The Maltonian Web


Mrs Eleanor Williams

A transcript of a taped interview, March 2002.
33 photos from Mrs Williams' album are available

I thought I would take you on a short chronological trip of the time I was associated with Malton School which began in 1935. I had been teaching in Eastbourne in a boarding school and felt I wanted a change. I had been interviewed for three jobs, one of which I thought was in the bag and was told not, so when this one was offered me I grabbed it. It was really in the depth of the depression and one took any job that was offered so I didn't really know what I was coming to. I travelled up from Shropshire where my parents lived. The journey as far as Manchester was o k, I knew it already, but from Stalybridge on I came through a dreary landscape of one derelict mill after another, didn't bother much about York because it seemed so depressing, it was raining I think, until I got to Kirkham Abbey. I thought - civilisation at last! I was used to living in the country you see, although I lived in cities. Anyhow I arrived in Malton.

First impression was of course that it was la petite ville de la bruyère. Which you don't know. But red roofs, river at the bottom. He decided we'd only been there a day or so he's got out. [not clear on the tape] Well I thought is that going to happen? It didn't as you know and I settled in. Malton was a very very backward place in those days, not just backward by present day standards but by 1930s standards. I didn't realise that 'til much later.

The school buildings were what is basically now the old part of - is it the East Wing? Three sides of the quad were filled by buildings which are now put to different uses but it's the same outline. The fourth side was filled by an ex-army hut which was used as a gym. Now that was replaced in '38 by a new lab and the other buildings were added 20 years later in 1958. At the school itself there were somewhere between 150 and 160 pupils. The sixth form consisted of 2 pupils: Eric Robson, who later went on to be a professor of history, and Tina Prest as she then was, Mrs Hope. There were also some people who came in acting as sort of pupil teachers and came on a sort of day release to play games. I think they came 2 days a week. Below that 5 forms, 1st, 2nd 3rd 4th and 5th. The 4th form I'll come back to later, they were my special care and I remember quite a lot about them.

Less pressure on exams in those days. School Certificate required a pass in at least 5 subjects at one and the same time. Those had to include English, Maths or Science and a language, usually French, which was my responsibility of course. Most people passed. The 5th form contained 2 or 3 people who had passed School Certificate but not gained the 5 credits needed for what was called Matriculation. That was the minimum requirement for a University but it didn't get you into an honours school by any means. You had to take higher for that and that's what Eric Robson was preparing for then. Higher, you had to pass in 3 subjects, again at one and the same time, plus a subsidiary subject and on the arts side it would usually be English, French, History with perhaps subsidiary Geography or one of those as a subsidiary subject. On the Science side it would be the usual Maths, Physics, Chemistry with possibly subsidiary English because in a small school like the one I went to everybody did English in the 6th Form and everybody did Maths in the 6th Form and the arts people would take the Maths subsidiary and the Science people would take the English subsidiary. Here the main emphasis was on School Certificate because the outlook for people leaving school in those days was, in this area, very very limited. The girls would go in for nursing or primary school teaching, become shorthand typists, help dad in his business, hang about until they were married (when of course they lost their jobs), took on a different job for life of course. Here the boys would go into the Army or Air Force, local government, possibly into an office such as a solicitors, and possibly even go on to further training after school.

That's where I come back to this 4th form because looking back among the girls - one primary head mistress, 2 deputy heads, one of a secondary school, two went in for nursing, I think all eventually married, certainly those with whom I kept in touch did. The boys included one secondary head master, one of whom I haven't heard of since war time when he was Provost Marshall, Singapore which was a tip top job I should think, one bank manager, one pub landlord, one England cricketer one RAF and I'm sorry I don't remember or didn't keep in touch with any of the others.

That was the situation in '35. Just over a year later Mr Watt the Headmaster died suddenly and the senior master whom I later married became Headmaster and we then carried on 'til war time when there was a big shake up because the first effect of a war was a huge influx of evacuees mainly from Middlesbrough. The red army as we called them, and that meant congestion, shorter well we had to make do with sharing classrooms, trying putting forms together, I think we amalgamated our 6th forms and that lasted through what was known as the phoney war. During that time they went back to Middlesbrough and we settled in hoping for normality but of course we couldn't. The next shock came of course with Dunkirk when we not only had a return visit from Middlesborough evacuees but we had others from Hull, quite apart from various individual youngsters who were staying with grandparents or other relatives for the duration of the war. You can imagine the congestion, there just wasn't room for all of us, we had to work in shifts and that went on probably for about another 2 years.

