My Memories of Growing up near Truro – Part 4: St Mary’s School

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Susan Coney (née Phillips) is a prolific researcher and recorder of local history, especially about Truro. Here, she shares with us part four of her memories of growing up during the 1940s to the 1960s, recalled and recorded during the 2020 Covid-19 lockdown.

 

When I was five I started school, not at Shortlanesend but at St Mary’s (the old school at the top of Pydar Street). I went there as it was where my brother attended: it was my Mum’s old school too.

Initially, I travelled on the Western National bus with my brother. Mum would watch us walk up the hill from the back gate. She told my brother to ‘look after me’ but he used to drag me up the hill on purpose whilst he knew Mum could see us – typical boy! But once out of sight of Mum, he did look after me, especially on the bus, telling other kids to leave me alone.

We got off the bus by the railway arch and crossed the road over to Holywell Dairy to collect a small bottle of orange juice which Dad had ordered for me from a lady who worked there. Dad had said, ‘Ask for Ging!’ The lady had red hair!

The teachers in the Infants were Miss Richards in the first class (she may have been a Mrs but all female teachers were Miss), Miss Merrifield in the middle class (we used to say she dipped her head in a flour bag as she put a lot of powder on her face) and Miss Hitchens, the headmistress (a relative of Dad’s) in the top class.  I cried on the first day and was sick all over Miss Richards! In Miss Richards class there were small chairs with low rounded backs around groups of low tables. In one corner there was a wooden screen with a playhouse behind it with little pots and pans. I think there was a dolls’ house too. I remember posters on the walls with the alphabet on one and numbers on the other. In the early afternoon we had to fold our arms on the table and rest our head on them to have a nap. The other classroom had rows of desks in line with the teacher’s table at the front and a blackboard behind.

Going into the school from the gate on the street, the entrance to the infants’ was a door on the side to the left. Inside there was a hallway where you hung your coat on low pegs. Turning right from the cloakroom, Miss Richards classroom, the biggest of the three, was straight ahead, Miss Merrifield’s class on the left and Miss Hitchens class on the right. The playground was to the side of the infants with a covered area at one end so we could still go outside in the rain. I remember watching a partial eclipse of the sun from that playground, through smoked glass!! Not much Health and Safety in those days.

The toilets were outside on the other side of the building next to the slope going up to the junior schoolboys’ playground. The boys had a trough to pee into. They used to pee up the walls in a competition to see who could get the highest – and sometimes over the door of a cubicle especially if a girl was in one. Horrible little boys – I hated them!

Later, when I was able to go on the bus on my own, some boys used to tie my long plaits to the rail along the back of the seat. Then when it was running up to bonfire night, the boys would throw bangers or jumping jacks at us girls – nasty little tykes. It’s a wonder I ever brought myself to take to a liking for boys.

When you were seven, you went ‘up the slope’ to the junior school, so called as you literally had to walk up a slope. The boys’ slope was on one side (the town side) leading to the boys’ playground and the girls’ slope the other leading to their playground. There wasn’t a field to play on (like they had at Shortlanesend School) only the tarmac playgrounds.

When the whistle sounded both the boys and the girls would line up in the girls’ playground then file into the building through the door at the end. Inside, in the hall, were rows of pegs to hang up your coat, then you turned right into the big hall – well it seemed big to me.

The teachers at the juniors when I was there were: first class Miss Jones, second class Mrs Best, third class Mr Hellings and the top-class Mr Congdon, the headmaster. They were all excellent teachers and I liked them all very much.

St Mary’s School teachers 1959 – from the left: ?, Mr Hellings, Mrs Best, Mr Congdon

The classrooms were off the hall – from the left was Mr Hellings, then Miss Jones, then Mr Congdon. On the right was Mrs Best – I think it was the biggest room. Each classroom had an open fire. If your desk was near the fire you could get quite hot but if you were at the back of the class it was a bit chilly. In the far corner of the hall was a hatchway into the kitchen. We would line up at the hatchway to get our lunch and, if I remember rightly, sit at long trestle tables with benches in the hall to eat.

At playtime, the boys would play in their playground and the girls in theirs, no mixing but Margaret Heddon would go into the boys’ playground to play marbles and some boys came into the girls’ to play kiss-chase! ‘Home’ for the girls was the girls’ toilets in the far corner. The boy that all the girls in my class used to like was Paul Churm who lived in Hendra. (As an aside, I went for a walk with Paul – bless him – in the Chain-Walk when we were young teenagers and what happened is quite funny but best kept to myself).

Some of the girls at junior school could be teasy and catty little madams – I can hear one or two now saying, ‘I’m not going to be your friend anymore – ‘cos xxx is my friend now’ and then they would ‘flink’ off down the playground arm-in-arm with a new friend. Sometimes, they would get other girls to gang together and virtually isolate one particular girl. I suppose one would call it bullying nowadays. It wasn’t until senior school that I learnt how to deal with girls like that – steer well clear of them.

The only memory of Miss Jones’ class was the milk – in the winter when the crate was brought in, the milk was often frozen – the crate would be put by the fire to thaw and by the time it was given out it was warm and the cream was thick – egh. I hated that milk, it turned my stomach and I can only drink very cold milk now, even in coffee.

In Mrs Best’s class we would go on nature walks on the road from Trehaverne to Idless – there were very few houses along that road then. Once a year was the big treat when we spend the day at Loe Beach looking in the rock pools with nets. We would find anemones, small crabs and sometimes blennies. The ‘findings’ would be put in a bucket for us to look at, instructed by Mrs Best. The specimens where all returned to the sea before we left the beach.

