Alan Murton of Goonhavern was born and raised in Truro and here he recounts his memories of school life during the traumatic years of the Second World War.
I am conscious that Bosvigo School represents the biggest single influence in determining the course of my life. In that I would not expect to be alone – all the children who had occupied the building that was one hundred years old in January 1998 will have enjoyed the same careful and dedicated teaching that I did – a commitment to preparing young people to make their way in an increasingly competitive and complex world which is the true reason for celebrating the centenary.
My memories start in 1938 – almost impossible to believe now the school was then only 40 years old – in motoring terms it was barely run in! I was lucky, I lived in Richmond Hill and could walk through Richmond Opening (Richmond Place), down Bosvigo Road and cross by Solomon and Metz (Printers) to walk the slope into the Boys playground – the girls from the hill had to walk across Dereham Terrace, turn by the Catholic Church in Chapel Hill and go down to the Girls gate, next to Lakes Pottery. Boys were Boys and Girls were Girls and never the twain should meet! What, I wonder would the protagonists of equality and the distasteful champions of Political Correctness make of school life in those days?
Many years on and some of my fragmented memories are quite detailed, some quite hazy – perhaps protected by a mist of nostalgia and sentiment.
One of the earliest is of having to rest during the afternoon – Miss Randall, I believe, it was who encouraged all the youngest children – today’s reception class? – to stretch out on floor mats and close their eyes – not easy for active youngsters.
I recall morning prayers and the singing of hymns – I was a “Growler” to Miss Bray’s disgust – but was never denied part in the assembly held on the ground floor with the folding glass and timber partition moved back to allow space for everybody – the partition had inset brass circular handles which I can still “see” today.
The rooms were heated by coke stoves – black round monsters that shared the front of each classroom with the blackboards. I lived close by and went home for my dinner and envied those who were allowed to stay and eat the food they’d brought with them – if that happened to be a pasty or a “boughten” Beechwood’s pie the teachers would heat them in a square metal oven that sat on top of the stove.
Why did I envy the boys who stayed? The playground games went on during the lunch break and it was always harder to join in when I rushed back. We never saw the girls of course because they had their own playground but in the one overlooking Bosvigo Road we all tried to get a kick at the tennis ball in winter games of soccer. Cricket was played in the summer with a set of stumps set in a wooden stand and an old bat – first boy out at playtime scrambled to get possession of the bat and those of us lucky enough to have a ball joined the queue to bowl at him and by getting him out replace him at the crease. A ball hit into the road or over the wall into the field was “Six and Out!”
Every day the milkman delivered crates of small bottles (one third of a pint) that we drank with a straw through the push-out hole in the cardboard top – the tops served us well in games of pitch & toss, flew like Spitfires when properly propelled from our fingers and were an excellent base for fluffy balls, oddments of wool wound round two together and then cut and tied through the middle
Summer high days and the cry would go round “Up the field!” – that meant that boys and girls could use the school field together for our playtime – the cricket was not very good because the grass was rough, stalky and seldom cut very short. In my last two years at the school the more able cricketers were able to play with pads, bats and a hard ball – supervised by Edgar Grose who taught the second-year juniors. He was a frightening man, quick to shout, throw chalk and known to put recalcitrant boys and girls across his knee for a spanking – it happened to me once and I remember the strong smell of John Player cigarettes more than the blows – I doubt it blighted my life.
Most of my time at Bosvigo was in the war years – 1939/45. An early memory is of the tear gas van that parked in the boys’ playground, we filed through in our gas masks to make sure that they were working properly – it was probably the only time that most of them were taken from the brown cardboard boxes in which they were issued to everybody. Bomb shelters were built in both playgrounds – dark, damp concrete block and galvanised iron sheet constructions set about a foot below the level of the tarmac surface – we learned our air raid drill when the siren sounded its sinister wail and filed to them from our desks. Before they were built we were led by our teachers up Chapel Hill where the steep rocky hedges would protect us from any of Hitler’s stray bombs. We were shown how to crouch back under their sandstone crags. The school windows were protected by diagonal crosses of sticky paper that it was believed would stop the glass from shattering in the blast from a bomb.
The shelters were a limiting factor on the football and cricket that we played but still on fine days we were taken outside for our PT (physical training) – when we played team games we tried to catch a captain’s eye to be selected early and avoid the ignominy of being the last to be chosen – there were no house or team shirts, the sides were distinguished by coloured “belts” about two inches wide worn over one shoulder.
The war brought Cornwall its share of evacuees – mainly from London’s East End. I have vivid memories of the crocodile of children walking down Richmond Hill from the station to be allocated their foster parents at St George’s Church Hall. I can only remember one family – the Hughes – luckier than most because the children were accompanied by their mother and accommodated in the corner house where Richmond Opening (Richmond Place) meets Richmond Hill.
They came to Bosvigo, made friends and joined in our games, bringing with them some of their own to relieve the monotony of hopscotch, giant strides, hide and seek and the war games which took over from Cowboys and Indians and the fencing duels stimulated by the Western and Costume Dramas that were featured regularly in Truro’s three cinemas. I can’t say that I remember much “Sex” but there was certainly plenty of “Violence” – I doubt whether it affected many lives!
