If you need evidence about the incredible evolution of Blue Coat School over the years then there is no more graphic illustration than the testimonies given by two of our most venerable Old Blues, Grace Lloyd and Audrey Wheeler. They attended the Blue Coat Hospital as it then was called before, during, and after the Second World War.
They recounted their individual experiences in an interview with Grace for the Blue Coat School Archive, and in an article written by Audrey for The Evacuee Magazine.
Grace Lloyd (nee Johnson), Class of 1945 and now 93-years-old, lost her father when she was seven-years-old and so, with her mother Anne working full time, she was enrolled at Blue Coat in 1936.
She recalled: “The regime was spartan but pretty good and the school had a lot going for it. What was the girls’ side of the school is now flats and the playground is the car park.
“In those days, many people had a lot of ability but no chance to use it. The general thing (for Blue Coat girls) was to go into domestic service.
“We were all boarders before the war and went home for three holidays a year. Boys and girls were kept separate and hardly met. The girls’ teachers were fine and there was never any caning – not like the boys’ side!
“The Headmistress, Mrs Smith, was very influential and made life a lot better. We had three classrooms with Miss Hipkiss, and Miss Petit (who didn’t come to Beaumaris). We learned basic maths and science. The school mainly did not give much credit to girls being academic.
“It was a happy atmosphere and very good for finding friends, with an older girl looking after each of the younger ones. There were communal games you could join in. Your locker was sacrosanct and nobody interfered with any of your things.
“You only wore the Georgian-style uniform on Sundays. During the rest of the week, we wore a blue serge pleated dress and pinafore. In summer we wore a check dresses. Miss Byers made our uniforms to measure on-site. She had to take care of 100 girls!
“The food was regimented and we knew what day of the week it was by the menu, but we were never hungry.
“Morning service was in the School Chapel and Sunday service in Shirley Hall. There would be parents in the congregation and afterwards we’d sit in the dining hall (now the library) for tea, while parents walked past divided from us by a rope. There was no communication and you’d mouth to them to send the things that you wanted!”
When war broke out at the end of the 1939 summer holidays, the school sent a letter instructing the children they would be evacuated and to get their gas masks fitted.
Grace said: “The day after we all went to Lime Street station and it was quite an organisation to cart off 300 children to Beaumaris, in Anglesey. We had the benefit of being used to being away from home, unlike other children who were being evacuated.
“It was hard for parents not knowing what was going to happen, but it was a bit of excitement for us. On arrival in Beaumaris we stood on the green until a place was found for us to stay.”
In an article for The Evacuee Magazine, Audrey, (nee Stephenson), Class of 1946 and now 92-years-old, also recalled waiting on the green and said: “Eventually my friend Enid Gallagher and I were taken to a large pink house with strings of outdoor fairy lights. PINK! I came from a council house by the gasworks.
“Mrs Sloan, whose house it was looked at us two nine-year-olds and said she’d asked for boys, only to be told we were all that was left. She had three boys so it was a reasonable request. But she and her sister Miss Winter were wonderfully kind and nothing was too much trouble to make us feel at home. At times of crisis, chocolate-covered toffees would be produced from 1937 Coronation mugs in the attic!”
Grace recalled that soon after arrival she was quarantined with chickenpox, “But then I went to Miss Thomas in New Street for three years and became part of the family. They were a Welsh-speaking family and so I learned Welsh.”
Audrey said: “Eventually, the girls were all housed in Red Hill House, about a mile out of town and we walked that four times a day – no problem! There was no electricity at first, only oil lamps, you can imagine how excited we were when the newly installed electricity was turned on.”
When the school was in Wavertree, pupils were strictly kept on-site, except for one Sunday afternoon walk. Grace said: “In contrast Beaumaris was freedom. The first six weeks were like the school holidays, the best holiday ever. It was idyllic skipping stones on the beach.
“My friend Barbara and I were the first Blue Coat girls to take the School Certificate and got it to our elation, whereas the boys didn’t! At school, until 14-years you learned domestic science, with the older girls knitting woolly vests and stockings.”
Audrey added: “Everything was in short supply, so we girls were rather cross when all the boys got new blazers, while we were unpicking our old jumpers and washing the wool to be re-knitted into new jumpers.
“As you can imagine, we had lots of fundraising events: Wings for Victory, Arms for Russia etc. My favourite ‘show’ was an Elizabethan pageant which we performed in the grounds of Beaumaris Castle.
“There were also many parades, usually led by our splendid Blue Coat Brass Band. My brother Rod was the Drum Major and every time he threw the mace in the air I died a thousand deaths in case he dropped it – he never did!
“The school was very pleased when our band was invited to play on the BBC’s Children’s Hour. We were glued to the radio on the appointed day, very proud.
“My experience of being an evacuee was quite unusual, as (being school boarders) we obviously had already left home and it was not quite as traumatic as was for many thousands of other children. Some children elsewhere were not well treated.
“However, several children from Blue Coat were adopted by their host families which was a very happy outcome.”
These interviews will be added to the newly digitised and catalogued Blue Coat School Archive, which means the material will be available online to everyone anywhere in the world. Our thanks to The Evacuee Magazine for sharing its interview with Audrey Wheeler. We shall be pleased to hear from any other Old Blues who have memories or material to contribute to the Archive.