A tribute to the life and work of Brian Torode
I was born on 4th February 1914 at Slimbridge in the house next door to ‘The Forge’, the house now called ‘The White House’. The address in those days was Slimbridge, near Stonehouse, Gloucestershire. I remember aunts and uncles being driven by pony and trap to Stonehouse to catch the main line train to the Midlands (Birmingham). This was not the station which now serves the London line.
There was a problem feeding me and my father went to Stroud by pony and float to buy a goat for its milk. When the goat came to the end of its useful life its skin was carefully dressed and lined with Hessian to be a bedroom mat; – at least two others followed it!
We had a front room (called the living room) and a kitchen with an adjoining long narrow room (more like a passage) with a hanging cupboard on the far end wall with metal mesh sides. It contained the meat and milk and sometimes already cooked dishes that needed to be kept cold. The kitchen was a work room and had a walk-in pantry on one side.
Father soon had a cow, later two or three, which he kept in the orchard at Kingston. Milking was twice a day and father walked along Butchers Lane and across the fields behind the cottages and Rectory Farm to Kingston to milk the cows. Mother made butter so we had a churn and a number of shining galvanised pails. In the long passage we had two white painted tables on each of which stood a large metal pan about two and a half feet in diameter and about seven to eight inches deep with slanting sides. The newly arrived milk was strained through butter muslin put in the pans and then left to stand for the cream to rise. The next day the cream was ladled off and kept in large pots until there was enough for the churning. Any unwanted milk and the buttermilk was given, together with the spare potatoes which had been boiled in a large saucepan and mixed with sharps and barley meal, to the pigs which were kept in sties in the orchard.
Father always had one which he gave as a skittles prize at the church fete annually. They were free range pigs except when the apple crop was ripe, the cider apples were stored at the base of the trees in sacks and dessert fruit was stored in the back kitchen adjoining the house but with a separate doorway, shelves, a sink and a furnace for heating water from the pump outside (against the end wall of the forge on the opposite side of the entrance drive). The weekly washing of clothes, bed linen etc. was carried out in here and hung out on lines in the orchard to dry. When mother had further children Mrs Chapman from the row of cottages (including the police station) in Cambridge came for a time and did the washing for the “lying in”, and till mother could take over again. Mrs Chapman would also wash and lay out the dead in the village.
Round the corner from the back kitchen was the small cement floored closet with a cesspit with a wooden seat over it. At appropriate times when the pit had to be emptied a section of the garden was trenched and on a moonlit night the contents were carried out and covered over with soil. We were intrigued by grandfather’s closet next door with one large hole and a smaller one alongside for the up to sixes, or so. It was a great improvement when special buckets with sanitised soil replaced these.
The living room had a large square oak table where we sat for meals, or played with our books and toys. There was also a small ‘Cambridge table’ in front of the window on which stood mother’s sewing machine and a large green bowl (I have it still) with an enormous aspidistra which had to be washed very regularly and treasured. On a sideboard at the side stood mother’s prize pieces of Staffordshire china, an elegant oil lamp with a brass base and stem, a beautifully moulded pink glass bowl for the oil and a glass patterned shade, and also a brass candlestick to light the family to bed.
In the kitchen we had a fireplace and oven on one side of it and in the living room backing this was a fireplace. This fire was about twelve to fourteen inches above the hearth. Water was boiled in kettles here, and the two flat irons were set on a specially made trivet which hung on the bars of the grate to get hot for ironing.
In front of the fireplace was a large home made rug. On winter nights father and mother cut up into strips, about half inches by five, any discarded recently washed garments and hooked them through a Hessian back to make a close mat. When bright colours – red, yellow etc. – were there they were incorporated in interesting patterns. On bath nights the tin bath was carried in and put in front of the fire and hot water added. The younger children were bathed first and put to bed. Then my turn (each with a new lot of hot water!)
My father had kept pigs and hens for several years before he married, – he continued to do so, so there was always bacon and eggs for cooking. Father preferred rearing young pigs so he joined with grandfather next door for the pig killing in the Forge orchard. After hanging it to bleed, it was burnt on a fire to get rid of the bristles, then scalded and scraped till it was fit to be brought to grandfather’s wash house in the orchard where it was cut up. Not a bit was wasted, pigs’ trotters, brawn from the head, and any fat – cut up, rendered down to give lard by putting the fat in earthen pots in pans of boiling water, and then draining it into containers to keep. The resulting ‘scratchlings’ were frizzled in a frying pan with eggs for breakfast. The tongue was boiled, the chitterlings washed again and again and salted and then washed and turned inside out on a special long cane by grandmother then hung on hooks in an alcove in her kitchen to drain. When dry we had half and Mother boiled them – delicious eaten cold.
I was baptised at Slimbridge Parish Church where my Mother and Father were both bell ringers. Some time after I was born Mother injured an arm and was obliged to give it up. Father continued for several years. In these days people sat in particular places in the church. Our family third back from the front in the right central aisle, grandfather and grandmother in front. When father rang for evening service I was sent to sit in “our pew” to keep it and Father would come and join me.
