Memories of Seven Years at Bolton School
I was a pupil at Bolton School (Girls' Division) from 1951-1958. To gain a place at Bolton in those days one had to take an entrance examination and, if successful in that, there was an interview with the Head Mistress, Miss Varley, and also one with Miss Ford (English). This second interview involved reading a passage from a book and then answering Miss Ford's questions about it. I was very nervous. I went through this process twice as I was unsuccessful the first time when aged 10. The second time I got a book which I had already read – what a relief! I lived in Chorley and I think that Muriel Blackburn and I were the first from our primary School to attend Bolton School. There were only a few of us who made the long and complicated journey by bus from Chorley but over the years the numbers increased. One fellow traveller was Margaret Holmes who went on to be the 'cleverest girl' in our year.
On the first day in September 1951 I remember being very nervous in the Hall when we were allocated our classes, especially when Muriel went to a different form. When we reached the designated room in the Junior Corridor I was relieved to see that Pat Shaw was there. We had met on the interview day as our mothers knew each other. In fact, Pat was very distantly related to me, but I don't think I ever knew the details. Our form teacher was Mrs Nette who was very kind and friendly and explained everything to us. She also took the whole class for History although her main subject was French. We were divided into sets (or divisions, I think they were called) for French and I was placed in Miss Waddington's group. I always assumed that this allocation was based on our performance in the Entrance Exam. We were similarly grouped across three forms for Maths. Miss Bond was my teacher. She was so good at her job that at the end of the first year I was promoted to Miss Bromley's top division. Both these Maths teachers were very memorable. Miss Bond was quite young and very jolly. She always wore her gown. One day someone asked why she did this. Her answer was typical. ‘lt helps to keep me warm, it keeps the chalk dust off my clothes and it shows you how clever I am’. Miss Bromley, who was somewhat older, had been a missionary in China and could often be sidetracked from equations or geometry to tell us about her experiences there. One particular anecdote sticks in the memory. She was staying in a very poor family's home. At night she was approached by the head of the family with what appeared to be the family's only tooth brush and offered first use. Fortunately she had her own!
Form Three Alpha had several others teachers of course. I recall that Miss Charnock took us for English. She lived in Adlington like Pat Shaw and Marian Ainsworth and initially caught the same bus as us. We were quite excited when she acquired a car – we could remove our berets without being spotted! I think it was a Morris Minor. Miss Weaving (later Mrs Lumb) who was, like us, a new girl, took us for PE, but she was only with us for the first term as she had a bad accident rock climbing in Wales and was off School for more than a year. Miss Graser, who taught in the Junior School (Preparatory Department), took us for Art and Craft, including the valuable skills of patching and darning. She was also our Biology teacher. Indeed our introduction to her was on the second or third day when she came into the form-room in the afternoon and instructed us to bring a rose bay willow herb to School next day. No-one asked what this was and I certainly did not know. Fortunately a neighbour was able to enlighten us and my father risked life and limb collecting a specimen from the nearby railway cutting for me to take to School next day. I can't recall who took our form for Music, but I had individual piano lessons with Miss Matt, but possibly not until Lower 1 Fourth. I think Miss Corlett took us for games but I was not very sporty and did not enjoy our trips to the netball courts (though it was quite exciting to walk past Nat Lofthouse's home) or up to the field on Chorley New Road to play lacrosse. The Girls Division had no swimming pool, but two mornings each week the Boys' pool was made available so that juniors and third formers could be taught to swim. There was a strange word on the timetable – eurhythmics – and we wore a pale blue minidress and matching knickers for this activity. It involved prancing around the back of the hall to music. I am not sure how it was supposed to benefit us. I am afraid that we were very unkind to Miss Woodhead who took Scripture lessons. Looking back she must have been near to retirement and had a physical disability, but we showed her no respect. Having been a teacher I regret that behaviour as I can imagine how she must have felt.
In Lower Fourth Miss Shaw was my Form Mistress. She also taught us Geography. I have remained in touch with her since I left School as I studied geography to A Level and at university. Our classroom was in the Cloisters. At that time there was no front wing so the 'Quad' was open to the main road. In Lower IV we were introduced to Latin. I presume that Miss Sturrock must have taught us. She was also the Librarian. Later, Mr Fischer also taught Latin, but I was never in his class. Miss Makin was our English teacher. She liked her pupils to enter into the spirit of the play we were studying so the desks would be pushed back and we would 'act' the scenes. On one occasion we were doing the storm scene from The Tempest. All those without a speaking part were making noises to represent the wind and the crashing of waves. Suddenly the door was flung open and another teacher started to berate us for making so much noise. Miss Makin popped her head around the cupboard and said: ‘It's quite alright, we are doing Shakespeare’.