Mrs Best’s class 1956 were at Loe Beach

Mr Hellings introduced us to geography and history – oxbow lakes and Boadicea etc. In Mr Congdon’s class it was mostly about preparing for the dreaded 11+, – thank goodness that’s gone – one exam at 11 to determine your future! I think not. In my day there was no opportunity to take ‘O’ levels’ or the like at a ‘Secondary school’.

Mr Hellings class 1957

I was borderline in the 11+ so went to Daniel Road for a year but was asked to take the 12+. This involved an interview at County Hall to which I wore my yellow costume which my Mum had bought me for Easter (we often had a new outfit for Easter). There were two or three men interviewing me and one said, ‘you look very smart’ – my reply was ‘yes so do you as you would for an interview’! Um, bit cheeky but I passed so started at the County School the following year in the first form. As my Mum knew I was going to swop schools, she bought me County School summer dresses for the summer term – I received a ‘lot of stick’ for that!

There were many girls at Daniel Road who should have been at the grammar school and vice versa. Such an unfair system which in no way determined your future. My brother, six years old than me, didn’t pass so went to secondary school but went on to become Chief Inspector in the Devon and Cornwall police.

My final memory of St Mary’s School was when my sister, six years younger than me, started in the infants when I was in Mr Congdon’s class. She didn’t cry the first day but cried every day for ages afterwards. So everyday Mum would walk into town from Shortlanesend with a packed lunch and my sister, Mum and I would go to Victoria Gardens to have our lunch. My sister and I and two of her friends went there last year and she said she still felt her tummy turn over when we left as if she had to go back to school for the afternoon. She became a teacher herself maybe to make sure her pupils had a better experience than she had – or maybe to get her own back. Ha Ha.

 

PS to Part 4 – St Mary’s School memories.

A school friend reminded me of two events at St Mary’s School:

We had regular visits to St Mary’s Aisle in the Cathedral for a short service. We usually had a morning assembly in the school hall but sometimes we went down to the Cathedral. I recently found out why.

In a newspaper report of 1885 about the centenary celebrations of St Mary’s School, it says that the St Mary’s Sunday Schools, Truro were founded in 1785 by Mrs. Magdalen Daubuz. From 1836, the school was in a small building in Old Bridge Street.

Over the door is engraved St Mary’s Sunday School A.D. 1836 but it was not just a Sunday school, it was a day school too. It became ‘unsuitable and inadequate’ so in 1890/91 a new Church school was built in Pydar Street. Much of the cost was met by public subscription including £500 from Canon Bourke and a contribution by Mr W.N. Gill, amongst others. It says in the newspaper article that a plaque mentioning Canon Bourke was erected in the ‘main room’. I seem to remember a plaque over the fireplace in the school hall, but I am not sure.

The original school was ‘attached’ to the Old St Mary’s Parish Church and the ‘new’ Pydar Street School became ‘attached’ to St Mary’s Aisle when the Cathedral was built and that’s why we went there for some services.

Sometimes we went to St George’s Church in St George’s Road: the reason is interesting. There was a school next to and ‘connected’ to St George’s Church. It was opened in 1856. Wood’s Dancing School was held in the school hall which was, relatively recently, demolished. The school itself was closed in 1945 and the children were transferred to St Mary’s. It was probably agreed that the St Mary’s pupils would continue to go to St George’s Church for some services to maintain the connection to that church.

We St Mary’s School children should all have turned out to be devote churchgoers!

The other event that I was reminded of was the trip to Windsor in about 1956 – I can remember that vividly.

My Dad took me up to the station in the evening and we all boarded the train. I think other schools had boarded from further ‘down west’ and others joined further up the line. It was a very long train with one engine at the front and another at the rear – steam engines of course. The carriages were the compartment type with a corridor down one side. Each bench seat had three children and we were supposed to sleep by half lying down with our feet still on the floor. I say ‘supposed to’ because I don’t know how much I slept if at all and I am sure that was the same for everyone else.

We arrived at Windsor Station the next day early in the morning and walked to a café to have breakfast. I vaguely remember the café – I think it was near the Windsor Theatre. Some of us were allowed to leave the café to buy a souvenir in the gift shops. I crossed the street to buy a present for my sister – it was a small model of the coronation coach and horses – we had it for years – I wonder where that went to? Someone split on me for crossing the road and I got told off by a teacher.

After breakfast, we walked up to Windsor Castle for a tour. I don’t remember much of that, probably as I was still upset about being told off, but I think I remember seeing Queen Mary’s Dolls’ House.  I can’t remember where we had lunch either. In the afternoon we boarded a boat – I think it was the steamboat that still runs trips on the Thames. We went down the river to Runnymede but I don’t remember seeing the Magna Carta memorial which was erected in 1957 and the JFK memorial certainly wouldn’t have been there at that time.

I remember having tea on the boat, then I think I remember that we were taken by coach to view the planes landing at Heathrow but I could be mistaken. In the evening we went back to Windsor Station to catch the train home, again sleeping on the train and arriving early the next day.

It was an incredible trip for us Cornish children most of whom had never been outside Cornwall let alone so near to London.

 

Susan Alecia Coney (nee Phillips)

Although I was never very interested in history at school, it is now a big part of my life. I enjoy both the research and writing about it. Initially, it was about my family and their involvement in the community but this sparked a more general interest in Cornish history, of its people and places. I have been involved in a number of projects relating to Truro and have enjoyed this opportunity to record the results for future generations.

 

 

 

 

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