This is Edward Bailey remembering. Having lived in Dulwich since 1910, I love no place more than our Dulwich Village. I attended the Hamlet Boys’ School from 1913-1915. It was however in 1910, at the Infants’ School on the corner that I had my first ever lessons. I remember exactly where I sat and that I learnt to trace the alphabet in a tray of sand.
I remember the Coronation of King George V in 1911. The railings in front were removed so that we infants could cheer the King on his passage through the Village. We all got a medal. I wish now I had kept mine. When young we throw things away or lose so much we later regret.
Before me now lies a photo of the top class of 1913. There are 26 of us, each holding an open book on his desk, most of us wearing dark grey jerseys, one in a sailor tunic, three in tunics with very wide whited soft collars, and three in white starched collars.
On the back wall, through one of whose windows you see the misty shape of one of those glorious elms that once lined both sides of the Village, hang two pictures featuring a tall slim tree and an ancient city of small white houses on the side of a hill. And there in front sits my seven year old self.
I remember the Infants’ headmistress, actually she was called the Governess. One of her hands was mysteriously encased in a pink carapace. She taught the tonic solfa music scale. With her good hand making a different sign for each note, she conducted us like a choir in singing simple tunes.
The cane had not arrived among the infants but its Infant brother had. It was a long, thin, coloured, tapering cardboard tube called a pointer. It served both to teach and to administer a smart rap on the hand. Sometimes, to our secret joy, it broke. When at last we were promoted to the Big-Boys’ School, we were marched around into one of the classrooms close by Turney Road, where the headmaster, Mr Kenny, plied us with questions to find out what kind of lot Fate had lumbered him with this time. I discretely remained dumb. It was the most unnerving introduction to our new school.
There is an old photo of the school hall taken with the camera pointing towards the oriel window of the teachers’ room. Just visible, underneath, is a glass case. Remembering what was in it , I fancied I could just make out a stuffed bay crocodile - or was it an alligator? I wonder where it is now and whether it leaked itself empty. Underneath that was an open fireplace . We used to place potatoes under the glowing coals and at playtime we found them baked to a turn.
I remember only too vividly how strict the discipline was. After morning assembly, any boys that came late had to remain behind. The headmaster, cane in hand, walked down the trembling line, asking each boy his excuse. If it was unsatisfactory then the boy had to obey the dread command; “Hold out your hand”. That cane, whatever else it did, worked wonders.
The classrooms had hard wooden, iron framed desks that rose tier on tier to the back of the room so nothing naughty escaped the ever-vigilant eye at the teacher’s table. The walls of glazed brick were boy-proof.
We had no school uniform but we did have a glittering metal badge- the letters DHS intertwined, with a pin at the back to fix it on our caps. Most of us wore boots with metal ‘blakeys’ on the soles. At night we ran scraping them on the granite kerbstones to see who could make the biggest shower of sparks.
I vividly remember the village smithy at the corner opposite the infants school. At midday when school was out we ran to the smithy yard to watch the blacksmith at work and dared each other to catch the sparks from his hammer and glowing shoe. The shoeing of a horse held us spellbound. Why was it that the horse never neighed or reared up in agony as the shoe burnt the bone? We boys had iron hoops, the girls had wooden ones. We guided ours with a hooked iron skimmer. When the hoop broke, we took it to the blacksmith who hammered the red-hot ends together again; all for a farthing.
I remember the outbreak of war in 1914. We were on holiday but we had to go back to school, not for lessons but for games in the park. My older brother aged 18 joined up at once, went to Gallipoli never to return.
I remember the intense patriotism, our boys were heroes, the Germans were swine. One boy was the envy of the school when he brought in a German helmet with a spike on the top that his brother had brought back from the Front in France. I remember we entertained Belgium refugees to socials in the hall.
As a dictation exercise our teacher read a report from The Times of a German submarine that had surfaced for a few minutes in the Irish Sea. Coal became scarce and I remember our teacher getting a fire going in the classroom by breaking up some old cricket stumps for fuel. We celebrated Empire Day - 24th May. We came to school in costumes. My other brother represented a gallant knight; his accoutrements a wooden sword and a dustbin lid for a shield. We had to march past and salute the Union Jack and sing patriotic songs. A teacher got up on a chair and recited Kipling’s poem Recessional with its refrain “Lest we forget”- a prophetic warning for we little Imperialists, of the way of all empires.
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