Father rented the green side of the Canal Bank from Shepherds Patch to Purton where he ran a small flock of sheep. In spring time when some lambs were castrated we had sweetbreads for breakfast and when lambs had their tails docked we had Lambs’ Tail Pie. First dip tails in boiling water and the wool pulls off easily – next brown their outsides in the frying pan in a little fat. Cut up into lengths of an inch and a half and arrange these in a baking dish. Cover with stock – top with pastry and cook in the oven. We had eels from the rhine at the Patch and elvers from the Severn.
On infrequent occasions a ‘fisherman’ came through the village – Mr Shipway whom I was told came from Purton via the Canal Tow Path. He carried a fish basket on his head. I remember sprats were a great treat. The poem Mother taught us fitted our mood exactly.
The fishman’s coming down the street
He sells what cats like best to eat
“Oh Mother did you hear him say
All kinds of fish for sale today.”
The mother pussy took a dish
And hastened out to buy the fish
And all the kits looked out to see
What kind of fish her choice would be.
She bought a haddock and a hake
A piece of cod to stuff and bake
A salmon and a pound of sprats
To feed her little baby cats.
Mr Pearce was the baker who lived at the house opposite. The bakery was at the back and Mrs Pearce kept the shop at the front. Loaves were delivered by Mr Jack Goodrich with the horse drawn baker’s van, and for weekends ‘fatty cakes’ were made too.
This was Mother’s bill:
Bread 7s 2d
Pkt of Flour 6d
Quaker Oats 9 ½d
Qtr sweets 3d
2 pairs of shoelaces 4d
Total 9s 0 ½d
The main supplies of our groceries were from Wintle’s Shop in Long Street, Dursley. Mr Wintle came each Monday afternoon to take the order, and goods were delivered on the Friday. During the war he bought the butter Mother made – half pound packs with her special pattern mark made with butter pats and set on greaseproof paper.
I started school at the age of four. After the first few visits accompanied by one or other of my parents I was taken by older girls in the village – Flossie Spencer, Lillian Longstreth, Ursula Cornock. Soon I went on my own. I had to go home for lunch each day and hurriedly ran back to be in by five to one. To be late was a disgrace. Mr Hudson was the headmaster and Mrs Hudson took the youngest children. A coal fire warmed the baby room and pictures were stuck on the walls round the room ‘illustrating’ phonetic sounds which were rehearsed diligently daily.
When I was five a cookery van came in the summer with a teacher to instruct the older girls. I did not go home that mid day so was made to eat sandwiches sent by Mother, in front of the class which nearly choked me.
Later that year there was a severe outbreak of measles. The school was closed for over a month. All the lucky well children in our part of the village played in the field next to the church opposite the Forge.
At Christmas the partition between the two middle school rooms was pushed back and the whole school assembled there to see lantern slides and films of Charlie Chaplin and went home each with a bag containing an orange and a bun.
Religious education was conditioned by the expectations of the examiner. We had to learn the Ten Commandments and know a lot about the New Testament. Each class was questioned in the morning but we had the afternoon off.
At the age of nine those children whose parents wanted them to sit for the exam for entry to Dursley Secondary School started to do homework with Miss Burnett, the deputy head. We had printed books of tasks to work through, some of which needed considerable ‘research’. We had to work very hard. Miss Burnett was a member of the Folk Dance & Song Society, and introduced Country Dancing with the girls. We became very proficient and gave demonstrations at the annual garden fete and also at the School Sports Meetings. Some of the boys were taught Sword Dancing too.
The two regular visitors to the school were Mr Collett, the attendance officer who called weekly and checked why the children were not in school, and Nurse Smith who came to examine the children’s heads, to send home those with lice with advice to parents re cleansing.
Miss Burnett was a ‘Tower of Strength’ giving valuable expertise and encouragement to other functions in the Village – the church choir, and the Sports Committee for example and in the siting of the new village hall, which like my father she hoped would be independent of the church – a real village hall, perhaps where Mr Thornhill had his garage opposite the Roses Cottage.
Just before I left to go to the Secondary School, the Children’s Sports Committee gave the school a Maypole. Platting and Spiders’ webs were a great challenge.
After the war my father began bee keeping. Grandfather was alarmed especially in swarming time. We had honey in comb and also honey in jars. After a queen excluder had been placed over the lower frames in the hive, then we could put the full frames from the top section in a honey extractor. It was my job to turn the handle, honey being driven out by centrifugal force.
I particularly remember Mr Hunter, the headmaster when I was about seven. He was genial and somewhat rotund. He came home on several occasions for some onion pippin apples – smallish rather flat and greenish yellow with a blush when ripe and a very special flavour. He lived in Berkeley and cycled up to Slimbridge each day.
My father and mother attended Slimbridge School, now the older room of the Village Hall. Father told us how Thirza Pick, headteacher, cycled up the canal bank from Purton. She was a stickler for making the children behave with decorum and good manners: On the dance floor – how to address your partner when inviting to dance etc. and how to accompany a lady along the street – ladies inside away from the danger of passing vehicles and mud splashes, gentlemen on the side nearest the road.
