Bolton School Former Pupils

Mary Knowles (nee Ashworth, GD 1939-1946)

I had been delighted to be awarded a Local Authority Scholarship to Bolton School, but life at the School as a Third Form pupil was postponed for six weeks during which air-raid shelters were constructed in the Quadrangle.  In the meantime, we were called to a nearby staff house where we were provided with text books and instructions for 'home work'.  The item of Science which I remember was to find a groundsel plant (a troublesome garden weed), put its roots into water coloured with red ink and, after an hour, to cut sections of the stem above the waterline and observe and draw the appearance of the cut surfaces.  A hand lens/magnifying glass was recommended.  So began my seven years of Science education.

In 1939 there were three Third Form classes and only myself and another scholarship pupil were put into the third stream!  The following year, we both moved into the middle stream and the next year we moved up into UpIV1 – praise be!  Life at School was much affected by the war – we carried our out-door gabardine coat and gas mask with us throughout the day.  At lunchtime we had to report our destination to a member of staff on duty in the Quad.  Almost every girl stayed for School dinner – no one was allowed to leave any food, no matter how unpalatable … cabbage plus caterpillars, gristle and fat, horrible custard.  The contents of each serving dish per table were meticulously divided by the head of table (member of staff/Form Mistress or Prefect).  When paper serviettes were no longer provided (shortage of paper) we had no means of hiding unwanted items.  Often it was hard to subscribe to the grace which was said by the Headmistress at the start and end of the meal.

Because of black-out regulations, there could be few after-School activities, and visits to cotton mills, British Oxygen Company works, brass and iron factories etc were very limited.  Air-raid warnings and air-raid shelter practices were unwelcome – the shelters were damp and chilly.  One day a plane crashed into the Chorley New Road end of Mornington Road.  Fortunately, no one in the houses was injured – I don’t remember what happened to the pilot.  The event caused much alarm and excitement.  My next lesson was in the Art Room with Miss Budge, one of my favourite teachers, who began the lesson by ordering us to sit quietly, close our eyes and "imagine a clear blue sky with none of those horrible aeroplanes in it".

During Winter, classrooms, laboratories, the gym and the library were often very chilly and we were allowed to put on our outdoor coats.  In the laboratories we wore our obligatory overalls and lit a number of Bunsen burners.  Winters were much colder than in recent years.  Doffcocker Lodge froze while I was in Third Year and Lower IV and we were taken to skate/slide on the lodge while the netball courts were covered with snow and ice.  Snow had fallen and drifts closed many roads, preventing milk and coal deliveries and public transport.  I only realised six years ago just how dangerous was our activity on the frozen lodge – our entry point (near to Markland Hill Lane) was revealed to be the deepest part – we were watching the quartering of the lodge in the search for a missing elderly man.

Pupils with a Bolton Education Authority scholarship had free tuition and a yearly grant of £2 to cover the cost of text books.  This was inadequate for the first year at School and for the first year in the Sixth Form.  Towards the end of each Summer term we received a list of compulsory books for the succeeding year and usually these could be purchased second-hand from the School Secretary's office.  We were encouraged to hand in books no longer required and suitable payments were the responsibility of the hardworking School Secretary.  Governors’ scholarship pupils were loaned text books – often very well-used!  Only set School Certificate literature books were likely to be new or at least in good condition.  But such scholarships were not means-tested (parents' income).  Throughout the war the borrowing or lending of books and other equipment was strictly forbidden – the lender being more strictured than the borrower!  Exercise books and rough note books must be used with no wasted lines, let alone part pages.  Each full book had to be examined and signed by the Subject Teacher or Form Mistress before the pupil could collect a new book which would be issued by the School Secretary at certain break times.

At the start of each term the Form Mistress, assisted by the Sixth Form Prefect attached to the form, would check that all shoes and clothing, gas mask and case, contents of pencil cases, laboratory overalls were clearly and securely named.  It was also the time when tunic length was checked – hems were large to allow for growth and the need for clothing coupons.  The tunic/Summer dress must just touch the floor when its owner was kneeling.  The first gym lesson each term involved the weighing and measuring (height) of each pupil.  The School Doctor, Dr Chisholm, interviewed/examined each pupil in designated years or when requested by members of staff.  It was a source of embarrassment and amusement.  We were intrigued to be questioned and examined by a lady doctor wearing, simultaneously, three pairs of spectacles.

In many ways the rationing of food and clothing alleviated the snobbishness which sometimes reared its ugly head in relation to the 'scholarship girls'.  There was an undercurrent which at times surface in staff and inter-pupil relationships.  During a Third Form English lesson I can still hear the cutting words of the Mistress: "Oh, of course, the scholarship girls don’t know anything about that" – 'that' referred to our total lack of knowledge of 'parsing' which had been taught to the fee-paying girls who had been in 'Remove' the previous year.

School uniform, including indoor shoes and gym clothes (black slip and swimming costume), was very strictly enforced, in spite of clothes rationing.  Most girls did not like the compulsory long black woollen stockings and navy knickers with handkerchief pocket.  Many velour hats and panama hats had their crowns reduced in depth – against School rules, and offending pupils were sternly admonished.

My life at Bolton School ended in 1946 when, in spite of a national 90% ex-service intake to Universities, I was able to obtain a place at Manchester University to study for an Honours BSc in Botany, Zoology and Part I Chemistry – preparatory to a Diploma in Education.  At the time I really wanted to study Medicine, but family finances were insufficient.