Pupils cooked anything they could get hold of
Retired home economics teacher Beryl Ruth looks back at the post-war days when her cookery instruction was hampered by rationing and the lack of a kitchen. She talks to Jenny Amphlett
WHEN Beryl Ruth started her first job as a home economics teacher she had to share a classroom with the woodwork instructor.
"We had two old gas cookers and that was all," says the 87-year-old, from Ashley.
"I started work at Harpfields School, in Hartshill, in 1946 and to compound the problem of not having a cookery room, food was still rationed at the time.
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"We would cook anything that we could get hold of the ingredients for, so we might make a few cakes, biscuits or perhaps a little bit of bread.
"We might make a few pies if we could get a bit of meat.
"But we didn't have a fridge, so nothing could be kept overnight.
"We had to prepare our ingredients on the woodwork benches, and would simply lay our pastry boards on top.
"It certainly wouldn't have been allowed to happen today."
Beryl was born at Pittshill and attended Tunstall Catholic School then St Dominic's High School before studying for a degree at Bath Domestic Science College.
She came home to the Potteries to start her teaching career as she had been given a grant by the education committee on the condition that she worked at a school in the city.
"They could send you to any school they chose, so in 1946 I started work at Harpfields School in Hartshill," says Beryl.
"It was quite a trek from where I was living, in Pittshill.
"I would catch the bus to work and back and as school didn't finish until 4.30pm I didn't get home until 6pm each evening."
Most of the girls Beryl taught at her first school were aged 11 and, despite the conditions, she says she enjoyed it.
She said: "I did a little bit of laundry work with the girls as well, but there was no blackboard or recipe books or anything like that, so it was a bit of an effort.
"We all got on though, and had a good time."
A year later Beryl moved to Moorland Road School, in Burslem, to cut down on the commute.
She recalls: "I had a proper cookery classroom with a fridge and so many other things that I hadn't had at Harpfields.
"I started an assignment group there, where I would give the girls tasks such as putting together a meal from a limited number of store cupboard ingredients.
"Rationing was a little bit better by that time so we could cook different things, perhaps something like a shepherd's pie.
"Sometimes I would try to get them to link a first and second course together, and started studying a little bit of nutrition with them."
At that time, in the 1940s and 50s, home economics was only taught to girls.
"The only time I taught boys was at Blurton Junior High in the 1960s," says Beryl.
"One boy I taught went on to become a chef and another a waiter, and both worked at the North Staffs Hotel."
While teaching at Thistley Hough Grammar School, during the late 1950s, Beryl entered three of her young pupils for an A-level in home economics.
"It was very difficult for them because we were the only school in Staffordshire doing A-levels in home economics at the time," says Beryl.
"The girls had to go to Birmingham to sit the exam because there were so few of them locally.
"All three of them went on to teach home economics afterwards.
"I still keep in touch with one, who now lives in Barlaston, another lives in Bristol and became the head of her department."
Beryl witnessed teaching methods changing over the years, and found herself teaching less cookery and more home economics. And in addition to her work in the classroom, she found herself increasingly in demand for her educational expertise.
She became the chief examiner for Lancashire and the West Midlands.
Then during the 1960s she started writing the first of 28 home economics books, which were later printed in 22 different countries as far afield as Nigeria and New Zealand.
She said: "They're now long out of print, but I still collect royalties for photocopying so they're still being used.
"The books included cookery manuals for youngsters written in simple English plus some on housecraft.
"It got to the point where I started teaching part-time so that I could concentrate on my writing and doing some lectures."
Beryl retired in 1980 due to ill health, but still does all her own cooking.
"I really enjoyed my teaching career," she adds. "I was very sorry when I had to give it up."
Beryl has now written a memoir of her teaching days, called Bring Sixpence And A Plate.
Were you taught by Beryl Ruth, or would you like to share your memories of school home economics classes? Write to Jenny Amphlett, including your full name, address and telephone number, at Features Desk, The Sentinel, Forge Lane, Etruria, ST1 5SS or email firstname.lastname@example.org