Bwlchgwyn County Primary School
I don’t know when this picture of the school, lent to me by Gwenda, was taken. When I was at school, in the 1950s, the raised platform at the right of the garden was covered by the school house, where the headmaster lived. You can still see the gate from the schoolyard on the right.
As a 1950s schoolchild I never saw the garden as it was generally hidden from view by the laurel bushes which grew in front of the wall (by the flagpole). Many years earlier, in the 1930s, the garden was used to teach the boys how to grow vegetables – most boys and girls stayed at the school until they were 13 unless they passed the scholarship and got a place in Grove Park in Wrexham.
The laurel trees and the flagpole are impressed indelibly into my mind as we all had to line up in the front school yard at 9.00am and after every playtime, before being marched back into the school. I have two sets of memories.
The cold memory. It was so cold up there in the winter that, no matter how well wrapped up we were by our mothers, clothes in those days were useless at insulating us from a hard frost and a biting wind. Even then I thought it was ridiculous that the boys had to wear short trousers; their knees would glow painfully red as they tried, like the rest of us, to keep their feet from touching the ground whilst being forced to ‘stand still’ and endure the cold running through their toes and heels. We girls might have been a little more fortunate as we wore bootees (if money was available), neat ankle boots which, I think, had a warm lining and which zipped up at the front. I wish I had kept them – they might be quite in vogue again!
The hot memory. Summer could be beautiful beyond measure and too hot to handle. We were all unaware of the dangers of sunstroke and skin cancer but we seemed to instinctively know how much sun was enough and when it was time to move to the shelter of the walls. One day, that stands in my memory ,was when we were playing the usual game of trying to get onto the flat topped wall that divided us from the bushes whilst awaiting the ‘line up’ command. I looked up and the sky was a perfect, glorious, happy blue. Crossing it, and leaving the faintest vapour trail, was a silver aeroplane. I remarked on this and one of the boys told me that it wasn’t silver because all aeroplanes were black. But my mum and dad loved aeroplanes and so we had been to various aircraft shows and even to Speke and Ringway airports at the weekends, so I knew that all aeroplanes were white and would appear silver in the sky. Looking back on that conversation, I wonder if the boy had been thinking of the wartime planes? That would account for our different opinions.
Children could either enter the school premises from Stryt Maelor (at the back of this picture) or by walking up the ‘trip’ from Ruthin Road. There was a handrail running down the centre of the ‘trip’ and, in the icy winters, this was an absolute necessity if we were to go up and down the trip without falling on the ice. The boys, of course, were brave and would slide on the ice, making it even more dangerous whilst some of the girls tried to grip the metal rail through damp woollen gloves and mittens. In the summer it provided a ready-made outdoor gymnasium, ideal for somersaulting.
The picture above was taken in 1959, standards 1 & 2, with Mrs Hughes, our teacher. The picture was taken in the front schoolyard, the school house is just visible in the background – bleached out by the strong sunshine.* The flag post and the wall in front of the bushes is on the right. I am always impressed by how smart we all looked. I think the head master at the time might have been Mr Jones, a lovely teacher. I met him many years later (he probably came into our shop and stopped for a chat with my dad) and said that if I became a teacher he would offer me a job. That always stayed in my mind. I never had the confidence to train as a teacher, the prospect of being monitored whilst teaching was too frightening for me. But when I was 50 I trained to teach (in F.E,) and sailed through the monitoring. I thought of Mr Jones a lot, then.
I am on this photo, front row, next to the end on the right, wearing a pale yellow cardigan with gilt buttons over a cotton print dress with a pretty striped and floral pattern. The shoes were leather and polished every morning. It also looks like I wasn’t wearing my glasses.
The picture below was taken in 1931 and seems to be class 6 (indistinct). The picture was taken in the school garden, the photographer being in much the same position as when the picture of the school (top, above) was taken. There were about four times as many scholars in the school in 1931 and this is borne out by the large number of pupils – 31 – in this photograph of just one class.*
Bwlchgwyn School, Class 6, in 1931. My father, William Arthur Belton, is top row, one from the right. To his left are his two friends, the Youd brothers.
*Copyright: I do not know and have not been able to trace the copyright owners of these pictures, if copyright still exists. I will be happy to acknowledge copyright if it can be proven.
Some more excerpts from Gwenda Lewis’ book “I Remember” which covers the period in between my memories and my father’s stories.
“Bwlchgwyn Council School stood at a high point in the village, with a fine view towards the distant Cheshire Pain. It was built of red brick, surrounded by grey stone walls, and had opened in 1875. Prior to that there had been a ‘National School’ run by the Church of England on another site, in a building measuring 42ft by 20ft and attended by 118 children who stayed until they were 13 or 14 years old. This was seen to be very unsatisfactory and was to be replaced by an Elementary School run by the council.”
As soon as the war began I was enrolled in Bwlchgwyn School, which still catered for children up to the age of 14. … By 1939 the school had been extended to deal with the problem of overcrowded classes, and had electric lighting, which had been installed only three years previously. Many children still remained at the school until they were 13 or 14 and when on September 11th a large number of evacuees from Liverpool arrived with their teachers it was a very full house with 98 Bwlchgwyn children and 54 evacuees.”
“The school had two playgrounds, or ‘school yards’ as they were known, one for the younger children and the other for the seniors. In between were the toilets, dreadful smelly places, to be avoided if at all possible.” … “One charming feature of the school was the bell, set high above the roof. It sounded a few minutes before lessons began in the mornings and again at the end of lunch-time.”
“During periods of extreme bad weather we were often sent home at three o’clock so that the children who lived the furthest away could get home before dark. On October 9th 1939 we were dismissed early because we were soaked through, and had been since we arrived in pouring rain after lunch. Sitting in wet clothes for most of the afternoon it was not surprising that there followed an epidemic of colds and Scarlet Fever. Thankfully I only got the cold. And most pupils were sufficiently recovered to return to school in time for our Christmas treat of an apple, an orange and a cracker each. “Then the weather turned really nasty and in January 1940 the school was without water for two weeks because the pipes were frozen. Worse was to come in 1941 when exceptional wintry weather caused the school to close for three weeks and snow was still falling in mid-May. Add to all this, frequent closures for epidemics of measles, whooping cough etc. which affected whole families, our schooling could de described as spasmodic at times.”
“At Easter 1942 the children over 11 years of age had been transferred to Penygelli Senior School in Coedpoeth so our school was now for Infants and Juniors only, with three classes and three teachers – Miss Morton (by now married to Mr Richards [the Headmaster]), Miss Roberts and the Headmaster.”
“Apart from the infants class the children sat at double desks with cast iron legs, the tops of the desks were worn and scratched over the years and had little china inkwells set into them”
“in those days school pens had detachable nibs which were dipped into the china inkwells set into our double desks. Too little ink and the letters were illegible, too much and it would make blots, which would bring the teacher’s wrath down on our heads, so we had to learn to get it just right.”
“Clear writing, along with correct spelling and punctuation, was of great importance and by the age of 8 we had painstakingly mastered a good ’round hand’ with loops in al the right places. The inkwells were refilled each week and it was an honour to be chosen to do it, although you needed a steady hand to direct the flow of ink from the stone bottle into the small hole of the inkwell without getting yourself covered in it. Any accident and we would be in trouble with the teacher – and with our mothers when we got home.”
Extracts taken, with permission, from “I Remember…My Life in Bwlchgwyn 1939-1943” by Gwenda Lewis: (c) Gwenda Lewis 2005