Last 70

Last year I spoke about the first 100 years of our School.  As that strayed into the next 70 because of the First World War, you may have already heard some of the beginning of the Last 70.

One big difference was that none of you witnessed the first 100 but most of the last 70 was witnessed by all of you at some time,

So this is rather like going to see a Titanic picture; everyone knows what happened but there were many theories as to how it happened.

Planning for the Centenary Celebrations began in 1912 but the outbreak of War in 1914 put everything on hold. There wasn’t an OS Weekend or magazine for three years but AGM’s were held every year. It had been decided well in advance that Walter Corder (an OS who had done a tremendous amount of work and had held almost all OS offices) would be President for such an auspicious occasion, but sadly ill health prevented him from attending, so his brother Herbert took his place at the celebrations that took place over the Weekend of 1st August 1919. A new ‘History of Wigton School’ had been produced and half of the 500 copies were sold at 4/- plus 6p postage. Between 200 and 300 Old Scholars attended at some time over the weekend. One photo of the Weekend identifies faces and names on a tracing paper overlay,  names of 209 present, well 208 actually as no-one seemed to know who number 203 was. Probably somebody that was just out for a walk. The road to and from Wigton must have been one long procession of horse drawn Waggonettes.


This date now coincided with Joseph Jopling’s (JJJ, J3 or Uncle Joseph) 25 years as Headmaster and Elizabeth Walker’s 21 years service as Mistress of the Household. They were each presented with a cheque for £130 (about £2700 today).

The school was full with a waiting list. When J3 had arrived there were 74 pupils, now there were 96. At the end of the AGM all stood in silence while the Head read out the 21 names of the Old Scholars that had been killed in the war not many years after leaving School; he was to write to all their parents.

This month we are commemorating the centenary of the battle of the Somme.

One former pupil Henry Allason Peile of the London Rifles was killed on the very first day and his name is recorded with many thousands of others ‘Known only unto God’ on the Thiepval Memorial.

What I have tried to do is to pick out snippets of information over the years and significant dates and people regarding the activities of OS and School. At the AGM in 1921 twelve Members asked why they had not received their OS report. The answer was that the printer had apologised but said he had given a young employee the Reports and money to post them but he had kept the money and hidden the reports under his bed. Replacements would be forthcoming. The AGM of 1922 was held in Patterdale Village Hall after a walk. This was not planned but it was pouring down and the Hall was the only dry place, however three other groups had the same idea and OS finished up in a room under the Hall with a stone flagged flour on backless rickety forms. 54 OSs sat down to tea after the AGM. The President Richard Hall confirmed that the School had at last been given Grammar School status. It had failed 2 years earlier because the staff were not well qualified and academic progress was poor. This recognition was crucial as the Burnham scales for teachers salaries had just been announced and the adoption of them was a condition of Grammar School status. The President was also Treasurer and announced an adverse balance of £14 16s and 9 pence but that was ok as there were still a number of badges to sell. The next year’s Presidents were to be the first Joint Presidents John and Hannah Harris-Walker. (of Handicraft prizes fame) In 1923 Joseph Jopling retired after a long and devoted spell at School first as the first graduate on the staff and then as Headmaster since 1893. He was succeeded by David Reed Bsc. who was already on the Staff teaching Maths and English. His wife Elsie took on the role of Mistress of the Household. He had had a wide experience in business and teaching. As there was no house with the job, ( JJJ was a bachelor) they were happy to live in the wooden shed behind the gym till one could be found!                                

Since the beginning of OS it was customary for the Headmaster to be the Chairman, this I felt made a stronger bond between the two organisations.  An ongoing competition was to see who could swim the furthest in the School Pool.  The record of 3 and a half miles was held by Leslie Graham, how long is the pool? X 1760 x 3 1/2 counted by a member of staff!

