Arrow bars, the 11-plus and hot pies after the baths - memories of Hart Road School

Best years of your life? George Smith certainly remembered his school days.

Saturday, 30th July 2022, 4:45 am

George told us: “I now live in Malvern in Worcestershire and am retired.”

He is “in the middle of preparing an autobiography to hand to my grandchildren’” and shared some great extracts with us.

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George Smith's memories of his Hartlepool schooldays.

“After a couple of years at the infants’ school I moved on to a junior school at Hart Road on the Central Estate.

“This was a tough area where dockers lived and often drawn as the backdrop to Andy Capp cartoons, because Reg Smythe the cartoonist had lived there as a child.

“To get to ‘Central’ from West View, just as you do today, you went under a bridge in a railway embankment and past Hartlepool Rovers Rugby Football ground, opposite a parcel of derelict land we called the ‘donkey field’.

“The high embankments surrounding Central Estate effectively isolated this area from the rest of Hartlepool. It had its own introvert personality.

George Smith when he was 8.

“The school, which no longer exists, was a red brick Victorian establishment with a playing field abutting on to a railway embankment.

“On either side of the school were mean looking houses and a working mens’ club notorious for Saturday night brawls.

"The playground was a square and the boys’ toilet a roofless red brick affair with a closet with no door and an odorous urinal fed by a surface water drain which ran alongside the school wall.

“This facility served a school containing a couple of hundred or so boys. I have no doubt the girls’ equivalent loo was equally bad. The sports facilities were similarly threadbare.

A busy scene at Seaton baths in the 1950s.

“On the school walls someone had painted goal posts and squares and the ground had some vague markings that may also have had some connection to sport.

“Apart from the playing field, which was reserved for the exclusive use of the school football team, there was nothing else. Hart Road therefore came as a bit of a shock after the airy newness of the infants’ school.

“However, the school had its merits. There was, for example, a sweet shop directly opposite where you could lose your bus fare before a long walk home.

“Favourite buys were penny chews, flying saucers, liquorice sticks, penny ‘arrow’ bars or combinations of sweets from different jars which the shop keeper would sell off as individual items.

Hartlepool old town in 1954.

“I was a fan of ‘milk bottles’.

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“All the teachers were friendly and the aim was to get as many of us through the 11 plus as possible.

“There were four streams, A to D, and although I started in a B class I almost immediately moved to the A stream because I was good at English. This was because from an early age I read everything I could get my hands on.

“I was also passably OK at arithmetic and since English and arithmetic were all that was needed to pass the 11 plus I was fairly popular with the teachers. Two I can remember were Miss Coverdale and Mr Adamson.

“Miss Coverdale was the one who encouraged my writing and Mr Adamson was a heavily built ex-rugby player with a fund of stories. On Friday afternoons he told ghost stories which he illustrated with his own drawings which were later hung around the classroom walls.

The photo which triggered so many memories for George. Photo: Hartlepool Library Service.

“It was Mr Adamson who took groups of us to Seaton Carew swimming baths and taught us how to swim.

“All I remember is that there was a kiosk outside the pool, that sold hot pies with home-made gravy, at which we all queued to spend our bus fare home.

“Miss Coverdale sometimes read out my stories and poems to the rest of the class and I loved her dearly.

"There were at least thirty pupils in the ‘A’ class and, since I was very shy, someone who seemed genuinely interested in me and forced me out of my shell was a big help.

“Hart Road, if you can believe it, had a football team that played in the junior schools’ league.

"They shared their pitch with the nearby Catholic school and access to the team was solely through a committee of older boys who conducted ad-hoc auditions in the playground. I remember my own audition well.

“I was kicking a ball around with mates in the schoolyard and in one of these games two of the football committee turned up and invited me to join them on a sliver of grass at the bottom of the railway embankment.

“When they asked me if I was interested in playing for the school team I said I was.

"They then threw a full-sized leather football at me and I duly caught it and threw it back. This was the end of my audition. I never played for the school team.

“The teachers all lived locally and came from the same background as I did. It was sad therefore that despite their best efforts, from over a hundred pupils in my academic year, only 13 of us past the 11 plus and, to the best of my knowledge, of those I was the only one who eventually went to University; and even then after six years in industry.

“So, I confess I am not a fan of the 11 plus system. Most of my class, from memory, were at least as good or more intelligent than I was.

"I was just good at passing exams.”

What are your memories of your school days? Tell us more by emailing [email protected]

George Smith pictured recently.