Victoriana Schooldays/Education and Training for Life

Chapter V: Education and Training for Life

When Albert was five years old he attended St Matthew's Church Junior School, which occupied another building in Queens Road. It was only Class 1 that had a separate room - known as ‘The Bottom Standard’. There he was taught the Prayer Book. At the same time, instruction given so that pupils could recite the Ten Commandments: the creed, the Catechism and the Lord’s Prayer. This was to prepare them for ‘confirmation’. In subsequent years, the higher standards were taught in a large hall, which seated about five classes. The head teacher was Mr Dexter who had an assistant and three female staff. Boys were separated from Girls, who had their own hall. At this time, education was not compulsory - there was a voluntary charge made throughout the year of two pence per week for lessons. Discipline was vigorously exercised to keep noise levels down so as not to disturb the other classes. Lessons arranged so that singing in one class taught with sewing or drawing in another - so that one would not affect the other.

These large rooms, or halls, were very cold in the winter for they had large windows and lofty ceilings. Each large room had a coal heater set in the middle of the floor with the chimney pipe running up to the high roof. The floor, uneven through use, showed raised nails - was of bare wood, which gave off clouds of dust when anyone moved. Flaking white - lime-washed walls, peppered the wall surrounds. The pupils were told not to scrape back their chairs or run about inside the building - anything which added to the general dust being raised was forbidden.

The severe winters and dense fogs, made going to school something to be dreaded. The winter of 1894-5, was particularly severe. Hot meals were provided, and warm clothing distributed - to the needy, and boots to those without. A school’s medical officer's report, noted that: 'at least one third of all children had not had their clothes off for more than six months, and that a high percentage of these had their underclothes sew on them'. These children smelt - nobody wanted to sit next to them; others continually itched and could not sit still. Schoolroom was fumigated and teachers wore bags of sulphur sewn into their hems- to ward off vermin. A great many children worked before and after school as messengers, street sellers, and errand boys. It was a case of having to, to provide for a single or sickly parent. For twelve-year-old girls leaving school domestic service was the most popular job available.

Many of the children were fed by charitable funds provided by rich neighbours and philanthropic action by societies. It was only at the start of the First World War that the Board of Education compelled all authorities to provide meals. The health of schoolchildren was a matter of concern and provision made for the medical inspection of all schoolchildren. By 1914, just over three-quarters of London’s Boroughs made health, eyesight, and dental checks. The improved provision of continuous tap water helped children’s health. Skin complaints began to disappear and infections from various bugs reduced to the degree that fumigation tailed off.

These were dreary winter days… when the teacher lit the gas mantle held in the wall bracket… to produce a depressing yellow glow. This light could hardly penetrate the gloom, not only because of the lateness of the hour but the denseness of the London fog outside which seeped into the room. It is difficult now to imagine… although understandable, when we consider their Mondays’ in particular, when all the boilers lit for washing. It was difficult to breathe the sulphurous air: the fumes from candles, oil lamps, and various heaters, made even the inside of homes smoky. To go out was a trial… continually tripping over milk churns and dustbins, negotiating horse dung and rotting waste, into a world of a pale golden colour with humps and hillocks… ghostly bodies set lurching into each other… all groping to find their way.

The high-hung school bell, set on the roof, rang at nine and one o'clock. The children had to form up outside until let in - to form queues, that were led snaking into the classrooms. There was no talking and no running, every movement was regimented and orderly. Slates were used to write on which made a squeaky noise when the slate pencils were used. No provision was made for cleaning the slates so children spat on them and rubbed them with their sleeves. Slates, hung from pegs around the wall, were used for minor lessons and practice - to save paper. When writing perfected using slates ‘writing books’ and ‘pen and ink sets’ were passed out by the monitors.

By the turn of the century, a system of elementary education had been worked out and some two million children attended board school. This was the direct result of the 1870 Education Act coming into fruition. All of England was divided up into school districts where school boards were set up with powers to levy rates and build schools. This was achieved and the results can be seen today – those schools are still in-being although perhaps not as schools any more. The Education Act of 1902 was the basis for all branches of education – from elementary to university, included in this were: church, county and district schools. Borough Councils formed local education committees [LEAs] - to replace School Boards. By the end of 1902, fifty-three secondary schools set up. It took a further ten years to add three hundred more.