By 1925 there were 554 members of OS and 8 of the new blazers had been ordered at 31/-.  The Cumberland v The Rest cricket match is always keenly contested at the week end. The Cumberland scores on 1st Aug 1925 read 5, 3, 8, 3, 0, 1, 1, 7, 1, 0, 2, 1, 3, so even with 13 players they could only manage 27.This was bettered next year if you Watch Pointless in the Old Girls match Gladys Williamsons team scored 0, 1, 4, 2, 0, 3, 0, 0, 0, 1, and 5 by the Captain.  And believe it or not Leslie Graham pushed his long distance swim to 4 miles in 4 hours!

In 1926 David Reed got a ‘full house’ being Headmaster, Chairman and President of OS at the same time. After a lot of discussion at the AGM it was decided to reduce the price of life membership from 5gns to 2 gns.   35 OS from Ackworth, Bootham, Ayton and Wigton met in Penrith for a social evening.

On his retirement from teaching J3 stayed on as Secretary and announced that he was going to America ‘to call on sundry Members who are prevented from attending our annual meetings because of their distance from the old School. “ At Port Arthur I hope to meet Donald Jaques, at Broadview H O Baynes, at Calgary the Brothers Collins, at Vancouver Olive Care, at Fillimore Herbert Walker and the Fremlins, and at Boston the Duguids. I am hoping in this way to promote an increased interest in the WOSA’. Surely it must have been cheaper to write letters. What a man. In the next magazine he wrote a six page article about his journey!  The Honours Board for Scholarships was made and presented by Laurence Taylor at no cost.  In 1927 the House system was set up ‘Dalton’ was named after John Dalton, scientist and school committee member. (Who Daltonism, Colour blindness. Was named after) and ‘Parshaw’ after Pardshaw Cragg where George Fox first  preached about Quakerism.

In 1928 Head Boy Geoffrey Williamson was one of 50 boys, out of 240,000 applicants to be awarded an Empire Travelling Scholarship to spend seven weeks touring in Canada. With the help of the Quaker Educational Trust Joan Bagwell will be representing School in a party visiting Geneva.

The School badge was designed and approved in 1930 and appeared on the frontispiece of the next magazine. After using candles for 116 years a generator was at last purchased costing £650 to provide electric light from crude oil.

Jo Jopling had intended to go round the world on his retirement and had all his Steamship tickets booked. Then he met again a sister of a past lady member of staff, Eleanor Bracher, they got engaged and the trip was cancelled. They went to live in Cockermouth where he was involved in a lot of charity work and became WOSA Secretary. Eleanor was not well and spent a lot of time in a nursing home. JJJ had always had leg trouble but died very suddenly in May 1932 he was buried near Hamsterly where he was brought up in Co Durham.

At the ‘32 reunion so shortly after his death there were many tributes to a very well loved person, he was of course still OS Secretary. It was immediately proposed that there should be a memorial to him. There were many moving tributes to him. ...’if ever a man’s heart was bound up in Brookfield and all it’s interests, if ever a man laboured early and late for the prosperity of his Old School, if ever a man dreamed dreams, the centre of which was this dear old spot it was Uncle Joseph’. After a very short discussion it was agreed to replace the old west gate in his honour, Laurence Taylor, what would they do without him, showed them his design which was approved and we all know what it looked like. There was to be a bronze plaque that read This Tablet is erected to the memory of Joseph J Jopling BA Headmaster 1893 to 1923 By Old Scholars and many other friends who loved him. The estimated cost was £80 but eventually was £131 but £147 had been donated. The Arch over the gate was obviously designed for horse drawn vehicles as it was knocked down twice by lorries fairly early on and had to be rebuilt. One bright spot at the same AGM was the beaming face of the Treasurer Richard Hall who could hardly contain himself in announcing that he had at last got £1000 pounds capital in the accounts. (loud applause!)  

On 5th August of the next year the gate was dedicated to the life of JJJ, many Old Scholars spoke about his love for everyone he met and their’s for him. Passing through a gate was very symbolic. The same AGM mentioned the success of Old Scholar Joseph Fathi who was awarded a gold medal from London University on passing his Master of Surgery the highest award in surgery.

