Church Room Exhibition 2003
Memories of Newton School
Memories of Newton School from Jim Price 29-12-02
What is your name?
James (Jim) Nicholas Price
When did you go to this school?
Easter 1949 – Summer 1955 (I didn’t start until the Easter after I was five in October because my Father thought I was too young to walk to and from school on my own in the dark).
Where were you living then?
Old House, Newton – later at New House (1952).
What can you remember about your school days?
One of my earliest memories is of everyone’s ‘Auntie Polly’ (she and Jack Pritchard the roadman[i] lived at Cae Garw) who was not only the cleaner, caretaker and fire-lighter at the school but helped out with the harvest on several local farms and was renowned for her dandelion wine (as I found out much later!)[ii] [iii]. She was also Mrs Van Caille’s (see below) child-minder on occasion[iv]. For some peculiar reason I also remember the ‘Sloan’s Ink Eradicator’ – school attendance registers had to be marked up in red and black ink and if a mistake was made, out came two little ‘dropper’ bottles containing liquids which had the mysterious power of making ink marks disappear. There was also the ‘wireless’ – in the Big Room of course – on which we listened to all sorts of schools broadcasts; these seemed to be the only lessons that were planned in advance, timetabled for a whole term on a huge poster! The ‘wireless’ was anything but; it was in a huge wooden box, powered by accumulators in a box and a ‘high-tension’ battery on the cupboard top, with a separate loudspeaker about two feet square. The aerial was strung out twenty or thirty yards to a pole in the School House garden and had to be connected and disconnected each time the wireless was used, ‘in case of a thunderstorm’[v].
Who were your teachers, was there just one or more?
When I started there was a shortage of ‘proper’ teachers. Kathleen Pritchard[vi], my cousin Daphne Lewis (now Phillips) and a couple of other very old ladies in their late teens or early twenties taught the younger children. Then Miss Smith (Margaret Price, these days!) came along as my first proper teacher. I think she used to cycle to school from The Grange at Bacton[vii]. There were two classes, the Little Room (ages 5 to 8 or so) and the Big Room (age 8 to 15 when I first went there). Mr Bosley was the Head Master and taught the older children. By the time I moved to the Big Room, Mrs Enid Van Caille was in charge[viii]. She was originally from Longtown but her husband, who I think was also a teacher (but not at Newton), was a Belgian. She was short, he was very tall and rather mysterious to us. He used to take and develop his own photographs[ix].
How did you get to school?
I walked, often alone until Cynthia started school, sometimes meeting Jim Powell and later his brothers, from The Maerdy (Bacton) on the way. There was more of a gang coming home, probably about ten to fifteen of us, the Powell boys, briefly a couple of boys from Fair Oak, Josie and Sheila Shaw from Bridgend, two girls from the Corner House (which was then the Post Office kept by Lizzie and Gladys Price (no relation)), Ruth Williams from the Woodlands, two boys from The Oaks and several from St Margarets[x]. Children living along the Gilvach road used to walk the other way round, past The Yatt.
What did you wear?
I only remember the short trousers, whatever the weather, and taking shoes in a paper bag to replace the obligatory wellingtons on wet days.
What was your school day?
We started at 9.00am but I was always there early for some reason! We finished at 3.15pm.
What subjects did you like?
I don’t recall having any particular concept of ‘subjects’, I think we were probably taught in a much more integrated (and certainly more informal) way then. There certainly wasn’t a ‘National Curriculum’!
Did you have playtime or games?
There were two short breaks, one each in the morning and afternoon and a longer lunch break – about an hour, I think. In the summer, we were allowed to go across the road and play in the field at lunch time[xi]. Sometimes Miss Smith organised games there in the afternoon. There was also a pond there into which it was not unknown for children to fall while trying to gather frogs’ spawn and a haystack which seemed to have a peculiar interest for some of the teenagers – who had better remain nameless!
Did you get told off or praised?
The only time I cal recall either was when myself and Josie Shaw were brought out to the front of the class to be congratulated by Mrs Van Caille on passing our 11-plus exams for Hereford High School.
Was there a punishment book?
Yes, and it used to be inspected by the policeman from Longtown. I remember when he first came in his car (as opposed to the usual bicycle) with a bell on the front – no blue lights and sirens then.
Was the cane used?
