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Night School
School in 1840s

Memories of Bromley National School c1840

J R Pocock was born in Bromley in 1834.  First he went to a dame school in what is now Plaistow Lane.  Then, in 1840, he went to Bromley National School.  Some of his classmates probably started their education at Bromley Common Infant School. (Bromley Common National School did not open until 1847.)  What follows is taken from his memories of his childhood written down  many years later. (See Bromley Local History - Number Two.)  Minor changes have been made so as to make it easier to read.

“And now came the time for me to go to school proper, and going to school then was very different to going to school now in 1907.  There was only one National School for the whole parish, which stood nearly on the same foundations as the Bromley South Railway Station.  I lived in Plaistow so I had a run of 1˝ mile every morning and of course, I had to carry my dinner with me, and it was a common thing to see about a score of boys galloping through the Market Square as Bromley Church Clock was striking nine, because we all knew what was in store for us if we were late, and we could surely depend upon getting it, unless Jack Smith had broken up the master's long cane the day before. 

“Our school master's name was Thomas Campling… but, although he was so little, he could lay it on.  He always kept his long cane and a good birch in his large desk, except when some daring boy was under orders to receive fifty strokes. 

"Our assistant master was a man named Taylor who came every morning from the workhouse which stood in the London Road.   He had, I remember one wooden leg, and always wrote with his left hand.  He was a kind old chap and I believe that most of us boys were very fond of him.

“Our classes were formed by placing the long forms on which we sat, on three sides of a square, with the teacher and his chair at the other end.  Now our master, being so little, he really could not look over to see all the classes, so he used to mount up on the forms and walk round and round with his long, sixpenny cane, whacking or poking any boy who was not paying proper attention to his lesson. He used to pop the cane in his desk when any lady or gentleman came into the school.  He also kept a long birch in that mysterious desk and he used to use it very heavy sometimes. 

“The modus operandi was - the culprit who was to receive twenty strokes was brought up to this large desk.   Four strong boys were chosen to hold the culprit, two boys held him by his hands over the top of the desk, two others held him by his legs under the desk to prevent him kicking.  After our little man had removed that portion of the culprit's clothing which would prevent him from laying it on properly, our little man was very active.  When the first stroke came on, the boy began to jump and kick and some of the boys could kick too.

“Mr. Thomas Campling was also clerk to our local bank, there being no Post Office Saving bank in Bromley at that time.  What a day we boys had on bank days.  It was a very, very, noisy uproar.  I used to sit near the door being an upper class boy.  The noise was something dreadful as we were left on those days in charge of an elder boy named Stephen Milsted who I remember was a great coward, and the boys did not care one wit for him.  Sometimes, when the noise was at its highest, I would reach out and rattle the latch of the school door.  Then there would be silence in a moment thinking the master was coming.”