The working population of large British cities, particularly London at the turn of the nineteenth century, was described graphically in Dickens’s novels. They were people intent upon holding their jobs, maintaining their position in the social order, and putting on a brave face - to cover up any differences of order or hardship. Amongst these citizens were the immigrants from Ireland who eventually considered themselves Londoners and were proud of it!

Albert reflected how fortunate he was… his father had a skilled job that enabled him to be self-employed and his mother ran a home laundry business. This was at a time when a number of events, in both Britain and the rest of the world, came in, one after another, to create ‘the industrial society’. Steam engines were invented to pump out water from the mines - allowing more coal to be extracted. This power source was adapted to drive mills and traction engines. Canals were built to move heavy materials across country. Railways took over the transportation of goods and passengers. This movement of people took young people away from the countryside. Houses, factories, railway cutting, tunnels, and docks had to be provided.

To clothe, equip, furnish and supply the factories and their workers, ancillary businesses blossomed. Once this train of event happened, there was no stopping the development of a new ‘industrial’ society that had far-reaching social effects. Into the birth of this new world, Albert galloped... to start a new life, and eventually become one generations of Londoners.

If you were to see a film of London’s population at the turn of the nineteenth century, you would be able to pick out those people who had a lot of money, from those who had little. Their dress would give them away. The rich women wore long dresses made out of silks and satins, wore flamboyant hats and fur stoles, and carried a parasol. They did no work but run their house through the effort of servants and cooks planning the weeks programme and menu. Their husbands, many were absentee property owners, living off the rents of property, stocks, and shares, wore: frock coats, bowler hats, and astrakhan collared over-coats... Income tax was very low allowing surplus money to be spent on clothes, houses, horses, and carriages. It was a very unequal society. The poor children wore rags, went barefooted, and were frequently undernourished. They lived in tenements and back-to-back houses with no sanitary arrangements except a community lavatory and tap. Many children lived away from home - under bridges and populating derelict houses.

All the different strata of society wore clothes appropriate to that level – not attempting to copy their so-called betters, but maintaining their station in life. The rich looked upon the poor as ‘unfortunates’ some socially minded did so with embarrassment, others felt guilty - that there wasn’t greater equality. The mass of the population were struggling with the day-to-day survival. Three-quarters of all adults earned less than £160 per year. The gap between paying income tax or not widened during the Edwardian period. Almost sixty per cent of the population were living more than two to a room.

Many of these unfortunates were housed in the workhouse on a diet of half a pint of milk and five ounces of dry bread for breakfast. Dinner, the main meal of the day, consisted of an ounce and a half of fatty roast beef, four ounces of potatoes or other vegetable, and six ounces of some sort of pudding – usually a concoction of suet and flour. In addition, for supper, a half pint of, water and milk mix, of cocoa and a quarter pound of seed cake. This diet exceeded that of a workers family whose wage might be twenty-shillings a week… thirty shillings was considered a good wage. Alfred, a self-employed painter, earned about forty-shillings a week. Fortunately, these were times of feverish activity industrially and economically. Employment was high for Britain was preparing its defences and the work demanded by the railways and house building kept the labour market busy.

The working week was sometimes more than fifty hours and even though employment was high there was always a fear of be laid off – of being out of work. Trade unions were weak and the law gave very little protection for unfair dismissal. There was no unemployment insurance or social security. The property owner for any trifling excuse could throw a family out of their house.

To have a piano in the house at the turn of the nineteenth century was the popular means of home entertainment. It is estimated that there were between two and four million pianos in Britain - one instrument to ten to twenty people. It was a skill considered to be, ‘one of social inclusion’, especially for girls. To be able to play well - able to accompany singers entertaining company, a mark of distinction… it was also a guarantee of inclusion, for a skilled player was always wanted for every social gathering. The piano in the parlour was not just a butt for jokes but a matter of fact. Between 1877 and 1902 ‘The Lost Cord’ sold fifty thousand copies of sheet music per year making Parry a very rich man. The family singsong around the piano, singing the songs of the day from popular music hall acts, operettas, national tunes, and hymns looked forward to as a means of social discourse – bringing family and friends together.

Albert stayed at school until he was seven years old when the family moved to Kensal Green. His next school, Princess Frederika Higher Grade School, had the sexes still separated. He records that it was a miserable place staffed by elderly teachers who were always unsmiling, stern and dressed as if in mourning. He was glad when he moved yet again to the London School Board at Amberley Road, Paddington. (This school is still there and backs onto the Paddington Branch of the Grand Union Canal. One end of the road is Harrow Road in Westbourne Green). Whilst he attended this school, Queen Victoria died and Edward VII was crowned King. All children were given the day off to celebrate and street parties were arranged. Later that year he joined the 6th. London Boys Brigade Company, which was attached to the school’s church. The captain who ran the company was J A Robson, a remarkable man enrolling more than a hundred boys. Most years winning the area cup and shield for band and drill competitions.

