This week our student of the week is Pauline Wyn Jones née Cooper.
Seeing and reading ‘Student of the Week. Nº 7’, brought back a flood of wonderful memories of my first ever Dance Teacher and, subsequently, long-time close personal and family friend, Margaret Lacey (or ‘Nana Lacey’ as my son referred to his favourite bed-time story reader and ‘Fairy Tale Queen’!) The garden at her little cottage in Rowen near Conwy was a magical place – full of fairies and fairy tales.
I was a student and later a Teacher at The Hammond School in (1967 – 1973) and well remember hearing stories of the friendship between Miss Hammond and Miss Lacey. I also became a pupil of Mrs Betty Hassall and became involved in her first visits to Hoole Bank.
I began my dancing career with Miss Margaret Lacey when I was a month away from my 10th birthday. (Rather late one might think!) Classes were held at the ‘Metropole Hotel’, Colwyn Bay – in the lovely Ballroom. I ‘assisted’ Miss Lacey with the baby classes and I also ran errands for her to earn and pay for my training. I had ‘hand-me-down’ ballet shoes and leotard etc. Her fertile imagination made each moment of the dance class a very special and magical event and inspired me even more so to become a dancer. I was 10½ years old when I passed my RAD Grade one!
Photo: Me with three other girls 8 years old – at that time – I’m the one on the far left!
I progressed along the route and passed both my RAD Grade two and three.
Photo: Me in ‘Skater’s Waltz’ – one of many Shows produced by Miss Margaret Lacey
It was at this point that Miss Margaret Lacey felt that I should move on – to ‘The Hammond’. She arranged an audition for me with Mrs Hassall – with whom Miss Lacey herself had trained with Miss Hammond. I was taken to Chester by Miss Lacey and had my audition with Mrs Hassall and Valerie Taylor – with Ethel Wyche at the Piano. What an exciting and thrilling experience that was! Following my audition, Miss Lacey – true to her character – took me to Chester Cathedral “to pray for a successful outcome to my audition!” She treated me to luncheon and then took me back to my home in Colwyn Bay.
My audition was a success and I was accepted and travelled from Colwyn Bay to Chester every Saturday and participated in two Elementary Classes. Eighteen months later, aged just 15 – and at Mrs Hassall’s suggestion – I decided to leave Secondary School – without sitting any formal Academic Examinations – and informing everyone that “my brains were in my feet!”. It was at this point that I began my time as a boarder at Nº 12, Liverpool Road.
Photo: Me arriving as a Boarder!
I wasn’t an ordinary boarder, however. I was brought up in a small, three bedroom, council house by my Mother and Father – along with five sisters. Although my Father worked long hours as a lengths man for British Railways, there was no way that my parents could afford to pay the fees of a Ballet School. They applied for a Grant from the Education Department of Denbighshire County Council towards the cost of my Board and Tuition at The Hammond but this were refused – with a curt comment that “Dancing is a hobby, not work!” I’ve never forgotten that comment.
As I was extremely fortunate to have secured a place at The Hammond and as Mrs Hassall recognised my potential and was sympathetic towards my family’s financial circumstances and my personal predicament, I was offered the opportunity to work at the school in return for my tuition. I arrived at The Hammond four days before all Boarders arrived so I could make up the sixty-eight beds (sheets and blankets in those days!) and help generally to prepare Nºs 12, 16 and 18, Liverpool Road for the arrival of the Students. I would stay on four days at the end of term to do the reverse! This occurred at the beginning and end of each, and every term. I remember that Nº 12 was such a huge house to be living in with just Miss Alderson (Matron) and ‘Oggy’ (Miss Ogden!) for company, but I also remember how kind they both were towards me. My day would begin at 05:45 and I would go downstairs to prepare breakfast for the Boarders; bring in the five crates of milk; go and open all the studios and the back gate and put the heating on in the winter. I had to ring the ‘Junior’ bell at 07:00 followed by the ‘Senior’ bell at 07:30. I served breakfast each morning at 08:00 and then cleared the tables and washed-up afterwards. By this time, the Cook would have arrived and I assisted with chores such as peeling potatoes and vegetables for Lunch. It was then a race to get changed into my dance wear and into morning class on time. Following my class, I would hurriedly get changed again and would help with the serving of lunch and the clearing up afterwards – not forgetting the washing-up too! This was followed by a rush to get changed again in time to attend afternoon class.
I had other jobs to do for Mrs Hassall and these included, for example, sorting piles of sheets and towels from all the boarders to go to the laundry every week – and sort them into ‘dorms’ when they came back – answer the telephone outside of ‘office hours’, banking, Post Office, together with Mrs Hassall’s personal shopping. The supplies of fruit and vegetables that had been purchased had all to be taken down the stone stairs to the cellar for storage. At 5:30 pm I would help Matron prepare supper for all boarders and then clear-up and wash-up afterwards. At week-ends there was no Cook on duty and so I helped Matron with all the meals. If any of the cleaners or cooks happened to be off sick, I had to take over and forfeit all my dance classes. I lost three weeks’ classes leading up to my RAD Intermediate – but still managed to pass the exam at the first attempt, with ‘Commended’! At approximately 8:30 each evening I would assume the role of gaoler and would go through the buildings to lock-up all the gates and doors that I had unlocked in the morning. I also had the job of turning off all the radiators etc. This was a magical time to ‘throw’ myself around while I had a studio all to myself!!
Thank-you so much Pauline – be sure to look back next week for part two of Pauline’s memories.