This is likely to be my last blog until the New Year as I will be busy with visitors, but we shall see. My grandchildren will be staying with me over Christmas and it is only when I look at them that I realise how quickly they change and develop new skills. When I was young I certainly wasn’t aware how rapid these changes were and with my own children we tended to be so exhausted that each day was a challenge and we didn’t have the time to reflect as much. In my own past there were some landmarks that I remember well. The first was learning to read.
My first school was Stainbeck Preparatory School and it wasn’t far from my grandmother’s house in Chapel Allerton. My mother valued education and wanted the best for her sons. My older brother had changed from a school near Oakwood that closed and somehow she found Stainbeck. I think there was a recommendation from one of her friends who lived in Ladywood near Oakwood. The school was small and occupied one large old house off Stainbeck Lane. It was owned by the Headmistress. I thought it was Mrs. Genge, but I have been told by a reader that she was a Miss. There was a uniform and it was a bright red blazer for the boys and a cap. The badge was a shield with the interlocking letters SPS. I think the girls wore a dark blue pinafore dress in winter and a lighter check dress in summer. We had to change our shoes when we came in and named pumps were stored under the staircase. I started this school at four, which was a year earlier than most schools at the time. There was no playground, but a flat paved area at the back of the house and then a rockery that led down onto what would have been the garden. I remember there were some old apple trees. The lane, I think it is Bank View, that led down to the school was unpaved and there was a large hawthorn hedge on the right hand side and lovely big houses on the left. The school had high ceilings and a big staircase and in its day must have been quite an impressive house when it was a home. As a school, the floors were bare or linoleum covered at best. Classes were small and I remember two teachers. One was Miss Cowling and she and I came to blows at one point and the other was Miss Shepard and she was quite young for a teacher and I liked her. There was no space for gym or any other activities and we used to go out of the school up the hill a little, cross the road and use the small community hall for country dancing and other activities. Being my first school and having my older brother there, I loved it.
We were living up Easterley Road way at this time and we caught a bus down to Harehills and then had to catch another outside the Yorkshire Penny Bank that took us up the hill past Potternewton Park, past Chapel Allerton Hospital, to Chapel Allerton and then left onto Stainbeck Lane. It was quite a journey for an eight year old brother leading a four year old, but in these times there was no alternative. My mother needed to work and so we made the journey twice a day. I was always a little scared of the double decker buses with the open backs and when stressed I would have nightmares where I was on the bus and somehow I would be pulled towards the open back. It didn’t matter how hard I held on to the bars, but eventually I was pulled nearer and nearer to the back and eventually off. This was the point I woke up. My older brother always did a good job looking after me and I don’t think there was ever any problem. I loved the ticket machine and for some reason the big red bell buttons that said ‘press once’.
I do remember being taught to write and for some reason we were taught to write in block capitals and then cursive writing. We were never taught printing and I had to teach myself when I started teaching many years later. I remember always writing my capital Ys backwards. (I had to explain to my wife how this was possible. I used to do it with one long line on an angle and one short one joining it.) Stories were wonderful and we learned about Brer Rabbit, Aesop’s Fables and my favourite, The Little Red Hen. I was given the book as a prize for learning to read. Janet and John was the scheme for early readers. Who could not have been enthralled by the story telling? ‘Run Janet run,’ ‘Run Spot run,’ Run John run.’ Maybe a little limited in the art of the narrative, but it worked and soon I was hooked by the excitement of the written word. The pleasure that can be gained from sharing the thoughts and adventures from other people’s imagination is still amazing, and, for me, one of life’s real delights. Teachers seemed to read stories a great deal at this time and Enid Blyton was very popular. Her books went out of fashion for many years, but have returned in recent years. The ones I loved the best were the Faraway Tree Stories.
One of my first memories was going on a walk with the teacher out of the back of the school garden, along a lane to fields. We were told the fields belonged to Mr. Bean’s Farm. I am not sure if there was a Farmer Bean or whether it was a convenient name, but we looked at the hedgerows, the rich brown earth and when we returned to class we had to draw pictures of what we had seen. The class made a model on a painted board using toy farm animals, tractors and other items to recreate the farm.
I only remember a couple of bad things happening at school and one was my run-in with Miss Cowling. At the start of the day, as we entered school, we had to take our outside shoes off and put on our pumps. They didn’t have laces and were the black slip-on ones. I got ready and we waited to go into the classroom. Miss Cowling was in a bit of a fluster as one girl couldn’t find her pumps. She searched the collection of pumps under the stairs and for some reason decided that I had the wrong pumps on. As a four year old, I was quite put out and indignant at the suggestion I had anyone else’s pumps. I was told to take mine off, which I did angrily and threw them at the teacher. I am not sure who was more surprised, Miss Cowling or me! When she checked, they were mine, but I don’t remember any apology, but I similarly don’t remember any reprimand.
The second upsetting incident was getting my first exercise book. Up to this point we had only used pieces of paper, but we must have been deemed good enough writers to have an exercise book. The books were thin and had plain pages alternating with the lined, dotted third pages. We were told to write our names on the cover, which I did. The mistake was that the books had no indication which was the front and which was the back and, as a result, I wrote my name on the back with the book upside down. The teacher I had then didn’t worry, but I did. This has stuck with me all my life, as has the book. I didn’t realise it, but my mother kept that book and I still have it and I have scanned the evidence for public shaming.
I do recall one Christmas concert that we did. My older brother and I were both in it, I believe. I can’t remember too much but we had to dress as red Indians in it. My father brought sacks home from Cattons Foundry for mum to turn into Indian costumes. The sacks were washed and dyed brown and with a bit of work were turned into tunics with a belt of rope. We then had headbands and a feather. I do clearly recollect the uncomfortable nature of rough hessian sacks on the skin. They were very itchy and we both suffered for our art. The performance was in the evening and we were driven over to Stainbeck Road to a church hall, I think, for the concert.
My older brother took his Eleven Plus four years before me and he left Stainbeck for high school. I stayed on until I was seven, but my time there was cut short by the sudden death of the headmistress and the subsequent closure of the school. For all its shortcomings, as far as qualified teachers and facilities were concerned, the school had taught me to read, love learning and set me up for life. The last couple of years from the age of five I had had to travel on two buses to and from school on my own. This made me independent and self-assured and when Mr. Harold Wilson, the new head of Harehills County Primary, asked me to read to him, and the only book he could find, as he unpacked in his office on his first day, was the Bible, I read with confidence and clarity. From this Mr. Wilson placed me in the top class, much to my mother’s relief. I believe a friend of mine from Stainbeck Prep School, Paul Banks, also started Harehills and eventually we both moved on to Roundhay School.
I was given an autograph book before I left Stainbeck Prep School and I remember Miss Blackmore signing it for me. She wrote ‘a few lines from a poor poet’ and then ruled three straight lines and signed it. As a seven year old, I didn’t really understand it, but at least she did it for me, which made me happy.
I came across a couple of reports and my exercise books from Stainbeck Preparatory School after I wrote this blog. My mother gave me a pile of things she had saved. I was looking for the books as I knew she had kept them, and came across the reports. The pictures of the house, which I believe is the school, are from a real estate site.