The following is an extract from

"A Century of Schooling - A History of a School in Ardwick, Manchester"

by Donald Woodhead B.A., Headmaster 1952 - 1977


CHAPTER 11 - The Ardwick Central School (1939 - 1942)

 School re-opened after the summer holiday on 21st August, 1939. On the 24th the message was received to the effect that, if evacuation was ordered, the school would go to Bacup, a town north of Manchester between Rochdale and Burnley.

After the meeting in April, parents had been given the opportunity of accepting the offer of evacuation. Voluntary helpers had been recruited-some to assist in the actual evacuation, and others to work in the reception area, doing either social work, leading occupational activities for the children, or working as paid domestic helpers in the larger billets. Provision was made for teachers'wives to go if they wished. On the 28th August there was a rehearsal of the evacuation plans, with only the children to be evacuated in attendance. On the 31st August, evacuation was ordered for the next day, Friday, 1st September, and this was carried out according to the plan evolved over the past months. All children not being evacuated were kept at home. The evacuees attended with (according to the official list) gas mask, change of underclothing, night clothes, house shoes or plimsolls, spare stockings or socks, toothbrush and comb, towel and handkerchiefs, warm coat or mackintosh, and food for the day. Thickest and warmest footwear was advised, and the Headmaster added to the official list school hats and extra strong shoes. Every child had been supplied with an identity disc and two labels (one for the person and one for the luggage). Rucksacks, if required, were made available through the Stores Department at a reasonable charge.

Map of Manchester and Bacup

The school roll on the day of evacuation totalled 456. The evacuation party was made up of 289 boys and girls (including 11 younger brothers and sisters), 23 staff, including Miss E. Collinge (a teacher in the Manchester service) and 7 helpers. With the Headmaster as Leader, they were all taken from school by bus to Newton Heath L.M.S. Station, and thence by the 4:15 train to Bacup. The group ratio for the exercise was 1 adults to every 10 children. On arrival at Bacup, one group of 160 was taken to St. John's School, 40 to Harveyford School and 89 to the Northern Council School. From these points, children and staff were taken to their billets. Mr. T. Gerrard had remained behind at Ardwick to lead the "second day" evacuation as planned, for mothers with children under 5 who elected to be evacuated, presumably to enable families to be together in the reception area. No figures are available for this movement.

Much of the next two days was spent in establishing contact between Headmaster, Staff and children. War on Germany was declared on Sunday, September 3rd. Mr. Peake held a staff meeting on Monday and Tuesday mornings in the C.W.S. cafe, when the prime task was "to track down all boys and girls, according to forms, in their billets". By this time, with the help of Mr. G.A. Tiffin, Director of Education for Bacup, and Mr. Cropper, Headmaster, an educational base was established for the Ardwick evacuees in the Blackthorn Senior School. This school had only been opened on 20th June,1939, with accommodation for 480 scholars. At last Mr. Peake was able to get his boys and girls together, and some of his notes for this first assembly illustrate the problems:- the need to take care of clothing, sewing and mending where possible; the importance of always carrying gas masks (a supply of carriers would arrive in a local store soon if present ones were worn out or damaged); the need for giving help in the billets; no "faddiness" about food; parents visiting should be taken to the local cafe, because householders could not necessarily offer hospitality; the danger of disused mines in the area; it would be best to move about the new areas in twos and threes; and a curfew from dusk was ordered.

