Daisy Noakes (b. 1908): Education and Schooling

‘From that moment my childhood ended, and I realised I had been launched on the world to earn my own living. 1923.’ (p.49)

Daisy’s schooling was a miniature part of her life. From the outset of her memoir, she was set up to be sent into service in order to earn a living for herself. Daisy and her siblings attended Ditchling Road School. Soon after the First World War commenced schools were converted into hospitals for the wounded. This uprooted Daisy’s and her siblings’ education: ‘I don’t think I was a very happy child. I was so easily moved to tears.’ (p.22). She describes the harshness of her new teachers at Loder Road School where she ‘shared half-days’ (p.22), and the ramshackle nature of her new school’s foundations with ‘asbestos sheeting and a galvanised roof bolted on’. (p.22). She was known by her teachers for her emotional nature. Despite this, the companionship of her siblings through school gives her comfort: ‘we all had to walk home’ (p.23). Throughout her memoir, she finds comfort in household chores, even between her school hours: ‘if mum found we had a few minutes to spare before returning to school, there was still the mangle handle to turn or hanging clothes on the line’ (p.8). Part one of the memoir shows her learning taking place within the household, with her older siblings or taking up jobs around her local area for pocket money. 

‘When it rained water came through onto us and we would move our desks to avoid the drips’ (p.22) 

Image taken from Daisy’s memoir. Ditchling Road School: her sister Elsie is the second to the right on the front row. 

Daisy and her siblings’ school day began at 7.45am when their transport was a tramcar from St. Saviour’s Church on Ditchling Road. During playtime they were able to see some of the Indian soldiers recuperating from war injuries at the military hospital: ‘At this time the Indians were in the Royal Pavilion which was their hospital. They could be seen from Preston Park where we used to play’ (p.23). Daisy describes her leisure time after the war ‘following a wartime tank up Preston Park Avenue. We waited until it was in position and went home after only to find it was long past dinner time… we didn’t get any.’

Jonathan Rose comments on the capacity of working-class schools, ‘Given the very large classes common in working-class schools, mass memorization was often the only workable teaching strategy. John Lanigan recalled that his overcrowded classroom accommodated five grades’. It was near impossible to teach effectively, however Rose also notes that ‘In the Thompson-Vigne survey, about 90 percent of working people who gave a response said they had derived some benefit from their education, compared with 95 percent among the upper and middle classes. Even some of those who gave their schools a negative rating in table 4 admitted they had profited from their education’. This is illustrative of a good response from students despite circumstances. 

Ditchling Road School held days filled with excitement such as May Day and St. George’s Day where mothers would come to watch ‘country dancing, plaiting the maypole in the playground and singing and dancing to patriotic songs.’ (p.24). This childlike innocence carries Daisy through her memoir while most of her life experiences are shaped outside of school adventuring with her brothers and sisters: ‘We’d put our nightdresses on back to front and have marriage or christening services.’ (p.26). As a family they attended St Martin’s Church which was popular for festivals. The vicar named them ‘The little Hooklets’. (p.24). Daisy took a liking to plays, almost taking part in a religious play with her sister Lily, standing in as an angel wearing white nighties and wings. Her mother made her step back as it was an evening performance therefore too late to be out. A few years down the line she was allowed to ‘play two parts in Dicken’s Christmas Carol’ (p.24). She had strict regimes throughout her childhood and schooling which helped her later on in service. After Daisy’s time at St Martins her mother found the Salvation Army more suitable for her and Lily’s needs. Here they were taught Bible stories, scrap booking and building jigsaws. They responded well to these activities. Daisy discovered more skills once she had joined the Girl Guides, ‘I looked after a patient to get my Nurse’s badge. I would wash Elsie and try to coax her with food’ (p.27). 

St Saviour’s Church, Ditchling Road.
‘This was the first new church in the southern part of Preston, after Brighton began to expand into it… There were too many churches in this part of Brighton and in 1977 St Saviour’s was made redundant, before being demolished in 1983, to be replaced by flats’

When Daisy approached senior school at Ditchling Road she was in demand for various duties such as making teachers’ tea during playtime, collecting a teacher’s mother’s medicine from the surgery, and being called upon if anyone had been sick. She writes ‘I don’t know how this started’ (p.43). She held many responsibilities within her home and school at the young age of 12.

Image taken from Daisies memoir. A cookery class in Ditchling Road school in 1922.

Further education for Daisy and her siblings stemmed from the unrest within the War. Daisy reminisces how rationing and a lack of clothes for her and her siblings became her normality. ‘Rationing was not so good then… my mother would give 3 of us 6d to buy it and we were told to space ourselves out in the queue to appear not together’. (p.28). For her parents, providing for 10 children proved extremely difficult at times. Especially when her father lost his job after refusal to join war service: ‘Mum attended a tribunal to put in a plea as Dad was the mainstay of her 9 children’ (p.17). Daisy often spoke of shortages, ‘‘That Christmas morning we went to Sunday School and Church, it was depressing for us just listening to the other children speaking of what they had’ (p.29). Daisy’s school life and arguably her childhood abruptly ends, when she takes an interview for the position of a dormitory maid at Ovingdean Hall. The memoir evokes a sense of sadness as her education comes second when she is ‘launched’ (49) into the world of domestic work. However, it is apparent that Daisy places value on any education she received throughout her childhood.

‘I vowed no more tears but a “stiff upper lip” was needed from now on’ (p.49) 

Bibliography

Noakes, Daisy, 1975. ‘The Town Beehive, a young girl’s lot Brighton 1910-1934’, Brighton, QueenSpark Books.

Rose, J. 1993. Willingly to School: The Working-Class Response to Elementary Education in Britain, 1875-1918. Journal of British Studies, 32(2), 114-138.

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