A Jewish boy at EVCS

this is taken from “MY FORMATIVE YEARS – A Jewish boy’s childhood in South Wales in the early 1900s” By Simon Joseph.

Alan Jones writes:I discovered this book while trying to find out about the Jewish riots in Ebbw Vale in 1911. I read a short extract and very much wanted to get hold of a copy. After searching for about a year I managed to borrow a copy through Monmouth library from Southampton University library. My father was 4 years younger than Simon so would have overlapped at the EVCGS.

Simon Joseph was born in Cwm in 1903, the first of his family born outside Poland. When he was about five years old his family moved to Waenllwyd where they ran a shop. He went to infants school in Waunlwyd, moved on into junior school there, and was eventually, due to a reorganisation, moved to Victoria school. From this school he took his scholarship exam and passed second out of 32 to the grammar school. Four students passed from this school. The boy who passed first out of the 32 was Ithel Williams. They were rivals at first but became friends and Ithel relied on Simon for support at university.

Simon entered the grammar school in 1914 (may be a year out). He travelled by train from Waunlwyd to Ebbw Vale and walked the mile from the station to the school - as was still the case in 1953 and later. The school buildings were the old single storey part and the tin tab which was eventually moved to its final position when the two storey part was built.

Simon states the headmaster was John Morgan, a tall, thin man, and very kindly. His room was strewn with books. He taught chemistry to the seniors. Next to his room was the general staff room for the male teachers, and further on was the common room for the lady teachers.

He still remembers the names of some of the teachers Joss (sic) Jones – maths and physics, D B Jones a plump good looking man taught English, Mr Roberts taught Welsh, Shorthand and Physical Education, Miss O’Rearden taught French and Miss Lloyd, petite and very pretty, taught Latin. Miss Wallen had a receding chin - she taught History.

The approach of Christmas was interesting as a dance and party was always held in the chapel. For some weeks before Mr. Roberts gave them their first lessons in dancing. The first dance was the old fashioned waltz – to the accompaniment of the piano. All the boys in Simon’s class were taught to dance with a chair as partner. On the day of the dance formality was the order. The boys wore black patent slippers and white gloves, the girls their party dresses. The girls sat along one wall, the boys on the opposite wall. As the music struck up the boys would cross the floor and formally bow and ask, “May I have the pleasure of this dance”. After the dance the boy would escort the girl back to her seat. Girls mentioned were Myfanwy Williams and Morfydd.

Simon was a keen sportsman and represented the school at football. On Wednesdays they played neighbouring grammar schools. This meant walking over the mountain into Tredegar or Brynmawr. They played football for one and a half hours, then walked back over the mountain and then home.

In 1918 Simon started in the sixth form. Six boys and six girls. His subjects were the same as mine: Pure and Applied Maths, Physics and Chemistry. One of his teachers would have been the same as mine - Josh Jones. Simon did well in the sixth form and was awarded a scholarship to Cardiff University to start in October 1920.

At the end of his first year Simon’s grandfather died. He visited John Morgan, the headmaster, at home and found he was delighted to see him. He visited the school the following week – the reception he received from all the teachers was heart-warming. He visited his elementary school and the greetings he received from local residents gave him such comfort.

What has surprised me is how little had changed between 1914 and 1950 in the school. We did not dance with chairs as we learnt to dance; we went by bus to play rugby not soccer. Many of the teachers’ names were familiar to me through my mother and father. What started off as research into one topic ended up with an insight into the school and Ebbw Vale between 1914 and 1920.

© evcgs former pupils 2013