My days as a young lad at All Saints Junior School Boothen.
By Dr Richard Talbot MBE. (written for the Sentinel to be published in their next edition of the monthly The Way we Were.
Like many reading this my early childhood experience at school as a child has no comparison with the experience of today. After WW11, in 1951 (all those years ago) I was moved from Boothen Infants school at the top of All Saints Road, just across the playground to the next school in my educational experience – All Saints Junior School. It was an old building, in fact the main hall and a classroom petitioned off was built as the first Boothen Church opened on All Saint’s Day 1st November 1870 where we held assembly each morning taken by headmaster Mr. William Geary, who once a week played an old 78 classical music record to the gathered company probably in an attempt as an introduction to the classics. As a seven or eight-year-old boy, I don’t’ think it had much affect!
However, upon reflection my four years of life at the school gave me a sense of balance between the circumstances of the time and learning. The cane was still administered – six strokes was normally the worst punishment. I recall in the third year my twin brother having six of the best and I suddenly shouted out to the teacher, “that’s my brother sir” to which came the reply “well in that case you come to the front and take the punishment instead”. I quickly learnt a lesson there!
Viewing the school in perspective with today, perhaps one of the highlights is the state of the playground. It was made up of mostly broken up clinker from coke boilers, no tarmacadam in those days and complete with puddle holes everywhere. If you fell over, and with short trousers it was always grazed knees or elbows. Around the playground were a number of brick and concrete air-raid shelters and on one side stood the boys brick toilet, a very basic construction comprising of about six individual toilets and the urinal was an outside brick wall, painted half-way up with back bitumen paint with a narrow gully at the bottom leading to a grid. No idea how often this was flushed by the caretaker!
During the year there were several efforts to raise money for special occasions, perhaps a jumble sale and the sale of scent cards at 2d each. These were often used by mothers to place in the draw where clean underwear was kept. This small income was to provide a Christmas party for the children probably just over three hundred, each class having around forty in those days. The classrooms were decorated with crape paper cut into strips and twisted as streamers supplemented by colour paper hand-made by the pupils of paper chains. All children had to bring their own dish, cup and spoon identified by a piece of wool being wrapped around the handles etc.
There were no dinners provided at lunch time until the last year following a new hall being erected opposite the school in the grounds of the church. I recall we all wanted to stay for school dinner at 2/11d a week. As I was a twin there were two to pay for, far beyond my mother’s budget – so we continued to walk around a mile home each way for lunch, had probably a bowl of lobby and then walk back again in all weathers – our knees were so chapped in the winter months and we used to have Rosalex rubbed in then at night to reduce the pain.
It was during the winter months that we saw the classroom fires lit with a huge guard around the hearth. No central heating then. The teacher’s desk was adequately placed nearby, no doubt for him/her to keep warm whilst we children sat frozen to death. It was free milk for all children in those days – one third of a pint. Each little bottle was placed on top of the brick hearth around the fire in the hope they would unfreeze or even warm-up before break time. Then every couple of hours the caretaker would come in and reload the fire with a mixture of coal and coke. In those days’ teachers could smoke whist teaching and I recall the deputy head, Mr Carr, who must have got through twenty plus of cigarettes a day in front of his pupils.
Then the day came once a year where every child had to line up in the hall, class following class for the nit nurse visit who stood at the front examining the hair of every child. Her title today would be lice therapist. To place this into context probably ninety or even more percent of children came from homes with no bathrooms, only a cold water tap over a kitchen sink. Hot water either came from a gas stove whistling kettle or from the kitchen gas boiler used for boiling whites on a Monday. Most children had a wash at the kitchen sink with a kettle full of hot water – “don’t come in mum I’m having a wash” was the usual cry when trousers were dropped for the purpose of splashing a little water over that part of the anatomy. If there was a bath, it was a tin bath on the hearth on a Friday night, cleanest first, dirtiest last was the norm with a fresh kettle of hot water added now and again. Hence the need for a nit nurse. In fact if you look at my class photo you can see how some were so poorly dressed and looking rather bedraggled – sign of the times after the war and father was the only bread-winner in the family.
Yes, there was no comparison today with my years at junior school or even senior school. We used proper ink pens which we dipped into an ink pot set into the wooden desk. Splodges everywhere if you were not careful! We had a full range of subjects to learn although practical subject was out as there was nowhere to have them. As Boothen school was a C of E school, religion was taught several times a week – I recall the Catechism (the rules of the C of E) being taught for weeks on end until we knew it almost parrot-fashion. In most cases all we had was an exercise book to do our classwork. There were a few hand-out books which were collected at the end of the class but there was certainly no library in the school. It was mostly black-board teaching interrupted only by the teacher throwing his white chalk or even the wooden board-rubber to a child found either nodding off or misbehaving. I do not recall drama except for the Coronation year when the school produced an historical pageant in the new church hall. That went down well, and the children loved it although I think there was always a bit of a concert at Christmas as I recall my brother singing White Christmas with another boy called Roy Lunt.
