Primary School days

By Eddie Gilbey

I started at the old School in 1959. In those days there were two Classrooms, one for the Infants and one for the Juniors. The Teachers names were Mrs Jones for the Infants and Mrs Dickie ( The Head mistress), for the Juniors. There were between 20 and 30 children at the school.

Mrs Dickie left eventually, to be replaced by Miss Wimbolt ( A Teacher I would not have wished on my worst enemy.) She stayed for only one year, (1963) and was replaced by Miss Dix, (later to become Mrs Rose) who was much more satisfactory.

Every day began with the ringing of a bell, which brought the running about and shouting that everyone did, to a halt. Then we all trooped into the main Classroom for assembly.

Assembly consisted of a hymn accompanied on Piano by the headmistress, followed by The Lord's Prayer, and any relevant announcements for the day. After this the two classes separated for registration.

When registration was complete the day continued with "Sums", which we struggled with until playtime, followed by "A is for Apple" until lunchtime. The afternoons were shorter and rather less taxing.

The morning break was always preceded with the consumption of a small bottle of milk. You had to be careful with the paper straw, because it went soggy as soon as it got wet. If you took too long, or blew bubbles in the milk then the straw collapsed making it useless, and you were not allowed a second straw. When you'd finished drinking your milk you could go out to play.

Playtime mostly involved running around and shouting, standing still and shouting, or chasing a ball about while shouting. Playtime ended with the ringing of the bell, which was just audible above the shouting. If there were any quiet kids at our school I did not hear them.

At 12:00 it was lunchtime, the school dinners were delivered by a van no one saw, but you could smell it when it arrived, so you knew it was nearly lunchtime. There was a dinner lady who served the food, and presumably washed up afterwards. The food was always hot, but I did not like school dinners and eventually I persuaded my Mum to let me go home for my lunch.

In the Infants class there was a sand pit, and a Wendy house which were only used on Friday afternoons. The main room was divided by a partition that allowed one half to be set up in the morning as a dining hall. The other half had the piano and the desks in it.

Where the classrooms met, there was a door into the cloakroom. When a child joined the school, an essential requirement was, that Mum had to make a slipper bag which would hang on the child's peg in the cloakroom. In the bag there was a pair of black elasticated plimsolls. These would be used several times a week ,and were provided by the school. They also provided a pair of navy blue shorts for the boys and Knickers in the same colour for the girls. The cloakroom also had the door to the playground and the outside toilets.

The playground had a surface of gravel in tar, this led to lots of grazed knees requiring Germolene and Elastoplast. I became adept at rudimentary first aid. I wonder if the children would be allowed to tend to their class mates today? There was a climbing frame made of tubular steel outside which eventually acquired a rubber mat to stand on, and helped prevent us from braining ourselves if we fell off of the frame. There was also a drinking water fountain. In the summer we were allowed to play in the recreation ground.

The toilets were very basic, and the Boy's urinal lent itself well to the inevitable competition to see who could pee highest up the wall. The girls had separate cubicles, and presumably less opportunity for such distractions.

One way to escape the routine tedium of the lessons was to fetch in the Coke for the heating system. It was considered a privilege to be asked to go and collect it. Alternatively you might be chosen to fill the inkwells on each desk, or sharpen the pencils. This was done with a hand cranked gadget which ate pencils far faster than we could have worn them down.

As there was an inkwell on each desk we learned about blotting paper, and fountain pens with replaceable nibs which broke if you pressed too hard on them. As I'm left handed, using a fountain pen presented problems, because my third and fourth fingers would trail the pen and smudge the ink before it dried. Leaving me with ink stained fingers. As well as work that was very difficult to read


We spent a lot of our time painting pictures using powdered paint from big tins mixed with water from a jam jar. We learned to make orange from yellow and red or, green from yellow and blue, but that every other combination came out brown or grey.

We made place mats out of raffia and Christmas decorations out of coloured strips of paper which were glued together in rings to make a chain.

Once a week, the radio, a big grey thing with black knobs on, was turned on and we listened to a joint assembly, which presumably all the other schools were listening to as well. The radio was also used for one of those combined, dance, mime, exercise programmes that involved us cavorting around the room to classical music, which stopped from time to time as a signal for us to freeze in whatever pose we were in at the time. A kind of musical chairs in which no one was ever out when the music stopped.

There was no TV at the school then but periodically a van carrying a projector and screen arrived to show us films about growing bananas or sugar cane or the life cycle of a Butterfly. Whatever the subject, it was always more interesting than "A is for Apple", or "Sums", and it was regarded as a treat.

On Friday afternoons the juniors had games outside. While the infants played in their sandpit, Mr Rose supervised the boys playing football or cricket. The girls played rounders.

Occasionally we were visited by the district nurse, who examined us for nits and rickets, tested our reflexes, our hearing and our eyesight. It was during one of these visits that I was diagnosed short-sighted.

We were fortunate to be taken out on various trips from time to time. We visited The Royal Observatory, The Royal Mews, The Royal Tournament, Castle Hedingham, and a performance of Peter Pan. The main consequence of being diagnosed short-sighted was having to wear "Milky Bar Kid" spectacles. These fell to pieces at the Peter Pan show and I had to watch it all through Opera Glasses to see anything at all.

In between all of this we learned to read and to write, and do arithmetic. We had spelling tests and recited the times tables endlessly. Until I left in 1965, as a wise old eleven year old to go to Stansted Secondary School and that as they say is another story.