FOYERS PUBLIC SCHOOL
Memories of a former pupil
(1929 – 1939)
Quoting from an extract from the old Log Book 17th June 1907:- it says “The handsome new school recently erected on a commanding site, that seems to have all the sanitary advantages, is now in full occupation. The design of the interior is generally satisfactory, and the outer premises meet all reasonable requirements. The finishing is very substantial so far as it goes”.
It was built with the entrance directly facing you as you entered the playground, with the same configuration at the back.
I clearly remember my first day in school. My sister took me. She stayed with me most of the day because I was greeting most of the time. But infant teachers are very understanding, and I soon settled down to the process of learning, and of course we got home early, at half past three.
We had slates and slate pencils in those early days. The slates had wooden frames and were made by a firm called Holmes. We always had a small bottle of water and a cloth in our desks to wipe the slate clean. If we should run out of water or lose our cloth, a spit and the sleeve of your jersey did the same job, if the teacher did not see you. When they were not in use they slid neatly into a slot in the front of the desk.
I am left handed, so it was natural I should begin learning to write with my left hand. But that was not allowed, and I was made to change to right hand, and who was I to argue!
Learning to count was done on an abacus, a frame with different coloured beads sliding along metal rods. Sometimes I heard it referred to as a Balfour Frame.
I’ll always remember listening, spellbound to teacher’s afternoon stories of this lucky boy David and his magic carpet. He flew to far away magic lands, and met people who had different colours of skin, who lived in strange houses made of grass, even animal skins; these he called wig-wams. I went with him on each of his journeys, and I loved my teacher.
But soon David had to go on his magic journeys on his own, I moved into the next room, to standard four, ah! that was a different story. I met a dragon for the first time. Those who got it wrong, or failed to do their homework became dolts, imbeciles and idiots. Your mind reeled from the rat-tat-tat of her steely knuckles on your head.
The desks were arranged on tiers, so that made it difficult to eat a sweetie or copy from your neighbour without being seen, and silence in class was very strictly observed.
The headmaster in the next room kept a bespectacled beady eye on us through a peep-hole he had scratched in a glass partition.
But teacher could become quite tame, especially when breaking up for holidays, we all got an apple or orange, or maybe a cake of chocolate from her. Maybe we deserved it.
Having completed the next two standards without brain damage we arrived in the next room, taking the qualifying exam before moving on to first, second and third year in the headmaster’s room. Teacher here didn’t breathe fire; we were getting too big to eat anyway!
Sometimes she punished us by making us sit beside a girl, and that was very embarrassing, then! And of course she had her strap; that fearsome looking leather thong with two fingers, writhing in the teacher’s hand, descending from a great height to explode with searing pain on your outstretched hand. If you deserved more than one, you got an equal number on each hand. Sometimes the master would push your sleeve up your arm as far as it would go, to expose the maximum of flesh. If one was particularly dense, you were kept in after school until you got it right.
Singing classes were held in the infant room; that’s where the piano was. Those of us who didn’t like singing would drone and make strange noises. For that we were banished to the cloakroom until the end of class. One day three of us hatched a plot. We would waylay the teacher on her way home from school and throw divots at her. The ambush took place, but we were rumbled! Next day we got our just desserts. I cant’ remember how many of the strap we got, but it certainly put an end to any further plotting.
In the headmasters room we got still-life drawing, science and woodwork, while the girls were taught sewing and cookery by visiting teachers. The woodworking room doubled as a science room, while the sewing room was also the cookery room, as well as a dentistry when the dentist paid his dreaded visits to pull our teeth out, using gas as an anaesthetic, and a foot operated drill to attack the cavities; no anaesthetic here-ouch! A Mr. McQueen went round the schools teaching woodwork. I still have the oak-frame stool with its woven raffia seat I made. I had to pay 2/6d (12.5p) towards the cost of material, the date 23rd February 1939.
I recall one scientific experiment we did to illustrate a vacuum. A tin can was partially filled with water, boiled and then tightly sealed. We all stood well back. Some minutes later when it cooled it crumpled up in front of our bulging eyes as if crushed by an invisible hand. I know now it had imploded. Teacher will explain better than I, it’s all to do with air pressure.
