St George's House,
Life at St George's
The preceding pages have covered most, if not all, aspects of the life experienced by the children who were cared for during their stay at St George's House. Some of the children enjoyed the experience, others disliked it intensely and some just accepted the regimented and controlled pattern of everyday life at the Orphanage. One old boy, who had a sister on the premises, says he was not able to speak to her without the express permission of Miss Knocker- and there had to be good reason before she would allow it. Irrespective of which category a person came under, one underlying feature remained strong, that is, the close bond that exists between the 'old boys and girls'. No matter what the age differences may be or the time lapse between seeing one another, the common thread that binds us all together is the knowledge that we have all shared the same lifestyle, experiences and hardships. This gives the surviving group a relationship based on a special form of friendship.
'The regime was strict, but in after life they found the training received had helped them in their future careers. I can do no better than to quote an extract from a letter written by one of the girls, Joy King of Welwyn Garden City (entrant to Orphanage No: 352)'
George's was very good to us and for us. Although I can't say I enjoyed
my years there, I have to admit, it prepared me from a very early age to stand on my own feet and to accept discipline, to live with
others and very often look out for the other guy (and sometimes get into trouble for it).
The First 16 Years: Written by James Shepherd (Child admission number 442)
My father came from a farming family in Aberdeenshire, and was born in Auchnavaird in the parish of Old Deer. He travelled south to the West Riding of Yorkshire some time after serving with the Scottish Horse Regiment in the 1914-18 war. Although he was injured in the war through being contaminated with gas during his service in France, he was subsequently accepted as a police officer in the West Riding Constabulary. He met my mother during the early period of his service in the W.R.C., and they were married in Christ Church, Liversedge, (known as Liversedge Parish Church) in 1924.
I was born on 30th August, 1927 at Liversedge where our family lived and I have two brothers, Fred, who was born on 30th September, 1924, and younger brother Peter who was born at Keighley on 19th October 1930.
My father was a tall man, six feet two and a half inches in his stockinged feet. He had black, wavy hair and was quite handsome. My memories of him are that he was, generally, quite strict, but I recall him leaning over the foot of my bed and smiling at me, at the time when I was fearfully awaiting the ambulance to take me to hospital because I had scarlet fever. He also smiled down at me from the tea table when I was sat on the floor, looking out of the doorway, shortly after I had returned from hospital. On another occasion, I remember walking across the street with him and I was almost running, taking three or four steps to each of his enormous strides. Occasionally, my mother would ask me to take father's lunch box to him at the police station which was almost in the centre of Keighley. Imagine the situation, nowadays, if a five year old child was required to run an errand, several hundred yards along a main road, and to cross to the other side of the road on the way there and on the way back!
On the 30th August, 1933, I reached my sixth birthday. Two weeks later, on 15th September, my father died in the Victoria Hospital, Keighley. He had suffered chest problems for a long time and he died from emphysema and pneumonia. He was aged 37; my mother was 36. A few weeks later, my mother asked Fred and me if we would like to go to another school. I immediately thought of the large school near to the centre of Keighley. The thought of going to that big school scared me and I said to my mother, “Not that big school near town”? My mother said something like, "No, not that one, it’s further away.”
I don’t remember anything more
about it until we were required to get ourselves ready for travelling,
on Thursday, 26th October, 1933, when my mother took Fred and me on what
seemed to be an extremely long bus journey to Harrogate. It transpired,
sometime later, that my mother had been advised by the police
authorities that her sons would be well looked after at St George's,
Northern Police Orphanage, Harrogate.
Some months after the time that Fred and I went to St George’s, Harrogate, mother moved to Cleckheaton to be near her mother and two sisters (my mother, who had continued to live in Cleckheaton, died at the home of my brother Fred and his wife, Marie, in Heckmondwike, on 8th August, 1969).
St George's N.P.O.
Western Council School
The routine at bed time was: day clothes off, pyjamas on; put day clothes into your own wicker basket and slide that under the bed. Go to the bathroom across the corridor, wash, or have a bath, clean teeth, back to the bedroom, say prayers, into bed, lights out and off to sleep. October 26th 1933 had seemed a very long, confusing, and somewhat frightening day, and that night I believe I cried myself to sleep.
We were awakened next morning at 6.30 by the ringing of a hand bell and went through the routine of washing, cleaning teeth, dressing and then folding pyjamas and dressing gown and putting them into the wicker basket under the bed.
One night at about 10pm the fire alarm sounded. I must have thought that it was time to get up because I got up, put my short trousers on my head, went to the bathroom and started cleaning my teeth: The senior master, Mickey Styan, collected me and carried me outside in the direction of the assembly point, but before we arrived there we saw that everybody else was on their way back. I remember clearly being carried out by Mickey, but the rest of the story was told to me by a matron afterwards. Unfortunately, whilst a Number 3 boy, I used to wet the bed occasionally, as did one or two others, particularly Billy Trueman, for whom wetting the bed was a regular nightly event. The reason that children wet the bed is often due to anxiety, and it didn’t help to be told off first by Jolly Roger and afterwards by Miss Knocker. Waking up to a wet bed could be quite distressing and knowing that I would have to endure a telling off just added to the anxiety.
For older boys there were jobs to be done
in the mornings, but I don’t think I got landed with chores until I was
seven or eight years old. The younger boys had little or nothing to do
after getting up until breakfast time at 7.30.
At approximately ten minutes past eight
in the morning, having made our beds, we all lined up again and
proceeded to the assembly room where, each morning, we sang a hymn,
read from the bible, often with Miss Knocker, who always
lead the proceedings, unless she was ill or on holiday. Following the
bible reading, Miss Knocker would speak for five or ten minutes, the
talk being in the nature of a sermonette. Prayers came next, followed by
the singing of a second hymn, and the short service would finish with a
closing prayer said by Miss Knocker. Miss Adams, the deputy to Miss
Knocker, would accompany us on the piano during the singing of hymns.
