Knitting and Nitty Nora: a wartime schooling in Brownhills

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Although Brownhills didn’t suffer the attacks of other places, the war loomed large. Image from the Imperial War Museum.

The local history has been a bit patchy of late, thanks to a bit of a rash of news stories and the fact that I’ve been working very long hours – but I have a real treat today that’s come in from David Evans  written by longstanding  contributor and friend of the blog Pat Lynk.

Pat fondly and honestly recalls the war years going to school at Ogley Hay, Brownhills with a beautifully written recollection that I’m sure will chime with many readers here – the ever present threat of war, but also the small hardships and features of a childhood in a small, semi-urban community.

It’s worth reading other articles here about life in Brownhills during the war – the wonderful one by Andy Dennis about his mother’s pencil box from the same period – I’m sure she and Pat must have been contemporaries; the article about air raids and this about the blackout.

I’d like to thank Pat and David for such a splendid contribution, and I’d also like to apologise for the scattergun approach of late. I am getting around to stuff, but it’s quite hard to keep juggling.

Comments, memories and anything you’d like to add here are welcome: please feel free to comment here or mail me: BrownhillsBob at Googlemail dot com. Cheers!

Hopefully quieter, more peaceful times beckon.

Pat Lynk remembers the war years

I recently attended a very interesting talk given by David Evans about schools, teachers and pupils in Walsall Wood from 1850s to 1950s.

I have always lived in this area and started my school life in January 1940 at Ogley Hay Infants School in Brickiln Street/Church Road Brownhills in a mixed class. At the time children started their schooling at beginning of term following their 5th birthday. As I remember it was a fairly new building with light airy classrooms. There was a hall and the toilets were next to the cloakrooms. All the teachers were ladies. On Monday morning after registration the teacher would collect money for milk. ⅓ pint costing ½d (half a penny) daily, 2½d per week. Not all children had milk. I always went home for lunch. School hours were 9 am to 12 noon, and 1.30pm to 3.30pm.

The pencil box belonging to Andy Dennis’s mother, Barbara Brown, showing a timetable Pat may be familiar with. Click for a full size version. Picture kindly supplied by Andy Dennis.

I remember the boxes of coloured beads and a lace on which the beads were threaded, and of course the sand trays which were popular. Picture cards around the walls with ‘house’ ‘Cat’ ‘Ball’ etc spellings below, so helping with reading and spelling. Maths lessons consisted of chanting times tables, adding and subtraction taught using wooden spills, Each ten spills were bundled, the remaining number being the units.

The nurse would visit school from time to time to inspect heads, hands, ears and hair (for nits). [Nitty Nora, the bug lady! – Bob]. The dentist also visited the school to check the health of teeth. Eyes were also checked, a board would have a number of words written on it, the child would stand a few feet away, a card placed over one eye, the words read, and then the card placed of the other eye and read again. Some children needed glasses.

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The Ogley Schools were on the left here in this view that Pat would be well familiar with. Image kindly supplied by Clive Roberts.

It was also a time for childhood illnesses such as measles, mumps, chicken pox and whooping cough and I caught all of them. No inoculation in those days. As the war continued the health of some children began to deteriorate due to shortages of all foods and rationing. The government then allowed all schoolchildren to receive ⅓ pint of milk free daily to help with nourishment. Children were often tired, sleep disturbed due to air raid sirens and air raids around the area. Everyone carried gas masks.

I transferred at 7½ years of age to Ogley Hay Girls School in Church Road, the Boys’ School being the adjoining building. The two schools’ older buildings with high windows, a cloakroom. The toilets were outside. Sometimes the classrooms were cold if the boiler broke down or the coke delivery was late, then we had to wear our coats indoors. The class sizes were fairly large as evacuees from London and other vulnerable towns had to be accommodated.

The teachers, all ladies in the Girls’ School, were very strict. The desks (all facing the front of the classroom and the blackboard and teacher) were the type with a flat writing surface with inkwells, and a ‘tip-up’ seat for two people. We were introduced to writing with ‘pen and paper’ and issued with a small piece of blotting paper, and woe betide anyone who had an ink blot on their exercise books. The margin at the end of page had to be written on – no spaces left – due to the shortage of paper. The text-books became rather battered as books were shared. Maths lessons continued with more times tables chanted, long division, fractions etc all learned.

Barbara Brown’s pencil box. What a lovely thing. Click for a full size version. Picture kindly supplied by Andy Dennis.