The cookery room was also used when the local nurse paid her regular health visits. Having no immunisation measures, we all spread the measles, whooping cough, mumps (very painful) or chickenpox. One day in 1915 the teacher was “unable to work because the noise of coughing was almost deafening”. The school had to be closed to be cleaned and disinfected. The usual cure for most illnesses was the dreaded castor oil. The very name made you tremble, it was usually force fed! Mother or Father holding your nose and pouring a tablespoon down your throat, and clamping your jaws closed to prevent you spitting it out. Ugh!
As I remember, school went in at 9.30am, French class at 10.00am. A short break at 10.30am; at 11.30 we got half an hour. Lunch was between 1.00 and 2.00 pm, a short interval at 3.00pm, finishing at 4.00pm. We were always summoned back to classes by the headmaster blowing his whistle. During the long interval we ate our piece and jam, or whatever mother had put in our schoolbags. Those of us who lived in the village went home for dinner. Not so the pupils who walked from Inverfarigaig (no school transport in those days). They took lemonade bottles of tea with them, and half an hour before dinner time, their bottles were arranged on the hearth in front of the fire to heat them up. If the weather was very severe, as in winter, the master allowed them to take their pieces in the classroom.
During playtimes, if we were lucky enough to have a tennis ball, we played shinty on the pitch beside the school brae! Wielding clubs we cut from a hazel or birch tree that had a suitable bend. Envied was the boy who had a real club, albeit well worn and battle-scarred, having been cast aside after many glorious encounters in mightier hands. If not playing games we might be looking for birds’ nests or climbing to the top of the hill overlooking the school.
It was on one of those rambles that pupils of an earlier generation caught a poisonous snake, an adder. It was preserved in a jar and was usually kept in the woodwork room. I wonder is it still there?
A favourite ploy was squeezing through the reservoir fence and filling jam jars with tadpoles or sticklebacks, strictly out of bounds of course. This was the water supply for Lower Foyers.Then we had our school sports, assembling on the village park, then marching down to the Factory Field, led by a piper to the skirl of bagpipes. We had a special sports day in May 1935, to celebrate the Silver Jubilee of King George V and Queen Mary. We were each presented with a medal attached to a red, white and blue ribbon, given by The British Aluminium Co. Ltd. The accompanying photo shows us assembling at the fountain with our flags, waiting for the piper.
Again, in May 1937 we had another sports day, this time to celebrate the coronation of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth. Along with our medals on this occasion, we were given a souvenir tin of Rowntrees chocolates. On our way to the field, we halted at the shops while one of the older girls, Isa Fraser (or Isa The Swallow”, a complimentary nick-name given to her father who resembled the swiftness of that bird, on the shinty field) planted a commemorative tree at the bottom of The Club Garden. Unfortunately, may years later it was cut down. Isa is the girl fifth from the left in the back row of the 1936 school photo. I am the boy sitting centre, front row, aged twelve.
Our prize money seldom saw the inside of a piggy-bank. It was spent on delicious Fry’s chocolate and equally delicious McCowans Toffee in one of the four shops. There were three shops where the present one is, and one at Lower Foyers adjoining the workmen’s hut. Pre decimal there were two hundred and forty pennies to the pound. A penny was equal to two halfpennies or four farthings, and you could buy a cake of toffee or chocolate for as little as a farthing, or a comic for a penny or tuppence, so our prize money could go a long way
Running errands earned you a penny or a piece and jam. You could be lucky and find a penny on the road, There was a custom then, that after a Church wedding ceremony, one of the wedding party would throw a handful of pennies in the air to the waiting children who would scramble to pick up as many as they could. I remember when going back to school one day after lunch taking part in one of those frantic scrambles.
My favourite boys’ book was “The Wizard”. Two of the stories I remember were, “The Last Rocket to Venus” and, “The Skyline Bowler”. This fellow bowled the ball so high and so accurately, the batsman lost sight of it and when it came down, it landed right on his wicket. Well he did miss sometimes!
