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  • Writer's pictureSarah von Allmen

52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks: Week 21.

Week 21 – Yearbook.

Yearbooks are an American tradition, rather than a British one, so I decided to interpret this week’s prompt in my own way through some of the old school photographs in my collection.

My oldest aunt Edith James was born in Manchester in 1909 and entered Standard V of Upper Jackson Street Elementary School on 25 August 1919. Like virtually all of that year’s intake she had previously attended Mulberry Street Infants School, and she was one of the youngest in her class: at the time promotion was based on ability, rather than age, and the children in the 1919 intake were born between 1906 and 1909. Although the school catered for both boys and girls, the sexes were strictly segregated as was common at the time: separate entrances, separate classes, and no mingling during recreation. (The older part of my own primary school still had “Boys” marked over one of the doors many years later.) Edith spent three years at the school and left at the end of the 1921-1922 school year, having reached school leaving age.

The photo clearly shows a class with a wider age spread than we are accustomed to today. Edith is in the front row (second from right) with others of about her age, while those on the back row are noticeably older. I imagine that the older lady on the right is the headmistress and the younger one on the left is the class teacher. There is no school uniform as such: three of the girls are wearing the square-necked gymslips which would rapidly become a mainstay of English school uniforms, while a couple are still wearing old-fashioned pinafores over their dresses.

My father Cyril James was born in 1923 and was nearly 14 years younger than his sister Edith. Like her he started school at Mulberry Street Infants, but soon afterward moved to Chorlton Park Infants, as shown on the photo. (Cyril is seated far left on the front row.) The main difference from Edith’s school years is that the class is mixed, and the children are more homogeneous in age. Chorlton-cum-Hardy wasn’t a particular affluent area at the time, as shown by some of the clothes, but one girl is still wearing a gymslip, while nearly all the boys are wearing ties, and a few have smart blazers - one is even wearing a cap! Rather noticeably, all the girls have short hairstyles (mostly a bob of some type), with none of the pigtails or oversized hair ribbons seen in the earlier picture.

Fast-forward fifteen years to 1946 when my father was demobbed from the Navy. He had left school at 14 to work in a clothing warehouse, but now he thought it was time to take stock and look to the future. Following WWII, teachers were in short supply, and for about three years the Ministry of Education proposed shortened teacher training courses for ex-service personnel. Dad was very much attracted by the idea, but being a canny character, he decided to test whether he was suited to the profession by spending a year at St Margaret’s Primary School in Whalley Range as a temporary unqualified teacher. The photograph shows him (in his demob suit?) on the right, with headmaster Lloyd Jones on the left.

The boys’ clothes have changed little since my father’s own schooldays: no uniform as such, but short trousers, long socks, and (for most) a jacket of some description. There are maybe a few less ties on show, but otherwise the 1931 and 1948 classes are virtually interchangeable.

Dad also coached the school football team, seen here in all its glory. This is very obviously the First XI, with no substitutes getting a look-in! There is no team strip – just generic football jerseys and shorts, with (I guess?) the goalkeeper wearing a jumper. I presume that the captain is the boy seated in the middle holding the ball, while the folded-arms pose is typical of sports teams – and not just those from this era.

His experience at St Margaret’s convinced Dad that he was on the right path, and he went on to qualify as a teacher on the last course for ex-servicemen at Freckleton College in 1949/50. Coincidentally Lloyd Jones would once again be his headmaster, but this time at Ryder Brow Secondary Modern, where Dad taught English and Technical Drawing for many years, later returning to primary teaching until his retirement.

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