Jack McQuoid (1910-1985): Education & Schooling – Writing Lives

Jack McQuoid (1910-1985): Education & Schooling

This blog may seem disjointed with Jack’s various experiences in what he deems is his ‘real education’ but I believe it portrays Jack’s life to the fullest.

‘Perhaps from an artistic and political point of view it was a good thing to learn how to blend colours early in life. We knew little then of the changing world we were going into.’

Jack takes an unusual approach when he speaks of his education. He views his social development more importantly than that of his intellectual education in school. This is partly down to his struggle of learning at a time where teachers were not aware of the multiple learning techniques i.e. kinaesthetic, verbal, aural, etc.

‘Perhaps I would have fitted in better to methods of teaching that are being resorted to today that schoolteacher friends tell me about.'(34)

The only time Jack speaks of his time at school is when it revolves around an art related subject. It seems that Jack will only reminisce about the time he enjoyed and not of his experience as a whole.

‘Greek mythology was another subject that fascinated me.’

Jonathan Rose addresses, ‘Autobiographical evidence suggest that the same schools that so splendidly introduced children to the English classics usually reduced geography to the memorization of place names.'(Rose, 2001, 163) This could be the reason as to why Jack only speaks of art related subjects. His school may have solely focused on these art-related subjects and fell short on teaching other subjects such as science.

‘There were two girls from our school Helen and Barbara Davidson, whose mother used to arrange wonderful parties in a very old house.'(81)

Jack gives detailed descriptions about his social encounters whilst at school. His social development seems to have been very important to him. It also may be that he does not want to bore his reader with what he learnt at school.

‘I got decked out in the usual old cord pants, a well worn jersey, and well scuffed black boots. On arrival at the house I noticed that there seemed to be lights turned on in every room…[every boy] was dressed in his Sunday best and looking like a character out of Pickwick Papers.'(81)

Jack uses Charles Dickens to illustrate his story to his readers. ‘Dickens provided working people with the inspiration and the generic literary conventions they needed to tell their own stories.'(Rose, 2001, 61) Rose conveys the importance of Dickens’s literature in order to allow working class people like Jack to portray their story.

Mr. Wardle looked on, in silent wonder. by Phiz (Hablot K. Browne). Household Edition (1874) of Dickens’s Pickwick Papers, p. 41. Engraved by one of the Dalziels. 

‘Feeling like a tramp, I tried to get lost in a corner. But no one seemed to notice that I was dressed differently.'(81) Jack learns the importance of inclusion and friendship. This experience I believe helps shape Jack into being a generous and caring man to all that he meets.

When boy meets girl

‘Three girls!!! What good were they in a man’s world?'(37) This is Jack’s humorous reaction as a young boy when he first meets girls. ‘We could have played soldiers, or sailors.'(37) The gender gap during the 1920s is evident from Jack’s reaction. He viewed them as not being able to play this game as at the time women were not allowed to enrol in the army or navy.

Jack’s opinion soon changes as he builds a friendship with the girls. ‘It was Mildred who taught me how to build lovely sandcastles down by the riverbank.'(38)

Children building sandcastles at Plymouth beach in the 1920s, (Plymouth Museums Galleries Archives).

‘On my way over the fence, I heard more giggles and whisperings. When I got over to them they closed the door behind me, and the eldest explained to me that they were holding an arts class, and they wanted me to be their model.'(38)

Jack’s sexual education slowly begins as the girls insist on having a life class. This experience certainly would never have happened in his school but it is a story he looked back on with humour.

‘We want to draw you – in the nude.'(39)

Rowlandson, Thomas; A Life Class at the Royal Academy, Somerset House; Royal Academy, Somerset House, London; The Life School at the Royal Academy; Credit line: (c) Royal Academy of Arts.

In return for being a model Jack got to partake in the same class with Mildred being the model. ‘Here was no poor rebuked Eve striving to cover her nakedness. I could see she was not quite the same way made as a boy.'(42) Jack compares his religious education in school to his everyday life experience. This is his first experience of his sexual awakening.

Jack looks back fondly at his friendship with Mildred and hopes she is happy in the present. ‘I hope she[Mildred] survived and is living happily somewhere with a nice husband.'(42)

‘One lady who contributed considerably to my education was Miss Greenwell.'(90)

Jack accredits people outside of the classroom for his education. He values the importance of the spoken word from adults.

‘Miss Greenwell’s father was one of the old master cabinet maker of the last century. Before his death he had passed on a rich legacy of local folklore and social history to his daughter.'(91)

It is evident that Jack was growing up in an ever-evolving world. Many crafts were dying out such as that of being a cabinet maker. The following quote perfectly depicts the childlike response to these stories but also on a metaphorical level; this trade soon will be a ghost like the men Jack imagined in Miss Greenwell’s room.

‘As she talked the characters who once worked there seemed to come alive and parade before us like ghosts.'(91)

Musings of a cabinet maker, 1920s.

Rebellious education

‘We pushed the raft away from the bank, and on the solitude of the river we filled the pipe and lit it. Both of us took turns puffing out volumes of smoke until the raft must have looked like a steamboat.'(90)

Jack teaches himself how to build a raft. By doing so he creates a friendship from a young boy who offers him cigarettes he stole from his father in return for a trip on his raft. This raw experience shows how Jack is maturing into a young man.

‘We began to feel terribly sick. But this was tobacco sickness. In fact memories of the experience may have helped me to give up smoking three years ago.'(90) Jack accredits this experience to helping him quit smoking. He even states how he found it a vital part of his education.

‘I considered that experience to be a valuable part of my education. School could not provide us with it all.'(90) Jack’s education spanned in the late 1910s/early 1920s. ‘Equality of opportunity had certainly not been available before 1948.'(Todd, 2014, 216) Jack did not have the opportunity for education that his son and grandchild were offered. Which is one of the reasons as to why he went to night school in America(discussed further in Emigration blog).

Children on a homemade raft in the 1910s.

Each of these experiences shaped Jack’s identity and his social awareness. Education itself is depicted by Jack as a continuous learning experience that is not contained to just the classroom but to everyday life. Education is not a prominent theme in Jack’s memoir. Despite this, I thought it was important for you to understand Jack a little bit more through these experiences. I believe Jack saw life as an opportunity to continuously learn.


McQuoid, Jack, ‘One Man in his Time’ pp.328, Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiographies, University of Brunel Library, Special Collection Library, vol. 4.

Rose, Jonathan. The Intellectual Life of the British Working Classes. New Have and London: Yale University Press, 2001.

Todd, Selina. The People: The Rise and Fall of the Working Class, 1910-2010. London: John Murray, 2014.

NB: all pictures and images have links of their source.

Proof read by Beti and Zoe – click to read their blog posts.

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