In the Upper IV we were introduced to Domestic Science. That year – half a term of laundry, one term of needlework and one and half terms of cookery with Mrs Ainsworth and Miss Faulkner – was the only formal instruction in home economics that I had, but it stood me in good stead. We learned a lot of theory as well as some practical skills. At the end of that year we had to choose subjects for O Level and I opted for music instead.
The top corridor housed Mrs Shuttleworth's Art Studio and the laboratories. After two years in the Cloisters with Miss Groser for Art we progressed upstairs. Again it was a short stay for me as I was not destined to be an artist! We had chemistry lessons with Miss Aikenhead. I quite enjoyed them. I cannot recall the name of our Biology teacher, but she left to have a baby. We were without a Physics teacher for part of the O Level course and were all delighted when Mr Wood came out of retirement to teach us.
At that time boys from the Boys' Division had no dining room and had to use ours. They walked through the underground playground from their half of the campus after we had eaten. Consequently, we had to have lunch early and then – and we considered this quite unfair – we had to wipe the tables, sweep the floor and relay the tables for the boys. We took it in turn to undertake this chore. A member of staff would be in charge. Often this was Miss Sutcliffe in the Lower Dining Hall, though I can also remember Miss Groser instructing me as follows: ‘There's a pea, dear. Pick it up’. The meals were pretty awful as it was relatively soon after the war and food was not as plentiful or varied as today. Mince featured quite often, sometimes encased in a suet pastry, but I think the very worst dish was 'cheese and semolina cutlets'. We were in the Dining Room in early 1952 when the death of King George VI was announced. Further up the School we ate in the Upper Dining Room where we had chairs rather than benches and smaller tables. Members of staff or prefects sat at the head of each table and served the food. Miss Higginson, who became head in 1954, introduced the idea of ‘special invitations’ to sit on the Top Table with her and any guests. This was quite nerve-racking even when one was in the Sixth Form.
During my time at School we were divided into eight houses for sport and other competitions. They were named after hills and mountains and each had its designated colour. The houses were:
Chiltern – red Cotswold – grey Malvern – dark green
Mendip – yellow Pendle – pale blue Skiddaw – dark blue
Snowdon – light green Wrekin – orange
House notice boards were located in the lower hall at the bottom of the main staircase and house meetings held on Thursday afternoons in the last period. If you did not have a house meeting you could go home early. People who did something to help their house in some way could be awarded a ‘house girdle’ in the appropriate colour and wore them for a term instead of the ordinary navy ones. When I was in Upper V or Lower VI the inter-house competition was to compile a folder of information about our mountain. My house, Skiddaw, won. Was this due to there being lots of information about Skiddaw in the Lake District or was it because several of us were geographers? I can remember writing about John Ruskin as well as about Derwentwater. Another year we had a one act drama competition. The play we chose was The Spinsters of Lushe – a sort of Cranford copy. Each house had a local charity which it supported. Ours was a nursing home on Chorley New Road. Girls went to write letters for the old ladies, to read to them and at Christmas to sing carols.
There were School plays and the main one I can remember is The importance of being Earnest by Oscar Wilde. Most of the main characters were played by girls in my year – some of whom I still see. Each year we had to practise special songs and hymns for events like Speech Day and the Carol Service. Miss Slinn and her colleagues in the Music Department had high standards. I particularly remember one Speech Day when the guest of honour and speaker was Cecil Day Lewis. We were all captivated by his elegant wife, the actress Jill Balcon.
The last period on Friday afternoons featured in our timetable as ‘lecture’. A wide variety of topics was presented. Usually the announcement of the topic specified which year groups were invited, but one form was usually given a ‘special invitation’ – that meant attendance was compulsory! One talk in particular made a big impression me. The speaker was a mountaineer from New Zealand who showed us wonderful slides of Mount Cook and the surrounding area. I vowed to go and see it for myself. I eventually managed a visit to South Island in 1991! As we progressed up the School there were additional activities in the evenings – Film Society, Dance Club (joint with the Boys). There were probably others, but living so far away it was not easy to attend.
When I was studying Music for O Level we were given subsidised tickets for concerts, but, again, distance made making use of these difficult. I do recall seeing Eileen Joyce playing in Bolton and travelling by train to Manchester to go to a concert by the Halle at the Free Trade Hall.
