Shotley Bridge and Benfieldside School
Shotley Bridge was a metropolitan, a proper town, a thriving place.
The War and the recession and the rest put paid to that; it’s never been the same. Never will be. Can’t be. Consett and Shotley Bridge drew in workers right up to the outbreak of the War in 1914 for the iron and steel works, the paper mill, saw mill, market gardens, mines of course and the manufactories. Then there were the railways, and shops and theatres of course. And the market every week that filled the town.
I remember taking Billy up to the infant school, Benfieldside School at Highgate and him crying.
Children started school aged six and stayed on until Standard VII. On our when 14th birthday we got a job. There was no staying on unless you had the money for the Grammar School. Lads from the big houses would be sent into Newcastle or they’d be away at boarding preparatory schools from the age of 7 or 8.
The school was divided into two, girls and boys
There was a separate block for infants with the schoolmaster’s house next door and a playground behind where I left him and went back for him. It was a mile walk. There was a two hour break for lunch as most children went home to eat. So back and forth we’d walk six miles a day. There were no buses and no bikes.
There was no gas or electricity either, just paraffin lamps.
The headmaster was Frank Allan; he was a little chap. He signed up, no need, he lied over age, said he was 37, in fact he was 43. He encouraged a lot of boys to lie about their age and got them killed, 14 year olds saying they were 19. Billy did that and joined the Royal Flying Corp when he was 15.
Frank was killed in the Great War.