By 4th September, some kind of activity pattern was established on a form basis with games and rambles. A BBC recording van visited the area and got impressions from the children. Not unexpectedly, some had become homesick, and the adventure wore thin for others, because by September 8th, some had been brought back to Manchester by their parents. 14 boys and girls had joined from Ardwick as late evacuees, but they in no way balanced the number of those who had drifted back. Mr. Peake felt very strongly that, if the drift had to be halted, a resumption of work on a school pattern was essential. Accordingly,12 staff went back to Ardwick, got stock and stores together and brought them back to Blackthorn School in a local slipper lorry returning empty. With continued help from Mr. Tiffin and Mr. Cropper, school resumed in Blackthorn School on 13th September, with Ardwick occupying the building in the mornings, or afternoons on alternate weeks. Initially, morning sessions were from 8.30 to 12.30 amended to 12 later; afternoons from 1 to 5 later amended to 12.30 to 3.30, and then, by January 1940,1.15 to 4. To further increase confidence, between 40 and 50 mothers visited the school by invitation and were entertained to tea on September 20th. For the time out of the school building, Mr. Peake planned to organise visits to Slipper Factories, cotton mills, and the local quarries, as well as games.

Before the war, the normal organisation of the Central School had begun to allow for more mixed forms. In a 3 year form group, the ablest form was mixed (M) and the other two single sex (B and G). In a 4 year form group, there were 2 mixed and 2 single sex forms. The form bases at Bacup were: - 4M, 4B, 4G; Upper 3M, 3M, 3B, 3G; 2M, 2B, 2G; 1 M,1 B, 1 G. Presumably no 5th year boys or girls were evacuated.

Many efforts were made to overcome problems. Clothing and footwear for the few necessitous cases were provided by Manchester Education Committee and the local Women's Voluntary Service. Clear instructions were given in case of air-raids, and gas masks checked; anti-gas gas drill was carried out. During air-raids, children had to be kept in school for 1 hour after a raid. The staff attended a series of anti-gas precaution lectures, and volunteered to assist in writing in between 20,000 and 25,000 ration books during October and November. Above all, there were the inevitable personal difficulties experienced at times by both householders and evacuees which called for great wisdom, patience and understanding. One householder complained "The boy is an utter milksop- take him home"; another said "Mother and baby, as well as the daughter, are all too tiresome", and yet another, "I cannot manage him. I've had him a month". There were occasional cases of bed-wetting; often there were unreasonable requests for billeting changes from both householder and evacuee. There were more frivolous complaints-some children said that they couldn't go out when they wanted to-probably a wise decision. One lad alleged that he had been struck a number of times for leaving the light on in the bathroom, and for "taking his gravy to his mouth with a knife"-a complaint which did not stand up to investigation. One mother insisted that someone on the staff should fetch the family perambulator from Manchester. It had to be made clear to all boys and girls at a very early stage that any application to go back home could only be agreed upon the receipt of a letter from parents, although it was acceptable for a householder to take a boy or girl directly back home to the parents.

On the 6th November, Mr. Peake gave his views to the Director of Education in Manchester on the factors causing children to be brought home. These were (1) Billeting payments-some cost of billeting had to be borne by parents and the amount was assessed and received by Manchester Education Committee, 2) !'Tutorial classes" had begun in Manchester on 23rd October; 3) The cancellation of the agreement for Central schools, allowing scholars to leave at 14 on producing evidence of obtaining suitable employment; 4) difficulties in finding new billets, both on householders'and children's requests.

H.M. Inspectors visited regularly to give advice and report back on problems. Lady Sheena Simon of Manchester Education Committee visited on 26th October, and the Mayor and Mayoress of Bacup on 18th December. The two Senior prefects, Peter Worrell and Nora Edge had earlier attended the civic inauguration ceremony. A health check was carried out in November by the Senior Medical Officer for Bacup; older boys and girls were encouraged to find "profit and pleasure" at the Evening Institute in Bacup-and one of the local football clubs had no objection to boys playing football on their pitch out of school time, but insisted that they should be supervised. The area was saddened in October by the death of one girl who became seriously ill, was rushed home to Manchester by ambulance, but later died in hospital. As a means of expressing thanks to the people of Bacup for all their kindness, Mr. Peake and the staff organised a Christmas party for the boys and girls and householders of Bacup. He begged a subscription of one shilling from Manchester parents and the party attended by 170 children and 150 householders was held successfully between 3 and 9 p.m. on the 20th December.

