‘I had never been a very clever scholar… so I was doomed for the pits.’ (Jordan, 2)
Thomas attended a church school in Washington Village, about a mile and a half walk from the colliery where he lived in Usworth, County Durham. In 1906, when Thomas was just 14, his schooling stopped because, he says, he could read and write but ‘could not learn the higher mathematics’ (Jordan, 3). Although his working life was predetermined to start down the mines, Thomas later bettered himself by immersing himself into literature and he surrounded himself with people who could teach him during his time in the Army.
Thomas explains how his father saw just one day of school before going down the mines aged nine where he worked until he was seventy-two, but the introduction of The Elementary Education Act of 1870 entitled all children to a free education, regardless of class and wealth. Although this was introduced to ensure all children received, at least, basic education, it has been considered as no more than a ‘better than nothing institute’ (Rose, 176) by some academic writers, including Jonathan Rose.
Thomas hints that only the smartest children got to stay in education past reading and writing, however he tells us that his wife stayed on at a grammar school to ‘get what teacher’s education there was in those days’ (Jordan, 9) to go on to educate for a living. Thomas later admits that her style was ‘more by brute force than teaching’ (Jordan, 9) however he does credit her for the advancements he made in terms of his education, and his general outlook on returning from the war.
‘Her scholars in later life used to tell me, ‘She used to bray it in to us’.’ (Jordan, 9)
Though there are common cases of stern discipline in schools around this period, Thomas has nothing but good things to say about his time in education. He looks back fondly and remembers the school Marm ‘gave copious doses of religious doctrine [but] she also gave you a great deal of learning’ (Jordan, 2) and he describes her as a very ‘capable lady’ (Jordan, 2).
‘The school pantomimes she organised drew people from all sections of the village to see them. All my praise for her devotion to her calling.’ (Jordan, 2)
The way Thomas talks about his time in school is with fondness and a reminiscent tone, it is clear to see that the school played a big part in the community as a whole and not just in his own life. Thomas was determined to better his education throughout his life which shows his true character and this is something I will be exploring in my next post ‘Reading and Writing’.
Rose, Jonathan. The Intellectual Life of the British Working Classes (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2001)
Thomas, Jordan. Untitled. Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiography, University of Brunel Library, Special Collection, 1:405