Chapter II

Ascension Day


IT HAS ALWAYS been the custom at Leeds Grammar School to have a whole holiday on Ascension Day. At the High School we were not so lucky. The most we could do was to attend a service at St. Michael’s, if we brought a note from home. I well remember seeing loads of Grammar School boys at City Square on their way to the train for Bolton Abbey, armed with school bags filled with more interesting things than books!

Until World War I it was the custom for the whole school, masters, wives and families to have a gigantic picnic at Bolton Abbey. It was nearly always glorious weather. I am told that this excursion originated in ‘The Bug and Beetle’ Club. Mr. Stockdale and Mr. Cudworth were in the habit of taking a few boys and probably doing some zoology (?). The Head heard of this and asked if the whole school could join them. I expect the bugs and beetles languished after that. I was always sorry I arrived at Leeds Grammar School too late to join one of these excursions. I often spent the summer term with friends at Linton-on-Wharfe, near Wetherby. I bought a second-hand punt which must have given pleasure to very many boys. It was in demand when the Scouts camped near, when the choir had their trip there and often on Thursday afternoon, a half-holiday.

FOR MANY YEARS I invited my form to Linton for Ascension Day, and what a wonderful time we had; though I always had a bad headache at the end of the day. I often managed to borrow two other punts and got some grown-ups to help me. Some boys came by train, some by car and some cycled. It all needed a good deal of arrangement and instruction beforehand. The programme was generally: games on the common, then by punt up to the ‘island’ where the boys paddled, bathed, played ‘ducks and drakes’. When my form (Junior 3b) were reading Treasure Island, we had that enacted.

Later in the afternoon we came downstream, and landed just above the bridge. We made a fire, boiled a huge kettle and had tea. Several boys used to bring billy cans and make a ‘high tea’. After this came hide and seek and then the cleaning of the punts. One year, about the only time no boy fell in, as we were cleaning the punts, a floorboard was dropped, a boy tried to rescue it with a cloth; that went; after that the paddle; the pole was used next; that was dropped, and all four went floating downstream. The only way we could save them was to launch one of the punts from the opposite bank. I remember the clanking of chains and a cry of “Rescue! Rescue!”

As I said, hardly a day without some boy falling in the river! He sometimes had to be taken to my friends’ house and fitted with outsize clothes while his own were dried there. Once I had taken a small party of boys to another part of the village to gather flowers and I had left the rest in charge of our Scoutmaster. We were met by some excited youngsters telling us that four boys had fallen in the river. On another occasion a boy called Richards fell in up to the waist, so I made him undress, put his mackintosh on and hold his trousers near a big fire. The rest of us played hide and seek. Three times the boy came to me telling me his trousers were quite dry, and three times I found they were very wet. Finally, so anxious was Richards to join in the game, that he held the trousers so near the fire that he burnt a large hole in the seat. I was sorry for his mother, but she never wrote to complain.

I WRITE THIS part after resigning my post at Christmas 1952. In the vast clearing up I had to do I found some essays about Ascension Day. They are dated 29th May, 1922.

It cheers me to note that, according to W. G. Purnell, I made the highest score in a game of stumps—played on Linton Common, before any houses were built there.

Archer, known as ‘Polly’, tells how Mr. Mossman “came up in a boat and asked us to have a ride in it. Four or five jumped into the boat together, two of which fell into the water.” He tells how Billy Belton cooked an egg in a borrowed billy can, opened the egg to find it was not done enough, dropped it in the dirt and then threw it in the river.

Shellabear writes of the finding of nests, the number of eggs, and how, later in the day, “Whipple, Archer, Bean and I went fishing for minnows. We caught a great many, but let them go again.”

Moffitt tells how he fell in the river, got very wet but “it was awfully dry work waiting for my clothes”.

W. D. S. Bean, my cousin, thinks “it was very good of Miss Christie to invite us to Collingham”. (Nice, from a cousin!) He mentions how Mr. Ferro took some boys out in a boat and taught them to row. He gives details of the stoker’s losing a cap on the return journey—several boys mentioned this. “He asked a man in the signal box to pass him one and he did so, and it went on the tender. When he got near it the engine went faster and that was another wasted.”

H. C. Rider tells how Cohn took “Miss Chirsty’s” (an awkward name for boys!) “phto when she was eating a sandwige.”

It was rather an unlucky day for J. E. Richards. He was one of those who fell in the river, and had the boring job of drying his clothes while the rest of us played hide and seek. He says “When we got to Leeds I lent a boy twopence and have not got it back yet.” More bad luck!

