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I, Elton Roy Matthews, was born on 31st August 1915, at 36 Derby Road, Gloucester. My father was Harry Matthews and my mother was Kate Edith Matthews (née Chamberlain). They were both elementary school teachers, educating children from 6 to 14. There were infant schools for children under six.
I'm not sure how long I lived at Derby Road because, for a while, I was taken to Haslemere where my father was a teacher. Then he obtained an appointment in Gloucester and moved to a house in Sisson Road, Gloucester. It was named after the factory at the bottom of the road, which was Sisson’s Factory, some sort of metal fabrication. It is now called Lanes and is the place where Dandex (dandelion coffee) is made.
One of the first things I remember is 11th November 1918, Armistice Day. To help celebrate it my father sat at the top of the stairs and we dropped marbles down the stairs, plonk, plonk, plonk. That is one of the few things I remember of Sisson Road. The other is that one of my occupations was to make trains. That involved getting all the objects I could lay my hands on and putting them in a row up the garden path. The boy next door used to join in this game and he used to do the same up his garden path. I don't remember having a feeling of competition but I expect there was one to see who could make the longest train.
Another memory of that time was the field on the opposite side of the road, which was turned into allotments. I used to dig in the allotments. That is when I started gardening, as a very little tot. I did make my mark in this, apparently. My grandfather Matthews used to come and help in the allotments. When the potatoes came up, instead of there being 2 rows, they came up in the form of a cross. Whose fault it was, I don't know. In later years I maintained that my grandfather moved the line in the wrong direction but he maintained that I deliberately moved it.
I don't remember what they allowed me to do in the garden. I was allowed to pick white campion and bring them home. I was about 3 then. We left Sisson’s Road when I was about 3.
I first started school at Derby Road Infant School. My mother was teaching in the Elementary School although I was not in her class. I don't know if my parents expected me to excel, but I think I was rather a disappointment as I wasn't bright in any way. In fact, I think they despaired of me because I couldn't read. Now we know why: I couldn't distinguish between the verticals, when there were 2 verticals to make an N or more verticals to make an M. I don't know why that wasn't discovered, because my father wore spectacles. The problem was not resolved until my sight really did deteriorate and I couldn't read the blackboard because of short sightedness. By then I must have lost lots of years because reading was really difficult. I remember just how difficult it was. Spelling was difficult, too, as I couldn't visualize patterns of letters. Eventually, when I was in the 5th form, my vision deteriorated so there was obviously something wrong with it. I was taken to a specialist and then to an optician and he corrected the astigmatism and then I could read a bit better. Spectacles were provided which completely transformed my awareness and my ability to read.
Young children are normally long sighted; if they are going to be short sighted it comes on in their early teens. So I have a real sympathy for people who say they are dyslexic; I think there is a real problem. The first question I would ask of any child who has reading difficulty is: “Have you had your eyes tested?” I was 13 when I got my glasses, so I was rather a dunce until then although the chemistry teachers befriended me. I always gained the sympathy of the chemistry teachers and I could always do my chemistry. The teachers who were sympathetic towards me at the grammar school were the 2 chemistry teachers, so chemistry was my best subject.
I didn't like games. I don't know how true this is: I had been invited to a party, which I very much wanted to go to. But I got influenza; I thought I wouldn't be able to go to the party. The doctor came along to see how I was getting on and I can remember being so excited about whether he would say I could go or not that my heart was thumping. I didn't hear this, but I presume he told my parents that I had got an enlarged heart and ought to be very careful what I did. In fact I was off school for 3 weeks and when I went back to school there was no physical education, no games and I was quite pleased about the games but I missed the physical education. So I never really pressed the matter of having recovered from a heart attack. I didn't want to be pressed into compulsory games again. When I was in the 6th form the 6th formers were allowed to use the gymnasium so I got all the gym I wanted. I'd do circles on the beams.
I went to the Crypt Grammar School for high school; I didn't get a scholarship of any sort so my parents paid the fees. I never even entered for the exams as I transferred there before it was scholarship examination time. Being at the junior school automatically gave me a place at the grammar school. The Crypt Grammar School was a very old foundation, 1539 so the story goes. It was founded by John and Joan Cook, who were brewers of Gloucester. They acquired a whole lot of Gloucester monastic property in the dissolution of the monasteries. I expect there was some sort of underhand business in this and to compensate for this John Cook founded a school, which was held in the crypt of St. Mary's church. It was called the Crypt Grammar School. When national financing of education came around it was made an independent grammar school.
