How we Learned in 50s and 60s Classrooms.

In my primary school I remember that a lot of lessons involved learning things by rote or ‘off by heart’ as we called it. The multiplication tables were recited by the whole class in unison first thing every morning – after the Lord’s Prayer and the alphabet. Then we recited other tables such as measurement – “Twelve Inches to One Foot, Three Feet to a Yard, 220 yards one-eighth of a mile, 440 yards one-quarter of a mile . . . ” and so on. The same was done for capacity, money, area and weight.

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All our exercise books had these charts on the back.

Our exercise books had all the charts printed on the back for handy reference although the rote learning ensured we didn’t need to fall back on that often!I certainly never forgot them! I also remember learning poems off by heart. I can still recite Cargoes by John Masefield.

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Cargoes by John Masefield

The sad thing is that nobody talked to us about the meanings of the poems. I had no idea what half the words meant in Cargoes, which is a shame as it’s a beautiful poem.

Primary school education was very ‘British’ – and in my case, Welsh. We didn’t have separate subjects called History, Geography Science etc. The history I learned was about the lives of British heroes – Scott of the Antarctic, Nelson and, of course, Saint David. We learned songs like Hearts of Oak, Over the Sea to Skye  (which I can still play from memory on the recorder) and many traditional Welsh ones.

s-l225               the-national-song-book

A wooden school recorder.            The book which every school used.

Science consisted of nature rambles when it was fine in summer. We never had PE but I think that was our Head’s choice and lack of fondness for activity rather than the norm for the times.

In secondary school our learning was still largely based on memorising facts and writing down dictated notes in our exercise books. Individual research was non-existent.

In maths two pieces of equipment come to mind which are probably now obsolete – correct me if I’m wrong! One was the slide rule which was an ingenious way of doing difficult calculations using a calibrated ruler with sliding parts. The other one was the book of log tables. We all had them. They are a very simple way of working out very large multiplications such as four digit numbers X four digit numbers. Log tables do a lot more complex maths than that but I’m talking about how we used them in school. Calculators and computers have probably done away with the need for these but professional mathematicians might tell me different.

log-tables     Logarithmorum_Chilias_Prima_page_0-67

A 20thC log table book.                         A page from an early log table                                                                                                             book.

Briggs_-_Canon_logarithmorum_pro_numeris_serie_naturali_crescentibus_ab_1._ad_20000.,_s.d._-_72507            250px-Slide_rule_cursor

Cover of a 17th C log table book.                     A slide rule.

220px-John_Napier           Oughtred

John Napier.                                                 William Oughtred.

Both the slide rule and the log tables were invented in the 17th Century, log tables by John Napier and the slide rule shortly afterwards by William Oughtred.

 

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Nursery Rhymes . . . . . continued.

I have covered Nursery Rhymes in an earlier post but it’s a fascinating area and full of historical facts so I’m revisiting the subject and covering different rhymes.

Nursery rhymes are an important part of our history and cultural tradition here in the UK and it would be a shame if they died out. Each one has its own tune which comes to mind as soon as you see the words.

Half a pound of tuppenny rice,
Half a pound of treacle,
That’s the way the money goes,
Pop goes the weasel.

One theory claims that the rhyme originates in the grimy streets and packed sweatshops of Shoreditch and Spitalfields that provided Londoners with their clothing. A spinner’s weasel is a device that is used for measuring out a length of yarn; the mechanism makes a popping sound when the correct length has been reached. One imagines the spinner’s mind would wander to the more mundane, only to be brought back to harsh reality when the weasel went pop.

The third verse suggests an alternative origin, which is based upon the Londoners use of cockney rhyming slang;

Up and down the city road,
In and out the Eagle,
That’s the way the money goes,
Pop goes the weasel.

Pop

To “pop” is a London slang word for pawn. Weasel can be traced to the cockney rhyming slang of “weasel and stoat”, or coat. Even a very poor Victorian Londoner would have had a Sunday best coat or suit that could be pawned when times got hard (Pop goes the weasel), perhaps on cold and damp Monday morning, only to be retrieved on pay day. The Eagle above refers to the Eagle Tavern, a pub located on the corner of City Road and Shepherdess Walk, in the north London district of Hackney. Although the usage of the building has changed over the years, the current Eagle pub dating from the early 1900’s, displays a plaque proclaiming the building’s connection with the nursery rhyme.

