Armitage’s recollection of his school days is short in comparison to some other aspects of his life, spanning just over one page typed.
He attended a voluntary, Catholic Church school in Hunslet, where he grew up. It was built around 1873.
Literacy was measured by a person’s ability to sign the marriage register. By end of 1830s half of the English population were unable to sign marriage register. However, over next seven decades England moved to almost full literacy. In 1914 over 99% of men and women signed. This suggests that the schooling system was adequate for its time; however the then fast developing country and growing population may not have received much more education than that very basis measure…
As Armitage writes, he seems to have quite a negative memory of school and acknowledges that the British education system was somewhat lagging behind those of other countries.
‘There is no reason to suppose that my own schooldays were any different to those of any other boy in those days. So there is no need to dwell on the merits or de-merits of the educational system of that time. It was doing it’s best to keep pace with the requirements of the early 20th century, in schools built to comply with the Education act of 1870. They were totally inadequate by even by the standards of 1900.’ (Armitage, p28)
Formal education played a relatively small part in Armitage’s overall education. He pays much more attention to his work life and how labour affects himself as well as others.
It comes across that a lot of Armitage’s education comes from religion and work. He talks about one experience with a lot of pride where he is allowed to ride ‘on an engine’ around the steel works by his father, describing himself as a ‘hero to all the other ten year old rebels’p75.
‘I was looked on as a kind of juvenile “Casey Jones”, after all was he not the hero of every ten year old who dreamed of being an engine driver?’ p75. Casey Jones was an American railroader who was killed when his passenger train, the ‘Cannonball Express’ collided with a freight train in Mississippi. His legend was inspired by headlines in American newspapers of the time.
I think this attitude to education and schooling reflects Armitage’s working class background and consciousness. He learnt by doing. Watching his mother and father work and then working later in life himself gave him his education. Although, he doesn’t dislike academic education, personally I feel he was let down by the lack of education available to him.
One important fact I think we should consider is, that no matter what standard of education he received, he wrote this autobiography which is lengthy, descriptive and entertaining.
I think that says more about his education and who he was as an individual.
Armitage, Joseph H. The Twenty Three Years Or The Late Way Of Life- And Of Living (1974) Found at The Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiographies, at Brunel University.
Vincent, David. Literacy and Popular Culture: England 1750-1914. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1989: pp. 1 and 22