Billy Belton said he got up to the sickening sight of a flat tyre. He lived at Bardsey and so had not far to go—some boys cycled from Leeds. He must have been rather rushed and excited after mending the puncture: “I set off and nearly ran into a motor on the way. A policeman happened to be there at the time, and he said I had to be careful—I arrived just in time to meet Miss Christie and to carry for her a huge basket.” He tells how he met some of the boys on cycles and at first took them the wrong way. Several of the boys relate this too!

Stanley Holderness tells how he got up at 6 o’clock, so that he should not miss the train—the 9-45. He and others mention Wright’s losing his ticket: “The journey was exciting for Wright, who got a return ticket, lost it somewhere on the line, and a gentleman and a ticket puncher were searching for it, but they did not find it.”

From Jim Clokie: “When we arrived at Collingham, we went to the acid-drop-and-pop shop. Then we went back to the station and found Miss Christie.”

M. Stephenson has an eye to note profiteering. “I went for some lemonade to the Half Moon Inn; it was fivepence. At Linton the same sized bottles were sixpence . . . When I took the bottle back the inn was closed.” So he probably lost twopence on the deal!

J. McMillan tells about the train journey at some length. “We passed some boards and it said on them, ‘Whistle’, and Holderness, who was in our compartment, was in jocular mood and when he saw one of these boards he began to whistle.” Before I went off, during the afternoon, with a chosen few, who wanted to gather flowers for their mothers—according to McMillan—I said to Mr. Marshall: “If you see any of my boys near the river, will you please tell them to get away?”

Mr. Marshall said “No, I won’t. I’ll hit them over the head with my oar.” In spite of these precautions I found that two boys had fallen in the river while I was away!

One of the form, D. Holgate, says: “I stayed at home because I could not go to Collingham. Why, I am still trying to find out.” He tells about the extreme heat of the day and writes a very witty essay: “I watched a cricket match at Beckett Park with father. I felt more like going to the library and studying glaciers.” After the match he gathered some bluebells. “Then father began to lecture me on the class of bluebells. Why does he torture me when I pluck flowers?” Parents, and perhaps teachers, please take note! All the boys in that old Junior 3b—one of the nicest forms I ever had—are now men in their early forties.

AS I READ their essays and even note the exact score of that game of stumps, I see all the boys vividly just as they were then. Should any of them read my book, I hope that they will be able to call to mind a very happy day.

Another year, as we were packing up, one Stringer came and said breathlessly: “Please, I have left my shoes and stockings on the Island.” So we had to telephone his mother; he got hold of the telephone and asked for a message to be sent. “Tell mother I have fallen in the river and I have left my shoes and stockings on the island and”—so I seized the telephone and sent a less alarming message. Then, after seeing the rest of the boys into the train, I had to take Stringer up by punt to the Island, where we found the missing things. It was this same boy who, in an essay said: “When I am a man I shall be a schoolmaster and keep a cupple of Damlers”—I wonder if he is and does! Rather a mistaken idea of the wealth of a schoolmaster.

I can still picture the really thrilled look on one boy’s face, as I took him up the river in the punt. He kept repeating “Isn’t it lovely? Isn’t it lovely?”. Now he has built a house at Linton, is married, and has two children.

The cheers the boys gave me as I saw them into the train were very gratifying if embarrassing.

I WAS PUT DOWN to be form-mistress of Junior 2, and I considered the boys rather too young for river sports. I tried, after a wait of a year, taking my last year’s form, but it was an awful job, as my ex-form were all in different forms. Later my form was taken from me, and a very happy custom was dropped.

After that, every year I used to go with Mr. Cudworth in his ‘open’ car, and we always went to Bolton Abbey for the sake of old times. Mr. Cudworth was more than generous in giving pleasure with his car. So were Mr. and Mrs. Kent, who generally joined us on Ascension Day.

In those old Linton days I ran a little New Hudson two-stroke. It was a great source of amusement to the boys, as I generally had to get a master to run, pushing the cycle, until the thing ‘fired’, when I left school. There was a convenient hill at Linton when I started in the morning. Many years later I rode a ‘Neracar’; that also amused both boys and masters as it looked funny—so did I! It was about the last Neracar sold in Leeds, the firm went bankrupt soon after I bought the cycle. So there were not many of these machines on the road, and I had difficulty in getting spare parts.


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