Georgie Porgie,
Pudding and pie,
Kissed the girls and made them cry;
When the boys came out to play,

Georgie Porgie ran away.

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It is thought that the ‘Georgie Porgie’ in question was actually the Prince Regent, later George IV. A very large gentleman, George weighed in at more than 17½ stone with a waist of 50 inches (from eating so many puddings and pies?), and he became a constant source of ridicule in the press of the time.

Despite his large size, George had also established for himself a rather poor reputation for his lusty romps with the ladies that involved several mistresses and a string of illegitimate children.

Little Jack Horner sat in a corner
Eating a Christmas pie;
He put in his thumb,
And pulled out a plum,
And said “What a good boy am I”

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Little Jack Horner lived in the 1530’s, the time of the Dissolution of the Monasteries during the reign of Henry VIII. Jack Horner was steward to Richard Whiting, the last of the Abbots of Glastonbury. It is said that the Abbot, hoping to placate King Henry, sent His Majesty an enormous Christmas pie containing the deeds of 12 manors. Horner was given the task of taking the ‘pie’ to London. During the journey he managed to open the pie and extract the deeds of the Manor of Mells in Somerset, presumably the ‘plum’ referred to in the rhyme. A Thomas Horner did assume ownership of Mells, but his descendants and the present owner of the house claim the rhyme is a slander.

Hush a-bye baby in the tree-top,
When the wind blows the cradle will rock,
When the bough breaks the cradle will fall,
Down will come cradle, baby and all

Hush a-bye Baby, or Rock a Bye Baby as I knew it, was reputably written by a boy who sailed with the Pilgrim Fathers to America in 1620 and was the first English poem written on American soil. It is said to have been inspired by the Native American custom of popping babies’ cradles in the branches of trees.

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Jack and Jill went up the hill
To fetch a pail of water;
Jack fell down and broke his crown
And Jill came tumbling after.

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The rhyme I knew as a child contained the lines

He went to bed

to mend his head

with vinegar and brown paper

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. . . . but I recently found one which says . .

To old Dame Dob

Who patched his nob

with vinegar and brown paper   

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The small village of Kilmersdon in north Somerset claims to be the home of the Jack and Jill rhyme. Local legend recalls how in the late 15th century, a young unmarried couple regularly climbed a nearby hill in order to conduct their liaison in private, away from the prying eyes of the village. Obviously a very close liaison, Jill fell pregnant, but just before the baby was born Jack was killed by a rock that had fallen from their ‘special’ hill. A few days later, Jill died whilst giving birth to their love child. Their tragic tale unfolds today on a series of inscribed stones that leads along a path to that ‘special’ hill.
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Children’s Favourites.

The children of today get into pop music whilst still in Primary School. When I was a small child in the 1950s our mums and dads listened to adults’ music like Rosemary Clooney, Anne Shelton,  Doris Day, Perry Como and Frankie Vaughan. I remember thinking it weird that so many of the songs seemed to be about love! We children had our own music. These were songs written and recorded as children’s songs. Some came from film musicals, some were based on traditional songs and others had been written simply to entertain kids. In the UK we had a radio programme called Children’s Favourites which was on the BBC’s Light Programme (Radio 2’s predecessor) on Saturday mornings from 9.00 am. Children wrote in with requests so every single record was preceded by the presenter reading out a message from a child saying which song they wanted to hear and why. From 1954 until 1965 the presenter was ‘Uncle Mac’ whose real name was Derek McCulloch and he’s the one I remember hearing every Saturday. The same songs were played, give or take a few, every week and carried on being popular for years not just weeks or months – and we loved them! I have written about some of the ones I remember best and I’ve also included any facts and figures I’ve discovered whilst researching for the post.

derek-mcculloch  ‘Uncle Mac’ the voice of Saturday mornings in the 1950s.

