Standing at the gates, 2012

Standing at the gates of the main entrance by the carriage houses, the cobblers and taylors shop, on the high road leading down ackworth house, with its beautiful hall and staircase, gardens and victorian ha-ha, jumping through and escaping out the back window to go apple scrumping at night, and quiet sundays spent making toast on gas fires and watching old films in winter and ghost stories and midnight feasts in an attic room which we found behind a locked door, turning to look again towards the school and walking through the left hand gate and into the coal yard, leading up the path into the walled office gardens, the boys’ yard and day lavatory, past the inner offices and store room, and the superintendant’s office, and crossing over the uneven flags on the office court past the main entrance doors leading into the vestibule, past the brew house, pig coates and into the stable yard, walking on past the cow hospital and stables towards the farmers and taylors house, where cow houses once stood and the meeting house now stands, where we would sit in silence with sore haunches from the un-cushioned benches, you almost hear the distant sounds of handel’s hallelujahs and the vibrations of quiet contemplation echoing from the walls,  remembering the time when I attempted to change the time on the clock and fell chipping my tooth; and reaching the corner where the school meets the high road and mrs linney’s shop turning round and walking through the passageway between the toilets and the cow hospital crossing the road leading up to the granary, the steps to the bake house, and skipping court in front of the store with the east end of little field on your right, walking up between the old library with its alcoves of books, where silent thoughts gather under the lights on the bench desks and the fothergill Hall where I fell for the dashing hero, and the hero, illicit carvings scratched onto the backs of the wooden benches, sat terrified before a stumbling and unprepared vote of thanks at the end of a sunday evening lecture and towards back lane with robinsons close and high close pasture just beyond and the heads house once a nursery and school sanatorium where I have vague memories of spending time when I was ill, turning down farm lane towards coram house and walking down the path between the art studio the kitchen wing with the slaughterhouse on the end, past the path which used to lead to the tuck shop at the bottom of the grass, through the entrance doors and into the fothergill foyer and turning right into centre block, and just through the doors looking up to where the well hoisting bales of wool reached to the sky and the apothecary shop and telephone room on your right and secretary’s office on your left, and turning before the school library with jordens house situated above, where we made the library chandalier swing from our boisterous behavior causing much displeasure to the committee meeting below and walking down centre passage, the cold hard contours of the yorkshire flagstones and crunching sounds of cockroaches under your feet, and running arm in arm down the length of the passage, past the servants hall, once ‘little dining room’ next to the housekeepers room and parlor, where we supervised the first form girls’ sat wearing pinafores to keep there clothes clean and opposite the girls dining which for a short time became a lecture hall with rows of wooden seats stepping up to the west end wall, I remember my first day as the new girl at school where at break a girl introduced herself with a jammmy dodger, baskets of bread at 11am every day and sundays spent cleaning spoons in the water from the boiled eggs, and at 8:15 on a thursday, girls and girls only sat sorting the clean clothes bought up in wicker hampers from the laundry, over the sounds of the rustling fabrics a woman’s voice announces unclaimed clothes “burley bra, no name, large cup”; and walking on again past the dining room, past the smells of sweet milky coffee, ‘beery jam’ and burnt toast at breakfast times to the door of the cellar with the steps leading down to the old cells and photography club with a pistol lost in its hiding place within the walls, past the parlor and kitchens with the boys dormitories above where there was once an epidemic of scarlet fever, out through the double doors, beneath the foot bridge which joins the girls wing to the main block, past the laundry shoot and pig-coates, now a tuck shop, and turning right through the archway under the changing rooms where we used to hide in the store cupboards between the classrooms and try and sneak into girl’s school house from the back, and round the back of the kitchen block, once the laundry wing for the foundling hospital and through the farm yard and stack yard, walking between the school farm house and the barns on your left, turning right up back lane past the farm buildings to the top of the hill to the junior boys boarding house, turning beds with sleeping inhabitants on end in bedroom raids, hide and seek, and ice-cold baths on birthdays where the housemasters just watched and laughed, and