At the start of our fourth year, Lower Fifth, we had to decide which subjects to specialise in for O Level and that mixed up the classes. I was not doing an extra language and so was in Lower IV A. Miss Falkner was our Form Mistress and was very popular with us all. Even though I did not do her subject for long I always remembered things she taught us including her famous ‘If in doubt, use a wooden spoon’ – a maxim I have always followed (I have about a dozen of various sizes beside my cooker!). Miss Makin taught us for English and taught us very well. I was quite proud of my mark in English language, 80%, my highest of all, and I remain a bit of a pedant as far as the use of English is concerned. She drummed rules for adverbial clauses into us by chanting little rhymes such as: ‘If and unless are conditional links’ and ‘so that, in order that, but never in order to’.
When we had taken our O Levels the staff arranged a number of outings for us. There was quite a lot of choice, but I recall a very interesting tour of the Infirmary and another of Warburtons’ bakery. There was a full day visit to Derbyshire where we visited one of the caves in Castleton and a half day trip to Hall i'th Wood to learn about Samuel Crompton. There was a trip to an aluminium factory near Manchester, but the most interesting day out was a visit to the sewage works which was fascinating.
Things changed, of course, when we returned to School as Sixth Formers. We were treated subtly differently by staff, given more responsibility and maybe even regarded differently by younger pupils. We mostly chose three A Level subjects, but the School insisted that everyone, whichever subjects they had chosen, studied some English and Science. Our time in the Sixth coincided with the International Geo-Physical Year and I think that we spent quite some time on that. As part of our A Level geography Miss Shaw took us on a field trip close to Bolton where a number of the group managed to fall into a stream. The three of us who went on to read Geography at university – Valerie Deans, Susan Parry and I – arranged a field trip of our own at Easter of our Upper Sixth year. It was run by London University and was based in Battle of Britain House near Ruislip. It focussed on the Chilterns and the chalk landscape which was very unfamiliar to us. We also spent some time in Hemel Hempstead New Town. That was a busy Easter holiday as Barbara Taylor and I accompanied two young members of staff, Miss M Shaw who had replaced Miss Hamer in the History department, and Miss Boardman from the PE department with a class of Lower Fourth girls on a youth hostelling trip to Derbyshire. We stayed in Castleton hostel and visited at least one cave, climbed Mam Tor and toured Haddon Hall.
All good things come to an end and in the summer of 1958 we threw away our School berets (but I still have my scarf) and embarked on our adult lives. Some of us communicated with each other, but inevitably most of us lost touch with others in our cohort. Miss Higginson, however, was a great networker and maintained contact with a huge number of pupils and former staff.
My first link up with another Old Girl was nothing g to do with her, however. In 1963 after I married I moved to Solihull and began teaching there. I recognised another member of staff, but could not quite place her at first. It was Marjorie Boothroyd who was a few years older than me and had actually been our form officer in Lower Fourth! That was September, but another surprise was in store at Christmas. Opening the door to an unexpected knock I discovered Miss Shaw (History) who had moved in almost next door with her husband and small son. Miss Higginson had alerted her to our presence.
The next example of her contacts came in the early 70s when a lady arrived at my home in Norfolk, declaring ‘Miss Higginson sent me’. This was Ina McCann who had taught Geography after we had left School. I introduced her to the local Geography Society and before we knew it she had been offered a job in one of the local schools. She became very good friends with a neighbour of mine and all three of us remain friends all these years later. In 1991 my husband and I were due to spend time in Tasmania on an academic exchange. I told Miss Higginson beforehand and she immediately told me that I must contact Pam Adams, yet another Geographer, who lived near Hobart. It turned out that Pam and Ina had taught together at Bolton but amazingly Pam and her husband Tony were very good friends of the people with whom we exchanged. They do say it’s a small world!
Miss Higginson also put me back in touch with Jennifer Bolton, probably in the 1980s. Jennifer and her stepchildren came to visit us and after that we kept in touch at least at Christmas until 1996 when Jennifer, Betty Coward and a few others decided that we should have a reunion at School to celebrate 40 years since we had taken our O Level exams. After considerable effort on their part they managed to contact virtually everyone from our year. It was a great occasion with several members of staff present too. The spinoff from that event is that a number of us have managed to remain in contact and to meet from time to time. Last year, for example, when celebrating our Golden Wedding Anniversary we were joined by Muriel Blackburn and her husband, Ross, Valerie Deans and Malcolm, Susan Parry and Tessa Price. It is testament to the bonds we share as a result of our time at Bolton that we can pick up the threads and enjoy each other's company more than 50 years on.