The Tears of a Clown

Now if there's a smile upon my face…

Ring Ring Goes the Bell!

The year was 1966. Here I was, a young laddie dawdling down through the streets of Arnold in Nottinghamshire down towards the main shopping place. I had my new school uniform on for the first time, never having worn one before it was causing no little irritation. A black blazer, grey short trousers and a black cap with an embroidered badge on the front proudly proclaiming The British School in a white on black design. The cap was too big and was slipping down over my ashen face, the shorts were itchy and the jacket stiff unyielding and boxy. I really, really didn’t want to be here

Walking to junior school that first morning was a trial. Stomach churning and gurgling, I looked around for a familiar face only to see much bigger lads who looked like they could easily bully me, especially in the slightly sneering gangs they appeared to be formed in. Finally I spotted a friendly face. It was my friend Victor, also traipsing forlornly along in his brand new uniform. Although Vic was a big raw-boned lad, his own new school cap was pulled right the way over his face, the brim almost touching his chin. Vic liked to wear his cap that way. For some reason he thought it made him cut a dash. It’s not recorded what he said when he inevitably bumped into lampposts and other various inanimate objects.

Taking our hearts in our hands we walked over the zebra crossing and pausing for a last breath of freedom, entered into our new school together, looking around desperately for familiar faces but to no avail. Finding a quiet part of the youngsters playground we waited for the death knell of that first school bell at 9am. Exactly on time it rang out whilst our inner shudders echoed to it.

Have you ever watched sheep being herded into a pen? Well this is exactly how it was as the new flock of petrified boys in their identical blazers and caps were ushered abruptly inside the old building. Presently Mrs. Burgess arrived and she was terrifying. An older lady nearing retirement, her years of teaching had sadly left her hardened and without compassion for us young lads. She barked us into our new classroom and ordered us into seats. School life was about to change forever I thought.

The first thing I noticed was how different to my old school my new classroom was. It was decrepit, not that I knew what decrepit meant in 1966. What I did know was that the strange, scurrying noises up in the roof above the high ceiling sounded a lot like pigeons roosting. Surely not? The lines of ancient desks still had their ink wells for dip-in ink pens. The gloopy blue liquid being supplied in turn by a reticent ink-monitor. (I was holding out for one of the coveted milk-monitor positions.)

brit1

The British School, Front Street, Arnold, Nottinghamshire circa 1960

Mrs. Burgess was soon into her blunt, hard-nosed and shouty lessons. I hated them. On one memorable morning for all the wrong reasons she bade me out to the front of the class to complete a sum on the blackboard which nobody else had been able to thus far. I failed too, I didn’t have a clue. she made me stand there however and humiliated me until I fell into tears in front of the whole class. The classroom was otherwise hushed apart from her shrill haranguing and my quiet sobs. Thankfully the playtime bell came to my rescue when my new mates commiserated with me in the playground and said how much they hated ‘the old cow’.

There were some good memories from the school. A great source of interest to us lads were ‘Batman’ cards which we bought voraciously with packs of bubblegum which was chewed with equal enthusiasm. The newsagent and sweet shop on Front Street just up the road was the main source for our collections. Other favourite pocket-money purchases were Milk Chews costing a penny each, Sherbet Dabs with their stick of liquorice and tart reaction, also Blackjack and Fruit Salad chews at four for a penny, the Farthing coin being no longer with us.

The sporting front in Nottingham at that time showed the two city clubs, Forest at the top of the First Division and Notts County at opposite ends of the four divisions with around ninety places between them. Forest were battling manfully against the Manchester United of Best, Law and Charlton whilst the local Reds boasted scoring machine, Joe Baker plus Ian Storey-Moore and Terry Hennessey. We lads quickly got into collecting football stamp cards on glossy art paper. One George Best being worth a Roger Hunt, a Bobby Moore AND a Jimmy Greaves.

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A statker, older view of the ancient school showing the playground with its high walls in the foreground.
Yours truly’s classroom was behind the two windows to the lower right,
the adjacent doorway our road to freedom for a ten minutes ‘playtime’ morning and afternoon.