Miss Knocker would then read out the notices, if any, and on occasions,
demonstrate how we should clean our ears, or, maybe exhort us to refrain
from going on to the field in our house shoes.
After assembly it was then off to school - Western Council School, Cold Bath Road, Harrogate, still functioning today, over sixty years on from the time that I first attended there. I eventually came to understand that it was a good school with some fine teachers, particularly the women teachers. On my first morning, however, all that I understood was that my situation was very strange and not a little frightening. I was living in a strange place with lots of strange children and adults and here I was, outside Western School, presented with another strange situation. I was literally being pushed from behind by Jolly Roger (who walked to school with us all) and pulled from the front, first by Miss Wilkinson, and then by both her and Miss Rudd, and Miss Rudd had red hair as well! My screaming must have been heard throughout the school, but Jolly Roger just laughed continuously until she and the two teachers eventually forced me inside the school building. It was a nightmare which, obviously I have never forgotten.
The happy side of this situation was that the teachers in the infants’ school, Miss Rudd, Miss Cooper and Miss Wilkinson, all turned out to be very kind and helpful. Indeed, throughout the whole school, with only one exception, the women teachers were splendid. The exception was Miss Dawson, who dared to write on my school report at the end of term that I was ‘lazy’. This affected me somewhat, not least because school reports for St Georges boys and girls were read out in the assembly room at St Georges, at a particularly appointed time, and Miss Knocker gave me a public ticking off, saying that she didn’t like to hear of a St Georges boy being regarded as lazy. Unfortunately, Miss Knocker never forgot that word ‘lazy’ as it was applied to me, and chose to refer to it occasionally in later years, even though my previous reports from Miss Hudson and Miss Lupton, and my subsequent reports from Miss Beck, Miss Wheelhouse and Miss Leathead included liberal use of the words ‘good’, ‘very good’, and 'excellent’. When I think about Miss Dawson’s judgement I can't understand how she came to that conclusion, but when I think of Miss Knocker's attitude to this situation, I am sure she was unreasonable.
In 1951 or thereabouts, Eiry and I, who
were courting at the time, visited Harrogate and called to see Miss
Knocker, who had by then, retired, and was living with Miss Adams in St
Georges Road, Harrogate. Miss Knocker was suffering from shingles in the
left side of her face and neck and under her left arm, and was obviously
unwell. The illness turned out to be something more serious than
shingles and she died some months later. Despite her illness, she
remembered to tell Eiry whilst I was out of the room, that I was lazy at
school. This persistent and unjustified criticism left me with a
somewhat bitter taste in the mouth. Nevertheless, I have tried to not
let that prejudice my judgement of Miss Knocker. Although, generally,
she had a very Victorian attitude to life, she was an elegant and very
fine lady. A staunch Christian, her life was guided by her beliefs
(which made me wonder, sometimes, how she reconciled certain things that
she said with her deep and abiding faith).
Back to Western Council School. The male teachers were not nearly as thorough and conscientious in presenting their subjects as the women teachers. Mr. S. Hinde Leedale was supposed to teach us history, but in the year running up to the second world war, and also in the following two years, he spent much of the history lesson pointing out on a large map of Europe how the Germans were successfully invading one country after another. He sought to persuade us that “the only good German is a dead one." He kept a short thick cane up his sleeve, and every time he received an intake of new pupils he would say, “I want to introduce you to my friend for little children”, and then slowly withdrew the cane from his sleeve.
Benny Horner was the art master. He was
O.K. but we never got down to the basics of how to paint a scene or draw
the human figure. We seemed to spend a lot of time making stencilled
patterns by using paint on raw potatoes.
The woodwork and physical training master was Mr. Kendrew, known simply as Kendrew. Very few of the boys really enjoyed the Monday morning woodwork class, which was not surprising, as Kendrew was strict beyond all reason and used the cane frequently. It could be a daunting experience when he pointed at, and fixed his eye on, you, and rapped out the words, “Come here, boy." Physical training periods consisted mainly of marching in three lines up and down the hall, swinging our arms and keeping in step. Games periods were occasionally used to play football, very occasionally cricket, but most frequently for boxing which I and many others hated.
Kendrew had been a Sergeant Major in the
first world war and became a Sergeant Major again as soon as the second
world war was declared. He was away from school for about a year at the
beginning of the second world war, (1939 -1945) but was discharged for
some reason and returned to teaching at Western. On hearing that Kendrew
was about to return to school there were many groans and deep sighs
among the pupils, at the thought of what the future could hold.
Thomas Forsyth (known as ‘Tommy’) was the
Headmaster at Western. He always conducted assembly each morning, and on
Monday mornings we would sing his composition, the school anthem, (to
the tune, Men of Harlech) the first verse of which was: Good old
Western, how we love thee, nought but home we deem above thee,
Tommy was a good man and had a great
interest in poetry and music. He conducted music lessons with the aid of
a pedal organ, which he wheeled into the classroom. His favourite poet
was, undoubtedly, Robert Louis Stevenson, to whom he frequently made
reference. On more than one occasion he came to St George's to give a
lantern lecture, once on the life of R.L.S., and another time his
subject was ‘Scotland’ of which he was very fond.
Tommy didn’t use the cane very readily and I remember only one occasion when he caned me, and that was at the behest of Kendrew!
At St George's I was learning to cope with the rules and regulations and getting into trouble for minor offences. Our week-day dress was a dark blue blazer, on the breast pocket of which was the St George's badge; grey trousers, a shirt, the colour of which varied over the years, but during the war years was dark blue; grey socks which came up over the knee, and a St George's tie – red and blue horizontal stripes, (red for St George and blue for the police). Older boys wore long trousers, of course, and on Sundays they also wore a red and blue diagonal striped tie instead of the horizontal striped one.
