Based on childhood recollections
of family life in north
London in the early 1900s.
Secondary school in the 1900s - for the chosen few
My brothers Jim and Ted also started at the same elementary school as me,
and they were both put in for the scholarship [as the 11-plus exam was called].
I wasn't. I don't know whether that was because I was a girl or because the
school didn't think I was good enough. Ted passed to a school at Lower Edmonton
and Jim went to The Latymer, which was a much more renowned school where the
teachers wore gown and the girls wore navy drill slips and white blouses with
two colour blue ties. In the summer, both the boys and the girls wore straw
hats with the Latymer badge on the band. I think that most of the children were
paid for. We were a working class family and my mother could not afford to buy
the badge. I clearly remember Jim going up to his bedroom and drawing the badge
on the band of his hat and embroidering it. I get very sad when I think that
he had to do that.
When the results of the scholarship came though, the names of those who passed
were read out in all the classrooms. When my brother Ted's name was read out,
it was by the mistress who had cause to dislike me, as no doubt she had been
reprimanded by the headmistress over the whole
affair of my hair. She said in a loud voice so everyone could hear, "Florence
Cole, your brothers will be ashamed to take you out in later life". It was not
so, as my brothers have always been there for me.
Jim was very industrious at school and when he left the Latymer, he was its
top boy. He passed entrance exams to both Oxford and Cambridge, but our father
wouldn't let him go because he had to earn to support the family, our father
having been invalided out from work. Jim bitterly resented this because he said
that he could have managed to do both.
Further Education in the 1900s via evening class
Money had a lot to do with the quality and extent of education at those times.
The same was true in my husband's family. He was one of nine children and whereas
his two youngest brothers went to London University, his family could not afford
to send him because they were, at the time, still bringing up young children.
All his qualifications came from evening classes while he was earning in full
time work during the day.
The conclusion of 1900s formal education
I left school at 14 and my mother sent me to earn money in a factory making
men's shirts. I was only a child at the time and had been brought up to do whatever
my parents said. However, I did resent it. I was always good at mental arithmetic
at school and could easily have gone into a much better job if my parents had
bothered with me. I could have worked in a shop, for example.
I don't remember any of my school friends going to work in service at the
big houses. Perhaps it was dying out by then. Certainly my aunts of a generation
earlier had been in that sort of employment.
Some of the boys were attached to various businesses to work their way up
and learn the trade. My husband's brother Bill started out as an errand boy
and the story goes that when he wanted to leave for something better, he was
given bad references because he was such a good worker that his employer wanted
to keep him.
This website Join me in the 1900s is a contribution to the social history of everyday life in early to mid 20th century Britain, seen through personal recollections and illustrations, with the emphasis on what it was like to live in those times. It is © Pat Cryer.