A Staffordshire lad growing up in what was then a small village called Whittington on the outskirts of Lichfield. I didn’t attend the nearest primary school but instead one in the neighbouring village of Elford. Quite why my parents chose this at the time I was never really sure, but on reflection I was in a school of just 50 pupils split into 3 classes.
The Mary Howard County Primary School was founded by her namesake and was linked very closely with the village church. Some of my fondest memories were of story time where Mrs Stevenson would read from a little red book and captivate the class with stories of awe and wonder. She would later become my reading and writing helper, the process didn’t have a label then but for me it meant I could get to do some easier but far more interesting stuff and got to grips with some coping strategies from an early stage.
Primary school years were happy ones, filled with harvest festivals, Maypole dancing, sports days, conkers, nature walks and frosty mornings, but strangely enough all of my memories are of sunny days even the frosty mornings where the old brick built school with stone arched windows would glisten and sparkle in the cold but warming morning sun.
I can’t remember there being any bullies, being such a small school, everyone had to get along, We had two heads Mrs Shepherd and Mrs Bates, Mrs West was our reception teacher and Mrs Rae taught the middle bit, we had a Music Teacher Miss Smith who would attend one afternoon per week. For a while we had a supply teacher Mr Higgs, the only male teacher we had experienced he read Charlottes Web to us, and also took us for football training where I ran into a quite obvious white goal post and knocked myself out, I was neither good at nor liked football and this would be true for the rest of my life to come.
We had a school trip to The Avoncroft Museum, in Worcestershire, I would later end up living just 10 miles from this site, we also went to Ironbridge, the Black Country Living Museum and legged a canal barge through the Dudley Tunnel. Ironically we now signpost our Guests from our Farm stay to all of these destinations.
Not having a gym the main hall was used for dancing in pants and vests in bare feet, when it was not your turn you got to sit on the highly polished gym benches or better still on the cast iron central heating pipe which filled the school with heat. The music was played from a round hole in a wooden speaker with a cassette recorder in the back of it and I think it also had a radio, the audio would include strange sounds and a beep which you would have to freeze in your last position and hold still till the music restarted, I still struggle with dancing today.
Mrs Hobbs looked after the floors and buffed them to a glass like sheen with a machine which in later life I would realise how hard it would be to learn the art of controlling it to perform a gentle side to side motion without careering of and hitting everything within its path.
The school had its own cooks who produced some of the best school dinners in a time before outsourcing and Jamie Oliver, yet still managed to turn out delights like steak and kidney and cheese and potato pie.
Mrs Lyons was the caretaker, who kept pigs, they would eat the food waste while the food that could not be fed to the pigs would be burned in the coke burner, Mrs Lyons had the sole responsibility for keeping the boiler burning, I can’t remember a time when it failed the school which was always warm. The heating pipes ran underneath the boys cloakroom which I guess now you would call underfloor central heating. I had the job of taking the meat waste round to the coke house for burning, as a reward I would also on the odd occasion get to see the pigs, years later in my role as coordinator for Staffordshire Prince’s Trust I returned to Elford Walled Gardens where a Tamworth Team were working on a clearance project. Mrs Lyons and her Husband had long since passed, as had the pigs but the pig sty remained with a tree growing through it, volunteers now have returned this legacy to a community Garden for growers and visitors to enjoy.
Now some 30 years later I to have pigs, live in a rural community and have never forgotten the foundation that a village school can give you let alone the legacy of memories of long summer days of childhood.
Hanging onto those rural roots, I now have pigs and sheep on our Farm Stay in Shakespeare’s England where we have re built our own Victorian Pig pen and now on reflection look back and wonder if behind those formative years lay the pieces of a plan far bigger than I would imagine at the age of five on my first day of school.
For more information about our Farm Stay please visit http://oaksbarnfarm.co.uk