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Monday, 22 December 2014

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The bright lights of Workington were too much of a draw for country folk

How ya gonna keep them down on the farm, after they’ve seen Paree?

It’s an old song published in America in 1918 – recorded by a number of American singers over the years.

In 1931, some members of the Cumberland County Council, as well as members of the public, might well have scrubbed the reference to Paris from the song title.

They would have replaced it with “after they’ve seen Wigton, Maryport, Cockermouth or Workington” or any of the county’s larger towns.

The County Council Education Committee of the time was keen to build larger schools for those over 11 years of age in the towns.

It would have, of course, had implications for the survival of many of the county’s more remote schools.

Then, as now, was something which divided public opinion.

The bigger versus smaller schools argument has been going on for decades.

Various experts – as well as ordinary members of the public – had, and still have, differing opinions on the matter.

It seems, from my reading of the newspapers, that the pendulum is swinging.

Smaller schools now seem to be favoured by “them” – whoever they might be.

In 1931, larger schools were being favoured.

Opposition to these proposals had nothing to do with educational standards or doubts as to whether such a move would be of educational benefit to children who would otherwise have attended smaller rural schools.

The opposite was the case.

Some individuals would seem to be advocating that “country” children should receive an inferior education.

Today, this must strike us as being more than a little odd!

At an earlier meeting that year, the Reverend J Bradburne, vicar of Bromfield, had claimed that “Seventy-five per cent of children in rural schools merely wanted instruction so as to be good farm workers and domestic helpers.”

A Ritson, a cattle breeder, claimed that all country children needed was “instruction in the ‘three Rs.’”

This was perfectly adequate for “country children destined to become domestic and farm servants or engage in any other country trade.”

But this was a point of view which many people held.

We’re going back to the 1930s, a time when social class mattered – a time of us and them – when ordinary working class folk, town and country, were expected to know their place and not get ideas above their station.

It’s not a viewpoint held by many people nowadays.

Is it?

It’s worth quoting the reported comments of Jonathan Strong, then a county council member. He was against giving country children a higher education.

He said it would adversely affect their chances of earning a living in the real world.

He didn’t actually say it, but I suspect that many of the more affluent members of society were concerned that the country might well experience a “servant problem.”

He did foresee that many “town educated” children would be unwilling to return to the country and work on the farms.

He claimed that he “could place scores of girls in domestic service and respectable institutions, which is much better than sending them to the town.”

He claimed that many of them would not take up such jobs – because they were “brought up in higher grade schools.”

It seems that many of these girls preferred to seek employment as office workers or typists – nice jobs!

And who could blame them?

I do, however, suspect that Strong was exaggerating.

Whenever I’ve been talking to women’s groups over the years, I’ve often asked for a show of hands from those who’d started their lives in service.

More times than not, hands went up in plenty.

Going off to be a servant in a “big house” was the lot of many young women at that time.

Whether they came from the town or the country, that was their future.

With the benefit of hindsight, we know that the economic problems of the 1930s were yet to hit our area.

Jobs, of whatever kind, were hard to come by.

Most unemployed – young and old, town and country – would only be too delighted to be “down on the farm.”

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