Schooldays in the 1950s
By Marian Beck.
Marian Smith prior to starting at Bangor-street School
Reading about schools today and talking to young people about their thoughts and feelings on how they are taught and the way they behave makes me wonder what they would make of being at my school in the 1950’s. I am well aware that even for that day and age the regime at that establishment was strict in the extreme. The school wasn’t a swanky upper class organisation or even a grammar school, it was in a very modest part of Blackburn and most of the pupils came from poorer backgrounds but to say the standards were high would be a major understatement. My school was Bangor Street Secondary Modern School, home to youngsters who had failed the eleven plus exam.
Bangor-street School showing the girls playground. Fraternising with the boys was taboo.
Bangor Street School was a two storied, red brick building which housed 200 girls in the lower level and the same number of boys in the upper level, the crucial part of this arrangement was that the girls and boys never, ever came into each others company – it was a mortal sin for us girls to be caught talking to a boy. My friend Marjorie Robinson, remembers passing the time of day with a boy and being slapped hard by the gym mistress for doing so. It’s just as well the punishment didn’t put her off talking to the boy for good as the pair married in 1963; she became Mrs. Alan Thorne and they moved to Australia where they have lived for over forty years.
So strict was the rule on not talking to boys that I was told I could not walk home with my brother who attended the boy’s part of the school. The reason given was that I was in school uniform and the general public would not know he was my brother and might think there was some impropriety!!!! Even eye contact with the boys was discouraged and this proved to be a real problem when we had outdoor games. The boys would hang over the walls separating the two playgrounds and yell out inappropriate remarks - they were not put off by the constant cuffs across the ear which were doled out by their school masters. It didn’t help that we girls did our gym in blouse and knickers. Now this might sound like the key to raising a young man’s passion to great heights but believe me, if you saw the garments you’d wonder they bothered to look at all. We were allowed only one button to be undone on our voluminous white, long sleeved blouses and our regulation navy blue knickers were huge, baggy creations with elastic sewn around the legs which almost reached our knees; sexy they were not!!!
A class photgraph of girls dressed in their immaculately cared for uniforms.
School uniform played an important part in keeping up the image of the school. Our uniform consisted of a navy blue gym slip, a shapeless garment tied around the middle with a matching sash (prefects wore a distinguishing yellow sash), a white blouse, red and yellow striped tie, white ankle socks and black lace up shoes. Outdoor wear was a navy blue gabardine mac, a beret with the school badge on the front and in winter a red and yellow striped scarf and navy blue woollen gloves. Woe betide anyone who deviated from the laid down rules of correct uniform; no wearing a belt instead of the sash, no slip on or buckled shoes and to be seen in uniform out of school without your beret on it was a cardinal sin. Our uniforms were regularly inspected by the headmistress and I well remember girls being sent to press a crumpled gym slip or creased blouse in the ‘housewifery room’. The sight of anyone wearing jewellery, make up or nail varnish was enough to send the mistresses into shock and girls were sent to the staff room to be stripped of such fripperies.
Cooking and housewifery was taken very seriously from the earliest days of the School
Every morning there was a formal assembly in the hall, teachers sat in a row on a stage and, as there was no seating, we girls sat in rows on the floor. We started each day with a hymn, a prayer, a talk from the headmistress and any notices which had to be made. This was the time when wrongdoers were often brought to book and I well remember a girl in my class who was a prefect and had been found playing truant the previous day, being brought out in front of the whole school and stripped of her yellow sash and badge. The poor girl was left standing in embarrassed isolation in her shapeless gymslip whilst the rest of the notices were read, accolades doled out to deserving pupils and the final blessing given. I’ve never forgotten the incident and wonder if the ‘human rights’ card would come into play nowadays!!
