Memories of Victoria School 1920s – Eric Hughes
My formal education was received in its entirety at Victoria School so that any successes I have had must, in part, be attributed to the teaching I was subjected to at the Victoria School Wrexham. The years I attended school were between 1915 and 1925, it recently occurred to me that you might be interested in the conditions and staffing of your school in those early days.
I was either 3 or 4 years of age when my Mother took me to school for the first time and it was natural that I would go to the Victoria School because we lived in Princess Street which is close by. The school had been in existence very few years at the time of my introduction but today it looks unchanged externally. This remark is made on my judgement when passing the school a few years ago.
My first impression when I was led through the door in the centre of the three buildings which was labelled ‘INFANTS’ was that we entered a large central hall and were greeted by a white-headed lady who introduced herself as Miss Harris and that she was the Headmistress. She drew my attention to the nearby rocking horse, climbing frame and see-saw in that part of the hall used as a play area. This was the beginning of a happy period of three as four years.
I learned later that the building which housed the bell tower was for the ‘Big Boys’ and the third part was Ian the ‘Big Girls’.
After the school summer holidays in 1922 I was transferred to the ‘Big Boys’ section and life assumed a more serious form. School hours were from 9.00 am to 12 noon and from 1.15 to 4.00 pm. We were ‘called’ to each session of the day by a bell in the clock tower which, I found out later, was operated by one of the senior boys who hauled on a rope in the ‘ Teachers room’. Then at 3 minutes to the hour more urgent appeal was made by the bell puller and this sat my warning that I had to run from my home to get through the gates before 9.00. We all assembled in the playground in front of the school and formed lines to classes from one to seven.
Each class of about 45 boys would be headed by its own teacher and we would march into school. At this point, there would be a lot of jostling and pushing as boys always have done and still do. Coats and caps would be deposited in the cloakrooms and chatter would be subdued by the attendance of the teacher and then into the assembly hall.
The entrance was under the bell tower and the layout was that Standard 6 was the first room on the right hand followed by the Head Master’s room then Standard 1 followed by Standard 2 and finally Standard 5. The back of the school was the Assembly Hall which was across the whole building but this was split into Classrooms 7, 4 and 3 during teaching periods. To achieve this division of the Assembly Hall there were 6 sliding partitions from floor to ceiling.
It was the duty of two of the senior boys to get these partitions into place by turning each panel 45 degrees and sliding them to the end of the track. Every morning and afternoon each team competed with the other to get the panels folded first. It can be imagined how much noise there was with orders and counter orders being given, especially when one of the panels became stuck. Both the operators and the spectators thoroughly enjoyed this activity.
But l am rushing on.
The boys left the cloakrooms and assembled class by class in the assembly hall where we would be addressed by the head master and a short religious service would be held. One teacher would play the piano and we would sing hymns from large sheets hanging from blackboards in front of the assembly, after which we would make our way to our classroom.
I must describe my recollection of each teacher for your amusement and edification.
Class One, in my time, had a very pretty student teacher who was petite and demure with the name of Miss Smallwood. This was my first love and my first experience of jealousy because Class Two’s teacher paid, in my opinion, too much attention to Miss Smallwood and worse still she simpered and smiled at his advances. He was tall and in some people’s eyes good looking with fair hair. Ever since that experience I have mistrusted men who are tall and worse still had crinkly hair. At this time soldiers were returning from the First World War and I think he was one of them. His name was Percy Hanmer and believe he was the son of a local tobacconist.
Class Three was headed by Mr. Davies who doubled as the music teacher and played the piano at Assembly. He was a balding pince-nez spectacled man of small stature and equally small personality and limited teaching ability (in our opinion).
Class Four was a joy. Mr. Moore who had recently returned from War in the middle East had many attributes. He was jolly, boisterous and had a motor cycle with a side Car. He lived in Bersham Road which was close to Princess Street and I occasionally saw him at weekends. He had another claim to popularity. He had brought back from his war a large selection of stereoscopic pictures of the war and the countries in which he had served. (Yet another attribute he possessed was the ability to attract the attention of any boy he chose by aiming a piece of chalk at the victim and was deadly accurate up to a range of twenty feet.I can assure you that it hurt, but it amused the rest of the boys.)
The photographs were displayed for the whole school to see on a magic lantern type projector. This brought us into contact with the most fearsome of all the teachers. His name was Mr. Fagan and his appearance was appropriate to his name. He was grossly fat with a waistline which seemed to match his height and he had cultivated a grey beard. He was the woodwork master and controlled his class with a rod of iron and the ability to throw anything which came to hand at any miscreant and this was accompanied by a bellow which was more frightening than the article thrown. As well as his woodwork teaching, which has stood me in good stead over many years of DIY, he was the most practical teacher so was responsible for the erection of the magic lantern screen.
Teaching was now becoming serious and so was the attitude of the teachers. Standard 5 was led by a very dedicated, serious and strict man named Parry who came to school from his home in Brymbo. His class was the scholarship class and was the only opportunity that we had of taking an exam to decide whether we would obtain a scholarship to Grove Park School which was the local Grammar School. My bad luck was that in this year I contracted diphtheria which was then, and still is, a serious and debilitating illness which kept me out school for many weeks. Once identified by the local doctor by the name of Drinkwater I was taken in the newly acquired, and first, Motor Ambulance to the isolation hospital at Croesnewydd. This meant an absence from School for about 9 weeks and so I was in no condition to take the Scholarship exam. Mr. Parry always wore a navy-blue Serge Suit and was always at neat appearance.
