Memories of teaching at Calder High 40 years ago

Saturday, 9 August 2008

Boarding at a Pecket Well farm, Peter Kelly taught at Calder High from 1958 to 1961, and has sent the Hebden Bridge Web some of his memories.

Were you a student at Calder High School, Mytholmroyd, Yorkshire, from 1958 to 1961? If so, pay attention! If an ancestor of yours was, pay even more!

It is exactly fifty years this month that I began my teaching career at CHS, Mytholmroyd. I had been appointed Senior Latin Master assuming the role from Mr. Eric Connell who had left to teach Classics at the grammar school in Halifax where he lived.

I went to board at Bent Head Farm near Peckett Well, a small holding named after a local grass, I was told, and managed by the owner, the redoubtable Mr. Champion Crabtree, his wife and their two children both of whom attended the school where I was to teach. The Crabtrees boarded many people besides myself. One was the young and handsome French language teacher from Marseilles, also contracted to teach at the same school. Daniel Donzell was to court and marry a young blonde beauty from Mytholmroyd before his year was up and take her home with him after his contract expired. Other boarders at the farm were all men, meteorologists, working on weather prediction systems on the moors. In the evenings on the farm after our evening meals, I recall, Mr. Crabtree would entertain his boarders with his hobbies: his fabulous collection of cacti and succulents which he kept with a tropical tree-frog in a greenhouse attached to the farm building; his skilfully wrought wood carvings of wild beasts and courting spoons; and his abundant assortment of photographs of young nubile maidens from the surrounding areas that he had enticed to pose nude in his back garden. Unquestionably this man had a golden eye, a silver tongue and had not been christened Champion for nothing.

Catching the local bus that sped from Old Town to Hebden Bridge via Peckett Well brought Danny and me into close contact with the neighbours of the Crabtrees. Near the bus stop was a cottage with the stirring name of "The October Revolution." An oxymoronically young harridan whose language could put a Liverpuddlian stevedore to shame caught the same bus, destined, we later found, to be enrolled at "our" school. The rest consisted of farming types, mill hands, students, office employees, asbestos workers, and yes, chicken sexers. Down the hillside the bus hurtled in time for us to catch another one that travelled up and down the valley. Here we met hordes of other students from Todmorden and Hardcastle Crags, most on their way to CHS as their blazers and caps revealed but some going on to Halifax.

Gradually the Frenchman and I got to understand the rhythm and tenor of the region as it then was. We became involved in the life of the community, everything from the oddly named "Plot" in November to the boisterous "Pace Egg" play at Easter time. We even travelled up the other side of the valley to a pub called officially "The New Delight" but nicknamed cheekily "The Nude Elite" by many teachers. We learned of the history of the places: the Old Grammar School and two churches in Heptonstall, the weavers' cottagers there, the stocks and the hexagonally designed chapel visited by the Wesleys, the Brontes, the Civil War connections, Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath, and the notorious US gunslinger Wyatt Earp.

At the school, one of the earliest comprehensives, we soon got to know teachers and administrators: Mr. Rumball the headmaster, Mr. Muschamp his deputy, both of whom I had met at my interview, Bob Turner, Idris Price and Dennis Buckley (English), Mr. Goldthorpe (History), Mr. Stenhouse (Boys' PE), and later Jack Heyworth of the lower school. Of course there were many more their names forgotten. But some things you cannot forget. Such as the way seniority of staff could be assessed by who sat closest to the staffroom fireplace in the horseshoe-like configuration. Being the newest members of staff, my French colleague and I had to sit farthest from the heat. It was a school tradition.

Many happy and not-so-happy memories emerge. The cheery and welcoming, and in some cases, gracious behaviour of staff some of whom invited Danny and me into their homes for tea or dinner.

The helpful tips and hints from the old lags, the fairness and encouragement of the administrators. Alas, these were balanced by the feudal-like bestowal of our monthly paycheques. Our names were called one by one and we strode towards the paymaster who smiled and handed over the envelope. It wasn't long before I realized that a local bus clippie could make just as much as I did if he got overtime pay whilst I had to drag my students' work home to mark and afterwards prepare the next days' lessons.

Another burst of enlightenment came when I learned that very many parents were convinced that the Classics were a sheer waste of time needed only to get a place at a good tertiary institute of education. And also came the realization that most of the brightest students in the region had already been creamed off by the local grammar schools with their better facilities, richer resources, older traditions and supportive parents, and that then these schools audaciously boasted that their methods of teaching alone created the successes that these new-fangled comprehensives could never match.

My students were wonderful: vibrant, curious, interested, involved, and wickedly funny. My homeform consisted of a peerless set of oddballs: Peter Wright, Derek Pickles, Horsfall, Edmonston and others whose names I have long forgotten but whose faces, as Mr. Chipping would say, I truthfully remember. Such students were enthusiastic volunteers in Mr. Price's adaptation of the playlet within "Mid-Summer's Night's Dream" and valiantly fought and declaimed in the "Pace Egg." They studied their Latin texts hard and well but probably concluded at the end of their studies with me that the Romans were a militaristic nation of begowned schoolmasters who spoke Latin only in sentences numbered one to ten, and were constantly, and without provocation, drawing up their cohorts in front of the camp.

