Dr Ian Roberts spoke at the February meeting of the Alnwick and District Local History Society about Brown Rigg School, which he described as a very special educational experience.
Dr Roberts explained that he began researching the school when a large volume of material became available during the setting up of an exhibit about the school for the Bellingham museum, and he made a promise to write a book on the topic. This has now been published.
The initiative for rural education began in the 1930s, when there was increasing concern about the health of urban children.
The National Camps Corp, was set up, supported by the government, the CPRE, and the Ramblers Association.
Fifty rural schools were planned to take in about 400 children each. The government gave £1.2 million, and construction of the schools began in 1938.
They were all of the same design, with a number of dormitory cabins. All the buildings were made of Canadian red cedar. There was mains electricity and central heating throughout, very advanced at the time, though the dorms were quite spartan.
When war was declared, 31 schools had been completed or were in build. They made useful evacution facilities, and Brown Rigg was used for girls from the nearby industrial areas.
They were involved in the many outdoor activities, and looked after the gardens and farm animals. This closed in December 1944.
The school was then refurbished, and reopened in September 1945.
Boys and girls from senior schools in industrial areas went for short periods to experience the countryside.
It was the children’s own choice that they should go, and they had to have the agreement from their parents, who paid 7/6d a week for their keep.
Dr Roberts has interviewed a number of ex-pupils, and a common comment was how wonderful the fresh air was, and how much they enjoyed the experience.
The first headmaster, Weymouth Walsh, was concerned to recruit teachers who were all-rounders, and who were prepared to participate in games and other outdoor activities.
They were required to live on site or in Bellingham, to take a full part in school life, including the weekends, and teach more than one subject.
In the 1950s, the county council took control. The children now stayed for a whole year, and there were increasing numbers of part-time staff to help cover increasing curricula requirements, but time took its toll on the facilities and there was a lack of investment.
There was a critical HMI report in 1969, which another in 1979. In its later years, the county council introduced children with problems, without any extra investment or support.
This entirely altered the style of the school, and finally took the decision to close the school in 1985.
Since then it has been bought by the Camping and Caravanning Club, and refurbished into a very successful camping facility.
The next meeting of the Society will be the agm, on March 24, starting earlier than usual at 7pm. Dr Christine Seal will be the guest speaker, who will be talking on Domestic Servants in the 19th Century.