Nostalgia: Protecting the vulnerable

Bramcote School.
Bramcote School.

Towards the end of 1915, the most prominent and vital theme running through local discussions was how to protect Scarborough from the long-term, damaging impact of the war. The borough’s leaders were anxious to minimise the harmful consequences for those who were most vulnerable and defenceless, particularly their children and grandchildren, the town’s future generations.

For instance, it was some re-assurance to learn that two of Scarborough’s fee-paying, boys’ boarding schools, Bramcote, the preparatory on Filey Road, and the College, for older boys, had announced that they intended to return by the beginning of 1916. Bramcote had been evacuated to temporary accommodation in Berkshire and Scarborough College had found sanctuary in Keswick.

Only three young boys had attended Bramcote when it first opened in 1893, but in the years before the war, educating boarders between the ages of seven and 14 and preparing them for public schools, it had expanded rapidly. In 1901 the school had taken a lease on an adjacent five-acre sports ground, the best of its kind in the country.

Scarborough College was even newer, but it profited as a secondary, minor boarding public school from a superb building designed by the local architect, Edwin Cooper, and four acres of open land on the Weaponness estate.

The return of both boarding schools to their Scarborough homes was a sure indication, it was hoped, that the danger of more German shells and bombs was seen to have passed

However, if the boy boarders were coming back, the girls from Queen Margaret’s were not. In 1915, they had evacuated their Scarborough school for the security of Pitlochry in Scotland. They would not return until after the war. Also, another girls’ boarding school, Westlands in Westbourne Grove, was closed for good. Their building was abandoned and not re-occupied until 1922 by the new county Girls’ High.

Though it had existed for 40 years, Wheater’s Academy in Albemarle Crescent also disappeared, but it was no great loss to Scarborough’s boys. As Thomas Laughton wrote in his autobiography, “Mr Wheater was a dapper little man who taught with a cane in his hand.” After Robert Laughton, proprietor of the nearby Pavilion hotel, had learned that Wheater had thrashed his eldest son, he withdrew both Charles and younger brother Tom and sent them to the Jesuit college at Stonyhurst. Most of Wheater’s former pupils continued their education up Ramshill Road at St Martin’s. There, under the headship of Mr Turnbull, they had the superior advantage of a much richer choice of curriculum and subsequent professional career.

Of the many other small boarding town schools in Scarborough, on the strength of its local press advertisements, Ravensworth had every reason for not returning to South Cliff. Now housed in The Hall, Appleton-le-Street, Sinnington, it claimed to enjoy “delightful country, bracing air, lovely grounds, a playing field for cricket and tennis”. In short, whatever its academic credentials, Ravensworth was an “excellent health resort”!

There seems to have been no serious thought given to evacuating Scarborough’s own elementary day schools, though mainly as a result of the Bombardment, by October 1915 they had about 300 fewer pupils. The only concession made for the safety of the remaining 800 was to reduce their dinner break by a third to one hour and shorten the afternoon session. As the daylight began to fade, infants would now be allowed out at 3pm and seniors a quarter of an hour later. This would mean a saving on classroom blinds and gas lights and the children would be home before nightfall.

In October 1915, however, the town’s education committee were more concerned with staffing levels than pupil numbers. Altogether they employed 150 teachers, 20 heads, 100 certificated and 30 uncertificated assistant teachers, as well as 11 students or monitors who were learning in the classroom. It was agreed that, unlike the North Riding schools which were 100 teachers short, Scarborough now had a surplus of at least ten. Even if these ten were shed, there would be no class in the town with more than 30 pupils, and Scarborough’s schools would therefore still be in the top six of the country’s non-county boroughs. When it was asked why some teachers were paid as much as £110 a year and others only £60, it was explained that top salaries went to the graduate teachers at the Muni and the lowest to unqualified ones at the elementary infants and juniors.

Of special concern to the town’s leaders was the physical, as well as the mental, well-being of the children under their care. In November 1915, the report presented by Mr James Bastiman, the borough’s inspector of nuisances, gives some clue to the reason for their anxiety.

During the past year 1914-15, 1,188 notices had been served for “the abatement of nuisances” [dangers to public health]. Only two of them had been followed by legal proceedings: one regarding smoke, contrary to the Public Health Act of 1873, the other concerning passage-paving, contrary to Scarborough’s own Improvement Act of 1889. The most common notices had been directed against “defective privies and ashpits”, numbering 212, compared with 417 the previous year. In 36 cases, contaminated food for sale – beef, mutton, tripe, rabbits, fish, fruit and pork – had been condemned, seized and destroyed. Of the 101 examples of food sampled and analysed, nearly a third had been found to be “adulterated”.

On the other hand, the inspector was pleased to announce that all 20 of the town’s “cowsheds” were found to be in a “clean state” and only three of the 138 purveyors of milk had not covered their produce sufficiently. Finally, all was well with the 25 fried fish and chip shops which had been subjected to no fewer than 56 inspections during the year.

Whatever the condition of the nation’s health and hygiene, in Scarborough at least peacetime standards of legal protection had not been allowed to fall.