During the first two or three years that I was at St George's, we were required to wear a brass tie pin on our ties and woe betide anyone who lost his tie pin! I tried very hard to keep my tie pin either on my tie, or, at other times, in a safe place, but I did lose it on a few occasions. I am quite sure that on more than one occasion somebody else took a liking to it, but it would not have helped me at all to have told a master or matron that it had been pinched, so I just took the telling off and the punishment; that might have been fifty lines or a job of work, such as cleaning the small boys’ cloakroom.
On one occasion, not long after I had arrived at St George's, I lost my tie pin, and the senior housemaster at the time, Mickey Styan sent me up to the flat just before tea time. The ‘flat’ was a dark open area on the top floor, through which masters, and some other members of staff, passed on the way to their sitting rooms and bedrooms. At that time, it seemed to me to be very gloomy and forbidding, with dark brown cupboards lining two sides. I was told by Mickey to wait there until he came up. There was one small window in the flat, giving a limited amount of light to an area roughly 20ft by 12ft. The day-light soon faded and eventually I stood in pitch darkness. I began to feel hungry, having missed my tea, and I didn't feel particularly comfortable stood there in the darkness. By the time that Mickey came up I had been there for over four hours. When he switched on the light it was apparent from his expression that he had forgotten all about me and sent me straight off to bed.
Parents, relatives and friends were allowed to visit the children at St George's, normally on the first Saturday of each month, between 2.00p.m. and 6.00p.m. My mother came when she could, but in the winter months the fog sometimes prevented her visiting. When she did visit, it was something of a relief from the day-to-day routine of St George's to go out together, look round the town and have tea in a cafe. It was quite a treat to have egg and chips, something that we never had at St George's. It was always a disappointment when mother was unable to come and there was one occasion when she didn’t arrive until 5.00p.m., but in the circumstances that was understandable because she had been visiting Fred who was in an isolation hospital near Knaresborough having contracted diphtheria.
When I say it was a treat to have egg and
chips, that is not to say that the food at St George's was not good. In
fact, it was usually very good, prepared by the head cook, Nellie Cherry
and her staff. I think I was fortunate in being able to eat most things
without any trouble, but I didn't really care for parsnips and marrows.
There were, however, a few boys and girls who did have some trouble e.g.
Betty Hopkinson found great difficulty eating her porridge, particularly
if it was lumpy, as it was on the odd occasion, and there were times
when she couldn't avoid vomiting. Bernard Harland always appeared to be
on the verge of vomiting whenever he was attempting to eat dark green
I particularly remember one occasion when I just couldn’t eat my dinner, not because I didn’t like the Irish stew that was on my plate, but because I felt ill. I had been slowly going off food since the previous weekend, feeling heady and sickly. It was now Wednesday and I just couldn’t eat anything. Miss Knocker insisted that I should eat what was on my plate, but in my condition there was no way that I could eat Irish stew or any other dish for that matter. Miss Knocker later made it clear that there would be no pudding for me until I had eaten my stew; that was really quite good news for me and music to my ears, but I must admit to feeling uncomfortable, being the centre of attention, particularly when the time came for everybody to stand up and file out of the dining room; everybody that is, except me. Miss Knocker continued to insist that I eat my dinner, but to no avail. On that day I would never have been able to eat anything at all and eventually Miss Knocker sent me off to the surgery to see Sister Batty. The result was that I was taken into the sick wing suffering from yellow jaundice, which kept me off school for three weeks.
Other things that we had for dinner were Cornish pasties, usually on Tuesdays, a big bowl of vegetable soup with a large boiled potato in the middle on Wednesdays, while on Saturdays it was usually meat with vegetables, and on Sundays, meat with salad and pickled red cabbage. Nellie was capable of providing some really good puddings, such as apple jacks, apple charlotte, college pudding, and various milk puddings. I remember her banana compo which George Bantham couldn’t face, but I loved it and ate George’s portion as well as my own.
Generally speaking, evenings at St George's were organised for us, although I can't recall what we did on Monday evenings. On Tuesday evenings we had physical training in the gymnasium, while on Wednesdays we were required to darn our socks, if necessary and the rest of the evening was free to read or play games. Thursday evening was set aside for singing, initially under the direction of Mr. Drake, but latterly Mr. Moffat gave us a certain amount of instruction. Scouting was undertaken on Fridays, the younger boys being in the Cubs, of course. Under John Moffatt we were involved in quite a lot of scouting activities and these were not reserved solely for Fridays. Collecting waste paper from local houses was undertaken on Saturday mornings and we could be swatting for, or receiving instruction in, various subjects, leading to proficiency badges, on any day of the week.
Before I was eight years old, I was in
Number 5 dormitory (bed time 7pm). Dormitories Numbers 3 and 4 were on
one floor, but one had to go up another flight of steps to get to Number
5, which was the bedroom for fifteen boys.
I must now digress a little to tell you about a boy called Ramon Armstrong. He was about the same age as my younger brother, Peter, and was one on his own. He very rarely smiled, and looked rather blank when he was found by a housemaster to have buttons missing from his trousers, which were being held up by the use of a safety pin and string attached to his braces. Relating to the same subject, when I was in my teens, I was given the job of 'Boot Boy’, which meant that every Saturday morning I accompanied Miss Knocker and one of the housemasters as they inspected the boots and shoes of every boy, lined up around the gymnasium, with all of their footwear on the floor immediately in front of them. Miss Knocker would decide if the shoes were satisfactory, or, if they needed repairing. The housemaster would make a note, and I would write out a ticket, showing the boy’s name and the repair that was required, e.g. 'Jack Smith - sole and heel’. The ticket was then attached to the shoes and all of the boots and shoes in need of repair were put in a sack and sent to the cobbler. It was a frequent occurrence on these occasions to find that Armstrong had several knots in his shoe laces, sometimes the back of a shoe was broken down or one of the upper parts of a shoe was breaking away from the sole. When asked by Miss Knocker how his shoes came to be in such a condition, he would simply mumble, “Don’t know, Miss.”