What appears rather strange is that Martin Lidbetter had to wait another 3 years till the Cedrus Atlantica Glauca  was planted in his memory 41 years after he retired. ‘Revered and beloved’ The tree was donated by an a very supportive OS ‘anonymous’ He or she must be quite old by now as they have been donating for many years! The barometer in the library, which I’m sure we all remember was donated in 1935 by Donald Gray, head of Bootham in memory of his late father Dr Albert Gray who had been a pupil at School in the 1870s. James Fenwick was a very generous donor to the School. As well as a fine collection of original paintings he donated a new piano and the splendid eagle in the library and later the large beaten copper panel called ‘Autumn’ that was on the wall in the Lecture room. Two rather unusual gifts to the School were a cwt of honey and a stone of dates!    A Co-ordination Committee (another one) was set up in 1937 to link life and activities of Friend’s Schools. A first visit to the School not sure if she would find it in a rundown state summed up her visit in three words ‘Order, Simplicity and Beauty’

In 1940 the first of a number of refugees arrived from the continent the first of these was Desmond Fitzgerald who went on to study science at Cambridge. Other boys came, never girls. One parent asked if they could change his name in records in case Hitler came and saw it! In 1943 it was decided to abandon the OS Scholarship.

A major problem for the academic side of school life came in 1944 with the publication of the Butler Education Act. Grammar Schools were fee paying £10 or £15 a year and also received grants from Councils who were represented on governing bodies. Some Grammar schools, known as direct grant schools stopped fees but got grants from The Ministry of Education. Public schools remained independent of any financial aid from LEA or Government. Friends Schools were also in this category being guided by the need to keep complete independence for religious instruction, appointing staff etc. Some Friends were worried that the abolishing of fees in Grammar Schools would affect entry numbers. There were not enough Grammar School places so a selection system was brought in to be known as the 11 plus. Pupils as we know were then segregated to either Grammar, secondary modern of Technical schools for their secondary education. Wigton was determined to retain its Grammar School status.

Gifts were given to School on regular basis either by individual donations or from OS funds. In 1944 one such gift was a cinematograph. Requested by Freddie Bell  It even showed one film with a sound track!

Pot holes in the drive were filled in the summer break by Fred Bell, four boys and a steam roller. During the Second World War another eight OS lost their lives. After the first WW an oak memorial tablet was carved by and donated to the School by Laurence Taylor although some Quakers were not happy having anything to do with the War in School. To commemorate those who fell in the second conflict a splendid chair was designed and made by Stanley Davies of Windermere. It carried the School badge and a silver tablet was placed on it with the names of those who died. With the cessation of hostilities pupils were given two and a half days holiday.

David Reed suffered very badly from arthritis and this caused him with regret to resign as Headmaster in 1946 as there was a great challenge ahead which he said needed a much younger, fitter person. In his retirement David produced probably the most comprehensive History of the School. Numbers on roll had increased to 152 pupils and more had already been accepted for ‘48, ‘49 and ‘50. New applicants were to sit an entrance exam but would also have interviews.

