Article courtesy of Leadgate History Club.
My dad’s parents moved to Leadgate in 1922, after the family were not set on again at Esh Winning Colliery after the 1921 Miners strike. They lived in Crookhall which was then part of Leadgate. They had moved there from Esh Winning so the men could work in the newly re-opened Victory pit at Crookhall. My dad attended Leadgate Council schools from 1930 to 1939. I attended Leadgate Council schools from 1957 to 1963 and my sister Helen attended these from 1960 to 1966.
We lived in Leadgate until 1963 when we moved to Moorside when my parents got to the top of the Council House waiting list and so got their own council house. Previously we had lived with both sets of grandparents, at various times, in Park Villas and Willow Crescent, Leadgate. We moved to Moorside on my last day at Leadgate Junior School before I started Consett Grammar School in September 1963.
Leadgate Infant School and Leadgate Junior School (combined known as the Council School(s)) were two separate schools built on the same site on West Street in 1908. They were built to replace the Bottle Bank School and provided an education for boys and girls from 5 to 13 years old. This was known as a ‘through school’. The only reason to go to another school would be if you passed the 11 plus and then attended Consett Grammar School. There was a big push nationally to improve education and a lot of similar schools were built during the decade before the First World War.
My mam was determined that I would look the part when I went to school in 1957, and so kitted me out with a blazer and matching cap. There was no school uniform at the school but that didn’t seem to matter. I started school at Christmas 1957, three months before I was five. I could tell it was an important moment because my dad took me to school rather than my mam. My mam couldn’t keep away from school, though, so she walked along West Street, past the school at morning playtime, trying to keep hidden. I had pretty sharp eyes and spotted her as she hid behind the gatepost. I ran in to get my coat and ran out to my mam thinking it was time to go home. Mam sent me back in and made a hasty exit to make sure she wasn’t spotted by any of the staff.
The Infant School and Junior School were run totally separately. Miss Robertson was the headteacher at the Infant School. The other teachers I can remember were Miss Bird in reception, Mrs Green, who didn’t teach me, and Mrs Dunne who taught me in the top class in the infants.
Mrs Dunne had also taught my dad in the 1930s. She was a good teacher and remembered my dad fondly. My dad had other memories as in her first year of teaching his class repeatedly misbehaved causing Mrs Dunne to run out of the classroom to ask for help.
My dad, Arthur Agar, was born at Crookhall in July1925. When my granda lost his job in the pit the family had to move out of the house owned by the Victory pit. The council found them a small, unsanitary house at 31b Front Street Leadgate, which had rats, probably because of the open sewer which ran all the way through the house from the barbers next door.
It was from this unhyenic base that Arthur started Leadgate Council School in 1930. He was followed by his sister Lily in 1931 and sister Peggy in 1935.
The Council eventually re-housed the family in new council houses in Park Villas. For a short while the Agars lived at number 8, but for the rest of their time in Leadgate the family, including me for a time, lived at number 11 Park Villas. The houses at Park Villas were badly built and didn’t include a damp course so they were constantly damp with water running down the walls of the rooms and the wind whistling through the walls, straight from Pontop Pike.
I know very little of my dad’s early years in the Infant School, but we have an early momento he made while he was there.
Arthur did not take the 11 plus as he was suffering from yellow jaundice, so consequently he missed the opportunity to attend Consett Grammar School, although his sister Lily passed the 11 plus the following year.
This meant that Arthur attended Leadgate Council School until he left when he was 14. While he was in the older years Arthur represented the school at Cricket and Football. The teacher in charge of cricket and football was that fearsome Leadgate legend Jack Ross, seen in the photos below. Mr Ross was feared by all the pupils and yet also respected for the work he did. My dad still remembered when his class stripped down a motorbike, put it together and rode it around the yard. Mr Ross acted like a sergeant-major and the boys, in particular, were drilled to do as he told them.
It wasn’t just at school that Mr Ross acted like a sergeant-major. At the age of 62 he was captaining Leadgate Cricket Club 2nd team. I was playing against Leadgate at the time, but the orders were barked out to the Leadgate players in the same way they were at school. Mr Ross finished his school career as headteacher of Blackhall Mill Junior School and it was no coincidence that all the football finals for the Derwent Valley schools were played at his school.
Mr Ross also produced an excellent reference for my dad when he left school in 1939.
As things were tough in Leadgate in the 1930s, there was support given to many families. My granda had to go the poor board to ask for relief as he had been unemployed for 4 years. This was a nerve-wracking time as it wasn’t that long since people used to get sent to the workhouse.
