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Maurice Legg

Chapter 5     Early school years 
 
I’m still only five years old and at this rate you’ll wonder what I mean by a brief account of my life! By now you know where I lived for the next three years of my life until I was 8 years old and (as a bonus) the more important processes of the so-called Industrial Revolution. Until the age of 11, I attended an elementary school called the Grove school- the Grove being a housing estate of about 500 houses, mostly identical, located on the far side of the slag heap which already has been mentioned. The Grove School was a modern building which would be very acceptable today. It had a headmaster and 8 teachers for 300 or so pupils. Classes of 40 were normal and the teaching was excellent. Discipline did not seem at all intrusive as children those days were normally quiet and well behaved. They knew the golden rule of children which was “to be seen and not heard”. I remember the names of the teachers and their ways. Miss Emerson, Miss Cuthbertson,  Miss Maud,  Mrs Carling, Mr Redshaw and  Mr Rogers. Miss Maud married while I was in her class and I remember being sad because I thought she should have waited for me! I was a big reader as my house was rather isolated and there wasn’t much else to do. No TV and the radio was poor – we may not have had one; I’m not sure as they were just coming in. I was well coached by my father and my two maiden aunts who were teachers so I suppose I was always top of the class although I don’t remember league tables nor formal exams. 
 
 At the age of 8, we left the Railway Cottages, the hell- hole that I’ve described already, for No 4 Acacia Gardens. a semi-detached house with an indoor toilet, a bathroom, a kitchen, a living room, three bedrooms, wonders of wonders a proper garden. I never did find the Acacia!  If you stood in the garden with your back to the steel works there was open countryside with beautiful views up to the Pennines in the distance. I had friends around who I could play with. I lived there until I was 18 and it was generally a happy time for us. The environment was anything but bland and we’d leave the house on Saturday and Sunday doing the seasonal things like collecting blackberries, or watercress or mushrooms, or just taking long walks in the country. It was safe and we had a fun time that is denied the children of today. It was very, very cold in winter leading to a wide range of horror stories that I’ll keep for later. ..Or not at all! 
 
 The big watershed was the 11+ exam which decided the senior school you attended. The senior council school took pupils up to 14 after which they went to work in poor, dull, unskilled jobs with little hope of ever having a decent well- paying career job. The best hope was that they could become apprentices at 16 to a trade in the steelworks and could become skilled tradesmen at 21. Between the ages of 16 and 21 they were paid a pittance so they needed the support of their family and that was not always forthcoming. So mostly they became labourers or worked down the pit. However if you passed the 11+ exam you went to Consett Grammer School and then your life chances went up immeasurably. Grammer schools were newly introduced and had assumed some of the snob practices of the so-called Public schools like Eton and Harrow .  The schools had Houses (each named after one of the bigwigs in the steelworks), the masters wore gowns and had been universities and we were known by your second name! If Legg was shouted, I would jump to attention and answer Sir. John, my brother was good at school and was the first boy from the Grove to go to Consett Grammer School ; he was going to be a school teacher and in my time that was about as high an ambition as you could have. 
 
 I was sick on the day of the 11+ exam: I must have been very sick to miss the most important event of my life so far. Consternation reigned but wise heads prevailed. My headmaster, Mr Guy, gave me a private exam modelled on the 11+ (I remember the essay question to this day) and marked it giving me 240 out of a possible 200 (60 of those were an age allowance). He then took all of the papers up to Mr Bradley, the headmaster of the Grammer school, and persuaded him to break the 11+ rules and exceptionally to allow me into his school. This was probably the luckiest break of my life. And so I became the second child from my housing estate to go to the grammar school. John was the first.

Chapter 6 …Senior school
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