Excerpt from the memoirs of Rose Evelyn Mountain
(Nee Stevenson) 1885 – 1986
(provided by Todmorden Library)
Mrs Sam Fielden lived in a large house in our valley – it was surrounded by a few fields and sloped into a wood. She was very interested in education and went to Germany to study their methods and when she came back she built a school on her land half-a-mile or so out of the town. Its architecture was much better than that of ordinary schools. It consisted of a large room with gothic windows along one side and a large rose window (which I thought was very beautiful) on the other. Two sets of galleries of long desks were in the big room- so two classes were always being taught in there at once. Then there was one classroom and some cloakrooms at one end, then a staircase up to a landing on which there was a very popular rocking horse and a classroom on each side. These were for the infants’ classes. The large room went up to the wooden rafters.
Outside there was a large square playground containing one or two swings and a swing boat in which two small children could sit facing each other. A long wooden seat ran all along the side of the school. Lavatories were hidden away in shrubbery. There was a special porch with a drive up to it, kept solely for the use of Mrs Fielden who came most mornings to teach at the school. She had perhaps two qualified staff and one or two pupil teachers.
One idea she brought back from Germany was a wooden signal that could be clicked and it was used for the teaching of reading so that the teacher didn’t need to speak at all.
I think her husband must have died fairly young. I always remember her being referred to as ‘a millionaire’s widow’ and as having a large pink face surrounded by heavy crepe ‘widow’s weeds’ with a veil down her back – perhaps a touch of white somewhere and a lot of heavy rings on her hands.
One form of punishment she used was to tell a child to put its tongue between its teeth and then chuck it under its chin with ringed fingers. I don’t think I ever had it done to me. Another was to make a child stand for hours with its hands up holding half a dozen or more slates above its head. I do remember doing that and being so tired and upset that I couldn’t eat any dinner when I got home, and Mother being upset.
I believe she gave evidence on education before a royal commission and said she built her school for the education of children on her estate and hearing people say that it wouldn’t have had more than a dozen or so. It wasn’t above a hundred or so children at its biggest.
It gradually declined and was finally closed about when I was about 10. Harold began to go there when he was 5, then Elsie aged 4 had to go to keep him company, then I, not much over 3 had to go because I was lonely at home! It was half-a-mile or more from home and we went home for dinner so it was fairly strenuous for toddlers. I vaguely remember being asked if there weren’t any more of us coming along. We had a concert for parents and friends every year and at one the boys were massed on one gallery and the girls on another and stood on stool facing them. The song was ‘He you know was Jackie, She you know was Kit and then there came the baby girl whom everyone called ‘It’ and everyone, including myself pointing at me. So I was always called ‘It’ by the teachers and Mrs Fielden.
Mrs Fielden’s birthday was on Nov 5 and every child had to write a letter of congratulations and ornamenting it by sticking on it coloured ‘scraps’ of coloured flowers that could be bought for a few pennies from the shop. Then each child was given 1d (one penny) – one year it was only 1/2d, as she said she was too poor to give more. We also had a ‘tea’ a little before Christmas consisting of mugs of tea and slightly curranty buns. Then the whole school filed past Mrs F and was given a small gift. One year she said ‘It would like a book’ and gave me an old geography book. I was very disgusted because my sister got a small basket. However she consented to change, so it was all right.
But she was generous in big ways – when she gave up her school she presented it to the town and it was made into the Art School and later still, she endowed the chair of education at Manchester University and Professor Findlay was known as the Fielden Professor of Education.
Another thing she did – I was a very delicate child and had attacks of bronchitis all through the winter and when I was away, I remember her carriage and pair arriving at our gate and the footman brining in a basin containing some specially nutritious concoction for a small invalid and finding them very nice. Her cook also made little round sweets of shiny sugar, some white and some pink and tins of thin ginger biscuits, all of which were used as rewards for good work or good behaviour. Sweets at home were almost unknown.