Standard 6 was controlled very strictly by a man whose name cannot be remembered because he was known throughout the school by the title ‘ner one’ because he had a persistence of using a shortening of ‘another one’ to ‘a ner one’. A friend and I fell foul of this teacher with several punishments with a well-used cane on the outstretched hand. This caning left red weal’s across the fingers and the hope of the culprit was to pull his hand in just as the cane descended, thus lightening the fierceness of the punishments.
Occasionally ‘ner one’ tried to hold your fingers which gave us an opportunity to pull back in the hope that it would strike his hand but I never saw this occur. For some reason when I and a friend moved out of his orbit to Standard 7 he led us into the new teacher’s presence with the suggestion that we needed watching. Standard 7 was a Mr. Hughes. A curious man who taught well but had a disturbing habit of rubbing his hands together as he walked down the aisles of desks and gloating to himself with a smile on his face which looked sadistic. At least his thoughts had nothing to do with teaching and when addressed he came out of this reverie as if he had left another world. Another feature was one which I liked. He had a new suit every year. He lived in Rhos, to which he travelled by local electric tram …. long since gone.
Now we come to the ‘Headmaster’. He was strict, fair and I am sure loved his job. He always wore fawn coloured suits and was immaculate. He had a gold albert across his waistcoat and looked prosperous, though he was very probably working for a pittance. For my final three months (October to December) he taught those who remained. It was Standard ‘ Ex Seven’ and I enjoyed those four months which is not to say that I did not enjoy school but some parts were better than others. As Well as taking Class ‘Ex Seven’ he took the class out on one or two mornings to a nearby allotment and taught us the rudiments of gardening.
The lessons kept to a pattern which only varied in that as we progressed through the school the basic subjects developed and new subjects such as Science and Silent Reading were added. The day started with a Scripture lesson which was short and generally unpopular. Then Arithmetic in one form or another occupied the time between 9.30 and 10.30 which heralded ‘play time’. This comprised running about the playground exercising our limbs and playing ‘tag’ and fighting. I, being very small and light, fancied my chances of fighting from the back of a big Chinese boy who carried me with ease. His name was Ping Yuen and was the only nonwhite face in the school. He was the son of the local laundryman (equivalent to today’s dry cleaner).
His clothes were far superior to ours and I remember that his suit was of navy blue serge. After this diversion, we were called to order and marched into school to learn such subjects as Composition, English, Silent Reading, Algebra, Metrication, Drawing, Music and Health Care. I should mention the ‘Woodworking’ class but as this occurred only in our last year it occupied little of the school curriculum, as did Gardening (about three times while I was in the Top class). The afternoon included some of these and so by 3.45 pm we were ready for our exciting task of converting the three rooms into an Assembly Hall, where we had yet another short service before we were let free into the streets. Boys who lived a distance away from the school cycled to school.
There were ‘exams’ to be undertaken but I cannot remember any stress concerning the results. After all I had not experienced the ‘scholarship’ exams so that it remained that we got to the age of fourteen and then looked for a job.
It must be remembered that in the period of which I was in school it was one of shortages caused by the War so that pencils and paper were in short supply and occasionally the lower classes used only a slate pencil and slate. Heating of the school too was sporadic according, as I recall, a mixture of fuel shortage and breakdown in the system. The heating was achieved by a giant boiler in a room outside the school premises which was stoked by the school caretaker. This man seemed to have a big variety of jobs including cleaning, locking up, supervising the arrival of goods etc. etc.
He seemed to be a bad-tempered man but who wouldn’t be with such a job being at the beck and call of everyone! In the winter months, the coal and wood fireplace in each class room needed much attention. That remark reminds me of the ‘game’ enjoyed by the wilder boys. This was to find the teachers ‘cane’ and to push it up the chimney in the mistaken belief that if it was thus ‘lost’ it could not be replaced. At the beginning of ‘term ‘ we always examined the blackboard to check whether a new cane had been supplied.
A singular item in the last year was a visit to the local indoor swimming pool. This meant being marched to a part of the town which was unfamiliar and comprised some rundown seedy buildings, one of which was the ‘Swimming Pool’ Some boys had bathing trunks but in the main we were supplied with heavy twill ‘drawers’ with ‘Wrexham Council’ inscribed upon them. Presumably this was to deter thieving but I cannot imagine anyone wanting such a garment. I remember that when attired with this garment and entering the water it weighed me down so that I was timorous of entering the pool and kept to the shallow end while praying that we would be called out of the pool.
This was the only ‘sport’ I endured at School. There were no games of any kind so that ‘playtime’ was in the school yard running about as I have described earlier. Of course, there were no school meals because we all went home for lunch or, as it was called in those times, ‘dinner’.
The school desks I am sure need no describing as they seem to have been unaltered until recent times. They were made for two boys and comprised a tilt-up scat and a tilt-up shelf with an inkwell which provided ammunition for wayward boys to throw at the teacher when nerves became stretched.
I do not think that there has been any change in the holiday periods. Easter was a two-week break and there was a Summer holiday in August of four weeks with one or two ‘half term’ breaks comprising a Friday and Monday for non attendance at school.
We had no school uniform but towards the end of my stay it was decided that we should have caps (for which we would pay) and as my Father was a Draper I was asked to take several samples home for choice. This was my only claim to fame while at school. There were no ‘school trips’ or visits to any place of interest, not were there any ‘Teachers evenings’ or meetings between teachers and parents.
I was 14 on 23rd September 1925 but was kept at school in the aforementioned ‘X7’ class until the Christmas holidays. I then left.
Source: Victoria School, Wrexham; Eric. E. Hughes. 51 Wolsey, Road Moor Park, Northwood, Middlesex. HA 62 ER
Written 3rd March 1997