“When I Was a Boy in England”: A 1930s Novel for American Kids by Ivan Gerould Grimshaw
Ivan Grimshaw was born in Shipley, Yorkshire in 1900. When he was still a boy, his father accepted a position in Akron, Ohio with one of the large American rubber companies. The family rode the train to Liverpool from Shipley, sailed to Boston on the Cunard Liner Ivernia, and traveled by train to Cleveland, eventually arriving in Akron. Ivan and his parents lived there until he left for college. In 1931, Ivan authored When I Was a Boy in England1 as one in a series of books entitled Children of Other Lands Books. Ivans book appears to be directed to a juvenile audience. Additional information on Ivan Grimshaw can be found on a companion webpage.
Ivan Grimshaws book has an English scene on the cover (Figure1) two well-heeled gentlemen, with boys playing cricket in the midground and a castellated building in the background.
Figure 1. Cover of Ivan Grimshaws When I Was a Boy in England
The frontispiece of the book is a photo of Ivan (Figure 2).
Figure 2. Ivan Gerould Grimshaw
The Contents of the book (Figure 3) convey the authors approach to depicting life in England in a way that would be interesting to kids in the 1930s in the U.S. The eleven illustrations (besides the picture of Ivan) depict several aspects of English life to go along with the text.
Figure 3. Contents and Illustrations in When I Was a Boy in England
The authors approach and style are well represented in the opening chapters of the book, which are shown below.
THE PLACE WHERE I WAS BORN
To most Americans, the mention of England brings to mind two things: London, with its immense population, and Stratford-on-Avon, the birthplace of William Shakespeare. However, England is much more than that.
England is a land of contrasts. Its climate varies from that of Cornwall, where tropical plants bloom, to that of certain parts of Northern England, where one is chilled even in July. Great contrasts of dialect are shown, so great that a Londoner and a Yorkshireman would find it difficult to converse intelligently. There is, as well, contrast in industrial methods. In some parts of the country, women who know little of modern methods can be found working at hand looms, while in the manufacturing centers of England there are concerns making use of the most modern machinery. And all this occurs in a country so small that one can never get more than one hundred miles from the sea.
When considering such a land of contrasts, one cannot deal in generalities. What is true of one part of the country is not necessarily true of other parts. Although there is a general air of similarity, there is great variation in the life of the people in each of the forty counties of England.
About midway between London and Edinburgh, on the London, Midland, and Scottish Railway, in the county of Yorkshire, is the little town of Shipley. Here I was born, and in this town I spent most of my boyhood.
Yorkshire is the largest county in England. Although England is in reality a small country, this one county contains more acres than there are letters in the Bible. The King James version of the Bible is found to have 3,586,489 letters, while Yorkshire contains 3,889,432 acres. The county is divided into three parts: the North Riding, the East Riding, and the West Riding, of which the latter is the largest. The “word ” Riding ” is derived from the Scandinavian word “thrithing,” meaning the third part of a shire, or county.
As for Shipley, old records show that the town was established in the year 1086 A. D., only twenty years after the Norman conquest of Great Britain. It is built on the banks of the river Aire, one of the most beautiful rivers of England. The valley through which this river runs has given name to a breed of dog, the Airedale, with which you are no doubt familiar. Unfortunately, in the vicinity of Shipley, man has robbed the river of much 0£ its natural beauty through pollution of its water used in worsted and iron mills.
On either side of Shipley, on the banks of the Aire, is a little town; Saltaire on the east, and Windhill on the west. The first of these is one of the most famous towns in England, and certainly the most interesting in all the West Riding of Yorkshire.
For a very long time before 1850 many men had sought to make use of the wool of the alpaca, or mountain sheep, of South America. This animal, used in South America for the bearing of burdens, has very long hair, which each year is partly sheared by the natives. Although a kind of cloth had long been made by the native women, no European manufacturer had been able to discover a process for using hair of such short fiber. In the year 1853, Titus Salt, a young man in the woolen business, discovered that by using alpaca for the weft and cotton for the warp, he could produce a kind of cloth which when dyed proved very suitable for the making of garments. During the years previous to his success, his friends had derided him for buying great quantities of alpaca with which to experiment.