Back to Number 5 dormitory. Many years ago, my brother, Peter, told me that one night when he was in Number 5, a pillow fight was in progress when the lad keeping ‘nix’ called out, “nix kids." A few seconds later, Jolly Roger switched on the lights to find everybody in bed and appearing to be fast asleep; everybody, that is, except Ramon Armstrong. He was knelt upright on his bed with his hands together in an attitude of prayer. When Jolly Roger asked him what he thought he was doing, he immediately replied, "Please miss, I’m praying for the soldiers, sailors and airmen!"
During the time that I was in Number 5
dormitory, Peter arrived at St George's. He was due to arrive on, or
immediately after, his fifth birthday, but his arrival had to be delayed
a few weeks because he had contracted chicken pox. At tea time, on the
day on which he did arrive, I was asked to sit with him at the small
table reserved for the six youngest boys. (I think that just before
Peter arrived, we had been provided with new tables and forms with back
rests.) Miss Green, generally known as 'Fatty Green', one of the girls'
matrons, came across and asked me if Peter was my brother. I said that
he was, then Peter responded by asking Fatty Green, "Do you know, snow’s
wet?" She thought that was hilarious and proceeded to relate the comment
to her senior girls, who had a good laugh about it.
Mickey Styan had left by this time and we had two new masters, Mr Lowe, known as ‘Johnny’, and Mr Clarke, known simply as Clarke, or, Clarkey. Johnny was very short- sighted, which was obviously a disadvantage to him, but quite advantageous for us boys on occasions when he couldn’t see what was going on beyond his limited range. Johnny and Clarke stayed with us for a few years, until, in September 1939, Clarke was called up to the army. When first recruited, he was a Private, but he soon rose through the ranks and within two years he was a Captain. He was a very intelligent chap but, in his early days at St George's, he developed a very unusual approach to discipline for a housemaster. When he was about to cane a particular boy for some misdemeanour, the boy said, “I’ll tell my mother when she comes on Saturday." That seemed to put Clarke off his stroke, so to speak, and he let the boy off the punishment. For quite some time afterwards, when he was about to cane a boy, Clarke would ask if the mother was coming on Saturday or next week, and if the boy said, "Yes sir, she will be coming", he wouldn't use the cane. After a period of a few weeks, however, Clarke cottoned on to the fact that every time a boy was about to be caned, the lad would claim that his mother was coming. Clarke soon changed his attitude and the next time a boy claimed that his was coming, Clarke replied, “I don’t care if your mother and your grandmother are coming, hold your hand out.” He would then administer the punishment. There were no let-offs after that.
Clarke looked after Number 4 dormitory which was, roughly, for the ten to twelve year olds (bed time 7.30pm) and deputised for Johnny, who, normally, supervised dormitories Numbers 1 and 2. Johnny was not as quick on the uptake as Clarke, which was the unwritten reason why we, in Number 4, chose Wednesday night as 'joy night’ because Clarke was off duty and Johnny was standing in, and, of course he had two other dormitories to look after.
As often as not, we had a pillow fight on
Wednesday nights and on one occasion, Bob Edwards, facetiously known as
'Lightning', because it took him quite a long time to get from one place
to another, was appointed to ‘keep nix’. Across the corridor from
dormitories Numbers 3 and 4, was a separate toilet, and it was very
convenient for the lad keeping nix to station himself just inside the
toilet, with the door ajar, and when he heard nix approaching, could
pull the chain, then head for the dormitory and shout, “Nix kids.”
Number 4 dormitory was next to one of the girls’ dormitories, and a three inch pipe, which fed the radiators, led from one dormitory to the other, just a few inches above ground level. There was quite a gap around the pipe at the point where it came through the wall into our dormitory. One night we heard a bit of chatter and giggling coming from the girls’ dormitory, which was quite unusual. Geoffrey Whitaker, whose bed was in the corner of the room adjacent to the heating pipe, leaned out of bed and bellowed a few choice words through the gap. He was telling the girls to shut up, but he went over the top somewhat and unfortunately for him, Miss Knocker happened to be in the girls' dormitory at the time. It was not long before she was round in Number 4 asking who had been shouting. Geoff immediately owned up and although he was given a telling off, I thought he got away with that little performance very lightly.
On another occasion, around Christmas
time, the older boys, from dormitories Numbers 1 and 2, and also the
older girls, were invited to a fancy dress party in the gymnasium. The
staff were also invited and in order to enable them to attend-the party
on time, the rest of us had to be in bed by seven o’clock. We bedded
down as usual, and when we decided that the coast was clear, four of us
from Number 4 went out of the bedroom into the corridor and opened the
swing door which was at a right angle to our bedroom door. (The corridor
swing door was the dividing line between the girls’ and boys’
dormitories.) There were a few whistles and a few guarded shouts of “Oy”,
and soon three or four girls appeared in their dressing gowns. We just
stood there by the swing door and talked and laughed, but didn’t stay
too long, just in case Nix thought that he, or she, ought to leave the
party to have a sniff around. It was all a bit of a giggle really and
Housemasters and. matrons were feverishly trying to uncover what happened along the corridor the previous evening. We learned later, that June Barrington, an extraordinary 'tell-tale’, had split about the event and apparently given the impression that there was more to it than actually occurred. It seemed to take an awful long time for the staff to forget about the incident.
