We loved meeting this well-known Swaledale couple and recording their school stories from Low Row and Keld in the 40s. Brian and Jennie Sunter have been married for 61 years and speak in resonating 'Swardle'.
Brian Sunter - Low Row School, 1940s
I started Low Row School in 1940. I would have been five-year-old. The school is immediately between the Wesleyan chapel and the village hall. It's long, with a boy's playground up on the west side. The boys and girls played separately at Low Row. From inside the school, the girls went up a long flight of stairs and into a small playground at the back.
We were all taught together, but we played different games. Boys were boys. And we had games out in our own playground you see. After lunch we were free for half an hour. So we'd been known to do a chalk trail up round the fields and back to the school. Someone goes first, and they go around and leave chalk arrows on the wall. And then the rest of the team run round following it. The person comes back to the school and that's all over, it’s just a run round. It was fun, yeah.
We were allowed to roam. Oh, definitely. We'd been going as far as Blades which is the hamlet up above Low Row. We’d be known to go up as far as there and back again, which is… half a mile.
We never got told off for being late. It was freedom. You see I was brought up on a farm, so I had freedom of the farm. And as regards going to Low Row School, that was two mile to walk there, two miles back. And the first day of school, I split my head open, falling down the steps at five-year-old. The mark’s still there on my head. And I went to my father's relation which had the dairy, which was the milk dairy that supplied milk. And the farmer's wife there put butter on it. Put butter on my head and that was all that was done with it. Was I expected to walk home again after that? Oh yes. Yeah.
But I wasn’t alone. I had friends. There was seven boys. A lot of the time when I was there we were all good friends. We all helped each other and we all were mischiefers etc.
My best friend was Colin Hird. He was always my friend at school. And it took us a long time to go home on a night. We’d play around in the woods, we’d light fires above the chapel, the Congregational Chapel. And we’d then saunter along the road.
As an adult I farmed on the Whitaside Road. Right up on the top. I farmed right out on the hill, further out there. What was it like farming up there? Very hard. Very cold. Bad winters. I mean it was all work. It was nothing else but work on them farms.
When I was a child I wanted to do something with horses. I'd worked with horses since I was seven. I done all the haytiming with horses. I rode horses at local shows, Muker and Low Row. But there was a man, a distant relation working for us when I was fifteen. And the week after I left school, me dad let him go to another farm. And I was the only son, and he said ‘this is what you're going to do lad, you're going to farm’. And farm is what I had to do.
I didn't have a choice. What my father said went, what my father said - had to go. He was a strong man. And had a very hard upbringing in life.
I didn’t like school. Because I liked to be on the farm with the horses and the animals and working. There were days when I stayed at home to work instead of going to school. Quite frequent in haytime, in harvest time. I'd be with a horse and the machine doing something. Dashing out the hay or making the rows, or sweeping the hay out.
I enjoyed staying home to work. It was a last-minute thing. What the day was like and what the day was going to be. And I just used to go with that.
How would I describe a childhood in the Dales? Brilliant. Free range. Learn forever, learn such a lot. As a boy I could go and play in the woods. I could pick hazelnuts in October, November. I could go and cut a few sticks for something. I could go to meet my friends across the other side of the river. Don't get me wrong. That I didn't want to farm. I was amongst it that much that it kind of grew on me. I just learnt to do all these practical things. There were good times. Definitely.
There were seven of us - seven boys at Low Row School. When we were eight, nine and ten, we were very mischievous. We weren’t vandals, but we were mischievous. Once we had Miss Dickson as a teacher, and Miss Homes was the infant teacher. And how we come to be so naughty, I don't know. But we tied all the doors with the skipping ropes from the girl’s playground. We tied all the doors, and tied the teachers inside. And went down to the river in the Low Row bottoms. It must have been winter, and we were skating on the ice. Now what happened when we came back? I don't know.
