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Norfolk, St. Faiths District, Wroxham, Parish Information, 1920's

Document Reference: Memories of school days by A.E.PARNELL

Transcribed by: Rose French
Date Added: July 02, 2001

An extract from The Zig Zag Stripe written by A E Parnell
A little taste of Norfolk

Arthur Edward PARNELL was a Norfolk man, born and bred in Salhouse. After WW2 he settled for some years in Norwich working for the railways which eventually led the way to us all moving ‘down south’ to Stevenage, Hertfordshire. In the late 1970’s he decided and was encouraged to put pen to paper and record some of his war memories which he then extended to include some events from an obviously memorable childhood. A legacy for his grandchildren, who are growing up in a very different world. I was intending to just extract various parts from these early days in relation to the Salhouse, Wroxham proximity but rather than loose anything in the translation have now decided it would be best to leave the text as my dad presented it. To this end, I am therefore contributing the first two chapters from The Zig Zag Stripe to Geoff and Andrews’ website.

These events took place between 1918 and 1936, from the time dad was born to the time he enlisted as a young man in the ranks of the Royal Artillery at the Britannia Barracks, Norwich.


Wroxham Schooldays

I remember very little of my early pre-school years, but because Wroxham school in the next village was considerably nearer than the Salhouse village school, we were all sent to Wroxham.

So far as Jack was concerned, I was the cross which he had to bear. Coming home from school as a five year old, after having been playing with plasticine, Jack showed his displeasure in no uncertain manner, by treating me rather roughly. However, since Jack left school in the summer of the following year, I became the responsibility of Gladys, my elder sister. By the time she reached school leaving age, I was quite able to take care of myself.

School lessons were no problem and I was able to cope adequately with all that was required of me. At the age of six, I could both read and write. Learning came naturally to most of us since we learned ‘by rote’ and the constant repetition fixed the lessons indelibly in our memories. Nowadays, children do not seem to start serious learning until much later. After all, we had to complete our basic education by the age of fourteen. Secondary education was for the few who could afford to pay for it or those who were lucky enough to pass the county scholarship examinations. Not more than one or two places were allocated to each school per year.

Teaching methods of today have been changed so much, that parents are no longer able to supplement the school work, with help at home. Any attempt to do so will invoke the plaintive cry of - “we don’t do it that way at school, Grandad.” The result is a most confused child and an even more frustrated and confused grandparent!

Like most other families in those times our health was reasonably good with certain exceptions. In winter, I suffered with recurring attacks of tonsillitis, whereas Fred suffered with chronic bronchitis. The school doctor, who visited the school on an annual basis, tried hard for years to get my tonsils removed. At the age of twelve, this task was finally accomplished; my attacks of tonsillitis subsided to my great relief.

Wroxham school stood on high ground overlooking the upper, navigable reaches of the river Bure. This river rises near Melton Constable and discharges into the North Sea at Great Yarmouth after having combined with the River Yare.

Those of us who lived too far from the school to go home for lunch, took a packed lunch. When the meal was finished, we would find our way down to the staithe at Sot’s Hole, which lay immediately below the school down a steep gravely lane. We amused ourselves by throwing stones into the river, making boats out of rushes and any other thing likely to bring joy to the heart of any small boy. On one particular day, a small rowing boat was moored at the crumbling quay. After clambering aboard and crawling around on the floor-boards, I gashed my right knee rather badly on a protruding nail. With my knee streaming with blood, I was taken back to school by some older boys. The Headmaster seated me on the corner of his desk and applied liberal quantities of iodine, which was the sovereign remedy in those days. Applying a bandage, he then sent me off to the class-room. Even today I bear the scar. Somehow my knees were the most vulnerable part of my body, always being grazed or worse.

All boys of five and six years of age, were required to play in the girls’ playground, which was situated on the north side of the school, whereas the boys from seven to fourteen, had their playground on the south side of the school. Both play areas were surfaced with a mixture of mud and gravel and which became a diabolical mess in wet weather. Visiting the boys’ lavatory for the very small boys, meant a run on to the road out of one gate, a frantic dash up the road and re-entry to the boys’ playground, followed by a perilous weaving and dodging across a ‘football pitch’ to the destination on the far side. It had been raining on one particular day when I was required to make the journey and on entering the boys’ playground, I was struck in the face by a sodden, wet, leather football. Needless to say, I was knocked flat on my back. Seconds later, I was being lifted to my feet and was being asked if I was all right. On the assurance that I was, the game restarted, while I continued on the journey that nature demanded of me. Some years later the playgrounds were resurfaced with tarmac and playtimes were much less curtailed than had been the case previously. Although the playing surface was now ideal for football, we were forbidden to play it. Too many broken windows I expect.

On the outside of the classroom nearest the road, hung a small bell, which was rung by means of ropes which were passed through the wall to the inside, where a teacher controlled the ringing at the times appointed. Usually before commencement of morning lessons and after the lunchtime break. Although Wroxham school was closed in 1986, the bell so far as I know was still in position, but not in safe working order. About five years prior to the closing of the school, its centenary was celebrated and a number of ex-pupils attended, some of whom were grandmothers. My elder sister, Gladys obtained permission on this auspicious occasion to ring the bell, much to her delight.

After two years with the infants and with two different teachers, I was moved into Class One, with Classes Two, Three and Four following in short order. The final class room in the school, contained Classes Five to X7 as it was sometimes called. The school had up to one hundred and eighty pupils at any one time. The teaching staff consisted of just six teachers, each of whom was responsible for two classes and each taught every subject in the school’s curriculum. The top classroom contained four classes, and this I think demonstrates the skill and dedication of the teachers of that day and age. The Headmaster taught the top two classes, except for religious education for which they usually joined the two preceding classes.