Joseph Carruthers was appointed to take over from David Reed,  probably the first Cumbrian in the post. Joe attended Bothel Junior School then Nelson Grammar in Wigton. How Joe came to be in Bothel is quite a story in itself. Joe’s father James and his uncle were both from a poor tenant–farming family who set off in their early twenties and with new wives to try farming in Missouri in 1890. Very soon it was obvious that the plot of land they had, could not support two families. One family must return to England. The situation was resolved sadly when James wife Georgena gave birth to a daughter and died two days later. George sailed in a cargo boat from Boston to Whitehaven with two small daughters. He worked for 18 years in the ironworks in Workington to save enough money to rent 35 acres of land at Bothel, he married again and his wife Dinah presented him with seven sons the third being Joseph born in Siddick in 1908. In 1924 he was awarded a County Major Scholarship to study History at Manchester University where he graduated with a BA in 1929, he added a BSc in Economics externally from London University in 1942. His first appointment as a teacher was at the Cedars School in Leighton Buzzard from 1930–1939.  Mary joined the staff in January 1936 and they were married in July that year. Joe took over at a very trying time for the Country immediately after the war. School was full with a waiting list. When Sunnymede came on the market Joe and Leslie Taylor (Architect) hot footed it to the bank and bought the property to be used to house senior boys under the care of Charles and Gladys Marshall. A sixth form was started with 3 pupils staying on, and this was soon increased and the first ex pupils went on to University. There were 154 on roll when Joe took the reins and 200 when he left 15 years later. Major alterations were made to the school accommodation.  A bungalow was built for the Headmaster and four bungalows on the field for staff accommodation as well as a bungalow for the Caretaker. Behind the scenes somewhat unnoticed is the roll of the Mistress of Household, particularly Elsie Reed and Mary Carruthers in trying to feed the School during rationing which didn’t completely finish till 1949.  One bombshell that Joe announced not long after he came was that Rugby Union would replace Soccer as the main winter sport for boys.  I’m sure witnesses to that announcement received it with dread. There were two main reasons for the change, one was that Joe hated soccer and played rugby and woe-betide anyone caught kicking the ball in a rugby game.  Some scholars must have taken to it very quickly as soon after its introduction we had two county trialists, the Gray cousins Willy and Wally or Whim and Wham I seem to recall. Willy was selected to play for the County. Soccer supporters continued to play unofficial matches and the School v. Old Scholars soccer match continued to be played. Modesty forbids me to say who the next County rugby player was or who was the first scholar to represent the County at the All England athletics Championships in ’53 ’54 and ‘55. Many more were to follow.                                                                                               

Sport has long since been an important activity in the school’s history. Because of our low numbers of pupils we could not compete against other grammar schools in major team sports but we excelled as individuals. Mainly because we were fitter. Most Grammar Schools would probably have one games and or one PE lesson a week. We had PE or sport six days a week and of course could train at any time. Pastimes such as sport, Drama and music continued to be strong in the life of the School.

In 1948 the School magazine the ‘Brook’ was first issued to be published once a term and was very successful. Its predecessor, ‘The Brookfield Chronicle’ that was produced in 1922 only lasted for four issues as the cost of publication proved to be excessive. The same year it was decided to create a third House, Walker named after Hannah Walker an OS stalwart who died that year, those of us who weren’t in Walker reckoned that the best scholars from Pardshaw and Dalton made up the new House.  

There were 166 on role and a waiting list. Rob Gillies status was raised from Secretary to Bursar. Treasurer of OS announced a deficit of £4. 0s.and 3p last year but was pleased to announce that  this year there was a surplus of £4, 0s and 8p. Mains Electricity didn’t reach School till 1950 and cost £1000 to install. There were then 175 on roll and Bryan (Swift) Park and Royd Longmire played for the County Cricket team. The first OS annual dance took place in Wigton market Hall, 10/-

In 1953 the OS Scholarship was reintroduced and Laura Worseley was the first recipient. There were now 190 on roll and 16 in the 6th form.  A lot of very good applicants had to be turned down. Miss Fleming retired as senior Mistress. A group of about 30 pupils and staff had a week in Grasmere. David Reed died and the David Reed memorial garden was to be made in his memory. The number on roll passed the 200 mark. Major building works were completed and £50,000 had been spent since 1947. David Reed’s History of the School was on the market and many scholars asked for it as their leaving present. The new bridge over the beck appeared and School Cook, Kitty Fell retired after 32 years service. During the 50s staff automobiles began to appear, we always had two, CBMarshall’s Standard that always parked beneath the 5th form room and GRM 445 Fred Bells shooting break that was usually hidden round the back. It was rumoured that on one occasion it transported the whole girl’s hockey team and the boys rugby team to another school for a match. This was a huge exaggeration as it was only the rugby team! Peter Illiffe purchased a sort of car, a Singer WS 9816 but the vehicle that struck terror into any capless chip eating pupil was the pea green Ford Prefect HRM 761 belonging to Joe Carruthers. Last to appear was a black Ford Popular ‘Satan’ as it was known belonging to the senior mistress Gwen.

