Prompted by the recent story about the Old Alresford school in the 1960s, Godfrey Andrews has sent in some of his memories about free school milk and school dinners, at the Dean School in Alresford. He started there in 1953.
Free School Milk
Free school milk, in terms of a third of a pint, usually in a small glass bottle, was first introduced as a part of the 1906 Provision of School Meals Act: it was identified as one of the foods that could alleviate poor nutrition, considered one of the principal hindrances to learning. This asked local authorities to provide free school meals, but by 1939 less than half were doing so. After WW2 the 1946 Free Milk Act reinforced the provision of the milk to every child under 18.
All the reports suggest that Harold Wilson stopped this in 1968 for secondary school pupils, and then in 1971, Mrs Thatcher stopped it for children over the age of 7 when she was Education Secretary, earning her the label of “Milk Snatcher”. However I was at secondary school, and under 18, in Leeds until 1964, and it had stopped there in around 1962. Maybe it became optional for older students, and I just didn’t go and get it!
At the Dean School
Here, in 1953, the milkman called each morning to deliver the free school milk. Godfrey was the milk monitor in one class, and during the cold winter months used to have to bring the milk crate for his class into the classroom, putting it next to the stove for an hour or so to thaw it out a little. At the Dean School each classroom was heated by a ‘turtle stove’. Coal was fed into the small door/flap on the top and ash removed from the door/flap near the base. The school janitor would keep the coal shuttle topped up.
School lunches at the Dean School were similar to those in Old Alresford, in that the hot lunches were delivered to the school each day, in the late morning. Arriving by van it would be wheeled across the playground, in large insulated containers and in to the main hall. The ‘dinner ladies’ would then take over the task of serving the food to the children. Unlike in Old Alresford, lunch was never served in the classrooms. Everyone squeezed into the one main hall, the same hall that was used each morning at the start of the school day, for morning assembly. So it contained all the pupils, all the teachers and a piano – which was used for the morning hymns. The whole of the school, including a duty teacher, would sit together to eat the main course, a pudding and a glass of water.
Godfrey says that of course every morsel of food had to be cleared from the plates. If you left anything you would be punished by missing out on playtime. Many a time he remembers seeing pupils in tears when they could not manage the meal. No one brought a packed lunch or sandwiches with them, it was probably not permitted.
A video held in the Alresford Museum has some scenes at the Dean School, when the headmaster retired, just after the war. The pupils are mainly seen in the main hall, but a classroom scene shows the children using pieces of chalk to write on a small personal blackboard for working out sums: Godfrey mentions that just in the first year’s class, in 1953, they used these personal blackboards and chalk for their workings. From that year onwards the whole school then used textbooks and pens/pencils. The first year teacher in 1953 was Mrs Scammel, who stood at the front of the class and taught using a large blackboard.