Consequently Arthur was chosen to attend the Social Services school camp at Marsden Bay in July 1939.
Below is the Leadgate Council football team from 1938-39. Harry Gash provided my dad with the names of the teams when they met in the 1980s.Back Row: Mr Ross, Jack Telford, Billy Bailes, Norman McKinnell, Arthur Agar, Harry Gash
Front Row: Ted Hodgson, Eddy Rowell, Jack McEwen, Roy Bartle (Captain), Andrew Thompson, John Oxley, Dougy Hall
Roy Bartle was an excellent sportsman and captained the football and cricket teams. He was best friends with my dad. The Bartles lived next door when the Agars moved into 8 Park Villas, Leadgate. I came across Geordie, Roy’s brother when I worked on a building site in my holidays from college in 1972 and1973. Geordie was the foreman. We reminisced about Sunderland’s magnificent win in the 1973 Cup Final. We were both there. Roy and my dad stayed friends which was particularly useful for my dad as Roy worked at a bookies in Consett, so my dad could always get a bet on.
During the school holidays youngsters in the 1930s used to wander over fields, through woods and across countryside, often camping out in the woods. My dad and some friends were heading for Iveston, during one school holiday, when my dad fancied something to eat and jumped into a field and pulled out a turnip. Unfortunately, he was seen by a passing policeman. The policeman shouted and my dad ran towards Leadgate, My dad was a good runner but not as good as the policeman who caught him by the crossroads in Leadgate. My dad was asked for his name and address which he gave honestly. The policeman marched a very worried Arthur back to his house. My nanna, his mum, opened the door.
“Mrs Agar I’m afraid that your son Arthur has been in trouble. He jumped into Parky Bates’ field and stole a turnip,” said a very tired policeman.
Nanna was having none of it, “Thank you for bringing this to my attention officer. You can be sure that he will be suitably punished for his misdemeanours.”
The policeman was taken aback, “Mrs Agar I don’t think you understand the gravity of the situation, I ran after Arthur for over a mile into the centre of Leadgate where he hid the turnip up his jumper.”
Nana’s answer has pride of place in family folklore, “Where did you expect him to stick it, up his arse?”. 1-0 to the Agars.
My dad became a butcher’s boy when he left school. This entailed delivering meat by bike all over Leadgate and earning 2 shillings and six pence per week. He later joined the Army and was involved in the D-Day landings in 1944.
My recollections of the first two years of Junior School are a little hazy. I think the teacher in the first year was Mrs Taylor In the second year the teacher was Mrs Stockdale, wife of the legendary Leadgate historian Bill Stockdale.
In the first year we had a student teacher called Miss Ord from Neville’s Cross College in Durham. She wanted to get to know the names of all the class. She was doing quite well until she came to Watts Stelling.
Watts, like his brother Jonnie, was an excellent footballer. Watts was doing well at Derby County in the late 60s, until injury forced him to retire. He is now involved in local politics and became Chair of the Governors at the same schools we attended together from 1957 to 1963. Watt was a governor at the Leadgate Infant and Junior Schools until his retirement as Chair of Governors in 2017. It was his name, however, which caused the confusion. The conversation went something like this:
Miss Ord: “So, what’s your name?”
Miss Ord: “What’s your name?”
Miss Ord “Oh, Watts is your name”
In our first assembly in September 1959 I looked round the walls in the hall in the Junior School. There were only a few pictures on the wall. I was amazed to see that one was of the 1938-9 football team which included my dad, see above, and another was a picture of a girl’s hockey or netball team from about 1940, which included my Auntie Lily, my dad’s sister.
I am pretty sure that we had Mrs Taylor and Mrs Stockdale in the first two years of Junior School. The reason for the lack of certainty was that these two good teachers were overwhelmed in my memory by the next two members of staff, Miss Nicholson and Miss McInnes.
Miss Nicholson didn’t take any prisoners. Even in the back corner you weren’t out of sight. We had what seemed like Victorian double desks and benches. Miss Nicholson had a big desk on a pedestal at the front and so towered over 40 shivering, frightened 9-year-olds. Having said all this, she did have a sense of humour and I did enjoy her lessons. She did tell me once that she lived in Lanchester and her brother had a butcher’s shop there.