turning left down farm lane, past the cattle sheds where we milked the cows in young farmers club, and the hay barn on your left, sliding down the vertical sides of the stack, where my brother and the school fire brigade helped put out the barn fire of 1938; looking towards the field opposite back lane to where the headmaster ivan grey would go and stand every morning to watch the day break and field house, know as ‘the san’ used for isolation of infections diseases and later where girl guides used to be held with miss froggat, making fires out in the fields and roasted potatoes and walking on towards where the lane now ends and meets the grass and memorial gardens, down the cinder path leading all the way to flounders past beyond mill flats, and stopping at the edge of the shrubbery to look towards the willow tree on the bank where we used to hover behind or climb up for a smoke and just the other side of the went, with the old cricket field sunk from the collapse of the drift mine below and on the corner where the two rivers meet, the pavilion, a lovely old building with worn out floors pitted with the generations of cricketers, and flashes just beyond where we would race the cart horses up and down on sundays, and to the right beyond upper carr pasture, tobogganing down constitution hill and walks along primrose vale, and looking towards the hill you can just see the laurel bank and flounders boarding house where we went every sunday afternoon before evening reading to listen to music, and beyond the hill just out of sight the coal mines and stones quarries and memories of a german plane being shot down during the war – walking on again and down through the shrubbery past the wild flowers and snakeshead fritillaries and the tree below which I buried my secret pot of marmite and would sneak out to with my break-time bread, and walking above ‘the large’ where the girls played games, past the pavilion and the poultry farm on your left and the top of the pet field the hut where I used to keep white mice and on cold nights would sneak out and bring them back into bedroom seven, I used to look after the rabbits that others didn’t bother about, I was always in trouble for breaking bounds, and then crossing over back lane to about a dozen girls gardens, there was always a waiting list for one, and turning right down the stone path and steps leading to ‘the small’ or ‘lambs lawn’ and under the west wing extension, the girls arcade where we would drop the hockey balls by into tins of white paint and place them on boards of nails to dry, and sit scrubbing our hockey boots at the end of term before we were allowed to pack them, and past the battery to the steps which I once fell down and was picked up by albert lindley, walking up past the stone carving of the face by one of the masons during restoration works in the sixties, now weathered smooth to become a baby’s face, walking into the covered walkway and into the west wing through the rooms for the preparing and spinning of the wool and the weaving of the linen and worsted cloth, past room one for detentions and returned work, copying out copperplate sentences or writing lines in rough books, 25 lines per page, and wednesday craft club with mrs.spinks, 3d for the term and many happy hours making leather purses with thonging and weaving a scarf on a small loom, and past the common rooms, cake Thursdays spent watching videos while stuffing our faces on caterpillar cake, and looking up great stairs to girls school house with the mantua makers room and house mistresses flat and the long dormitories with cold hard beds, all windows kept three inches open even if it rained or snowed, finding glasses of water frozen by the morning and getting dressed under the covers to keep warm, out of the bedrooms by 7am when the door was locked, late and punishment ensued! I remember the time when we skived from a lesson and hid in the large wardrobe in dorm six, a teacher and parents came to look around and we were seen by the mum when she saw our reflection in the mirror but she kept our secret – at the bottom of the stairs again walking past the shelves of girls serviettes pressed and placed neatly and the cupboard filled with the chamber pots, apparently the boys once threw theirs out of the window in protest walking on down the corridor past house mistresses rooms on your left, past my bedroom on the ground floor where I was woken by the bed shaking from a minor earthquake, past the music wing, with ‘the parlor’ where staff took afternoon tea and the last practice room with just enough space for an upright piano and chair, listening to the forbidden gramophone turned on very quietly for years until one day someone noticed the tell tale light at the beginning of the passage, and past the girls washrooms and silver stairs where we kept our copy of lady chatterley’s lover hidden behind the radiator in the toilets, disguised with brown paper and with the title ‘jane eyre’ the list of subscribers written inside the back cover, walking up bendy passage with the bathrooms above, once used by both the boys and girls, with black ‘drought lines’ around