Newton Church Room Renovation Project
Memories of my School Days by Jack Pritchard
On reflection, in this my 80th year, how fortunate to have schooled, worked and played in this unique locality of world class talent, this nursery of unsurpassed skills and accomplishments.
Born in 1923 at the Middle Rock, St Margarets, one of my earliest recollections is that of Mascot, an ageing but leading foxhound of the South Hereford Hunt. The popular old hound would lead his eager young pack on an evermore predictable route from the Sun Inn, St Margarets meeting point, to locate a fox, then with the Hunt in full cry, would ease back before heading in a direct line for a certain old homestead, where my father would be waiting for his regular and quite punctual ‘Guest’, food and straw bed already prepared for an overnight stay.
To my feeling of awe the masculine old legend would pass with a customary glance, our eyes meeting at the same level, on his way to his shed-cum-dormitory. A brisk rub-down would take place prior to the invitation by mine host to dine and rest. They would collect Mascot on the morrow when a small amount of money would exchange hands to defray expenses.
Miss May Jordan was Infant teacher at Newton School and lived just beyond the Sun Inn at Fountain Cottage. On the lengthy walk to school an increasing number of children would join her along the way in those early years. She would, at intervals, have volunteers to carry her leather hold-all.
Over fifty pupils were on the school register at this time. Mr. Tovey was attendance officer and pupils would rise and bawl out, " Good morning Sir," on his arrival. No such welcome is recalled for the Nurse, with her fine toothed comb!
Visits by Mrs. Prosser of Old Court Farm (near Lower Maescoed) at Christmas time were eagerly looked forward to. She brought fruit, sweets and fare for all in the days when an orange and a banana were a rare treat for most of us.
Another school day highlight was Mr. A.S.Wood’s 'Garden Party’ for pupils of Newton School. A considerable number of people would congregate from all directions at Shobdon, St Margarets, to walk in an orderly manner, under teacher supervision, down through the woods to the old world residence and plush lawns of White House, Vowchurch, for the time of our life. It would be a summer day, when we were welcomed on arrival and introduced to an array of fine food, would play games, display impeccable manners and conclude proceedings with a loud ," Hip Hip Hooray" , three times, before walking home bearing an orange and a bag of sweets.
Mrs. Dunabin was Head Teacher then and lived in the School House. In my experience, she was gifted at nipping the end of your fingers with the cane! There was a long handled water pump, near to the school house, in the playground, where you could drink out of a chained metal cup. The school bell set up under the eaves could be heard a long way away - a reminder for any children dawdling to school! A pupil from one of the " Trewerns" , when asked why she was late for school, replied that she had overslept " IT" . More probably the truth was that she had been obliged to do some chore before leaving home for the very long trek, uphill and down. I remember when a Maypole was erected in the big playground around which a number of children would weave and wind a pattern. To unwind and weave in the opposite direction could prove more difficult and end in disaster with much unraveling taking place, Mr. Ivor Jones taught us Woodwork and I vividly remember a reprimanding (the second) for not leaving the penciled line " on the piece you want" . That was another piece for the bin! Such things come to mind regardless of time and change.
Mr. Randolph Trafford owned an aeroplane and I remember one occasion when a lot of onlookers gathered on the aerodrome at Coed Poth to witness the departure of the ‘Squires' guests in aeroplanes. The guests waved back to us as they ‘reached for the sky’.
To a high up the 20's and 30's were the times of the well to do -- the Squire and the immaculately, dressed Hunting circle. On the other hand they were, to many, times of crippling and increasing poverty. Some children went to school, in those early days, with little or no food for the day and it was not unknown to share ones jam sandwiches. Some did not possess an overcoat and one child can be seen in a school photograph wearing leather leggings. Most children wore heavy boots. In the big room at school, in winter, a large stove was often red hot and often had a steaming kettle on it for hot drinks.
Mr. Ruck, The Laurels, Newton, was a cobbler and there was also one at Longtown and Peterchurch. Mr. Howard, the local tailor was kept busy and there was more than one pig butcher to satisfy demand. Several roadmen and quarrymen plied their trade in this closely knit and co-operating society. Stone masons excelled, a traditional skill, still practiced in this area.
Amongst the many from this district, in my era, who have achieved high honours are Bob Cole who won a 25 mile marathon at Powderhall, open to all comers. Sprig won the Grand National and George Cole, Michaelchurch Eskley won the World Open Ploughing Match with Horses at Bourton-on-the-Water in 1936. This was followed by National and International successes by his son Woody and other ploughmen in the area. I am indebted for humble success, winning a First Prize for Ploughing with Horses in the late 30's at Maerdy Farm, Lower Maescoed. Father had bought Cae Garw, Newton and from here I finished my schooling. Work commenced immediately at Bank Farm, Michaelchurch. Eskley.
World War II transformed everything. A new challenge took place and over the years things took on a new look. Even today some of us recall the way things were prior to the war.
Days when we read the first and second lesson in Church, our Sunday Schooling, when we played our Harmonicas at Eisteddfods and in the Chapels and attended Camp Meetings outdoors. Times when we collected Charity Bread (two loaves, twice yearly) and when a frequent drinker of Mother’s home-made wine would produce a gift of half-a-crown at Christmastime.
How privileged to have been, to have seen, and to have done, in a locality singled out by a leading countryside campaigner as one of three, " havens of peace" , in England, " reservoirs of rural tranquility."
This contribution from Jack Pritchard, January 2003