It was important to be writers of well shaped letters and to be good at sums.
Grandfather had attended the Wesleyan School in Cambridge. The log book says the school opened on April 13th 1863 with 25 scholars. In the examination of January 23rd 1865, Grandfather William Barton, aged eleven, was number 30; his date of admission to the school was in May 1863. His family lived in Cambridge then and his father was a blacksmith. When Grandfather moved to The Forge he was a blacksmith and his younger brother, Henry, who lived at The Forge, aged nineteen, was also a blacksmith. My father soon was in charge of the farrier work. He became a Master Farrier. His younger brothers Maurice and Burland joined the Forces in the War but Father’s occupation kept him at home. He shod horses used at the Slimbridge Magazine, and those of local farmers, the Rector etc. Mr Burnett, who had a string of hunters in Gossington, was special – Father went to his farm to shoe. He knew Mr Burnett very well – when telegrams for him had come to the Post Office next door to the school, Father was taken out of class and sent across the fields (now Tyning Crescent) to deliver them. Father told us of cricket matches being played down on the Dumbles at the New Grounds but I only remember the cricket field next to the Hurns Farm with the entrance near Castle Weir (called Castley Wear).
The backsmith’s shop had large double doors (which were opened early and closed late) which fastened back against the inside walls. One third of the way in was a wall about two thirds across the space in which were rings to which the horses were tied. Further in on the left was a blunt ended triangular metal construction (table) which butted on to a wall to which on either side was a bellows, so two people could have their fires – one for metal work e.g. church gates, the other for heating the metal for horseshoes. Special steam coal was heaped on the ‘table’ further back and at the end was a long trough about one foot wide and a yard long, full of water and used for tempering the metal. Freestanding beyond this was an anvil. One end was round and pointed, in the other flat part was a hole about one to one and a half inches square in which was put a sharp edged wedge. The metal rod for the shoes was rested on this and with a sledge hammer blow the length for a shoe was cut off. These rods were obtained in Gloucester. Mr Vinson, an agent, called at our house at regular intervals on a Monday and stayed to lunch – always Shepherd’s Pie and Mother’s famous spiced rice pudding. The order he was given was dispatched to Shepherd’s Patch via the Wave or Lapwing which plied up and down the canal, – or sometimes to Coaley Junction. Often coal was bought in conjunction with Mr Workman who had his works (wheelwrights, cider presses, farm machinery) near Moorend End Lane – usually two or three truck loads at a time. Even when Father had moved to Narles Farm, Cambridge, and was farming he dealt with Workman & Sons.
August 3rd To one bale = 1 cwt Blue Bell Twine £1 4s 6d
September 24th 3 balls ditto 9s 0d
November 1st 1 cwt Smiths Coal 2s 0d
(for shoeing his own horses)
£11 5s 6d
When the horseshoe had been reasonably fashioned and the horse’s hoof trimmed and cleaned of caked mud, the hot shoe, held in long handled pincers, was fitted on the hoof. It was briefly held and checked and put up acrid smelling fumes. Then back to have eight holes punched in the metal and a lip at the front to protect the hoof, then back again to heat, finally shaped and cooled in the water tank. It was nailed on with ordinary horseshoe nails but in winter these could be replaced with frost nails which had a sharp edge to bite into the hard ground to keep the horse upright. The shoe was nailed on, the ends of the nails came through the front of the hoof, – were then clinched and made smooth with a rasp.
Father also had a number of rubber shoes, like little horse shoe shaped Wellingtons, one of which could be put on an injured foot to keep an open wound clean.
At the beginning of the War mules were used to tow barges along the canal. My father always reminded us that mules were not to be trusted. When it came to be shod, if you picked up a front foot it balanced on legs on the other side and with its rear foot it could give you a crack on the back of your head.
After considerable use the metal bands round the wheels of wagons, floats, carts etc. became loose. They were taken off and a piece of the rim cut out, then the band was heated and hammered to fuse together for replacement. Any damaged spokes, hub and surrounding sections were repaired by a wheelwright ready for banding. In the orchard, a large circular fire was laid of shavings, wood and straw to start and then more wood added to get a good heat to cover the metal bands. Some distance away, eight to ten yards, was a large granite millstone, hollow in the centre to accommodate the hub, with a grooved screw bar in the middle to which was attached a metal winder arm which would screw down to hold the wheel firmly in place. A row of wheels would be leaning against the fence alongside for further rim replacements. While the fire was burning a large tank of water on wheels was brought alongside. When the metal was red hot two men slaked their arms with water from a bucket and with a pincher with handles about eighteen to twenty inches long would take up the rim and carry it to the millstone, placing it quickly on the wood. This began to burn so while the men went round hammering the rim down in place on to the wood with heavy hammers, some one else went round with buckets of water to put out the flames. Gradually the band cooled and the wheel was replaced with the next. It was my job to pump the water into the tanks from a metal pump just inside the garden gate – only the well remains today to denote the site. It was always exciting and we roasted potatoes in the embers when work was done.
