Lawson Secondary Modern

1953 was my last year at Smeaton Street and was the year that I and my friends had to endure the infamous ‘Eleven Plus Examination’. This was an examination that all children had to sit to determine the type of school they would attend as seniors. Tommy, Coral and I all ‘failed’ the Eleven Plus. At the top of the page was an anonymous identification number, but we still had to put our dad’s occupation next to it: ‘Wharf Labourer’.

Students were sent to Hugh Bell Grammar School, the High School, Stainsby Technical School and last of all, a number of Secondary Modern Schools that offered a curriculum of basic general education. Tommy, Coral and I all went to Lawson Secondary Modern. Curiously though, all of Uncle Ronnie’s six children went to the High School.

When I found out that I was going to Lawson, I thought it was the end of the world and felt a miserable failure. As it turned out, Lawson was a terrific school with great teachers and a practical approach to learning that gave us all a solid grounding for our later endeavours.

It was a strict environment and the teachers were tough but dedicated. Lawson was typical of the schools built in the early part of the 1900s. It was a double story red brick building with a wide corridor down the centre and classrooms on either side. The girl’s school was downstairs and the boy’s upstairs. A brick wall down the centre of the playground separated the sexes.

As there was no hall at the school, the corridor functioned as the gym and was also used for all general school gatherings. Gym classes were held in the playground in fine weather and in the corridor in poor weather. Very few parents were able to buy sandshoes for gym or sport, so the school had an assortment of black gym shoes, with the shoe size in big white numbers on the heel, for the rest of the lads. It was always a scramble to find a matching pair and appropriate shoe size.

Each morning the school community assembled in the corridor. ‘Pop’ Wilson, the Headmaster, stood on a chair to run the show. It commenced with a piece of classical music, then a hymn. I’m sure my love of classical music can be attributed to good old Pop Wilson.  A reading from the bible by a student came next, followed by announcements, a rant from Pop, and then another hymn to finish.

Often Pop would bang the bible on his rostrum and stop the hymn halfway through.

“Stop! Stop! Start again! You all sound half asleep!”

Now and again there was a trawler lost at sea so the hymn that day had to be ‘Abide with me’.

One morning at assembly, I fainted briefly and was taken to the staffroom. One of the teachers inquired if I had had breakfast.

“Yes” I replied.

“What did you have?”

“Bacon and eggs,” I lied, not wanting to admit to a jam sandwich. There was no comment, but it was doubtful my story was believed. The teacher probably didn’t get bacon and eggs either!

“You look like you’ve recovered ok. I think you can go back to class.”

I was dismissed, armed with a note for Mr Butterworth.

In Form One I learned to swim. The day of the test for the 25-yard certificate came. Starting at the deep end, the instructor held a pole in front of me, in case I tired. On reaching the far end of the 25-yard pool, she saw that I was swimming quite well and yelled out to turn around and swim back. I had never attempted this before, but made it to the other end. On the day of the awards I was disappointed to be given a certificate for only 25 yards instead of 50.

Swimming gave me a great sense of freedom and I took every opportunity to go to the baths. I was soon swimming 50 or 60 lengths of the pool each session.

Tommy recollects his school days:

‘If we were late, the prefect on the gate lined us up. We would miss assembly and then we were in trouble. I can’t remember getting the cane for being late, but missing assembly and waiting outside the classroom until the teacher decided to let you in to hear your excuse, was bad enough.’

Mr Still, the music teacher, organized an operetta each year with titles such as ‘The Miller of Sherwood’, ‘Spaceship to Venus’ and ‘The Magic Flute.

The Magic Flute – Ray 6th from the right, front row, Tommy at the back

One of my favourite teachers was Mr Robertson. He was the class teacher in Form One. Every Friday, last period, he read a chapter or two of a book. I was a poor reader but loved being read to. ‘Treasure Island’, ‘Kidnapped’ and Jack London’s ‘The Call of the Wild’ were some of the books he made come to life for me, with his expressive style and Scottish accent.

In 1984, in Melbourne, as a Secondary School workshop teacher, I was required to fill in for a whole term for a humanities teacher who was on sick leave. The lesson was for year 8 students in the restless last two periods on Friday afternoons. I’m sure the students (and the head of Humanities) were wondering what I would do.

“Good afternoon boys. I’m going to read you a story.

Sit and listen or go to sleep if you like but no-one will make a sound.”

I read them ‘The Call of the Wild’.

Years later I ran across an ex-student who told me how much he loved the experience. To this day I still have copies of each of these books in my bookcase at home.

Along with my next-door neighbour, we joined the Boxing Club run by Mr McIvor. Neither of us lasted too long though – we didn’t have the required killer instincts needed, especially as we were expected to spar with each other. Looks can be deceiving. One of the school boxing champions was Bobby Ryder, a small skinny ginger headed lad with steel framed glasses.

