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28 October 2014

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You are in: Bradford and West Yorkshire > Memoryshare > Dinner time in Bradford!

Child at Green Lane Primary eating dinner!

Dinner time in Bradford!

Children at Green Lane Primary School in Manningham have had something very special to celebrate. Back in 1907 Green Lane was the very first school in the country, and perhaps the world, to serve hot school dinners to its pupils.

first school dinners 1907

Love them or hate them, we all take school dinners for granted these days but things might have been very different without a campaign that started right here in Bradford and on October 28th 1907 750 children at Green Lane were the very first to receive such meals.

The school's headteacher at the time was Jonathan Priestley, father of the well-known Bradford writer J.B. Priestley, and the first meal consisted of scotch broth, fruit tart, bread and a mug of water for each child. A kitchen had been set up in the school using the boiler which heated the school's swimming pool - another first for Bradford! Soon hot meals were being provided for other Bradford schools and in the following school year breakfasts were given to 2000 pupils and lunches to 3500. Eventually the kitchens had to be extended and special machinery installed to cook pies, vegetables, stews, milk puddings and roly-poly puddings.

Mrs Betty Brodie

Betty started school at Green Lane in the 1920s

A hundred years on, children at the school have been finding out what life was like in their school on the day when school dinners were first served. Not only that but on Friday, November 16th, the whole school dressed up in clothes similar to those which might have been worn in 1907 and found out, first hand, what it was like to write on slates and play whip and top! And food based on a 1907 menu was served to children and visitors in a brand new dining hall.

Opening the new Priestley Building on this very special day was Betty Brodie who may well be the oldest surviving former pupil. Betty started at Green Lane in the Infants class in either 1924 or 1925 so we asked her what she remembered about her first days at the school. She says she was immediately put in charge of two other girls and in those days girls and boys had to use different entrances: "We didn't really mix with the boys unfortunately. I can remember a lot of the teachers - a Miss Wright who went to America and got married, Miss Hudson who was a horror, Miss Bell, Mr Hartley, Miss Abbs and Mr Smith who was the Headmaster and Miss Greenwood who was the swimming teacher.

Boy being weighed 1907

Being weighed!

Betty doesn't remember the school dinners: "Being Jewish I wasn't allowed to stay for school dinners and anyway I lived nearby. I think there was a lot of children who stayed and I'm sure there was a dining hall in the playground of the girls' school. I know there was a house where we used to do housewifery. We learnt to do ironing and blackleading and dusting and it put me off for life!"

Like all her family Christine Saunders went to Green Lane - her father Fred Green was at the school the day dinners began and features in a photo with then Head, Mr Priestley. Although he was one of the very first children to receive free school meals Fred never mentioned this to his family but he did have very good memories of Mr Priestley: "Both my parents lived down Whiteladies Road in very poor circumstances and the children mostly didn't get fed properly and they weren't looked after and so I think Jonathan Priestley wanted to give them one meal a day at least to make sure they could flourish and have a healthier life." At the age of 11 Fred had to go to work in the mill so, like most children in those days, he had to continue his schooling on a half-time basis.

Christine with her brother

Christine and her brother, former pupils

Asked if her school years were the best days of her life, Betty says: "I don't think I enjoyed school at all. It was just something you had to do and you did it." And Christine's memories of Green Lane are very mixed: "It was very regimented and my brother said it was worse when he was here. They were very cruel - some of the teachers. It used to be very upsetting seeing young children from seven to 11 being really badly treated and that was the 1950s. I think the best thing they did was to abolish physical punishment for children. It was abusive."

Looking around the brand new dining hall Christine believes that life at Green Lane - and at other schools - is very different today. She says: "My grandchildren are so happy. They love school. They absolutely glory in it. They are so happy they don't have any trouble getting them to go to school and they try hard and they do well. That's a big difference!"

Some of you have been talking to BBC Radio Leeds' Andrew and Georgey about school dinners they remember:

* Helena Watkins says:  "I used to like school dinners for the most part - I remember particularly liking the stew. However, the pizza and quiche put me off pizza and cooked tomato for years - it wasn't in the present style - the tomato was simply cut in half - and sat in the mix looking rather indigestible and off-putting. I now enjoy cooked tomato, pizza and quiche since they come in the more usual style."

* Steve B. says he never had a school dinner: "I always went home for lunch as did my father. Our family of four always sat down together for our midday meal. I heard so many bad things from school friends that I was relieved I never ate a school dinner! My first school dinner was when I was aged 45. It was at a remote rural school in Jamaica. I sat outdoors on a rock and ate chicken rice 'n' peas, coleslaw, and salad. All prepared by three local mothers. Absolutely delicious, and the setting in the hills added to the experience."

* Roy Coggan says: "School dinners? Well, let's see...There was the time at the Ireland Wood Annexe, next to Tinshill Water Tower, now long gone, where they produced a sort of grey swill with extremely unimpressive bits of unidentifiable matter floating, and occasionally sinking, in it. It smelled revolting, and tasted worse. Apparently it was stew, but we didn't believe that. Even the teachers had to admit that it wasn't really an option for us to eat it. Personally, I'm with Georgey on the spam fritter debate. A coating of inedible, rock hard batter struggling to stay in contact with a semi-congealed mass of reconstituted meat of dubious origin, invariably served with beans that must have been roasted to be that hard, in a sauce of a vaguely orange colour which purported to be tomato flavour. That and the con that was parsnip chips. Oh, and leather-bound sausages...The good things? Meat and potato pie and chocolate sponge pudding with pink custard. Wierd but wonderful. And actually we hold the record for the number of cucumber slices stuck to the dining room ceiling at any one time - Seven!"

Just click on the link below to find out how to share YOUR West Yorkshire school dinner memories with Memoryshare - and to see what other people are saying...

...and remember you'll be doing your bit to build the BBC Memoryshare archive of hundreds of memories from across the UK since 1900 until the present day!

last updated: 03/12/07

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