We got quite a lot of ruler across the hands and the knuckles, which didn't do any harm. And then as time went on when we got to 14 and that, we mixed with the older boys and we were very mischievous in the village. If anyone was naughty to us or didn’t like us or anything like that, on fifth of November – Mischief Night - we could put a hen down their chimney probably. Big open chimneys. Live hen. All the soot and the hen went down it to the bottom and out into the grate (laughs). And they’d be soot all over the room.
There’s Mischief Night still going on, when people go round, they get sweets from houses and that, they come round here every year. But It isn’t called that. It’s called Halloween. Halloween’s rather a Mischief Night because if they don’t get a sweet or get anything they might put a bit of treacle on the door handle or the gate. But we didn't get treats on Mischief Night. There were no treats. Mischief Night was Mischief Night.
Jennie Sunter - Keld School, 1940s
I would go to Keld School when I was five. I was born in ’36, so that would mean 1941. I was there through all the war years, yes. I was there till I was 14, and then at 14 came to Reeth for one year. The first one from Keld that ever came to Reeth. I suppose to mix more, higher education really, I would think. And then I left school at 15, yeah.
There was quite a lot of evacuees. And the young ones had to go to school in the public hall, the village hall, because there wasn't room for us.
Quite a few families, you know, had evacuees. They stayed with different families all round about. We would play together, yes. A lot of the evacuees round Keld came from Gateshead area. There was one evacuee who stayed in one of the houses around Keld that had a bathroom and a generator of its own. She always said when she came she felt she’d got to Buckingham Palace.
What are my memories of school? Well it was alright (laughs). There was a little porch as we went in. And then it was just one big room with a fireplace for heating. We weren’t cold, cause people weren’t used to central heating then. But we’d have to wear quite a few layers in winter.
I walked to school. Two mile. The first mile I was sort of on me own and that was through fields. But when I got down to that first little hamlet, there was all the children going from there. So on the road I went with them. The same thing happened when they left and there was younger children. I took them. I was only five, yes, but it was just over fields. Sometimes I couldn’t walk because it was too wet. When it was very wet or there was snow, well you just missed school. How did I feel when this happened? Probably quite pleased.
In the winter I’d be walking in the dusk nearly. It wasn’t very good for walking, but there was a path that we followed in places. It was very wet. And sometimes if there wasn't much water in the beck, you crossed it. We walked in wellingtons. Always wellies. I think we took plimsolls or something for class.
We took a packed lunch. And the teacher made us tea. You know, she boiled the kettle and made us tea, but we took our little bottle of milk. But we had a hot cup of tea made by the teacher.
We used to have singing lessons. Girls and boys sort of all did the same lessons, you know. Just sometimes later on at Keld, they got a patch of garden, and the boys did gardening and we did sewing. Did boys ever do sewing? I don’t know (laughs).
When I was growing up everybody mainly spoke with an accent like mine [pronounced Swaledale]. One of the teachers we had she was from London [Mrs Balme] and she was here in wartime. And she probably altered us a little bit, but not all together.
We hadn’t a playground when we were there. There were no playground. You came out of the school, there was the chapel there which the school belonged to, the Congregational Chapel, and there was cobbles just in front and there was the road, that’s where we played. It was safe because there wasn’t many cars. If you did see a car you knew who it was. There wasn’t a lot of local cars. So children were quite safe walking then. Boys probably roamed around but no we're just usually played outside and in summer we did PE outside - jumping and hands and physical things. On the road, yeah. We used to play hopscotch. We used to draw it with chalk on the road, and then I think you threw a little stone to each square. Rounders, we used to play rounders. There was houses all around, that was the worst. The ball used to go over into somebody’s garden and then you had to go for it.
There was a big storm in 47. All the roads were closed. I wasn’t at school for quite a long time. There wasn’t no snow blowers and things to open the road, and the vast amount of snow would be unbelievable to you – I mean it was at the bedroom windows. In the middle of the storm it settled down and I went to school for a week. I just set off from the farm and walked to Keld. There was no walls, no nothing, no rivers. The beck was all covered up. I did miss a lot of school then, but everybody missed a lot. But the teacher stayed in Keld, there was a school house with the job. And so the school was never closed. The children in Keld would go all the time.