They grew up in a home, but had such happy times
Memories of life in Bramhope’s National Children’s Home have come flooding back to former residents, many of whom are scattered around the globe.
An article about the home and its former governor, Rowland Hodgetts, which appeared in Wharfedale Newspapers in December prompted old boys and girls from around Britian and overseas to share their pictures and memories of life at the home and school.
Many of them describe their days at Bramhope as the happiest of their lives.
The home was created when a local woman, a Mrs Fawcett, gave her house, The Homestead, along with two farmhouses and land to the National Children’s Home charity in the 1890s.
The site was first used as a home for boys. Over the years more houses were added to provide accommodation for boys and girls, and in the late 1950s the organisation changed into a school and home for children with special education needs.
It closed in the 1980s, but many of its older, listed buildings were converted into private homes and are now part of the Hilton Grange estate.
It was a sort of hard life but funny how one only remembers the good times.
Doreen Moles (nee Bristow)
Thousands of boys and girls will have passed through the home’s doors.
From her home in America, Dorothy, or Dolly as she was known then, told how she and her two sisters, Elizabeth (Bessie) and Lily were sent to NCH at Bramhope in 1943, the day before her seventh birthday. She said she would be eternally grateful to the home and that our article brought back happy memories for her.
She remembered going out of bounds one day to pick up a kitten from NCH schoolmate Joan Battersbee. To get to Joan’s she had to pass a dangerous quarry.
“In the cloakroom I showed the kitten to some of the girls who all wanted to pet it,” said Dorothy. “The commotion brought Sister to the scene. When she saw the kitten she was aghast.
“She told me to take it straight back, thinking I’d picked it up from the farm on the home’s premises.
“Dutifully, I trudged back to Joan’s and tearfully handed over the kitten, before wandering dreamily back to the home in the gathering dusk. This time, a full hue and cry was in progress – everyone thought I had run away.
“When it dawned on Sister that I’d been out of bounds not once, but twice in the same afternoon, she was flabbergasted but so relieved that no harm had befallen me in the unexploded bomb-strewn quarry that she did not reprimand me. She just shook her head sadly and told me never to do that again. Of course, I never did.”
Dorothy also remembers a treat she was given a few months after she left the home and was living in Wembley with her recently demobbed father.
She recalls: “The home kept in touch with us for a while to make sure we were all right and we had letters from the sisters. We were in Butterfield II House and a Mr Butterfield wrote to say that he had tickets to be part of the audience of the popular radio show Twenty Questions and asked if I would like to go. Of course, I said yes. He told me to meet him at Victoria Station underneath the Ovaltine clock at a certain time. No one worried about an 11-year-old girl travelling up to London on her own in those days. I did it frequently for my father worked in the City and I would go up there to meet him and we would travel home together.
Doreen Moles (formerly Bristow) arrived at Leeds House, Bramhope, in 1942. She remembers: “It was a sort of hard life but funny how one only remembers the good times including all the jobs one had to do. Elder girls up at 6am to do black-leading the range, lighting the fires . . . Matron walking the lengths of the dormitories shouting ‘all up’ when everyone else had to move . . . each one knowing what job had to be done and by what time.
“Every morning, Leeds House at 7.30 a.m had to run round the whole perimeter of the home with Matron looking out of her window to make sure we all did run”
For all the strictness, Doreen says the children were never just numbers, and her time at Bramhope was her happiest, with outings, Guides, sports and midnight feasts.
“We had every-thing we wanted really – schooling, small hospital, carpenters shop, bakery, farm, etc, and, of course, our own outdoors swim-ming pool, which was forever having to be cleaned out! At least when leaving one could look after oneself.”
She said: “We had our ups, we had our downs, some days sad, a lot of happy ones, but life at NCH Bramhope was great and staff made life as family-orientated as possible.”
Now aged 75, she said if she had her life to live again, she wouldn’t change her time at NCH for anything.
Doreen added: “I always think a special friendship exists between old boys and girls. Some are still in touch with each other after all these years since leaving.”
She says she still has great respect for many members of staff, including Sister Constance, Sister Tressie, Sister Betty Harrison, and “our beloved govenor and headmaster, Mr Hodgetts”.
Peter Ashman was taken in by the NCHO as he approached his sixth birthday, after being evacuated out of London during The Blitz.
“My very first memory is of the exciting train journey from Kings Cross to Leeds,” he said, “the Otley bus to Old Pool Bank, and then walking (and being carried) up the very steep hill to the home,” he said.
“The home was, in effect, an almost self-contained village – the only items being brought in being clothing, meat products, confectionery and groceries. There were ten large houses, five pairs of very substantial semis, each housing some 25 children and two or three Methodist sisters.”
He remembers: “Sundays were special, in that everyone, apart from the few appointed to remain to prepare lunch, attended service in the Home’s chapel, in inclement weather, or walked crocodile-fashion down to the chapel in Bramhope village. After the walk back, and a good lunch, everyone went out for a walk around the perimeter of the central grounds – boys clockwise, girls anti-clockwise, and ‘no stopping for a chat’ – until the bell rang at 2pm This led to the mass return to houses, from where, weather permitting, groups would set out for afternoon walks around the area.”
Peter recalls that the children enjoyed a festive treat: “We received invitations to attend full dress rehearsals for all the big, local pantomimes – Alhambra, Bradford; Grand Theatre, Leeds; and the Theatre Royal, Leeds.
“They provided a very real tonic for the children, for whom most of the presents on Christmas Day were second-hand, donated by well-wishers.”
He remembers being inspired by the piano playing of Leslie Moorhouse, a volunteer at the home, and was introduced to the joys of well played organ music at the Eastbrook Hall Mission, in Bradford.
A trip to Blackpool was his reward for passing his Grammar School entrance exam and he remembers “30 minutes of sheer heaven” listening to Reginald Dixon at the Wurlitzer organ at the Tower Ballroom, an occasion that was to shape much of his life.
“It made a lasting impression on me,” he said. “In time, I wrote and published a biography of him, Mr Blackpool – Reginald Dixon, MBE, was invited to write sleeve notes on his LPs and CDs, and often ferried Reg to and from concert dates after his retirement from the Tower Company.”
He remembers, too, that Wilfred Pickles, a huge radio star of the time, planned to broadcast Have A Go from the home, only for a scarlet fever epidemic to scuttle the plans. Instead, the programme came from Leeds Infirmary.
“Lo and behold, one of the patients was from the home,” said Peter. “As a result of his story being broadcast, he received his own bank account, and many gifts.”
Doreen Walker, whose father, Robert Arthur Earney, was a resident of the home, is trying to find out more about his early life there.
Originally from Otley, she now lives in Australia, “My dad came up from Wandsworth along with his brother, George. He was seven years old in 1908 and he lived there till he was 18 and went into the Army. He never talked about his life there but I do think he and his brother were happy.”
Mrs Walker, who has been researching family history for more than 20 years, said: “I have a lovely letter written by Dad in 1919 to the home from a farm at Cloughton thanking them for a book they had sent him and for getting him his job on the farm.
“I can remember my Dad telling me that they had to got to church three times on Sundays and also during the week. And they had a lot of outdoor work to do, but I think he was happy.”
Were you at NCH Bramhope? Share your memories in the comment box below.