The first training session, a sparring bout with Cliffy Williams, was cut short by Mr Mac. “Hold it,” he said coming between us, “If you don’t wipe that grin off your faces and close your mouth you will lose the end of your tongue!”

The Rambling Club was much more our line, and the group spent many enjoyable Saturdays hiking over the North Yorkshire Moors, discovering places like the Whinstone Dyke and ancient stone-age barrow remains.

The Rambling Club – Whinstone Dyke

School Sports

Apart from swimming I never felt that I was ever any good at sport. I was the skinny, glasses wearing kid who was always one of the last to be picked in a team. True; I was never any good at football but usually finished in the top ten of the full school cross country, not that anyone ever noticed.

At the annual sports regatta everyone had to compete. I was usually selected for the hurdles, mainly because I never put my name down for an event and the hurdles, being the most unpopular event, was  left blank so Mr Macpherson pencilled me in. I never managed better than third place.

No-one at the school knew that I went swimming twice a week so consequently I was never selected for the school swimming team when the house captain picked the squad.

When I was in year 9 a new teacher arrived at Lawson  who was involved with the Royal Life Saving Society.

He put a notice up calling for students to join his Life Saving group. I put my name down not expecting anything to happen.

I looked at the notice board the next week and scanned the names.

G Sherris

G Patterson

E Watkinson

M Curry

C Sturdy

R Jones

Nearly finishing school and I was now in a team!

All  of us were in due course awarded the Bronze Medallion, Bronze Cross and the Award of Merit. Lawson Secondary Modern competed each year against a number of other schools and the Police Life Saving Team. Unfortunately, we were never able to beat the police team. I continued helping Mr Joplin long after I left school.

Wednesday Afternoon

The only redeeming thing about Wednesday sports afternoons was that I was not at a classroom desk.

Luckily Tommy had already left school so I inherited his footy boots. God knows where they came from before that. They were two sizes too big and the leather was so hard, they may have been wooden Dutch clogs.

With our boots hanging by their laces around our necks we piled onto the double decker bus that took us to the football field opposite the cemetery.

On-one had any sports gear and the school didn’t supply any, so each team wore a red or green sash.

As usual, Cliffy Williams and me being pretty useless, we were last to be picked and were designated left and right back positions, him being left-handed and me right. Tommy Woodrow also with dyslexical* feet was relegated to goal keeper

It was a flawed strategy. We had to defend the goal against the opposition’s star centre forward with devastating results.

Our hope was to be fortunate enough to be on a winning side so the three of us could lean against the goal post with our hands in our pockets at the quiet end and wait for the salvation of the whistle.

Summer was not much better but infinitely more dangerous. I was Len Hutton in the back alley with uncle Teddy’s bat and a tennis ball but this was ridiculous! Real cricket balls, as lethal as hand grenades, were used by lads who knew how to chuck them.

The huge worn pads, obviously not designed for a skinny kid in short trousers, flopped uselessly with any movement It was a great relief when the ball thundered between bat and pad, skittling the middle stump, so I could waddle back to the safety of the change shed.

*Dyslexical – Shakespeare would be proud of me

Mr Hurst was the Maths and Technical Drawing teacher. I was pretty poor at maths but the technical drawing was a breeze. Hursty’s method of teaching was to write a problem on the blackboard then seek out students to answer the question correctly. Everyone put their hands up, but he knew which ones to pick. All the unfortunates were lined up and caned – me included. Hursty never once asked me a question during the Technical Drawing/solid geometry class. I usually had the problem solved before it was finished on the blackboard.

Kenny Duck was a likable lad but hopeless at his schoolwork. When Mr Hurst was reading out the results of the weekly maths test, he paused for a while when he got to Kenny’s sheet. “Duck…duck!” Hursty had a sense of humour after all.

Mr Chamberlain, the Science teacher, was not one of my favourites and delighted in tormenting us boys. During a science class, the story of Archimedes’ discovery of water displacement and his naked run down the street was imparted. Picturing the comical imagery, I was stupid enough to turn to my partner and smile at the thought. Mr Chamberlain called me out to the front of the class.

“You dirty boy – put your hand out,” he growled. The thin cane whistled through the air. Wack! “And now the other one,” he added. Wack! “Now sit down!”

At lunchtime, Aunty Freda was home while I was trying to eat my lunch. “What’s wrong with your hands?” she inquired when she observed that I couldn’t hold the knife and fork properly. She saw the blue raised welts on each hand and was horrified. In spite of my pleadings, she marched me back to school, knocked on the staffroom door, and confronted the sadistic Science teacher. Holding out my hand she demanded: “Did you do this to this lad?” I thought she was going to punch him. He never touched me again.

Next: 2014 – Family photos

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