I don’t think that schoolchildren in the 1950s and 60s went on the number of school visits that they do nowadays and when we did go they were quite memorable occasions. I can only remember two days out at Harehills and one evening visit.
The first day trip was in Year three with Mr. Kelly to York, but it could have been the Fountains Abbey one that was first, I can’t be sure. I think we had to bring in some money to pay for the trip, but I don’t think it was very expensive and I don’t remember any one of us not being able to go. The day of the trip I arrived at school with a paper bag with my lunch in it. As was common at the time, it was a round of sandwiches with potted meat in them and, apart from some butter, there was nothing else. The meat pastes used to come in little glass jars and Shippam’s and Prince’s were the common ones. There was a range of pastes: salmon, shrimp, potted beef and the one that you were never very sure what was in it, potted meat. The sandwiches were wrapped in grease-proof paper, and there might have been a packet of crisps and an apple. We were all excited and chattered loudly as we piled onto the bus. This wasn’t the usual double-decker that we were used to, but was a Wallace Arnold coach. We settled in our seats, next to our friends, and we were given strict instructions that we weren’t to eat anything on the coach and we were to wait until it was lunch time. With the final words warning us to keep the noise down, we set off to York.
In these times the road to York was only a fairly minor one and there wasn’t the fast dual-carriageway that exists now. Even so, the journey wasn’t a long one and before we knew it we were approaching the city. I had driven through with my parents on the way to the coast on many occasions and I remembered well the beautiful daffodils on the grass banks by the walls, the bright yellow and green being a wonderful contrast, but we had never visited as a family. The coach took us to a place it could park and we piled out and lined up in twos. We had caught glimpses of the city walls and I was captivated by the real history. Knights in armour had walked these walls and now I was going to tread where they had. I believe that we had approached through Bishop’s Gate and we went into St George’s Field and took a short walk along the medieval walls. From there I think we walked to the Minster, did a quick tour and then down the Shambles to the Castle Museum. I loved Clifford’s Tower, but didn’t know of its dark history and then we went into the museum. At first I hated it and thought it was very boring. Just display after display of costumes, but then we entered the recreated streets with the shops and that was fantastic, just like stepping back into a Dickensian novel. I thought it was wonderful, but then we left, passed the old flour mill and made our way back to where the coach was. We sat near the river to have our lunch. Potted meat sandwiches never tasted so good and then we all piled onto a boat for a trip down the river past Rowntree’s and the Bishop’s Palace.
We were fairly exhausted when we arrived back, but we were allowed into a shop selling souvenirs of York and there I made a bold choice. Most of the others were buying postcards, thimbles or other such knick-knacks, but my eye was caught by a sheath knife. It had a four inch blade and a white enamel handle with the crest of York City. I had enough money, but dare I buy it? What would Mr Kelly say if he saw it? I think it was another classmate that was with me, maybe Dick or Paul, and we both bought one. It was in a brown paper bag and we slipped them out of sight and got back on the bus. We daren’t take them out, but had the odd feel just to prove that we had done it. The next problem was what our parents would say. Would they be angry? Would they take them off us? The truth was they just gave them a cursory glance and said to be careful with them.
Fountains Abbey was a longer journey, but equally fantastic. A Cistercian monastery set in an idyllic rural landscape, it is the largest monastic ruin in England. We arrived and wandered the ruins and got a sense of how magnificent the abbey would have been. I learnt there had been an infirmary and a fish farm. We then walked through the grounds to Studley Royal Water Gardens built in the 18th century. Truly wonderful, but not as exciting for primary school children as the ruins. We were once again exhausted on the way home.
Probably the most exciting of all the visits was the evening visit to Civic Theatre. This was my first visit ever to a theatre and probably was for most of us. We were going to see a pantomime, Peter Pan, and we met at school early evening in winter. It was already dark and we piled into the bus that was taking us and after a short drive into the city we got out and entered the theatre. As theatres go it possibly wasn’t the most magnificent, but for me it was a wondrous world. Inside were rows of seats, rising up, a stage, lights, big red curtains and a set that had a tree-house and at times turned into a ship, what a world for a young audience! The lights went down in the theatre and the lights came on, on the stage and for the next hour and a half I was swept away. There was Captain Hook and Peter Pan actually flew across the stage on wires and the cast encouraged the audience to join in and shout back. “He’s behind you! Oh no, he’s not!” echoed around. We were encouraged to boo every time the villain appeared. We almost cried when Tinkerbell was fading if we didn’t believe in fairies and we all let the cast know we truly believed. How we loved it when she recovered and finally the crocodile was going to get Captain Hook. It was madness, and truly wonderful. I think we were all hoarse afterwards. Up to this point my experience of anything theatrical was my mother’s Christmas sketches that she wrote and everyone at the parties took a part. They were great fun, but this was something else and I think it was the start of my love of live performances. I don’t think we ever did anything quite as exciting at Harehills CP School and it was the first step in starting me writing pantomimes and plays for the schools I worked in for almost forty years.
At Roundhay I can only remember two cultural visits and one of those was organised by Mr Goldthorpe to the Mikado at, I believe, the Alhambra Theatre. It was an enjoyable event, but seeing as I didn’t understand the satire of the piece, I found it just a colourful show with some memorable songs. The second event was a matinee of Julius Caesar, again in Bradford and this was in the round and was set in Fascist Germany, with storm troopers, machine gun wielding actors appearing through the audience. This did help to make Shakespeare more relevant to a young audience and was quite an event with machine gun fire during the performance. I have just had a flash back and also remember going to Stratford in the sixth form to see King Lear. It was probably a joint excursion with Roundhay Girls’ School. The Royal Shakespeare Company production was a modern, 1970s version, and for some reason all the actors were dressed in white. This made it almost impossible to recognise who was who and added nothing to the production. I have a feeling Trevor Nunn might have been responsible. As usual, in Shakespeare’s plays I think I was well asleep by the second act.
As adults we often don’t realise the impact the experiences we provide children with have on them. For good or bad, there are teachers I remember so well. Some were very unpleasant people, but most were very well intentioned and some I loved. I really liked my teachers, and my time at Stainbeck Preparatory School and Harehills. At Roundhay I had good and bad experiences, but often I didn’t help myself and I can see why I would irritate some teachers. I don’t think I would have spent my life in education if my own experiences hadn’t been so positive. I am aware of at least one of my students who ended up as an actor and I would like to think that the experiences they had in my schools helped to foster a wide range of careers.