GROWING UP IN BETWEEN THE WARS - Jean King
When the Great War came to an end in 1918. somehow the promise
of "a Iand fit for heroes" failed to materialise. Unemployment
was high and there was wide-spread poverty.
Here in Prestonpans. where mining was the main industry, men were
working only two or three days a week. which did not make for
a very high standard of living. So. for most of us born in the
nineteen twenties, there were no holidays abroad or designer jeans
and trainers! However, childhood should be a carefree time and
I do believe it was then. much more than it is today.
School consisted of two buildings which later became known as
the "Grey" School and the "Red" School The
former has since been demolished and now we have "Grey School
Corner", a very apt name for a housing complex, while the
Red School is a Youth Club. This was where we were to spend, what
our parents insisted were, "The Happiest Days of our Lives",
though we did not believe it then. About 1932. Miss Hogan. the
elderly (or so we thought) infant headmistress. was to cut the
first sod for what was to become. "The White School",
but that was much later and it is still in use today.
At weekends we could go to the local Picture House, known affectionately
as the "Scratcher" - for obvious reasons. The cock crowing
at the beginning of the "Pathe News" nearly took the
tin roof off. the sound was so loud! The cheap seats were pIanks
at the front and at the back were the "chummy" scats,
which could be booked in advance. Forms down the sides on top
of the hot pipes were used when there was a "guid picter"
on and consequently a big demand for scats. At the Saturday matinees
there was a great deal of stamping and whistling, resulting in
the offenders being "pit oot" sometimes by the management
- the man with the torch. Joking apart, many happy hours were
spent in the "Scratcher". Nowadays one could say we
were "easy pleased".
On reflection, our wants were simple, no doubt dictated by the
household budget. The beach provided a playground and we had the
sea for paddling. Two very brave young ladies. Mary Arnott and
Nennie Brown, formed "The Prestonpans Swimming Club"
and taught us to swim.
The Port Seton Pond was opened in the early nineteen thirties
and our joy was complete! The summers were spent there, especially
if one were lucky enough to have a bike and half-a-crown for a
season ticket. Half a crown was twelve and a half pence in today's
money, but a considerable amount then. So the Pond was a very
popular place, in spite of the fact that there was no heating
and most of the time it was very cold. This did not seem to bother
us - we must have been tough in those days! The Shows would come
sometimes at the "Trades" holidays, so there was an
added magical attraction. Life was pretty good during the summer
holidays, but then there was still school for the rest of the
Opened in 1924. the Old Preston Lodge School was a beautiful red
sandstone building, which sadly was to burn down in 1967. This
was where we went for our Secondary education, as did pupils from
as far afield as Ormiston and Humbie. Those from Tranent had to
walk. so again we were so lucky. Rector Miller was a young, enthusiastic
Honours Graduate, who was very proud of his relatively new school
which meant that we were very well taught by an excellent staff.
On Fridays, we had the Guides and probably enough money to buy
a bag of chips or some sweets in Tom McKinlay's on the way home.
We became ambitious and abandoned the "Scratcher" in
favour of the Edinburgh cinemas. Before 2pm on Saturdays, admission
was half price and with a half fare on the train, a shilling (5p)
covered the lot. We thought we were really living, which I suppose
we were. watching the elegant Fred Astaire dance across the screen
with the glamorous Ginger Rogers. Such bliss!
So life continued peacefully and, as I remember, happily, till,
in 1938 came the infamous Munich crisis, which set young minds
thinking of war. As senior pupils we spent hours at the Mary Murray
(now the Community Centre) assembling gas masks. Much to the relief
of the nation, war was averted and peace prevailed, but only for
one year. In 1939. a second war started. Suddenly, we were adults.