“Church Street School was always, it seemed to me, either cold and damp or dry and hot, never anything in between. The scholars either shivered or went to sleep as the sun shone through the windows on them and their desks and rebounded of the shining painted unplastered brick walls.” (Pp.50)
Despite Frederick’s memoir focussing entirely on his seaside childhood, there is little documented on his experiences in education in Church Street School, aside from a recount of its structural and colour properties. The lack of discussion on his education perhaps identifies Frederick’s nonchalance towards school: the memories documented are less personal and more factual, the bricks and mortar instead of the life inside. His attendance at Sunday School is mentioned intermittently within other anecdotes and is implied to be a very important part of life, but again it is not what Frederick had chosen to recollect in detail. The personal memories that are documented of his school life are the ‘embarrassing’ ones such as an accident that, I believe, could be a case of the more traumatic experiences overruling the good in the human memory.
Frederick was lucky enough to have attended school earlier than other children, a luxury of which his mother paid ‘two pence a week out of sergeant’s pay’ (pp. 2). This privilege was to enable Frederick to have ‘educational advantages’ over the other children, and in these early years they recited the times tables, learned basic writing and arithmetic, ‘considered the limit of our four-year-old capacity’ (pp.77). However, Frederick felt he had given himself a ‘bad name’ in this early school by having an accident caused by his weekly brimstone spoonful.
I kept putting up my hand to go to the lavatory but the teacher didn’t take any notice. And then it happened. And it was distinctly uncomfortable. After a while the girl next to me kept looking at me and sniffing and then put her hand up for the teacher’s attention. After a while the teacher asked the girl what she wanted and to my extreme embarrassment she said for all to hear “please Miss, Freddie’s made a mistake in his trousers”. The teacher came along and making sure it has happened took me out to the lavatory and cleaned me up. Church Street School had no hot water or inside lavatory and I was washed in cold water in the unheated, uncovered outside lavatory on a cold, wet, Monday morning’ (pp.77)
In saying this, there are no horrible teachers, no horrific recollections of the cane and no real hatred of school depicted, which may contradict widespread assumptions about late Victorian Schooling. Dent (1970) explains how after 1905, teachers began to work on building friendly relationships with their pupils in order to work with them. This is evident in Grandma’s response to his accident: ‘Grandma went to the school to see the teacher with the intention of giving her a bit of her mind but she came away thanking the teacher for looking after me so well. [..] She promised to bring the teacher a bottle of her homemade pickled onions’. (pp.79). This care relationship between teacher and pupil was something that only was just beginning to come into practice, and paved the way for future education structures. Frederick joined the army as soon as he was old enough so perhaps he did not use his education directly, but the well-written nature of his memoir suggests that he was very literate and made use of this.
Aside from this unpleasant start to his school life, Frederick does not mention any other experiences within the school, aside from his dislike of sewing class. ‘as I always pricked my fingers at each lesson my piece of calico was sprinkled with small spots of blood, and I was stood in the corner eventually for being careless with my work’ (pp.50). The fact that the boys were included in sewing class is interesting; again we see the way institutions such as Church Street School began to dismiss the traditional separation of gender and the subjects they learnt. This dislike for needlework seemed to be common- fellow Portsmouth author Dora also writes about her disdain for the class!
There was a very distinct class boundary among the poor. It was a question of boots. The children who had boots were looked upon by those who had none as well to do whereas those who had boots looked upon those who hadn’t as the poor who were always with us. For children to go to school with no boots was considered just a shade removed from the workhouse brats and if a child could not muster a pair of boots for Sunday school, which was considered an essential part of life- far more important than anything else you could do on a Sunday, he was indeed poor (pp.31)
However, the information that Frederick did provide allows for an interesting insight into the class systems that took place inside the school walls and within the children’s own social status, with their boots acting as representative of this. He explains how mothers often bought boots in the hope they will be worn by all their children, and when damaged they were sent to the ‘snobs to be clumped’ (pp.31). This meant leather was nailed across the worn part of the shoe, something which Frederick considered a ‘bit of a calamity’. (pp.32). Frederick’s schooling was representative of the Elementary Education act of 1880, in which every child was given an education regardless of their social status. Frederick discusses how the ‘better off’ children often had a cooked breakfast were given bread and butter to take to school, and the ones who were simply given bread and skimmed milk to eat often tried to take food off the others.
Those without often tried to cadge something from the better off but children being naturally cruel in a defensive way didn’t give much away. (pp.50)
Frederick’s family were not only able to provide for early education, meals and good boots, but his sister Nell was provided with a private piano tutor. Miss Buckle was a ‘very high class’ teacher, and a photograph of herself in a cap and gown always ‘stood on the piano for all the acceptable people to see’ (pp.46). Whilst the Wynne family were by no means rich, they were comfortable enough to have money for these sort of luxuries, and this emulation of middle-class life again allows the family to act as a higher class than they are. The way in which the graduation image of Miss Buckle stood for the ’acceptable people’ to see, highlights how they tried to portray a sense of opulence to their peers. Class has been described by critics such as Carolyn Steedman as a learnt trait, often in childhood, (pp.13) and I believe this is relevant here. Whilst Frederick acknowledges his working-class life, his comfortable upbringing alongside his family’s attempt to portray a higher class separated him from the severe poverty that working class could also bring.
About My Area (2014). Church Street School was demolished and it made way for Charles DIckens School. [image] Available at : http://Church Street School was demolished and it made way for Charles DIckens School
C. Dent, 1870-1970: Century of Growth in English Education (London: Long man, 1970), pp. 18-19, 69-70
Elliott, I (2018) Hannan. Dora R. ‘Those Happy Highways: An Autobiography’[blog] available at /category/dora-r-hannan
Hantsphere (n.d.). Empire Day at a Church Street School, Portsmouth about 1910. [image] Available at: http://www.hantsphere.org.uk/object-id-5897
Wynne, Frederick Charles. ‘Old Pompey and Other Places’. Burnett Archive of Working class Autobiographies. Brunel University Library. Special Collection, 2:08