Memories of Calderdale

St Mary's RC School, Halifax


Jane Downey

In January 1955, I started at St Mary's Infants' School.

My mother was horrified by the state of the school which had outside toilets, her own school in Huddersfield had been more up to date.

I sat next to Mary Rowlands who lived in South Darley Street, now demolished. You were either in Miss Moore's class or Miss Dooley's, I was in Miss Moore's. At the time the song Hang down your head Tom Dooley was popular and we used to sing it with Miss Dooley in instead. We had slates for writing on and slates for plasticine modelling.

When we moved up to Miss Jessop's, the next class, we learned to read from Beacon Readers featuring Tom and Ann. At Christmas, we were told to bring in empty Swan Vesta matchboxes and we made paper Father Christmases coming out of them. We were taught long division on the blackboard. The priest used to come in smoking a cigarette and ask us to spell things. I spelled mother on the board writing very small with the chalk.

The classes in those days were huge. A little girl arrived from the Ukraine who could only say house. There was quite a sizeable group of children from what we would now call Eastern Europe, Hungary, Poland and the Ukraine. The rest of us were mainly of Irish descent.

On Sundays, we went to 11 o'clock mass and afterwards to the Catholic Club in Hopwood Lane where we drank fizzy lemonade while our fathers played snooker. We had music in the hall, all sitting on the floor listening to the BBC, we learned folk songs: Barbara Allen and Greensleeves singing along with the presenter.

We also had medicals in the hall, the girls had pink folders, the boys yellow and we stripped down to vests and knickers to be examined. We did PE in our underwear and some children didn't do PE but extra reading instead. Top Infants was taught by Miss Carroll, a terrifying woman with white hair and red lipstick. She wielded the stick which she used on the palms of our hands. One day Mary was away and the next day she came in with curly hair. Miss Carroll asked her why she had been absent and Mary said her mother had taken her to the hairdressers. Miss Carroll gave her the stick which I thought was very unfair.

At Christmas, we did a Nativity play, and later we did a play called The Doll's Wedding which was put on in the Assembly Rooms next to the school for three nights for all the parents.

We were to have a visit from Archbishop Heenan who very rarely came. Miss Carrol pretended to be him and we had to curtsey when she came in and say God Bless you, My lord. We then had to go up one by one and kiss the ring that she was pretending to have. I can't remember the actual visit.

On St Patrick's day, 17th March, we all came in with the shamrock pinned on that our Irish relatives sent us.

Then it was the May procession, so the queen and her attendants were chosen from the top class which was ours. I was an attendant. We wore white dresses with a blue ribbon round the waist. The Eastern European girls came in national dress with red or black embroidered velvet skirts and ribbons in their hair. We walked up Gibbet Street, and back round to the church. At the head of the procession was carried a statue of the Virgin Mary, behind them were the Sisters of Mary. These were women who dressed in veils for the procession every year, I never found out what else they did. Many years later, a friend of mine from Spain told me that they had them there and when she and her friends knelt behind them in church they had fixed their veils to the seat with drawing pins. When we got back to the church. the May queen crowned the statue of the virgin Mary and we sang

O Mary, we crown thee with blossoms today, queen of the angels and queen of the May

We had to learn lots of catechism for our first Holy Communions and we had to practice holding our tongues out straight, with Miss Carroll being the priest. On the day, the girls wore the white dresses again with veils.

That was the end of Infants, we were Big Girls and Big Boys now, ready for the Juniors.

© Malcolm Bull 2021
Revised 10:26 / 30th May 2021 / 5957

Page Ref: M_8

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