At last, having’ discovered the secret of the preparation of alpaca, he determined to enlarge his plants on the river Aire, about three miles from Bradford. This he did, and in order to provide homes for his workmen he set about building a town near the factories. He called this town Saltaire. As he was as much interested in men as he was in the manufacture of cloth, he determined to make Saltaire a model city, building all the houses and streets alike. The streets of the town, such as William Henry Street, were in many cases named after the sons and daughters of Titus Salt. Before he died, this city builder was knighted by the king for his contribution to public welfare. Although Sir Titus Salt is now dead, the city of Saltaire is in the main occupied by men who work at Saltaire mills.
The town of Windhill, on the other side of my birthplace, very adequately lived up to its name. It was situated on a high hill, and oftentimes great winds used to sweep across, making it a true “windhill.”
Like so many English towns, the name of the town of my birth has been misused until it has lost its original significance. The original name was “Sheep Lay,” or the place where drovers taking sheep to market at one of the larger towns could stop at an inn to rest and at the same time have a sheepfold, or “lay,” where the sheep could be quartered for the night, and be secure from prowlers, human or otherwise.
When I grew older, I often saw the three towns’ coat of arms, which retained some of the original significance of the names. It displayed a large windmill on top of a hill, representing Windhill. At the base of the hill was a flat area of grass upon which lay a large flock of sheep, representing Shipley. Past this ” sheep lay ” a river gently flowed, the Aire, representing Saltaire.
I was born April 17, 1900, and since that was the last year of the glorious reign of Queen Victoria, it seems rather appropriate that I should be born at 20 Queen Street.
The interior of 20 Queen Street, except for the furniture, was an exact duplicate of 18 Queen Street or 22 Queen Street. The houses were made of stone and were joined into one solid row, the length of the street. Although there were small front yards, there were no back yards, for a house on one street joined to the rear of a house on the next.
So that you can get an adequate idea of the interior and exterior of the house in which I was born, I have drawn a plan, as shown. The front door opened to a small vestibule, or hallway. Facing the entryway was a door which led to the stairs. Walking through a small archway, one found himself in the “common room,” or living-room of the house. The common room was about twelve feet wide and eighteen feet long, as were all the rooms in the house. If you had been there with me some twenty-five years ago, you would have seen the warm fire glowing on the hearth, casting cheery light upon the large rug lying before it. On one side, you might have noticed the oven where cooking was done, and on a spit over the coals hung a brass kettle, in which water was boiling for tea. This was the combined dining-room, living-room, and kitchen. This arrangement was not the result of poverty, nor, like modern apartments, the result of lack of space. It seemed in many ways an excellent idea, for in this room the family life gathering about the great open fireplace made possible some wonderful evenings in the light of its cheery blaze.
I remember the many times that we sat roasting chestnuts in the dying embers of the fire while Father told us tales of mystery and wonder, tales of ghosts and goblins, elves, and trolls, and other strange creatures. Well I remember how loath I was to leave the warm circle of the fireside to climb with weary steps to bed. My brother, who was several years older than I, was privileged to come to bed much later, and, oh, how relieved I was when he sometimes volunteered to escort me to my cot! How different was the thought of goblins on the candle-lighted journey up the stairs from what it had been in the light of the fire amid the family circle!
Now let us turn our attention to the attic. To reach the top floor, we went up a flight of stairs to the bedroom, and then climbed still another flight to the attic. Here was a finished room which was used as a bedroom for us children. Two small windows on the street side of the house supplied the room with light.
The second-floor bedroom was the same size as the one in the attic, but had two large windows. A large fireplace stood in the center of one wall. There was no wall paper, for it was the custom in English homes to have the walls and ceilings “whitewashed,” or painted a marvelous white to reflect all the daylight possible.
The front yard of each home on the street was enclosed by a stone wall on two sides. On the street side was an ash midden, a large stone receptacle in which the ashes from the two fireplaces were kept. This was emptied regularly week after week by men employed by the town for that purpose. For the convenience of the citizens, this was generally done at night, and so the men engaged in it came to be known as ” night soil” men.
