I was at Reeth School for the beginning of the Second World War. The war affected our school days very much, in the sense that it interrupted it. The continuity went because we kept getting children and teachers who’d come in from Gateshead or Sunderland, and they maybe didn't stay very long before they went back or went off to do something else - perhaps into the army or the forces.
They were sort of strange to us, you know, they spoke differently obviously. They had different ways of behaving perhaps. I remember one lad – his name was Andy Black – and he was billeted unfortunately with two old ladies and their brother on the farm along from us. There’s still a memorial of him because in the house there's some lovely old sixteenth-century wainscoting upstairs and on it, carved into the wood? The initials ‘A. B.’! Well, we didn't do things like that, oh no. Because of everybody knowing everybody, lots of inter-related and inter-marriage, somebody was quite entitled to tell you off - and you accepted that.
At school it was a question of bringing in extra equipment [for the evacuees]. And we had these new teachers who were unfamiliar to us. I suppose we benefited from them because there was a stimulation there, but the routine had gone a bit. Gradually they drifted back home. But a lot of evacuees were very happy here - came back, married, kept coming back, still come back.
I was out on the road one day a couple years ago, and the boy who'd been evacuated to us was walking by - Jimmy Spence. He'd actually been evacuated to another family at first. We weren't supposed to have anybody because we were already a big family. But the woman he was living with was making him eat his dinner all alone on the back doorstep. She resented having an evacuee but had been compelled to take one. My mother heard of this and she said ‘that won't do’ - so he came to us. And quite by chance he was out on the road and I was there too. It’s very easy to talk to people who are walking by when you live on this corner. We hadn’t seen one another for years but we recognised each other. And he could remember so clearly being in our house, sleeping in the little back bedroom underneath the sides of bacon (laughs). And then he'd gone back to Gateshead. He left school at 14 and become a chemical engineer.
The Reeth School building now is much more comfortable than it ever was, and so colourful compared with the brown desks and white walls of my time. The windows were so high up, you couldn't see out anyway (laughs). And the playgrounds. We had a lot of fun in the playgrounds, even though they sloped away.
Having to cross the playground to the toilets, that was a bit of an ordeal believe me. You had to go out into the cold and it was so chilly. They were a fairly low lavatory pan, and round the edge were two sort of strips of concrete. They didn’t have a seat or a lid that you put down or anything like that, just these bits of concrete, and they were cold, you know. After you’d climbed up the playground and climbed into the toilets, you were glad to scarper back into school. And of course the doors didn't touch the ground at the front, so some naughty little boy could always come and peep underneath. At lunchtime we weren’t supervised at all except by the older girls. The teachers would be having their sandwiches, their cup tea, and Uncle Reg [the Headmaster Mr Place was her uncle] would have gone to the Headmaster's house to get his lunch. All sorts of things went on at lunchtime. We’d go down into the village and into the paddock at the side. A horse was often in there called Peter. And then there was a little cowhouse which has now been converted into a house. The water supply when it was put in later was always failing because the children had been playing around with the ballcock.
The roads were much quieter then. We could get on a snow sledge at the top of the hill and get right down to Reeth because you got so much momentum coming down the slope along the flats. From Reeth School you used to be able to take sledges in the early days all the way down School Hill. Now it’s a busy road but there was no traffic then. We sledged down the middle of the road, right down past the police station. There’s one famous story of the sledge going between the policeman's legs (laughs).
Local lore has it that a man from Gunnerside had a very powerful car, it might even have been a Rolls Royce, I don't know. But when he got onto the Council he got School Hill widened simply because of his big powerful car (laughs). But that’s just a local story.
I don’t have that many memories of what we studied. The girls did needlework, the boys did gardening out the back – that was where the plots were. But mostly we just studied all together. And certainly in the classroom we didn’t sit girls and boys, I sat next to John Blenkiron who went on to run the undertaking firm in Richmond (laughs). We all mixed in. The girls didn’t do gardening lessons, except when we were turned out on a nice afternoon to weed the rockery - which has now been concreted so that you don't have to scratch your fingers among the stones to pull out the weeds.
Was I aware back then that there were different expectations of me as a girl? Not me personally because I didn't have any brothers, which definitely affected my life. And that was one of the reasons that my father in his will said the farm had to be sold. I think that it was simply because he realised that daughters, girls, women, would have an awful job farming as a woman independently in the Dale. Had Father had sons, who knows what would have happened. We were just sheltered, we knew nothing about how calves were conceived or anything like that. We were told ‘Daddy's taking a cow for a walk today’ and that was it.
I remember a little boy peeping over the wall, and he saw what happened with the bull and the cow and said, ‘that cow will have a calf in time.’ He could know, but we couldn't. We were in the dark, very much in the dark. You would go round after lambing in the fields, and there would be the placenta on the ground, but nobody will tell you what it was. And we didn’t ask. Now children are taught at school, and they have all the terminology. But not us…. no. There was no education like that whatsoever in school or from my parents. None whatsoever.
My great grandfather Mark Kendall was the first Kiddy Catcher when the school was built. After the 1880 Education Act, which compelled children to go to school, a lot of parents didn't send them, and so the children had to be rounded up. In the 1880s, 1900s, school holidays weren't particularly set as they are now. If there was bad weather the school might close for two or three days and that sort of counted as the holiday more or less, and it could close because of sheep dipping or hay making… this kind of thing. I’m sure the School Attendance Officers world understand the reality of Dales life.
Children might have been hardier back then, but I'm sure they weren’t healthier. I mean the diet. There was very much a shortage of green vegetables and fresh fruit because of the nature of the terrain. Plenty of bacon and eggs, plenty of milk, butter, bread and wheat cake but you know when it came to vitamins, I don't know how many children got.
I don't remember any deaths. But then you see probably we weren't told about them if there were. There's always a saying that, well that family, you can expect it because they all had weak lungs. You could be labelled as having some particular weakness because of your ancestry. This was just common talk. I mean, I hated it as a child and a teenager. I was one of Wesley Place’s daughters. And I was expected therefore to behave in a certain way, to have certain characteristics. Just to kind of conform, you know. I realise now that perhaps it was a strength because you had the protection and security of that. But not then, I hated it.
The tower bell was rung in my time, oh yes. Sometimes Uncle Reg rung it but sometimes one of the senior boys would like to ring it. Oh it was a lovely mellow sound. It wasn’t a high sound, it was a middle sound. It wasn't deep either it was just a nice sound, it in no way hurt your ears. It was just, you know, a warm welcoming come to school, get-here sort of sound. It would be rung in the morning, about five to nine. And it would stop in war time. I know when my father became a trustee for the Quaker manager in the late 50s they tried to get it going again. And now whether the problem was structural, or what it was, I don't know. But they did try, but they failed. So it wasn't being used then, the 50s.
It’s lovely to hear that the bell has been restored [by the current headteacher]. If it was rung we could hear it here at home. If the wind is in the west at playtime, and the children are out there, all their voices come over on the wind. That is delightful.
Pictures: Barbara Buckingham in 2020, and below at Reeth Friends' School (middle row, third from left)