During the summer, the highlight was the school Sports day in the playground. Certainly not the best place to run and in the sack-race where we all had trouble with the numerous potholes in the ground. But there were nice times and certainly well supported by parents.
The staff I recall without exception were wonderful. I truly believe they tried their best with all the children under their care without exception despite the problems of the time. On one occasion I had a splint in my finger and was sent to Mr Geary, the headmaster. He always wore his academic gown which was a peculiar shade of green probably through years of service. On this occasion I was invited to sit on a chair in his office where he promptly produced his medical instruments – a needle and a pair of tweezers. After doing the necessary he thanked me for being good during the ‘procedure’ and to my surprise placed a hand in his pocked to produce a penny with the words “that’s for being a good boy”. I have never ever forgotten this act of kindness after sixty years.
Welcome to my new page on Boothen. If you have any pictures of Boothen or its schools and any stories that you like to share please do send them in via the contact address for publication.
The following letter and attachments have been received from Stephen Holland whose grandfather who came from South Terrace at the age of 14 saved the life of a 5 year old girl from drowning in the canal at Boothen.
He subsequently received an impressive acknowledgement for his bravery. Attached is the letter from Mr Holland, a copy of the awarded certificate, a picture of him with his twin brother and the press report of the day.
Dear Dr Talbot
I stumbled upon the Penkhull History Society website when I was researching more about my late grandfather and his mother’s past address at 32 South Terrace Boothen – since long demolished.
My late grandfather was a local hero. In June 1925 he was walking by the canal when a young girl fell in and was drowning. He was only 12 (born 31 August 1912), not the older age stated, and dived in to rescue her as other adult men looked on. He saved her life per the account. He was given an award by the Royal Humane Society. I have had a new copy made through contacting them.
I was told (by a former local policeman who covered that area) that there used to be a plaque in commemoration by the canal but I’ve never been able to find it. Do you know of that or this story?
My grandfather was called Walter Wallace Raymond Prosser and had a twin brother called Edgar and elder brother called Robert. He died of a cycling accident on Campbell Road in 1950 just before my mum was born. His father (my great grandfather) died in WW1 in 1917 – Private Robert Gray Prosser. He is commemorated on the Menin Gate at Ypres.
His mother (my great grandmother) was called Annie (née Tansley of Hanford) who became Prosser, then Hodgkinson, then Scott. They lived at 32 South Terrace in Boothen which was later inherited by my aunt and eventually demolished. My grandfather moved away in 1935 to Hanford on his marriage.
I have attached the parchment award copy for grandfather and the newspaper extract about his gallantry published in The Staffordshire Sentinel on Thursday 20 August 1925. Also attached is a photograph of my grandfather (right side) with I understand to be his twin brother Edgar. You are welcome to publish them if they are of interest to the local history and assuming no copyright infringes.
If you have any other information about my above family and might know of that plaque along the canal, I would be very grateful to hear.
All the best Season’s greetings to you
Thank you also for any help or steer you might be able to give me about my late grandfather’s life.
Barnum and Bailey Circus comes to the Old Racecourse at Boothen in 1898 where an elephant is strangled to death.
With the national release of the film ‘The Greatest Showman’ the story of W.T. Barnum it has brought some urgency in writing about the appearance of his circus The Greatest Shown on Earth at what was the old Racecourse, Boothen on the 11th and 12th November 1898. And why, because there was always a story from my childhood of an elephant being buried somewhere under the Michelin Factory later built on the site. Secondly, in my late-twenties I worked at Wenger’s, at the end of Garner Street, Etruria.
These old buildings were used as the winter quarters for the circus until 1900 and guess what I worked in the large sheds where the elephants were kept. In the reception stood a large elephant stove – a left-over from that time. Lastly, my grandparents lived at what was Racecourse Road, Oakhill and their back-kitchen window overlooked the entire site, and would they have seen the circus.
The circus was advertised as at a daily expense of £1,500, arriving in four long trains, 800 persons, 400 horses and numerous animals. A procession through the city over one mile long and taking twenty minutes to pass commenced at 8.30 a.m. both mornings and returning to via Campbell Road. There was no exaggeration to the name ‘The Greatest Show on Earth’ which contained three circus rings – two stages, a race track and held over 13,000 people. The performances were unique as there being as many as five items, each of great merit, being gone through at the same time.
However, on the second morning there was an unusual event – no less than the strangling of one of the finest elephants in the herd. The beast, a male 25 years of age, weighing considerably over three ton, had recently given indications of the possession of great strength and a disposition to use it in a way that could not be considered with indifference. Nick, its name, came from Ceylon some 16 years ago and had been with Barnum’s ever since and had been trained to do many tricks. It took part as usual with the other elephants in the performance the previous night rolling the tubs and headed the procession out of the tent. It also was in the street procession. In fact, I interviewed an eye witness around fifty years ago who remembers the procession and this elephant behaving badly during the procession.
