How school life has changed over the past 120 years

Classes of 50 children sat in strict rows, no computers, no games, no outings and teachers used a cane for discipline. Life at a Cardiff school celebrating its 120th anniversary this term was very different when it opened in 1902.

At the turn of the 20th century, Millbank Primary was known as Ely Council School. At this time Ely was a small village centered on the bridge, the Boer War had just ended and the country was preparing for the coronation of King George after the death of Queen Victoria.

Life at the school is unrecognizable today, although part of the old building remains. As they prepare to celebrate their school’s 120th anniversary with a party later this month, the children of Millbank have learned what student life was like in the last century. You can read what inspectors are saying about Cardiff schools in 2022 here.



Sixth graders in 2022 said they loved learning about their school’s history, but think the kids are happier now

Some of the memories collected by children and staff from previous school anniversaries shed light on what the school was like back then. In 1902, every classroom was heated by a coal fire and lit by a gas lamp, everyone walked to school and there was no car – not even the headmaster had one. not. Trips to Trelai Park have been replaced by residential visits to Storey Arms in 2022 and pen and ink with Chromebooks.

The Millbank files include memorabilia of Nora Coulson, who started school as Nora Woolven in 1908. She remembered her teacher hitting pupils on the head with a metal thimble if they didn’t. misbehaved and worse still came from the headmaster: “Mr. Langstaff was our headmaster and woe to you if you misbehaved. You got the cane, and not a light tap. If we talked in class, we had to write “I must not speak” 100 times. If we stayed home, we had the man from the school board after us. It was a gunman named Mr. George.



Children at the former Ely Council School, now Millbank Primary, in the 1940s



Millbank classrooms look very different today

In the early 20th century, the Millbank school day still began with a hymn and prayers before class and there were no school meals, let alone free school dinners – although the lunch break lasted two hours. During the First World War, subjects included mathematics, history, geography, writing, mental arithmetic, drawing, English and “a little Welsh”.

The teachers wrote on a blackboard with chalk and the children, seated two to a desk, copied out the work with pens dipped in bottles of ink. Teachers and other students could also be cruel, recalls Spencer Cole, a student in 1919.

“There were about 50 of us in our class. I quickly learned not to ask questions if there was something I didn’t understand. Once when I did, the teacher said “are you deaf or what?” and the class laughed at my expense.

“You spoke at your own risk as there was visible, in a glass cabinet, a cane which for some reason was submerged in a jar of water. It was practically a reign of terror.

At that time, lunch was from 12 to 2 p.m. and the day ended at 4:30 p.m. or 4 p.m. for those who had a long way to go.



One of the old photos of school children celebrating the Queen’s coronation in 1953

Kathleen Liason, who attended the school in the 1930s, remembers gathering around the school’s stove in the hall to warm up and dry off after entering in inclement weather.

When the Second World War broke out and Cardiff came under bombardment, the school start time was moved to 11 a.m. because it was feared the children would be tired after broken nights spent in air raids . Students were required to do gas mask drills in the playground and the metal railings and school gate were removed to be melted down for the war effort.

Some students lost family or friends in both wars – and during World War II evacuated children arrived. Evacuee Eileen Finch, then Eileen Snell, said she had a “wonderful time” and enjoyed the cooking classes.



Millbank pupils today use Chromebooks rather than ink-dipped pens as they did 120 years ago

Closer to 2022, some school staff were now pupils in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s. Administrative manager Catherine Donovan, 54, said she loved the school in the 1970s and 1980s but that she didn’t like semolina pudding for lunch: It was a good community school then and it still is today,” she said.

Today, Millbank children are educated in classes of no more than 30 and rather than being punched by the headmaster, they help interview outgoing headmistress replacement Karen Brown.

School ambassador Ruby Alldridge, 11, took part in interviews with the new headmaster this week and thinks headteachers should be ‘hard working and kind’. Ruby and her sixth grade friends Sophia Follett, 10, and Eliza Lloyd, 11, enjoy learning about their school’s history.

Nate Sawdon, Evans, Zak Kazemi and Finley Horrocks, who study on their Chromebooks, can’t imagine using books, pens and paper all the time in class. Morgan said he wasn’t surprised that the children in old school photographs “looked out of sorts.”

The boys like to hear about life at Millbank but are happy to be pupils in 2022 and not 1902. They particularly like the school’s multi-sports area and the curried and cooked dinners served at lunchtime and doubt kids 120 years ago would have enjoyed these. facilities or meals.



Millbank Primary has a new modern entrance and is refurbished inside



The original building remains but has been updated inside

Their teacher Barry Blears also doubted he would have wanted a job at the school in 1902. Mr Blears likes that the new curriculum for Wales in 2022 gives him the freedom to teach his class about life at the time for the region where they live and work. Like his class, he thinks the 21st century is a much better time to go to school.

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