This article originally appeared in the Keyworth Local History Society’s newsletter and appears here by kind permission of of the author.
Bob Hammond's excellent article on education in Keyworth after 1870, in which he states that discipline was strict, with frequent use of the cane, especially on boys, brought to mind a story, often repeated to me by village elders whose school life had been spent under the headmastership of Mr Neate. I remember Mr Neate in his old and frail last years, but still a dominant and respected member of the community.
When I was at that school some sixty years ago, it was practice in high summer, at the end of the school day, to make our way down Lings Lane - nearly to the end, squeeze through a gap in the hedge and make our way across two fields down to the Fairham Brook. Quickly divesting ourselves of short trousers and shirt, boots and socks, we would jump into the cool water and splash about until the water became dark and churned up with mud. We even had a choice of pools; Fizzies, every inch of three feet deep, or, further upstream, Old Hole, a dark sinister pool where the brook widened out, arched over completely by tall hawthorn trees which grew on either bank. It had a brooding air of mystery and was reputed to be nine feet deep. Strange tales were told of boys who had dived in, never to reappear - although I never remember any names being mentioned. Old Hole was strictly for the senior boys or strong swimmers. Most of us were content with Fizzies. Drying off was accomplished with the aid of the hot afternoon sun and we then went back home, along the lane for tea. It was a male preserve; girls went there only at weekends or during school holidays.
It was a tradition among Keyworth boys which went back many years; and so to the story, which relates to an event in the early part of the century. The scenario was the same with boys frolicking in the water, but unknown to them, a well known local artist and photographer was wandering along the brook seeking inspiration for some future painting. The setting was ideal and a photograph was taken.
Shortly afterwards, Mr Neate arranged to take some pupils on a hired dray to an exhibition of art and photography being staged in Nottingham Castle. Unknown to him, the photograph had been submitted to the castle art authorities, had been appraised by the committee and awarded first prize in the photographic section. An enlarged version was afforded pride of place and came into view as Mr Neate and his party
entered this part of the exhibition. Prior to this, all had been sweetness and light. Mr Neate had drawn the boys' attention to the particular works of art, had invited and answered questions and had set out to improve his pupils' minds in this particular field. Now, to his horror, he was confronted by this offending photograph, not only holding pride of place, but showing his pupils naked, or in various states of undress.
The merits of the photograph were lost on him: Close to apoplexy he abruptly cancelled the outing, packed the boys on the dray and headed back to Keyworth. If the journey to Nottingham had been at a speed equivalent to one horsepower, it certainly returned at two. Legend has it that the horse was quite exhausted on his arrival at Keyworth and took several days to recover.
Punishment was the order of the day - but who?? Several boys were identifiable from the photograph, but others could have been lurking, hidden in the bushes. Perhaps more had yet to arrive. There was only one thing to do, and Mr Neate had no qualms about doing it. Every boy in the school was caned, ensuring that no culprit had escaped.
No grudge was held and no irate parents descended upon the school. In Mr Neate's last years, the caned pupils, then in middle life and with families of their own at the school, always afforded him the utmost respect. I often wonder what the position would be today. One of the elders, now long dead, who featured in the photograph, and who told me the story, gave me the original photograph which is still in my possession.