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George Rowntree

The Reminiscences of George Rowntree
1855 -1940

written during the winter of 1935-36



I have nothing but happy recollections of my childhood. Once a year the family went for a holiday; if to Ilkley, a small bus was chartered to meet the train at Arthington, and we drove several miles, staying close to Ilkley Wells House, where the baths' , were well patronised,. Another year it might be to East Ayton or, on one occasion, to Grasmere.

Thomas Walton opened a boarding school in Scarborough in 1864, and I was sent as a boarder , the youngest at the school, 9 1/2 years old. I was fearless or foolhardy when in the company of older boys, with the result that, on one occasion, I followed a bather, diving at the deep end of the bath, without any knowledge of swimming ; another time at school, seeing a boy swing himself off a high pole and alight on his feet, I tried the same and was carried into the house senseless. The school started with 11 boys, and grew to about 70. My son Malcolm was the youngest at the same school when Mr. Walton gave up. The premises in Belgrave Crescent were soon too small, and the school removed to Oliver's Mount, where, for some time, it was patronised by the boys from the principal families in the Society of Friends both in England and Ireland.

In 1867 the number of Thomas Walton's pupils increased so quickly that he bought a Hotel, known as the Princess Royal Hotel, altered the name to Oliver's Mount School, and when I left and went to York there were over 60 scholars.

The school afterwards passed into the hands of the Woodard Trust and became a successful girls' school, changing its name to Queen Margaret's.

At the age of 12 1/2 I passed on to Bootham School, York, for 3 1/2 years. Both schools encouraged study of Natural History and the exhibitions at the end of the year, of Fossils, Butterflies and Moths, Birds' Eggs and Pressed Flowers, were much ahead of most schools in the country.

My school days did not make me a scholar , but the games and the opportunities for mischief found me a willing sharer. On one occasion, after a midnight supper, which we partook of in the teachers' room, followed by a walk up to the Mount School, York, we found ourselves in trouble. The punishment we got was that we were "gated" for the rest of the term. This I did not resent, as it was well deserved, but to be invited out to the house of an elderly lady to be lectured by her and to be told that, if my father had not been a member of the school committee, I should have been expelled, was going a little too far.

The field games, such as cricket and football, were subject to fewer rules than to-day. Cricket we played both with Ackworth and Oliver's Mount. I once carried my bat and only scored 11 runs. In football my recollection 'is that as many a6 cared to join the game could do so.

My schooldays at Bootham, York, were closely associated with those of Isaac Henry Wallis and Harry Corder. A few years ago you could have seen the three of us on Whit-Monday in the Mount School Garden, all over seventy. If you had been near enough, you would have heard the stories recounted of our own schooldays. Let me give you one or two of them. On one occasion a midnight walk had been arranged; the signal for meeting was the York Minster clock ; one boy only came down to time. No sooner had he arrived than the heavy step of a master, the late Thomas Waller, was heard getting nearer and nearer. However, he turned upstairs to his bedroom; the news was passed round and the master was given twenty minutes to get to sleep. We then set off down Bootham and up to the Mount School, for no object whatever, but to say that we had touched the school railings. From there we turned back to the side of the river, crossed over the Scarborough bridge and walked up the bank of the river. The night was dark but clear, everything perfectly silent. We were now near the Mental Hospital, when suddenly three loud shouts rang through the night air. The voice was very near. Had the voice escaped ? How I wished myself back in bed! And then we found ourselves close to a barge, from which the voice proceeded. We got back by one o'clock and slept soundly for the rest of the night. A few days later Fielden Thorp called me to him and told me that my name had been given him as having been out of bounds. He said that he was surprised that I should have done such a thing, especially at that time of night. Those who knew Fielden Thorp will remember the quiet way in which he put his arm round you and asked for more particulars. He really was too gentle.

Another night a midnight supper was planned. I had to buy in cocoa; not wishing to be short and not caring, I bought a quarter pound packet for each boy and milk and other things in proportion. A few sticks were put in the grate, we boiled our kettle and enjoyed our meal of bread and jam sandwiches and went back to bed again quietly.

Another day- " Do you remember, 'Sack' ?" Well, the nickname was given to Sylvanus, the father of Professor Silvanus Thompson. The dear elderly man was a relic of the past. Each day biscuits were given out for lunch; numbers were wasted, or rather would have been, had not "Sack" , gone round with his bag and picked up the leavings. Of course, we declared this was the food his family were reared on; w hen we heard afterwards of the care that he and his wife took to pass on the food to hungry children, we thought better of it. His teaching of Euclid was amusing. He took the whole class and pounced on a boy by surprise, asked him to repeat the fifth proposition or some other portion; when the boy was in the middle of a sentence, Silvanus called out, "Next," and the "next " had to follow on, word for word. Committing to memory seemed to be the acme of accomplishment.

Then the stories about the old tuck shops. Who did not know " Twiddy's " for apples and other fruit, and in Petergate a little shop where "hoisers " , were eagerly sought; report said that any quantity up to 16 was supplied to one boy. What meat pies they were !

Then Bauble Dick, with his fiddle, waking us at 10, 11or 12 o'clock with his Christmas greetings, was a never-forgotten night during the sixties and seventies. I often wonder whether there is any family who keeps up the tradition.

With regard to the headmasters of Bootham, every boy looked and still looks back with pride to them, John Ford, Fielden Thorp, John F. Fryer, and since then to Arthur Rowntree and Donald Gray.

Committing to memory, I have already said, was strongly encouraged. On one occasion at Oliver's Mount, one of the teachers offered a prize of 20/- for any boy who would learn off by heart the first book of "Paradise Lost." That was much beyond my powers, but my brother John won the prize. In after years, especially in our Meetings for Worship, I have often wondered whether his accuracy in quoting hymns and portions of scripture may have been due to his early training.

It was not until 1870 (Elementary Education Act) that there was any compulsion to send boys and girls to school, with the result that many boys started work at 10 years of age. I recollect when a man came into our employ who had to wheel out a handcart full of parcels, each one addressed for delivery. This man would listen to the addresses given, then arrange his parcels, and he rarely made any mistake in delivery. He could neither read nor write.

When the Education Bill was passed, parents soon found that their own lot was sadly behind the needs of the times. The result was the starting of Adult Night Schools. For several years I spent one or two winter evenings weekly teaching these men, who were very keen. Years after, two of our constables told me they could never have got the appointment but for the night school. Some were amusing: one, who learnt to read when he was over 50, used to come to the class early on Sunday mornings and open the bibles at the right place for each member. One week he failed to find the place, as he could not find a book named " Select from Psalms". Another young man, with four lines of poetry in front of him, could not master the word "earth." At last the teacher tried to suggest what the earth stood for, what we lived on; his face brightened as he said, "Oh, it's victuals"

These Adult Night Schools were an adjunct of the Adult School. Each year the members joined in a holiday, beginning in a small way, to Yedmandale and Forge Valley, afterwards going as far as Loch Lomond or London .

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