Wanstead resident Jean Medcalf published her first poetry book last year. To Everything There is a Season is a collection of lyrical, spiritual poems about nature. In the ninth of a series of articles, Jean – who celebrated her 90th birthday earlier this year – recalls her children’s schooldays
Last month, I told you about having my babies, and that brings us to their schooldays. All my children went to Nightingale Primary School, which was very good with a strong ethos. Mr J Mansel Davies was the headmaster. He was extremely proud of his school and expected the best from his pupils.
Mr Davies had a presence that commanded respect. He always wore a suit with a waistcoat, a snowy white handkerchief in his breast pocket and polished shoes. Everybody stood when he entered the classroom.
Class sizes were large; over 40, but the teachers maintained order without any problems. The main punishment was staying behind after school and writing lines, although the cane was still in use. There was a Head Boy and Head Girl, prefects, and lots of monitors – milk monitors, dinner monitors, late monitors and blackboard monitors. There was a religious assembly every morning and the children loved singing hymns. They sang grace before meals and another song at hometime.
The uniforms came from Warne’s Outfitters on George Lane, and in those days, the children had to wear skirts or shorts – long trousers were not allowed, however cold it was.
The children enjoyed school as they studied interesting topics ranging from heraldry, Latin, calligraphy and craft projects. They were taken on educational visits to the Tower of London, Verulamium, Canterbury Cathedral and the zoo, and a theatre trip every Christmas. Children could learn musical instruments after school, including violin, cello or trumpet. There was an after-school film club on Fridays, and even a chance to go on the school cruise every summer to the Mediterranean.
By today’s standards, the playground was dull, with no play equipment, but the children made their own fun with skipping, singing games, hopscotch, jacks, conkers, cricket, French knitting and off-ground touch.
The only things my children didn’t like were the school milk and the dinners: spam fritters, cabbage, processed peas, swedes, lumpy custard, prunes and blancmange. Dinner ladies were very strict; everything had to be eaten, and children had to remain at the table until they had finished. Mine hated the dinners and regularly had to sit in the dining hall with a plate of unappetising food in front of them, watching their friends playing outside in the sun. One boy was even slapped for refusing to eat semolina. The only good thing was chocolate crunch pudding, and when rumours of: “It’s chocolate crunch today!” reached the dinner queue, it was greeted with rapturous excitement.
I am happy to say that my little grandson now goes to Nightingale and loves it just as my children did – apparently, the dinners are now delicious… and they still serve good old chocolate crunch!
Jean’s book To Everything There is a Season is available in paperback (£5.75). Visit wnstd.com/jean