MEMORIES OF OLD WENNINGTON
by
Colin W Dick
A pupil in 1943

The valley of the river Wenning as it approached the confluence of the Lune and the Greta, in wartime, was an undeveloped ancient area. Not many gamekeepers or farmers troubled the ‘instant family’ of evacuees under the wing of Frances and Kenneth Barnes. In the winter term we could see the first snow on Ingleborough 2,000 ft plus.

Its geological ‘sandwich’ of millstone grit and limestone had eroded unevenly, giving a profile like a couched lion. It was the objective of Kenneth and Louis for summer climbs with older children. I remember Kenneth’s legs, from below, fading into the mist on the summit like a ‘prophet’ leading us. The limestone is riddled with enormous networks of caverns which debouched vigorous falls. (There is a caving rescue service that is often in the news.)

Wennington village has a stone bridge and there was a Victorian hotel, a tiny shop – and a railway station, only. There was a school handcart that met trains, for our luggage and Tuck boxes, with much jollity.

The little Wenning is stony and shallow. Salmon Trout forced their way over a shallow ‘floor’ under the bridge, going up to spawn. The creatures made the stones move, a fascinating contrast to the middle of the Thames, where I lived. There was no pool in the Hall grounds – we cycled to the confluence of Lune/Greta to swim, in parties. It was crossed by a steam railway viaduct. Some engines stopped to look down on the naked nymphs below…. Cross country runs in the frosty terms…. There was no sport – but Outdoor Work, on a rota; for punishment I had to pull a section of a harrow. An old walled garden grew our vegetables – under the care of Kelby Tomlinson – the gardener to the Hall. Louis and Phyllis lived in a flat over the gatehouse. He built a pigsty – and there were hens. Harry Wormold – a conscientious objector – was in charge. A lot of timber was there for the felling. Big fires in a ‘mediaeval’ fireplace in winter – school dances in Xmas term. The Hall had been built, by a brewer, in sub gothic style

The Hall: It is/was a turreted limestone Mediaeval Manor house with a gothic arched entrance, lit at that time with a ‘legal’ red light. The school windows had blackout curtains. One snowy post Xmas I had to walk some miles from a terminated train. KCB was waiting up for me that night standing under the red light – looking very stern. Fire alarm was by whistle and the middle girls dorm had a rope chair contraption. I prompted an ‘impromptu fire practice’ and was expelled, KCB met my parents in London – but I was forgiven.

KCB had been in the US in New Deal times of the 30’s. Doctor Kurt Cassirer had too. They both thought US youth was brainwashed to follow show biz role models. Dance music for school dances was innocuous. The era of Alice Cooper had not arrived then – but they could see it coming. Educational ideas in pre Nazi Europe were highly thought of. Dr Cassirer had been a trustee of the Odenwald Schule in the Black Forest. It was revived in Switzerland after the Brown shirts marched in and closed it. ‘Ecole & Humanité’ it became. Kurt escaped from Italy to England and was interned for a while, on the Isle of Man. Quaker restraint and dignity was offended by US culture of the day. (Paul Geheeb was the educationist at the O.S).

We started the school day with baked stale bread, hot milk, and sugar with cinnamon. (No Kellogs then! U boats surrounded the island seas, and supply ships were torpedoed.) After breakfast our Assembly was the occasion for gramophone recordings of Music, European Romantic classical symphonic, and singers. Paul Robeson reciting Blake etc. Ethical talks by KCB and staff – Schweitzer, and other ‘progressive’ thinkers. It was a pride of being part of the Progressive School movement, a bit humbler perhaps than those for the wealthy (like ‘Letchworth’?) All staff were ‘equal’. I enjoyed washing up the cooking pots with a Polish French woman, Renate Le Perc. She taught me songs in French, and snatches of Russian – of the Resistance era.

