Inspiring photo essay II: a tour of my childhood, courtesy of South Riding (there is nothing about dead cats in this post)

Once again nicking the ideas of my betters, let me welcome you into the places of my youth. Of course, if you’ve been watching South Riding you have, unbeknown to you (unless you follow me on Twitter), been doing that anyway. But I thought I’d lay them out for you, because I’m dead kind like that.

Towards the end of last year, the mother of my oldest friend (that’s the friend I’ve known for longest, pedants) told her she’d seen David Morrissey filming near her old school months earlier. Leaving aside what possessed her to hold in such thrilling news, we immediately started to speculate on which bits of our school would be used. The Old Building of Morley High was built around 1900 and (at least, in 1996) still had the original internal windows, tiling, solid wooden science labs, stone staircases and railings. If you think this sounds incredibly glamorous and period, allow me to put it another way – it means we were being educated in a building that hadn’t been decorated in about 50 years.

(Oh god, I just terrified myself by going on the new school website and spotting the teachers who are still there. Big up Mrs Shields and Mr Bardsley. Except now it’s an Academy and Technology Specialist School to boot, with subjects including Hair and Beauty. I fucking weep.)

In South Riding, Anna Maxwell Martin plays a feisty 1930s lass, come ‘ome t’north from That London wi’ some fancy notions abaht educatin’ t’bairns. Here, she stands in her new school and bemoans its dilapidated state. Not, as it turns out, my high school – it was my friend’s primary school, Cross Hall, closed since 2005. She says it didn’t need much set dressing.

Dour, isn’t it? Scratched up and damp, isn’t it? That bloody institutional green, isn’t it? Of course, this isn’t anything like my junior school. No, in my junior school the lower panelling had been painted white.

My old junior school’s been closed for about ten years. They’ve all been replaced by buildings without weird white growths on the walls and ceilings (does anyone know what they were? I always assumed paper-and-spit balls, the ones the boys fired out the ends of biros, but nowadays I’m not sure).

Ah, Edwardian lavatory blocks. Anna Maxwell Martin stands in the middle of them and decries their state, they’re unfit to be used in the 1930s, she says. Except they were still being used into the millennium. And I’d forgotten all about the freezing outside toilet blocks until a text message conversation while watching this. Lucky for you lot this wasn’t filmed in Smell-o-Vision; when forced to leave our high school via the exit near the boys’ old toilets, it was enough to make you gag.

Of course at the time, this was all perfectly commonplace. It’s only now we’re looking back and thinking: ‘fuck me, we were poo-er’.


When I first saw this grand edifice on screen, I tweeted that it couldn’t possibly be Morley Town Hall. Shame on me: it is. Of course, there’s something not quite right for a building of this period. Can you tell what it is?

That’s right. It’s far too clean. There’s been some sandblasting going on, that’s for sure. In my memories the entire building is covered in decades of soot. That’s what being in a mill town does for you.

Oo, now. I’ve played clarinet on this stage. Very poorly. And certainly not wearing an outfit like that. We also collected our A Level certificates at the town hall, someone having torched the school’s main hall and gym the Christmas after we left.

Inside, it is rather lovely.

But that’s all typical of the magnificent Victorian municipal buildings that were erected when the industrial North was wealthy. Look back at the outside of my old junior school again. It’s built to the height of two storeys but with just one set of rooms – with massive ceilings. And the clocktower. Completely unnecessary (and I think by my day, it had no hands), but the money was there and they wanted to show off. And then the money ran out, and we ended up with run-down, cold, draughty places with stinking lavs. Say what you like about the Labour government (and I do), at least they replaced them with buildings fit for purpose.

Next up: I go mental with Google Streetview, because it’s finally seen fit to map south of the White Rose Centre.


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