Yes, but I was never the victim (There were one or two ‘regulars’ but I had better not say who!). Mrs Van Caille favoured the ruler and was also a pretty good shot with the chalk.
What did you do for lunch?
School dinners used to come by van in big, insulated aluminium containers from Longtown. Gladys Watkins served them up in the ‘Big’ room – and then had all the washing up to do in her kitchen, having to boil the water in kettles on a gas stove. She had a stock of tinned corned beef and Ryvita for times when the van couldn’t get through the snow – there was a lot more in those days. We also got hot chocolate to drink on these occasions – but I can’t remember any drink with lunch otherwise. More than once, she had just served up her emergency stock and the van arrived so we got two lunches! I think the van also used to go on to Abbeydore.
The school milk also came on the dinner van – each pupil was entitled to one third of a pint, in individual bottles. Often in summer this would be sour and thus undrinkable! There was always the alternative of water from the pump in the yard.
Did you take a lunch box?
No, we always had school dinners.
Did you have to do jobs at home before going to school or after school?
Were you absent for any reason?
I think I had most of the usual childhood ailments in my first couple of terms but I can’t remember missing school very much for other reasons, perhaps the odd day or two for snow.[xii]
What do remember happening locally at thus time?
There was a big event (sports, tea party, etc.) for the Coronation in 1953, though strangely I can’t remember anything at school to mark the King’s death. There was an annual Christmas party, complete with Father Christmas (Mr Gundy from Wainherbert!) and a summer outing to the seaside, either Barry Island or Porthcawl. There was the obligatory stop in Newport on the way back for fish and chips – from real newspaper in those days – and almost invariably one or more subsequent stops to enable some unfortunate child to resurrect his (or hers)! These trips were just before the summer holidays, always on a Friday to allow the weekend for recovery. We always seemed to start at the crack of dawn and it was dark when we got home.
During the war were there any evacuees or people to help on the farms?
My grandfather had a live-in German prisoner-of-war called Gustav helping on the farm (New House) for several years. He was certainly still around during the bad winter of 1947 because he converted an old cider barrel into a horse drawn sledge to get around and feed the animals[xiii]. My grand-parents also had two evacuees, a brother and sister from Bootle, during the war; they kept in touch for many years. They were slightly older than me but probably only about five years old when they came[xiv]. I am told that during the war, Newton School operated a ‘two-shift’ system because of number of children in the area. It also doubled as a Catholic church because so many of the evacuees and PoWs were Catholics.
Did your mother and Father also attend Newton School?
Both my father (and his two sisters, from New House) and mother (and her brothers and sisters, from Old Court) went to Newton School.
Were any of your brothers or sisters going there too?
Cynthia was at Newton School when I was there; John and Anne went there after I left. My cousins Daphne, Pamela, Eric and Keith Lewis (from Cwm Dulas) and June and Lynne Prosser (from Old Court) also went to Newton School.
What shops or pubs were there in the area?
Newton Post Office was then at the Corner House[xv] and stocked a variety of sweets and basics as well as dealing with stamps, family allowances and pensions, though strangely, registered letters and telegrams came from Longtown, by bicycle. Mr Stan Hallard, the baker, came from Peterchurch with bread and other groceries on Thursdays; later he employed a rounds man who brought bread on Mondays – I can’t imagine why I remember what days they came! Mr Terrett came weekly from Cardiff collecting eggs and other produce[xvi]. Mr Bill Davies, the postman, deserves mention too. He came daily from Vowchurch for something over forty years, on foot, by bicycle and finally in the luxury of a van! My grandfather had the Daily Mail by post in those days and it almost invariably arrived from Manchester on the day of publication.
What was it like without modern appliances, electric light, running water?
We had paraffin (‘oil’) lamps at home, in school and in the church until the coming of bottled gas (via Mr Aston from the garage at Longtown) around 1954. Rain water was largely used for washing; hand pumps provided drinking water from wells. The one at New House dried up and drinking water had to be carried in enamel buckets from the spring in the Well Meadow, for several years until an electric pump was installed, after the coming of electricity about 1963 – after I had moved away.
What tradesmen were there in the area?