The coal for the fireplaces was stored in the cellar, and here as boys we always kept our “progging,” or fuel, for the Fifth of November, of which I shall tell you more later.
The use of open fireplaces in which a great amount of wood was burned caused much soot. Thus it was occasionally necessary to have the chimney cleaned. There were some people who sought to clean it by releasing a pigeon up the chimney, and some tried to burn out the soot. However, since any person caught burning out a chimney was liable to arrest and a heavy fine, most people sought the aid of the ” sweep.”
I found the sweep one of the most interesting’ characters of my boyhood. Due to the type of 1vork 1vhich 1vas demanded of him, he found it impossible to keep his face from becoming black, and many of the sweeps could easily have passed for African negroes. The sweep carried a circular brush about four feet long, around the handle of which were a number of other handles used to lengthen the handle of the brush proper. As the S1Veep 1valked down the street with this bundle over his shoulder, it looked not unlike the bundle carried by the Roman lictors, except that the center of the bundle was surmounted by a circular brush rather than an axe. (If you will look upon the back of a late American dime, you can see a picture of the lictor’s bundle.)
What a great day it was when the sweep came! How I used to beg that the sweeping be done on Saturday, 1vhen I could stay home from school. When the sweep performed his operation on the chimney, he began by thrusting the circular brush up the chimney to sweep with a circular motion. As soon as he had swept to the full extent of the four-foot handle, he added an extension about four feet long and repeated the process. The extension of the handle was continued until a joyful shout from his assistant or from the boys of the neighborhood proclaimed that it was ” out at the top.” This being accomplished, the sweep brought his brush down again, disjointing it on the way. Suffice it to say, there had to be a great deal of care exercised to keep the soot from filling the house. Even the most generous precautions were sometimes of little avail. But who would exchange the joys of an open fireplace the year around for freedom from a little soot?
When I was only three years of age I was sent to school, as it was customary to begin the work very early. I was enrolled in the Infant School, which was the equivalent of the American kindergarten. There we were kept busy for several years, formal training beginning with Standard One, the equivalent of the American first grade.
The head of the Infant School was Miss Jessup, a rather tall, dignified woman of middle age. She had a lovely voice and gentle manners. I most vividly remember that she always carried in her hand a little wooden clapper very much the shape of a pair of pliers. When she pressed the handle, a spring was released which clapped against a piece of wood with a resounding click. This instrument was used whenever she wished to call the school to attention, or for assistance in marking the cadence when we were marching.
Although gentle of disposition, she knew how to deal with children who were disobedient or did not like to attend school. I remember one little friend of mine who, refusing to go to school, registered his disapproval by having a tantrum. In spite of his kicking and screaming, his father carried him to school and turned him over to the care of Miss Jessup. At lunch time he came home quite his happy self, and after lunch returned to school without a murmur. It was several days before his mother learned the secret. When questioned as to what Miss Jessup had done or said to him, he replied, ” Miss Jessup said that if I had to be carried to school again she would make me wear petticoats.”
Only one piece of our ” busy work ” do I remember. After folding circular pieces of paper many times, we puffed them out by blowing on them. A great many of these were fastened together to make bright-colored balls which we hung in our homes for decoration.
Like all normal children, we did many strange things. One youngster in one of my classes always sat with his blouse over the back of the seat. One day the teacher came by his seat, and as she was -passing out paper, she dropped a sheet on the floor. The boy tried to pick it up for her, but found that because of his blouse he could not reach it. The teacher did not attempt to scold him. She merely remarked, ” Boys do such funny things.” The boy blushed deeply, much to the amusement of the other pupils.
Another boy one day stood on his chair to watch what the teacher was doing as she stood with her back to the class, looking for something in her desk. Turning before he was aware of it, she saw him. In punishment, he was compelled to continue to stand on his chair. What fun it was for the rest of the class!
With entrance into Standard One, school began in earnest. Here was the dividing line between boys and girls. From this time on, I was in the Boys’ School; the girls were taught in a separate building. I believe that the system in use in America is better than that of the English schools, for I feel that boys and girls ought to be together when young, to prepare them to meet life’s problems together when they have become men and women.