Meanwhile I was being yanked back for various jobs. I think the climax came when it was a question of maths. "I can't teach any maths". "Yes you can, here's a book on mental arithmetic, you can do that with them". Well guess whose mental arithmetic improved. There were other things - I think I jibbed at RE, I certainly wasn't going to teach Geography because I knew nothing of it, Junior Science I managed by keeping a couple of pages ahead of the class by individual coaching on an evening but it wasn't 'til after the war that I went back in earnest. Miss Derbyshire who was in charge of the French had the opportunity to go to France to take up a bursary which she had earned in wartime but was unable to take up and applied for a year's leave of absence and "I don't know what we're going to do unless you come back". Well I think that idea had been in the back of the Headmaster's mind for some time. So I went back temporarily for a year and stayed 25. Mainly of course because Miss Derbyshire resigned, she had a chance to extend her bursary for another year and if she took a PhD she wouldn't be coming back to Malton Grammar School. Also my husband had been very ill during that year and it dawned on me at long last that if I was going to be independent in any way I should have to earn my own living.

Things were very difficult at that time, staffing was almost impossible, the men who had been called up had gone back to the jobs they had been in before the war, the women were starting families, other people were retraining or training and we had to deal with the consequences of the 1944 Education Act which established the 11 Plus. Now that didn't really work very well at first, it was the old mistake - instead of creating extra places for children we were limited still to an intake of 30 per year. People who previously sent their children here as fee payers panicked and in a great many cases people weren't prepared for it. Children hadn't the background necessary to help them and for the time being our exam results didn't match up with what they had been before. My husband retired in '51 and in fact people seemed to think the whole of school was coming to an end then. He'd been there so long that the potential 6th formers left en mass. I think we were left with 2 in the 6th form. It soon righted itself of course.

The 50s were a struggle because we had been very much more independent. My husband had the power to appoint staff which was ratified by the governors, now the Education Authority was taking a hand. They didn't interfere with established heads they were too valuable actually but they did start breathing down our necks a lot more after that. In '58 we got the new buildings and the intake was extended to a 2 form intake remember we were drawing pupils from a very very wide catchment area say to the North - Sherburn, South - Whitwell, Welburn, East - right out to Fridaythorpe, Wetwang. There was no Norton School until about 1960 I think and that did not become comprehensive until 1970 so that really during the 60s we had our best chance as a grammar school because of wider choice and again being able to establish A and B forms so that we had a lesser ability and a greater ability form after the first year or even after the first term which gave a better chance to both lots in that the less able pupils weren't competing with the more able and again from a teaching point of view it was more simpler then really round about 1970 things were very difficult. I'm trying to think just how many losses we had. Mr Pay had been ill for some time and died in '69, the following June Mr Rolls Deputy Head died suddenly. In September '70 we started again with only 1 form intake because Norton School had become comprehensive, then we had the threat of a merger, of becoming comprehensive. I was on the consultative committee at that time and the Authority consulted us but didn't take any notice of our representations. Things were further complicated by the fact that there were, I think, three senior people at the County Modern who resigned, two of ours at the Grammar School and of course tragically by that time Mr Taylor the headmaster was very very ill. He lasted a week of the first term, then went into hospital and died a few weeks later. So really the whole merger was a shambles.

I stayed on, there had been problem, I had meant to go in 1971 but there was a severe problem in my department and knowing of these other resignations I offered to stay on which was gladly accepted and I'm very glad I did because I felt I would have just added to the confusion by going. I don't know that I helped much in that year and it was as I say a bit of a shambles and I was in fact very glad to go in July '72. So I have the satisfaction now of looking back that if I last out 'til next July I shall have drawn my teaching pension for as long as it took to earn it.

So when you got married did you lose your job?
No, well I did I gave it up.
No, yes, well, if you say gave it up I was you know a dogsbody, unpaid for most of the time. No that came in at the beginning of the war. It was one of those emergency things needed. You see automatically, if you were a teacher, if you were married you lost your job. That terminated your contract. And the well you were taking money out of a poor spinsters mouth you see. Men were expected to support their families and it was right at the beginning of the war it was said that married women could be employed.
AMH - When I went back to work in 1980 I was told I was taking a man's job. Its not a view I shared in fact I was creating a woman's job because somebody was looking after my daughter. No - attitudes have changed.