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Banburyshire Family History

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go back to the last page you were on Schooldays, The Happiest Days Of Your Life? --- Part 3

Muriel Wells

At eleven years old I began my Secondary School education. It was in September 1942 that I started Wheatley Street Central Advanced School, and although I was only there for two years I think that they were the most formative of all.

It was exciting to be fitted for our school uniforms of navy gym slip, pink blouse and velour "pudding basin" hat with its pink and black ribbon trim and badge. Very self-consciously we turned up on the first morning, in our pristine attire, but that soon wore off and we did what little adjustments of our own, that might escape Miss Clews's eagle eye!

This period is a vivid one but I will content myself with a few observations. The building was a two storey one, with a central hall and classrooms opening off; another school occupied the ground floor. Girls attended until they were 15 years old and in their last year some commercial subjects were introduced. Otherwise the syllabus was normal and the foreign language --- French.

The headmistress had a small office, but was rarely there as she usually occupied a large desk in the hall where she could keep a finger on the pulse! Dancing and gymnastics took place in the hall as well. Climbing ropes were slung high when not in use and garlanded the walls.

Handwriting was of particular importance at this school and we laboured long, with our dip pens and ink producing even writing with thin upstrokes and thick downstrokes. We all show this influence, no matter how old we are now!

Another thing that was unique to these years was our speech lessons. The school entered the relevant section of the Leamington Festival each year and we practised for it. Group verse speaking involved the voices being divided for pitch. Parts of the poem were allocated for unison, high or low voices. We were conducted like a choir, and changed rhythm and pitch as directed. It was all great fun, but quite hard work. Poems that began   "Quinquereme of Ninevah" [1] with its slow sultry Eastern overtones----through to the contrasting verse of

Dirty British coaster with the salt caked smoke stack,
Butting thro' the channel in the mad March days"

Another poem with a hint of the Bolero and hot Spanish sunshine in----

Do you remember an inn, Miranda, do you remember an inn?
And the tedding and the spreading of the straw for the bedding
And the fleas that tease in the high Pyrannees, and the wine that tasted of the tar?"

Lovely stuff for verse speaking!

Of course the school was also represented by a choir, and, in early 1944 we were walking around Jephson Gardens in Leamington Spa between appearances when we saw one of the girls from our rival school of Stoke Park, fall into the river Leam. Pausing only to ensure that she was being helped out safely we staggered to where their staff were grouped and imparted the good news. We were helpless with laughter! Later that year I was part of a group that was selected to transfer to Stoke Park Grammar School and my friends and I hoped that no-one remembered our faces!!!

A final influence from these days was my form teacher in 1943. She was youngish, energetic and took us for PT. and Games. She also taught Art. It was in her class that my drawing "took off". She showed us action through the use of pin-figures and then gave them form by what I have since called, "sausages and eggs." We did our first drawing from a live model, in her class, and when Miss Clews cruised through the room to inspect the results that were displayed on the wall she stopped infront of mine and said, "Oh I know who the model is, it's Rita Crosskey!" It was the first indication that I was able to get a likeness --- and I progressed from there.

I transferred to Stoke Park in October 1944 and remained there until I left, at the age of 18, in 1949. My uniform changed to cream blouse with burgundy piping, navy pinafore dress, the usual horror of a hat, but with gold and burgundy band finished with a cockade.

These years provided some notable experiences. Miss Colby, the Classics teacher brought our English Literature alive in a way no other teacher had. Miss Lacey installed a love of choral music, although music theory, and especially minor keys, baffled me. I could sing them, but not understand them. I was in the school choir and the twelve voice choir [2] and beside festival work we broadcast three times. The rising to our feet, noiselessly, in the studio, and singing the repertoire of part-songs without the sheetmusic was good discipline. Studio acoustics were weird, and when singing in the smaller group on our tiered dais it wasn't possible to hear anyone else, apart from yourself! Help!

In the Sixth forms I enjoyed the correlation of my Art studies with English literature and produced a large Chaucerean illustration for the youngest classes. I enjoyed the novelty of what was to become common practice, later.

Finally my time there was at an end and I was ready for the next stage of my education ----- but that is another story.

Read all the syllables - they greatly add to the slow sensuous Middle-Eastern feeling when recited!
(Q.) What is it?
(A.) A rowing galley - from Ninevah
"Twelve voice choir"
This was the number for certain events, but in actual fact we most often performed with the understudies, as a fifteen voice group.

Written by Muriel Wells