“Concept of owning a family car was light years away in 1950s Sheffield”

Inconsiderate parking outside schools certainly wasn’t something to bother about when I was a child! Interestingly enough the one most highlighted being the primary school which I attended many years ago.

By The Star Newsroom
Wednesday, 17 April, 2019, 13:58
Children crossing the road, in the days when they used to walk to school

The concept of any families we knew actually owning a car in the early 1950s was light years away. Luckily my sister and I lived very near to school with mother taking us there each morning, coming back at lunchtime and waiting outside the school gates at the end of the school day.

There had been no pre-schools or nurseries and so we started school as near to our fifth birthday as possible. It was traumatic both for ourselves as we’d never been away from our mother, and also for her. She, in common with all married women at that time didn’t work and suddenly had much time on her hands once we had both started school.

Unlike today, fathers didn’t have much involvement with the school day. They worked long hours, leaving home very early in the morning to catch the bus or tram and arriving back pretty late in the evening. There never seemed to be any men without a job in what was a bit of a boom time for employment after the war years, and the ones who lived near us all seemed to work in something related to the steel industry. There were loco drivers, electric fitters, knife smithers, grinders, stokers, hammer drivers, steel rollers and planers.

If you look at school photos of the 50s, you can see that we all wore the same kind of clothes. Jumpers and tank tops were hand knitted and could be quite lurid depending what colour of wool was obtainable at that time.

Girls wore white liberty bodices, with little rubber buttons for fastening to knickers which had a small pocket for a hanky. Then a petticoat, skirt or dress, white socks and sandals. The boys wore short trousers which ended at their knees and grey woollen socks which were kept up by elastic garters.

Many of our teachers at school were nuns from the ‘Sisters of Mercy’ order who lived in a convent on Burngreave Road. The priests at St Patrick’s Church which was next door to the school were very much involved with our lessons and came to hear our catechism each week. Learning about the Catholic religion was very important.

Although my sister and I didn’t have school dinners we have never forgotten the dreadful smell of food which was delivered to the school in large metal containers especially the mashed potato with a strange brown layer on top. The dinners were basic with no frills and no choices either with one main course and then a milk pudding.

Conditions were quite bleak compared to the schools of today! The cold, smelly, toilet blocks were across the yard. You played out at break no matter what the weather. We had a half pint bottle of milk each day. If it was a warm day, the milk would also be warm with a thick layer of cream on top which often tasted sour. It was really only drinkable when it was a cold day and the crates had been left outside, instead of against the radiators in the classroom.

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We played lots of games in the playground, most involving jumping around to keep warm. Tiggy, skipping, spuds up, hop scotch, and ball games shouting many chants.

Class numbers were large and it was easy for children to get left behind because they could not attract the attention of the teacher, or could not understand. There were no provisions for children with special needs. It was not uncommon for children to leave school unable to read or write. Learning was very much parrot fashion with emphasis on the three Rs. The books we read at school were of the Janet and John variety and although we didn’t know it at the time, were incredibly sexist. John helped Daddy with the garden and to clean the car whilst Janet helped Mummy with the washing up and cleaning the house. Of course we didn’t actually know anyone who owned a car, but the boys were ready in case they ever did! These books were eventually discontinued.

We were encouraged to bring money to school to help the little black babies who lived in Africa and were taught by Catholic missionaries. We didn’t know much about Africa but liked the pictures of the babies who were being helped, together with small children in ‘Sunny Smiles’ booklets. These were children living in orphanages in the UK. It was all a bit vague and possibly open to exploitation.

The boys disappeared one afternoon each week to do woodwork whilst the girls did needlework. Discipline was strict even at such a young age. Boys would be caned for disobedience while girls had their knuckles rapped with a ruler.

We sat at desks which had lift up lids and ink wells, later to become sought after pieces of furniture when schools sold them off. It was a great honour to be chosen as a monitor. You could be ‘milk monitor’, ‘blackboard monitor’ or ‘pen or pencil monitor’

Other visitors to school were the school nurse looking for nits and eye and ear problems, the school dentist and the school inspector. We had healthy respect for them all.

Towards the end of primary school we concentrated on passing the Eleven Plus, mostly doing reading, writing and arithmetic. It was quite usual for some parents to bribe their children with promises of a new bike if they passed to go to grammar school. My sister and I passed without bribery! It was considered a bit of a stigma to fail and go to the secondary modern, although eventually Grammar school selection became contentious, having often been based on privilege.