The canal bridge at Shepherd’s Patch was in two sections in the early days each with a heavy wooden arm which was pushed to open the way for the boats to go through. It was an excellent seat for a number of walkers. Barges were pulled by tugs and sometimes by mules. The local Bridge man was responsible for opening the near side but a man on a bicycle cycled along the towpath on the opposite side and accompanied the cargo on its journey. For about the first half mile from Shepherd’s Patch to Purton the green side of the bank was narrow but further on it was much wider. Mud excavated from the canal had been spread here but in my father’s time it was cultivated. I remember he grew mangolds – he hired a flat-bottomed barge to bring them to the Patch. There was much concern because it was feared an unexpected leak would cause the ‘flat’ to sink just near the bridge. It was unloaded very rapidly.
The sides of the canal were lined with wood. When any rotted the canal water encroached into the embankment and made it more dangerous to drive a horse and cart down the narrow part. Later metal shuttering was installed which is as we find it today. In the nineteen thirties there was a scare that the banks might be damaged by coypu.
A galvanised water tank was placed at the beginning of the wide part of the Canal bank on the green side and water was siphoned out of the canal for the sheep and cattle. Sometimes a sheep further down the bank towards Purton tried to take a drink from the pools where the water had encroached behind the broken wooden shuttering and fell in the canal. If it swam to the opposite side and a canal bank maintenance team was in their flat-bottomed barge they pushed the animal back where my father and Norman pulled it out. The workers always feared a tug and its following barges laden with deals from Scandinavia or huge stacks of larch poles bound for the Moreland match factory. A tiller man was high up on each load determined that his barge would not hit the sides of the bridge when passing through. My brothers George and Norman caught rabbits on the canal bank and sold them to people in the village. They were paunched and a rag and bone man collected the skins.
Until the family moved to Narles Farm, Cambridge, it was customary for Mother to take her children for long walks on Sunday afternoons, usually down to Shepherd’s Patch, along the towpath to Bolton’s Bridge, now called Cambridge Arms Bridge, along Ryalls Lane and Longaston Lane and back home – really a nature walk, swans and ducks with young, small yellow water lilies in the canal, orange balsam on the banks, masses of yellow iris on the fringes of the little river Cam and perhaps geese flying over in skeins.
At Easter cousins came from Birmingham and Wolverhampton to stay next door with our grandparents. After a spell weeding in the garden, obligatory with fingers not knives, they would join me and walk down to the New Grounds, over the Patch Bridge, to see the Severn. At low tide we could walk quite near the water and sandbanks but at high tide – the saltings were covered by water, the gullies were hidden and we had to keep to the top of the embankment which led to the red goose house and the breakwaters beyond. The gate through which the sheep went to graze when the tide was low was blocked at very high tides by huge planks which slotted into double posts on either side of the gateway to keep back the water.
On the right hand side of the lane which led from the Patch to the New Grounds was the shepherd’s cottage, behind which was a long row of sheds used at lambing time, when animals lame with foot rot needed attention, at dipping time and finally when sheep were shorn and their fleeces packed in huge hessian bags prior to sale. The shepherd’s wife, Mrs Bowditch, always insisted that we call on her for refreshments, home made lemonade and fruitcake.
On the left hand side of this lane was a narrow ditch then a low hedge behind which were wild cherry trees and a decoy ‘pipe’. Birds would enter the wide end followed by a lurcher dog which was controlled by its master, who was out of sight. Birds could be caught and ringed from the narrow end or caught for eating.
In the 1920’s Slimbridge had an enthusiastic fishing club. Each person had a marked point on the green side of the canal from Shepherd’s Patch towards Purton. Fishing began and ended with my father firing his gun.
In summertime it was a usual sight to see villagers swimming in the canal. Miss Burnett, who had life-saving certificates, offered to teach me to swim here. My parents would not allow me to go, probably remembering its 17 ft depth, but Norman and George went in on the end of a plough line held by my father, who had been a swimmer there in his younger days. Alas neither took to swimming.
When I was 10 years old my sister Vera was born. An abscess developed in mother’s right breast, which would not heal. So it was decided for the doctor to operate on her at home. The furnace was kept well stoked to provide boiling water to scour everything left in the bedroom. Jack and Norman went to stay with the Noad grandparents in Gossington, George and I went next door to our Barton grandparents and Vera went to my aunt Mary who lived in an old cottage lying back in the garden next door to Cullimore’s farm. It was my job to go across the fields with milk from the Jersey cow for her each day. I still remember vividly lying in bed and listening to the church bells ringing to herald in the New Year. I knew father was one of the ringers and I fervently hoped mother would recover.
