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Kevin Murphy


Difficult days at school in the 1940s

Colour photograph of the head and shoulders of Kevin Murphy.
Kevin Murphy © Carl Rose


Kevin Murphy grew up in a large Catholic family in Burngreave during the 1940s. He recalls some difficult days in school when he had to struggle with being labelled as stupid. This extract is taken from an interview with Kevin (jointly with his wife Ann) recorded by Ingrid Hanson for the Burngreave Voices oral history archive in November 2006.

My earliest recollection is that we went to St Vincent's and I think I was there one term, then on to St Patrick's. Then we were told by the parish priest down here at that time that, 'Mrs Murphy should be sending her children to St Catherine's, not St Patrick's.' Wouldn't dare do that today! However, [they] sent me to St Catherine's School and I was there till I was nine. And I had an elderly brother, well, two years older than me, who was mentally retarded, which coloured my entire attitude to everything. He was running around all over the place, there was no way they could teach him. And me being next to him, of course I could feel this intensely. Oh, I was so embarrassed! And naturally they thought I must be like him, but it wasn't so, you see. They decided that I was unteachable so they got rid of me and sent me to a school for slow learners. I managed to catch up there a little bit, reading and writing and things like that. But anyway, I was settled then, and I was quite happy at this school I went to, and I was there until I was sixteen and then I got a job in the steel works.

But yes, I can say the first five years of school were not very good actually, not for me anyway, because my brother who was mentally retarded, he held me back. I didn't realise that until recently, but he did hold me back because I was worrying about him all the time. And of course if you're not reading and writing by the time you're seven years old, you're never going to catch up, so we're told.