During the time that I was in Number 4, I
was required to undertake more serious chores, first thing in the
mornings. At the ages of eight and nine I had helped with dusting and
sweeping, sometimes in the gymnasium, sometimes in the common room, but
at the age of ten, I, and some others, of course, were doing the serious
job of scrubbing floors. Some of the corridors in the boys' wing, and
also the cloakroom and washroom floors, were made from red tiles and
they had to be scrubbed, and scrubbed clean, every morning from Monday
to Saturday. No cleaning was undertaken on Sundays.
We all experienced various jobs of work during our time at St George's. One of the less acceptable jobs was scrubbing the teens of stone steps that led from a red tiled corridor up to the gymnasium. A real back breaking job was cleaning the senior boys’ bathroom; there were four baths, four toilets and eight wash basins. All of these jobs were undertaken as soon as we were dressed in the mornings after getting up.
We didn’t have our personal cleaning and scrubbing tackle, we just selected the best that was available when we got downstairs. There was a time when I used to get washed and dressed very quickly and be first down-stairs to choose the best scrubbing brush and floor cloth. This way of going about things wasn’t acceptable to some of the other boys in Number 2 dormitory, although nobody said anything, until, one evening, a pal of mine, Alfred Lewis, told me that I was going to be 'raided’ that night. I asked him, “Why”, and he said that it was because I was always first downstairs in the mornings. The ‘raid’ came after lights out. Somebody said, “Right lads”, and I heard a few of them getting out of bed and knew that they would be armed with pillows. My bed was in a corner and I was able to squeeze out between the bed and the wall and stay crouched down, after having lumped my pillow up and covered it over with the blankets. The blows soon came, but they came from the other side of the bed and rained down on my pillow. Thanks to Alf Lewis, I never felt a thing! The next morning I took a little longer to get dressed!
Another incident in which Alf and I were
involved happened at the tea table. The boys who sat at the two ends of
each bench were the ones who did the serving at dinner time and fetched
second helpings when required to do so. At one particular end of the
table, one of the boys poured the tea, from a large teapot, at breakfast
time and tea time. We all moved round one place at the weekends so that
everybody had to take a turn at serving and pouring the tea. One tea
time, I was pouring the tea and listening to Alf Lewis at the same time.
Alf usually sat next to me and as I listened and laughed, I suddenly
realised that I had over-filled the tea cup and the surplus tea had run
over the table. Alf and I hastily tried to mop up the tea with our
handkerchiefs, but who should pass by but Jolly Roger, who saw what was
happening and recited what Miss Knocker had said only the previous day,
that spilling at the table was due to carelessness and anyone who caused
tea or any other liquid to be spilt would be punished. Having said that,
she trotted off to find Miss Knocker, who soon appeared with an angry
face and red neck and told Alf and me that we had been warned and that
we would have to do homework every evening for a month.
Just prior to my moving into 2 dormitory, Fred left St George's and became an apprentice motor engineer at the Cleckheaton Engineering and Motor Company. He remained there until he received his call up papers to join the army in 1942.
As a result of the outbreak of war in
1939, it was not long before an air raid siren was fitted on the roof of
St George's, ensuring that we were given very early warning of any
possible enemy air raids. The siren usually sounded at night and the
wailing sound never failed to waken us; as soon as we heard it we would
don our dressing gowns and make our way downstairs to the common room,
the windows of which, during the first two or three years of the war,
were protected from possible gas attacks by shutters on the outside; on
the inside, wooden framed blanket structures were fitted.
Another effect of the war was that we got
a succession of housemasters at St George's. Mr. Clarke had been
recruited by the army, and not long afterwards, Johnny Lowe had left.
Housemasters, matrons and maids were not easily come by at that time and
we had some strange ones to contend with. There was Mr. Parry, with his
two-tone shoes and walking stick, dressed like a tailor's dummy. When he
came swimming with us, he would show off by wearing his wrist watch and
spectacles in the water, to try to convince us that they were quality
items of the waterproof variety!
After him, along came another Mr. Clarke.
He was very different from the other Clarke we had known. The new Clarke
had a fearsome temper and often, when he was annoyed with a boy for some
misdemeanour, however slight, would use the expression, "You blithering
It was just after I had moved into Number 1 dormitory that John Moffat arrived to replace the disenchanted Mr. Clarke. He was a man in his late forties and had been a housemaster at a home in Stoney Stratford. He was tall, well built and always held himself erect. He had a very good dress sense and was always smartly dressed, particularly on Sundays, when he wore either a navy blue pin-striped suit, or a light grey suit made from a very good grade of cloth. Some of the clothes he wore came from Austin Reed.
For a week or two, we didn’t quite know what to make of ‘Moff’, as John Moffat became known, although we had a healthy respect for him. Roughly two to three weeks after his arrival, we had gone to bed and there was the usual chatter after lights out. On this particular occasion, the talking seemed to go on for quite a long time and was interspersed with bursts of laughter. Suddenly, there was a knocking, which we believed to come from Miss Adam’s room on the floor above. We decided to settle down. Alf Lewis and I went to the loo and as we were on the way there, Moff emerged from the staircase which led up to his room. He burst into Number 1 and told the boys to get dressed, then instructed Number 2 boys to do the same. He, himself, was fully dressed. When we were all attired he took us off to the gymnasium where we marched and did exercises for the next hour or more. As we returned to our beds, we knew, then, just who Moff was. There was, however, much more to John Moffat than that; he wasn’t just into teaching boys a lesson; he moulded us into a team. Led by him and his deputy, Mr. Benton, and assisted by Edward de la Mare, who was also a gardener as well as a housemaster, we became a very good scout troop, (6th Harrogate, St. Georges Troop). Most of us passed our Tenderfoot, Second Class and First Class tests and gained several proficiency badges. Scout games conducted in the Harrogate pine woods could be real fun and sometimes a bit scary!
