Welcome to my blog, where I take pleasure in words and pictures, be they my own or those of others. I'm a creative individual, and the crafty side I explore on my 'other blog', Picking Up The Threads, which I hope you'll visit too. I'm sure you understand that I have sole copyright of my original work and any of my contributions, so please ask if you want to use them. A polite request is rarely refused. So, as they used to say on the BBC's 'Listen With Mother' radio programme, many years ago: "Are you sitting comfortably? Then we'll begin."

Thursday, 20 October 2011

About a Boy

Willow Lane Nursery, Lancaster c 1950
From The National Library of Ireland

Alan’s picture prompt for this week’s Sepia Saturday has a photograph from the archives of The National Library of Ireland, showing ragged little boys outside their schoolroom in the 1890s. The picture is delightfully informal, in stark contrast to the usual ‘class photo' where children sit in rows in height order. I have any number of those, of various family members, in my albums, but I thought I would stick to the informal theme of little boys at school and share these photos of my husband aged about 2 or 3. He’s the little chap on the right, in the first photo, looking uncertainly at the camera.

Plenty of places to explore here
The bridge on the left of this photo had a starring rôle in a previous post, when my husband was the little 'man descending the stairs’. I think this must have been a progressive nursery school for its time, and things hadn’t changed much by the time my own children went to ‘Playschool’ in the seventies.  Nursery education was not provided free by the government, even though there was a baby boom after WW2. By this time men had resumed their place in the workforce and women were deemed to be the homemakers. There was therefore less need, as the government saw it, for nursery schools.

Apart from the photographer I wonder who was keeping an eye on the children round the pond. The school where I was headteacher had a pond, but not for sailing boats sadly. Ours was for studying wildlife and had to be surrounded by a fence with a lockable gate, for health and safety reasons!
Making the most of a huge sandpit
Here he is again on the left, a little older now. Just look at the size of that sandpit. It must have felt as though they were at the seaside. All three pictures have so many details. The little girls in their frocks, with bows in their hair, and the boys in shorts and dungarees.There were prams and other wheeled vehicles to push around, but I wonder if the girls ever let the boys take a turn with the childcare. I expect so, as my husband was probably one of the first ‘new men’ and it could well be that he learned his skills at Willow Lane. My own grandson aged three and a half, is happy to bath and feed the ‘baby' alongside his twin sister, following in the footsteps of Daddy and Grandpa.

The following quote comes from, Primary Education (1959) HMSO.*
"The small child should find in the nursery school an atmosphere of natural affection, a feeling of space and security, an ordered and regular way of life. He should be on friendly terms with teachers and others who minister to the needs of the children, and should have at hand the material through which he may develop his powers and enlarge his experience. In a good nursery school the children show the gaiety, curiosity, friendliness, and spirit of adventure which are as desirable as they are characteristic of this period of life, and they show also increasing self-control as well as more power of self-expression.”

The same principles are still important in 2011; however, today’s teachers will tell you that the relentless assessment of attainment does mean that there is less time to actually get to know their charges. The staff at Willow Lane in the 50s weren’t hampered by such bureaucracy I‘m sure. I wonder if the teachers of Irelands’ ragged little boys had to fill in pages of tick-boxes and produce individual ‘Learning Journals’ to share with parents. Somehow I think not.

The Pathe newsreel below showcases a nursery school at the start of WW2, when the government actually did think there was a need. If you can rise above the jolly commentary and the fact that a small child is seen having a bath, you will find it.....well, educational. My husband tells me that he and his little pals had individual little beds for afternoon naps, just like those shown in the film. Now that’s what I call really sensible.


*The History of Education in England website which is owned by Derek Gillard 
http//www.educationengland.org.uk. is is an excellent resource for anyone interested in education.


  1. Oh all these photos are so precious, especially of the little ones outside in your second photo. All so very cool and your story is as interesting as your title, which reminds me of a very good movie About A Boy! Nicely done! I am going to go off theme this week, cuz I had an interesting thing come up and it was so exciting to me that I'm going to use it for this week's Sepia Saturday!

  2. I went to Nursery school around 1950, but I don't really remember what it was like and don't have any pictures to remind me.

  3. A fascinating look at nursery schools of the post-war period. Interesting to note differences and similarities to those of today here in NZ. Great photos too, thank you.

