Education and Schooling – George Clifton Hughes.

Absque Labore Nihil

-Nothing Without Labour-

Education essentially frames the essence of George Clifton Hughes’s memoirs. Large sections of the opening passages of his memoirs are dedicated to his education and his time spent at Ruabon Grammar School, where he started in 1922. Hughes’ tales of his time spent at school will be reminiscent to the reader of their own experiences, whether or not he can be judged as the model student or not.

Before we get on to discussing his experiences in school, it is important to acknowledge the role that religion played in early twentieth century working class Britain. Sunday school was a vital part of Hughes’ early routine, learning and experiences. It is up for discussion regarding the motives of sending your child to Sunday School as it was perceived by some that families would only do so in order to gain a more promising status within society. Hughes opens up his memoirs with a section called ‘The Sunday School’ He acknowledges his own poor behaviour such as when he ‘escaped over the playgrounds spiked railings’ (1) as well as ‘emitting an impolite word, not only in the presence of the Sunday School teacher in the hall where half the Sunday School had heard it, but directed at the teacher herself.’ (1) Despite the bad behaviour from Hughes, this displays the imperfections of the writer, and the reader finds it easier to resonate their own memories with Hughes’ experiences. Hughes familiarises us with a humorous punishment of his misdemeanours by his parents, who use a fake letter from the police as a form of a ‘summons’ This causes Hughes to begin ‘think logically’ as he was ‘too upset.’  The family resolved the issue by ordering Hughes to return to Sunday School the following week and ensuring he says ‘I’m very sorry’ as well as caveating it with ‘miss.’

Hughes continues his educational journey by moving on to Poniciau Infant School which I briefly introduced in  Introduction post. Hughes tends to focus a lot on the activities of the playground, we get the feeling from Hughes that he feels that a child can learn a lot from their experience on the playground it can be a make or break experience for them. Hughes does admit that he finds it ‘hard to specify’ (2) certain memories from his infant school days. Although he does recall the ‘battle royal’ (2) days of the playground which elucidates to the toughness of the school yard and took place with members of the ‘top class’.

Ponciau Infant School, where George spent his early days in education.

“He’s going to Grammar School, you know, and he’s learning Latin”

This leads us to the most interesting aspect of Hughes’ education, his time spent at ‘Ruabon Grammar School’ the thought of going to grammar school was not something that was forever on his consciousness after sitting the entry exam as he admits; ‘by mid-summer I must have forgotten about it.’ (46) Children of the working-class entering grammar schools are a brilliant cross examination of the class system in Britain in the early twentieth century. Hughes discusses the cost implications that entering grammar school would have on his family as the ‘school cap was compulsory.’ (46) This cost went along with ‘termly fee of four shillings and fourpence’ Hughes discusses the cost went toward ‘books, stationery and football’ With the cost later being ‘reduced to half a crown.’ (46)

Although perceived  by many as a privilege to go to grammar school, the environment could be seen as tough and unforgiving. Especially when the deputy head teacher was about to ‘wield a stick’ (20) as discussed in a review of caning; ‘If administered vigorously, this would leave painful weals or “tramlines” across the student’s posterior’] The painful descriptions of the cane are discussed by Hughes with a ‘punishment’ on his class mate, Joe Wright. Wright was ordered by Mr. Jones for ‘a whacking’ (51a) soon he had ‘no feeling in his bottom.’ The idea of corporal punishment within educational did not only leave physical affects on children, it was the mental tax that it took out of children. ‘it was the thought of it that hurt a lot’ (51b) which is admitted by Wright, who later says that the school is ‘rotten.’ This leaves Hughes questioning the ‘Morality’ of the school.

g. clifton hughes. burnett archive of working class autobiographies, university of brunel library, special collection library, vol. 4 2.426

Walton Les, Violence Towards School Children is Never Accepted. The Journal. 2016. [

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