School closed for the Christmas holidays on December 22nd. By that time,172 boys and girls remained on roll at Bacup. Although it was official policy for children to spend the holiday in the reception area, even to the extent of offering special trains to bring parents to reception areas on certain days, only 4 stayed in Bacup for the whole period. 8 stayed for the first week and 9 for the second. The rest went home. Miss Pepper and Miss Machell shared the fortnight's duty. When school resumed on 8th January,1940,100 did not return to Bacup. By this time, the decision had been taken to re-open certain schools in the evacuation area. Ardwick was to re-open on January 15th and a check revealed that only 19 boys wanted to remain at Bacup under these circumstances. 7 were doubtful, but no girls wished to stay. By the 12th January, the number of evacuees was 14 boys and, by agreement, they were absorbed into Blackthorn Senior School.

At this stage it is necessary to look at the provision made for those who were not evacuated on September 1st. Early in October, the Education Committee had devised a "tutorial" system which required two teachers to be available in the building. Mr. Hirst and Mr. Percival (Craft teacher) volunteered for the duty and returned from Bacup. The school building was to be open from 9 to 12 and 1.30 to 3.30 with children attending in groups of not more than 20 for one hour each day or one hour each alternate day, according to numbers. 2 classrooms and 1 teacher's room were to be used. Children were to receive assignments of work in appropriate subjects, with the worked scripts transmitted to the specialist teacher in the reception area. Some games and recreation could be included if adequate facilities couid be found for groups not exceeding 25. By mid-November Miss Turner and Mr. Slater joined these groups, Mr. Percival returning to Bacup. In December Mrs Crossland (formerly Miss Heywood) returned to duty in Manchester with Miss Lamkin because, by then, some Domestic Science centres had been re-opened. Mr. Peake frequently returned to follow the progress of the system, which had begun on October 23rd, full co-operation of parents having been sought earlier. The number participating rose from 155 to 175 by December 15th. December 1 st figures showed the distribution to be 15 years-8, 14 yean-18, 13 years-49, 12 years-40, 11 years-53.

The decision to re-open schools completely in the evacuation areas was made in December 1939, although 53 restrictions could be placed on the full use of the accommodation either for national defence reasons, structural unsuitability and considerations of safety. It still remained the official view that children ought not to be brought back from reception areas, and parents had to be made clearly aware of the dangers. Mr. Peake made all this clear in a letter to parents on 11th January, 1940. Yet, whether with relief or misgiving, or perhaps both, school re-opened at Ardwick on 1 5th January, 1940 at 9 a.m. with 148 boys and 158 girls, 3 total of 306, working on a shift system with St. Gregory's Central School. All staff resumed, with the exception of Miss Pepper and Mr. Percival at Bacup. By January 19th, the total was 331-the roll on evacuation was 457. The difference was accounted for by "12 at Bacup, leavers who had the agreement cancelled, those who were evacuated privately or with other schools, transfers, and one or two not traced". By 26th January, it was possible for the 3rd and 4th years to work full time, because St. Gregory's was not taking up all the available places; by 11th April, school resumed full attendance, with St. Gregory's in its own building again. 7 boys were still at Bacup, Mr. Peake visiting them frequently. Miss E. Collinge who had been attached to the staff for evacuation purposes, left to resume her normal duties in February, 1940. Miss A.V. Flann had become Mrs Owen by December, 1939, and Miss A. Pepper, at Bacup, became Mrs Cropper. Mr. J. Roscoe had joined the staff in August, 1939, and Miss A. Reeve assisted in a temporary capacity in February, 1940. The school had received very sad news before the school year 1939-40 began. Miss E. Thompson, old scholar and teacher since 1926 died on 11th August, 1939.