The only option was to kill the poor beast rather than to allow it to do harm to other animals, people or its self. Mr Bailey, in consultation with his managers decided that though the animal was a very valuable one-estimated to be worth £1000 he would not run any risk – the animal must die. It is unbelievable that only a couple of weeks ago Sir David Attenborough’s documentary on TV covered the death of Jumbo at A Barnum and Bailey Circus in America who had to be strangled as poison failed to kill it.
As a result of this case the decision was made to strangle poor Nick as the form of execution. The animal was secured to the ground by chains and ropes and a rope placed around the elephant’s neck whereby no less than fifty men attempted to strangle the poor beast. The rope broke and all around stampeded in haste. However, the animal did not move so a further rope was secured, and the elephant offered no resistance and soon it rolled over as a corpse.
Mr Bailey, himself superintended the arrangements and Dr Stanton, the veterinary surgeon, who travels with the show to make sure that the animal should not suffer unnecessary pain, fired a shot into the brain of the animal, and another into its head from behind the left ear. The other elephants in the tent at the time seemed ill at ease, though they were very liberally provided with hay. The tusks were 3’9” in length and were secured by Mr Cross the Liverpool naturalist.
So was the elephant actually buried as suggested – no it ended up on hundreds of local dinner-plates as it was sold to local butchers as meat.
Old Cottages at Boothen Green – home that you enjoy this small collection of what Boothen was like until c1960s when demolished.
and in Water Street terraced houses – all gone
South Terrace – replaced by neat pensioners bungalows
Two great pictures of the canal that passed Boothen Junior School.
All pictures are © Dr Richard Talbot
All Saints Junior School pictures – hope that they bring memories. Remember you can respond t any via our contact address.
I managed to save these pictures from the school some thirty years ago.
Notice that this is an all boys class – no girls must have been separated then. Also they are all smartly dressed with collars and ties in those days despite the extreme poverty of the time. Great picture thanks to David Tideswell.
A Christmas Story held in the school across the road.
Thanks for uploading so many photographs of my old school. I always tell people that my school days at Boothen were wonderful and the photos bring back great memories. My sister Susan is on one of the Class photos in 1959 but unfortunately, there isn’t any for the period 1960-1966 when mys sister Beverley and I were there.
I’ve attached a photograph of the Boothen School Football team taken early 1966 which you may wish to upload. Unfortunately, it isn’t great quality. Philip Mellor.
Many thanks for your contribution Phillip Mellor
Coronation Pageant 1953 in the School Hall
1955 Class reunions organised
Site cleared along with all those happy and cherished memories
All pictures are
©Dr Richard Talbot
All Saints Mission also known by Potts Ground Mission – by Dr Richard Talbot
Mission Churches were for the working class poor
It came as quite a surprise to see an old picture of the outside of the former All Saint’s Mission at Boothen. As a child I used to attend the evening service along with my aunt Annie Adams. The Mission was a large room with a central isle and a raised platform at the far end where the minister sat with the altar situated in the middle and the organ to the left. It was approached by a few central steps.
Locally it went by the name of Potts Ground Mission – as James Potts used to own that part of Boothen – an area that was represented by some of the poorest people in the Potteries in the early years of the 20th century. The Mission belonged to Stoke Parish as was too All Saint’s Church within a stone’s throw. In the early days there was class distinction – the poor went to the Mission Church ran by a Church Army Captain and the better off like those from James and Regent Street and the Villas attended the church.
The Mission was opened in a former joiner’s works in 1894 and run by Church Army Captains until the First World War when the Captain went to serve his country leaving no one in charge so it closed the following year. It remained closed until 1919 when Mr Arnold A. Wain, a licensed preacher was asked to re-open the Mission and take charge.
The building was by then dilapidated with no congregation so Mr. Wain walked with streets and back-allies of Boothen and standing on a box preached to the people where he found them and slowly the congregation returned. Mr. Wain restored the mission. In its final years it was run by Mr. Sam Calligan of Foden Street until it finally closed in October 1967. During his tenure the building went through a period of change, such as electric lighting, new floors and platform and heating and he started a youth club in the adjacent room in 1949 continuing until 1958.
The Mission was always well attended where people found common support in difficult times of unemployment, illness and poor inadequate housing. In those days Churches and Mission had large Sunday Schools and the familiar site of the annual anniversary walks around that part of Stoke brought with it a welcome admiration of the work of the Mission. Mr. Wain was always invited to preach on Anniversary Sundays. In his time he was known as one of N.Staffs outstanding orators and preached with authority and conviction. In those days – residents would bring their own kitchen chairs and sit in the gang way. For others it was standing room only. Probably around a hundred children would be stacked in five tiers high seating mounted specially to the right of the platform – no health and safety in those days – all neatly dressed – boys in white shirts and grey short trousers and girls in their new white party dresses and would do readings and singing collectively and solo.
At the end of the service the collection plate was passed around soon to become over-flowing with small change because that all people could afford in that part of Boothen. Then it all followed by what seemed an army of women marching out of the kitchen with cups of tea whilst children would be praised and Mr Wain greeted by all his friends.
© by Historian Dr Richard Talbot, MBE