Frank Goss (b. 1896): Education and Schooling (Younger years) – Writing Lives

Frank Goss (b. 1896): Education and Schooling (Younger years)

In his memoir, Goss goes into a lot of detail about his education which I will not be able to fully cover in one blog post. Therefore, I will be splitting this topic into two separate posts. This first post will focus on Goss’s earlier schooling while the second post will focus on his later years.

St Paul’s school, 1860s.


Due to moving house so much with his father’s job, Goss attends several schools where he has a mixture of both positive and negative experiences. Before he was two, his family moved to a house in St. Paul’s Road, New Southgate. On one side of the garden, a fence divides them from the playground of an infant’s school next door. He describes the teachers as “The guardians of those little savages, who patrolled the playground to prevent the more ghastly types of maiming or murder among their charges” (p27). I found Goss’s description of the playground interesting as it reminded me of a prison. He further describes the school as a child giving “away his birthright” and projecting himself into “a world of rules, codes and morals, of civilisation and obedience from out of which he must be content to squeeze rare strains of pleasure, and bare the stigma of sin if he enjoys himself too much” (p28). He describes school as “The betrayal of a child who only agreed to play with the children in the playground” (p29), suggesting that when children begin school, they are too young to understand the concept of school and what it entails. They only see themselves as being able to play with other children and when they are actually in the classroom, they are easily distracted by the outside world. For example, Goss writes ‘The flies hum and the bluebottle buzzes against the high window. Thirty little heads move in their direction. “Attention now children.” Thirty little heads swing back again.’ (p28-9). They also seek relief from one another, “School, the aching bottom, each cheek of little rump tested to the limit of endurance before swaying to its fellow for relief” (p28). When they are in school, they are “trapped inside a box that one cannot see out of” and the playground is their only escape from this.

Victorian rocking horse

After moving to Enfield in 1902, Goss has little recollection of the school he attended there but he does remember feeling “that the atmosphere was brighter and the lessons more interesting than they had been at St. Paul’s Road.” (p47). He remembers “having to plait strips of glossy, coloured paper into gay designs, and picture alphabet blocks to form small words. Little else, except assimilation of one lesson bearing on my infant psychology that has lasted me a lifetime, remains in my memory” (p48).

A particular memory that remained with him was during a parents’ visiting day. He recalls how young children were “crowded rather thickly into desks in the largest schoolroom available, leaving a space out in front for a rocking horse, a doll’s house, a doll’s pram and sundry dolls and a portable see-saw” (p48). They were all seated at the desks and told to be good and Goss says that ‘“Being good” meant setting oneself into a statuelike posture […] and keeping perfectly still and silent.”’ (p48-9). They had to retain this pose “for as long as goodness could hold out.” (p49). They were then told that the “goodest of [them] would be selected to ride on the rocking-horse or the see-saw or for the girls, to play with the doll’s house or cot.” (p49). However, Goss recalls that “Little effort was made to enforce the accepted goodness procedure. Perfectly ordinary children were slobbered over by their fond parent, gushed over by the teacher” while “the good were ignored, not forgetfully, but calculatedly.” The children who had no parents there “were the subject of a blind spot in the eyes of teachers and so failed to register that they existed at all” (p50). Despite being at such a young age, a cynical acceptance has arisen from this experience for Goss, as he believes “that just being good is not enough, that the way to get a ride on the rocking horse is to know the right people and see that they are there when the opportunity for a ride comes along so that they can give one a hoist into the saddle”. (p50). This suggests that Goss believes it all depends on who you know in life not how you behave or act and is not something that he should have learned at such a young age, especially in school.

Victorian classroom. Children sat at desks in rows facing the teacher.

They moved closer to London around Goss’s sixth birthday and lived in a terrace house in Rathcoole Gardens in Hornsey North. This was when Goss’s proper schooling began and he attended Crouch End School which was a twenty-minute walk from his street. The school was three storeys and “set behind an expanse of gravel covered playground. It was entered from the main frontage through some tall brick pillars. To the left of the building a passage led to a small area where the boys’ lavatories were placed. The infants’ entrance was from a lane on the right, to a separate wing.” (p74). Unlike today, girls and boys were taught separately in school. Anna Davin notes how “Separation started as the children arrived: there were usually two entrances (sometimes three), with GIRLS AND INFANTS over one doorway, BOYS over the other” (p120). Goss believes that the girls may have attended the same school but in a separate part of the building as he never saw any girls or a separate school for girls. He says that “Up to that time and until seven years later ‘girls’ did not exist, so there may have been a girls’ school of which I was completely unaware in some other part of the building” (p74).

I was unable to find an image of the exact school Goss attended. However, I was able to find a similar school to what he describes. If you would like to view this image it can be located on this link here:. The image shows Silver Street School around 1910 and shows how boys and girls had separate entrances to the school which Goss notes in his memoir also. Goss has fond memories of Crouch End School as he recalls his teachers name “Mr. Pickles”. Pickles had a class of about fifty pupils and divided them up depending on their intelligence. Half of the children “were thought to be the brighter boys who sat at one side of the classrooms, with the assumed duller boys sitting on the other.” (p75). Having a class of fifty pupils was far from unusual as Davin states that “Classes were generally large. Many schools had rooms intended for seventy, eighty and more” (p121).

Goss recalls how he willingly became Mr. Pickles “class monitor”. To do this meant “staying in at dinner time” to “tidy up the desks and distribute the books for the afternoon school and, on special occasions, to clean and refill the inkwells.” (p74). Goss was “sometimes privileged by being allowed to run a private errand for Pickles after school hours.” (p74). His classmates thought that “being a monitor carried with it the salary of one penny per week” but Goss says that “in fact my lord and master accepted my services in the spirit in which they were given as being for love and not for gain.” (p74). Many years later, Goss still had a “great regard for him” (p77) as his teacher. He recalls how he took them “to see the Tower of London and other historic monuments and buildings in London” which introduced Goss “to the subject of history from which [he] gathered so much pleasure subsequently” (p77). He has many fond memories of this school and the trips they were taken on.


Cryer, Pat. ‘Silver Street School, Edmonton, North London: information and old photos.’  N.d. Web. Accessed 17 December 2015

Davin, Anna. Growing up Poor: Home, School and Street in London 1870-1914. Cambridge: Policy Press, London: Rivers Oram Press, 1996.

Goss, Frank. ‘My Boyhood At the Turn of the Century’. Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiography, University of Brunel Library, Special Collection, Volume Number: 0.313194444

Image references:

‘A History of St. Paul’s School’  2013. Web. Accessed 12 December 2015

‘Victorian Britain: Victorian schools’  2014. Web. Accessed 19 December 2015

‘Victorian Britain: Toys and games  2014. Web. Accessed 19 December 2015

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