Joseph Carruthers retired in 1961 ending probably the most successful Headship of the post war era. During his tenure pupils on roll reached 200, he  established  the 6th form and O and A level exams as well as overseeing major building works. In the beginning of Quaker education it was to keep pupils away from the outside world Joe’s aim was to produce a rounded pupil to fit into the outside world. He said ‘If there is any special virtue in our School it is that we try to think of our pupils not as fitting into types, but as individual boys and girls, each with at least one talent to develop and each capable of contributing to the good of all and to reject all that is trivial tasteless and shoddy and cherish those things that are true, honourable, just and pure’. As a memorial to Joe and Mary they asked that any money raised for them should go into a fund to give the Head Boy and Head girl an award each year.

Kenneth Greaves was appointed to succeed Joe Carruthers, he was very experienced in other fields than education. He was an Army Captain during the war before becoming a Quaker. Even though the School had been on a steady course for many years Kenneth obviously intended to make many changes. The first on the first day of term was the abolition of the girl’s side and boy’s side to make the School truly co-educational.                                                                             

In 1964 there was to be a special joint magazine, Old Scholars and the Brook to celebrate the 150th anniversary of School. Unfortunately it turned out to be a very large edition of the Brook and a small apology of the OS Mag. Our President Edie Gillies was not amused. During the next few years all the long term staff left, Illiffe, Marshal, Rob Gillies and Freddy Bell, Stalwarts who gave absolute, unswerving and dedicated service to the school for a large part of their lives. In 1971 Sylvia White was elected President and there were banners bearing the slogan ‘Keep OS White!!’ oops. That wouldn’t have gone down well today. At the weekend there was a Tramp’s dance and fish and chips were brought from Carlisle.  In the Old Scholars mag that year there was an article by Andrew Jenkins (47-53) on life as a Football Club Director. He was the youngest Director in the Football League at the time and is still there today. So it is rather fitting that we are meeting here at the Club he has directed for most of his life. He is unable to join us because our re-union clashes with his birthday when he always goes away.

Too soon after he retired we were all shocked to hear of the sudden death of Fred Bell. Many tributes were paid to him at OS and a fund was set up to provide a fitting memorial to him. This was to be an oak table and chairs, suitably inscribed and presented to Stanley Hockey Chairman of School Committee, to receive it on behalf of the School in 1975.

After the completion of major building work in 1961 nothing had been done for a decade but in 1972 an appeal was started for more major works. Having mixed boarders had its problems. In 1961 sexes were very similar in numbers but by 1971 there were far more boys than girls. Another significant factor to effect school was the abolishing of the 11-plus. Northumberland Education Committee, who had over the years sent many pupils who had passed their 11 plus stopped sending pupils who had given an academic input to the school. Local Authorities continued to sent pupils but more for social rather than academic reasons. Pupils were coming from all parts of the Country and an increasing number from abroad mostly senior boys.

More responsibility was given to pupils in the setting up of a tuck shop and later the School Council. Extra- curricular activities flourished, particularly the D of E Award scheme started by Peter Illiffe who was rewarded by achieving the first 2 Gold Awards in the County. In 1976 the Duke of Edinburgh  visited Cumbria, spoke with Peter Illiffe and had lunch with the Head, and others.   At GM in 1972 Kenneth Greaves announced his retirement. He had made many changes during his term of office mostly against things traditional that had not pleased other members of staff, School Committee or some Old Scholars, but perhaps just as important was the public image of School in the Wigton area which was at a low ebb. Smart, uniformed pupils had been welcomed in the past but the appearance of non-uniformed pupils didn’t go down as well.

