achievements. The family had moved to Coventry and school reports show outstanding marks and exemplary behaviour. Eventually she attended Barr's Hill Girls' Grammar School and I have two photographs of this period. The first shows her in her gym tunic, uniform blouse, tie and black stockings---with hair neatly tied back. My eldest's granddaughter's comment when she first saw this photo was, "Is this you Grandma?"

The second photo is in the form room --- a very senior class judging by the small numbers and appearance of the girls. I would assume that they were in the Lower or Upper Sixth Forms at Barr' Hill.

Her father had not wished her to continue at school, beyond the normal leaving age, but her mother was supported by the headmistress, and so she stayed on; not easily achieved when the family had an erratic income. Painting and Decorating was subject to seasonal fluctuations, before the advent of quick drying paints so money could be very short in the winter months. The thirsts of the workmen didn't suffer a decline, however!

Florrie Lucas became the first girl to obtain a State Scholarship in Coventry. Then she went on to take a B.A.(hons) in English at Leeds University. It wasn't easy for her, as to be there at all the most stringent economies had to be practised. She wore home-knitted stockings, when so many contemporaries were wearing lisle or occasionally silk. Her laundry had to be posted home and returned to her, and parcels of home-baked goodies came from home, too. However, there were many relatives in Leeds, Bradford, and around York and she was welcomed with typical Yorkshire hospitality at weekends. Photographs of the time reflect a happy period and she made many life-long friends.

On her return to Coventry she did a year of unqualified teaching whilst she gained her Teaching Certificate. The Depression hit and all teachers had to take a cut in salary, so she began as a certificated teacher at less than she'd earned the previous year!

Florrie never married and continued in her chosen profession as a well liked teacher and head teacher until her retirement in 1977. She organised the Coventry Schools' Whitsunside Holiday,at Dymchurch, for over 20 years, a mammoth undertaking as it involved a special train and needed very good organisational skills..

Lest you should think that she was a paragon I will hasten to add that she was a warm and kindly person, very unselfish, and on the domestic front "couldn't organise herself out of a paper bag". This, despite dealing with the many problems that arose when her class was evacuated to Dunchurch, in 1939, and cooking for large numbers of hungry schoolchildren, too! A contradiction ----- but a loveable one!

Aftermath by Muriel Wells
Part 2 »
Part 3 »

Written by Muriel Wells