The evacuees were easy to identify, in hindsight I would acknowledge that what seemed brash and arrogant about them was like a protective shield put up in part to allow them to keep their Cockney identity, it also reflected a street wisdom that was quite unlike anything the Cornish had met before.
Headmaster, Leslie Treloar, was, apart from Edgar Grose, the only male member of staff. I remember most of them with affection, Miss Bray particularly, a gentle lady whose home was also in Richmond Hill and Miss Guy by contrast more to be feared, an element of the tyrant who believed that small children should be seen and not heard – certainly in her presence! Mrs Kindom was one of the married teachers, I cannot
recall whether or not she came back to teaching because the war took so many men to fight for their country. Married or single (and much to Mrs Kindom’s disapproval!) we called them all “Miss” as we put our hands up with an answer or for permission to go out to the lavatory – boys to the boys’ playground and the girls…
Apart from rationing, occasional daylight air raid warnings and the shelters there were other changes to the curriculum that reflected a country at war. We learned very young to sing the National anthems of all the English-speaking allies and the words of Jerusalem, Rule Britannia among others – perhaps not a change but given a different emphasis by the war. Jingoism was overt and we gloried in being British no matter how badly things were going in the first years of the war. I remember the map of the world and learning that the vast areas of pink that dominated it were The British Empire – no critical mention of imperialism then!
There were regular fund-raising campaigns, usually accompanied by a band and military parade with progress against cash targets marked on huge wooden “Thermometers” set up beside the 1914/18 War Memorial in Boscawen Street. Slogans dominated lives in those tough times, “Put that Light Out,” “Dig For Victory,” “Careless Talk Costs Lives” – our garden railings and aluminium pots and pans were sacrificed to the War Effort. Paper was also essential to winning the War and I remember a paper saving campaign in which we were encouraged to collect old books, magazines and newspapers and take them to school. We were given points for the numbers collected and our status set out in terms of Army Ranks – I was one who reached the dizzy heights of “General” and remember being taken from school to a tea with all the Generals and Field Marshals from all Truro’s schools in Treleaven’s Café there to be thanked by the Mayor of the City.
There was a time when the school stayed open during the summer holidays, teachers giving up their precious long holiday to care for their pupils – the intention was to free mothers to take the jobs left by the men called up to the Forces and to keep children off the streets. I was ever a swot I’m afraid and was disappointed that there was no academic teaching during holiday time, our teachers occupying our time with a variety of “Activities” including – I recall painfully – Boxing…
By the time I left Bosvigo the Education Office occupied the top corner in the Girls playground where Mr Barton held sway with Mr Buzza, one of his staff of Attendance Officers – names to strike terror in the hearts of those who played truant.
They were the school’s most immediate neighbours but there were others perhaps considered more friendly by the pupils. Solomon & Metz was a small printing business whose back door opened on to Bosvigo Road and on hot summer days the printers took their “craust” with the door open so that we could see the presses and the continuous belt turning the shaft that drove them all. We asked shamelessly for “Strips” – off-cuts of coloured paper from the guillotine.
Lake’s Pottery shared a boundary wall with the Boys’ Toilets and welcomed visits from school parties – the skilled potter taking pride and pleasure in conducting young people around the pottery, we were all given an opportunity to “Throw” a small pot but few succeeded in making a ball of brown clay stay on the pedal driven wheel, and even less avoided crumpling their pot and putting eager fingers through it. The kiln was fired infrequently to produce the Lake’s speciality, an earthenware pitcher whose design dated back to the Roman occupation of Britain and I recall standing in the playground and watching lorry loads of furze being pitch-forked through a hatch – when bracken burns it produces the fierce heat necessary to set the glaze.
My conclusion must be a tribute to Leslie Treloar, one of the great Primary School headmasters of any age. He was a gentle man with a good sense of humour, a winning smile and a warm chuckle but he could also show the sternness and aloofness that befitted his status. It is my view that what distinguished him most was his awareness of the role he and his school must play for all his pupils in preparing them not only for the continuation of their education through the secondary stage but in giving them a set of standards to live by as good and contributing citizens – committed fully to the parable of the Talents.
His reputation was for achieving a higher-than-average success rate with pupils taking the Intelligence Test (the much maligned “11plus”) with as a result a high proportion of his output going to the excellent County Grammar Schools, the County School for Girls in Treyew Road and to either Redruth or Falmouth for the boys, the very bright were entered for Governor’s scholarships at Truro School and Truro High School for Girls. But I am convinced that his concern always was that children knew right from wrong, understood that it is not only at Christmas that it is better to give than receive and above all that we made best use of the abilities that were most natural to us.
I was one of the lucky ones, not merely because I enjoyed academic success but because I was a pupil at Bosvigo I have retained a set of values which I hope and believe I have passed on to my sons – that is why I consider that Bosvigo School was a major influence in my life and why I hope that in a much changed and changing world the School will carry on inspiring young people and giving them a solid launching pad into life.
Truro born and educated Alan Murton returned to Cornwall in 1994 with Writing as a key aim in early retirement after a course with Open College of the Arts with Cornish poet Philip Gross as his mentor. He sent some of his writing to Cornwall Today and was soon a regular in its pages until the West Briton took it over. He joined Truro Creative Writers in 1995 and worked with them, for 20 years as Chairman/Secretary.
Apart from competing in Old Cornwall Society competitions he wrote for two subscription magazines and has been published nationally as well as locally.