Stories from BRS schooldays

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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.


The Visitation

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???


This one is from

  • Michael Corcoran   
  •   Sun 12th May 2019 at 09:02
  • My name is Michael Corcoran I arrived at Brownrigg around about 1952 and stayed for three years , my dorm was Tweed, the house Master was Ted Grey a great guy the headmaster Mr Walsh who
    decided that I would make a good School captain and by that time I was also dorm captain of Tweed so begun three great years. I would like to tell you some events that come to mine .The first one was when a prisoner
    escaped from Durham Jail and was reported to be at large on our fell, Mr Walsh thought that the Matron who lived in the sickbay could be at risk so he called for the SAS team from Tweed, myself and vice capt 
    Jacki Reed to protect her. This was like been invited to stay at the Ritz Hotel compared to the dorm, we had single beds soft mattress and warm blankets and matron brought us hot milk and biscuits at bed time.
    unfortunately the prisoner was caught after two weeks and our little bit of heaven was gone.

    Another event that comes to mine was when the Tyne was in flood a large amount of trees blocked the river bridge one of the House Masters took into his head it would be a good idea to cut them out, so the SAS was called out again. I must point out this was in the middle of winter, a very cold day with sleet and rain the river was a raging torrant. We were told to strip off to our bathing trunks and then with ropes tied round our waists lowered on to the trees they then passed down saws so we could cut up the trees when they were free they were haul up onto the road, after about an hour blue with cold we could not feel our fingers the Master began to be concerned and decided to haul us up we were blue with the cold but after 20 mins ready to go again.This time we decided to hunt for rabbits this was easily to do as the river flooded its banks it also filled the 
    rabbit holes so they could easily be caught hiding under the bushes, I think we caught about 30 . So the day was not a dead loss after all especially ,after we asked the girls dorm to bake us rabbit pies, the said yes as
    long as they could keep 10 a good deal all round. That night after lights we had a great feast the end of a good day. 

    When Mr Walsh was in charge of the school he expected every one to hike on a sunday afternoon up to 10 to 20 miles. Well this sunday was very hot and Jackie and I decided to give it a miss, we thought the best place to hide would be in the loft of the Dorm the held all the scouts camping gear tents. axes, pots and pans. So we climb up and made ourselves comfortable on the tents and as we had brought oranges and crisps the afternoon was going well till we heard noises in the dorm. Well ! here were things can go awry ,un aware that this master had been asked to leave his room and move to another dorm because of a dispute with the boys,
    he enlisted the help of to younger boys to help carry out his gear. well we were getting a little bored after a couple of hours stuck up in the loft and there fore we decided to play a game on the young boys as they carried the teachers possessions from the room we would bomb them with orange peel they could not understand where the peel was coming from but when the teacher came out of his room and saw the peel he assumed the boys were response able and shouted for them to clean it up which they did , but when they went back out of the dorm we again dropped the peel, on the third drop the teacher, went ballistic the boys were in tears knowing they were innocent, we were in tears of laughter. Then things went down hill fast, the teacher found a ladder to reach the loft he became very afraid that person in the loft might be the escaped prisoner who was still at large so rather than climbing in the loft he shouted is there anyone there of course we tried to hide Jackie between the beams and me under the tents this was okay till in his nervous state he decided to check on areas he could not see and started throwing the scouts axes and knives around the loft and when one just missed Jacky head we decide to surrender much to the relief of the teacher who thought he might have been facing criminal. Well I think we got off lightly with teacher he was still shaking when he gave us two strikes of the cane and we thought that was the end because what happens in the dorm stays in the dorm , but no this sneaky B of teacher reported us to to Mr Walsh as he was having dinner with the rest of the staff , Looking back I think Mr Walsh was uncomfortable having to deal with it and knowing he had escape from a prisoner of war camp our escapade might have appealed to him ,so instead of been given the dreaded golf club shaft across our backside which he was renowned for. he looked up through the window of the dinning room and pointed to the benchmark and said there and back no dinner ,to those who do not know to what I”m referring to the bench mark is a concrete pillar which lies one and half miles straight up the fell. Well we thought we had got of lightly till the following morning we were called into Mr Greys Room and given a further two strikes of the cane unfortunately Jacky landed on the same as the previous two and they bled for a few day and ha to stand about a lot. 

    I would like to say that Ted Grey was a lovely guy and a great house master he would come into the dorm late at night after been at the amateur theatre with mrs Walsh they were great friends wake up and try and sell me strawberry coloured battleship with six funnels I think he might have been slightly tipsy but great fun. Some times he would wake four or five of us up to have coffee and biscuits in his room. One time he woke the whole dorm at nine pm told to get dressed then we stole out of the school grounds undetected and down to the village where he bought everyone a fish supper what a night what a Guy.

    I would like to say how much I enjoyed my time at Brownrigg and gave an independence which has allowed to have and interesting life after owning two hotels ,a nursing home Building Company Selling and owning villas in America and many other things , I am now 80yrs old have been married for 60yrs and now live in Turkey for the last 10 yrs in a lovely 4 bed villa over looking the sea with lots of good friends life can’t get any better.

    I would like to think that some of my memories bring a smile to some old faces if any can remember me give me a call God Bless you all.

    Michael Corcoran 


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

Midnight Feasts

The Diving Competition

The Illuminated Wood