A Dame School of Old
remains of the school, which was opened in the 18th century. Ghosts of
the past have only an empty shell to inhabit.
Orton, in the old county of Westmorland, there is a small two-storey
stone building with a roof of local slate. The building occupies a site
on what is known as The Green – land which was, and still is, part of
the manorial waste excluded from an Enclosure Award of 1769 for the
common use of the parishioners.
in a badly
dilapidated condition, this small building, which is barely more than
10 feet square inside, with one room up and one room down, was the old
Dame School. In it the children of the neighbourhood once received
their earliest, perhaps their only, education.
was erected about 1780 by John Whinfield, Robert Bowness, and one of
the Cleasbys of New House, all yeoman farmers of Raisbeck. Formerly the
school had stood on Hollow Green, part of the common land which had
been enclosed under the Award of 1769.
three farmers, or
their representatives or assigns, had acted as trustees and appointed
the schoolmaster or mistress. A record of the date when the school on
the Hollow Green was founded does not appear to have survived, nor has
more than a shred of the school’s vital statistics during perhaps a
century of its existence.
1857, the school
building was declared to be in bad repair and unfit for use as a
schoolhouse. Accordingly, on February 25 of that year, a meeting of the
inhabitants of Raisbeck was held at the schoolhouse to consider ways
and means of repairing the building.
a result, three
new trustees were appointed, and a subscription list was opened. A sum
of nearly £30 was raised, which was a a considerable amount
those days, when a day’s labour cost about two shillings, slating could
be done for sixpence a yard, and lime cost a shilling a bushel.
Thereupon the work was put in hand.
It was agreed that the post of schoolmaster or schoolmistress should be
advertised, and the trustees were empowered to appoint the person they
considered most suitable. The curriculum for the school as laid down
was to cover the church catechism, reading, knitting and sewing, and
whatever else the trustees should require.
noticeably, but perhaps unavoidably, absent from the list, for in the
tiny space available in the school there would have been no room for
the absence of the
school log books and attendance records, nothing is known of the pupils
who passed through the school, nor of the teachers. A directory of June
1858 does, however, record that the schoolmistress at that time was a
Mrs Alice Whitehead, presumably a local woman, for there have been
Whiteheads farming in the parish at least as far back as Elizabethan
1862 to 1867 the
school was let to a local man, one Bryan Theobald, for rent. The reason
for the apparent demise of the school so recently and enthusiastically
re-opened is not clear, for according to the census of 1861 there was
no lack of children of school age in Raisbeck and nearby Sunbiggin.
village in the parish, had had an endowed school since the previous
century, but if any Raisbeck children attended there, they had a
journey of a mile and a half each way, while the children from
Sunbiggin would face a round journey of between four and five miles
along field paths and rough country roads.
1869, according to
Slater’s Directory of Cumberland, Lancashire and Westmorland, a Miss
Ann Theobold was a day teacher at Raisbeck, some indication that the
school there might be functioning once more. There is, however, no
confirming evidence, and the pages of the school’s history are blank
until the 1890’s, when the building was again let for rent and some
repairs were carried out by the local tradesmen.
casement window was
replaced, a door repaired, and some slating and plasterwork done, work
of a kind which suggested that the building had once more become
dilapidated through lack of use. The Education Act of 1870 and the
subsequent moves towards the provision of compulsory education had no
doubt signaled the end of the building as a school.
Clubroom. Some subsequent history can be traced.
1914-18 war, the old school building was used as a clubroom by the many
hired lads working on the farms in and around Raisbeck, and it
continued to be so used, for in the trustees accounts is a record of
the receipt in 1918 of the sum of £10 from Orton Manor Court,
whose land the school has stood since 1780, ‘to be spent on repairs of
late as April,
1923, repairs were being carried out. According to local recollections
the old school was last used as a temporary residence, by an odd-job
man and his son, in the mid 1920’s.
few faint memories
dating from about 1860 still stir in the minds of a number of the old
people as they recollect a parent or adult relative recounting stories
of their days at the school. One old lady in her eighties remembers her
father saying that the boys, as well as the girls, were taught to knit,
and that he had knitted his first pair of socks so tightly that, as he
put it, ‘they had stood alone’. He remembered vividly his first day at
school, because at dinner-time he inadvertently sat on an ant-hill!
old resident, taken for a walk by a great-aunt as a small girl, used to
peep inside the old building.
old dame sat
with her back to the fire,” said the great-aunt,”while we sat on the
forms in front of her.” One informant related: “My father told us he
paid sixpence a week to the teacher.” Yet another added that there were
12 scholars in her father’s time.
six shillings a
week would be all the teacher was paid, for the school was not endowed.
The teacher would keep hens in the porch so it was said, and no doubt
milk and bread was available at nearby farmhouses.
years ago the
upstairs floor of the old school was removed because it was unsafe and
a possible danger to children. Recently the porch was taken down for
the same reason. Now, if there are any ghosts of the past, they have
only and empty shell to inhabit
in Cumbria Magazine August 1979.
Drawing by Caroline Metcalf-Gibson (used with permission)