  4. I also really like the second photo and the playground. I get a kick out of how so many things have changed even since I was a kid in the 70s! All of the things to do are great, is that a pile of rocks next to the pond? The bridge, all of it, what a great place for children to explore and learn. You find none of this today, parents would scream at how unsafe it is and schools would be in trouble or in fear of lawsuits.
    I was fortunate enough to put one of my own in a private school in the 90s that was an older facility and not all modernized, so my son had the fun playground, big sand boxes, nap time and mats, now everything here is the foam ground, shaded plastic playground equipment.

    Thanks for sharing this, the imagination just flows looking at what fun you could have as a child just from the photo. :)

  5. Another of your classic posts Nell. And yes, the photographs are all full of such wonderful detail. I suspect that amateur photographs are richer to the general archivist than professional photographs simply because they scoop up so much life rather than just focus on a topic of passing interest.

  6. I wonder whether the amateur photographer would be allowed to take photos like these now. It's not just health and safety that has reared its head. Showing a child naked, having a bath in a video would be a 'no-no' as well.
    Thanks for a great post Nell. That prefab nursery school is a classic.

  7. The photos and newsreel reminded me of that excellent documentary series Seven Up, which followed English children through the years. The Primary Education quote truly captures what learning should be for youngsters, fun and exploratory, certainly not pressured and cramming for tests, as some kids must endure on behalf of ambitious parents.

  8. I just loved the newsreel! Funny how they had such stereotypical activities for the girls. What were the boys doing? Great post.

  9. Lovely post, Nell. That nursery looks a lot of fun and I'd guess that you're right about it being progressive for it's time.
    I went to a convent primary school from the mid sixties, and believe me it wasn't anything like that!

  10. I love the way the boys, and only boys, were gathered by the pool. I bet there were a few tumbles.

  11. I Cant help Feeling We Have Regressed.The HMSO report talks in terms of openness & exploration.....today it's just "targets".Learning for its own sake, seems long gone.....
    Plus,I imagine any photographer hanging around schools& nurseries these days would find themself on "A Register".Better Times Then MeThinks.

  12. Oh, my gosh, Nell ... what a delightful post! I loved the pictures of your husband's awesome school and that video was wonderful. I doubt if they would give kids baths at school now though.

    Thanks so much for all the work that you put into this, and for visiting me.

    Kathy M.

  13. Great post. I remember the newsreels when we went to the movies in the '50s. We did not have nursery schools in my town. None of the mothers worked as we had no place for them to work. Times have sure changed. Loved the video.

  14. I think this is a fabulous post. It's interesting to notice how schools 60 years ago helped children become independent whereas today, it seems like they decrease independence by use of strong controls.

    In your first photo, I wondered about the little boy standing in the center wearing an apron.... In the second photo, I was surprised to see only one adult, especially with the children so close to the pond.

    And the Nursery Days! video was fabulous. Thanks for a great post.

  15. Excellent post, Nell! I know all things change over time, but looking at these pictures reminds me how much things have changed with regards to children and school, and not all that change is for the better. (Don't worry, I won't bring that soapbox to the playground today!) I enjoyed your photos and the memories that accompany them. Thanks for sharing!

  16. What a wonderfully nostalgic post, the nursery very much resembles the one in a Lancashire milltown that I went to in the early 1950's.
    I wish I had more photographs from those years but sadly my mother didn't keep many momentos from that time.
    Thanks for stopping by in Normandy.

  17. I love the photos! Thanks for sharing them. And thanks for stopping by at Faithful Friend Cafe. Hope you love the Borscht!

  18. I love the old photos! Sometimes I think we do our kids a disservice by protecting them so much these days.

  19. Great post! If playgrounds were still like that and children were allowed more time to freely explore, would there be so many of them on ADD meds?

  20. That looks like a fantastic nursery school. What child wouldn't love to be there. Your husband was adorable, as were all of those children (that girl with the glasses and the doll!)

  21. Incredible post! So enlightening to compare education then and now...there's definitely something to be said for free exploration and hands-on learning. Kids these days don't have any idea it seems on how to "get their hands dirty."

  22. Wonderful post. The school building looks like a pre-fab unit, perhaps even a former military barracks?

  23. the nursery school which was also the primary school i attended was managed by the Sisters of St-Ann, a stern lot not much into loving conditions and none too concerned about bullying... I stopped being bullied [physically] when I broke [accidentally] his arm, but the verbal abuse continued...
    I didn't much care about school because of that.


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