Yvonne Taylor (nee Nicholson)
Memories of Balby Street School
I attended Balby Street from 1955 to 1962, as one of the pupils from Conisbrough who had to walk down the crags to and from school. In winter we braved the snow and the steep icy paths, in spring we picked bluebells on the way to school to grace the `Nature Table´ and in summer we dodged the grass fires that sometimes raged in the afternoon. I resented the fact that I had to go all the way to a school in Denaby, when Conisbrough Morley Place school was in fact nearer, but Balby Street, and Mrs Chadwick in particular, did me proud, getting me through the 11 plus and setting me on a course that sent me to Oxford University.
I began in the infants class of a teacher we called `Miss Stacka´, though on mature refection I think her surname must have been `Thacker´ or even `Thackrah. My September birthday made me too old already for the nursery class, whose cosy classroom with a coal fire burning in winter made me envious. Back then the teachers sat perched at a high Dickensian-style desk on a high stool with a low back (a bit like a latter-day bar stool) but they disappeared within a couple of years, to be replaced by more approachable low tables and chairs. I remember that the high stools were recycled to become `thrones´ for the May queens, the new queen in a red robe and the `retiring´ queen in blue. There are even dim memories of a maypole. By the time I reached the end of junior school the May queens had gone, giving way to school prefects, and I was thrilled to be appointed the first Head Girl in 1961. That was the year the school celebrated its 50th anniversary. Every pupil received a commemorative inscribed fountain pen, and that saw the end of the old dipping pens and inkwells we had used until that time. Being left-handed I hated handwriting lessons, and always ended up with blots and smudges on the page and ink on my fingers. The ink was kept in a storeroom at the foot of the stairs leading to the office of the infants´ headmistress, and it was the job of the ink monitors to decant it into earthenware jugs and then walk around the classroom filling the inkwells.
However, I´m running too far ahead. In my era we were of course still in the large 1911 brick building, with infants on the crags side and juniors on the Denaby side. The playgrounds were asphalt and we were not allowed to play on the only grassy area, adjacent to the infants playground, perhaps because the air raid shelters were still there even though WWII had ended ten years previously. I passed through the hands of Miss Walker and Miss Crossland (who may have been married ladies, but their pupils never designated them as such) and completed the infants section in the class of Mrs Ward, whom I remember as a talented piano player. On one occasion Mrs Ward sent me out into the assembly hall to check the time on the big clock. Had she forgotten her watch, or was it a test? Anyway, at the age of seven I was dumbfounded by the Roman numerals on the clock face. A passing senior pupil asked what my problem was, and when I explained told me that it was `five and twenty past nine´. How quaint that sounds now. I was sprung when I parroted this response to Mrs Ward, who was by then teaching us to say the more modern `twenty-five past´.
The school caretaker during all of my time at Balby Street was Mr Keywood, who lived in a house on the edge of the junior girls playground. At Christmas-time he donned a red suit and made an appearance as Father Christmas, to the delight of the assembled infants school. He delivered our crates of free milk to the classrooms, kept the boilers stoked, and, poor fellow, hosed out the lavatories. Talking of free milk reminds me of the short-lived experiment with issuing a daily ration of cod liver oil capsules to each child. They tasted disgusting, and the boys (and some girls) used them as pellets in playground battles. Cod liver oil was not as bad, however, as the seemingly endless round of polio vaccinations that we were subjected to. We lived in fear of vaccination days being suddenly sprung upon us.
At that time there were still male teachers in the junior school, but by the time I graduated from the infants it had become an all-female domain, except for the headmaster, Mr Hetherington. I went into a composite class of eight and nine year olds under the direction of Mrs Firth, another musician, where I remained for two years. I was a goody two shoes, accustomed to being a teacher´s pet, and I was horrified to be hauled up for talking in class one day and sent to stand at the back of the room. Who should enter the classroom, on an errand, but my admired older brother. I was mortified, and added to my own humiliation by promptly bursting into tears. Never again did I utter an unsanctioned word in class. Three times a year were given the same unvarying reading and arithmetic tests, and `cow, summer, moon, stool´, and the fact that ½ + ? = ? are forever etched in my memory.
Friday afternoons were devoted to community singing for the whole junior school. Led by Mrs Firth on the piano we belted out old standards like `The Derby Ram´, `What Shall We Do With the Drunken Sailor´ and `Early One Morning´. She must have had an American songbook too, because I can still remember singing `Li´l Liza Jane´, and wondering where on earth Baltimore was. Our choral efforts sometimes culminated in an music spectacular held at the Denaby Baths (winter format), in which all local schools participated. This was under the direction of a Mr Gavall, who was, I have since discovered, the Director of Music for the West Riding education department. One year he arranged for us to repeat the performance in the grounds of Tickhill Castle, and we were all firmly of the opinion that he lived there!
In my last two years at Balby Street I was taught by Mrs Chadwick, whom I remember as a gifted and caring teacher. Educational methods were beginning to change, and one day she organised us to help her rearrange the classroom from the front-facing regimented rows of desks into informal groupings which remained from then on. We began to work on projects and themes rather than the daily rotation of diary writing, arithmetic and composition in the morning, followed by less taxing subjects like nature study, art and PE in the afternoon. Most of our project work centred on the world tour being undertaken by Mr Hetherington and his wife (on sabbatical) as we tracked their voyages on the world´s great cruise liners, and their adventures in America, Canada, Australia and South Africa.
Other teachers I remember well were Mesdames Sheldrake and Cranage, though I was never in any of their classes. School outings saw us visiting Belle Vue Zoo one year, and on another occasion we travelled by canal boat from Denaby to Goole, where we were picked up by a bus to take us to tour a Grimsby fish processing factory. The day´s excitement culminated with a game of cricket on the beach at Cleethorpes. The eleven plus examinations were a major feature of our final year. I thank Mrs Chadwick again for teaching me how to do multiplication sums like 27 times £14 3s 9½d and `long divisions´ such as £91 14s 8d divided by 32. After that, the eleven plus was a breeze!
I´ve enjoyed this invitation to reminisce, and I´m likely to go on all day if not stopped. I haven´t mentioned the school Christmas parties, the school plays, the school dinners, nor any of my friends, many of whom I never saw again because we were separated by the selective educational streams which prevailed in those days. I have fond memories of Patricia Thompson and Ruth Donahue (with both of whom I am still in touch), Margaret Shacklock, Linda Spencer, Christine Hinton, Pauline Saxton, Susan Bellfield, Maureen Hancock, Sandra Marshall, Janet Marston, Trevor Williams, Christopher Peters, Terence Marr, Robert Genders and Stewart Hutchinson. Of course there are many more, and just because I haven´t mentioned them doesn´t mean I don´t remember them. Most of them I waved goodbye to forever in the summer of 1962, and since 1974 I have lived in Australia so we are unlikely to meet again.
Thank you Balby Street, for fond memories. Those old buildings are long gone, but the bricks and mortar and most of all the pupils and teachers, live on in the minds of those who were there.
Yvonne Taylor (nee Nicholson)