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In my joyful school days…

Northgate Grammar School

Northgate Grammar School

A letter to the editor from a woman in a recent issue of “Best of British” magazine recalled her early days at school were as a “mixed infant” rather than as a kindergartener. The first school I attended in my hometown of Ipswich, Suffolk, England also used this title. I recall the school as having three entrances, one with “Boys” over the doorway, another reading “Girls” and the third “Mixed Infants”.  This particular school was in the process of being demolished and my first grade lessons were in a newly constructed building.

I still have my school report dated July 31, 1943. How it has survived so long I do not know. Under the heading County Borough of Ipswich, Education Committee, the school is shown as Rose Hill J.M. School. The “J.M.” is, I suppose, for “junior mixed”. W.G. Tilmouth, head teacher, signed the report. Her name is the only one I can recall from those wartime days.

The report is generally a good one, my attendance is shown as “excellent” and my general conduct as “very satisfactory”. My main failing seems to have been in “singing” recorded only as “fair”.

In England, in those days, students were subjected to what was known as the 11-plus examination. The results of this test decided whether the student was to attend grammar school or a secondary modern school. I succeeded in passing this examination.

Northgate Grammar School provided separate but adjacent schools for boys and girls. A tall wooden fence ran across the playing fields behind the school, effectively keeping the boys and girls apart. There was, in fact, a “ten yard rule!”  Three large buildings made up the complex, the centre one, housing the science laboratories and a swimming pool. Both boys and girls used this part of the school. All classes were segregated except, perhaps, at the sixth form level.

Northgate was on the outskirts of town and pupils had to walk or cycle to school. There was no bus service. School uniforms were worn and prefects would watch pupils on their way to school and reprimand (or report) them if they were not properly attired including, for the boys, always wearing school caps. The girls, I recall, wore some kind of floppy hat with dark green gymslip uniforms. Boys wore the regulation school uniform of grey trousers and blazer, white shirt with school tie, and dark blue cap, with piping, with the school badge, which was the Ipswich municipal crest.

The blazer was also adorned with the school badge This badge had a coloured surround representing one’s House. The six Houses were named for famous British admirals: Grenville, Duncan, Rodney, Nelson, Collingwood and Raleigh. White flannels were won in summer for cricket and tennis.

In retrospect, I wonder how my mother managed to find the money and the clothing coupons for the uniforms. These were still war years and my father was serving with the army overseas. Perhaps it was fortunate for her that my brothers attended secondary modern school that did not demand uniforms.

When air raid sirens sounded we were required to run to the shelters located at the edge of the playing fields. On one memorable occasion a German fighter plane flew low over the school grounds as the pupils were heading for the shelters. The aircraft was flying low enough that the pilot could be seen.

School days bring to mind the words of A. E. Housman:

“That is the land of lost content,
I see it shining plain
The happy highways where I went
And cannot come again.”

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  1. Russ Williams says:

    I really enjoyed this blog on the “junior mixed and infants”. I taught on exchange in Norfolk and helped prepare the 11 yr. olds for their 11 plus.
    Thanks!

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