Joe Ayre (b. 1910): Education & Schooling

Like many working class children, the education that Joe Ayre received at “St Emmanuel’s Church School”(8) was hardly beneficial for him in the future. His education was limited, especially in comparison to those children who were from a middle class background. It is not until Joe migrates to Canada at the age of twelve which makes him realise how the working class education in England was not intellectual and it focuses mainly on religion.

st emmanuels school liverpool
Joe Ayre attended St Emmanuel’s Church School in Liverpool from the age of six

Joe Ayre began school at the age of six. He talks about his school in the beginning section of his memoir, saying how they “spent more time studying scripture than anything else.”(8) He talks in depth about his experience at school, describing the way he was taught and the way that he was treated. He says how the headmaster would “read ‘the lesson’ taken from some part of the bible.”(8) As Joe was not born in to a religious family, this was something that was not of any interest to him. He says that “even at the tender age of six I resented it, but it was compulsory.”(8) He talks about how he was often punished for “not paying proper attention to the Scripture teacher.”(8)

Despite the lack of interest in his scripture lessons, Joe talks about how he was always at the top of the scripture class. “I could almost recite backwards the Apostles Creed and the whole Anglican service.”(8) His memoir shows how it is because of his natural intelligence and his ability to adapt to skills quickly which help him take on different roles in order to survive whilst living in Canada and Chicago as a ‘hoboe’ several years later.

the apostles creed
Since studying the Scripture only, Joe could recite the Apostles Creed

His journey to school was not something that Joe enjoyed doing either. “My brother Bill and I had to walk to school in our bare feet as nearly all working class kids did.”(8) In his memoir he talks about education as a whole in a negative way, particularly the education that he experienced whilst living in Liverpool up until the age of twelve.

However, Joe’s appreciative attitude meant that in his memoir he does praise one teacher who “applied to a fund that the policemen of Liverpool had to buy clogs for the kids who had no clogs.”(8) This shows how poor St Emmanuel’s Church school in Liverpool was. It was a school which struggled to provide enough funds to supply a good quality of education for the working class children.

Joe Ayre was forced to go to a Sunday school and on a Sunday evening he went to the “Band of Hope.”(8) This was a gathering for the working class children. He says how all of the “poor kids went and we would spend almost two hours singing hymns.”(8) Sending the working class children to school six days a week meant that they would be kept off the streets. Although the education that they received was not of a high standard, by teaching them the importance of religion meant that they would learn to accept their position in society.

The Band of Hope was introduced by a Leeds clergyman to “promote total abstinence from alcohol.” He “aimed his efforts at children, who he hoped could be educated about the evils of drink.” By 1855, the Band of Hope went national and the message of temperance attracted new followers throughout Britain. http://streetsofliverpool.co.uk/band-of-hope-1910/

The year of 1920 was the turning point in Joe Ayre’s life. Joe and his brother Bill were sent to “Miss Birt’s Sheltering Home for the fatherless and destitute children.”(21) Joe and Bill were admitted to the Home in the first place to escape from their drunken father and their violent step mother. Many other working class children were also sent to this home, as Joe said; “to reduce the amount of juvenile delinquency and to get kids like us off the streets and out of sight.”(22) This was a positive outcome for the two brothers as it was from this home which allowed them to migrate to Canada a few years later.

Arriving at the Sheltering Home gave Joe and the other working class children a daily routine, despite there being just one hour of schooling a day at ten o’clock in the morning. This shows how their education was still limited. The working class children were also deprived from having a teacher. “Each child was issued with an arithmetic book, a Canadian history and geography books, a spelling and writing exercise books, we also were given the Holy Bible.”(24) Even in Miss Bert’s Sheltering Home, the importance of the Scripture was emphasised and this was the only subject that the children were examined on. The children were threatened with the fear of failing this examination as this meant that they would be punished with a lack of food.

Unfortunately, Joe’s education did not improve whilst living at the home. He says that; “I was 12 years old and my education was sadly being neglected, we had no teachers and I still used just the same books as when I was first admitted to the home.”(26)

However, schooling in Canada was far more enjoyable for Joe. When he first arrived, he had difficulty with his writing which meant that he “was placed in a lower grade.”(40) This was the first time that Joe had experienced real education. Joe was unfamiliar with having a teacher who taught him academic subjects, rather than only explaining and emphasising the importance of the Scripture. He praises his teacher for her patience. He says that “she told me that I was ahead of the other kids in geography, history and not too bad at arithmetic.”(40) His writing skills were lacking as he had never been taught how to write. However, Joe’s enthusiasm and determination to improve his own ability allowed him to “be placed back in the higher class”(40) at the end of the year.

The academic side of his school in Canada was not the only aspect that Joe showed an interest towards. “Winter time was a fun time at school.”(40) Although this was the first time that Joe had been separated from his brother Bill, his new “buddy Bruce”(40)helped him to settle down and to enjoy himself. They enjoyed spending time on the playground together playing hockey. This was the first time that Joe had truly enjoyed spending time at School.

John Burnett, David Vincent and David Mayall (eds), The Autobiography of the Working Class: An Annotated, Critical Bibliography 3 vols. (Brighton: Harvester, 1984, 1987, 1989) 2:029 

Joe Ayre ‘The Socialist’, MS, pp.178 (c.43,250 words), Burnett Collection of Working Class Autobiography, no. 29, Brunel University Library.

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