We had an examination called school certificate and I've forgotten my results now except I had distinction in chemistry, a good in physics, credits in mathematics, failure in French and a pass in English—not very good results. I was allowed to go into the 6th form although I really wasn't entitled because to go into the 6th form you had to have what was called matriculation. In order to matriculate you had to have English and another language. I passed in Latin but failed in French but I was allowed to go into the 6th form. I liked botany: my parents knew the names of lots of wild flowers so I used to enjoy going and collecting wild flowers. I thought that a pharmacist was somebody who knew about botany and chemistry. Pharmacy was all right because one didn't need matriculation to get in.
I should have remained in the 5th form after taking the school certificate but because my chemistry was good and because I had decided to be a pharmaceutical chemist and not go for a university career, matriculation was not necessary. I was allowed to go into the 6th and I worked for the higher school certificate in chemistry, physics and botany. I also took an odd sort of mathematics, which was called something like calculus in physical science and was supposed to help with physics. It was jolly interesting and I learnt a lot and I liked it. I liked mathematics, chemistry, physics and botany. I think probably I would have liked zoology but I was a bit inhibited because I didn't like cutting up the animals or picking up some of them for that matter.
My mother went back to school-teaching before I was old enough for school, so I was dumped in the infant school while she taught in the other part of the school. I don't remember if she taught me. (Later, I was transferred to the school in which my father taught. My father taught me, hoping to make me more intelligent or something like that.)
Infant school was before we moved from Sisson Road to 36 Derby Road. While we were at Sisson Road my Grandfather Matthews died and shortly afterwards my Grandfather Chamberlain. So we moved from Sisson Road to Derby Road to help my grandmother Chamberlain, whose house was on Derby Road.
The milkman was called Mr. Lloyd; his name was on a well-polished brass plate on the side of his milk cart. The cart had two wooden wheels and we took a jug out to it. He shouted: “Milko!”
I think I started school then and immediately caught measles and whooping cough. The story goes that I was very ill with these, but I wonder. When a child has whooping cough, it learns to take sharp drawn in breath between the coughing spasms and that causes the emission of a whooping noise. We now know that if you get over whooping cough, you don't get it again, but you do retain the knack of taking a sharp intake of breath every time you cough for some other reason such as a chill. So it was said that I had measles and whooping cough twice but I don't believe this. It gave rise to the idea that I was a weakly child and my parents were advised to take me and live in the country so they bought an old cottage in Brockworth. They called it Guys Cottage because it was one of the last cottages owned by the Guys family in the area.
My parents went to work and left the neighbour to look after me. I was supposed to run wild for a year with the boy next door to recover. I did that and it was a wonderful summer. I suppose I went back to the infant school in autumn. The neighbours kept pigs, 6 or so, that we used to chase. They had a big paddock, real free range pigs. We used to chase these pigs and try to ride them. Then it was thought that we were ill treating the pigs and that they wouldn't get fat if we were playing with them and when we weren't allowed to play with them they were terrible and moped about. I was about 6 then. When they used to lie down I lay down too, they were lovely animals. They were well looked after and kept clean so the paddock was clean. They had their own toilet somewhere.
As long as I can remember my parents used to take me for walks and tell me about the flowers that we saw around Brockworth. I enjoyed going round on my bicycle and looking for them. At the Brockworth bakery the bread was kneaded by hand.
In the meantime my mother had obtained a post as unqualified teacher at Hucclecote School, Hucclecote being the next village from Brockworth on the road back to Gloucester. So I went to the infant school in Hucclecote School. After I left the infant school in Hucclecote School I went to the school where my father taught, known officially as London Road School, Gloucester, but also known as the National School of Gloucester. It was one of the first schools financed on a nationwide basis. It was run by the Church of England and was opened by the Duke of Wellington.
I was a very mediocre pupil there. I wasn't chosen to go into the special class for potential scholarship children and instead I went to the Crypt Grammar School in form 2–lower which was the transition form between the kindergarten junior school and the grammar school. I climbed up the school in a very mediocre way probably held back by my poor reading ability. I can remember whenever I was set to read I couldn't recognize many of the words and so guessed what the word was meant to be. So this produced some hilarious reading. This didn't encourage me either.
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