Miss McInnes, I think, lived in Stanley. She was quiet and calm but could sort someone out when required. She had a reputation of getting pupils through the 11 plus and to a place at Consett Grammar School. She did this by teaching to the test. Every Friday we took a previous 11 plus paper in test conditions. Miss McInnes obviously marked them over the weekend and the papers were handed out to pupils in rank order on Monday morning. Pupils then sat in the place they came in the test. Desks were set out in 4 rows of 10. First was in back left hand corner of 1st section, last was in the front of 4th section. Fortunately for me I was usually in 1st section, but I did feel for those in the 3rd and 4th section and particularly the girl who often came last and sat in the same place.
|Leadgate Infant School choir, run by headteacher Miss Doris Robinson, which won an award at the Consett Music Festival in May 1962. Helen Agar is the one with an eye for the camera.|
|Leadgate Junior School in April 1959|
Back Row: Margaret Murphy, Raymond Agar, Helen Dickinson, Jean McCance, Robert Fenwick, Margaret Askew, /, /, Arthur Walton, Hazel Foreman,
|Leadgate School about 1966. Probably the school choir, with Helen Agar holding the shield.|
|Leadgate Junior School Football Team April 1962|
Back: Mr Barnett football coach Mr Hall – Headteacher
|Leadgate School Football Team 1963|
Back Row: Colin Jackson, Wilfred Williamson, Cameron Glease, Keith Robinson (goalkeeper), Raymond Agar, Baker, Gordon Massey.
Front Row: Jeff Barrett, Jonny Stelling, John ‘Chubby’ Wright, Watts Stelling, Eric Anderson
|Leadgate Junior School Choir 1963 which won the choir category at Consett Music Festival. Mr Hall set up the choir when he first took over as headteacher and this was a win in our first competition. I’m afraid I can’t remember many names but Mr Hall has the shield, next to him is Mr Stewart who taught the music in the school and who lived round the corner next to the Store (Co-op).|
Back row includes Margaret Askew, Jean McCance and Margaret Murphy (just off the picture)
Middle Row includes Raymond Agar, Keith Robinson, Arthur Walton, Peter Bridgewater, Kevin Wilson, Arthur Lewis, Cameron Glease, and Diane Wilson.
Girls sitting on the floor include Margaret Grierson and Mr Hall’s daughter.
|Leadgate School Garden in the 1950s when the older pupils were still there.|
Mr Hall brought lots of energy and dynamism to the job of Headteacher at Leadgate Junior School, when he arrived in about 1960. It was a bit odd to an 8 -year-old that the headteacher seemed to be younger than the rest of the staff. He set up the Junior School choir and conducted us at the Consett Musical Festival in 1963 where we won the School prize in our first event. This was mainly because of Mr Hall picking Rudyard Kipling’s Smugglers Song as our free choice.
He also got involved with the football team and was particularly useful because he had a VW camper van in which we could get 5 or 6 players for away matches. This saved on bus fares and the lads in the team were convinced that it was the reason he got the job.
His true commitment to the school was shown by the way he commuted from Neville’s Cross in Durham every day. He also brought his daughter to Leadgate Junior School for her education which showed his opinion of the education being offered to pupils. His daughter fully joined in at Leadgate, as you can see from the picture of the School Choir.
This was the most important part of Leadgate Junior School for the boys. We were fortunate in our year group to have a number of decent players, therefore, many of us played for the team in the 3rd year as well as the top year. The pictures of both teams are above. In the 3rd year we won the Cup at Blackhall Mill School, where Mr Ross was headteacher, see above. In the top (4th) year we won the league and lost in the cup final, so denied from doing the double. We played football before school, at playtime, and sometimes after school. As my son put it about his school, ‘School was a game of football interrupted by lessons.’
Unusually for a junior school we had a school garden (see above). This was a legacy of being a through school up until 1958. The garden was large and 40 boys used to take part in gardening once a week. The girls of course were busy sewing and cooking, it was the early 1960s!
Mr Barnett was in charge and looked at everyone’s skills before he gave them an area of responsibility. As these were given out my name wasn’t mentioned and then at the end he said, ‘ Agar, I have a very important role for you, you are in charge of the manure heap’, thus confirming my gardening skills or lack of them. A number of my friends, however, have suggested that this was excellent training for some of the organisations in which I was involved at a later date.
We were fortunate with the manure in that the Store (Co-op) had stables behind it for its horses and they were cleared out regularly and we were literally over the wall so could collect all that was required. Everything in those days was delivered by horse and cart.
Well that’s it. Off to Consett Grammar School and Moorside, and then 50 years in Leeds, but the days at Leadgate Council schools are never forgotten.