I opened a book in a charity shop in Woolwich the other day and found this photograph of Class 8 at Blackheath Road School SE10 taken in 1925.
I know this because it was written in pencil on the back of the photograph. This was one of the highlights in the school year which made life a little less boring. All these people are gone now, I would think.
If any have survived they’ll be 104 and have had a nice letter from the Queen.
Other occasions were Empire Day when we marched round the playground behind a Union Jack, then listened to some local bigwig banging on about our family of nations across the sea before asking our headteacher to give us a half holiday that afternoon.
May Day found us dancing round a maypole with coloured ribbons, and autumn brought the Harvest Festival when we took groceries and fruit to school which were artistically arranged on the platform in the school hall before being given to the Miller Hospital close by.
Lesser events included visits by the police who demonstrated safety first in a mock-up street in the school yard, lantern slide stories on Friday afternoon in the darkened hall and periodic visits by the nit nurse and the L.C.C. dentist.
Blackheath Road School was not graced with my presence nearly 100 years ago, but I remember it well.
An imposing three-storey building opposite Blackheath Road police station (now the court room).
Just along the road were the Kentish Mercury offices and printing presses. The school building still stands but has been transformed into luxury flats.
So back to the photograph. Forty-five children pose with their lady teacher who looks rather forbidding.
She is paid less than her male colleagues for doing the same job and must leave the profession if she decides to marry, which seems unlikely in this case.
A week before the photographer arrived the boys had been told to get their hair cut and wash behind their ears.
Girls were expected to wear bright hair ribbons and their best summer frocks. The postcards would be displayed in the hall and cost sixpence. Times were hard and a lot of them remained unsold.
Looking at the nine-year-olds they all appear to be healthy specimens. Quite possibly they were conceived after their dads returned from the war their fathers didn’t talk about.
Strangely none of them are wearing glasses. With that number in the class I worry that slow learners would not have received the right attention from their teacher, some leaving school aged 14 still unable to read.
On a personal note, in 1939 I was at Colfe’s Grammar School in Lewisham, which had nearly 500 boys on the roll.
All the them and the staff gathered in the school yard, with the tallest standing on benches at the back.
Being a stupid boy I stood at one end of the assembled throng.
The camera was attached to a clockwork gadget which travelled slowly across the front of the Colfeans producing a picture about three feet long.
So it was possible after the camera had passed me on the left I could run along behind the backs on the crowd and be photographed again.
Looking at the photograph no one noticed that I had a twin brother at the school.