During the summer holidays we ran about barefoot most of the time, suffering the agonies of stubbed toes and not always being successful at avoiding broken glass. We’d go down to Cameron’s farm, help with the harvest, take the cows home for milking, or proudly lead “Bess” around the Village on the milk round. The three point turn at the end of the round was best left to Mr. Cameron. “Bess” stood on my big toe once!
Taking young jackdaws home to make pets of, up the river fishing, down the falls looking for old bicycle frames and wheels to make “boneshakers”, or building hideouts up the hill to escape our attackers. We learned to swim in the river down at the Intake; we called it the “bathing pool”.
Frequently evangelists appeared and lured us into becoming good boys and girls. We met in the Tin Church, and sung stirring songs about being saved. Then they took us down to the Factory Field, taught us to play a game with a ball and a round bat, and stuffed us full of ice cream and jelly. If the process worked and you were converted, whether by the songs or the jelly, Mr. Michaeljohn kept in touch by providing you with daily readings from The New Testament.
We had a Boy Scout Troop as well. We went to camp once, on the monument field next Loch Ness on Mr. Forbes farm at Lower Foyers. I went home two days later. The midges were too bad.
Occasionally The British Legion pipe band came from Inverness to play in the park. Then with a crowd of us following, they marched round the cross and back to the park, where they played some more before departing.
Lew’s or Hercher’s shows would come and set up their amusement stalls and swingboats on the park. The air was filled with the noise of lighting generators and music. Will I ever forget the strains of that wonderful old tune, “Pennies form Heaven”?In the winter we sledged down the road as far as the “Shop Brae”, (the road was different then), only interrupted by the occasional car or Ross The Bobby. Some of the sledges could carry as many as five. The “Dump” on the park, was a favourite place. There was a very sharp dip at the bottom of the steep part that sent the sledge and rider into the air and back down with a “dump”. We also went sliding on the pond down on Mr. Cameron’s field.
Most boys carried a useful piece of kit; a pocket knife, for cutting our fishing rods, bows and arrows, making whistles or carving our names and hearts on tree trunks.
Of course you were not allowed out after dark, unless to borrow something from a neighbour. A loaf maybe, tea, a little sugar or gramophone records for an evening’s entertainment. You got to wind it up when the spring ran down.
When meeting our teachers on the road, or the company managers, we saluted them. For misbehaving we got the belt of course, or a slap on the ear, and mother could set fear in your heart when she’s say “wait till your father comes home boy”! Sometimes it was just a warning to behave; and while a schoolboy you never wore long trousers till you left school. My pal and I played truant once. We didn’t go back to class after lunch. We lay on the hillside overlooking the school, concealed in the heather. Our parents never did know, nor the headmaster, thankfully.
The Sabbath day had to be observed. A quietness descended on the village. Noisy activities had to be kept to a minimum; team games on the park were not allowed. I remember one old gentleman, an elder in the church whose window overlooked the park. If he saw you engaging in any kind of fun on a Sunday, an angry “clear off” wave of his hand, and we were off. I remember being admonished for whistling on a Sunday. On one occasion I wasn’t allowed out because I didn’t have suitable Sunday clothes to wear. Children and adults always had their “Sunday-best” clothes, especially if you attended Sunday School.
Household tasks amounted to cutting kindlings and logs for the fire, taking in coals, or filling the oil lamps (of course we always had candles just in case there was a “power-cut), helping at peat cutting time in the Penny Peat Moss; and I had to feed my guinea-pigs. Then I could read my comics and adventure stories, and do my homework by the dim light of the paraffin lamp, preparing for another day of learning; the “whining schoolboy with his satchel and shining morning face, creeping like a snail unwillingly to school”, which I left in 1939.
When school resumed that year (1939) a new headmaster took over, Mr. MacPhee. He was quite the opposite of his predecessor; he was well liked by the pupils and staff.
Mrs. MacDonald joined his staff about 1949/50. By that time the days of the dragon and spying through the peephole were past, and life in the classroom was better. But I must leave the memories of those days to those who are better able to relate them. Theirs will be a different story.
With grateful thanks to George MacDonald (Teep) and Maureen Brown, Head Teacher