Violet explains that she liked school, but ‘was so often away through illness’ (30) she constantly felt like she was catching up. She started school at the age of five and everyday would walk four miles, ‘a long way for small legs’ (26), as she would go home for her lunch.
Austin does not say anywhere in her autobiography what school she attended, but using the information provided I have assumed she attended St Ethelbert’s School on Victoria Street. As it is just under a mile from the road she lived on and is also situated close to the Boys National School, which she explains in her memoir as being in close proximity to the school she attended.
The school was mixed infants and when the pupils were seven the boys separated and went to the senior boys school. The school building was ‘rather small’ (26) which meant that two or three classes shared one large room.
The uniform for girls was a white pinafore, but this was discarded after the first few years, when they were trusted not to get their clothes dirty. The classrooms were heated by a large coke stove, which the teachers ‘periodically tipped more coke [into]’ (28) and in the winter months the headmistress would sometimes make hot cocoa for the girls using it.
Austin can clearly remember the timetable of her first class where she was taught by Miss Walker and Miss Schulty. She learnt how to sew on buttons and in the afternoons would be read stories by her teachers and then crayoned pictures which she then ‘proudly took home’ (26) to show her parents.
Miss Chambers, one of her favourite teachers, taught her arithmetic and Violet recalls how her English improved in Miss Chamber’s class. In the mornings and evenings she would play piano for her pupils.
The school day began with a reading of the Scriptures at nine until nine forty five. The children then went to the playground for drill, which lasted for fifteen minutes, where they had to stretch and run on the spot. The next lesson was arithmetic for forty five minutes. They were also taught History where they studied Britain from the Stone Age or about the British Empire. The afternoons were spent studying Austin’s favourite subjects, English and Composition.
School dinners were not provided so the students went home for lunch, never lingering as they risked getting a late mark. There was an attendance officer who went to all schools and visited the families of children who had been absent without a valid excuse. The cane was used but it was ‘considered a disgrace to be caned’ (28)
The school had a Prize Day on Empire Day, where children were awarded for attendance and punctuality. Austin’s sister, Margaret received the award as she ‘loved school and would never stay away even with a streaming cold’ (30)
Austin left school at fourteen and found an office job. She reflects upon her school life saying she ‘tried hard… in spite of so much illness’ but thinks she learnt a lot which served to ‘help [her] in later life’ (30)
Austin, Violet, ‘Untitled’, Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiography, University of Brunel Library, Special Collection, 2:22