Eric and Vera Alderson have been married for 62 years. Before Christmas, we met them to record their memories of Askrigg and Hawes Schools during WWII.
NB owing to lockdown the Story of Schools exhibition at Dales Countryside Museum which was due to open 30 Jan will now be delayed - we'll open as soon as we can and hope you enjoy this history treat in the meantime...
ERIC ALDERSON - Askrigg School, 1940s
I was born in ’34 and started Askrigg School in ’39. Childhood back then was completely different. You went out to play boys and girls on a night. Cricket, rounders and everything… I lived at Woodhall but we used to go on to Askrigg on summer nights. Everybody played whatever they wanted. But there’s none of that now, gone in’t it, that era.
In summer, you went on nature walks with school. The Banks at Askrigg, they used to have a grocer shop, and they took us up to Semerwater on their flat wagon. It was just a flat wagon – no barriers round the edges. Just imagine that now (laughs). And I think they took us up to Addlebrough with fifteen of us on it maybe. That was our nature walk, yes.
I went to Askrigg School till the exams [for Grammar School]. And I didn’t pass. So I went to Northallerton School. You see you went to school until fifteen at Askrigg. But I couldn’t because they were closing it down for secondary school. I was the last year they took them at Askrigg and I would have had to go to Hawes for me eleven to fifteen. But to get to Hawes from Woodhall I’d have to cycle from Woodhall to catch the train from Askrigg in a morning, and on a night I wouldn’t get home till five o’clock. So instead of doing that I went and lodged in Northallerton. I lodged in the same place me father lodged at during the war. Cause he was repairing army wagons in a small factory in Northallerton. So he got demobbed type of thing, and I went to the same lodgings where he lodged at in the war years. And the war finished in Europe and I went down there.
Oh Askrigg, it was a good school. I always remember they were building a little cabin onto the school. And we thought oh we were going to get school dinners. Because they’d had it arranged, and they had a big set pan. But it was just if there was any bombing they’d be a community place for people to go and eat, probably. They never did use it. And that was built in the playground attached to the school. And so we never got any dinners out of it. No. We took our dinner to school. Sandwiches and what have you, y’know. I had my dinner bag and my gas mask on my bike.
You hadn’t to forget your gas mask, it was kept in a strong cardboard box. They were cumbersome. We used to have to go down every so often to Yorebridge School to have them checked. There was a small shower room, and we used to go in the showers with our gas mask on, and they used to put tear gas in. Then you’d be in there ten minutes or whatever, and you came out and took your mask off, and if your eyes were watering they did something to your gas mask, cause it was leaking and getting gas in y’see. And that’s what they did every so often. Oh yes everybody had a gas mask.
When I was at Askrigg School, it was only a small school, but with evacuees and everything – there was 144 of us. We used to have a board same as they have in church, and you slid the numbers in to tell you how many was attending school you see. And that's how I know cause we used to have to do it every day.
What were my impressions of the evacuees? Completely different (laughs). Yeah. They were towns. A lot from Newcastle area y’know. I remember when the evacuees came up Wensleydale, I’d never seen as big a train come up. I wasn’t at school. And there were a lot of carriages on and a big engine. It dropped evacuees off at various places, and they allocated them out, everybody in village had some y’know… Usually there was never more than two carriages on and a little engine, but this was a big engine with big carriages on. And people, kids waving out of the windows. A lot of children came away from the bombing on the coast. We’re pretty safe up here.
Just below Woodhall there used to be what they called Bungalow Town (pictured below). They’d be maybe fifteen bungalows – wooden bungalows – and all them were full with evacuees. They went to Carperby School did most of them I think, and I know we was a bit frightened to go by when we were lads, because, well they were out of towns and we were country.
The war affected a big chunk of my school years, yes. I started at five in ‘39, and then I was there till 11, that was basically all my time at Askrigg School. You probably didn't learn as much I don't know. With schools bursting at Askrigg, and Hawes would be as well.
We had gardening at school. We had a big garden, we used to have to dig that, and grow vegetables there. Then you could go to woodwork at old Yorebridge [the first Grammar School site]. You weren’t supposed to go there till after eleven, but I must’ve gone about nine somehow. Mr Winsby took us. The old Yorebridge near what was the original school near the side of the river there. And that’s where woodwork was.
We’d have a Home Guard as well. And it's funny how children when we were playing… we used to find bullets, so I had bullets in my pocket. Three live bullets you know. And we used to take ends off, and get the cord right out and lay em in a row. One dinnertime Mr Winsby caught us. So everybody had to empty their pockets, and took everything out of their pockets they had. And we threw them over the bridge into the river there. I’ll never forget that.
There were soldiers in Askrigg. Don’t ask me how but everybody seemed to have some sort of a device type of thing. You see the army was up, in Gayle there was tanks, and they was stationed at Woodhall, and some at Nappa Scarr – the army. And so I don’t know how but everybody seemed to have something. Thunder flashes or something you know?
After the war they seemed to pull out steadily away, you never noticed did you? The buildings were left you see, but they were only tin huts, y’know, like zinc, and tents. Same as at Little Ings [in Gayle], you know where the houses are now, it was all army huts there.