The Boy Scouts were based upon trekking and scouting. The Boy’s Brigade linked to a military style of light infantry training. The Boy’s Brigade, founded by Sir William Smith in Glasgow at the end of the 19th.century. The object of the Brigade was to produce good citizens. In 1904 throughout the country there was said to be 54,000 boys between the ages of 12-14 in the organization. Baden-Powell became honorary Vice-president and Inspector General that same year. It was thought by many, both in the Army and Government, that here was an organization that could be a source of recruitment for future officers and men of the British Army. ‘A strong force behind the Volunteers and the Army – a third line in defending our shores’.

Now at last Albert was happy. The Headmaster at the London school Board was Mr Williamson who although strict was kind and fortunately ably assisted by capable teachers in six separate classrooms. He could master the three ‘Rs’ and was taught elementary algebra, composition, drawing, geometry, French and woodwork. He had great affection for this school and never forgot the headmaster - what he owed him for his many kindnesses. Discipline was looked on as something essentials and necessary and so too punishment for wrongdoing and slackness. There was a punishment book called ‘The Board School, cane and Punishment Book’. The children with great awe regarded this and so the threat of entry into this book was sufficient to deter misdoing.

At the start of every day, prayers were said and hymns sung in the main hall. At the end of each day, the same thing happened. Pupils were expected to pay respect to older people – hats should be raised to masters and mistresses; to say ‘Sir’ and ‘Miss’ when spoken to. When leaving school caps were to be worn at all times. He played the piano for the school assembly and in the evenings for the local picture palace where silent films with sub-titles were shown. This required dexterity and a knowledge of many tunes to follow each part of the story line.

English lessons, which were taught every day, had as their main content the spelling of words and note taking. Writing with a hand in copperplate script was the standard necessary and much practiced. Mental arithmetic was greatly encouraged, by giving every class a problem a day. Teachers taught all subjects and knew their charges intimately, their faults and failings, their successes and strengths.

In 1900, the underground railway system was electrified. For the price of a tuppeny ticket, the passenger could travel as far as he wished. This became so successful that the underground railway was extended which in turn paid its way. The first transatlantic wireless message was sent the following year. The industrialization continued apace... each year that passed, more inventions and discoveries were made.

Albert started work at the age of fifteen in 1904 [The same time the Russo-Japanese War started]. He joined the Great Central Railway Company, whose head office was at Paddington Station, as a junior clerk. Initially there was no vacancy for that post, he had to serve out his probationary period learning to pack parcels and load wagons in the Goods Yard. A few months later a vacancy for junior clerk occurred on the staff of Thompson McKay and Company, who were Carting Agents for the G.C.R. which he applied for and accepted. Office work included dealing with street accidents, claims for damage to goods in carriage, stoppages, overtime and bonus payments, accounts, detention charges, correspondence and ordering feed for the horses.

The Cartage Department then came under the jurisdiction of the District manager who had six hundred horses, a Miles Daimler 5-ton, iron tyred, motor, with rack and pinion drive, and a 10 ton Yorkshire Steam Wagon. All the horses were young and some had to be trained. Some ‘car-men’, the term used for drivers, were detailed off as ‘young-horse car-men’ for breaking in these animals. As ‘Agents’ Thompson McKay & Co. carried out town cartage work as well as more general work… particularly orders for Lots Road, Electric Generating Station. This was speciality work - being very heavy, needing the largest heavy-duty wagon, and special teams of horses.

Albert enjoyed his work and was interested to learn more outside his normal duties. By this time, his various tasks included visiting local markets and the docks and leaning how to service extra heavy loads. This started his never-ending love for London, its street and all the business - which went on within its boundaries. He did anything, which would help his career and increase his knowledge of the cartage industry. Gradually more and more motors were obtained to deal with the increased workload. Drivers had to service their own motors and for this, parts and lubricants had to be ordered in. Throughout this period, he kept abreast of all the latest methods adopted to transport goods, and for a personal interest - drove every vehicle, and got to known its workings.

