- The year of the Eleven Plus. The year that would decide my future education.
The standard of teaching at St. Mary’s was very high and expectations were also. Miss Roche had the senior class and put in a lot of extra time ensuring we were as prepared as possible for the exams.
The exam was sat in January and comprised three papers, English, Maths and Intelligence. Depending on results one went to a grammar, central or secondary modern school, in descending order of ability. Some of the unsuccessful girls would stay on at St. Mary’s until their fifteenth birthday released them into the world.
At assembly results were announced. They were sent to the schools midyear to enable parents to apply to secondary schools, children attend interviews and school uniforms to be purchased.
My surname being mid alphabet I had a wait which passed in a blur, other than to vaguely register that my best friend Maureen McKenna had a grammar pass. My name was called out and I also had a grammar pass and some special award for the highest mark in one of the papers but I cannot now remember what for. Our other friend Hanna waited anxiously as her surname started with Z but all was well, she too had a grammar pass.
It was a triumphant moment for us but also tinged with sadness as it meant the parting of the ways at the end of the school year. Hanna and Maureen both lived in Cricklewood and would be going to a different school from me. We were all given letters to take home to our parents with the results but I couldn’t wait for that and ran home, through the Little Rec, to Golborne Road shouting , “I’ve got a grammar”.
For my parents the choice was either St. Aloysius at Euston or the Sacred Heart at Hammersmith. Mum and Dad had planned to apply to St. Aloysius as they’d heard Sacred Heart was very elite and picky about who they accepted but Sister Austin, the head mistress at St. Mary’s begged them to apply to Sacred Heart as it had been a long time since a St. Mary’s girl had gone there and she thought I had a good chance based on my results.
The application was sent off and an interview appointment given. Mum dressed me up in my grey woollen suit with a pleated shirt, long white socks, white nylon gloves and a little velvet trimmed hat, while she wore her beaver lamb coat, anxious to make a good impression despite the fact that it was the middle of summer.
All the way from Westbourne Park to Hammersmith on the train my tummy was tying itself in knots. What questions would I be asked? What should I answer? What if I failed the interview? The train arrived at the terminus and we walked the short distance to the school. It was a large, imposing, red brick building facing onto Hammersmith Broadway. We had been instructed to go to the main door, also large and imposing, and ring the bell. This was, in fact, the only time I was to enter the school through the main door as staff and pupils used the side entrance in Bute Gardens.
Mum pushed the bell and, after what seemed like a lifetime, the door slowly opened and there stood a wizened little old religeuse who ushered us in to a long cloister with dark red tiled floors and paintings of biblical scenes along its walls. We were pointed in the direction of the library and instructed to wait until my name was called. Several other girls and their parents were also milling around with anxious expressions on their faces.
The library was a large room with panelled walls and a huge fireplace but not many books. At the far end of the room was a long table with a row of nuns seated behind it and a couple of seats in front of it. Of the actual interview I remember very little except that Mother Davidson, the headmistress, had bad breath and, as she leaned forward to ask a question, a miasma would issue from her mouth. Questions included what I wanted to be when I left school and whether I attended mass regularly. Her lips pursed when she learned that Mum was Protestant but relaxed again when told that she and Dad both attended mass with me.
After the interview Mum took me to a caff for an ice cream and, for her, a much needed cuppa and a fag. She assured me I’d done my best and now all we had to do was wait for the results.