Very soon I learned that I had been successful in the test and interview and went to Dursley Secondary School. I had to walk to Coaley Junction Station each morning to travel on the local train which was the Dursley donkey which took you to the bottom of Long Street, then walk up the street, along the Knapp and into the school drive. The building had been Sir Ashton Lister’s home. The spacious ground floor rooms were our classrooms, cookery classes were held in the old kitchen until a new block was built beyond one end of the mansion and a large hall at the other end for morning assembly and a gym for the rest of the day…
Her Career in Education
In September 1955 the following letter was received at Narles Farm, Cambridge:
‘Dear Mr and Mrs Barton, I have been asked to write to you by the entire staff at Yenton Infant School as they are very anxious to know when Miss Barton’s birthday is, and we can find no other source of information. They have put out ‘feelers’ and got evasive replies! I can’t tell you how much they think of Miss Barton, and how they appreciate their luck in being in the school of which she is Headmistress. We do want to show some slight appreciation, so if you would help us we should be glad, confidentially yours, Mrs G. Harrison.’
Marian Florence Barton was born on 4th February 1914 and educated at Slimbridge County Primary School and was taken to the school by her friends Flossie Spencer and Ursula Cornock. It was a long walk from Churchend and Marian would lunch at home. When she was ten she won a scholarship to Dursley Secondary School. Where she remained until she was appointed as a Student Teacher at Slimbridge, serving as such until July 1932. Mr George Randall, the Head Teacher at Slimbridge wrote a reference on 28th June 1934:
‘I have known Miss Marian Barton since June 1st 1924, the date on which I commenced my service as Head Teacher of this School. In that year she was successful in qualifying for a “Free Place” at the Dursley Secondary School…In all phases of school work she showed interest and enthusiasm. As a teacher, she maintained good discipline & gave her lessons in a bright & attractive manner. She deserves special commendation for the manner in which she prepared her lessons, & the evidence she gave of possessing more than ordinary ability in preparing illustrations for same. Her period of service here, during which she had experience with the senior lasses chiefly, & I am confident she will do her best to render efficient service in any school, as she undoubtedly possesses the ability necessary to develop into an efficient teacher. I therefore strongly recommend her for the post she is now seeking.’
Marian took her Oxford Examination twice having decided the first time that funds were not available for her to go to University and she obtained a distinction in Botany. She decided to study for a two-year Teacher’s training course. She applied to Avery Hill Training College, near Eltham, which was run by London County Council. She obtained a grant from the County and a loan from a private firm in London and Miss Renshaw and Miss Cottham, two Secondary School teachers, were her sponsors. With heavy heart Marian left Slimbridge to discover pastures new.
Beautiful Britain, Beautiful Gloucestershire!
I’m standing at the bus stop, case in hand,
Subsiding after panic rush of parting,
And take a last nostalgic look – appraisal –
Of joys of home, and Gloucestershire in Spring-time –
Its sounds and colours and its subtle thrilling change.
Here but three weeks ago were leaves and buds
So small, compressed, so tightly held
Against the bitter cold, – today transformed!
The poyanthuses lift up their heads
Of velvet to the sun and April showers,
Making lush cushions for the bumble bees,
And honeysuckles thrust aloft their shoots
As if to catch at each new anchorage
Like tottering children making their first steps.
The Cotswold skyline fascinates me still
With memories of harebells bent
By teasing winds, and poppies’ blaze of red.
In gathering storm how near looms Frocester Hill
Where once I stood Olympian to gaze
On patchwork fields of lovely Gloucestershire.
Marian certainly flourished at Avery Hill and her Teaching Certificate from London University records her Distinction in Advanced Geography and her credit in Maths, Needlework and Handiwork.During the half term holidays Marian stayed in Bermondsey, in London and used this as an opportunity to explore the city and Home Counties.
Mr F Hawtry, the Principal, wrote on 20th July 1934:
Miss Barton entered this College in September 1932 for a two-year course of training and has done very good work as a student. She is taking Geography as her special subject. She is intensely receptive and yet critical and the sincerity of her studies has resulted in a very satisfactory all-round development. She has a good ear and can play the piano. Her handwork is well executed. She has done some teaching before coming to college; during school practice she has the experience with boys and girls of varying ages. She is thoroughly interested in children and teaching. She combines enthusiasm, patience and persistence so happily that the children in her class are stimulated alike to co-operative and individual work.
She has taken an active part in the social life of the College. She belongs to the Musical, Geographical and Debating Societies. She plays games of all kinds and is interested in bee-keeping. She has also found time to do some voluntary welfare work and has helped at a Play Centre for a short time. Miss Barton has shown herself to be a student of considerable ability with a capacity for hard work. Her sympathy for children and desire to share with them the search for knowledge should make her a very successful teacher. She is thoroughly reliable and I can warmly recommend her for appointment.’
L.Jones, the Lecturer in Needlework and Craft Work at Avery College, added:
‘Miss Barton has been a student at Avery Hill College for two years, during which time she has taken a course in Needlework extending over one year. The course has included the work of Junior and Senior classes and the cutting out and making of garments.
Miss Barton has also taken a course of Craft Work extending over one year. She has practised the following:- Paper and Cardboard Modelling, Block Printing, Simple Bookbinding, Lettering and Colour.
