Long, long ago, before the age of motor-cycles and spats, in a mean street situated almost within a stone's throw of the present hive of industry in Orchard Lane, stood a very dilapidated building known as the Free Writing School, from which the mean street derived its name - School Croft. Down this mean street long ago relegated to the limbos of the past, might have been seen from Monday to Friday every week the scurrying youths and maidens who were bent on satisfying the exacting demands of those who were in charge of the studies of those very junior members of the staffs of the Board Schools of the city.
Yes - you have rightly guessed - it was the old Pupil Teacher Centre.
The building consisted of one room and a bit. The room accommodated about 70 P.Ts., and the "bit" served at once as girls' cloakroom, Principal's Study and "house of correction" - in a double sense since in it was the mythical "carpet" for defaulting, refractory and more or less, penitent pupils.
Within these precincts Mr. Joseph Batey and Miss Paddison attempted to instil into minds of varying retentivity prodigious quantities of knowledge of the hidden mysteries of mathematics, geography, history, English, music, French, etc., all made much more fearsome by voluminous notes, issued at the rate, as it seemed to us, of about 20 sheets a day, and woe betide the student who had not duly fixed them in his note book, made supplementary notes thereon and mastered them in every detail to be prepared for the daily inevitable "Take out your test books." We, the P.Ts. Of those prehistoric times used to wonder greatly how our revered master and mistress found time to do all the marking and cyclostyling involved. A 24 hour day and 7 day week seemed to be barely enough for half the labour entailed.
Latin was an extra and for boys only, and necessitated a hurried tea in town on Fridays (usually 3½d. At the Y.M.C.A.) In time for the Latin hour at 5.30.
In those days P.Ts. began their service to the State at 14, or even earlier and had often charge of big classes, 70 or more very often, consisting of children only slightly younger than themselves.
The normal apprenticeship was for four years, commencing at 14 - those younger served as "candidates" for a year.
The 1st and 2nd year P.Ts. spend five half-days at school and six (including Saturday morning ) at the P.T. Centre.
The 3rd and 4th years, being more experienced spent nine half-days at school, and one afternoon, Saturday morning and two evenings per week at Centre. In their "free" time they had to prepare notes of lessons for school, homework for Centre and prepare for the annual government examination of P.Ts., which in the 4th year took the form of the Queen's (afterwards King's) Scholarship Examination, which if one passed sufficiently well, qualified one for admission to a Training College.
And as this examination consisted of 15 papers, besides tests in Practical Music, Practical Teaching and Reading and Recitation, little time was left for recreation.
With all four years present on Saturday morning, The Central School building, now housing the P.T. Centre, was brought into use.
High Storrs was then only a name on the Ordnance Survey map and a Sabbath Day's journey from town. There was no playing field but certain enthusiasts managed almost surreptitiously to arrange football and cricket matches which had to take place in the parks or on opponents' grounds, but even then the P.Ts' team was to be feared. One of our shining lights in these activities was the Late Principal - Alfred Meetham, whose untimely death, we who remember him so well in his P.T. Days, greatly deplore. But his memory lives.
Well does one remember how, after enlisting a certain amount of official recognition we were allowed to make use of a field in Carter Knowle Road, which had just been bought by the School Board for the purpose of erecting a School (now Carter Knowle Road School), and great was the excitement when we tumbled Brunswick Wesleyan Cricket Team out for four (including two extras). Has the present generation beaten that?
Events that stand out in one's memory were the Annual Trips - in my time to Worksop Priory and the Dukeries - by train to Worksop and then by horse char-a-bancs. Others were to Haddon Hall and Bakewell and to Castleton.
The first Christmas "Social," the forerunner of the Christmas Parties - was also a great event.
By that time the numbers of P.T's. Had so grown that the Church Institute (now Church House) had to be utilised for teaching purposes pending the building of the new Centre.
How we enjoyed it. It makes one wonder whether the segregation of the sexes is as marked now as it was then.
After a short concert the excitement was intense when Mr. Jasper Redfearn introduced us to the mysteries of Colour photography by superimposing on the lantern screen pictures of flowers coloured in the 3 primary colours.
The gramophone's predecessor - Edison's Phonograph had just been so perfected that a large audience could hear a record played at the same time. Previously one had to have separate ear plugs, something like the physicians stethoscope, and as there were only 10 to a set one had to take one's turn.
One of our girls with quite a good soprano voice sang a sacred solo which was to our amazement shortly afterwards played over on the phonograph. How we cheered at the stupendous achievement. What matters it if some of the high notes came over as a shriek and some not at all - we were thrilled.
Then to crown all we had "Animated Pictures" - just for a few minutes. The present generation who are so used to George Arliss and Greta Garbo and the "talkies" cannot imagine our excitement. There were no picture houses then, Mr. Jasper Redfern was one of the first in the country to make moving pictures. Mind you, they were not silent films - though they were meant to be; The rattling of the film projector would have prevented any sound of talking. And they were not steady - but really deserved their nickname of "flickergraphs".
Those were the days of horse cars and horse buses and there were very few of them - few routes and a poor service and 2d. Was the lowest fare and no half price for P.T's., and to Tinsley it was 4d. Most of the P.T's. Had to walk to and from Centre - even from Crookes, Walkley, Intake, Ecclesall and Firth Park - there was no means of transport and the prefects were just as strict on late comers. Bicycles were not common, costing £10 - a 1st year P.T's. Salary. A lucky few lived at Darnall, Attercliffe or Heeley were given railway passes by a generous school board.
1899 was an eventful year in the history of the Centre.
In April of that year Mr. A. J. Arnold was appointed Principal, Mr. Batey having been appointed head of Pomona St. School.
One well remembers the sensation he made when he came to Centre in a silk hat and frock coat and his London accent quite took our breath away, but we soon learned to respect his merits.
Also about this time Mr. Head and Mr. Dudley were appointed to the staff and very soon we had a "matric" class. Sheffield University was then undreamed of and so a few enthusiastic students were prepared by Mr. Dudley and others for the London Matric. Exam. As an "extra" for they still had the Government Exams. to face.
On October 9th, 1899, the new Pupil Teacher Centre was opened by the President of the Board of Education, His Grace the Duke of Devonshire, K.G. (uncle of the present Duke) and the centre then enters another phase of usefulness.
And here it is appropriate to bring these reminiscences to a close.
Were those the good old times? One wonders.
Were the students of those days as happy as the present generation? I should say so.
Were they as hardworked? Decidedly.
But of this there is no doubt, that alike in days so far off, those more recent, and at the present time, the students of the centre have been proud of their alma Mater, have looked up with affection to their teachers, have gloried in the achievements of their fellows and above all have learnt those great lessons in life which alone can bring true happiness - to give and take, to be unselfish and to act up to the old Motto of the Centre - "Discimus ut doceamus" - we learn in order to show the way to others.
An Old Timer