Growing up in England after the War: A Northeastern Boyhood (1950s)


Figure 1.--This is me in my first school uniform and cap. I grew up in northeastern England and went to school in the 1950s and early 60s. This cap is one of the many I wore as a boy. I am wearing it with a navy blue surge suit. Note the natty hankerchief mum placed in the top left breast pocket.

My name is Anthony. I was born in Northeast England in 1946 and I have lived there all my life. I had two wonderful parents who are sadly no longer living. My education was done at three state schools. My first two years were at a mixed (co-educational) infants school, from there I went to an all boys' junior school for 4 years. In my last year at junior school, I had to sit what was called the 11+ exam, which determined whether or not you went to the grammar or secondary modern school. As I failed the exam, I spent the remaining 4 years of my education at a secondary modern, which was also a mixed school. I spent most of my boyhood in short trousers until I was 12 when I graduated to longs. To me short trousers were the badge of my boyhood and although at 12 I was still technically a boy, I feel my boyhood ended when I put on long trousers for the first time. My mother saw to all my clothing needs, and although my wardrobe often needed replenishing through the year, it was at Easter that I was bought the bulk of my clothing. Easter was a time when not only I got new clothes; it was also a time when every kid also got them. I have fond memories of being taken for my new attire, which was always a new suit, which I would wear on Good Friday and for Sunday best.

My Background

My name is Anthony. I was born in Northeast England in 1946 and I have lived there all my life. I had two wonderful parents who are sadly no longer living. My father worked in engineering until he was made redundant in 1967. Upon his redundancy, he came out of engineering and began work on the busses as a conductor. My mother worked for a firm making dry-cell batteries until I was 9-years-old when she made a career move into insurance for a couple of years after which she took up employment with a cable TV company in a financial capacity. My grandmother on my mother's side also lived with us until her death in 1962.

Schools

My education was done at three state schools. My first two years were at a mixed (co-educational) infants school, from there I went to an all boys' junior school for 4 years. In my last year at junior school, I had to sit what was called the 11+ exam, which determined whether or not you went to the grammar or secondary modern school. As I failed the exam, I spent the remaining 4 years of my education at a secondary modern, which was also a mixed school. We did not have a unifrm. The only schools in the town to have a school uniform were the boys' and girl's separate grammar schools and the town's only private fee-paying school. While I was at school there was increasing discussion of adopting a uniform a most English secondary schools had them.

Clothes

I spent most of my boyhood in short trousers until I was 12 when I graduated to longs. To me short trousers were the badge of my boyhood and although at 12 I was still technically a boy, I feel my boyhood ended when I put on long trousers for the first time. My mother saw to all my clothing needs, and although my wardrobe often needed replenishing through the year, it was at Easter that I was bought the bulk of my clothing. Easter was a time when not only I got new clothes; it was also a time when every kid also got them. I have fond memories of being taken for my new attire, which was always a new suit, which I would wear on Good Friday and for Sunday best. I would also acquire some new shirts, vests (singlets) and underpants. A tie or two, turn-over-top socks and ankle ones for summer and finally a brand new pair of shiny shoes, which would in time, become as scuffed as the others I wore. Last year's new suit would soon become my everyday wear and more often than not, it's jacket would become separated from the shorts that went with it.


Figure 2.--This is me and my mum in a snapshorv taken about 1955. I would have been about 9 years old at the time. My suit is probably made of worsted. Note how the end of my shoes are rounded rather than pointed.

Second Hand Shop

My mum and one of her friends operated a second-hand clothes shop on a part-time basis. I used to come to the shop quite regularly when I was a boy to assist mom. I came into contact with all sorts of boys’ clothes. I was forever given the task of rummaging through boxes or bags and stacking the likes of shirts, sweaters and short trousers on shelves, as well as hanging jackets and blazers on racks in the shop. At the time, we boys were much less interested in clothes and fashion than modern boys. Now I look back on that experience, I suppose it was through this that I as a boy was much more knowledgeable about clothes and fashion than most of my friends.

Scouts

I remember when I was in second year at our secondary modern school one of my friends who had been wearing long trousers for sometime turned up at school one afternoon wearing lovat green short trousers. As I mentioned, there was no uniform at our school. When I asked him why he was back in shorts he told me it was because he wanted to join the Boy Scouts. Another boy at school tried to get me to join the Sea Cadets and he told me that if I did join then I wouldn’t have to wear shorts as they wore bell-bottom trousers as part of their uniform. I was interested in joining, but for some reason never did. A boy I was friendly with who went to another school was in the Sea Scouts and I remember asking him if his Scout shorts were lined. He told me it depended upon the sort you got. If they were Scout Shop shorts then it was more than likely that they were unlined.

Catalogs

The HBC Gratton catalog on HBC reminded me of the suit I'm wearing in one of my personal experiences pages. Nicely tailored shorts and double breasted jacket, with a hankerchief in the left breast pocket. Apart from the cap, I think I'm identically dressed like the boy in the Gratton illustration.

Fascination with the Circus

When I was kid my Mum and Dad took me to see Cecil B de Mille’s "The Greatest Show On Earth" when I was 6-years-old. The circus has fascinated me ever since, and for many years I fostered a childish fantasy of actually working in one. In his book, A Seat at the Circus Antony Hippisley Coxe writes that once someone has an interest in a circus then that interest stays with him or her for the rest of their lives, even though they think the interest is no longer there. I seem to recall when I was a boy there were a number of shows touring Britain. The big three were Billy Smarts, Chipperfields and Bertram Mills. There were a few smaller shows such as Robert Brothers, Lord George Sanger's and Robert Fossetts. But it was the big three that drew in the crowds. > Going to the circus was a very special treat. My first ever visit to a real circus was when Chipperfields came to town. I vividly remember that visit. My Dad took me to see the big top being erected on the Sunday. My Mum took me to see the show on the Monday evening; my jaw must have dropped several notches as I soaked up the atmosphere.

Anthony










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Created: June 28, 2003
Last updated: 2:05 AM 9/11/2009