I have just had the pleasure of printing out a hard copy of 131 pages of the family history of the Eccleston family, sent to me, as an e-mail attachment, by Mr Terry Eccleston. The history was compiled, initially, by his father, Harold Eccleston, between 1973 and 1974 and was rewritten by Terry in 2001. It is a very important historical memoir which is of interest for reasons beyond the scope of the current article. From the local point of view it has arrived in time to shape the outcome of the Heritage Lottery Funded Caergwrle Sense of Place Project which is seeking to record local memories in order to raise the profile of the local heritage. This month’s article draws on a mere fraction of this invaluable source and makes use of the existing archive of photographs to illustrate Harold’s Eccleston’s early years at Hope National School.
Harold was born on 30th September 1893, which almost certainly meant that he was attending Hope National School when it was what we would now call a ‘Victorian School.’
The school had been built in 1838 and was one of the Welsh schools reported on by school inspectors in 1847. Records of the school inspections were printed in books with blue covers and, because they were notoriously bigoted against the Welsh, the episode is referred to by Welsh historians as the ‘Treachery of the Blue Books.’ Needless to say the report is far from flattering about the Hope school but it does provide a context for understanding the experience of local youngsters. Hope School was described as a school for boys and girls, taught respectively by a master and mistress, in separate rooms built for the purpose. There were 70 pupils on the roll although only 40 seem to have been present on the day of the inspection. The inspector’s negative comments included one on the building itself and the level of provision:“There are no means of ventilating the school-rooms, except the windows; and the back windows, having been broken by the boys, were closed with shutters…The apparatus are insufficient, and funds are very inadequate. The master complained very much of the insufficiency of his salary, alleging that he could not live, but for a small pension he receives as a retired soldier.” (1)
Although the inspection reports were biased there seems to be no reason to doubt that, within a decade of having been built, the school had become unsuitable for teaching purposes. Harry Eccleston’s account of his own early childhood experiences now provides corroborative evidence to suggest that the accommodation left much to be desired by the end of the nineteenth century:
“My Aunt Florrie was by this time a pupil teacher at the Old National School [now the Church Institute in Caergwrle] and used to walk there every day from Estyn Villa and have her lunch with us at Castle View, so, of course, when the time came for me to start going to school, I went with her and sat with the infants in the gallery. The room was divided into two classes and half of it had a wide series of steps from floor level to a height of five feet at the back. It was badly lit, the walls were damp and the steps upon which we sat and the floor were terribly dirty and dusty. We used slates to write and do our sums on and I can still smell them now.”
The archives of the Hope & Caergwrle Heritage & Conservation Society contain a photograph of the Hope school children, dated 1902. Harold Eccleston would have been aged 9 at the time and may be one of the pupils shown.It will come as no surprise to several readers that there was no concept of Health and Safety at that particular time and pupils were expected to do things that are unimaginable by today’s standards. Harold explained what happened at school:
“If you wanted a drink one of the older boys had to go, in all weathers, down to a well, which was on an island between the river and the mill race, to fetch some water. The old mill was working then and during our playtime it was quite usual for us school children to go there and stand and watch the corn being ground.”
Harold made no comment about lessons although one incident did stick in his mind. It seems that he and the other children witnessed an early collision on Rhyddyn Hill. A road accident may well stick in the mind of youngsters, but these children witnessed a particularly yesteryear version of a crash:“On one occasion a wagon was backed up to the mill doorway for loading which placed the horse right across the road leading down from Rhyddyn Hill, when suddenly, another horse and cart, coming down the hill, took fright and ran away only being stopped when the shaft of the cart penetrated the side of the stationary horse. This was a source of conversation and excitement for many days at school.”
Hope National School was condemned by school inspectors in 1905 and, in 1906, a new school, now Ysgol Estyn, was opened on Hawarden Road as the first school to be built by Flintshire County Council. The old school building became the Church Institute and was subsequently modernised to become Bridge End Mews.
In 1985 the stone cross from the roof of the old Church Institute was erected as a feature to front the new Church Hall and so retain a link with the old Church School of bygone years.I would like to reiterate my thanks to Mr Terry Eccleston for sharing the history of his family which will undoubtedly serve to supply material for future articles.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the policy of Flintshire County Council. Readers are welcome to contact the author with any news or views on the local heritage at DHealey204@aol.com or by telephoning 01978 761 523