‘Yesterday I was free; in fact, carefree: the leader of the gang with the whole of Liverpool 8 as our territory. Now I was locked up behind the green gate, alone and unloved, a prisoner in solitary confinement for the rest of my life, with a yellow ribbon round me.’ (84)
Clearly from the very quotation above, Kenneth Hayter did not enjoy going to school. But that did not stop him from excelling through Tiber Street School and even going on to pass the 11+ exam and gaining a higher education. Through the ‘Tiber Street Mixed School’ chapter, Hayter explores his reluctance to even step two feet through the green gates of Tiber Street school on his first day one September in the early 1940s and how, what he believed as a child to be the most traumatic experience of his life, amusingly stayed with him for the rest of his adult life.
Light-heartedly, Hayter begins his chapter with a subheading quotation from Dante Alighieri’s ‘Divine Comedy’ stating, ‘Abandon every hope, ye who enter here’ (73). Alighieri’s poem follows the soul’s journey into heaven after death and perhaps Hayter believed to be similarly entering a sort of purgatory where divine justice is meted out through punishments or rewards. Hayter’s view of the school was negative before his journey even began. He says, ‘I wouldn’t have the time to go [to school]. It was difficult enough as it is, finding the time to play out as well as getting enough sleep.’ (74). Poor little Spud soon learnt that his life would change drastically from his usual routine of playing with his friends till supper and would now become a life of enforced learning and strict rules to abide by.
School to Hayter was a consistent ominous presence in the background of his last good summer as a ‘carefree […] leader of the gang’ (84). His mother offered weak reminders throughout his last summer of which he nonchalantly brushed off as he was ‘not sodden-well goin’’ (74). However, the time finally came for him to face his fears as his mam ‘shouted from the kitchen, her voice pitched high with exasperation’ (77) that ‘you’ve got to go to school!’ (77). The chapter goes on to further describe his first day at Tiber Street School of which he mockingly claims was a traumatic experience. When he is dragged outside the gates of the school his mother, May, volunteers his ‘information’ (79) and he exasperatedly claims, ‘I was done for! My own mother, the same mother who said she did everything in my best interest, had sealed my fate […] I was doomed.’ (79).
We can make a logical estimate that Hayter was attending his first school day after the year of 1944 as that marked the release of the ‘Butler Act’ which defined the modern split between primary education and secondary education at the age of 11 with the introduction of the Tripartite system in which schools were broken down into grammar schools, secondary modern schools and secondary technical schools. Children from all backgrounds supposedly had ‘an equal chance of entering grammar school’ though of course ‘children from affluent families were likely to score higher on the intelligence tests’ (Rose, 177). Hayter concludes his first day at school memory by writing, ‘The Journey that started that first day at school took me from Infants to Seniors and eventually to the dreaded ‘11+’ examination.’ (89)
The 11+ exam was also introduced in 1944 as a way to test which style of education the pupil was more suited for- academic, technical or functional. Rather than the test becoming useful, it became a fierce competition for prestigious grammar schools and thus became a competition to gain further education. There was a strong correlation between ‘academic attainment and social class’ in Post-War England (Brooks, 456) and as such, parents were desperate for their children to obtain the best education possible. Although Hayter seems unaware of that as a child we can still see hints of the prestige surrounding passing the test as he remarks ‘Prizes were given to those who were leaving the school just opposite my house, to go on to higher education and achieve great things. They gave me a prize as well, a book: The Mystery of the Island by Isobel Knight.’ (91). The 11+ exam perhaps led to Hayter gaining a better education and could have led to him becoming more literate to give him the push to transcribe this memoir in his late future.
Hayter includes a ‘Postscript’ after his chapter to commemorate Tiber Street County school. Tiber Street closed ‘its doors to schoolchildren in the summer of 1999’. He lovingly ends by saying that within the walls of his school ‘there must remain the echoes of its past […] the history of an institution that served the communities around Lodge Lane’ (92). He is immortalising Tiber street school through his memoir likewise to how he immortalises the community of Liverpool 8 in the 1940s through his writing.
Brooks, Val. ‘The Role of External Examinations in the Making of Secondary Modern Schools in England 1945-1965’ History of Education. (2008): 447-467
Rose, Jonathon. The Intellectual Life of the British Working Classes. New Haven: Yale UP. 2011
Hayter, Kenneth. Toxteth Tales. Lancaster: Palatine Books. 2017
Images taken from Toxteth Tales memoir or LiverpoolPictureBook.com.