Mexborough Grammar School (part 2)
Early Days. The Pupil and the Teacher
In last month's newsletter I covered with you the development of Mexborough and District Secondary School. How the school was started prior to the construction of the school buildings, when the school started, its first locations, why the school building was constructed in Mexborough, the first teachers, and the opening ceremony of the school buildings in 1910.
It was in 1996, while doing research for a book on the history of Doncaster Road Junior School, that I first found reference to the need for higher education in Mexborough, with respect to the better training of Pupil Teachers in our area. While studying the Log Book of the school I found reference at the turn of the century to a King's School, which was situated within the confines of The Central Board School (Dolcliffe Road School). This school was used as a primitive type of Teacher Training College. The hope among members of the Mexborough School Board was that better trained Pupil Teachers would lead to better educated children, and when Mexborough and District Secondary School opened its doors the first two years of its life was for the betterment of Pupil Teachers.
In 1926 came the Hadow Report which covered the education of young people. The report stated that they should be educated according to their academic ability, and so the concept of "grammar schools" was adopted following these lines. So in
1931 Mexborough and District Secondary School became Mexborough Grammar School.
1954 was Mexborough Grammar School's Golden Jubilee and a service of rededication took place in the hall on Saturday 9th. October. Also a special edition of the school's magazine (which had been named the Don & Dearne years previously) took place. The magazine contains some magnificent articles which are well worth a read to any old scholar of the school or social historian. Two of these are particularly relevant to the study of the early life of the school, as one was written by one of the first pupils and the other by the first senior mistress.
Mr. Ireland who was the first headmaster died in June 1948, so we are not blessed by an article written by the very first teacher, which would have given us great insight into what it was like to establish a school from its conception in those years at the beginning of the twentieth century. However we do have a beautifully written article by Miss Crowther who was both the first female teacher and first Senior Mistress. She took up her post at the school in October 1904 so the article covers the development of the school from its infancy.
Miss Crowther starts her article by informing us that when Mr. Ireland first arrived at Mexborough his first class consisted of eighty pupils all of whom at that time were
either Pupil or Intending Teachers (a type of apprenticed teacher), and it was the norm for them to have taken instruction from their Head Teacher at Elementary School from 8.a.m. to 9a.m. prior to starting the school day, and they were expected to study during the evenings too.
The first schoolroom for his pupils was to be found in the building which is now the offices of The South Yorkshire Times on Dolcliffe Road, but was then The Primitive Methodist Sunday School Rooms. At first the school consisted of one large bare room with no apparatus at all, so the pupils sat on benches or chairs at trestle tables, and wrote on paper borrowed from the chapel. By the time Miss. Crowther arrived in October 1904 Mr. Ireland had split the pupils into two sets so each set taught in the Elementary Schools of our area for half the day and came to the Secondary School for tuition the other half - day.
Miss Crowther writes in the Don and Dearne Magazine in 1954 "At first our life was ramshackle and make - shift but by degrees supplies of desks, books, paper, and maps began to arrive, and we settled down to teach our 80 pupils" She went on to state "Those early pupils had had little opportunity of studying Science or Foreign Languages. They had little time for general reading, but they could study and learn from books, they were remarkably speedy and accurate in written work; they were well informed in history and Geography, and expert in arithmetic and English grammar. Above all they were accustomed to teaching and controlling large classes of children, they knew the difficulties of teaching, and most of them were more than willing to learn".
In January 1905 another class was started, this time for fee - paying children and local scholars, another school mistress was added to the staff and the school began to grow. The large room in the Primitive Methodist Schoolroom was partitioned into two and the disused Montagu Cottage Hospital obtained. Here the right front room was turned into a laboratory whereas the room to the front left was turned into a classroom, with another to the rear for ten to eleven - year - olds.
Gaining in popularity the school grew and expanded into the Civic Hall, beneath the old Carnegie Library, which again was divided into two. Then lastly the Waddington's Rooms (now the Royal Electric Theatre) were taken over. Here the ground floor became a gymnasium and the upstairs, which had to be accessed by a ladder, became one large classroom. Despite the rushing around from one building to another in all weathers Miss Crowther writes that the pupils seemed to be happy, particularly as it gave them the opportunity to play games between lessons.
Transport was one of the main problems in those early years, as pupils as far afield as Rawmarsh, West Melton, Thurnscoe, Goldthorpe, Bolton - on - Dearne, Wath, Kilnhurst, Swinton, Mexborough, Adwick - on - Dearne, Barnburgh, High Melton, Cadeby, Conisbrough, and Denaby, attended the school. For those who had to travel a distance the main means of transport was by train, but for many they simply walked. Pupils arrived at Mexborough between 7:50a.m. and 8:20 a.m. ready for the commencement of lessons at 8:40a.m. Also there was no provision for the young people at lunch time, so it did not matter how far away the pupil lived they had to return home for lunch (or they were supposed to), so they had to leave school at 11:40a.m. and were expected to return by 2p.m. in time for afternoon school which finished at 4:20p.m.
Those early days saw the founding of the school. There had been a Speech Day, a Concert, and two short plays. They had acquired an area on which to play games and had put together teams and won matches. The school magazine The Don & Dearne had been started, and a debating society formed. Two boys had competed for Civil Service posts with success, another two had begun degree courses, and both boys and girls were going to training colleges. Above all at the time when building started on the new school there was a sense of pride and achievement.
