26 February 2003

Ullswater: Barton School Dinners and a Tale

For the first three or four years at primary school we all took a cut lunch to school and a drink but 1942 or was it 1943 the Government Education Board decided to provide a subsidised midday hot dinner to every child. I think the primary reason was that with rationing many children were not getting their full range of vitamins. The cost was sixpence per day or 2.5p and the rest of the cost was subsidised by the government.

Our school had only two classrooms, no dining hall or even a kitchen, many other schools would be the same, but unlike most village schools our school was almost half a mile from the village of Pooley Bridge and the only place suitable for school meals was in the church hall. Three quarters of a mile there and back. For the time taken to walk we were allowed half an hour extra for our lunch break.

So added to my two and a half miles walk to school and two and a half miles back now was added a further three quarters of a mile walks. No wonder I am blessed with strong calf muscles!

So each day we tramped down the road for our hot dinner and we tramped back again, rain or fine. I don’t remember the rain but I do remember the good days, often with pleasure and even today all those years later I still sometimes dream of that lunchtime walk to and from the church hall. The lunchtime meal consisted of meat and three vegetables and a pudding to finish with, the meal was ample enough to fill hungry boys and girls and very tasty.

On the way back from the Church hall was raising ground for most of the way with a sharp hill at the beginning. Often logging vehicles would pass us on our way back to school and on the sharp hill the vehicles would slow with the weight of the logs and the older boys would jump up on to the protruding ends of the logs and ride up to the top of the hill and hop off only when the vehicle started to gain speed again. One day one of the boys stayed on longer than normal and it was too late to hop off and he had to decide to jump off or ride all the way to the sawmill. He decided to jump even though the vehicle would by then doing thirty miles per hour .The speed momentum caused him to fall as he landed on the rough tarmac and his knees and hands were a mess and with bruises elsewhere too no doubt.

The drivers knew the boys used to jump up on the logs but they dare not stop. They could not stop with a fully loaded vehicle and would be unable to restart on the hill if they did stop. Vehicles were not powerful as the ones of today nor did they have the low gears either. The drivers did try to deter the boys by shaking their fists at them when they saw them running towards the vehicles but the boys laughed knowing the logging vehicles could not stop.

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