Our playground was a large space in back of the school enclosed by a very high wall. It was paved completely with macadam, and down the center of it was a long line of small white stones. This was the line for Inspection. When the class bell rang, we lined up on that line arranged according to our standard (grade) , or ” form,” in school. In front of each group was a teacher. After we had toed the line, he carefully looked at our shoes to see that they were shined. He then had us present our hands for inspection, to be sure that they were clean. Many were the attempts to shine shoes on the back of stockings, or to present the cleaner hand, sometimes with success; but there was generally a group from each form sent to the washroom to make themselves presentable before coming to class.
Entrance into the Boys’ School brought us into intimate contact with corporal punishment. The teachers, or masters, had three weapons: rulers, canes, and cardboards. It was a boyhood story that a horsehair laid across the palm of the hand would split the master’s cane, but I never heard of one’s being split. The ruler was most often used for ” knuckling “a boy caught writing with his left hand, or grasping the pen so that the knuckle of the forefinger protruded in what the master called “the camel’s hump.” ” Knuckling ” was a severe pummeling of the knuckles of the offending hand by the master’s ruler. The card board was a kind of cane, made about eighteen inches long and three-quarters of an inch in diameter in the form of a tube. I knew of only one school in which this was used.
The head master of the school which I attended was Mr. Morrell. He was a man short of stature, but great of heart. He always knew all his boys, and greeted each one with a cheery word whenever he met him. When he died a few years ago, he was mourned by every schoolboy in the town.
Our studies were for the most part confined to the fundamentals, or Three R’s: Reading, ‘Riting, and ‘Rithmetic. We had no opportunity to indulge in manual training and various activities as do students today.
Two subjects in which we received a thorough training, even in the lower grades, were Shakespearean recitations and English history. I can well remember that my brother, when in only the Fourth Standard, faultlessly repeated Portia’s Speech on Mercy from Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice.
You may also be interested in our method of learning the names of the English kings. We did this by the means of poetry. The poem was as follows:
“First, William the Norman, then William his son,
Henry, Stephen, and Henry, then Richard and John.
After Henry the Third, Edwards one, two, and three,
After Richard the Second, three Henrys we see.
Two Edwards precede the third Richard, then press
Two Henrys, Sixth Edward, Queen Mary, Queen Bess.
Then James, king of Scotland, Charles First, whom they slew,
Yet received after Cromwell another Charles, too.
After him we have James, who relinquished the throne
To William and Mary, then William alone.
Till Anne, the four Georges, fourth William all gone,
Victoria then reigned, and now Edward her son.”
Just before time for promotion, the Inspector came to visit the school. This was always a day looked forward to with a mixed feeling of fear and curiosity. On that day special care was taken to have faces and hands as clean as possible. New suits were often in evidence, for one wanted to make a good appearance before the Inspector.
I remember the Inspector very distinctly, as I saw him a great many times during my school years. He was an old man with a long beard. How wise he seemed to us as children, and how seldom were we able to make the impression we had hoped for! It seemed that the reaction of the Inspector was always the same, a querulous, doubting glance, a whispered word to the teacher, and the pupil was requested to sit down. How glad we were when this worthy completed his inspection!
Friday was the red-letter day of the week, for on Friday afternoons we had a general assembly of the whole school for the purpose of singing, reciting, and presenting entertainments. At this time, we sang our school songs, and many of the patriotic songs of the nation, always closing with the National Anthem, ” God Save the King.”
School hours were practically the same as in America. In the summer we had a long vacation, three weeks, which seems very short when compared with the American vacation of ten weeks or so. I remember with what delight I received the report that in America schoolchildren were free for three whole months each year, including Christmas and Easter vacations. Such a miracle seemed impossible. At Christmas, we had about a week’s vacation, and at Easter, several days. There were a few other scattered days of vacation.
As I have said before, we did not have the opportunities offered to children in American schools of today. Nevertheless, our schools helped to prepare us for useful living, and our school days, taken all in all, were happy ones.