Moff was a very keen musician and could play the organ, as well as the piano. He re-introduced us to singing which had fallen by the wayside, after Mr. Drake, who used to give us singing lessons on Thursday evenings, fell ill. He, Moff, became friendly with Frederick Mason, the organist at St. Mark's Church, Harrogate, and soon a few boys, including Peter, were going to Mr. Mason for piano lessons, and several more boys were encouraged to join the St Mark's Church choir. We used to attend St Mary's Church on Sunday mornings and St Mark’s Church on Sunday evenings, but after Moff struck up a friendship with Mr. Mason we started going to St Mark's on Sunday mornings as well as Sunday evenings. It so happened that I became head choir boy on the decani side, sitting opposite Alf Lewis the head choir boy on the cantori side of the St Mark’s choir stalls.
Choir practice was held in St Mark's
Church whenever possible, but, because of the black-out during the war
years, practices were at varying times and in different places. Mr.
Mason often came to St George's to rehearse with the choirboys and on
one or two occasions the choir men also came to St George's, in the
evening, to enable us all to have a full rehearsal. The choirmen enjoyed
these visits, partly because, after the rehearsals were finished, Moff
would organize a bowl of Nellie Cherry’s soup for each of them.
Life seemed worth living now, whereas, before, it had been rather drab and boring with only the very occasional exciting event to lift the spirits. We were still required to work hard, however, at the daily chores. Indeed, we had more jobs to do after Moff had settled in to his stride. Miss Knocker had been discussing with him the problem of recruiting maids, caused by the requirement for young women to join the forces or the Land Army. Moff volunteered, on behalf of the boys, that we would take on more tasks each morning, and to enable us to have time to do this extra work, we would get up each morning, Monday to Friday, at 6.00am, instead of 6.30am. The new arrangement didn't go down well at all, but nobody dared to show any dissent.
On the morning that we started our new
routine, we carried out our jobs and went into breakfast at the usual
time of 7.30am, for the usual porridge followed by bread and
butter, or bread and jam (during the war years we never had buttered
bread with jam, nor did we have sugar in our tea). When we had just
about finished our porridge, Moff got up from his chair and walked
rather briskly to the serving hatch where Nellie Cherry handed over
plates of bacon and beans, and Moff brought them to us.
It was typical of Moff to ensure that we
got our just desserts, so to speak. He had other little ways of showing
his interest and making us feel important by inviting one, or maybe two,
boys to share supper with him and Mr Benton, and quite often he would
spend his half day off, on Tuesdays, taking a couple of boys out to tea
after school, and then to the pictures.
Another incident, in which I was thankfully not involved, began one afternoon in the maths class at Harrogate Technical School where I went in 1941, along with Alf Lewis and Frank Gilbert, all three of us being resident at St George's, and having passed the entrance examination. On the day before this particular incident, I had played truant from the Tech., along with Alf Lewis, for the first and only time in my school life. Bicycles were our mode of transport when travelling to and from the Tech., which was at the other side of town from St George's, and on the day of our truancy we used our cycles to travel out into the country for an afternoon in the sunshine, rather than an afternoon in a geography lesson being bored by Miss Mather.
The next day, Alf Lewis asked me if I would repeat the trip out in the afternoon along with himself and Frank Gilbert. I straight away declined and said that I had got away with it once and didn’t want to push my luck. Alf and Frank went their way and I went to school. In the middle of the maths lesson, Mr. Stafford, the maths master, noticed that Lewis and Gilbert were not present, and knowing that I, as well as they, were from St George's, he asked me where they were. All I could say was, “Don’t know, sir.”
The following morning, Alf and Frank were questioned by that well known former sergeant major, Kendrew, who had moved from Western School to Harrogate Tech. the year before I started there. The questioning was not a very pleasant experience, but I know that they were not caned because the cane was never used at the Tech. The inquest wasn’t over, however, because the matter was reported to Miss Knocker, and Alf and Frank had to face John Moffat when they got back to St George's at dinner time. The incident was probably the most serious one that I had known since Moff arrived at St George's, and I feared for both Alf and Frank. I didn’t see them at dinner time and they were not around when I set off to school for the afternoon session.
Alf and Frank didn’t arrive at school until an hour after the normal starting time when we were in the middle of P.T. with Kendrew. I learned later that they had not had any dinner and that Moff had used the cane on them; he also gave them one or two belly punches. I was aware that Moff was in possession of a cane but I had never seen him use it. As Alf and Frank took their places, I noticed Kendrew looking askance at them, and I am sure he realised, as I did, that they had just experienced a very gruelling hour or two. (Kendrew knew, of course, that John Moffat was a strict disciplinarian). I am also sure that Alf and Frank had never had such a hard time in all of the years that they had been at St George's. I must say that I felt very sorry for them because they were both very decent lads. I just said to myself at the time, "Thank God I said ‘No’.” I think Moff felt really upset that two of his senior boys had let him down; he most certainly gave them a hard time, but as always, once the punishment had been meted out, he never referred to the incident again.
At Harrogate Tech. I didn’t start off too well; in fact, I did very badly in the examinations at the end of the first term, the main reason being that at the end of September, 1941, I did what Miss Knocker had repeatedly asked us all not to do - I went out on to the field at St George's, one Saturday, in my house shoes, and got them wet through. That evening, I found myself seeking Sister Batty's help because I was feeling very unwell. I was taken into the sick wing and Dr. Yeoman was summoned. I remained in the sick wing for several weeks with pneumonia; consequently I missed a fair amount of schooling, and when the examinations were held in December, I was a bit puzzled by some of the questions, particularly in the algebra exam! My marks for algebra were 5 out of a possible 50, and in general maths I scored 25 out of a possible 50. Mr. Stafford, the maths master, said, very encouragingly, “You’ll do better next time." In fact, by the following July, my position in the form had improved from 29th out of 30 to 17th and by the end of the following school year I had reached the dizzy heights of eighth place.
