My first years in school

Custom House Lane CP school circa 1956
Custom House Lane CP school circa 1956

When I went to school in Connah’s Quay you started in the Infants School, I went to Dee Road Infants, before moving onto Custom House Lane County Primary which was what we’d now call a junior school. Coincidentally it’s the setup in Histon where I live now.

I started at Dee Road in 1952 just before my 5th birthday. I remember little about those first days although I do recall most of us sitting meekly at our desks whilst the teachers chased those who didn’t want to do that around the classroom. It must have been a strange and scary experience.

I attended the Infants School for just two years and I seem to remember that we had the same teacher, Mrs Whittaker, for both years. She taught me how to read and do sums and she must have done it rather well because I’ve been comfortable with both ever since. Nowadays it’s reckoned that your life chances get locked in pretty early in your life so in such terms Mrs W was a pretty important person in my life.

I don’t really remember any of the other children in my class but I do know that David’s Norbury and Hall whom I still meet regularly were among them.

The move to Custom House Lane school was simple enough because the schools were adjacent to each other but there was a world of difference.

It was a bigger school of course because Dee Road wasn’t the only feeder school and in today’s terms it was ‘four forms of entry’. The forms were unashamedly streamed and named 1A, 1B,1C and 1D etc although at some time for some reason 1B became 1A(R), that’s R for removed, etc. And just to emphasise the focus on performance the seating layout within the classroom was by exam results.

Each form had its own teacher of and as I went through from 1A to 4A I remember Mrs Blackwell, Mr Spencer, Miss (hardly Ms!) MK Hughes and finally Mr (Alan) Edwards. We also had Welsh lessons from Mrs Williams and wasn’t there a sort of utility teacher, Mr Millington, who taught us Nature Study? He had no formal training but was a gifted teacher. Mr Coppack was the headmaster.

I don’t remember much about Mrs Blackwell except that she was very strict and rather correct. By contrast it’s difficult to forget Mr Spencer because he was large. He was also the teacher in charge of football and he ran the school team with a passion and a determination to win. I heard that his half time talks if we were losing were terrifying.

We had another different teacher in 3A where it was Miss MK Hughes who I’d guess was a typical ‘school ma’am’. And then on to Mr Edwards who was incredible. His job was to get us through the scholarship as we called the 11-plus in those days and he taught us in a manner which would prepare us for our next school. He taught us with respect, a focus on the exam and a fair amount of humour. There’s more in this blog about Alan Edwards at https://wp.me/phtcF-pX.

The big shock of Custom House Lane was the cane. I guess teachers at Dee Road indulged in a little corporal punishment but now it seemed to be much more a part of the curriculum. There was a cane in each classroom and sometimes there was the threat of the ‘double ruler’. Although my first three teachers were not reluctant to use the cane I don’t remember it being a part of Alan Edwards’ toolkit.

We had PT lessons in those days, either in the school hall, until that was taken over as space for a couple of forms, or outside on the school yard. There was a school playing field a short way up Mold Road, which is what Custom House Lane became, were the boys went to play cricket or football. There were school teams of course and I’d have given anything to be in them. I never got close to the football team but I did play for the cricket team a couple of times when my appearances were more noteworthy for the catches I dropped than for the runs I scored.

We also played outside on the school yard in break times and there were times when we were all caught up in some craze or another. I remember we played a game called Union Jack where you marked out the flag on the playground using a piece of coke from the pile used to fuel the school’s boiler. You’d then use other pieces of coke to play some sort of noughts and crosses derivative and the playground would be full of children sat on the floor playing the game. The effect on the school’s coke inventory eventually became such that the game would have to be banned before it would reappear the next year.

We also engaged in a sort of jousting game whereby pairs of boys, one big and one small, took on all comers with the objective of unseating the rider, the small boy, of the opposing pair. At one time I found myself, a small boy, teamed up with Roy Steen, a big boy, and being very successful.

But life was generally unexceptional. Time passed, you moved on through the school and little of note seemed to happen. However I remember the sadness of one pupil being drowned in the River Dee and another being knocked down on the main road and suffering a broken leg.

And there was the occasion when a new pupil was subject to what we’d now call racism. Someone it had been said had used the N word and the school was asked if anyone had witnessed it happening. I was a witness but in my innocence in those days I’d thought the perp had said ‘knicker’. But according to the standards of today perhaps those years were uneventful.

As luck would have it I was one of only five children in 4A who were regarded as ‘underage’ in that our birthdays came after 31 Aug and therefore not entitled to sit the 11-plus until the next year. However two of us were given leave to do so. I was one and the other was Maureen Cockcroft so after 4 years at Custom House Lane I was off to Hawarden Grammar School.

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