Boys were kept in short trousers until the age of 14, I believe, as a written edict which I suspect school staff found an easy way of “keeping youngsters from getting above themselves”! For girls there was no obligatory age at which they might cover up their knees, but I have a photograph of me and fellow class-mates at school at the age of seven, wearing long woollen stockings, whereas a photo taken about two years earlier outside Kinburn House (then not a Museum, but a very nice Tearoom, with waitresses in pinafore) obviously taken in winter, shows my baby sister cosy in her push-chair, my Grandmother wrapped up in her fur coat and me in a warm coat and a new pair of gaiters (just like adult ones). These were made of brushed woollen material and had about twenty buttons at the side of each leg. These buttons could only be fastened by using a buttonhook (quite a skill).
Between the top of the gaiters and the hem of my coat are my very bare knees. To look at it just makes me cold!
|Miss Bushnell with her baby sister, Kinburn House, St Andrews c1930|
How thoughtless it was on the part of adults! And not only because of the cold. Children will run – and they did so even in days gone by. Children will fall – for a multitude of reasons, with knees continually suffering: bruised, skinned, patched-up! Sometimes tiny fragments of gravel, stones and earth penetrated the lacerated skin and the Doctor was called out to administer the wonderful Peroxide of Hydrogen to the battered knee: this had the effect of an impressive FIZZ by which the ‘foreign body’ miraculously came to the surface, and in the process distracted the young patient’s attention and dried the tears!
Dungarees, romper suits, trousers of all sorts: what a wonderful difference they have made to children’s’ lives.