At St George's, matrons, as well as
masters, were difficult to recruit for a time. After Jolly Roger left, I
remember a Miss Trickett, a woman in her forties, who once took us for a
walk through the woods when the blue-bells were in bloom. A few lads
started fooling about and spoiling the walk, and Miss Trickett was
sufficiently upset to say that she would never take us on that walk
again. She never did, because soon afterwards she died quite suddenly.
The matrons spent a fair amount of their time repairing and cleaning the boys’ clothing, but socks were repaired by the boys themselves on Wednesday evenings after tea. In those days, socks were made mainly of wool, and holes or ‘thin places’ soon appeared. I happened to be reasonably good at darning, particularly the darning of thin places, and Witch Arliss once called the boys to gather round her to see some of my darning; “Look,” she said, “that’s how to darn a thin place." That incident didn’t exactly endear me to some of the other boys, but there were a few lads who actually tried to bribe me with sweets if I would darn their socks. I believe that I took on the odd job or two for an instant settlement of two sweets, but I resisted doing it regularly as I didn’t really enjoy darning. Miss Arliss was a terror, though; she would put her hand inside a sock and if she discovered a thin place she would poke it with her middle finger, until, sometimes, it would go right through the wool making a sizeable hole.
There were several special events which occurred annually at St George's, certain concerts, for example. Over the years we were entertained by the Leeds City Police and also Salford Police, but we had a regular visit each year by the Bradford City Police Vocal Union and Concert Party. They were very good and we always enjoyed their concerts.
The Bradford City Police Band always provided music on the lawn on Annual Meeting Day; this was the day on which delegates from a number of Police Forces met at St George's to hear the Annual Report from Miss Knocker. Presumably they would discuss the report as well as many other subjects. Normally, when we boys went to and from Western School, we walked in two lines, two abreast. On Annual Meeting Day when returning from school, we would halt in Otley Road when we were roughly two hundred yards from the entrance gates to our home, smarten ourselves up a bit, then march, keeping in step, up to the gates and then up the drive to the applause of the delegates and others who were sat outside the building waiting to be entertained by the boys and also the girls who walked, or marched, separately to and from school.
The 'entertainment’ really amounted to showing the onlookers how good we were as cubs, scouts or guides, by engaging in such things as lighting fires with sticks (heavily coated with Ronuk to ensure an instant blaze) or, putting up tents. We also undertook a fair amount of physical jerks and marching exercises. On one occasion, when I was about seven years of age, we were creating two circles whilst marching in opposite directions and I found myself going the wrong way because I was in the wrong circle. One of the older boys murmured out of the corner of his mouth, "You should be over there." I fell out of the circle that I was in and ran to take up my position in the other one; I felt extremely embarrassed but the audience thought it was funny, it must have been a bit of light relief for them!
The Bradford City Police also provided music and support on Sports Day held each year in July. The band played their merry tunes and several officers officiated as ‘starters’ or ‘judges’, (no photo finishes!). Most of the prizes for the winners were provided by the Bradford City Police Force.
In my final year there, Alf Lewis was awarded the Victor Ludorum Cup. He beat me in the two flat races, I beat him in throwing the cricket ball; we drew in the high jump, and in the long jump I thought I had clinched first place with a super jump. Moff shouted, “Good boy”, but as I started to walk away, Mr. Benton, who was officiating on this particular contest, said, “That was a foul jump, by the way.” It wasn’t ‘by the way’ for me, it was a cruncher. I am not now sure if Alf finally won one or if it was a draw between us, but he deserved the cup, he was yards faster than any of us on the flat.
At Easter time we made our usual appearances at church on Sundays. St Mark's Church, which held about six hundred people, was always full on Easter Sunday morning. The first hymn was, of course, ‘Jesus Christ is Risen Today’, and that was sung by the choir and congregation as the choir processed along the centre aisle of the nave from west to east to take up our places in the choir stalls. The hymn was always sung well and with vigour, and it felt good to be alongside Alf Lewis at the head of the choir as we made our way up to the chancel.
When the service was finished, the choir went in procession to the choir vestry, where the Vicar, the Rev. George Sparrow, presented all the boys with a nice new one shilling piece. Mr Scott, a rotund gentleman, who sang tenor, and was the owner of a very nice grocery store in Harrogate gave all the boys a two shilling piece. A bass singer, Mr Sharp, who owned a carpet shop in Bradford, came up with a half crown (two shillings and sixpence) for each of us, which made him the most popular church man, at least, for that particular day!
During the afternoon of Easter Day, back at St George's, we received our Easter eggs, if any, from home, and then scouted round the field to find our personally named small cream egg, donated by Miss Knocker. It was forbidden to remove anyone else’s egg!
The Christmas period was, undoubtedly, the most exhilarating time and I think everybody enjoyed it, including the housemasters and matrons who behaved admirably on Christmas Day by keeping out of the way much of the time. Christmas began, I suppose, when we 'broke up’ from school round about December 22nd; we were then permitted to put up decorations in our dormitories. On Christmas Eve we had to be in bed a little earlier than usual and were allowed to sing carols until nine o'clock. On Christmas Day morning, we got up round about 6.30 or 7.00, I don’t quite remember, but we were all awake by 6 o’clock anyway, waiting for Father Christmas to come round blowing his trumpet. Father Christmas, on these early Christmas morning occasions, was none other than Miss Knocker, dressed in a Santa Claus type of red and white gown with hood to match. It was glaringly obvious that the person under the gown was Miss Knocker, but she insisted otherwise!
