I am approaching the end of my memories of Harehills C. P. School, but there are still some that you might have shared. One of these is the art and craft lessons that we had. I think I am remembering Mr. Kelly’s class, but it could have been younger years that have merged.
One thing I remember we did every Easter time, was to make wool pompoms. Two circles of card were cut and a smaller circle was cut out of the centre of each. The two card circles were placed together and wool, at this time of year, yellow wool was wound around the card. This must have been heaven for the teachers as it took hours to wind sufficient wool around, producing a woollen doughnut at the end. At this point the teacher took over and cut around the edge of the doughnut and then tied a tight loop between the card circles. When the wool was then fluffed out it produced a pompom. Each of us then produced a slightly smaller pompom and the two finished balls were fixed together and then a felt beak and two eyes were added to produce an Easter chick.
Each Christmas I seem to remember having to collect holly to bring to school. The holly was cut into smaller pieces and painted. We had a shallow dish into which the holly, pine cones and a candle were placed, before plaster of Paris was poured in and allowed to set. When it was ready, the tray was removed. Some glitter and gold or silver paint covered the holly and cones before fixing and then a ribbon was tied around the edge. They looked great! At the end of the Christmas term I remember carefully carrying the candle set home for my mum. I have often wondered how many houses were set alight, by similar decorations produced at schools.
Another craft activity was simple embroidery on binka, the material with holes to guide young hands. Cross stitching and other techniques were used to produce bookmarks, or maybe a place mat. Names would be embroidered on them and it kept children busy for hours and the teachers occupied re-threading needles, bodkins and undoing mistakes. I also remember learning how to do simple knitting. The class was set the task of knitting squares of basic stitches and theses were joined up to make a blanket and I seem to remember it was for some charity such as Oxfam and it was presented in assembly. The other type of knitting that we learnt was French knitting. This meant we had to bring in wooden cotton reels. I think four small nails were hammered into the top and you wound wool in a certain way and then unhooked it and it formed a sausage of wool through the hole in the reel. Eventually it was removed and sewn into a round disk of knitted wool that could be used as a place mat.
These experiences must have been before being in Mr. Kelly’s class as I can’t think he was into needlework. I specifically do remember making matchbox tricks that involved a loop of brown, gummed tape. I can still remember the strong specific taste of the glue on the tape. The trick was that you opened the box, put a penny in it, or similar coin, and then shut the box. You would say a magic word and open the box and the coin would disappear. This amazing trick was very simple and a loop of brown tape would hide the coin if the box was opened from the other end and it could reappear, by simply opening it from the original end. We also made a cardboard wallet with a cover of marbled ink. I loved the marbling because it produced such a wonderful swirl of colours as the inks were floated on water and the paper laid on top. The wallet was constructed with diagonal ribbons that crossed the covers and similar to the matchbox trick, a note placed in the wallet could be made to vanish when the wallet was opened and closed. The skill was in the way you opened and closed the wallet. One way the note was hidden behind the cover and the other way it was at the front.
The two most used items in art and craft were sugar paper and the coloured, gummed squares of paper. Later, as a teacher, I was amazed at how poor the quality had become. The sugar paper was so thick and the coloured squares made wonderful Christmas chains and paper mosaics.
Mr. Kelly’s magic tricks must have impressed me as I did a magic performance in a talent show at the end of one term. I just used some tricks from a box of magic I had for a birthday and performed in front of the school. I made coins disappear in a hanky, could tell what card someone chose from a pack. It can’t have been too exciting for the audience that were a long way off. Other performers were dancers, musical turns and even some children miming to a song.
We did once have a craft fair and we could enter a whole range of things. I was at a loss what to do, but with help from my mum and dad we decided on a desert scene. A square terracotta pot was bought with a few cacti. A small mirror was placed amongst the cacti and then fine white sand poured over the potting compost. The mirror produced a lake and it made a decent desert scene. I then added some tiny Airfix Bedouin figures and tiny camels to finish the scene. I remember carefully carrying it into school and it was put on display with other entries. There were different categories and I remember getting a star or something similar for mine and I proudly took it home where it went on display in the front room window, where it lasted for a long time.
Now one vivid memory I do have is country dancing. Again, I don’t think Mr. Kelly was the teacher who took this. We were paired up, boy/girl in two long lines or sometimes in a circle and we were taught the basic steps. We must have challenged the patience of the teacher as most of us boys were either rhythmically or otherwise challenged. Eventually with a lot of counting, one, two, three, four, over and over again, we managed the basics and some sort of order appeared and something resembling a dance was produced. I don’t remember if we ever danced at the May dance in Roundhay Park, or whether we just went along to watch those accomplished performers, who had got beyond the most simple of dances. I did enjoy it though and maybe it was the holding of a girl’s hand as we danced that gave it added excitement. Certainly hormones were happening in the final year and there was a lot of interest in birthday parties and who was invited. Post Man’s Knock was as far as it ever got, but it was the start of the change that truly set in in high school. I could see why there was a girls’ and boys’ school at Roundhay, but the thorny holly hedge proved little barrier for the horny teenagers we were to become.
My time at Harehills was a golden time in my life. We were learning, loving learning, full of optimism in a world that was changing so rapidly after the Second World War. Science was going to be the saviour of our bright new world and in many ways it has been. It was a time of improvement for the world and the people who inhabited the planet and we saw such change. Unfortunately, children are presented with doom and gloom scenarios now at school, even though great strides have been made in health, pollution, energy production and standard of living. In the early sixties there were major outbreaks of diseases such as polio, measles, mumps, rubella, rickets, smallpox, bronchitis and many others. At Christmas the television stations would visit hospitals and we would see people in iron lungs and others less fortunate. We don’t see that now, very often as many diseases are almost eradicated from our lives. We were some of the first to be inoculated for childhood diseases and saw real benefits.
I will return to Harehills nearer Christmas to reflect on the Christmas parties and other goings on, but for now I will explore many of the other aspects of growing up in Leeds, so I hope you will stay with me. Please feel free to share your experiences. I have enjoyed hearing yours and they have jogged my own memories. Reliving these times may even help keep our brains sharp.