Miss Barton has been enthusiastic, thoughtful and extremely capable during these Courses, and her set of work in both of them is excellent. Her mastery over various materials, good taste in colour, and the educational use she has made of the help given to her, all contribute to justify the above statement. Her teaching is just as thorough and good as her own work.’
After successfully completing her course at Avery Hill, Marian was put on the London List of First Appointments. She declined the offer and went instead to work in Birmingham. Her first appointment was at Sparkbrook where she joined the staff of Montgomery Street School. She remained there until the outbreak of War in 1939.
The following newspaper report offers us of a taste of some of the changes which were taking place in education at that time:
‘Children’s Work – Clever Ideas in School Exhibition – Free Choice of Subject – Gone, let it be hoped for ever, are the days when with the mistaken idea of encouraging their artistic ability, school children were called upon to spend laborious hours in drawing the unexciting outlines of cubes, cones, prisms and ivy leaves. Today the pupil is encouraged from the very beginning of school life to give free play to the imagination and sense of colour, and the results often prove both interesting and heartening. This is certainly the case at Montgomery Street Junior and Infants’ School, where during the first three days of the present week, there is being held an exhibition of children’s work which has been examined with keen interest by teachers from various special schools in the Birmingham area. The work has been carried out under the supervision of Miss N.M. Stalker, the headmistress and her staff by children whose ages range from five to 10 years, and there are some 250 examples which show clearly the development in their method and ideas. Many of the drawings reveal a vivid imagination coupled with an excellent grasp of colour values, and in the case of the older pupils – perspective. The young artists have been given an entirely free choice of subject, without any prompting on the part of the teacher…’
During the war Marian was in Worcester teaching children who had been evacuated.
After the war Marian returned to Birmingham and from 1944 she taught at Yardley Wood Junior School. In the July of the following year she was appointed as Chief Assistant at Tulton Road Primary School. Miss P. Edmonds, the Head Teacher took up the story in a testimonial dated 19th March 1947:
‘Miss M. Barton was appointed as Chief Assistant here in July 1945. For nine months, in 1946, when I was granted a prolonged leave of absence, she acted as Head Teacher. She has, therefore, an intimate knowledge of the organisation and control of this large department, numbering over 600 (junior, Infant, Nursery children). All her duties have been carried out in a highly capable manner. As a teacher she is excellent. She has taken all classes in the Junior Section of the school, and is, this year, taking a backward class of six year olds, in order to gain experience of Infant methods. She has been most helpful in the planning of general schemes, for she has a thorough understanding of the teaching of basic Junior subjects, and keeps herself conversant with any educational developments. She has made a careful study of the teaching of music, choral speech, physical training and dancing. Her ability to play the piano is a most useful asset. She has entered teams in Singing and Choral Speech at the Birmingham Dramatic Festivals. As an Art teacher Miss Barton is a specialist. Her excellent results have so interested and guided many of the staff, that in the past two years, the teaching of Art in the department, has greatly advanced. While on evacuation, the children’s work in Art was so much admired that a member of H.M. Inspectorate borrowed specimens for exhibition. Throughout my leave of absence Miss Barton conducted the Religious Assemblies of the Junior Section of the School. She has a very real understanding of the importance of this branch of a Head Teacher’s duties, and the atmosphere she created was very reverent. Miss Barton has an attractive manner and personality. She dealt with parents and children with understanding and tact. She gives generously of her time and help to all who need it. Her co-operation with the staff is excellent; young teachers find her most ready to give tactful advice and practical help. It gives me great pleasure to express my appreciation of her loyalty and efficiency. I have the utmost confidence in her as a most successful Head of a Primary School.’
Marian applied to be head teacher at Winson Green but in the event she was appointed as Head Teacher at Moorend County Primary School in Erdington. The school buildings were unfortunately required for the extension of the neighbouring Secondary Modern School when it was given the status of a comprehensive school. The juniors from Moorend and Yenton were merged into a new Junior School and the two infant departments were also merged under the headship of Marian Barton. The infants moved temporarily to rooms in Sir Josiah Mason Orphanage whilst a new school was constructed on land adjacent, in Chester Road, Erdington. Eventually Councillor S.E. Davies J.P. opened the new Yenton County Infant School on Wednesday 3rd July 1957 and this was undoubtedly a proud day for Marian.
Marian Barton retired from teaching on 22nd April 1974 and came to live at the Forge at Slimbridge. The Chief Education Officer of the City of Birmingham, Mr K Brooksbank wrote:
‘I have been asked to write to you on behalf of the Education Committee in order to convey to you an expression of their sincere appreciation of your long and valued service.
I am sure you will have many memories to recall during your forty years service with this Authority, particularly the last twenty years as Head Mistress of Yenton Infant School. Here your keen interest in Art has been reflected in the way that the school has been frequently visited and used on in-service courses dealing with the creative art of young children. This must have given you a great deal of satisfaction and pleasure. I understand also that you are something of an authority on church brasses and I hope that with retirement you will find more time to indulge this hobby.
I feel sure that when you leave at the end of the present term, you will be much missed by many of your primary school colleagues, also your staff, the children and their parents.
