John Waggett, 75, has farmed in Upper Swaledale all his life. He has twinkly eyes and a rich, melodic accent. He is one of the few remaining speakers of the Swaledale dialect and went to Gunnerside Methodist School in the 50s. The main photo shows John today and the photo below shows a young John on the far left. We met on a bright blue day in early March at his cosy house in Muker. Here is part of what John said:
I went to Gunnersit Methodist School for nine year or just more. It burnt down just after I left. They always thought it was an electrical fault but nobody will ever know. It was an oldish school, a lot of wood in it and it did really burn to the bottom like.
It was a school from 1835 till 1963 I think. The school was at top of Gunnerside. There was the teacher’s house on the roadside with the school just behind it as you might say. After the fire, somebody bought the teacher’s house to live in and cleared the site away to give a better view.
My childhood, oh we had good times like, yeah. That is a certainty. We were always doing things when we shouldn’t. Like pinching apples and plums at back-end time of the year and playing pranks on folk. Worse thing we ever did was two of us on bonfire night, we put a cock chicken down a chimney - alive (laughs). It came out alright at the bottom as well.
Y’see there was two women who used to go with all our balls from school. If we were playing football in the school yard and the balls went over the wall into their garden, they were just waiting for em and went with em and we never got em back. And they said after they’d died there was absolutely cupboards full of balls. And so I went and got cockerel and another lad climbed onto the roof, which was very low to get onto, and then we put it down. They opened the stove door and it came out and it might have sore feet. Policeman knew who to blame but he couldn’t prove it - one of em was policeman’s lad like. Policemen knew everything that was going on, they just travelled about on their push bikes.
But they didn’t get involved in truancy like. No, we had what they called the Kiddy Catcher for that, I don’t know if you’ve heard of them before? If you were off (school) they came round and gave you a roasting. But y’see if there was anything really busy at home you never thought about going to school, you just helped at home. The Kiddy Catcher used to come and check your attendance and then if it was bad he went to see your parents and he wanted to know why like, and you got letters written and that. The whole time I was there, there was just one fella, and he was very strict, we used to get quite a lot of tickins off about it. He was a stern little man I know that, well-built but not so big, and oh he didn’t half go at yer like, he did. He had a car in them days, the 50s, he always came in a car.
But most of the time kids wouldn’t be larking about they would be working. And same as with summer holidays, once folk started hay, they had to close the school cause nobody would go - cause you stopped at home to help with haytime. Ninety percent was all farmers’ kids like and that. And then once folks started haytime they knew they had to close the school for five weeks. That would be the summer holidays, it would coincide, yeah. You learnt more at haytime than being at school, that is a certainty. School y’know to me is ridiculous nowadays, they don’t learn em to do work do they, all they want everybody to do is sit on their backside and lake on them bloody machine things. Now the modern lot, well they have no common sense have they like. This is one of the things that’s jiggering the dale.
We had a big vegetable garden at Gunnerside, and a canteen down in the Institute, and we had dinners there. We grew vegetables for dinner and that. Somebody came up with what they wanted for dinner - how many taties and a cabbage, and lettuce and such like - and then all the lads went and dug it up and took it down to Institute. You would have the morning doing that you see, instead of being sat at a desk. The woman that cooked she was a local woman and she did tremendous good dinners, she did owt of next to nowt as you might say. We always had a hot meal. Taties and veg, and there’d be sausage or meat or stew. And then you had a right good pudding like yeah.
When I went to school I was told thousands of times I hadn’t a brain at all by the teacher. I had one teacher all the nine years like. But it didn’t matter to me, I wasn’t bothered whether I had brains, I knew what I could do. She did not like me and I didn’t like her. She used to hit me just on edge of ear with a big wood ruler. I got scabs. Many a day when I went home I had blood to me waist, down the side like yeah, and we’re talking the 50s.
I was absolutely useless at English and spelling and such like, absolutely. And I couldn’t do it and I wasn’t bothered. She used to whack me for getting my spellings wrong and maybe lookin out of window watching somebody doing summat. Cause you had good windows, it was rather raised up was school, and you could see a long way, and if somebody was laying muck or gathering lambs up we would be watchin them instead of doing work like, that is a certainty.
After lunch we had playtime and we had to make our way back up to school, but we didn’t always get that way like (laughs). They didn’t seem to mind as long as we were there back for one o’clock. We weren’t supposed to roam but we did. We went to the Gill and to maybe tickle a few fish and such like, that was main thing - if we could get a trout or two to take in for tea. We knew where all the main spots was. You see there was a lot more fish in becks in them days, but they weren’t so big like.
There wasn’t a big playground. We used to play football and hula hooping - that was a big thing in them days. Some of the lasses was absolutely marvellous with them like they were. Cause they were wood ones then. Everybody played together because there wasn’t no room. When I started school it would be about fifty kids going to Gunnerside school, and by time I’d finished we were down to just six. The folk started leaving Dale did some of em, and there just wasn’t the kids.
In them days there was no expense, everybody started with a book of sums, and y’know it was passed down. You did that book, and then another one. Now they’ve all these fancy gadgets don’t they, costs a fortune, no wonder the world’s in a bad way. Some of them sum books was dated back to 1920s and 30s that we were still using in 50s. If you damaged one of them you were in trouble like - you were known to take care of em.
Everybody walked to school, it didn’t matter how far it was you walked didn’t yer. Some would walk between two and three mile like, yeah. There was one time there was seventeen of us coming, and we all had clogs on, and they said we always used to gallop down Gunnersit Brigg and over Brigg yonder, they always thought there was some horses coming. If you’ve got seventeen all in clogs, it just sounded like horses. It was great wearing clogs. They’ve gone out of fashion but I still have a pair. They were so comfortable and warm, with wood on the bottom and leather up top. They were good to run in like, cause they came up and supported your ankle, they laced up like a boot. Women had different ones, they just had a clasp on and finished more like a shoe.
Many a time school wasn’t so warm, cause it was a big room was Gunnerside, and drafty. If it was really windy, there was big sash windows and they used to rattle, oh aye. Sometimes if it was really cold we were allowed to put coats on. There was an open fire at front of school, and at the back there was one of them big old-fashioned metal stoves. The eldest lads kept it going. Teacher used to come and say put some coal on like, and we had to get it in from the cellars as well an all. It was a big fire, it took a lot if it was bad weather, and we would go through three or four buckets every day. Bad weather didn’t stop folk in them days, no, you just plodded on.
I’d say seventy percent of kids would come back to farming when they left school, there was just the odd one that got away to grammar school. But even a lot of them that went to grammar school they still came back to work at home like.
I went into farming. Yeah, I had no other interest really. Well with my education I wouldn’t been able to do owt like really (laughs). I could’ve been a butcher, that is a certainty. We’ve had a good life, yeah, it’s been hard at times but we’ve always pulled through and done alright at the finish.
I’ve always held on to my accent, I’ve always been determined, my estimation is our forbearers forgot more about life, living and farming than we’ll ever know, cause they couldn’t go anywhere to get any injection or anything like that, and I have great admiration for the old folk like, and I’ve tried to keep these things going as much as I can, that is a certainty.