John Farr was a renowned local carpenter and undertaker in the area; he also taught the ‘big boys’ woodwork at Newton School. There was man, universally known as ‘Old Kilkie’ who did all kinds of jobbing building work, some quite large projects considering the resources and tools he had. He lived in St Margarets and was either a refugee or a wartime immigrant from eastern Europe somewhere. Tom Gwillim from The Darren also did odd jobs though an awful lot of work was done as DIY – although I suspect that that term had yet to be invented!
Did people go around selling their wares?
I remember Gypsies coming round on occasions selling various odds and ends. Once or twice, I recall a turbaned gentleman coming round selling clothes and material, though I think the area was too remote for much of that kind of trade.
[i] Jack Pritchard looked after the local roads all his life. He used to walk miles with two wheelbarrows, one with tools and a barrel of tar and the other with chippings, repairing potholes as he went. He also maintained the roadside ditches, etc. as well as returning all the straying stock to the right fields! No doubt he was also the local ‘Neighbourhood Watch’, if one was needed in those days. Both Jack and Polly are buried at Newton Church.
[ii] In later years, I picked her up in the car at Vowchurch. She had walked all that way picking dandelions from the verges – on the way back we collected a dozen or more bags she had left full at the roadside. She was also famed for the number of birthday cards she sent and received – one for every day of the year and more, she once told me!
[iii] She was also the layer-out of the departed souls of the locality and had assisted at more than one local birth. In those days, the midwife had to come from Longtown by bicycle, probably after being summoned the same way! Another one of ‘Auntie Polly’s’ duties was to stand in for school dinner service on the very rare occasions Gladys Watkins was ill.
[iv] Ask ‘Miss Smith’ to tell you the story of the paint spots on Jane’s new dress from Marks and Spencer’s ….
[v] I am not sure what would have happened had there been a thunderstorm when there was a broadcast we were supposed to listen to! In the absence of electricity in Newton, the accumulators were taken in the dinner van to Longtown to be charged at the garage – what would today’s health and safety gurus make of that?
[vi] Kathleen was ‘Auntie Polly’s daughter and now lives in Vancouver, Canada. Her older brother, also Jack, lives in Hereford.
[vii] You might want to check that with her!
[viii] I think she was a childhood friend of my Mother – you might want to check that too.
[ix] Mother might be able to find a picture of the hen and pups which he took at New House and had published in the Hereford Times about 1956. While he was there, he also took one of me, Cynthia and John standing on the garden wall – later published with a caption about three urchins!
[x] Margaret Cope and Monica Hill from the Post Office, and Harold Portlock (‘Pepper’) and Winston (‘Churchill’) Davies from The Oaks were war-time orphans, evacuees who stayed on in Newton because they had nowhere to go back to.
[xi] This was the last field but one on the left before the road junction, belonging to Dick Jenkins of Quarelly Farm, who was also a sort of general factotum around the school, dealing with the waterless closets in particular! In those days he rode a motorcycle, mostly to and from the Sun Inn at St. Margarets; whatever the weather, he wore a thick navy, woollen greatcoat
[xii] In fact, in later years, going to school in Hereford by bus, daily for seven years, I only remember missing two days due to bad weather – yet there is the perception that winters were much more severe in those days. Incidentally, the bus took a very circuitous route, resulting in me travelling nearly fifty miles a day, leaving at 7.40am and arriving home about 5.45pm.
[xiii] I remember riding from New House to Old House in it; Mother used to have a photograph of it with several people in it, probably including me.
[xiv] By an amazing coincidence, I met the son of one of them a few years ago. In fact I had known him at work for some time before I discovered who he was.
[xv] The Misses Price also acted as message takers, having one of only three telephones in the area (‘Newton St Margarets 1’) together with a big bank of batteries on the top shelf, ‘2’ was the kiosk outside (in those days one of the now extremely rare, wartime concrete ones) and ‘3’ was somewhere at the top of Newton, possibly at the Marlborough where the Misses Bradley and Whatley kept a dairy farm. Newton St Margarets 4 was briefly at New House after we moved there in 1952 but soon became Peterchurch 234 with the coming of automation and the removal of the main source of news in the village!
[xvi] Mr Terrett was originally employed by some firm or other but met his demise as a result of trying to cream off the best of the produce he collected and sell it for his own benefit on the ‘black market’ – remember rationing was still in force – and using the company van for carrying his own wares for sale as he went on his rounds. Such was the loyalty to Mr Hallard that few people would buy anything from Mr Terrett, though the ice cream he carried was a weekly treat for us.