I drove the school buses from the 1950s for around thirty years. I drove children into Yorebridge from the east. And then also from Askrigg to Hawes School, as when they were eleven they started coming to Hawes for their eleven to fifteen. Leyburn [Secondary Modern] wasn’t open then. Then eventually when Leyburn started, I think we'd have maybe seven or eight buses to Leyburn School. Our firm was called Alderson’s, yes. We were picking children up both sides of the Dale. We didn't miss a lot because of bad weather. In really bad weather we couldn't use the Woodhall road. Sometimes there were snow drifts height of the bus. We were going through, being dug out, but we kept going. There wasn't much traffic. No it was alright and I can say that touch wood, with all those buses on the road every day, we never had a bump. Never really had a scrape did we? We were probably lucky, you know, cause we went in all conditions.
Lovely children. But there’s one thing it has spoilt has taking children to Leyburn School and so forth… In the old days you could tell where the children were from. Say, Gayle children, the dialects in their voices. But it’s all mixed up now. I mean it’s all a lot of Yorkshire. But it was really good then. They’d have slightly different accents, see. How were they different? Well, I daren’t say. But the higher up the Dale you went, the broader you get. Yes. And you could tell Swaledale people. They were different because they used to sing a little bit, y’know, different Swaledale accent. You could pick em out. Y’see I did my National Service in ‘54/’56, and people hadn’t moved about as much then, and you knew where they’d come from. Everybody had a different accent.
Once they started going to Leyburn School, big school – that started changing it. They all started getting the same twang. Did I alter my voice when I went to Northallerton? I would do yes, y’know. But when I come back to Hawes I went off again.
It's good to record the past, because a lot of it gets lost. A lot of things do want saying, y’know. I used to listen to a lot of old farmers. With having the garage [at Woodhall], they used to come in with the tractors and the balers and everything.
VERA ALDERSON - Hawes School 1940s
I was born in 1936. ‘41 when I would start wouldn’t it, five-years-old. I went to Hawes School. Something I've always remembered was Mr Steels the headmaster, and he smoked. And when he ran out of cigarettes, he used to ask one of us, did we mind going down to the Board Hotel to tell to get him his cigarettes? And we used to go down to the Board Hotel. So naturally, we took our time, you know, to go down and get it and everything. And since I’ve grown older I’ve thought what a funny thing to have to do, you know? The Board Hotel was a pub then. There was a sort of hatch in the wall. And there was ice cream actually as well, later on. It was just cause he’d run out of cigarettes and he’d want one in the next break I should presume. This is what I’ve partly thought since I was older, you know. We just brought them back and gave them to him. To imagine now, a headteacher asking a child to do that. This is why I was thinking about it all. But we used to love to go, you know, it was an excuse for an extra ten minutes out of school.
They did have canes in those days, but not for the girls, only for the boys. I don't think girls were too badly treated really. You’d get lines to do, you know, do 100 lines tonight at home if you’d done something wrong, which was awful. ‘I must not do this’ or ‘I must not do that.’ I think we'd rather of had the smack over the hand. To do lines when you got home at night.
I lived in Gayle till I was 14. And then my mum and dad moved down to Hawes, to Town Head. And I lived at Hawes till I married Eric in 1958. So we’ve been married quite a long time. 62 years.
I left school at 15. You left school at that age unless you passed for Yorebridge [Grammar School]. And I didn’t pass. How did I feel about it? I suppose you just accepted it really. Probably knew I wouldn’t pass anyway. My sister Dilys passed but didn’t go. She thought it would be a lot of expense for Mum and Dad. She managed the bakery shop at Basil’s for 39 years.
I didn’t mind not passing my Yorebridge exam. No if I couldn’t, I couldn’t. I remember I was nervous, yes I was very nervous. I was sitting in the classroom, we all had a desk each. And Miss Burrow sat there, and we were just quiet and getting on with the job. Miss Burrow, she taught at Hawes for 50 years. She was really lovely and she did sewing classes as well, which I don't think they do nowadays. And, you know, she was good. We had to do everything properly, you know, but she had patience to teach you. She was fantastic.
We used to go out and play… Cowboys and Indians we used to play, and you’d go off and hide so that they couldn't find you. And I can always remember Miss Allens lived on at Gayle, and they’d had a water cistern what had no water in, y’know, it came from the waste water. And Elvia and I - that's the girl I went to school with - used to go and hide in this cistern. They never found us so we ended up always coming out, so as we could get found. We weren’t wet cause there was no water in it (laughs).
We got evacuees a lot didn’t we. We had one. A girl, Ethel. And she had to sleep with Dilys and I, three in a double bed, and I was the little one, so of course I was put in the middle of the bed. And they all came with – well we called them ‘dicks’ in those days in their head. They all had them. Lice. So Mum used to put me a little pixie hat on, with paraffin on, so that they wouldn’t get into me hair. But they did do (laughs). And then they opened a place up above Spring Bank where they all had to go and be treated for them and that must have been awful for them. Did she become my friend? Yes! Well she was just one of us. She was treated the same and everything. Yes, yeah.
Pictures: Eric and Vera Alderson in 2020, and below that 'Bungalow Town' in Carperby (thanks to Ros Bousfield for the share).