Stories about Schools

Townsend Road Junior School

Pam Bayliss (nee Sale-Thorn)

At the age of eight, all the children from Waterside, plus those from Newtown Infants, and a few others, transferred to junior school. The boys went to Whitehill Boys, whilst the girls were placed at Townsend Road. In the early 1950’s, our headmistress was Miss Hawkes.

Most of the teachers were “Misses” except for my first year teacher, Mrs Richards. I don’t remember anything much about her class, except that I was quite lonely, most of the Waterside girls having been placed in the parallel class.
The playground was surrounded by bushes which made ideal “camps” for us at break. Over the wall from the school, in Townsend Road was a cottage belonging to Miss Birch. Miss Birch was a “Spirella Corset” lady. We would often sit and watch the ladies coming for a fitting and try to guess whether they were wearing Miss Birch’s corset. Miss Birch would often come out and talk to us, and slip a few sweets over the wall.

The next year I was in Miss Millicent Reynolds class. I was terrified of her.
She wore her hair in a bun, and peered over her specs at us. Miss Reynolds didn’t take us for PE though. Then we had a young teacher, much to our delight. In summer we tucked our dresses into our navy bloomers, and went outside. No PE kit, just plimsolls. In winter we were in the hall and stripped to our Liberty Bodices, vests and the knickers! One week we were doing Music and Movement to the radio. We were whirling around to “find a space on our own” when suddenly the broadcast was interrupted. We stood still as a voice said “We have a message from Buckingham Palace. The King has died peacefully in his sleep”. Our teacher burst into tears and ran for the headmistress next door. We just stood bewildered. Everyone was in turmoil. The church bell tolled and people cried in the street on our way home.

We sat the 11 plus that year. Firstly a preliminary round, and then the final. We were told we had another chance next year. That final year I was in Miss Wheeler’s class. She was very well known in the town for her work with St John’s Ambulance. Miss Wheeler wore her hair in two plaits, wound tightly into spirals around her ears. Miss Wheeler’s Wheels we called them. That year we were to perform a pageant for the Coronation of the new Queen.
It was to be in May, and we would celebrate the May Queen. We had to vote for the Queen from our class. We all knew who we would pick. Elizabeth, the same name as the Queen, sat demurely in our lessons. She had her hair curled every night in rags, and to our ears, had a posh accent. She was a really nice girl, and we all loved her. She would be a perfect May Queen. The rest of us were Maids of Honour. When the day came, we were given coat hangers with the hook taken out. Miss Wheeler brought in lilac blossom which we wound round the coat hangers. Then we were off to the Chesham Park, to perform. All the schools took part. Our job was to perform a dance for the May Queen, finishing in a line of arches for her to walk through.

We sang:

A lovely queen we crown
She’s a queen of faith and beauty
We crown her Queen of May
For it is our royal duty.
We have brought to her feet
Every Mayflower sweet
And now we will dance and sing
And now we will dance and sing.

Then our Elizabeth was crowned. May Pole dancing followed. May Pole dancing was a custom in May then. I remember dancing at the Guide May Fete, and at various May Fetes, including the Methodist one in the Manse garden in Bellingdon Road.

I sat the 11 plus exam again. This time I passed the preliminary round and went on to the main exam. I guess the arithmetic was my downfall. There was a problem about a horse and cart travelling so many miles north and some east and so on. The end of the question said “draw this” So I did – a horse and cart!

I was destined to become one of “Miss Dyer’s girls” at Whitehill. Very few went on to Dr Challoner’s, so I knew this time I would not be alone.