High up on the wall, facing classes five and six, were fastened facsimile blackboards bearing various information of an historical nature; data considered useful toward our learning of the subject. That this information was unconsciously absorbed is not surprising since it was not possible to gaze into space, without learning something historical at the same time! During examination times however, these were discreetly covered up. I remember that the first entry read “55 BC Romans invade Britain”, whereas the last entry at that time, read “1914 - 1918 The Great War.”

I suppose that as the years advanced, the charts were updated, but not during my time.

On arriving in the top classroom, boys would commence to learn Rural Science, or put more simply; ‘gardening’. The theoretical side was learned in the classroom but for the practical needs, plots were provided about half a mile down the road near the parish church. First class crops were grown, due in no small measure to the expertise of the Headmaster - who held himself responsible for these classes - and the keenness of the boys themselves. I should say that there were about twenty plots, some of which were worked by pairs of boys, and others were given to the growing of soft fruit or roses. Of each pair of boys working a plot, the older boy would be the gardener with the younger as his assistant. In due course of time, when the older boy left school, the younger boy would take over, with a newcomer as his assistant.

All produce was sold, and the proceeds used to purchase seeds for the next season. A small shed was used to store the garden tools and these were always well cared for. On wet days there would be no gardening but the time would be spent in the classroom learning about the necessary theoretical side of the subject. While the boys were thus engaged the girls would be busy rug-making or sewing.

In the boys’ playground stood the school flagpole. The Union Jack Flag would be flown on Trafalgar day - Admiral Lord Nelson was a Norfolk man - 21st October and also on Armistice Day, when this fell on a school day.

During the summer months we learned Country Dancing in the playground. A chair would be brought out from a classroom into the playground and on this, the Headmaster would place his HMV Gramophone. I can picture him now, standing by the chair, meticulously and carefully dusting each record before placing it on the turntable. We boys would do the occasional Sword and Morris dance as well as the ordinary folk dancers. On one evening each year, weather permitting, we would give a demonstration of our skills for the pleasure of our parents, who would come to watch. While the Headmaster tended the gramophone, the deputy head would move from set to set, showing us how to arrive at the right place at the right time instead of arriving early and having to wait for the music to catch up. The school sports day was held on the Caen Meadow, a grassy piece of pasture land between the school and the river, which had been left to the people of the parish by a local benefactor. There wasn’t room for a very ambitious programme, but we made the most of what was available.

We learned to swim in the river from the banks of the Caen Meadow, using an inflated car inner tube as a swimming aid. Money was scarce and few of the boys could afford to buy swimming trunks. Therefore it was not uncommon for three or four of us to share one pair of swimming trunks in turn, in order to get that chance to have a splash in the cooling waters on a hot summer’s day.

Motor cruisers bound for Coltishall, which lay upstream and was the limit of the navigable waters of the River Bure, passed by at frequent intervals, each towing in its wake a small rowing dinghy. By careful timing it was possible to swim out to the dinghy, grab hold of the stern and allow oneself to be towed along behind the parent craft for some distance, when one would swim to the shore, and await a tow back in the reverse direction. Some holidaymakers would enter into the fun of the thing and deliberately slow down in order to make it more easy for us to grab hold. Some however, did their utmost to prevent us from doing so by swinging the towed dinghy away from us. In some instances, the weight of boys clinging on would cause the small boat to founder in mid-stream. This in itself was not a problem as there were enough of us to do any salvaging which might become necessary. One holidaymaker tried to push us off with his deck mop, only to be pulled into the river for his pains. Invariably we all saw the funny side of such incidents and parted amicably.

Around the 27th July or whichever Thursday fell nearest that date, it was our custom to make our way down to Wroxham Broad, to either the Wroxham or the Salhouse side, and watch the Wroxham Regatta or do a spot of fishing. The Salhouse side of the Broads was more interesting, because it was here that the firework display was set up, although we never stayed that late in order to watch it. This was the highlight of the day so far as we were concerned. Luckily my bedroom window faced to the East and it was possible to watch the sky bursts from that vantage point which was roughly half a mile away as the crow flies.

As a boy, I enjoyed singing and having a reasonable treble voice, I often sang solos in school. Inevitably I became a member of the Wroxham Parish Church choir. It was said that we were the finest village church choir in the County. Since Norfulk contained more churches than any other County, this was a proud boast.

In the Autumn when the sweet - chestnuts were ripe, it was customary for Colonel and Mrs Charles of Wroxham House, to invite all the children from Wroxham School to pick up as many chestnuts as we could carry, from the grounds of their extensive estate. I should think that many of the nuts were assisted downwards by the Estate staff! When we had picked as many as we needed, everybody gathered at the big house to thank our hosts for their kindness. Before leaving for home, each child was presented with a bag of buns or sweets.

Our Headmaster was very musical and coached us well. He loved sea-shanties and taught us many. If, as sometimes happened, we sang off-key, ten minutes of scales and musical exercises, soon had us singing in tune again.

Most of our summer holidays were spent in the fields , ‘helping’ with the harvest. Arming ourselves with stout sticks, we chased the rabbits as they ran from the standing corn. At the end of the day, the catch was distributed amongst the farm workers and any left over were shared amongst those who had helped to catch them. A running rabbit in a small field usually escapes anything other than a shotgun, but a large field where there is plenty of room and the sanctuary of the hedgerows is further away, a boy with a stick, providing he perseveres in the chase can run a rabbit down.

Other extracts from the book are can be found under Salhouse - parish info

© Copyright 2001-2017, Andrew Rivett, Geoff Lowe