‘I have no wish to become boring by giving details of our curriculum so will pass on to more interesting side activities indulged in by mischievous little boys.’ (17)
Clearly, education and schooling were not the fondest of memories for Charles when he was writing his memoir! Charles refers to his curriculum as ‘boring’ so it is clear how he felt about school as a young boy. Less interested in school and more interested on fun in the playground with his school friends or the ‘mischievous little boys’ he refers to, Charles and his humour shine through the pages of his memoir.
Before delving into his school memories, Charles nostalgically looks back in hindsight to a time just before his education and schooling started: ‘I was to start my schooling, that nervous step from babyhood when clocks began to rule our lives’ (16). This ‘nervous step from babyhood’ can be related to by by everyone one of us reading. Reminiscing about a time before ‘clocks began to rule our lives’, Charles tap into not only his emotions but on behalf of everyone who has felt like this.
Following this touching reflection, Charles begins to recount his memories of school. Although Charles does not reveal what school he went to as a child, I can only assume he attended a local school in Sutton-in-Ashfield. When researching further into this, I discovered a website about Nottinghamshire which had dedicated a page to education in Sutton-in-Ashfield, including a documented list potential schools Charles may have attended! (click on the link for more details!!).
An interesting insight into Charles and his school life is a description of the school’s headmistress. ‘The headmistress was an ogre, a spinster lady with no understanding of little children.’ (16) Tensions between children and their teachers are also explored by Jonathan Rose in ‘Willingly to School: The Working-Class Response to Elementary Education in Britain, 1875-1918’ (125) but most seem to have more positive relationships. Rose explains ‘In each social class, only a few regarded teachers as their enemies, and seven out of ten working people rated them positively’. Sadly Charles falls into the category of ‘few’ that does not have a consistent and positive rapport with his teachers.
Charles also explains how the girls and boy were separated into two different schools: ‘The sexes were parted and we went up to the boys to begin the real business…boys-only school’ (16). Playfully referring to the boy’s school as ‘the real business’, we are given an insight into the execution of schooling in 20th century Britain. Charles also delves into the punishment that naughty school boys receive by mentioning ‘The use of the cane’ (17), depicting the treatment of children in school in the early 1900s.
Charles’s experience in education is similar to Frank Prevett (b.1904). Like Frank, Charles also attends Higher Grade School: ‘My last year as a school boy was spent at what was called a, “Higher Grade School”. A few children from the top class in the lower schools of the town, were chosen by examination to attend’ (52). Similar to Frank, Charles indicates that he does well at school and he recounts the advanced classes that took place at the Higher School in ‘algebra and geometry, a little physics and woodwork’ (52).
As mentioned in my Introduction, Charles talks about the ‘three Rs’: ‘We were taught the three Rs as they were called, that is, Reading, ‘riting and ‘rithmatic’ (17). Although Charles does not go into great detail about how education benefitted the rest of his life, he does admit that he received a good education. ‘I left to start work at the age of 13 but am happy to say that I did well enough and received a good education grounding’ (28). Education is also involved in other aspects of Charles’ life, although this learning did not take place at school. He was educated by his father to play a musical instrument. Jonathan Sanderson insisted that one of his children should learn how to play the reed organ and is the words of Charles ‘His choice fell on me’ (28). As his learning progresses, Charles expresses his happiness of learning a musical instrument.
‘One thing that he did teach me was how to accompany another voice or instrument…I got in the hands of a good teacher and graduated to the piano which I came to love’ (29).
Charles fondly reflects on his education in music and by Charles admitting he ‘came to love’ his learning in music. It resonates a bittersweet experience for Charles and his encounter with education, schooling and learning.
Sanderson, Charles Whiten. ‘Half a Lifetime in the 20th Century’ Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiographies. University of Brunel Library. Special Collections. 688.
688 SANDERSON, Charles Whiten, ‘Half a Lifetime in the 20th Century: A Book of Memoirs’, TS, pp.115 (c.78,000 words). Extracts published in Mansfield and North Nottinghamshire Chronicle Advertiser (Chad), 13 March – 31 July 1980 (Sutton-in-Ashfield Library). Brunel University Library.
Prevett, Frank. ‘Memoirs of a Railwayman’, Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiographies, University of Brunel Library, Special Collection.
Coupar, James. ‘Frank Prevett (b.1904): Education and Schooling’ 15 March 2018. Writing Lives. Web Accessed 27 March 2018.
Rose, Jonathan. ‘Willingly to School: The Working-Class Response to Elementary Education in Britain, 1875-1918’, Journal of British Studies 32. 2 1993, 114-138.
The Officers of the School Board- http://www.nottshistory.org.uk/books/bonser1948/sutton15.htm