Starting School – Preston 1912

At the interview for the girls’ grammar school,
when you told the Headmistress you wanted to be a teacher,
she nodded and smiled; she approved wholeheartedly
of the profession of School-Teaching, she said,
though most of her girls were being trained
to take their place in society as ladies.

To your father, who’d had taken the day off from the factory,
she seemed like a sort of duchess.
And two pounds a term was a lot, he said afterwards –
he’d have to think about it.

But you went. The neighbours helped. They donated
a second-hand gym slip, and a straw boater
with a Park School hat-band ten years old.
You said it was shabby, and felt embarrassed
the first morning as you walked on your own
down Fishergate from the station.

And without knowing, you were aleady breaking
a school rule: you weren’t wearing gloves.

You spent the whole of your first morning thinking
the girls were staring at you and saying things,
but a week later you’d come first in arithmetic,
and found you played the piano better
then the beauty who taught dancing.

But it was a school for ladies. Once in assembly
the Headmistress announced that two girls
– in school uniform, and not wearing gloves –
had been seen dropping toffee-papers
from the upper deck of a tram-car
on the driver’s head below!

You only stayed two years there.
You remembered it happily – you’d some nice friends.
But you never came higher than eighth in the form,
so you couldn’t teach, your father said,
and two pounds a term was still a lot.

The day you left, your form mistress walked with you
round the tennis-court, saying how surprised she was
you were leaving, and sorry – you’d been
such a help to her. You wondered how,
as you walked on your own
down Fishergate to the train,
aged just fourteen.

Copyright: from High Tide (Salt, 2010), © Robert Hull 2010, used by permission of the author

More about this poem

Robert’s poems represent a wide range of themes and forms, including re-telling stories from his family history and even going back to ...

Learn more

About Starting School – Preston 1912

A hundred years ago this coming September, 2012, my mother started school at the Park School in Preston. She didn't stay very long.

Explore Similar Poems

Also by Robert Hull

By Tags