Thomas R. Flintoff (1904-1994): Education & Schooling – Writing Lives

Thomas R. Flintoff (1904-1994): Education & Schooling

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Thomas R. Flintoff in his memoir refers to his education and schooling on many occasions. The memoir is structured in chronological order starting from his earliest memories. He begins by recalling his first memories of the church when he was young. He specifically states how the church and Sunday school played a huge part in his life as he attended every Sunday, the day of worship.

For the working class, attending Sunday school in the early 1900’s was a form of self-provision. As Thomas Laqueur has argued, many historians like E.P. Thompson have seen   Sunday schools as ‘essentially agencies of middle-class domination of the laboring poor’. However, in his study of the Sunday school movement, Laqueur found little evidence that this was the case.  Instead Lacquer claims that ‘In hundreds of communities all over England working people enthusiastically developed the idea of the Sunday School and made it an integral part of their culture.’[1]  Sending your children to Sunday school was an indication of working class respectability during the early twentieth century. It was very common for a child to attend Sunday School when Flintoff was growing up but the number attending had plummeted in comparison to the nineteenth century. Flintoff states how much he enjoyed attending Sunday school and combining this with his loving Christian home; both developed his moral outlook and influenced many of his thoughts and later actions throughout his life. I believe this to be the reason why education is a prominent theme within the opening of this memoir. It appears obvious that he was grateful and appreciated having the opportunity to learn.

St Saviour’s Infant School, Preston 1912

During the early twentieth century there was a compulsory education system in place which meant children were educated at least until the age of thirteen. Therefore, I presume the early anecdotes he refers to regarding his education are prior to him reaching thirteen years of age. Flintoff was very fortunate with his education as many working class youngsters at the time had to be withdrawn at various points in order to work in the home or to contribute to their family income. Flintoff informs us about his first school which was St Saviour’s infant school where he attended as a day time scholar. He discusses his daily routine and how his mother was dependent upon his auntie taking him to school due to her early morning starts at the local cotton mill.

After leaving St Saviour’s Flintoff attended Grimshaw Street School prior to the First World War, and mentions the change in school hours. We are informed of an accident when he broke his arm resulting in a breakdown of health. This triggered his prolonged eye condition which he had been troubled with since he was a baby. The condition became so serious he had to attend Manchester eye hospital where he was treated for a many months. This illness halted his education and as a result he was held back a year due to the amount of work he had missed. Despite his absence from school, Flintoff still remained optimistic and expressed how his appetite for learning had been whetted.

Grimshaw Street School
Grimshaw Street School, Preston

Elementary education at this time meant most children achieved basic literacy skills but many opted or had no alternative than to go straight into work in order to help their family financially. At the age of twelve, Flintoff along with a number of scholars in his class were invited to take the entry examination for the local Grammar School. He was offered a place after successfully passing the examination but later turned down the opportunity in favor of seeking employment at the earliest opportunity. He states that despite being invited to attend the local grammar school after passing the entry examination that ‘without even consulting [his] mother, [he] decided that [he] did not want to go to the grammar School’. (Flintoff page 15)  Instead he opted to begin work as soon as possible, so at the tender age of thirteen years old during the summer of 1917, Flintoff was employed as a ‘half-timer’ by the local cotton mill.

At the age of fourteen, after working in the cotton mill for two years, Flintoff’s appetite for education reemerged.  During the summer months he joined Mr Lendrum and four of his pupils in evening classes which took place at his nearby home where he learnt shorthand. In the following autumn Flintoff enrolled to attend evening classes at St. Matthew’s School which entailed attending three classes per week to study Arithmetic and accounts, English and Commercial Correspondence and Shorthand. After attending for two years he received recognition of his achievement through a certificate entitling him to return the following year at a reduced fee. Flintoff fails to mention whether he received any financial help from his parents so probably he fully funded the course himself through his work at the cotton mill. Following on from this he later attended the Harris institute for three years, obtaining a certificate from the Union of Lancashire and Cheshire Institute.

Joseph Fosters & Sons
Joseph Foster & Sons Ltd., Soho Foundry, Preston 1930

Flintoff seemed very passionate about education and he realised how important it was to study in order to gain a successful career. In 1924 at the age of 20 years old he enrolled at  Stott College which was a conservative Residential college where he attended lectures in Political Economy, Constitutional History, Local and National Government and classes on Public Speaking. Later, Under the employment of his boss, Mr Leaver, a local qualified secretary advised him on which books to study in order to eventually enrol on a correspondence course with a local college which involved studying; Economics, Commercial law, Accountancy and Taxation and Office Administration. This education enabled him to move out of manual labour in the cotton mill and to build a career based within an office. This included working as an Estate agent and then onto a Publicity manager at a successful engineering company named Joseph Foster & Sons Ltd.

As it is clear throughout this post, Thomas Flintoff was particularly focussed and determined to become highly educated. Despite the financial struggle for Flintoff and his family at an early age, especially after the death of his father, he was able to successfully combine work with education. This I believe had a positive impact on him as an individual. Under such difficult circumstances he appears to have benefitted from this experience making him a more mature and independent. Combining his determination with his enjoyment and willingness to learn enabled Flintoff to achieve such a successful career as he went on to publish his own writings on politics and religion.

[1] Religion and Respectability: Sunday Schools and Working Class Culture, 1780-1850 (Yale University Press, 1976) Pg 293.



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