Nostalgia with Margaret Watson: School life back in the day...

Cookery for the girls and science for the boys

Sunday, 19th September 2021, 6:30 pm
EASTBOROUGH SCHOOL: This photograph was taken in 1922 and shows a class of nine year old girls in the days when girls and boys were taught in separate classes and played in separate playgrounds.

Last week I wrote about Ethel Atkinson, a woman who has lived in Dewsbury all her life, and who, at the age of 97, still had vivid memories of her old school – Eastborough.

The previous week I wrote about Betty Croft, aged 94, one of the first pupils to attend the newly-built all girl’s school – Templefield – which opened in 1940.

Both stories gave me food for thought and so over the coming weeks and months I intend to write of other schools in Dewsbury, some no longer with us.

EASTBOROUGH SCHOOL: This photograph was taken in 1922 and shows a class of nine year old girls in the days when girls and boys were taught in separate classes and played in separate playgrounds.

I start with the school Ethel attended – Eastborough - which was built in 1879 and is still standing today in Battye Street.

It was built with all local labour and materials, the stone having been hewn from quarries in nearby Caulms Wood.

It was described as being one of the most beautiful buildings in Dewsbury, yet it had been built in one of the poorest and most deprived areas of the town.

The sight of this splendid building in the midst of such poverty must have lifted the spirits of those living there as they walked past.

Many of its early pupils would later become famous, but they never forgot their old school and mentioned it with warm affection in their autobiographies.

Among the notable pupils who attended, are Baroness Betty Boothroyd, first woman Speaker of the House of Commons, and Baroness Betty Lockwood, first chairwoman of the Equal Opportunities Commission.

Also, Sir Marcus Fox, once vice-chairman of the Conservative Party and chairman of the powerful 1922 committee of Tory backbenchers, and, of course, Eddie Waring, famous BBC television commentator who brought the game of rugby league to millions.

The school had been built to accommodate 900 children, infants, juniors and seniors, but on the first day only 100 children enrolled, which was not surprising seeing that scholars in those days had to pay for their education.

The fees were only 5d a week, but for many poor families this was still too high a price to pay.

However, the following year numbers had increased to 220 boys, 194 girls and 187 infants, numbers which increased considerably by 1891 when schools became free.

Boys and girls had separate classes and playgrounds and looking at the old curriculums you can see clearly they were taught differently with girls being taught cookery and the boys science.

By 1897 the boys had started swimming lessons but not so for the girls who had to wait until 1902 to have this privilege.

And, when the Boer War broke out in 1899, the girls were knitting woollen hats for soldiers fighting in South Africa.

Later when World War One broke out, they were busy making shirts and socks for the soldiers and items of clothing for Belgian refugees.

Another sign of how times have changed was the fact that during the war the boys’ school started a fund which would send cigarettes to ex-pupils fighting at the Front.

The cigarettes bought were stored in the school, and any old boy serving in the forces who paid a visit while on leave was given a packet.

Throughout the war the girls knitted more than 1,000 pairs of socks for the soldiers and they also collected eggs and teacakes to send to the base hospital at Staincliffe where wounded soldiers were treated.

The first headmaster at Eastborough School was Mr A Foster, who although a strict disciplinarian, was a kindly man who cared deeply for the welfare of the children under his care.

In 1918 he wrote in the school record book that he came to school early in the mornings to find out if any child had come to school without breakfast, and at noon remained to ascertain if any of them required dinner.

He wrote in his record book at the time: “Two of them said they were not sure, so I told them to hurry home, and if there was no dinner for them, I would remain at school and provide it for them.”

When he died in 1922, some boys were chosen to attend the service while the rest lined Rockley Street at the side of the school as a mark of respect.

The following year a bookcase filled with books was presented to the school by old boys in memory of him to be named the Foster Memorial Library.

Another well-loved headmaster was John E Tolson, a former pupil, who was later to become a councillor and alderman of the borough.

Although from a working class family, Alderman Tolson climbed the academic ladder to become headmaster of his old school.

He was born in the late 1870s, and I remember interviewing him as an old man and I found him still very articulate and his views on education still greatly respected.

Many years later he wrote an article called “Value for Money” in which he recalled the education system operating in the 1880s shortly after Eastborough School had been built.

Alderman Tolson became a teacher at the age of 13, which was not uncommon in those days, and he was expected to take charge of a class of nine and 10-year-olds.

I am grateful to E and T S Wilcock who researched and compiled a booklet to celebrate the school’s centenary in 2012, from which I have taken some notes.

I hope in coming months to write more about the history of local schools and show some class photographs from my huge collection of school photos.

Perhaps you will be on some of them, or maybe your parents and grandparents.

In this photograph, seated third from the right on the back row is Marian Waring, cousin once removed of Eddie Waring and his brother Harry Waring. The picture was kindly loaned by Marian’s son, Ray Brace, a former manager of the Empire Theatre in Dewsbury.

You can email your recollections of Dewsbury in years gone by to: [email protected]