In a later day, I was put to Skool to Mrs Thobren at High Felling. Having a small stoppage in my speech which made me lisp, I oft got the Lether Strap over me.” (23)
Over 200 years ago, British schools for the working class were regularly dismal places and a vast contrast to those of today. Anthony’s speech impediment is a cold example of the harsh reality of how children were mistreated. Anthony’s problem was that he had a lisp in his early school days. This is an example of something that was highly misunderstood and it was seen as a weakness, rather than something that he couldn’t control. Unfortunately for Anthony and the many other students who this happened to, the answer and ‘cure’ to this was to be whipped with a leather strap. There was a dark irony to this as it most likely will have made the problem worse for him.
Although Anthony faced difficulties, he overcame his problems with strength and courage, making them character defining moments rather than developing problems. His speech was a barrier that held him back but he overcame this by excelling in spelling.
I closely attended school to read. When I got lorned to spell, on day Thos Hisbet and severell others was standen to say speling, and I sounded the word “stranger”, which he had not done, and I got before him.” (23)
Noticeably, his spelling is not of the highest level but he can do it to a very fair degree of understanding which was a huge success for a working class child in the 18th century. These examples of accomplishment were very important to Anthony and this moment is even the reason he could write the memoir. Unfortunately, his development in spelling had its consequences and this time it was from a fellow student, “Thos Hisbet,” (23) that he beat to spelling the word, “stranger”. (23) This schoolyard jealousy turned into a fight, “At 12 Oclock he struck me and made my nose bleed. On which a batel commenced, and I proved Conckerrer by thrusting him into a Boghole and made him all dirt.” (23) This is an example of schoolyard violence that seemed to be a common occurrence during Anthony’s time. This fight is an example of an event which Anthony perhaps felt a bit guilty about but the naive feud was a necessary evil to avoid being bullied. This is a key characteristic of Anthony’s throughout the memoir. He constantly stands up for himself and others making him a well respected member of his community and this is shown from an early age.
During his memoir, Anthony picks out other key events in his life that were influential to the development of his character. During “asencion day” (27), Anthony and his friends went to “bathe in the River at a plase called the Yow Hole.” (27) Whilst swimming, Anthony nearly drowned because of the powerful current but managed to get to shore. He stated that he “was feared of bathing for some years after, yet had many a time a little swim practise.” (27) When Anthony speaks about his childhood, there is the constant theme of overcoming obstacles. Education comes from experiences and not just schooling. Instead of avoiding his fears he constantly tries to conquer them which is an admirable feature of Anthony’s personality.
Education was also found in the early days of learning his father’s ‘waggonway’ trade. Robert Errington taught all his children an, “education so as to make us fit for business.” (22) Researching Anthony’s memoir made it clearer that schooling for the working class was only for the basics of reading and writing, with the majority of valuable skills coming from learning a skilled trade. Jason Long points out that “until the late 1800s, all school attendance in England was strictly voluntary” and that it was, “Only with the Education Act of 1870 did England create its own national system of elementary education for the entire populace.” (Long, 2004, 1) Access to education was limited when Anthony was growing up, living in a society where the working class were destined to work from a very young age rather than being gifted the benefits of a substantial education. Anthony’s education came mainly from the experiences in his life that defined his character and this motivated him “to be my father’s trade.” (32) Work started at an early age for Anthony, schooling was a very short moment for him and many other working class children as education was limited prior to the Education Act of 1870. Although this was an unfortunate schooling situation for him, Anthony found education in other areas of his life. Through various character defining experiences, Anthony was far from uneducated.
Errington, Anthony. Coals And Rails: the autobiography of Anthony Errington, a Tyneside colliery waggonway-wright. 1776 – c. 1825. Written between 1823 and about 1830. 1:231.
Long, Jason. The Economic Return to Primary Schooling in Victorian England. Northwestern University, April 2004.
‘Gateshead Fell, Sheriff Hill’ – http://englandsnortheast.co.uk/GatesheadFellingHeworth.html