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Last Updated: Thursday, 24 May 2007, 17:24 GMT 18:24 UK
Your 1950s: School life
School in Birmingham, 1954
The Magazine is compiling a people's history of modern Britain - featuring your written memories and photos. We've had a tremendous response, starting with the 1950s, a decade many recall for its starkly different values to those we hold today.

It was the decade of the Coronation, the end of food rationing and the Suez Crisis.

But despite the big events of the period, many of you wanted to talk about school life. Below is a selection of your memories.

We had an overwhelming response to our request for memories of the 1950s and it's been a great start as we begin to build our people's history in the coming weeks. Next week, the 60s.


I was born in 1948 so my 50s memories are mainly those at junior school. I lived in Haringey, North London. Little boys wore grey school shorts and long grey socks all year round and little girls wore dresses or pinafore dresses and blouses. The school cap and beret were de rigueur. We learned to write with nib pens on wooden holders which we dipped in ink wells and learned from Janet and John books.
Sheila Ferguson nee Richardson, Maidstone Kent

MORE 50s MEMORIES
I was born in Brighton in 1954 and by 1958 I had started primary school. I remember a tiny school with a wood stove to heat the classroom in winter. The school had two teachers who had both taught my mother. They were kindly plump ladies who would sit a child on their laps at story time. I don't remember learning very much; we had slates to write on and naps on little beds in the afternoons. Playtimes were fairly boisterous affairs spent jumping off the old air raid shelters, I do remember noticing even at that age, that many of the children were poor, often unwashed and many had to wear plimsolls even in winter and the nit nurse was a regular visitor. However we all found a penny to buy an ice bun which was delivered with our milk each morning. Out of school, time was spent playing on the street till the stars came out, Sundays started with Sunday school, drawing pictures of miracles and parables, followed by homemade lemonade in the church hall.
Hilary Petherbridge, Leyland, Lancashire, England

1950. Asthma and eczema with no effective medication. Starting Welsh School in Wrexham. Dad telling the Headmistress, Mary Jane Davies, that if I gave her any trouble to give me a clout and send me home with a note and he would sort me out. She never did give me a clout and attended my wedding 21 years later.
Bryn Jones, Lichfield, Staffs, England

Yuri Gagarin, circling the world as the first astronaut, was my highlight of the 50s.I must have been seven years old. At that time the radio was running a science fiction series, featuring Jet Morgan, first citizen of Space. Everyone at school was delighted that fact had now met fiction. I can remember playing spacemen in the playground the day we heard it happen. I was in a state of sheer delight. Our futures were assured. On leaving school we would also become spacemen and fight strange and menacing aliens on Mars. I couldn't wait for the RAF to get our first spaceman up there. I'm still waiting!
Anthony Thirgood, London, Middlesex

Growing up in London we got used to the acrid smelling pea-soupers and my anxious mother would send me to school trussed up like a turkey. I would wear a vest, liberty bodice, blouse, pinafore dress, jumper and finally a raincoat. No wonder I passed out in church one day. Before we went to school my mother gave me a spoonful of malt and cod liver oil, both of which I liked. It was all to keep out the cold and damp and to make sure that we stayed healthy. School discipline was strict and the boys were caned and the girls got an occasional rap on the knuckles with a ruler. Things were learnt by rote and the tables test, once a week, was a nightmare. I always hoped not to be asked and I have always hated maths as a result of the way in which we were taught then. No one questioned authority then, but it didn't mean to say that we weren't resentful at times. In the winter I had chapped knees from wearing short skirts and my legs had red marks from the elastic of the garter which held up my grey school socks.
Pamela Sinclair, England

In autumn, we school-kids used to pick the freshly-fallen beech-nuts up in the lane down to school and eat the tiny kernels without any regard for the potential resultant stomach ache. Perhaps the daily 1/3 pint bottle of school-provided milk - thawed out from the sharp over-night frosts by the class-room coke-fired stove helped to prevent this. Talking of frost, the much colder winters we had then allowed long ice-slides to be made across the playground by the simple expedient of pouring water obtained from the outside toilet taps onto the ground. Despite being forbidden by the school rules, such slides were enjoyed by all school-kids whenever the weather allowed.
Colin Burn, Manchester

I was born in 1944 and so all my memories of the 50s are of my school days. I remember the Coronation and how my mother made me a replica of the Queen's Coronation dress from crepe paper with stuck on beads and glitter for me to take part in the Fancy Dress parade in my local town of Wareham. I must have been quite successful at school and progressed to college to do shorthand and typing; I was obviously too good to do the domestic science course which was the alternative in the last years at school for those who didn't quite come up to the mark. It was also the years of my first boyfriend. However we were not streetwise like today and never progressed beyond holding hands and a goodnight kiss. Maybe that is why he went off with one of my school friends! I recall they were happy days, successful at my own level at school, no pressure from the boyfriend, a member of the hockey team at school who triumphed over all other schools in our area and one special friend who has stayed with me throughout my life, we are now sisters-in-law.
Eileen Macey, Wimborne Dorset

