Kirknewton's fascinating history
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The school at Southernknowe
Tucked away up the College Valley where the College Burn and the Lambden Burn meet lies Southernknowe. It is here that a small school began in one of the shepherd's cottages in 1854. It catered for the children of the outbye shepherds of Mounthooly, Fleehope, Dunsdale, Goldscleugh, Whitehall, Hethpool and Trowupburn. It had periods of closure during its history because of a fall in number of pupils. The remaining pupils were expected to travel to Kirknewton which, from the outermost reaches of the valley, would be 7 miles. In practice the children simply couldn't attend. There was a period of closure in the early 20th century and the headmaster of Kirknewton school, Mr Neesom, records in the school logbooks the children he admits to the school from the valley:
1909 -May 10th "admitted a child from Trowupburn, aged 7 and a half, never been to school. Distance to walk 5 miles"
1909 -May 17th "admitted a child from Whitehall, aged 8 years, never been to school. Distance to walk 4 miles."
1910 -January 3rd "the child from Whitehall is not coming to school during the winter months."
After the harvest holiday in 1910 Mr Neesom records that 3 children are 'lost' from his roll as the Southernknowe school re-opens. From this time the school remains open until its final closure in 1968. There isn't much in the records about this unique school before the 1920s except for the entries in the Kirknewton logbooks. However, through the Governors' minutes of 1923, we learn that a Mrs Jessie Anderson is to become Headmistress. She to do the cleaning of the school for an additional payment and is there until 1928 when she resigns. There is a great debate as to whether the school can be kept open but the school managers decide to treat this as a 'lean' period and the school stays open with 4 pupils plus one 'scholar' nearly 14 years old (which was the school leaving age). Another married woman, Mrs Agnes Cowe, became headmistress in 1928 and would stay until 1941. She lived at Coldburn, a short distance from Southernknowe, as did the teachers who came after her. Her daughter, Bunty Cowe, wrote an excellent booklet about life in the valley at that time which is called 'Clooty Mats and Sheep Shearing - a Cheviot Childhood'. Another booklet recalling life in the College and Coquet Valleys in the 1930s and 40s is 'Child of the Cheviots' by Margaret Dagg. Mrs Cowe was followed by a Mrs North from 1941 to 49 and then a Mrs Norman from 1950 to 56. The employment of married women as teachers in the 1920s and 30s was unusual and it was probably the remoteness of the school which made it difficult to get staff and maybe its size was not attractive for anyone looking for promotion. Some married women had been used to fill vacancies in WWI and WWII and employment patterns were changing in the 1950s. The last headmistress was a Miss Stella Hirst who had exchanged a school in the centre of the city of Leeds for its polar opposite! She was employed in 1964 and at this time the Southernknowe school is different from all other schools in the area, and probably the rest of England, as it is still an 'all age' school. It is taking children up to the age of 15 which was the new leaving age since the 1944 Education Act. Since 1953 all other local schools have been transferring pupils at 11 years old to the Glendale Modern School in Wooler. Distance to travel is again the problem just as it was early in the century. The roads are better since the building of access roads when woodland was planed in the 1950s but there is still no transport provided. Parents did not want their children to board out which is what they would have to do. The pupils who did board out did so with relatives and one pupil was sent to the Bellingham Camp School. There were concerns about the breadth of the curriculum for the older pupils and every effort was made to do as much as possible. Electricity had come to the valley in 1961 and there was a telephone box outside the school. The pupils speak on the telephone to pupils in other schools, go on trips and there is a regular exchange of library books.There is model making with balsa wood and filmstrips. The school generally gets very good reports during these final years. Weather conditions have caused problems over the years. In the bad winter of 1947 a logbook entry on the 11th February says the teacher had to "walk over the top offour foot walls" to get to school. Only the children from Southernknowe itself could attend. On the 26th March the entry records "the postman reached school taday for the first time since February 1st. The severe winter of 1962/3 also brought problems. The school was closed from the 8th January until March and hay and groceries had to be dropped at Dunsdale and Goldscleugh by helicopter. On March 3rd 1965, when a blizzard threatened, Miss Hirst sent the boys from Mounthooly homeearly and the boys 'were seen to arrive safely through binoculars.The school finally closed at Easter 1968 when Miss Hirst described regret at leaving 'this lovely valley and delightful school.'