In the classroom we sat in rows of paired desks and most of our books were kept inside the desks, there was no humping of enormous rucksack around the school as is the case nowadays. Inkwells and nibbed pens of awful quality were still in use in the 1950s. and we all found it hard to master copperplate writing which was demanded of us. Every morning an ink monitor would go round filling up the inkwells so that we were ready for the days work; it was expected that this be done without spilling even the tiniest drop. Needless to say no one ever wanted to do the job.
All our lessons were done in a very formal way. In English spelling and poetry were learnt by rote as were our tables. This was always done for ten minutes or so before we got into the core of whatever we were doing. I have to say, I was never any good at arithmetic but I can still say all my tables without making any mistakes.
One of my very favourite lessons however, was cookery and housewifery. We didn’t just learn to cook, we learned to clean, wash, iron in fact everything that helped to run a house smoothly. I can’t see today’s young girls taking to lessons like that very easily but I enjoyed it enormously. Also we had the most inspirational teacher, Miss Smith, who made what could have been a mundane and tedious subject into something of interest. She was kind, caring and understanding and I’m glad she taught me.
Girls playing netball in their "knickers."
GAMES AND SPORTS
The playing of games and sports was always very much encouraged for the girls at Bangor Street. In the hall was a gym which included a climbing frame with ropes, a ‘horse’ and the ‘box’ for leaping over and a high jump bar. These were for use when we were unable to go outside for our PT lessons though the weather had to be pretty bad before we stayed inside. We had no playing field and games were played on the asphalt yard, there were many cuts and bruises from falling on the hard surface but, unlike today, health and safety was not an issue and just dusted ourselves off and carried on. Our main sports were netball and rounders but we also sprinted and had relays. All classes were split into four houses, Austen (green), Darling (blue), Mcdonald (my house, yellow) and Wordsworth (my friend Marjorie’s house, red). Our houses were pitted against each other for all games and there was a great deal of rivalry between us. Once a year we had a sports day where girls from all the schools in Blackburn competed against each other, this was held at Pleckgate and we sporty girls looked forward to it with relish.
Once a week we went swimming at Blakey Moor Baths. Our visit to the baths entailed a two mile walk whatever the weather. In winter the walk there was pretty daunting but coming back was truly awful when we were chilled to the marrow with our wet hair almost frozen to our scalps. Marjorie said her lasting memory was of the freezing cold wind whipping against her bare legs making them red and chapped. However, the summer walks were really quite pleasant and by the time we got to the baths a lot of us had divested ourselves of half of our uniforms in order to get in the pool quickly!! Our annual swimming gala was held at Belper Street Baths and again, this was something we looked forward to with great pleasure.
Speechday at Bangor-street. Although this is in 1938 things would not have changed that much in the early 1950s.
I think most girls in the school looked forward to the special times at school. It was a chance to get away from the routine of everyday lessons and do something different. We had nature walks when we would go into Corporation Park or into the countryside surrounding Blackburn (little of which is left now) to learn about birds, wild flowers and trees and I still remember a lot of what I learned on those walks. At Easter time we made cards and painted eggs in our art classes and always had a lovely service to celebrate as we did in autumn for the harvest festival. Then we would take fruit and vegetables which were given out after the service to poorer pupils and their families. Coming from a family of thirteen I was usually given something to take home but as my father was a gardener and my sister and I always took masses of produce we often ended up taking home the stuff we had taken in the first place!!!
Then of course was the best time of all – Christmas, how we loved Christmas; making the trimmings to decorate the classrooms, making Christmas goodies in cookery and of course, the nativity. I always loved that and longed to be chosen to take a main part in the play. However it was not meant to be and the best I got to do was to read a passage from the bible and sing a verse from the carol, ‘Oh Little Town of Bethlehem’. Nevertheless it was my favourite time and I still think about it all with fondness and joy.
These are some of my memories but I have so many more, far too many to be written down here. I hope there is someone out there who will see this, be reminded of their times at school in the 1950s and submit their memories to this wonderful site.
by Marian Beck (nee Smith)
Pupil at Bangor Street Secondary Modern School
From 1954 - 1957