There were questions galore in this week’s Book for Breakfast. As we read about the 1930s in the Dashwood History book, we noted down questions of two sorts. One was the factual type of question: who was this person… what did that mean… where was that place? And the other type was a bigger sort of question, usually beginning with the word why? These queries related to historical and cultural issues – and we might have to think hard to answer them.
We took turns to read around the group, and everyone could go and stick their questions up on the white board as we went along.
There were certain things that seemed familiar in this period of the school’s history. The stores records showed that teachers had copies of Black Beauty for the children to read. This classic title is still on our school’s recommended reading list, along with others that we have talked about reading in Book for Breakfast.
We also remembered hearing about Dashwood’s infant school on Britannia Road before. This was where Bernard Samuelson‘s workers could send their children. He was an industrialist whose name is recorded on the current Banbury Library building, which he also funded. Two people said that after we had talked about foundation stones in our meeting, they had spotted examples of them around Banbury. Good work!
Group members also remembered how to read the word ‘née’ meaning ‘born’ in French – showing what a woman’s surname had been before getting married. Examples in the 1930s chapter were Josie Gisell, née Castle, and Gwendoline Barnes, née Jarrett.
But by the end of the 1930s chapter, there were still lots of questions on the board for us to tackle, either using the archive material in the book, or using our other knowledge.
Everyone could come and choose one or two questions for the group to try to answer. We talked about why the infants had to move to a new building as the book said they did in 1932. This also linked to the question was the school overcrowded? We knew that Banbury had been growing, and that in the early years had accommodated 518 pupils. So perhaps by the 1930s the number of children was such that separate infants’ provision was required.
Another question was about whether a mixed school meant boys and girls, or mixed older and younger pupils? We knew that initially the classes were separated into boys and girls, but this word ‘mixed’ meant that boys and girls were now being educated together. We talked about how women had gained an equal right to vote as men in 1928, so perhaps ideas about men and women’s roles were changing, along with approaches to learning. In the book there was a photograph of a class of scholarship pupils, boys and girls together.
Someone asked why had the school leaving age been raised to 14? as the book mentioned had happened in 1918. We thought perhaps it was to do with life expectancy getting longer, or jobs becoming more specialised and requiring more education. Then someone raised the question of why some children left school and went to work at 14 – a young age compared to today. We discussed that their wages would be important to the family, as there was no welfare state providing support for families at this time (a universal family allowance did not come in until 1945).
We had also read in the book that some children left school due to illness, and a few even died at the young age of 10 or 11. Why was there no proper care when children were sick? one group member asked. The group knew about Alexander Fleming and penicillin, the wonder drug which cured deadly infections and diseases such as pneumonia. Fleming made the discovery in 1927, but the new antibiotics weren’t widely available until after the Second World War in 1945.
The school registers, we could see, recorded the children’s fathers’ names, along with where they went after Dashwood. Some gained scholarships, some went to work, others sadly became ill, and one or two ended up in a remand home – a young offenders’ institution. Why did the register need to record the children’s fathers’ names? one person asked. We supposed it was to do with linking family members up together – and as the book said, many generations of the same family often attended Dashwood.
Do different generations still attend Dashwood? one group member asked. As we looked around the room, we could see that this was not the case for the current group, whose parents had moved from other places to Banbury. Would the group members’ children attend Dashwood? One member reflected it would depend on whether she went away to university, or decided to stay locally, or move for a job – or indeed whether she had children!
A factual question raised by two people was what was the Metcalfe prize? Gwendoline Barnes remembered receiving this in 1934. To answer this we could turn back to the pages of the log book, where in November 1916, the head teacher recorded that the Thomas and Henry Metcalfe charity had decided to award a 10 shilling prize for good conduct, regularity in attendance, and proficiency. We agreed to try to find out more about who the Metcalfes were.
We didn’t get to answer all the questions, so two that were left related to the souvenir spoons that the Mayor of Banbury gave out in 1937 to celebrate George VI’s coronation. What was special about a spoon? they asked. Would you prefer a different souvenir gift? What might it be?! Let us know.