After she had been round all the dormitories and blown her trumpet, we all got dressed and assembled, with the girls, at a central point along the top corridor. Miss Knocker would wish us all a ‘Merry Christmas’ and as soon as she blew the trumpet again, the girls would dash off to their quarters and the boys would charge off to the gymnasium to find their Christmas stockings. The contents of the stockings included useful bits and pieces such as a scrap pad, pencils, pencil sharpener, a bit of reading material, a small toy and usually an apple and an orange.
Breakfast came next, after which we would
walk through the grounds to St Andrews, the Northern Police
Convalescent Home, in the adjoining grounds. There we assembled in the
entrance hall and sang a few carols to the temporarily resident
policemen, many of whom came to the top of the hall staircase in their
dressing gowns to hear the singing.
We set off for St Mark’s church around 10.15 a.m., to be there, changed into our cassocks and surplices and ready for the Christmas Day service at 11.00. After the service, it was back to St George's for the real excitement, Christmas dinner, at 1.00. When the bell sounded, indicating that dinner was about to be served, a great cheer sounded forth and we couldn’t get to the dining room quick enough for the turkey and trimmings, followed by Christmas pudding and white sauce. Lucky silver charms were found, by some, in the pudding, and lucky people found silver threepenny pieces. It was always a very satisfying meal, and equally satisfying, if not more so, was the next treat scheduled for around 2.15 p.m., Christmas parcels from home. The rest of the day, apart from tea-time, was spent playing with games and toys amid a general atmosphere of excitement. Indeed, the whole day was a joyous time, beginning with excited anticipation and ending with feelings of tiredness and satisfaction.
Boxing Day was usually a non event, unless this particular day landed on a Sunday, in which case, we would attend church morning and evening; otherwise, it was a day for doing what we felt like, apart from a good walk in the afternoon to clear the system of any heady or heavy feelings brought on by the events of the previous day.
The day after Boxing Day, Sundays excepted, was rather special, because in the evening we would assemble in the gymnasium where there would be, hidden from view, a large Christmas tree, complete with fairy lights, standing at one side of the platform. This would be revealed to us when the curtains were drawn back and we could then see brightly coloured parcels hanging from some of the branches, and many more parcels were piled up at the base of the tree. This was the evening when the real Father Christmas arrived; Miss Knocker wasn't involved this time, well, not at dressing up as she did on Christmas Day. The arrival of Father Christmas was usually quite exciting, particularly for the younger children. He once came down the chimney and out through the fireplace, both of which had been specially erected for him. On another occasion, I remember that four of the oldest boys carried a large Christmas pudding the length of the gymnasium and laid it on the platform. Father Christmas then ‘burst’ out of the pudding. The parcels, all of which bore a name, were then distributed to the boys and girls. The present within the parcel was a Christmas gift from Father Christmas in response to the letter which each of us were required to write to him during the previous month of November, asking him to 'Please send me....', and then indicate the present that we would like. We were also asked to give a second preference in case the first wish couldn’t be fulfilled.
On that same evening we had a sort of party, a gathering of boys and girls in the gymnasium to play games which ended with ‘Roger de Coverley’ in which boys and girls joined together. This was the nearest thing to a dance that we ever experienced and was probably the only time in a period of twelve months that boys and girls came into such close proximity!
At some time during the Christmas season we always gave a programme of singing at a type of hospital with the dreadful name of ‘The Yorkshire Home for Incurables’. It wasn't the most pleasant of experiences but the patients seemed to enjoy the singing.
I must mention that in the last year of my time at St George's, the head girl, Ruby Hopkinson, gave a speech from the gymnasium platform, in which she thanked the Northern Police Forces for dispensing with the name ‘St George's, Northern Police Orphanage’, and substituting the name ‘St George's House’.
Towards the end of July, 1943, I left Harrogate Tech., and the following day I left St George's. I was wearing new clothes, a sports jacket and grey trousers, shirt and tie and a pair of brown shoes. The suitcase, which I carried with me, contained a suit (for Sundays, of course), two shirts, two pairs of socks, underwear, a tie and one pair of black shoes. I had often heard Miss Knocker use the expression, "When you go out into the world..,” and I used to imagine a map of the world and could visualise various continents, Africa, India, Australia, and would wonder where she thought we would be going and what we would be doing when we got there! Now, here I was, going out into the world, which, for me, meant going to Cleckheaton, but I hadn't the faintest idea what I was going to do when I got there.
So ended an experience of a certain way of life which had lasted almost ten years. I can’t say that I thoroughly enjoyed that experience but there were lots of things that I did enjoy. We were well clothed, well fed, and there were numerous moments of fun and laughter. I think the most enjoyable part of the whole experience was during the time that John Moffat was the senior housemaster. I shall be eternally grateful to him for opening up new horizons. All in all, it could have been a lot worse - there were plenty of things to enjoy, particularly after John Moffat joined us.
The building which bore the name St George's House, is no longer standing. Wiser counsel prevailed and it was sold to an organisation caring for the disabled, and was subsequently pulled down to provide space to build houses and flats for disabled people. There is no substitute 'orphanage’ caring for the children of the police; a wise decision was made to cease providing accommodation in the way that I had known it, and, instead provide money to the individual private homes where children could continue to live with a parent or other relative or guardian.
One deep, abiding, memory I have, is that of being brought up in the lovely town of Harrogate; it must be one of the nicest towns in the north of England, if not the whole country. I return there, year after year, to see the Stray, to visit the Pine Woods, the Valley Gardens, Northern Horticultural Gardens, and other places of interest, and to look at some of the fine shops and beautiful buildings.There is so much in Harrogate which I cherish; I wouldn’t mind ending my days there.
Written at Willerby, 1996, by James Shepherd (442) (b 30.08.1927)
James Shepherd (442),
old boy of St George's, passed away
peacefully on 21 July, 2008. His funeral took take place
See also Memories page for the story of the Drummond family " What is Privilege ?" written by Des Drummond 14 Feb 2011
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