The school year remorselessly ground on. Cricket and our other games in the playground seemed the only relief from one mean-faced teacher after another. Games of marbles through the surrounding streets on the way home washed away our thoughts of the days. It was a year of Victorian-style education. I’d like to say the discipline was a good lesson for me but in my heart I can’t. There seemed no compassion towards us, no quarter given and little praise, just a grey time. Perhaps the only vivid memory of my time at ‘The British’ besides the episode with the tears was in Mrs Burgess instructing us that the year was 1966 and that it that such a date only happened ‘once every ten years’. Startling stuff. I think my true education from that time was more gleaned from the vast array of comics I would read.

The British School had originally been a boarding school and had a history going back to 1868. This was to be its last year in the sun as after one year, I and the rest of its pupils were dispersed to other schools in order for it to be demolished. Things moved back into the 20th century with a move to Church Drive Junior School for me which was an entirely happier experience I’m glad to say. Mrs Burgess retired when the school was emptied. Her time was at an end.

For people who know Arnold in Nottinghamshire The British School stood on the east side of Front Street exactly where the Arnold outdoor market is situated now. Where those stalls have sold their wares for the past thirty-odd years was our high walled playground. Memories yes but I lament it not.

April 4, 2008 - Posted by | Ripping Yarns | , , , ,

9 Comments »

  1. Hi, thanks for sharing these memories.

    I remember the British School before it was demolished and always thought it looked a scary, and probably haunted, place.

    Comment by Adam | August 27, 2008

  2. […] Ring Ring Goes the Bell! « The Tears of a Clown. […]

    Pingback by Ring Ring Goes the Bell! « The Tears of a Clown « Views of Nottingham | August 27, 2008

  3. Hi Adam

    Thanks for dropping by. I’m glad somebody else remembers the place. many I talk to don’t. Having said that I’ve been trying to forget the place for decades! It still fascinates me a little though I have to say.

    Thanks for the link on you most interesting site. I’ll be keeping an eye on it and also pop a link on my blogroll to it when I get a moment. If you ever feel a little local collaboration coming on regarding Nottingham history drop by and let me know.

    Stu

    Comment by Stuart | August 29, 2008

  4. have you any good memeories of Arnold. I am carrying out research and it would be good to kn ow if there are positive views. What do locals think about the eagle wing-thing. Ernehale to Arnold. What makes Arnold special?

    Comment by celestia | May 11, 2009

  5. Hi Celestia

    I do have some good memories of Arnold – apart from those tough times at the British School! In particular in those days Arnold was a very friendly and much more tight-knit community. When one walked along Front Street a friendly and familiar face would never be far away. The town had a nicer look about it to in my humble opinion with lots of the older buildings still standing.

    Arnold these days has problems like many other communities but I suppose the best thing about it is the situation of it. It’s very convenient for Nottingham but also on the edge of some lovely countryside with really attractive villages only minutes away.

    I’m not sure what you mean about the Eagle-Wing thing? I think it’s very nice that the town was once based on a village known as ‘Eagle Town’ but understand there is other evidence to suggest that there were more herons than eagles over the villlage.

    I hope this is of some use to you Celestia. Good luck with your research and if there are any specific questions you think I might be able to help you with then just let me know here.

    Best wishes

    Stu

    Comment by Stuart | May 11, 2009

  6. I remember the school,always reminded me of the old Victorian infant school I attended on Church st’, Beeston, old, cold, and intimidating.I did not like my introduction to education.

    Comment by Bryan Murray | December 21, 2012

  7. There were a lot of schools like that in those days weren’t there. The British School felt a very harsh and frightening environment after the cosy, friendly days of infant schools. I often still think of the place with a shudder, Bryan. Generally speaking I like to see older, historic buildings retained but I’m glad they built a market where the British School used to be!

    Comment by Stuart | December 21, 2012

  8. I remember the British School as portrayed in the older photo. My brother Bill Winfindale was there around 1944 until the the boundary of intake changed and we moved to Arno Vale School. Modern, different regime there ! Around the corner from the British was the Ebenezer Methodist Chapel. I remember anniversaries there and someone playing Trumpet Voluntary each year.

    Comment by Nina | October 2, 2016

  9. Hi Nina, thanks for the interesting comments. I just remember Ebenezer Methodist Chapel and when the Methodist chapel that replaced it was built. I also remember the church across Front Street that was demolished with the Co-op being built on that land. We used to cut through there sometimes and some artifacts of it still remain.

    I went on to Church Drive after the British. I recall that when I later attended Redhill School there was a coming together of kids from various schools with many coming from Arno Vale.

    Apart from time spent inside the British, they were happy days!

    Comment by Stuart | October 2, 2016


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