Eight of the eleven pictures (besides Ivans portrait) are shown in Figure 4. One illustration, Bowling Hall, was missing from the copy of the book obtained to create this webpage. The two terrier photos have also been omitted.
Figure 4. English scenes from When I Was a Boy in England. (See list of Illustrations above for listing).
The concluding chapter of Ivan Grimshaws book contains the most detail of his transition from Shipley to Akron. It is shown below.
WE EMBARK FOR AMERICA
One of the greatest surprises of my life came when my father one day announced that he was going to leave England for America, and that my mother, my brother, and I were to follow in about six months. I had known for some time that he had had an offer to engage in the rubber industry in one of America’s great rubber concerns, but I did not realize that this could ever draw him away from the land of his birth.
Early in January my father left for America, and from that time on my conversation with my chums was constantly sprinkled with the phrases ” America,” ” the United States,” ” the Stars and Stripes.” I had a number of relatives in America, and began to look forward with interest to their letters, literally devouring every line that had anything to do with life in America.
Most of the time between the departure of my father and our sailing date was spent in selling the furniture of our home and packing great boxes, preparatory to coming to America. How well I remember bequeathing various of my choice playthings to my chums!
Finally the day of departure came. On the tenth day of June we took the train from Shipley to Liverpool, and there boarded the Cunard Liner Ivernia. This same Ivernia was many years later, during the World War, to sink, the victim of German submarine warfare.
I need not tarry to tell of the journey over here. Suffice it to say that if there was one part of the vessel which I did not explore, it was because I inadvertently missed it. I investigated everything, and missed going up the rigging to the crow’s nest only because I was prevented by a stern maternal hand.
About a week after leaving England, our vessel docked at Boston. After passing through the customs, we boarded a train for Cleveland, Ohio, where most of our relatives lived, and where we planned to stay for a few days.
Early in July we were established in our new home in Akron, Ohio. We lived in that city until I started for college, when my parents moved into one of the suburbs.
Of course, life in America was new, strange, and yet fascinating. What a picture my brother and I made as we went to school the first term after our arrival! Our heavy boots and Eton collars contrasted strangely with the trim garments of our fellows. Many times during that first semester we heard the kindly, yet humorous greeting, ” Hello, English.”
Many of the things connected with American history were rather strange to me, and many times I made mistakes which were very laughable to my companions. One, especially, I remember . Each day in school we were asked to repeat the Pledge to the Flag:
“I pledge allegiance to my Flag, and to the republic for which it stands. One nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”
Not long after I had entered the class the teacher asked me to rise and repeat the pledge. I repeated the first phrase as follows, much to the amusement of my fellows:
“I pledge allegiance to my Flag, for there Sir Richard stands.”
Who Sir Richard was, of course I did not know, but their repetition of the pledge had always sounded so, and to my foreign mind Sir Richard might have been an American patriot,
When I graduated from grade school and high school, I attended, and graduated from one of Ohio’s smaller colleges, after which I spent four years in two of America’s great universities. Thus into the mind of one who was “a Boy in England ” were poured the ideals of this great land of liberty and freedom. The heritage of the old found full expression in the challenge presented by the new.
Figures 5 and 6 present maps at two scales showing the location of Shipley, which is north of Bradford and west of Leeds. Given the proximity of Shipley to Yeadon and Calverley, it seems highly likely that Ivan is descended from the Edward and Dorothy (Rainer) Grimshaw line of Grimshaws.
Figure 5. Small-scale map of Shipley in Yorkshire. Note the locations of Yeadon and Calverley, locations of the Edward and Dorothy Grimshaw family origins.
Figure 6. Large-scale map of Shipley in Yorkshire. Note the locations of Saltaire and Windhill, which are referenced in the text of Ivan’s book.
1Grimshaw, Ivan, 1931, When I Was a Boy in England: Boston, MA, Lothrop, Lee & Shepard, 160 p.
Webpage posted October 2002. Updated August 2005 with addition of “Cannibals of Indiana”. Updated October 2005 with creation of companion webpage on Ivan Grimshaw and removal of material to that webpage.