Kenneth Greaves was replaced by Morgan Johnson. He couldn’t have had a worse start to his Headship when the new Bursar died just as term was going to start. Morgan decided to impress by taking on both roles. Problems in the Middle East had an adverse effect on School. With the recession, private education became an expensive luxury. Some Friends viewed the existence of their schools almost as an embarrassment in such times of strife. Another factor was that with the establishment of Comprehensive schools parents felt that their children would get a rounded education there. After a rapid decline in the birth rate in the 60’s  there were fewer pupils aged between 11 – 13 and competition from other Independent schools was very strong. In the short term however things looked good. In 1972 the splendid new dormitory block was opened and there were 213 pupils on roll. Morgan Johnson was given a target of 240. A prep dept was opened again in 1978 to try to get entry in the 1st form. There were now two sources of pupils, overseas pupils who tended to be senior boys and deprived children usually from large urban areas, in other words an open door policy. Sport and drama though prospered.  A struggle to exist was looming large and school was being pulled in all directions by the diversity of pupils and instead of being all things to everyone there was a danger of being nothing to anyone.  To lighten spirits there were celebrations to mark the 150th anniversary of School. A Tree was planted by the oldest OS John Hinde (uncle of Margaret Hinde) and the youngest pupil J Harris, what happened to him? Dorothy MacBeath died just over a Year after retiring as from many years as Matron.  Extra- curricular activities, especially sport continued to thrive. From 1976 onwards the annual carol service was held in St Mary’s Church in Wigton. Despite these internal successes it was a very worrying time for the School Committee. Morgan Johnson was distancing himself from School and became greatly disliked by the staff and in modern parlance he was losing the plot. The School Committee were becoming more and more concerned about this and he was asked to resign in 1979. Discipline particularly on the girl’s side was a serious problem. Some girls had struck up relationships with youths from Wigton who had managed to get access to the School at night and the Senior Mistress was dismissed.This of course left the Committee with a major problem with replacements needed for Senior Mistress, Headmaster and then Senior Master. Peter Carey was Senior Master and was persuaded by some of the Committee to take on the Headship. Peter was a lovely gentle man and a good, popular teacher but he was not a Head particularly with the current state of the School. There were many staff changes and pupils were leaving in droves, 49 left in 1972. Peter did his best for nearly two years, he had the support of the staff and was popular with the pupils who were doing well under the circumstances then suddenly in September 1982 he just walked away and bought a few acres near Bowness on Solway. This left the Committee with an even bigger problem and had to advertise for a new Head. Considering the situation of the School it was surprising that they got any applicants, but they did, a short list was drawn up for interview out of which Trevor Green was appointed. He was a Friend and had taught in a Friends School in Northern Ireland, and wanted to move to England. He was a good disciplinarian and fully aware of the task ahead. He was successful in carrying the school forward knowing that financially the end was in sight. Sunnymede had been sold, part time staff were paid off and all staff lost their Brookfield allowance, but were still getting positive results from pupils. It would possibly have been better had the school closed that September, better for parents pupils and staff. An absolute minimum number of pupils needed to make ends meet was 120 but only 100 turned up. The Committee had no option but to put the School on the market. Because of the drastic drop in numbers they had no negotiating power and had to accept any offer from a buyer.  

The Friends School, Brookfield closed in January 1984. It was sold to Limehouse School, Dalston as a working School school for a ludicrously small amount. Some pupils and some staff were taken on and all staff got reasonable settlements. It very soon became clear that Mr Brotherton, owner of Lime House Estates was far more interested in the building than the School and wanted to convert it into flats or build luxury detached houses on the site. As it was a listed building planning permission wasn’t granted. Then on the 29th January 1989 the middle section was devastated by fire and quickly bulldozed so the cause could not be found!  Strange that the cause of the fire that gutted Windsor Castle was found. Brotherton applied again for planning permission and was told he could have it but he would have to rebuild the listed building facade. By selling the headmasters house he just about recouped what he paid for the whole site. It was eventually sold to a Wigton builder who put a housing estate on the site.

It has been an amazing journey back over the last 170 years, I have come across some amazing people and almost felt I knew them. We owe a huge debt of gratitude to those far sighted Friends who set up our School in 1815 and to the former pupils who started our Old Scholars Association in 1890. To many early OS’s the Weekend was the highlight of their year with very little other kinds of entertainment on offer, no telly or foreign holidays. Many of them were generous benefactors who created the School we all loved.

How long will the closing chapter be?

I owe a huge debt of gratitude to my Mother-in-law, Edie Gillies (Hinde) and to her Hinde Old Scholar ancestors for having the good sense to keep all their Old Scholar’s magazines and School Histories.

J. Arnold Snowball (1948 – 1955)