Robert C. Peat started his education at Mexborough and District Secondary School in September 1904 as a County Minor Scholar, prior to the arrival of Miss Crowther. They were taught, in what he describes as a very small room, possibly the vestry of the Methodist Schoolroom in Dolcliffe Road, and as they had no chairs or desks and used Bible - boxes. The Pupil or Intending Teachers would assemble in a room at the other end of the building, and on Friday afternoons would be taught music which consisted mostly of choir practice. The school play - ground, which also doubled as a sports playing field, was to be found to the rear of the building and was a small patch of bare stony ground which had once been part of a quarry, and was roughly the size of their classroom, the favoured ball game here being "Pilam" a primitive type of tennis played with a tennis ball and a hard backed exercise book.
The central hall of the Methodist Schoolroom had a coke - burning stove and so the following September all the pupils moved in there. Alas, although the stove looked very functional, it did not work at all, and one bitterly cold day, when Mr. Ireland walked into the classroom to see everyone trying to do lessons with their coat collars turned up and gloves on, he stormed off to find the caretaker to see if he could get the stove to work. The caretaker arrived shortly afterwards, shuffling along in slippers, compete as usual with his ever - running nose, and dingy yellow cat, but even he could not get the stove to work. So I presume another winter was spent without warmth.
The following year Mr. Peat's class was moved to the old Montagu Cottage Hospital. Here a Mr. E. Sutcliffe taught him Algebra, and the newly introduced Geometry. It was in the old hospital that he had some of the happiest days of his school life, as the room which they occupied had a large fireplace and an open hearth, and when they stayed at school for their mid - day meal they would go to Schonhut's for a threepenny "nudger" and the Midwood's Cafe for a penny "Half - Moon" (a circular currant pastry with icing and cut in half). This sumptuous feast would be consumed while sitting in front of the lovely open fire in the old hospital.
It's a wonder they could move from the fire to sit at their desks never mind concentrate on lessons after eating a "nudger'. After leaving school I worked for a time in Mexborough High Street and I well remember Sinclair's Pork Butchers (now Jonathan James Shoe Shop) and the mouth - watering smells in the morning which drifted up the street, as roast pork just out of the oven and freshly baked bread were brought into the shop from the building behind. At lunch time just like those young people sixty years earlier I too would go to Sinclair's (they changed their name during the First. World War. from Schonhut to Sinclair) and order a "nudger". This consisted of what they called a white breadcake, which was almost the size of a small round loaf; this was then cut in half and spread with pork dripping, with or without brown jelly as required; the breadcake was then filled with warm roast pork, which if weighed would probably come to about half a pound at least, and in addition to this, if you wished, you could have pork crackling; and again just like Mr.
Peat all those years ago I would sit in front of the open fire in Tyler's shoe shop where I worked and eat my way through this marathon of a sandwich.
The next overflow of young people were accommodated in the Civic Hall where Mr. Peat was taught Latin by Miss Eva Hollings. He writes that she had an abundance of brown hair worn in a huge pile on top of her head, which as she taught would slowly slide sideways to seat itself over one ear.
As we learned from Miss Crowther's article one of the main problems was getting the pupils to school on time, as the only adequate transport in those days was by train and many walked to school from miles around. Mr. Peat was one of the latter and remembers how it made him late on a number of occasions and how he would try to mingle among the Wath "train" boys as they went into school, as they had a good excuse for lateness. This subterfuge very rarely escaped the "eagle eye" of Miss Jane Crowther and she would stand at the door with anger blazing in her dark eyes shouting "You babes! You infants!"
Mr. Peat tells of some of the pranks they would get up to. One morning there was to be a Physics test which he was dreading, and told his friend this as they were walking to school along Swinton Road, in response to which he was confidently informed by his companion that there would be no test. The test began, but after five minutes there was a loud crash as textbooks, exercise books, pens, rulers, pencil cases, ink, etc. came crashing to the floor, as the trestle table holding them folded as Mr. Peat's friend accidentally (on purpose) kicked away the supporting trestle. Miss Eva Hollings with the mountain of hair while trying to teach Latin would say "Amata essem"a - I might have been loved" to which it was the custom to state "There's some doubt about it". Another prank was to heat the tripod used by the master in the laboratory, and one day this was done to Mr. Ireland who having accidentally touched the hot tripod and heard the giggles of the guilty boys (I presume one of these was Mr. Peat) said quite solemnly to Mr. Peat; "There are
two jokes which never fail, Robert. One is to sit on somebody else's hat in church, and the other is to see somebody burn his fingers."
Then the glorious day arrived when the new building was completed and the pupils with Mr. Ireland leading the procession walked in file to their new premises. Only then could the building be called Mexborough And District Secondary School as it rang with the gleeful sound of young people's voices.
Mr. Peat wrote that he still well remembered his friends from those days, and had in his possession a photograph taken of the First Football Eleven for 1910 - 1911 and could identify most of the faces, one of which in 1954 was a former Headmaster of Hull Grammar School, and another was an inspector of schools in Maidenhead. He goes on to declare "Hail, Mighty Mother of Men! Long may she continue to send
out into the world that stream of men and women of which we ourselves - dare I claim? -are not unworthy pioneers".
Info. from:- A magazine writen by Mexborough Grammar School named The Don & Dearne. Edition December 1954.
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