When I was eight years old my parents sent me to St. John's Bluecoat School. It was called the Bluecoat School because the boys who attended the school in the early part of the nineteenth century wore distinctive long blue uniforms, not unlike those worn today by the cathedral choristers. there was, in fact, a statue of a boy in the original clothes just inside the school gate.
The school was situated in the centre of the city of Exeter behind the High Street shops. You did, in fact, enter the school through an archway between two shops, a chemist shop on one side and a fish shop on the other corner. The old city wall formed the boundary at the back of the school. The building was of granite with fireplaces in each classroom and high chimneys outside. The desks we used were very old and were covered with the carved initials of boys of long ago.
Although the discipline was strict I remember the teachers to this day with affection. they were kindly well-rounded men who commanded respect by their own characters and a bearing of authority. Punishment was by caning or lines. I remember the standard punishment for a late attendance was three whacks of the cane on one's hand. I remember arriving late at the school in the winter sometimes with frozen hands and receiving the customary caning which was very painful. Nobody felt hard-done-by as we accepted that this was the recognised punishment. We had great fun, however, in the winter because we always had a long slide on the ice in the playground which had a slope from the city wall towards the entrance. I enjoyed my days at |St John's and greatly respected the masters. This feeling towards them lasted into my adult years when most of them, of course, had retired.
As I write this the school has long since been demolished, but the old city wall remains as a backcloth to the new offices in Southernhay, and the statue of the blue boy stands in the middle of the modern shopping precinct of Princesshay, just a few yards from where he stood in my schooldays.
This memoir was written by Arthur Frederick Berry in the 1980s as part of a creative writing evening course. Born 14th July, 1915, he attended the school from 1923 – he died 3rd April, 1993.
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