My schooldays began in the autumn of 1955 when I entered the Infants section of Frogwell Primary School in Chippenham, Wiltshire.
In an effort to be more precise, I must assume this would have been on Tuesday 6th September, because new pupils were required to start one day after the beginning of term, and by coincidence I was due to commence full-time education the same week as my paternal grandfather retired.
At the age of 4 years and 9 months I was not especially pleased to arrive, for, in common with a number of my fellow pupils in having had no pre-school or play group through which to have become acclimatized, I found it more than a little disconcerting to be unceremoniously placed within the confines of an official institution rather than be allowed to continue enjoying what had been a largely agreeable life at home.
Settling down for a quarter of an hour with Daphne Oxenford and Listen With Mother on the BBC Light Programme was now to be replaced by paying attention to a schoolteacher for a considerably larger portion of the day.
Group 1 (1955-56: Miss Jones)
Memories of Group 1 include the use of individual slates and chalk, jars of coloured beads with threading string, and funny little camp beds with grey blankets for lying down and resting after lunch.
Locating one’s own coat peg, desk, rest bed and so forth was made easy by the use of wooden picture tags, among which my own, I was pleased to discover, was a red tricycle.
Noteworthy activities included News Time in the morning and in the afternoon Choosing Time, which seemed to offer various ways of getting oneself into a mess, such as via the water tub, sand pit or even a mysterious grey powder on whose exact chemical composition I now prefer not to speculate.
A short trip out to the field made for an afternoon alternative to the playground, although when a visiting Fun Fair set up camp on the neighbouring property we were duly banned from hanging around near the fence.
Naturally, for a short while I would have been taken to school by my mother, but before eventually making the transition to undertaking the journey alone I feel sure she must have arranged for me to walk in the company of another Frogwell pupil living fairly close by, although, as it happened, many of our more immediate neighbours favoured Lowden Primary School in Sheldon Road.
Sadly, I can remember very few of the other children in Group 1 by name, and even one or two of those I do recall would likely have ceased to be my classmates after that first school year.
Group 3 (1956-57: Miss Young)
Reporting to Group 2 the following September, I found myself unexpectedly promoted straight into Group 3.
Here we were introduced to the Word Race (an innovative aid to learning to spell) as well as small bags of counting beans and an imitation shop, both of which helped us get to grips with simple arithmetic and basic monetary transactions.
There was also Music and Movement in the gym, performed to the accompaniment of a BBC radio broadcast, while out in the yard playtime was enhanced by the wonderful opportunity to roll tyres.
The outside world was becoming more noticeable, and most probably it was in early 1957 that our class saw the arrival of a little Eastern European girl. She must have been one of the 20,000 refugees who had fled to Britain in the aftermath of the Hungarian Revolution of 1956, so maybe there were others who also came to Frogwell at that time. The poor child was clearly emaciated and obviously not in good health. We had a height and weight feature in one corner of our classroom where she alone tipped the scales at less than 3 stone (19 kg).
She uttered very few words, which was hardly surprising, since she could scarcely speak any English. This was a concept I’m afraid I for one found difficult to appreciate fully, while naturally understanding nothing of the fear and deprivation she would surely have suffered during her short life. I don’t think she stayed with us for very long.
We were also beginning to venture further afield on occasion, with a trip to the GPO Sorting Office highlighted by our return to school on an ordinary service bus. Our teacher’s request for her adult fare to be accompanied by 24 halves caused one or two raised eyebrows and also placed unaccustomed demands on the conductor’s hand-wound ticket machine which, much to our amusement, was thereby forced to disgorge a veritable paper chain eventually long enough to reach the floor.
I liked Group 3, and yet it was from there that I embarked upon my one and only serious attempt to escape from school.
To this day, I can see myself suddenly and unaccountably heading for the classroom door, yet have no memory whatever of any preceding trauma or even minor incident.
Having been forced to detour via the un-gated entrance near Group 1, I was running back down the road past our classroom when I saw the somewhat flustered figure of Miss Young hurrying out from a room full of excited faces and pointing fingers. After racing across Hungerdown Lane, I attempted to thwart her by first keeping next to the road along the top of the bank before scampering down to join the footpath below.
To my utter mortification she not only scampered down after me but managed to keep her feet while doing so, and a few seconds later I was inevitably caught.
That this bizarre bid for freedom was brought to quite such a premature end was due in no small measure to my lack of athletic ability, although I still much prefer to blame it on my form teacher’s choice of sensible shoes.
As with Group 1, only a handful of names from Group 3 remain with me, and indeed, whilst memories of circumstance and activity seem reasonably plentiful*, I must confess to being at something of a loss when it comes to the matter of actual friendships. Although I am sure I had no problem with integration in general, I cannot recall regularly keeping the company of any other particular classmate or group of children at playtime.
Group 4 (1957-58: Miss Hayes)
After some administrative alterations at the start of the new school year, Group 4 was in fact redesignated as Group 3, but this would have made for a rather confusing subheading.
Unlike my experience at the beginning of the previous academic year, those of us who had been in Miss Young’s class must have almost all moved up together in the autumn of 1957. However, as things turned out, I only remained under the supervision of Miss Hayes for around a term and a half and seem to have remarkably little memory of lessons in that particular classroom.
In fact, my only real recollection is of our new teacher holding up a variety of number cards, each of which displayed a different sum (such as 4+2 or 7-3) in order to elicit verbal answers and thereby encourage the development of mental arithmetic.
Records show that I left Frogwell Primary School on 28th February 1958, but this is most likely only the date on which I officially ceased to be registered as a pupil.
My actual departure had almost certainly occurred sometime earlier and had been totally without warning. Indeed, on the morning in question I had dressed for school as normal without the slightest inkling that due to domestic circumstances I was never to set foot inside Frogwell as a pupil again.
Unsurprisingly, therefore, I have no memory of my last day because it would have been as routine as any other. I said goodbye to no-one and in recent years have often found myself somewhat inanely wondering if any of my contemporaries eventually became aware that I had gone.
The Infants generally had little to do with the Juniors’ part of the school, only being sent there for a specific reason. However, on one occasion (perhaps when having to report to the Headmaster, Mr Rice) I remember passing the door to Group 10 and noticing a room full of what looked like inordinately large children seated at tidily arranged desks and staring intently at a blackboard which appeared to be covered with hieroglyphics.
My sudden departure notwithstanding, whether or not I would have progressed to attend using the main entrance in Derriads Lane as a Junior (whose classes were originally designated from Group 5 upwards) must forever remain a matter for speculation.
As it happened, for me 1958 was to become the year of three rather different academic establishments, of which the Infants section of Frogwell Primary School, Chippenham would be only the first.
If you have any queries or comments about Frogwell in the 1950s you are welcome to email me at email@example.com.
* Primary and Other Colours, one of the light-hearted tales in my anthology of short stories entitled In The Absence Of Bats, is based heavily on experiences of life at Frogwell School.