May I in offering you the Committee’s thanks and good wishes for the future add my sincere thanks and warmest wishes for a long and happy retirement.’
This extract from a letter received from a parent gives us a flavour of her style of teaching:
‘Sheelagh and I were very sorry indeed to hear of your impending retirement. Both our boys have had the privilege of your teaching, and the high standards you have always set…The atmosphere of your School is friendly and happy although we know that control is there whenever necessary. Whatever lies in store for the children in the future, they have been given a firm foundation thanks to you.
We do sincerely hope that you will have a very happy retirement and hope that we shall have news of you from time to time. You have done a wonderful job and have gained the respect and affection of Parents and Children.’
With the threat of war, preparations began at Montgomery Street School, Sparkbrook, Birmingham for moving the children away because a factory, in nearby Small Heath, was engaged in war work.
I attended a course in First Aid and Nursing and made armbands for the staff to wear. Parents were sent letters (printed off jelly set in a baking tin (in x in) about evacuation plans. Some parents refused the offer. The staff (including my friend Brenda, excluding the Head Teacher Miss Stalker) went by Midland Red Busses to Worcester and were deposited at St Stephen’s Junior and Infant School, to be allocated billets in the Barbourne area, local people helping.
I went to a Mr. & Mrs. Barton. The first Sunday there was memorable. Mr Barton began to carve a huge joint of beef unfortunately it shot off the dish into his lap. Any solemnity was lost – and I was made to feel very welcome. When their relations came from the South East coastal area, I was moved to my next billet in Ombersley Road. An unattractive room – I found half-eaten crusts under the cushion – a lack of cleanliness, so I asked to be moved. My next billet was in a very small newly built house – the wife young and cheerful, – the husband absent on war training. Her friend who lived nearby was interested in choral works in the Cathedral. The Three Choirs Festival would not take place because of the war but the Worcester contingent continued to sing conducted by Sir Ivor Atkins. Brenda and I joined them, we sang rousing choruses as we walked ‘home’ to billets in the Black-out.
My next billet was with a Welsh travelling salesman, his wife and daughter, Ironwy.
Kindness itself! Finally the wife and daughter went back to Wales – safer! My last billet was with a Bank Manager and his wife who lived in Park Avenue – very formal – taught me to wash up the proper way – especially the silver cutlery.
Very soon after our evacuee children were settled in, the male staff were withdrawn for war service, e.g. Lawrence Brown, deputy head, went to Dudley, in charge of military vehicles there. As no bombs fell in our Birmingham School area, the number of evacuees grew smaller, withdrawn by their parents. Finally I was left in charge of about sixty children – with Brenda, whose home was nearby, as assistant teacher in charge of the infants. I had the juniors.
At first we shared St Stephen’s School with the Worcester pupils. We walked in the mornings and had formal lessons in the afternoons. As winter approached we moved to Penbury Street Church Hall. The vicar lived next door, and his handyman came to our rescue when water in the toilets froze. The juniors were busy removing the weeds round the building. We had to be tidy! The walls in the big room were dull and peeling so we covered them with the paintings and stories of our experiences. We had brought paint brushes with us and bought powder colours from the dry-salters. The piano was incredible – a block of notes always lurched out of alignment, so Brenda and I learnt to play recorders to accompany the children’s singing.
Our evacuee children had no idea how to behave in the country-side. One boy who crossed an allotment to reach his billet concluded everything growing was free like you picked blackberries from the hedge, or gathered pears which had fallen on to the roadside from a branch that overhung the hedge, which we picked up when we were out walking. Some years later, when I was waiting in the Central Office of the Midland Red Bus Co. for a friend who was very late – across the room was a young man clad in uniform – the only person there. He came across to me, “Hello Miss Barton, you won’t remember me – I was the evacuee who was taught not to scrump apples!”
A fully illustrated scrapbook which is still in my possession records the following details:
‘The Second World War and Evacuation: Children from Montgomery Street School were sent to Worcester. They found the countryside full of wonders never met in the streets and courtyards of Sparkbrook. The boys and girls became very keen naturalists. It was a joy to take them along the river, to the marsh, and to the weir and farms. As long as the weather was fine we walked and explored in the mornings, and used the local school in the afternoons. When the winter approached we moved to the parish hall. We covered the peeling walls with our paintings and stories, and it became ‘Our School.’ Irene whose Nature Books are on show, is in the foreground. We took our gas masks in their cases everywhere, – Irene has hers – but we were glad to leave them at our ‘base’ in the field. Irene holds her bunch of yellow irises gathered in the marsh field. His Majesty’s Inspectors, who moved into the area, often made a friendly visit, and if we were going out we left a small route map on the parish hall door so that they could join us if they wished. Paddling in this shallow sandy stretch of the river was a great adventure. The local farmer was very kind and allowed the children to have a great deal of fun playing in the hay. Billy – on the left – stayed on in the area to become a garage mechanic. Steven – on the left – won a place in a grammar school. The patient horse tolerated much patting by the children.’
