SCHOOL Part Four

This current series of articles recalling life at school up to 100 years ago in Westmorland would be incomplete without viewing the schoolroom from the teachers' viewpoint. The children and teachers have described their classrooms, their curriculum, their discipline and behaviour, and this week elderly teachers remember their training and their responsibilities in those days which often extended well beyond the school day.

Training to become a teacher either started at college via a Grammar school or as a pupil teacher, sometimes as young as 11 or 12; bright children were extremely useful in schools working unpaid as pupil teachers and sometimes were actually discouraged from attempting to reach Grammar school:

"The Head mistress didn't like her girls going to the grammar school at 11, so she'd be left with the backward ones, from 11-14, so she kept on anybody she could, like me, and I daren't go and sit the exam, I was afraid of her that much...When I was 11 I was in the top class, so for 12 and 13 I was marking time, couldn't go any higher... so they sent me down to the Infants School to sharpen pencils and help the teacher out which wasn't doing my education any good, really, excpt learning to be a big imp, praps, and getting an insight into what was going on in the infants school.."

This teacher eventually got to Grammar school late, crammed hard and went to teacher training college. Others served four or five years as pupil teachers, earning as little as 6d a week around 1900:

"I got 6d a week as a pupil teacher, then I thought it was great when at the end of my pupil teachership I had about 19/6d a week.I thought that was marvellous, and then a schoolmaster would earn about £45 a year, not a bad salary at all. I was earning about £4 a week at the end of my career in 1949."

Women teachers had to resign if they intended to marry - there were no married women teachers. Many adopted teaching as a vocation, and remained unmarried. Their work extended beyond the education of their charges, and they were responsible for the general welfare of their children, even if that meant that a teacher's tea break was devoted entirely to washing up the malted-milk mugs for children at breaktime:

"The teachers didn't have coffee or tea in daytime. They stood around washing up the malted milk cups that the children had used. That was what teachers did. And there was nothing to wash them up in! No bowls, no hot water, no anything.

Breaktime wasn't the only time teachers stood around. It was thought improper for a teacher to sit at her desk during a lesson. She or he stood most of the time... and thought nothing of walking across the fells to a distant school when supply teaching:

"I did 12 years on supply and did a hundred Westmorland schools. I haven't been in them all, but I've been in quite a number of them, some more than once. And various sized schools, I've had to adapt from infants up to seniors, girls, boys, mixed, one teacher, two teacher, three teacher up to five or six teacher, ready to take over at a minute's notice and travel over the county - and of course there were no cars provided, no transport provided, there wasn't a bus on Sunday to Windermere Station, I used to go with the mail van. I used to walk to Langdale every day, there and back, and when I was in Patterdale, I walked over from Ambleside on a Sunday afternoon and then walked back again on Friday after school."

In many farming communities, the school holidays depended on the farmer and the teacher wouldn't have more than a couple of day's notice when to expect a school holiday:

"And so a farmer would come in, say, on a Friday night and say, 'I'm starting the hay on Monday', and I had to ring up the office and say, 'We're closing for a month, its hay-timing.'"

That could be any time from June to September; October holiday was potato-picking, Christmas was immovable but Spring holiday was lambing-time. Teaching conditions were very primitive:

"Conditions were very hard in winter and in the little schools where I taught that were miles from anywhere, and the children were also a long way from home, but they never stayed away because of the weather. We had the old tortoise stoves and we used to keep a kettle and a pan of water on, both for condensation problems with those old stoves and also to have a hot drink at dinner time. The children brought sandwiches and then we made them cocoa to warm them at lunchtime.

"...Walking three or four miles to school was quite ordinary...they came even when it was thick snow.... I can remember one child coming to school through snow and the snow fell all day and at four o'clock it was getting dark and I thought, this child will be buried under it, so I carried her on my back, I think about three quarters of a mile. I was in a state when I got back home again, nearly put my back out, that child."

Teachers in remote places often acted as caretakers too - the teacher at Rough Hill was paid 3/4d a month, provide your own materials. Rough Hill was three miles from Bampton:

"And to get to Bampton I had to walk from Shap Railway Station, about six miles to Bampton, then from Bampton to Rough Hill was another three, climbing all the time, and I had to get up at six in the morning to light the stove and clean it out and relay it and get it going, and the children that attended that school, I never did find out where they lived because they were all so far away... I think there were only about eight in all."

Poorly paid as they were, working long hours, their dedication won them the lasting respect and affection of their young pupils. Many very old teachers are still in touch with ex-pupils, now grandparents themselves, and their efforts in adverse conditions in a county like Westmorland have never been forgotten.