the baths and walking out onto the terrace above girls green above the curved wall and the first awkward moments where I made the acquaintance of a young man who became my boyfriend, and latin class upstairs in the classroom overlooking the green, where was sick all over the teachers shiny brown shoes, and roller skating back and forth along the terrace past the house mistresses gardens whilst dodging the boys games of football, down the six foot wide ‘flags’ dividing the boys and girls where ‘ackworth cousins’ could walk together on sundays, past the boys playing cricket and football, and in the winter cold and snow throwing buckets of water up the playground and the library steps to make a slide, past sounds of chattering friends sharing moon cakes and dancing on open day and carols sung by candlelight, a shoe spinning gracefully through air and the french room window, stopping a moment to where we lay down on hot summers days and looking up towards the west wing, and the time when we climbed out of the dormitories through a trap door to have a midnight feast under the cupola oversleeping  and experiencing the most beautiful dawn – and on walking in the early morning quiet before the sun has risen in the freshly fallen snow, with only the sound of feet crunching as they make the first footprints and the start of the balloon race, past the remains of split bin bag and a collection of two thousand conkers, and taking a moment to sit down under the copper beach tree with my name carved at the top before walking on through ‘the elms’ and past the pond on your left and the andrews wing classrooms, old fashioned desks, ink wells and flip-up seats, chemistry labs with long wooden benches, and needlework lessons spent learning to darn and make pink satin cami-knickers by hand, edging in shell stitch, and lessons sat daydreaming whilst looking out across great gardens waiting for a tidal wave to sweep up and destroy the world, and cookery lessons and the joy of being able to eat what you made even if the pastry was a tough as old boots,  and the tales of a teacher falling asleep during a lesson and the class raided the store devouring the biscuits and chocolate, and room eight after midnight where staff sip sherry and celebrate making the report deadlines, along past the kitchen gardens to in the centre of great garden where the sundial used to stand, past an outdoor french lesson where we were shooed indoors again on the grounds that we were distracted by being in the open air, looking through a window to an english lesson with a girl learning how to spell ‘permanent’ by putting a ‘man’ rather than ‘men’ in the middle, and the rolling eyes of a teacher on hearing the sounds of the lesson next door, hitting the blackboard in time to his reading of a sentence, scoring marks in the dust with the side of his fist to emphasize commas, watching the teacher climb out of his classroom, walk across the grass and clamber in next door to sit in the window and continue to drum on the sill to teach the rhythm of the ‘iambic pentameter’, and round the corner of the building a student sneaks out of the window to escape a lesson when the teachers back is turned, walking past the andrews wing and turning down to the kitchen stores and old coal fired boiler house, and the school laundry run on the principles of the fulling mill, where the girls would go down on thursday or Sunday morning’s to collect a light blue collar which fitted into the blue box pleated itchy sunday dresses, past the sounds of an ad-hoc jazz band and model railway club coming from the empty rooms and up the steps at the back, natural history club, which housed the school collection of bird’s eggs and butterflies and mice bred in secret, and down to the little cottage where I lived, my father was head gardener and my mother was domestic bursar, and past the open air pool which replaced the five o’clock swim at the chalybeate baths, watching the sixth formers diving off the boards, and down to the river went where we did a project on the water which was supporting unusual flora because of salt from the pumping from the pit, collecting stick insects and caddisfly larvae from the ponds, just the other side of the footbridge leading to lower carr, bell close and common close pasture, the flooded mill stream in the winter of 1940 with arthur cooper ice-skating over the frozen fields, and walking into the bottom of great garden where james turrell nearly built one his skyspaces, the old treacle well and the pond and that I helped build after my O’levels, where we rescued frogs on a hot summers day, past water fights and the running tree, and sneaking into the bushes with bottles of alcohol, past where the fruit and vegetables were grown over the rhubarb patch which I trampled down and was punished with building a wall, and into the lower part of the orchard behind ivy cottage and the gardener’s cottage, turning left up the path running up the side of the high road where we used to walk down morning and night to the headlands boarding house with its loft bedrooms, one of the teachers lived with his wife who came at the beginning