Kirknewton's fascinating history
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In the first half of the twentieth century the farms and remote shepherd's houses were served by tracks not roads. People walked, rode or sometimes bicycled. After WWII young men often had motor bikes bought with demob money but generally everyday journeys were slow and difficult and bad weather brought problems. This is reflected in the school log books - not always sympathetically. On April 19th 1906 a snowstorm prevents the Hethpool children from walking the three miles to school. The headmaster Mr Neesom remarks that 'it was all gone by dinnertime'. In fact it could well have been still lying three miles up the valley. On May 17th he writes: 'Great floods. Two days of rain. The hills are 1 foot deep in snow' and on May 21st 'Only 20 children present out of 32. Roads impassable. Railway washed away'. By November 20th in 1927 the roads are knee deep in snow and there are 19 children absent most of them the infants. On December 3rd the log records 'the written work is very poor as the children's hands were so cold they could not control their pens'. In 1928, on March 12th there were deep drifts and the 'boys had to cut a road from the school door to the girls' offices (toilets) into which snow had entered. There are references to 'hill children' not being able to get to school. In February 1929 the temperature in the schoolroom was between 34-44degrees F (1 -6 C.) through the day. Elizabeth Tunnah who lived in the hills behind Kirknewton remebers that in snowy conditions her father would walk with them in the morning and then meet them with the horse and cart in the afternoon. The school at Southernknowe was affected by snow in 1945 when only 2 pupils could get to school because they lived next door! Those from Mounthooly, Goldscleugh, Dunsdale and Trowupburn could not. The winter of 1947 was particularly harsh and remembered by many. Margaret Blair (Ormston) said the snow drifted to the tops of the telegraph poles at Westnewton, where she was dairymaid, and Mr Brown one of the estate workers drove a caterpillar tractor to Milfield to bring back provisions for everyone. The sheep were brought in and she remembers them 'tucked into every corner of the sheds'. John Dixon, the shepherd there, recalls 'drifts to the height of houses and that you could walk across the fields and not know where the hedges were'.The lambing was in the farm buildings and 'lambs and their mothers were everywhere we could find room'. They lost no ewes or lambs that year. Two and more miles further into the hills the conditions were worse. The school at Southernknowe was closed and the log entries reveal the severity of the conditions up there. On 11th Feb. the snow is 4 to 6 feet deep and the teacher( Mrs North) records she 'had to walk on top of 4 foot walls and crawl over drifts'. She had come the half mile from Coldburn. Only Southernknowe children could attend. On February 28th a terrible blizzard stopped even the Southernknowe children. And it went on with more terrible blizzards through March. One of the pupils living at Southernknowe, Barbara McGuffie, said Mrs North had got to school by 'hook or by crook' and believes she 'skated to school with her feet in baking tins'. On March 26th the postman gets through to Southernknowe for the first time since the 1st February! 1962/3 was another harsh winter. John Dixon, now head shepherd at Westnewton and living at The Staw, remembers that 18 sheep were lost. The second shepherd was out looking for them on horseback and prodding the snow on the south side of Longknowe Hill to find them. He came off his horse and it wandered home. John followed its tracks back and found where Colin Armstrong was. Colin was lucky as he was a long way from the farm in atrociuos conditions. The same conditions cost the lives of three shepherds on the other side of Cheviot. When the snow began to melt the 18 sheep turned up walking down the road in Kilham in the valley on the north side of Longknowe Hill.They had been sheltering under gorse bushes whers masses of tangled wool was found. They had pushed underneath and survived huddled together and with sufficient air. The school at Southernknowe was closed from January 8th until March and the teacher wrote 'conditions worse through drifting and hay and groceries have been dropped at Goldscleugh and Dunsdale by helicopter'. Later in the 1965 winter the headteacher records on March 3rd ' weather worsening, boys sent home to Mounthooly and seen to arrive safely through binocculars'. However beguiling the image this was a potentially serious situation. A final word is from Sir Arthur Munro Sutherland, Bart. who owned the College Valley estate up to 1953. He had his country home at Hethpool House . Not a countryman himself, he seems to have had a keen appreciation of the differences between the urban and rural. He wrote 'In town we clrear the snow from our doorsteps and hope the buses are running. Among the hills the snow engulfs you and you fight your way out'. He might well have added that survival itself of man and beast depends on those efforts.