Schools’ history shows infants taught the skills of knitting and needlecraft
PUBLISHED: 16:23 05 January 2018 | UPDATED: 16:23 05 January 2018
You can almost hear the “knit one, purl one” click-click of knitting needles busying away at some creation, be it elaborate and ambitious or simple and elementary.
The finished item, regardless of quality, will no doubt produce feelings of achievement and satisfaction from the knitter.
Recently I recalled here that in my few months at the Alderman Swindell School in Great Yarmouth in the early months of the 1939-45 war, both boys and girls were taught to knit four-inch squares to help keep our minds occupied in the air-raid shelters during German attacks.
We were told that our output would be sewn together to make blankets for refugees but, in hindsight many decades on, I doubt this actually happened.
That topic stemmed from suggestions I read it would be beneficial if needlework and knitting for both sexes were on school curriculums today. It brought a letter from a hand-knitting expert – old school chum Michael Harvey, of Park Road, Gorleston, whose mother Olive founded the Olivettes chain of wool and needlecraft shops trading in the area from 1931 to 1994.
Michael, his wife Maureen and other family members became directors of the company. Olive Gillingwater had married Alfred Harvey and they became Yarmouth’s Mayor and Mayoress in 1971. She died at 93 in 2000, ten years after Alfred’s death at 84.
During research in the 1960s Michae noted that logs compiled by the head teachers of schools in the old urban borough in the late 19th century - some of which are long gone - reported that knitting was among the skills being taught to infants.
For example, at the St Andrew’s Infants School (demolished in 1964) on North Quay between 1879 and 1883, when Miss Jane Williams was headmistress, girls were knitting for their examinations, took up needlework and learned about sheep’s wool.
In that era, perhaps pupils were being prepared for future domesticity rather than to embark on careers, for Michael found that in the 1880s the entire afternoon was devoted to needlework and sewing.
And he noted that in 1880: “The boys have commenced needlework and sewing afternoons.” Sometimes knitting took place during needlework sessions.
Robin Hambling, of Lawn Avenue, Yarmouth, reckons we just missed one another at the Swindell in those early months of the war. His schooling began in a mining village in Nottinghamshire in September 1940 but when the family returned to Yarmouth, there was a suggestion there was possibly no school place available to him hereabouts.
But he was enrolled at the Alderman Swindell full time in January 1941. “We spent lots of time down the air-raid shelters, having stories read to us by older pupils,” recalls Robin.
“Our teacher was Mrs Haylett. We did not knit, only shredded bits of material into separate strands. Pupils of five to 14 were all there.
“In September 1941 the school was split. Seven-year-olds and upwards were transferred to the Grammar School premises on Salisbury Road (largely empty because pupils and staff were evacuated to Retford in Nottinghamshire).
“I continued at the Swindell until September 1942 when I started at the Grammar in Miss Davey`s class. The next year I was in Miss Starling’s class, then transferred to the North Denes School when it reopened in September 1944 and was there until taking the 11-plus and passing for the Technical High School.
“I can still remember all my class teachers throughout my schooling!”