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RING, RING GOES THE BELL. (SCHOOLDAYS PART 1.)


Have been remembering my schooldays, some of them pleasant, some not so. My first ever school was a private one, known as the Wakefield Collegiate School, or 'The Academy,' it occupied a historic old building in Wakefield, known as 'The Orangery.'

Situated in Back Lane, across from what was once Westgate Station, the Orangery still exists, though it is now dwarfed by a modern office block that has recently been built next to it. Back Lane has been truncated by a new road that cuts it in two, just above the Orangery itself. I can't say I'm thrilled by the way that Wakefield's planners have treated some of the City's quieter and older quarters...but it's all in the name of 'progress' I suppose.

I started school at The Collegiate when I was five years old, which would be in 1953. It was a first day trauma for me. My mother had taken me to the school which was a long walk from our home on Eastmoor Estate. When she left me at the school I was terrified. I'd never been away from home without my parents being always present and the experience of 'aloneness' was very apparent. I didn't know any of the other children, who were all from much more wealthy families than mine. In recent years, I asked my mother why they had sent me to a private school, rather than a more local (Eastmoor,) state school. She replied that my father considered me a 'sensitive' child and that a private school might provide a less brutal form of education than a state school. Well, it was the early 1950s and perhaps things were a little different to today.

Even so, I would have thought that it was a considerable financial burden for my father to pay the term fees. I have one of the receipts for a second year term at the Collegiate which was amongst my father's things when he passed away in the late '70s. The cost was £6 per term, which doesn't sound much now, but in the early '50s, for a family with a very small wage, living on a council estate, was not insubstantial.

It's interesting to note that, on the receipt, (a scan of which I've attached,) 'examination fee' is crossed out and the word 'dancing' is substituted by hand. This is because I was enrolled in the school's ballet class, which I actually enjoyed. Billy Elliot, long before the film was ever conceived! The ballet lessons took place in the hall of the school, (behind the big arched window in the attached photograph.) The classroom for other lessons was at the back of the building, looking out onto a small playground. Just one class in the whole school. Only a small number of pupils so a very one-to-one' type of tuition. The 'GB Shaw' mentioned on the receipt was the head and proprietor of the school, and it is his signature that appears at the bottom of the document.

At the front of the building was a small garden area containing some gravestones from the Unitarian Chapel across the road from the school. And to the right hand side of that garden stood an embankment carrying the railway line from Wakefield to Leeds. I would watch in awe as the steam trains rolled out of Westgate Station and passed the school, leaving clouds of smoke and steam in their wake.

I wonder how much that slightly more 'artistic' school experience paved the way for my future creative work?




© Bill Nelson 2020

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