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.)
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.
A starker, 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.