Monthly Archives: February 2017

Feb 6 2017

Memories of St Oswald's School »

Margaret Adams from the ‘Tuesday Club’ has written this article for the Parish magazine.  It is a delightful recount of St Oswald’s School in the past.


For me one of the highlights of Christmas this year was attending the Tuesday Team’s Christmas Coffee Morning in December. Listening to the children from St Oswald’s School who came to sing to us so beautifully, I was transported back to the time when I myself started School in St Oswald’s infants class.


It was the middle of a very deep winter and we had just moved into a new council house near the school lane end. It was very cold, and the only means of heating was a coal fire which let most of the heat go up the chimney.


Home and school had been challenging till then as one of our family members had serious mobility issues. Mr Wilson was the head teacher then and immediately made provision for us as a family, and this seemed to transform everything in all our lives. He was a very compassionate person who believed in bringing music into children’s lives. He seemed to know that this could be a pathway to healing and wholeness. Mrs Bell was the infant teacher then, a very caring and motherly person.


Every morning our assemblies were accompanied with music, piano, and singing of hymns. We were told to stand tall and breathe well, NO SITTING DOWN ON THE FLOOR. If Mr Wilson thought we weren’t up to scratch, then it was back to the hall before hometime to get it right.


For me this was great because I have always liked music, and the focus here was not all about tests and written work, even though these happened as well.


We had a Mrs Wilson who was the county music adviser for schools and she developed the idea of school orchestras. We had violin and recorder lessons all within school time. If parents could not afford instruments then they could be loaned from the school for those who were interested. It seemed that even the poorest families were not left out.


We did country dancing with the boys, who would rather have been  out playing football or getting mud everywhere. This was done with music from a wind-up gramophone. We were taught English folk songs such as ‘Greensleeves’ and ‘Early one morning’ and many more. Although we weren’t aware then of composers such as Ralph Vaughan Williams or Cecil Sharpe they had their influence on our lives.


We played skipping games at playtime to songs that rhymed to the turning of the rope (boys seemed to prefer marbles), and often the singing would continue en route to the classroom where it had to stop. Mr Wilson often whistled his way round the school so we always knew where he was. If he arrived quietly then we knew it was time to be quiet.


In every class we were read to before hometime. One story was Edmond de Amicis, From the Apennines to the Andes, which we enjoyed a chapter a day, and was about an Italian boy whose mother leaves home in search of work to support her family. Not hearing anything for months he sets out from his village to travel to the Andes where she was headed. His journey is fraught with danger and dead ends. He eventually finds his mother who is ill but is overjoyed to see her son.


I also remember a student teacher from St Bede’s College who told us about the journeys of St Paul using a lot of maps and diagrams of the Mediterranean.


Boys and girls were sometimes taught separately for things like football and needlework and knitting of small things like winter mittens. Back then we were taught to be creative and clothing had to be recycled in families and neighbours as we emerged from the war. All our food was rationed up till 1954. There were hot dinners cooked in the school kitchen and this must have been a lifeline to some of the larger families during the food rationing period. It was comforting to smell food cooking when playtime came around although in my family we were able to go home for our meal. A vegetable garden was made at the side of the playground for children to be involved in.


The classrooms were heated individually by large coke-fired stoves which were constantly refuelled by Mr Gleason who seemed to be always carrying two hods of coal around the school to keep all the individual stoves well fuelled and the classrooms warm. Although the classroom stoves were guarded, no-one ever got burnt; we knew not to get too near, as all of us had coal fires at home and this was never an issue. The children’s “loos” were across the schoolyard and had to be heated by oil stoves to prevent them freezing in winter.


We were given responsibilities for helping other children who might be finding school life difficult. Older children were given tasks like filling ink wells or ringing the school bell for playtime and hometime. Pencils also had to be sharpened everyday as there were no biros.

When children are given a measured amount of responsibility we are giving them trust and a feeling of self-worth, and that all-important sense of belonging to the place they are in.


There were many situations where children who found school life difficult were given opportunities to concentrate on things they were good at. But, yes, we did do academic work also. We were given tests in mental arithmetic every term; we also had to learn tables by heart and some poetry. I can remember a time when home and school seemed like one and the same thing. Mother kept in touch with the teachers. St Oswald’s was the school that she and her brothers and sister had also attended as children.


Margaret Adams

Posted by: Ms Wilson Categories: Newsletter