Oliver Cross: A long way from 1950s Lincolnshire

Lincoln Cathedral.
Lincoln Cathedral.
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THIS week, and not before time, I decided to widen my horizons.

This started with a visit to an international evening at Quarry Bank primary school in Woodhouse, Leeds, where the children come in all shades and from many backgrounds, although most of them speak fluent Yorkshire.

You would have had great trouble organising an international evening at my primary school in north Lincolnshire in the 1950s.

This was entirely white and English, meaning mongrel. With the exception of a few Americans left over from the war and the staff of the town’s solitary Chinese restaurant, where, as all the children knew, the fried rice was really fried maggots, you would probably have had to cross into Nottinghamshire to find a foreigner.

At Quarry Mount school there was international food ranging from curries to that multi-ethnic favourite, mini Cornish pasties. In fifties Lincolnshire, you would have had difficulty finding an olive and I’m not sure that kiwi fruit had yet been invented. Children did sometimes eat food containing garlic, but only as a dare.

At Quarry Bank there was international music facilitated by the very lively Cloth Cat music facilitation organisation (and I don’t like the word ‘facilitated’ any more that you do, but I couldn’t think of anything else. The word was hardly used, I’m fairly sure, in the 1950s and I wonder what we did without it).

The Quarry Bank evening included very exciting Asian drumming from a large group of pupils of many backgrounds, which I suppose could stand as a kind of clunky metaphor for the success of the school’s ethnic mix (different children, same beat…get it?)

There was also Irish jiggy music and polkas and a group of black and mixed-race boys in front of me responded particularly enthusiastically to the Irish fiddling. I found this rather puzzling until I recalled that, the way things have got mixed up since the fifties, the boys could well have been Irish.

I can only remember one song from my Church of England primary school, a missionary hymn which I hope no longer exists in any hymn book. It started, as I recall (probably wrongly):

Over the sea there are little brown children, Mothers and fathers and babies too, They have not heard of their Father in Heaven No one has told them that God is true…

We had to imagine the little brown children of course, never having seen one, and we were never told that they might have had their own religions, the world being split, it was thought, into Christians (preferably C of E) and savages.

And in case you think I’m being nostalgic about those innocent pre-PC days, forget it. They were awful, ignorant and dull and I’m sure that if I had spent my primary school years at Quarry Mount, I would have learned more and certainly had more fun.

Quarry Mount, the most imposing, even beautiful, school in Leeds, looks down over back-to-back Victorian terraces and across a dip to the equally imposing Anglican church of St Mark’s, closed about 10 years ago but due to be restored and reopened under new Christian management.

Looking down from the windows of the school hall, it occurred to me that if one of the hell-fire St Mark’s preachers who attempted to keep the ragged Woodhouse flock in line were to return to the streets of today, he might at first think not much had changed. He would need to enter the school to realise that nearly everything has – and for the better.

The Leeds University Pen pal scheme at St Marks Gateway Church. PIC: Simon Hulme

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