Within a week of the full re-opening, a full dental inspection was carried out. Inspectors called to check on air-raid precautions; there was an official request for knitted goods for the Forces, and gas masks were checked by A.R.P. Wardens. School closed during the afternoon of March 7th for the holding of the entrance examination, Mr. J.K. Elliott, Chief Principal Assistant, Manchester Education Committee visiting during the afternoon. The school was broken into during the Easter holiday, when tools were taken from the Handicraft room and "used to force the Headmaster's desk". Some youths were apprehended later.

During the early months of 1940, consideration was given at both national and local level to problems arising out of a possible intensification of the war-in particular, re-evacuation plans. The successful invasion by Germany of Holland and Belgium in May 1940 made this matter a high priority. The Whitsuntide holiday was cancelled; instead, on the Monday, a medical inspection of school children was ordered. Schools were instructed to open the following day and for the rest of the week, and, as part of a general alert, were to remain open on the Saturday morning, May 18th, with all teachers and scholars present. At Ardwick, the 50 absentees had to furnish good reasons when they returned. Registration forms for re~evacuation had been sent out to parents in March, and school was open on Saturday 1st June for the purpose of receiving further registrations. Those who had been evacuated to Bacup were required to re-register. The Government made it clear that the plan would be put into operation only if air raids developed on a scale involving serious and continuing perils to the civilian population. Further, only registered children would be evacuated, and it was pointed out that it was the duty of a parent who registered his or her child for evacuation "to leave the child in the receiving area until the party returns".

By June 5th, 120 (73 boys and 48 girls) had registered (349 on roll with 5 still at Bacup). Bacup was to be the reception area again, and Mr. Peake went there to discuss with Mr. Tiffin new arrangements. Bacup was limited to 900 evacuees, and the Blackthorn School could absorb the 120 from Ardwick. Yet Mr. Tiffin indicated that it was difficult to obtain the necessary billets by voluntary methods, although some of those evacuated to Bacup earlier had made verbal arrangements with the householders to return if and when re-evacuation occurred. Unfortunately, this had not been done with official knowledge. As it happened, re-evacuation to Bacup never took place.

The school did, however, continue through the spring and summer of 1940 with the clear intention of proceeding as normally as circumstances would allow. Summer games facilities continued to be available at Debdale Park, once air-raid shelter provision was available near the park and en route. The J.M.B. School Certificate and Central Schools Certificate examinations continued as usual. On 19th July,1940,17 boys and 13 girls received their Central Schools Certificates-only one girl failed. The low figures illustrate how the right to leave school had been taken up. The Juvenile Employment Bureau held its customary convention for leavers and parents. Nlessrs. Willatt and Holding took a party to Strines Camp at Whitsuntide, and there was an interesting visitor in May-Mr. T.E.C. Dinsdale, member of staff in the St. Matthew's days, 48 years ago, who was now working for the Ministry of Food in Preston. It is worthy of comment that the Minister of Food was Lord Woolton, the distinguished old scholar. Miss M. Williams joined the staff on a temporary appointment in August, 1940, but Mrs Crossland (formerly Miss Heywood), teacher of Needlework, left in November.

The war continued to cast its shadow. Air raid shelter facilities were established in the basement area of the school. This basement area was considered to be one of the safest places in the area. Blast walls were built between the outside doors and the stairways at both boys and girls entrances, and all the windows onto the basement and basement stairs were protected. 9 storm lamps-oil fed-were delivered for use if the electricity failed. By December 1940, under emergency feeding plans, certain items were stored in school. Canteen centres for meals were planned, and by 1st January 1941, facilities were available in school for feeding the homeless. During 1940, a few children were provisionally registered by their Parents for the overseas reception scheme. There were no summer holidays in that year. Parents could claim absence for part or whole of the few weeks, otherwise children had to be in school. Each member of staff was allowed a fortnight's leave during the period. 16 staff, in parties of 4 per week assisted in other schools, and 2 senior girls per day helped in the Infants Department of Ardwick Municipal School next door.

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