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Cockermouth Post Article June 2013 – Fairfield Schools

With plans afoot for a likely amalgamation of Fairfield Infant and Junior Schools in September, it seems appropriate to take a look back at the school’s history and people’s memories of it. The Fairfield Girls’ Board School opened in April 1876, a boys’ section in 1884, and an extension to the original building opened in 1887. Bernard Bradbury notes that the school had a total accommodation for pupils of around 700 children, with 250 girls in the single-storey block, 250 boys upstairs in the two-storey building, and 200 infants downstairs. Before the extension was built, space was certainly at a premium, with children having to be rotated regularly to ensure they weren’t sitting close to the fires for too long a period! The toilet block was, of course, outside – one teacher from just after the war years recalls with some satisfaction that this ensured no child spent more time away from the classroom than was absolutely necessary!

The same teacher recalls an incident at another school, not far from Cockermouth, when the Infant mistress drew the Head’s attention to a little boy who never had any idea what day it was until Friday came – his hand would always shoot up then if the teacher asked which day it was. The Head asked the child how he knew when it was Friday and the boy answered that it was pay day. The Head turned to the mistress and asked if Friday was her pay-day, to which the mistress replied that it was not. “How do you account for that then?”, enquired the Headteacher, to which the little boy replied: “It’s pay-day for them that works”. Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings!

With the war years came a large influx of evacuees, mostly from the north-east, who needed to be educated. The routine that developed was for local children to go to school in the mornings, and evacuees during the afternoon. Windows on the classrooms had tape put on them in case of bomb blast damage. The extra strain on resources, coupled with very bad weather in December 1940 led to the school’s outside toilets freezing up, and the school had to close until late January. There was also an outbreak of measles which depleted attendance considerably. July 1943, however, saw great excitement with the distribution of bananas, which had been sent to schools in Cockermouth by members of the crew of HMS Melbreak, Cockermouth’s ‘adopted’ warship. Bearing in mind that fruit was a rare commodity, especially fruit that had to be imported, this was a momentous event. One lady remembers that all children under five received one banana each. When she took it home, it was cut up by her mother and served with custard to her six brothers and sisters and herself!

Gloria Edwards

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