Our move from Thornbury to Eccleshill inevitably involved enrolment at a new school:
Wellington Road Junior School was about a mile away from where we lived, and I walked there and back, lunchtimes included, every school day until I was eleven.
It was stone built with slate roofs and mullioned windows, some of them gothic in shape and set high in the walls. There was a bell tower near the head teacher’s office and this had an inscription in the stone that indicated it was an original Board School built in 1880.
I had several teachers in the earlier part of my stay there, but for my last two years leading up to the 11 plus I was very much under the permanent influence of Miss Davis, probably the most senior teacher in the school other than the head. She was highly respected, strict, methodical, skilled and sensible.
She was probably in her fifties when I knew her. She was of average height, quite slim, had a longish face and wore her greying hair swept into a bun at the back of her head. Like my mother, she put on a little make up and powder. Everything about her was sensible and controlled. She wore long, sensible woollen or worsted skirts, often some kind of herringbone or plaid, and a smart woollen twin set or blouse and cardigan and low-heeled shoes. She occasionally chose to wear some simple jewellery: a brooch, or a modest string of pearls, but no rings.
She read to us a lot in the afternoons. She would let us engage in simple handicrafts while she read, the boys often crocheting long chains of wool via the holes in old cotton bobbins. One afternoon she involuntarily revealed the softer side of herself when reading a sad passage from ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin’:
We were all listening and knitting or crocheting when we suddenly realised the narrative had stopped. When we looked up we saw that Miss Davis was attempting to say the words, but no sound was coming out, and that tears were streaming down her face. Eventually she stopped attempting to read and began to sob, her shoulders heaving and her face beginning to contort. Two girls stood up and walked down the stepped aisle and made awkward attempts to comfort her. The rest of us looked on in stunned silence.
She recovered and eventually carried on reading, but the incident always stayed in my mind and often in later years made me think about the power of art and the mysteries of the human soul.
My father was determined I should go to grammar school but some of the coaching he organised for me at home didn’t always bring happy results:
One evening I became so upset and frustrated, I threw the pen down on my exercise book and swore, saying I would never do any more, ever. The action produced an explosion of ink from the pen resulting in a huge blue-black arc on the wallpaper of the adjacent wall complete with drips and runs flowing downwards from the ceiling to the skirting board. There was silence apart from my mother’s tears, and then she attacked my father verbally and I was forgotten in the midst of their bickering.
By the time of the examination itself I had IQ tests coming out of my ears and I had more or less forgotten it was even going to happen:
There was no warning given before the day that we were to begin our 11+ examinations. I remember walking, as usual, along the Harrogate Road to school on a blustery spring morning happily fascinated by straining trees, glinting puddles and ragged crows flung about in the sky, unaware something serious was about to happen. Only when required to file through long rows of quiet, sombre desks that had appeared overnight in the main hall outside our classroom did I realise that the long anticipated day had arrived. Miss Davis took the register and had a few discreet words about it being the first day of the dreaded 11+, how we should not be flustered by the event and should approach the whole thing with confidence. We entered the hall, took our places where our names were written on a card on a desk, together with a number, and then, when prompted, began to read the instructions, fill in our individual details, and answer the questions.
Taking the 11 plus was the last significant thing I did in Bradford. After that, we moved across the Pennines to Cheshire and my Yorkshire citizenship was ended. Except that it wasn’t, of course, because it never leaves you no matter where you go or how old you become. Yorkshire remains my spiritual home even though I am no longer a resident. My childhood experience in Bradford was enormously important to me and I suppose that is why I felt impelled to write about it. I was just turned seventy when I started to write and I didn’t want to lose the memory and, more importantly, I wanted to share it with my children and anybody else who might be interested to read it.
If you take the whole piece out to read, I hope you enjoy it and that it might either remind you of your own early life or give a reasonably accurate account of life as it was lived by a little boy in Bradford immediately after the Second World War.