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Schooldays in late 1940's -1950's Dick and Dora, abacus, cowrie shells, times tables, tests, mental arithmetic, Prayers

Updated on July 19, 2012

School days in the 1940's and 1950's

I have fond memories of my time at a small church of England school in Lancashire. I was there from 1949 to 1956. There were five classrooms; two for the Infants, and three for the Juniors. Two classrooms were divided by wooden and glass screens which moved to the side to make our hall , a corner of which also served as a staff room.

When I first went to the school, I was in the Reception class. The teacher was a very large, tall bespectacled lady who frightened me immensely! That was because she shouted. Not at me, but at others, and yet I found her shouting very upsetting. I recall that some children could be quite naughty.

Cowrie shells for counting

Counting with cowrie shells

Stacking and sorting, sandpit and snacks

We had lots of colourful toys and most seemed to involve threading, and sorting things in size order before, putting them together. There were brightly coloured wooden stacking rings which were placed, largest first, onto a pole.

We also had the usual sand-pit which I loved. Next to the sand-pit was a tall cupboard on which I put my snack, a buttered Weetabix.

I did sums using cowrie shells (which were kept in a little tin) and also an abacus, for counting. I also read the ‘Dick and Dora’ books.

Handkerchiefs and Hymns

I recall that every day we had to hold up our handkerchiefs, usually embroidered or printed with nursery rhymes, and woe betide anyone who hadn’t brought one!

Every morning we had an assembly which we called ‘Prayers’. We would recite the Lord’s prayer, sing a couple of short hymns which we learnt by heart and end with the Grace.

Milk in the morning

Before we went out to play in the morning, we drank our milk which came in small bottles and was free. In winter it would have lumps of ice in it and in summer it would be sour! Everyone had to have milk unless you had a letter from your mother. We threw the greaseproof straws away but the silver foil tops went to be washed as they were saved for charity.

P. T. and pumps ( or plimsolls)

P.T. or Physical Training lessons were held several afternoons a week. We wore knickers and vest and black elasticated pumps. We each had a rubber mat on which we did forward and backward rolls and we also had to lie on our backs to do cycling exercises.

Buns and baking

I have happy memories of the next infant class. That was where we really learned to read, and a whole new world opened up for us. Our teacher had a daughter who was at the local Grammar School. When she was on holiday she would come into school to help her mother with lessons. She would hear us read and helped with art and cookery. We would make a bun mix and the daughter would cycle home to bake the buns and then bring them back in time for the end of day prayer in which we would thank God for our buns!

“Now the day is over, night is drawing nigh, shadows of the evening steal across the sky” or "Hands together softly so, little eyes shut tight, Father just before we go, hear our prayer tonight We are all thy children here, this is what we pray, keep us when the dark is here and through every day."

Times tables

In the Juniors much of the time in the mornings was spent chanting tables. We had star charts and if you could say your table through you got a star and when you knew them all you got a gold star and the ‘Merit’ badge for that week.

Our own towel and a new princess

When it was dinner-time, we would go with the dinner ladies to the cloakroom to wash our hands. Each child had its own small hand towel on a hook, on which also hung our pump-bag. On Friday, we took the towel home to be washed, and brought it back on Monday morning.

I have very vivid memories of one lunch-time in 1950 when I was about five years old. We were washing our hands and the dinner ladies were very excited. The King’s oldest daughter, Princess Elizabeth, had given birth to her second child, Princess Anne. We were all thrilled. A princess! I associated princesses with fairy stories, and I imagined this baby princess in gold coloured clothes!

Outside toilets

The toilets were outside, across the yard, not pleasant when it rained or in winter. Monitors would flush the toilets at the end of playtime because the cisterns took a long time to fill. For monitors, it was a case of, ‘Pull and run’ because they invariably got a soaking as water splashed over the top when they pulled the chain. The smell from the toilets was awful, especially in the summer months.


The school had a garden, and the older juniors would spend whole afternoons often Friday, sowing, planting, weeding, digging and enjoying the fresh air.

Sweets and rationing

We caught the bus to school and would call in the sweet shop which was opposite the school. As we entered we would hear the jingle of the doorbell. We could buy kali into which we dipped liquorice sticks or black half-penny spanish which came in purple boxes with green leaves to separate the layers. American Cream Soda was also sold in a yellow cardboard tube and came with a liquorice stick. We could buy laces of black liquorice, coltsfoot rock, pear-drops, cinder toffee, gob-stoppers which changed colour as you sucked them, and bubble gum which often came with a free tattoo sticker. Others were Love Hearts, cherry lips, jelly babies, Uncle Joe’s Mintballs, and Victory V Lozenges. A long-lasting purchase was a twig of liquorice which we sucked and chewed until there was no flavour left and it was in shreds. There was always a penny or half-penny tray and if you bought a few they were put in a little white cone shaped bag but if you bought a quarter or even two ounces of sweets you got them in a square bag. The sweets were weighed out on a balance scale with a brass pan. There was a drawer for the money, not a till. However, for several years sweets were rationed, even after the war so we were limited to the quantity of sweets we could buy. Also we didn’t have much pocket money to spend but whenever we lost a tooth we left it under our pillow for the fairies and received a shiny silver sixpence which we then spent on sweets! We had a red post box style money box and used a knife to get the money out.

Next door to the sweet shop was the Newspaper shop where we could buy comics, balls, whip and tops, skipping ropes, pretty rings, stamp albums, stamps and hinges.

In the summer months, we would walk the mile home, crossing the road to buy a penny loaf from the Co-op bakery. It always seemed to be sunny, but when it rained and in the winter, we caught the bus home.

school report



Twice yearly, in the Juniors, at Christmas and in the summer we would have end of term tests at school. These consisted of Mental arithmetic, mechanical arithmetic, problems, reading, grammar, comprehension, composition, poetry and spelling. We had class positions in the juniors.

We had poetry lessons and had to learn poems off by heart.

A tragic story, by W M Thackeray, Tired Tim by Walter de la Mare, Once Steeple Bumpstead had a steeple by Elizabeth Fleming were three that we had to learn.

The vicar of our church would give lessons in school once a week to the older children.

These are just a few of the very happy of school days which I treasure.


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