Bolton School Former Pupils

Joan Bellis (nee Healey, 1940-1948)

I entered Bolton School in September 1940, having been awarded a Governors’ Scholarship, from a small Unitarian Primary School in Atherton, where there was an exceptionally talented teacher.  My younger cousin was lucky enough also to have the same teacher, and he too won a scholarship to the Boys' Division two years later.  We travelled by trolley bus and tram each day, and felt ourselves extremely lucky to be able to spend most of our days in such attractive buildings.

Both our fathers had survived the trenches of the Great War, my father with a head wound which had seen him spend a long time recuperating in one of our hospitals in Italy, and my cousin's father permanently disabled for the rest of his short life.  Neither of them was able to secure any white-collar work: my father worked in a Cotton Mill until the mills were closed in the 1950s.  It was a struggle for both our families, and for one period we all lived in our small terraced house.

Strangely enough, the second war was a help to us at Bolton School: not to feel the poor relations, because even the more affluent pupils suffered clothes and food rationing, so it was a great leveller.

The staff, too, were a great help.  They sat with us at lunch time, and we learned that table manners and personal napkins were essential.  Miss Walsh was tolerant, but firm about table discipline.  Speech training was timetabled for the Third Year, and vowel sounds in particular were important.  I remember very clearly learning to say ‘guz’berries and not ‘goose’berries!  Luckily I enjoyed Junior Drama as a hobby, and this, too, helped with my Lancashire accent.  However the most valuable assets to me were the School grounds and the Library.  One year, my father read War and Peace in the first two weeks of the Summer holidays, before I had time to get to it!  In the gardening club we were asked to help with the weeding etc in the staff garden in the lunch hour and hobbies periods.  I became so obsessed with it that I even cycled over from Atherton in the Easter and Summer holidays.  It was a complete contrast to our back yard at home!  Thirty years later, I transformed The Leys School Headmaster's garden, and later, in my seventies, the Church garden of St Mark's, Cambridge.  I am now trying to design my vet grandson’s ‘field’ in Sussex, to have a shrub garden and a small orchard, while leaving room for their three alpacas, and a play area for our two great-grandchildren!

We also carried out voluntary work at Bolton Infirmary during the war.  A small group of us, who were not squeamish, were asked to go the Infirmary after School, to help with tidying up in the wards after High Tea.  This involved clearing away the sometimes messy plates and cups and washing them up (no dishwashers in the 1940s!).  Then we chatted to the patients and helped to make the beds look respectable before the visitors arrived.

I have also belonged to an extramural university literature class for the last 12 years.  The little things we learn at School often become more important to us once we are older.

My cousin left School after O Levels because his widowed mother was in need of a weekly wage, and he gradually worked his way up to become the works manager of a small engineering firm.  He recently celebrated his 80th birthday by walking to the top of Skiddaw!  I stayed on in the Sixth Form for three years, in order to gain entrance to Homerton College, Cambridge, for Teacher Training – for which I had free education and board.  I had been appointed Head Girl in my last year at School, much to the dismay of one parent, who thought that there should not be a manual worker's daughter representing Bolton School!

The only time my father visited the School was in my last year, when he came to a performance of The Winter's Tale, in which I played Hermione – but he did write to Miss Varley to thank her for all she had done for his precious only child!