It was now just three years after the end of the Boar War. Previously Britain had invested the Empire with a rosy glow. After the two Boar wars, the glow was not quite so warm. Although the period was one of growth – the people did have more, and there was a definite improvement in the nation’s health, nevertheless, there was a feeling that the ‘golden age’ of Victorian Britain was over. Most of the middle and upper classes were quite prepared to tolerate extremes of poverty for the masses - so that they could indulge themselves in luxury. The working class saw the need for communal action to improve society. Britain’s economy and growth had been greater and faster than at any other time.

The Prime Minister, Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman, held an election just after Christmas – in January 1906. It was a wise move for the result was a landslide victory for the previous Liberal Party gaining eighty-four seat majority over all other parties. The election had been fought on issues of Education, Chinese slavery, and tariff reform - which the Liberals presented as a likely increase in the cost of food. It was agreed by Parliament, 31st March 1907, ‘That a sum of £2,353,000, be granted to His Majesty, to defray the Charge of Barrack Construction; for Works, Buildings, and repairs, at Home and abroad [including purchase of land]'. This was a bill acknowledging that something had to be done about modernising the Army -improving the living arrangements. On the eve of war, there were 132,000 private cars on the roads.

During the last few years before the outbreak of the First World War Britain had developed department stores, chain stores and Cooperative stores. It was unusual to buy items direct from the manufacturer or farmer. Costly items such as suiting and shoes might be ordered ‘made to measure’… but most goods were made in standard sizes and weights. The middle classes graced Harrods and Selfridges; Liptons, Co-op, and Grand Universal Stores had been built up on the needs of the working class, catering for volume sales with small margins.

British society had become more tolerant. It was possible to alter ones class – to move up. There was greater understanding for the poor, homeless and handicapped. The Factory Acts did protect workers. Reforms allowing trades unions and the introduction of the Welfare State continue to this day… Britain was becoming more civilized... This improvement in living standards came from invention, new technologies, and entrepreneurship.

In 1906, at the age of seventeen, Albert left the Boy’s Brigade with the rank of Sergeant. He, and others from the Brigade, enrolled in the 4th Middlesex Rife Volunteer Corps, at the Drill Hall in Adam and Eve Mews, Iverna Gardens - which is just off High Street Kensington. Previously, the Corps was known as the West London Rifles, but was renamed in 1905, to become The Kensington Rifles. It was then that the Borough adopted the regiment. Three years later, when the Territorial Force was raised, there was an amalgamation to form the 13th Battalion. It was this force that became known as the Kensingtons having their Colours presented by King Edward VII at Windsor on the 19th June 1909. Four years after the colours were consecrated Princess Louise gave her name to the regiment to now become the 13th Princess Louise Kensington Battalion, the London Regiment.

The family again moved house northwards - towards Maida vale, northeastern Paddington – not far from the Regents Canal. The house was 80 Elgin Avenue, Paddington. Before 1886, the road was called Elgin Road. The district was mainly residential, although there were a few new shops, built as outlets, others converted house fronts. One of the main contractors was William Henry Pearce. He built a hundred houses in the neighbourhood, in the 1890s. Some of the flats built were in the direct control of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners who acquired long leases from the lessees. The southern part begins at Little Venice – white stuccoed dwellings spaciously laid out – like most of Maida Vale – in a neo-Georgian manner.

The second week of July 1914, was reserved for The Kensington Battalion’s summer camp. The billets were almost empty, no carpets or curtains, just the regulation iron bedsteads. The majority of men were in bell tents set in a square. Physical training started every day, followed by: musketry training - firing in the butts, lectures on trench building, and the importance of patrols. Route marches and map reading, patrolling and elementary first aid, followed by square bashing - all essentials for the fortnights camp… practiced until all the orders became second nature. Bayonet training had to be done with the maximum vigour, to achieve a lifelike effect, how to parry and lunge, plus all the skills of hand to hand fighting. Each Company Sergeant taking their Company off to practice on their own - to give the sergeants responsibility and leadership skills. All the commands, whether arms drill or marching, were done by numbers, and most forced and route marches included full pack, including rolled greatcoat, full water bottle, bayonet, box respirators, and entrenching tool - fitted behind the pack. From the 27th July,1914, Britain began to respond to the gathering crisis in Germany. Two days later, all regular soldiers were recalled from leave. By chance, The Kensington Territorial Force had just finished that year's summer camp. They were ideally prepared - able to mobilize quickly.