As we became a lot older we had sewing experience, measurements taken, patterns prepared, garments cut out, some of the girls made knickers, I made a nightdress, all had to be hand-sewn – no sewing machines – and no materials wasted. Sometimes knitting was the lesson. I was fortunate having knitting needles and wool from home which I was allowed to use, other girls using wool and needles supplied by school. The pattern was always the same, the teacher would write pattern instructions on the blackboard for “turning a heel on a sock, using 4 needles”. At the end of the lesson the teacher would inspect the work, then unravel it, and re-wind it ready to be used again, such were the shortages.

During the War the government introduced a National Savings scheme for everyone to help with the War effort and children could purchase National Savings Stamps and also National Savings Certificates at school. A target shaped like a thermometer was placed outside the Council House, now the Parkview Medical Centre and library in Brownhills so that people could see how savings were mounting up.

Sometimes we had Air Raid drill. We would run to the air raid shelter situated off Church Road, as fast as possible. It was a reinforced brick building built to withstand bomb blast. There was another school in Brownhills. It was Watling Street School. I believe it was a Primary School.

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National Savings was a massive campaign – image from Alamy Stock Photo.

After 11 plus exams some girls would continue their education at a Grammar School; other girls went to Ogley Hay Senior Girls’ School in Great Charles Street, Brownhills. Boys, after 11 plus, went to a Grammar School or to Central School for Boys, now the Activities Centre. The Girls’ School was more modern with light airy classrooms. Girls moved between different classrooms for various lessons. There was a Science room, a Domestic Science room etc, a hall and a sports field.

Once again girls made their own cookery apron and cap sewing by hand, still no sewing machines. At age 13  I took an exam and continued my studies at Cannock High School which was a school for Commercial studies, shorthand, typing, book-keeping, commerce etc, plus other studies, English, Maths etc.

Patricia Lynk, February 2017

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8 Responses to Knitting and Nitty Nora: a wartime schooling in Brownhills

  1. David Evans says:

    Hi Bob
    a huge thanks to Pat for these wonderful notes. One erratum: mine.. For ” pen and paper ” please read ” pen and ink”. Sorry, Pat
    Kind regards
    David….in detention and busy writing lines.

  2. Angela says:

    Remember walking into the hall every morning to the music of Green Sleeves.

  3. How lovely to read about the good old days as I call them, when boys and girls went to school to learn some thing that would come in useful after they left school. Like the times tables, sewing, cooking, laundry, the boys were taught carpentry, metal work, how to treat a Lady and respect your elders. I started school in 1926, all I learnt at school has been very useful to me in my life, in maths the highest we were taught was fractions and decimals, but to me that has been sufficient to get me through my life.I can sit down and know how to use a knife and fork properly, and talk to anyone without feeling out of place.

  4. John Hopkins says:

    Facinating, thank you Pat. It is so important that these memories are recorded.

  5. aerreg says:

    thanks once more for the memory names are going through my head from miss lane miss alan miss horobin in the infants black pumps short trousers girls if dad was in work gymn slip bottle green nickers with a pocket inthe leg mr thompson reg oakes mr smith junior boys miss hall senior girls the school band in the infants the favoured one had a tamborien collecting books fo r the forces earned you a badge from private to field marshall then the big move to central your first long trousers there was alrso mr hayes the truant man treat days pancake day the old rhym was sang half day off lovely warm school milk urg yes we were some times mucky kids but we were care free and happy we were awaire of a war but like the old saying little kids were seen but not told god bless gain thanks

  6. Pedro says:

    Thank you Pat for a lovely description of school life from 1940.

    It is interesting to read Geof’s account from 1926, and to see the changes that are taking place some 14 years later.

  7. Andy Dennis says:

    Thanks, Pat, very interesting. The timetable in the pencil box is dated 1941, which would have been the start of mom’s last year at school.

    Other diseases included scarlet fever, which mom had a dose of, and polio, which left some kids terribly crippled. Thankfully, these things are almost unheard of today.

  8. aerreg says:

    thought for today shrove tuesday a school day ryhm pancacke day a very happy day if you dont give us a holiday we will all stay away tou were given a half day holiday on pankake day to our younger membours of your wonderful page my apolagies if i bore you with my rambaling but you and your reserchers do bring back some wonderful happy hours to old uns like me god bless you for what you do

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