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A snapshot of Norfolk school days

PUBLISHED: 13:47 01 November 2010

Pupils of Old School, Easton in the 1950s

Pupils of Old School, Easton in the 1950s

A new book provides a fascinating snapshot of Norfolk school days, as Derek James discovers

It’s the 1950s and it’s a lovely day so story-time is moving outside at Easton Old School.

But before Miss Phyllis Bailey can begin with the obligatory “Once upon a time…” everyone must turn and look at the camera.

These smart little boys in their shorts and jackets, and the girls in pretty frocks and cardigans, look as if they can barely drag their thoughts away from what must have been a gripping story.

It’s the kind of peaceful primary school afternoon which sticks in the memory for a lifetime.

Now a new book has brought together scores of such schooldays photographs. One picture shows a lovely line-up of the children of Mulbarton School, about 1902, top left. The girls are in long smocks and pinnies, the boys have fancy collars and freshly washed faces, but underneath their best bibs and tuckers are a line of muddy boots – these were country children and many would have had to walk a long way to school.

At Blofield many decades later the girls have been creating embroidered shoulder bags – and have all brushed their hair, pulled up their socks and practised their to-camera smiles for a 1978 photograph, left.

Many of these pictures are of special occasions – take the scene at Easton, the day the dinner lady left, which is pictured bottom left. Everyone has gathered around to find out just what is in the present being proudly held by the little lad in short socks and shorter shorts.

Some of the most interesting pictures are the general views of classrooms in action on a normal school day – perhaps because few photographs were taken of yet another typical geometry or geography lesson.

However, mums, dads and a photographer were out in force for a Christmas party in Mulbarton in the 1950s, pictured top right.

And are the ladies stationed behind each chair looking out for their own little darlings, or making sure that a suitable number of savoury sandwiches are eaten before anyone gets their hands on the sweet stuff?

Back in Blofield in 1925, pictured centre right, we have another excited group of children – dressed in hats and coats and ready for a rare day out.

The book, called When Schooldays Were Fun, has been put together by Stephen Browning

After his own schooldays he tried a few jobs but then went back to school, training as a teacher and eventually specialising in promoting teacher exchanges between the UK and other Commonwealth countries, writing about best-practice in education and serving on various educational committees.

However, he has not forgotten that our schooldays were supposed to be the best days of our lives, and his latest book is a light-hearted look at lessons, playtime, teachers, school dinners and the rest.

Stephen reports that standard school uniform for girls in the 1930s included knickers that stretched from the tummy to the knee, held in position by thick elastic at the top and at the legs. These acted as pockets for coins, sweets etc and were known as “harvest festivals” because all was safely gathered in!

He said he thoroughly enjoyed researching the book and includes plenty of his own Norfolk school memories.

He was sent to a private primary boarding school at just six years old (on what he calls a three-for-two offer with his older brother and sister) and admits: “Those years were not the happiest of my life.” But he thrived at the King Edward VII School in King’s Lynn.

These days Stephen lives most of the year in Norwich, but also spends time in Taiwan, where he writes books for people teaching English. “They are quite serious, academic books, so doing the Schooldays books was absolutely wonderful.”

He scoured more than 100 Halsgrove local history books from all over the country for pictures – as well as fascinating snippets ranging from liver and semolina on the menu, through baiting trainee teachers to the cruel and unusual punishments popular in the past.

Pity poor Tom, from Easton, who is recorded in the punishment book of St Peter’s School as receiving two strokes of the stick for “putting a pencil up his nostril and telling an untruth about it.” Or eight-and-a-half year-old Charlie who, in 1931, got “slaps on buttocks” for “catching and kissing and otherwise annoying eight girls.”

When Schooldays Were Fun, by Stephen Browning, is published by Halsgrove and costs £19.99.

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