of the war to help make all the blackout curtains and the cold bathrooms on the ground floor where a friend was trapped inside when the key broke off in the lock – walking up to the greenhouses and potting sheds, past the foundling hospital infirmary, up past the boys gardens and allotments, past ‘harvey hut’ or ‘alberts hall’ and geography lessons with jack muschamp, past the summerhouse and a first kiss one rainy day back in 1960, past the falling of ‘pink snow’ and school house with someone hastily climbing up a rope to shouts of “come down boy” and putting his foot through the window, and from inside the crashing sound of a grand piano falling through the floor and into the ‘ebernearsers tabernacle’ unexpectedly revealing and the hidden secrets of the unofficial sixth form common room in the cellar below, past the boys garden plots into shed court past bangs and crashes coming from within the boy’s workshops, the building of steam machines, go-carts and pass keys, bookstands and metal hearth shovels and opposite in the last room of the east wing once used for carding and spinning, the 2a classroom where I broke a glass light shade which cost me 19/6d out of my £1 pocket money for the term, and racing down the corridor two children jump over a teacher who has fallen in the race get to the classroom first to declare that they not late! walking past the gymnasium and the boy’s sheds and the sounds of end of term chaos, the packing of trunks to shouts of ‘quis!’ (‘who’) and ‘ego!’ (‘I‘), and in the corner by the lockers, the smell of leaking gas nearly reveals the antics of two friends working in secret, tapping a gas pipe to make a home-made toaster within their locker, walking through shed court where the high road once ran, looking through the armitage gates to the school terrace with simpsons shop on the end, once a book shop and later 3-ways where we bought tins of condensed milk to devour at our midnight feasts, iced buns, cream splits and bilberry tarts which were my favorite, and further down the terrace geography lessons at no32, cutting snow blocks and building an igloo on the lawn, while inside staff pool their tea, milk and coal rations and huddle round the burning stove to do their marking, and beyond down station road leading to short and long island walks, the school inn where parents would stay when visiting, smells of fudge leaking out of the kitchen window and to the fields beyond where we played football and camped in summer and further down the road, always walking in two’s to seatons boarding house using cocktail sticks to get a key from the fire escape box and open the backdoor – and turning round again to look towards the school where some of the boys climbed into the base of the east wing cupola to carve their names, and the sixth form studies with home brewing and twenty-four hour poker games, and on the ground floor behind the stairs the foundling hospital committee room and friends meetings, and on the night of the Cassius clay fight the boys escaped out of the bedrooms to watch the big fight on the only television in school, past the darkroom to the right where I dabbled in photography, and walking towards the far end of shed court to the site of johnathan seatons farmhouse, up the east colonnade past the inner office and store room to the lobby steps before the boys dining room, with all the long tables stacked up and fireplaces roaring, through the doors into the passage once the boy’s workshop and the lodge-keepers room, into the vestibule, up to the main steps warn smooth below the passing of many feet as they enter centre passage and up the flight of stairs to the ‘half way house’ where at six years old I was locked-in and rescued by a lady who appeared at the window on top of a ladder and further up up to the boys music wing, miss froggat’s study and the practice rooms which were my favorite retreat away from the everyday bustle and on up again to middle passage, staff accommodation the boys dormitories above, lying in bed and hearing the distant sound of a train that never got any nearer, realizing it was the turning of the pit head wheel in the colliery, and staying up late for midnight feasts with baked beans and jelly out of chamber pots and being caught by a teacher who told me off with the line “don’t you know people are paid to teach you tomorrow”, and memories of luxury, dunlopillo beds after the sagging springs and itchy horsehair mattresses which we threw out of the window in protest, walking back down the stairs and into the vestibule past the lobby entrance opposite the bread store and bake house past john walker’s workshop, the brew house and  super-intendant’s office to the doors where, arriving on my first day I immediately became completely lost having progressed through a long dark tunnel, it was fully blacked out, not an iota of light emitted from the windows and doors throughout the school; walking outside again through the main doors and into the daylight, walking down to the end of the flagged office court and gardens to stand at the entrance gate on the high road by the carriage houses, the cobblers and taylors shop.