 

henry-blair-with-ray-turner-sparkys-magic-piano-no4-capitol-78 ‘Sparky’s Magic Piano’ is the second in a series of children’s audio stories featuring Sparky, an original character created for Capitol Records in 1947. Sparky is a little boy with an overactive imagination. His adventures involve inanimate objects which magically come to life and talk to him. This is the one I remember best. Sparky’s voice was Henry Blair and the magic piano’s voice was created using a piece of equipment called Sonovox.

 

lpws_song  I was amazed to read that the song ‘The Laughing Policeman’ which I used to hear in the 50s had been recorded in 1926! Charled Penrose sang it and it was written by him and his wife but based on ‘The Laughing Song’ by George Johnson which was first recorded in the 1890s. This was proper music hall stuff!

mqdefault  Big Rock Candy Mountain next. I loved this song! I loved the way Burl Ives’ wonderful voice and the fantasy world described in the lyrics painted vivid pictures in your mind as you listened. His ‘I Know an Old Lady’ was another regularly played song.

61dbU5VR7rL._SX425_ In 1952, a film was released based on the life of Danish story teller Hans Christian Andersen. Several of the popular songs of the 50s were from this film. Danny Kaye starred as Andersen and sang the ones I remember best – ‘The King’s New Clothes’, ‘Thumbelina’ and ‘The Ugly Duckling’.

2.Nellie_LabelRecorded in 1956, written by Ralph Butler and sung by Mandy Miller the song ‘Nellie the Elephant’ was used for many years to teach the correct rate for compressions in CPR in First Aid classes. Expert opinions differ so don’t take it as gospel!

download  The tune to ‘Teddy Bears’ Picnic’ was written by John Walter Bratton in 1907 and the lyrics by Jimmy Kennedy in 1932. Irish born Kennedy lived in Somerset and is buried there. Local folklore claims that a wood in Staplegrove Elm, Somerset was the inspiration for the song. The popular 1950s version was recorded by Val Rosing.

lita1  This novelty song, written by Bob Merrill in 1952, is reputed to be loosely based on the folk tune Carnival of Venice. A recording by Lita Roza was the one most widely heard in the UK, reaching No. 1 on the UK Singles Chart in 1953. It also distinguished Roza as the first British woman to have a number-one hit in the UK chart as well as being the first song to reach number 1 with a question in the title.

article-2196740-14C8D8CE000005DC-199_634x491.jpg  Two children’s Favourites perennials were ‘You’re a Pink Toothbrush’ and ‘Gilly Gilly Ossenfeffer’ by Max Bygraves. He was seen as the amiable family man but was reputed to be a serial philanderer who had many extra-marital affairs, some resulting in children. He did, however, remain devoted to his wife until the end of her life when they were both in their late eighties.

ronnie-hilton-a-windmill-in-old-amsterdam-1965    1339-800x800  Yorkshire born Ronnie Hilton was a popular ballad singer who had several hits in the 50s including a  Number One hit in 1953. His very popular children’s song was ‘The Windmill in Old Amsterdam’.

hqdefault             michael-holliday-the-runaway-train-columbia-78 This was such a fun song! So far I have been unable to find out whether ‘The Runaway Train’ is based on a true story. Liverpool born Holliday was hailed as Britain’s answer to crooners like Sinatra. However, he was plagued with mental health issues and died from a suspected overdose in his late thirties.

These were listened to on the radio and I never saw any pictures relating to the songs but I could picture them in my mind as clearly as if I was watching a music video as kids do today.

 

Pictures sourced using Google images, facts courtesy of Wikipedia.

Thanks too to my friend Lynn who reminded me about ‘High Hopes’ by Frank Sinatra. The song, from the 1959 film ‘A Hole in the Head’, describes two scenarios where animals do seemingly impossible acts. First, an ant moves a rubber tree plant by itself, then a ram single-handedly destroys a “billion kilowatt dam”. The song featured a chorus of children’s voices and has quite motivational lyrics – but I just thought it was a fun song!

romanticism-soundtrack-project-a-rose-7-638      frank-sinatra

Motivational words.                                      Frank Sinatra in 1959.