Stories from BRS schooldays
The best time of my life
Being a one parent family, my mother died when I was about 21/2 years old, in 1957/8 my brother Terry and I got the opportunity to go to a local education boarding school called Brownrigg. The cost was 10/6d (52 1/2 pence) per week each pupil.
Local schools invited at first, one parent families, then other pupils in the area were asked if they wanted to take up the vacancies, which they did.
Brownrigg was situated in the Northumbrian countryside at the foot of the fells near Bellingham. It was built originally as a Camp School but used instead, to house children from Newcastle, who were evacuated during the 11 World War.
Welcome to Brownrigg.
My brother Terry and I were late arriving at the school for the start of the term, by about two weeks, as an outbreak of flue was rampant in the school. I was about 12 years old when I arrived there.
At first sight the school looked just like a POW camp with all the wooden huts and some sort of tower in the background. On inquiring about the tower, I was told by other pupils that this was a watch tower, where the school handyman Archie, was stationed at night, with a machine gun to look out for escapees.
It was actually a wooden structured water supply tower.
Another welcoming feature, just to help you settle in on your first night, was to tell each newbie the story of Rebecca.
The story was about an old mansion which used to stand on the land where the school was now built. One night while the owners were out, a fire burnt down the house. Their mother Rebecca arrived back at the house at the height of the fire and tried to save them from the flames. She could hear them crying out, from inside the house, but she was unable to save them. She was so distraught, that very soon after, she died of a broken heart.
Now this was where I came in. Every time any new pupils arrived at the school, they were told that on the full moon, Rebecca came looking for her sons. Apparently, one was fair haired, one was dark haired and one was ginger. In other words she was out to get anyone. Did you ever want your hair to be dyed pink!
If you found in the morning that she had marked your forehead with a cross of blood, you were one of the chosen ones. This was to let you know she regarded you as one of her sons, and she was coming back for you on the next full moon. Sounds great doesn’t it, live in fear until the next full moon, shot by the handyman Archie if you try to escape or kidnapped by a ghost and taken away into the never life. Why did anyone stay and enjoy it????
How anyone did manage to sleep on that first night I will never know.
But somehow the night just disappeared and suddenly it was morning! Mind you I was being shaken, and on sitting up a mirror was thrust in front of me, and there on my forehead was the dreaded blood cross, I had been chosen!!!
Quietly controlling my breathing, I decided to wipe off the mark of Rebecca, and the smell of ox blood boot polish wafted past my nose, strange blood this ghost had.
I think this incident happened in Tyne Dorm, possibly 1957/8 and when we still thankfully, had up and down bunk beds. I was on the top bunk and I believed at the time, it maybe saved my life!
That winter was fairly hard with snow drifts. I remember one wild snowy night, lying in bed, (top bunk), a howling wind kept banging the outer porch door to the dormitory. Lights out and no one, including me (not after all those ghost stories) would get out of bed to close it. No one spoke or made a sound, and I knew most of the lads were awake! Suddenly the inner porch door creaked open and then slowly closed on its return spring.
Footsteps could then be heard coming down the dormitory and towards ME. They got closer and closer and Jesus! or more likely Rebbecca, stopped right at my bedside. The only saving grace was that I was, yes, on the top bunk. How that was going to save me? I didn’t have a clue but it seemed a good idea at the time.
Not a sound could be heard other than the howling wind. Where were all the heroes in my time of need? I thought this is it, what do I do. Same as the rest of the brave lads, so I slid further down the bed hoping to be invisible. . Then God Almighty, I heard and felt something jump and the bunk bed shook as something landed on the bed underneath me. Then some more muffled moaning sounds, I thought I was next!!! then------------------- SILENCE.
I don't know if I passed out with fear or fell asleep unperturbed, I like to think the latter.
Anyway I woke in the morning to realize I was alive and hadn’t been taken, yippeeee, isn’t it amazing to be alive.
Then I thought about my mate underneath me, a bit late, but at least I did have the thought. Oh my god, what had happened to him ? I slowly peered over the edge of the upper bunk expecting to see a bloodbath.
Guess what ??
Around the edge of the dormitory were large 4 inch heating pipes which ran parallel to the beds. Safely lying in his bed was my mate, (can't remember his name), with a big smile on his face, and a huge foxhound lying on top of him next to the pipes. The foxhound had got lost from the previous days hunt and on a freezing snowy night, sensibly found its way to a warm friendly place.
The huntsman duly called to collect the hound, which by now just preferred to stay, but off he went back to the kennels.
Not a soul spoke about the incident, I suppose that's a mans thing!!
The snake skinning
Every Sunday the whole school had to participate in an afternoon stroll; for the girls it was a five mile hike or run “around the fells” and for the boys, “around the bridges” an eleven mile hike/jaunt. If you took your time and were late back to school you missed your tea! As usual I would stroll around interested in everything around me, and I had several like minded mates.
Right next to the road I spotted a large adder basking in the sun, everyone else had passed it by and never seen it. I fancied a snake skin belt at the time, so I proceeded to kill it, wrapped it in my jumper, still squirming, and took it back to school.
Back at the dormitory and with several curious boys around, I started to unwrap the snake on a table. As I did, it slid out of it's wrapper, dropped onto the floor and proceeded to squirm around. Never seen so much panic!
The snake was actually dead, but an extra whack on the head was administered just to make sure. It measured 31inches and at the time the largest recorded was 32 inches, this was going to be a great belt.
Now I had never skinned a snake before so I called on the expert services of Eastham our resident would be vet (cat vet, story to come), who I have to say did a very good job of removing the skin especially as the snake continued to writhe around even with no head on. The explanation was that this is normal with snakes and now for my conscience, I just hope this is true.
I hung the skin over the outside veranda to dry and sorted out a belt to use as a base to attache the skin to. I was going to be the proud owner of the only genuine snakeskin belt around.
But, the very next day fickle fate intervened. My snakeskin was last seen in the mouth of a cat disappearing under the dorm never to be seen again. I just wondered at the time if our ghost lady Rebecca ever had a cat???
lMore to follow------
Bird Nesting (Tommy Wright)
The Ghost On The Fell
First Lessons In Veterinary Operations
The Muck Heap
An Adder In School
Making our own cigars
The Diving Competition
The Illuminated Wood