“Perhaps I was a “loner”, for I liked throwing a ball as high as possible up to a gable-end and catching it” (Clarke, 17)
Lonely as this image might seem, Maud Matilda Clarke (née Mills, 1887-1982) thoroughly enjoyed her school life, she talks of little else during the chapters on her childhood, and play was just one of many aspects of her formative years. She describes, with as much detail as she described her homes (read Home and Family – Parts 1 and 2 to find out more), the schoolrooms which she became so familiar with. Her progression through Dame school to infants and then elementary signify the importance education would have on her in later years.
Until the age of 5, Maud attended Dame school. These were usually run by ladies with a spare room in their house to shelter a number of children and provide them with a basic education (Burnett). As well as this, June Purvis and John Burnett insist, Dame schools provided childcare and security for working-class children but the quality of schooling varied. This was pre ‘Board school’ so came at a price. Maud’s Dame school cost sixpence a week, and with 6 brothers and sisters, it was a cost that Samuel Mills (1854-1930) and Maria Mills (née Hughes, 1859-1937) would have incurred for over a decade. She reflects that “with such low wages as were paid, this was a great strain on the family-income.” (10)
When she progressed to the infant’s school, she experienced more discipline than she had previously, being sent off to school in a thick wool dress and starched pinafore and sharing one grand hall with other children: “Three classes were taught in this large room which had no dividing partitions”. The lack of funding at this time for small schools in urban areas is quite apparent in Maud’s memoir.
At 7 years old the boys and girls were separated and taught different lessons to reflect the roles that they were expected to occupy when they left school and became adults. These gender-specific lessons were usually re-enforced at home, Maud herself was able to use a sewing machine from a young age.
“Girls learnt to use a needle, cotton and thimble whilst the boys did a little drawing” (Clarke, 12)
Unusually, perhaps, Maud does not mention ever going to Sunday school and claims to have had “no religious teaching” (13). For many working-class families, the support of their religious communities was a great help, and Maud does recall singing hymns and praying, so was very likely still brought up in Christian faith.
“Playtime” is a lovely short chapter where Maud remembers the various games that she played or witnessed when at school. There are classics that are still familiar such as ‘Ring a ring o’ roses’, ‘Blind man’s buff’, marbles and skipping. One game that I was unfamiliar with was ‘In and out of windows’ which Maud helpfully writes the lyrics to as it was evidently played and sung in a group.
Maud appears to have enjoyed the quintessential idea of childhood through her schooling and play, but it was necessary for her to mature very quickly. In A Woman’s Place, Elizabeth Roberts explains how in 1899 the compulsory age to attend school was increased to 14. At nearly 13, Maud had been preparing to leave education. Her mother was eager to take her out of school as in September of 1899 Maria bore the last of her 7 children, Elsie, so needed help with childcare.
As Maud put it: “fate stepped in” (55) in the form of her Governess who deemed Maud to be a suitable candidate for teacher-training. As for many working-class children leaving school and starting a job immediately, there is a sense of the loss as their childhood ends quite abruptly. An early introduction into adulthood was usual as it was necessary that as soon as they were able to work, labouring or otherwise, that they contribute to the family income until they were old enough to have their own home.
In my post on Education and Schooling – Part 2, I will be looking into Maud’s teaching career and reflecting on how her positive experience of school affected her decision to teach.
Clarke, Maud. ‘Untitled’. Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiographies, University of Brunel Library, Special Collection, 156, available at http://bura.brunel.ac.uk/handle/2438/9479
‘Maud Clarke’ in John Burnett, David Vincent and David Mayall (eds) The Autobiography of the Working Class: An Annotated, Critical Bibliography1790-1945, 3 vols. (Brighton: Harvester, 1984, 1987, 1989): 156
Burnett, John. Destiny Obscure. London: Allen Lane Penguin Books Ltd., 1982.
Purvis, June. Hard Lessons. Cambridge: Polity Press, 1989.
Roberts, Elizabeth. A Woman’s Place. 1984. Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, 1995.