Kurt had been working for an English Art Dealer in Italy. I learned bits of Italian and lots about the Old masters. Louis was a modernist – he had sub cubist views of landscape. I went painting with him. Louis brought redundant equipment from a local stoneware pottery (in a little Morgan car!). We all helped him build a big kiln. Had to sit up to feed it to keep the temperature up! He adapted a stationary bike to drive the pottery wheel, ingeniously. Kenneth gave physics demos in the village hall. He drew long sparks of ‘static’ from the nose of an old shepherd! Our Music teacher Muriel Sandle trained in Eurhythmics in Switzerland or Paris. We did creative and imaginative dance with her.

The gardens close to the school had old yew arbours, which adapted marvellously for outdoor Shakespeare. In the Art room I designed sets for Shaw plays. The illustrations for his ‘Little black girl in search of God’ were well loved. Eric Gill’s wonderful drawings of the nude were admired. A train journey to the Winter Gardens Morecambe was a fine outing. We saw the ‘Ballet Joos’ do a skit on the League of Nations conference at… Geneva? The Hague? – and another CEMA touring production of a play with Clemence Dane (….?) also a symphony orchestra - a fine faded gilt auditorium. The sea front was faced with ranks of tank traps in the water, and barbed wire. A little funfair however. Dr K took me to an auction display of the famous local water colourist David Cox. In summer we often slept in tents on the lawn, but not ‘mixed’ – (officially!}.

We were encouraged to have ‘steady and faithful’ loves – and platonic! I kept in touch with several girls and still do – at 79! Maureen Reed studied at Ballet Rambert. We met in London when I was at Art School (St. Martin’s). Doreen Warburton was a leading actress at school and went to Joan Littlewood’s Stratford East Theatre – and I saw productions. She is now a member of the Arts Council of Australia and for many years ran the Q theatre in NSW.

 

EXTRACTS FROM A LETTER
re DR KURT CASSIRER
2008


From Colin W. Dick to Chris Young
(re-printed with permission
)

Dear Kit

Delighted to hear from you and that you knew Dr. and Mrs Cassirer.

I kept in touch; he showed me picture frames he had exported from Italy, which Sir Kenneth Clark had bought for Renaissance paintings in the National Gallery. He had been a dealer’s man in Italy, and was able to evade Mussolini, and came to GB. He was interned on the Isle of Man – for checking his ‘Enemy Alien’ status. There were many famous German Jews and socialists there. A recent exhibition in the Barber Institute had a booklet about them. He took me to meet Katerina Wilczynski – who had worked in Italy. He visited us in our pad in Notting Hill too. He had visited his son in the US and disapproved of ‘the Youth’s’ adoption of Fan personalities.

He had been influenced by the beliefs of Paul GEHEEB – who ran, first, the Odenwald schule in the Black Forest – an early progressive school, and later, after the Nazis closed it – the ECOLE D’HUMANITE in Switzerland.

Kurt C. was a key figure in Old W.H. He led his French pupils into the woods to pick edible fungi and cooked them on a stove in the ‘French room’. He played the fiddle with emotion I would guess, because he knew of the fate of the ‘disappeared’. Though no word of camps was divulged in the British Media then, I was conscious that all the Jewish staff and pupils bore a secret mental wound, however.

I believe ‘Odenwald’ revived, and a famous or infamous Danny Cohn-Bendit, was a product in the ’68 Paris scene. (NOT a Pacifist.)

For me, ideas of social progress in Post War Government, made it attractive – after doing kitchen work in the Royal Festival Hall in 1951 exhibition, to be alert to ideals of New towns. Meeting my wife and her friend from Coventry, made us re-locate to the Phoenix City – and I began to teach Art, emulating Louis Jones.

I stayed for 14 years in a big Boys’ Comprehensive school just built. Identified myself with the local education and cultural life. I had studied at St Martins – and also done RAF for two years. Our children grew up in ‘Cov’. We are now approaching 80 – and a bit dodgy on our ‘pins’.

Edith (Geheeb) Cassirer (sister to Kurt) was a more damaged soul. She had been, and was, a Child Psychologist. Kurt had an academic youth – and once wore the Deaths Head of the German Cavalry – he said. Eva (Kurt’s wife) knew RILKE the poet and was secretary to RODIN (in Paris). They were kind and consoling people in the Blitz years.

Fraternally

Colin

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