Apart from dressing up for the Coronation and watching bits, with neighbours, on my parent's 9" Pye TV set, the thing I remember most vividly is the shock of my first week at boarding school (September 1956). The school still rationed butter & marge - 2oz of each for a week in a dish - and 3 oz sugar in a honey jar both with names written on zinc oxide tape stuck to the lid; we were allowed one shirt and one pair of knickers per week and had to have a "strip wash" night and morning - I still shudder. My memory after that first week is mainly a blank as I blotted everything I could out. The highlight of my school week was to get a large bar of Cadburys milk choc with a half crown sellotaped to it in the post on Saturdays from my Grandma. The 1950s bring back the ache of homesickness, smell of harpic & Jeyes fluid and the internal loneliness that only boarding school children understand. On the up side, I still remember the words of the Six Five Special.
Christine Wright, London UK

School seemed full of new, colourful materials, books and opportunity, despite rather austere surroundings. Sunday School, by contrast, always felt earnest, but we did lots of pageants, singing, anniversary performances and shows. Of course, the Queen's Coronation stands out as a moment of sheer delight, with gifts for every child in the country and Bynge's 'Elizabethan Serenade' being played for years afterwards!
M. W., Cheltenham UK

Our infants school, I remember relied for heating upon a black, pot-bellied stove in the middle of the room. In the winter, our third-pint bottles of free school milk were brought into the class room and stacked near to the stove to thaw out. The milk would be frozen into a pole sticking out from the bottle, the silver cap sitting on top! On those very cold days we would wear our coats and sometimes gloves inside school. We still had to go out into the playground at break, though!
Gill Putnam, Wanneroo, Western Australia

We all attended the nearby primary school. There was a concrete playground which still remains today with not a blade of grass in sight. It had no indoor toilets until about five years ago. I was hopeless at just about everything, possibly because I had bad eyesight and couldn't see what was on the blackboard. My Dad insisted on school giving me extra homework, mostly maths. He was only trying to help but the result was a horror of maths that I took with me throughout my schooling. School wasn't really a seat of learning, it was a place where you had to be very quiet and well-behaved. In 1956 when I was ten I went to senior school. It had no playing fields, just another sloping concrete playground with outside toilets, too awful to describe. For games lessons there was a corporation double-decker 'bus to take us to the local park where there were hockey and football pitches etc. We changed in the field, in the full view of people walking their dogs. Whenever possible I hid until the bus had left and preferred to do a detention instead. Our school had a boy's half and a girl's half and never the twain shall meet was the order of the day. There was a high concrete wall down the middle of the playground.
Angela Southern, Street, Somerset, UK

I was nine years old in 1950 living near Romford in Essex. Schooling was geared to preparation for the all important 11+ exam and the hope of passing to be accepted into a grammar school. Failure meant ending up in a secondary modern school and few prospects. Luckily I went to a grammar school. Distinctive uniform, pride in the school, pride in appearance, pride in behaviour and speech and sheer hard work were the accepted standards. Hour-long trips by bus and train plus a long walk at either end of the day to commute to and from school. School assembly with all the teachers in black and often torn gowns. The cane and the slipper were liberally applied for fairly innocuous crimes, with detention and "lines" for minor misdemeanours. Later on in the 1950s I joined the School Cadet Corps, which was officered by many of the masters still retaining there old Regimental Cap Badges on their uniform - a left over from their wartime service. There was one eccentric individual I recall who sported a Somaliland Camel Corps Badge.
Barrie Carter, Sherborne, Dorset

The 50s were my childhood. I remember total freedom, no pressures worrying about designer clothes or the opposite sex. Clothes tended to be grey shirt and grey shorts or dungarees. Trainers were black plimsolls only used for PE. Spent lots of time building soapbox carts (hurlies) or hideouts. School was a bit grim. Remember lining up to get the belt because got more than three spellings wrongs. Wearing shorts in winter was horrible, my legs used to be bright red with cold. And the joys of outside toilets. I wish modern kids could have a bit of the freedom and carefree life of the 50s.
Jim Johnstone, Fleet

School diners were good, plus there was pudding too. School discipline was strict, but you didn't notice it very much, you were used to it, you did as you were told and didn't answer back. Nature study classes never mentioned words like environment, pollution or the greenhouse effect. In the playground you played snail racing, tag, bulldog, football and sang songs about Hitler.
Ray Borge, Hereford


Thanks for sending in so many memories. Those which haven't made it to print this time could form part of the BBC's Memoryshare project, to be launched later this year. More details here.



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