logo - Join me in the 1900s early C20th
Florence Cole as a child

Less pleasant experiences
in Victorian and Edwardian schools

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The school lavatories in the early 1900s

The school lavatories consisted of about eight cubicles, housed in a separate building It had the sewage pipe going the whole length. The lavatories weren't flushed every time they were used: they had to be flushed out all together from time to time with buckets of water, and this was another job for the school caretaker.

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Discipline at school in the early 1900s

I have two unpleasant memories of schooldays:

One unpleasant memory was when my mother refused to have my hair tied back as required by the school. My father went up to the school about it and even wrote to the Board of Education. The reply was that it wasn't a byelaw but a request as a precaution to control head vermin. For some reason my father refused to comply, and I was singled out at school. The teachers used to have a cup of tea at morning break on the landing, and the next day as we filed past them, my teacher pointed a finger at me and with all the venom she could muster, said loudly, "That's Florence Cole".

More repercussions were not long in coming. My mother had to go out for some reason and as my father was in bed, I had to stay away from school to be on hand for him. In the afternoon when I returned to school and was in the assembly line in the playground, the teacher said so everyone could hear, "And where were you this morning Florence Cole?". Childlike, I told the truth and said I had to look after my father. She in turn mimicked in a most derisory tone, "She had to look after her father", which of course brought peals of laughter from everyone. My father on the other hand received a letter from the Board of Education cautioning him that he would be summoned if his child did not attend school.

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Being caned - a seemingly daily activity

The Headmaster of Silver Street School was Mr Stewart. [Note that the girls and boys parts of the school were entirely separate with their own headmistress and headmaster.] We all feared Mr Stewart but respected him. He was a disciplinarian and used the cane efficiently. Anyone late for school usually got a cut with the cane on each hand.

The next year our teacher was Mr Parry, who seemed to take a dislike to nearly all the class and very seldom did he get through the day without using the cane. Many a time he lined up the whole class - nearly 50 of us - and gave us one cut on the hand. However he was a good teacher.

If you can add anything to this page, I would be pleased to hear from you.

Pat Cryer

Mr Whitehead, another teacher at Silver Street School, took an instant dislike to me. I was frequently hit by his cane, not only on my hand but around his calves as well.

One day in class Fatty Clarke passed wind which Mr Whitehead heard, but he didn't know who had done it. When the class was asked, no-one would own up. So he decided to cane the whole class!

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Attempts to avoid being caned

One day the class was queuing up and suddenly I heard Whitehead call out my name. He said he wanted to see me as soon as we got into class. I went out to the front by his desk where he accused me of pinching the boy in front of me in the line. I hadn't done so and called out to the boy to confirm this. The boy, Fatty Clarke (again), did so and said that neither I nor anyone else had pinched him. Yet Whitehead was determined to cane me and I was just as determined not to be caned for something I hadn't done.

We started wrestling around, with Whitehead trying to get my hand. Eventually I gave him as hard a push as I could. He went backward against a desk and quick as a flash fell over and crashed to the floor. I gave one horrified look and fled out of the class, down the stairs and ran home as fast as I could.

I told Mum and said I wasn't going back to that school again. I then went to another school.

Two friends I made who lived in Silver St were Bill Such and Doris Chalk. Other friends were Ted Gedge, Francis Dunne (known as Son) and Les Windard who lived next door in Sheldon Road.

Quoted from the written recollections of Alfred William de Grussa (known as Fred) born January 1912, and provided by his granddaughter Carolyn Middleton

I got the cane once for not knowing what 5 times 8 was in mental arithmetic. How things have changed!

Tom Wallace

My second unpleasant memory was when I was in trouble again with the same school mistress. It was a needlework lesson and we were making pillow cases. At the end of the lesson we had to fold up the cases and were enjoying ourselves getting as much air into them as possible and causing a bang when we folded them. The mistress got annoyed and said the next girl to do it would have to come out to the front.

It so happened that I, along with my friends had some balloons. They must have been very cheap as they would not blow up easily. During this lesson my friend told me to blow mine up, and I had a go. Before it was any size, it burst. Immediately the mistress demanded, 'Who did that?', thinking it was a pillow case. Some little tell-tale said that it was Florence Cole who burst a balloon. I was sent to stand in the hall so that the headmistress would see me, which she did. After hearing my story, she gave me a letter to take home to my father asking for his opinion about what they should do. Should they cane me? My father's answer was that they should.

When she read his reply, she told me that she was loath to do it because it would be a disgrace and my name would have to go down in the black book. So after another little pep talk, I was dismissed.

You can see that I was often in trouble at school. Yet I had two prizes for good behaviour. One was a print of a well-known picture called 'Between Two Fires', the fires being two women who were either side of a dining room table with a solitary male sitting there. The second was a small Royal Dalton vase. I also got a prize for a wild flower collection.

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This website Join me in the 1900s is a contribution to the social history of everyday life in 20th century Britain from the early 1900s to about 1960, seen through personal recollections and illustrations, with the emphasis on what it was like to live in those times.