Some parents came from Birmingham to see their children and became firm friends with the foster parents. Irene, Billy and his little brother (the Osbornes) belonged to a very poor neglectful family which never had anything to do with them when they were in Worcester. White Road, their home, which backed on to the school playground wall, was notorious for rowdyism and fighting. The foster parents and neighbours provided the boys with more clothes. I made a dress for Irene Osborne, and Brenda collected suitable clothes for her also.
A few minutes walk away from our hall along the Birmingham Road was Perdiswell Hall and Park. An area on the side of the main drive way was turned into allotments. We decided to have one. This entailed much discussion, making plans and measuring. Yet more when seeds were planted – broad beans, carrots, radishes, then the little lettuce plants we had raised in a tray – properly spaced of course! Some of the first hard digging was done by a nearby allotment holder. After doing careful weeding, and keen watching there was a crop that was shared between the juniors.
A foreigner, based in Perdiswell Hall came in his spare time to see how the children fared. He gave me one of his paintings – of army vehicles in the snow. His water colour work was so accomplished and fresh I have treasured it to remind me of what water colours should look like.
The allotment holder, and a shop owner from the city centre who saw our ‘ crocodile’ pass his house on the way to Perdiswell, collected a surprising number of biscuits, little cakes, sweets and fruit for our first Christmas party in Penbury Hall.
We ended with games, singing and much jollity.
Two H.M.I.s from the South East coast came to our school. They were billeted in our area, one – Mr. Large – at the house that had the pear tree dropping fruit on the roadside. They chatted with the children. It was a pleasure to take the children to Gelluvelt Park, to Bevere Green with toadstools among the trees, along a high walled twisty lane to the farm lands, marshy field, the river bank and the weir.
Brenda and I had free time when the children were with their foster parents. We cycled and investigated the flora of land near the city boundary. We had some rewarding experiences e.g. butterfly orchids in Trench Wood – a large field in Suckley showing increasingly yellow with daffodils grown for bunching and selling in the city. We explored the Commandery, the churches, some land round the Spetchley Mansion, owned by the Berkeley Family, and the little village school at the roadside
(Berkeley bequeathed?) and, of course, the Cathedral.
In the early part of the war Brenda and I did some ‘fire watching’ in a high building in the Barbourne area. No exciting events. I was fortunate in Worcester – a lecturer from the Blind College gave a series of talks on music – great composers, with relevant piano excerpts. This took place in a Girls’ Grammar School situated about half way between Barbourne and the city centre and was a delight.
Sometimes aircraft (enemy) could be heard flying over but I never saw any damage caused by bombs. When I returned from a rare short visit to Narles Farm the walk from Shrub Hill Station to my billet was daunting in the Blackout, especially when challenged by an American soldier from the group stationed in the city.
Near my home back in Gloucestershire a bomb fell into a field near the junction of the old Dursley Road and Wisloe. My father had planted the area with barley. His horse was reputed to have been seen at the edge of the crater next morning. Father was not pleased when crowds of curious people pushed their way through the hedge and trampled a large part of the emerging crop. Two bombs were also dropped in the blue-bell wood, next to the cereal field with similar invasion of people.
Later when the number of evacuees had dwindled to less than half, Penbury Hall was closed, and I was sent to Claines, a small C. of E. school (with pupils from infants to seniors in age) with our remaining children. After the war I returned to Birmingham and taught at Yardley Wood Junior School.
Rain (May 8th, 1976)
Morning after morning I draw back the curtains
And look for the tell-tale signs:
Raindrop lace-work on the window panes,
Darkened road surfaces, the freshly painted look
Of hawthorn, lilac, polyanthus clumps and grass.
No change! The drought goes on!
I take up the taut supporting lifeline of the day –
The weather forecast:
Thunderstorms in the north and east, intermittent showers
And cooler temperatures in the southernmost reaches,
But in the Western Midlands – Gloucestershire –
Just never ending sun and temperatures
In the mid seventies.
I stroll into my garden.
How do these seedlings manage to survive?
Why do the brambles in the ‘conservation area’
Continually flourish and encompass everything,
And stinging nettles, barrage to the viewers from the road,
Stretch ever upward to the all encompassing heat?
I look in vain for the cloud as big as a man’s hand
As Elijah’s servant did. Dismayed,
I go inside to reveries of rainy days:
The February fill-dyke bliss of squelchy mud,
Night with city lights reflected and enhanced
In glassy mirror-pools,
The billowing clouds, darkened to indigo and copper colours
Threatening to disgorge their load and drench us all
Before we gather in the lines of crisp dry washing,
The Cotswold Hills, lost in hazy mists of grey,
Almost ethereal, their contours and solidity gone.
When shall I hear the strong incessant dance
Of raindrops on the roof, and see
The swirl of water hurtling down the drains?
O rain, you fickle heartless jade,
Have pity on my carrots, lettuces and leeks!
Your benison was never quite so urgently required
As now. Come soon!
by Marian F. Barton (Miss) Slimbridge W.I. Cam Valley Group, Gloucestershire