‘Our rooms were small but I remember [my mother] had forms made to take the children of the neighbourhood who were glad to come to her – this was of course before the London School Board – for they and their parents found her not only an intelligent teacher but a good friend’ (11).
Jack’s mother Rebecca had left school at the age of eight; however after the arrival of six children, her enterprising nature caused her to open a dame school to supplement the meagre family income. She was a born teacher and a good communicator – Jack remembers that ‘she told a story much better than most people…with a sense of humour, which was a very marked element of her character’ (2). Of his father, Jack remembers him as being clever, although he doesn’t comment on his schooling, but he does say that ‘[father] readily picked up words or phrases that were over the heads of his associates’ (20). Jack’s parents were obviously intelligent, despite their apparent lack of schooling, and along with his mother’s home-run dame school, Jack was brought up in a learning environment.
Jack started school at the age of seven, when he was sent to Turners Free School. The school provided an elementary education for sixty five boys; ‘of whom about half were clothed by the school authority’ (31). The school was governed by a committee, whose chairman was Nathaniel Powell (a descendant of Robert Baden Powell, founder of the scout movement). Powell was an imposing figure ‘[who] towered over the schoolmaster and was treated by the boys with awe and respect’ (32).
As far as punishment was concerned, Jack remembers one particular incident that stood out for its obvious brutality. ‘I certainly remember one incident soon after I joined of a boy being stripped from the waist down, held across a desk by other boys while he was severely birched by the master’ (45-46). He does however also remember a lesser, albeit still fairly brutal occasion where a boy was beaten so severely across the shoulders that ‘the cane broke in the master’s hand’ (46-47). Generally though, the usual punishment for misdemeanours was four strokes of the cane over the palm of the hand. This type of punishment was still in use in state schools until 1986, although up till 1998 the practice continued in a few independent schools [i].
According to Jack, Turners school would have probably ranked below todays schools, but had a very good reputation for singing. This was no doubt due to the fact that their schoolmaster was also choirmaster of the church of St. Peter le Poer that the boys regularly attended every Sunday. The boys learned by rote, and specialised in singing in rounds. The church played a big part in Jack’s education – he loved music, especially singing – and was assigned the task of librarian to the choir, giving out and collecting the music.
He must have been an excellent student and as a consequence was made head boy. Jack says ‘As head boy…I was placed frequently as a monitor in charge of the three classes into which the school was regularly divided’ (45). Bright pupils were frequently used to assist with teaching. They were also given the opportunity to be apprenticed to the schoolmaster, who in return for the pupil’s assistance would provide additional tuition in the evenings, leading to promotion to full teacher status for the pupil [ii]. However, by the ages of eleven and twelve, Jack had assimilated all that school could offer him, and like many pupils, then and now, ‘school-life began to bore me and I felt longing to experience what I stupidly imagined to be the freedom of earning my living in whole or in part’ (45).
Unfortunately, working for a living didn’t live up to Jack’s expectations and ‘I became more and more confirmed in my dislike of the life there’ (62-63). So, in his spare time Jack put his teaching methods to good use on himself, by learning shorthand and brushing up his arithmetic and handwriting skills. Around the same time, his brother Tom, who had left school to work in an office, introduced Jack to the Youth’s Institute. Here Jack was ‘so charmed with what I saw and heard that I decided forthwith to join’ (81).
The Youth’s Institute was an example of specific youth provision as advocated by the Reverend Arthur Sweatman (1834-1909). Sweatman’s main statement expressed the central idea ‘that the social condition of young people (mainly in this case, lads) warranted specific intervention with the aim of a general cultural improvement; that this need was urgent and sufficiently extensive to require nothing less than a completely new type of social institution’ [iii]. The ethos of such institutions was to provide ‘useful instruction and a strong guiding influence to lead [the boys] onward and upward socially and morally’ [iv]. These clubs were direct counterparts to reading rooms, libraries and working men’s clubs.
Jack’s affiliation with the Youth’s Institute had a lasting effect on his life as shown by this final quote:
‘This is nearly sixty years ago but the surviving members of that little circle – I can still count four of them – are all my very dear friends of whom I have had good cause for affectionate and lasting remembrance. One name at least is well-known to the public and all are worthy members of the Commonwealth’ (82).
274 Goring, Jack, Autobiographical notes, MS, pp.332 (c. 27,000 words). Brunel University Library.