It was February 14 1959 (St. Valentine's Day), the Saturday of the school's half-term, when I married my sweetheart of three years, Beryl Gascoigne. She came from my hometown, Wakefield, and we had met as I was digging up part of one of that city's main streets, an ever-so humble student earning my daily crust of bread. We rented a house in Stocks Villas in Heptonstall which had a gorgeous view of the valley in front but was every week immersed in an atrocious stink from the chicken farm behind. Beryl found work as a clerk and receptionist in a shed and greenhouse factory located between the railway station and the canal in Hebden Bridge. Our brief honeymoon had been in Harrogate; our longer one was in Paris that summer. Sometime after that we had to move and this time rented a small stone one-up one-down summer cottage nearby. It was owned by a lovely elderly lady who was completely deaf and had a brother who would oft take to playing the violin late at night. (Hmmm!)The WC was reached by exiting a small door in the back wall and trudging - galloping if it was raining as it generally was - across a very wide yard paved with flagstones. Life was an adventure!

At the end of my comparatively short career at CHS Beryl and I planned to go out with a triumphal bang. Student groups travelling abroad were very rare then and usually aimed at some leafy backwater in France where language lessons could be practised. But Jack Heyworth, his wife Lena, Beryl and I decided to do it big. Italy. Via France and Switzerland. And not just Rome but Milan, Venice (in a nunnery), Florence, Rome (in the previous year's Olympic Village), Tivoli, and Pisa. How we ever did it, I'll never know. Accidents happened, fights erupted, students were lost, complaints rife, laughter uncontrollable. A trip never to be forgotten.

And within days of our return Beryl and I were off on our own trip. By ship to Canada as emigrants. We boarded the new Cunard flagship, the "Empress of Canada" at Liverpool due to arrive in Montreal seven days later with stops in Greenock, Scotland, and Quebec City. An enjoyable voyage, though to be marred somwhat by the mountainous ocean swells and gale-force winds. Our cabin was festooned with cards and telegrams wishing us "Bon Voyage!" from staff, students, family and friends. We were determined to create a new life but reasoned we could always return and take up where we left off if we failed or if the weather was worse than in Britain. And we'd be all the better off for our experience, wouldn't we?.

We soon had new jobs: I in a paper factory heaving around huge rolls of paper, and I mean huge; Beryl in the payroll department of a nationally-known department store. We thrived. We soon had all the material trappings but we also returned to England in 1963 and met Peter Wright and Derek Pickles on a trip to Hebden Bridge and learned of a new, obscure band called "The Beatles.". We returned home and bought a house and had a family: two daughters of whom the younger now lives here close to me while the older lives in Nevada working in Las Vegas. Enjoying a beautiful life together Beryl and I travelled far and wide and made several trips to Wakefield with numerous side trips to Hebden Bridge and vicinity. But in 1986 we learned that Beryl had breast cancer and ten years later, after a final visit to Yorkshire, Beryl died surrounded by her family, her pets and mementos of our early life together.

Cremation completed, duties and responsibilities performed, some ashes sprinkled over places she loved as she requested, I flew to England again and scattered others in places we knew and loved: Wakefield where we both grew up; Leeds where I proposed; Harrogate where we honeymooned; Heptonstall where we first lived together. Still overwrought years later I became an English-language teacher in Nara, Japan, and immersed myself in my work and Japanese language and culture. Afterwards I travelled home westwards stopping for days, weeks, and sometimes months in fascinating locales such as Seoul, Lhasa, Bali, Seychelles, Zanzibar, Singapore, Mombasa, Abu Dhabi, Corsica, Rhodes, Berlin, Marseilles (No, he no longer lived there), Barcelona, Krakow, Heptonstall and Hebden Bridge. Yes, I had to make my regular pilgrimage up that gigantic hill to work up a thirst for a drink at the top.

I now live alone in a condominium in a small suburb near Toronto, so very glad to be retired after forty years in front of classes, armed only with chalk and talk.These I used to try to convey the magnificence and beauty of life and language in all its splendour to crowds of unwilling and unresponsive ruffians who had scarcely a thought in their heads beyond the instant gratification of every physical desire. There were some few however who cared enough to learn. And for these I was grateful. I still think of my happy times in your part of the world, despite the two invariable weather commentaries on the wireless: a) "It is raining like hell;" and b) "It is just going to rain like hell." I know it wasn't always like that, not always... Though irreligious I do pray that I had some significant, however meagre, influence on the people I taught there and whose company I enjoyed. It was a wonderful adventure!!!

James P.B. Kelly (known to his friends as Peter)

Response from Sandra Bonn
Tuesday, 12 August 2008

Yes of course I remember Mr Kelly! He was the only reason I opted for Latin as I had a huge crush on him. I was a very impressionable 13 year-old.

His recollections have been a fascinating read - what an eventful life he has lead. I’m so pleased to hear what happened to him. I also remember all the teachers he named - do you have any information about them? All dead I expect, as they were all much older than Mr Kelly.

It’s been a long time since I left Hebden Bridge (1967) but I still have very fond memories of it as it was then.

I’ve always been grateful for that slight knowledge of Latin. It has come in useful so many times when deciphering the text on monuments or working out the meaning of words and their roots. It’s amazing how it has stuck with me - a tribute to good teaching!

Response from Fay Fielding (nee Smith)
Sunday, 23 August 2009

I was truly fascinated to read of Mr. Kelly's adventures since he left calder High School. He was my favourite teacher of all time and our Latin lessons were the highlight of my school days. The work was hard and Mr. Kelly strict, but that did not stop me gazing at him and thinking how extraordinarily handsome he was. When he left for Canada, I was inconsolable and refused to co-operate with his replacement, who didn't stay long. All these years later, I recall our lessons and Mr. Kelly with the greatest affection.

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