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 A little boy in Ridgeway


It was almost exactly 50 years since he had first been at the School House in Ridgeway. It was now boarded up at all the windows yet just possible to see through some of the cracks into the downstairs rooms. Peering into the darkened dining room he remembered the parquet floor which contrasted so oddly with the rather dark blue painted walls. The hazy view into what was now an empty room seemed to clear and display things as they were fifty years ago. He was a little boy again ...


There were three grown-ups in that room which had packing cases dotted around. As if supervising but not in fact doing anything much beyond drinking cups of tea provided by Mrs Bennett, the Reverend Nathaniel F Partridge, Vicar of Ridgeway, sat incongruously on the top of a stepladder. It was mid-afternoon, and the Vicar had called to welcome (possible) new additions to his flock. Mr Clifford Bennett, the new Head Master, kept up a lively conversation with the unhelpful Vicar and continued to empty items from the tea chests. Reverend Partridge continued to drink tea. Later, he accepted afternoon tea such as was available in the circumstances and then in the absence of any other furniture he resumed his place on the stepladder until he finally departed in the late evening. This allowed Mr Bennett just enough time to nip across the road to the 'Palace' [the Queen's Head] for the first of his many visits during his time at Ridgeway.

It was December and before School started in January there was much to be done. Mr Bennett made a tour of the premises, followed by the little boy, in wonder of the odours of paraffin lamps and wet sawdust used for sweeping floors. He was enthralled with the underground 'stoke hole' and its vast boiler supplying heat to the School through large thick iron pipes. But best of all was the excitement of opening up cupboards which apparently had not been touched for many years and helping to sort out the contents. He emptied and sorted and piled and carried and cheerfully engaged in this magical activity but all he could really remember today was a set of grey painted solid wooden geometrical figures: cylinder, cone, cube and so on, each almost too heavy for him to carry. Clearly these did not figure in Mr Bennett's view of mathematics for the flat cylinder became a kindling wood chopping block overnight and remained so for the next 40 years.

But these are just reminiscences of some early events as perceived by the little boy at the start of his first stay in Ridgeway. Later on, he discovered what had been written in the School Log Book on 7th January 1935:


"School reopened after the Xmas holidays. Commenced duty here as Head Master. All the staff present. Admitted four new children.

Clifford Bennett"


Because one of those four children was me, I am in a position many years later to try and augment the facts recorded in the School Log Book with my own memories so as to say a little more about the history of Ridgeway School for that period and in particular the achievements of its Head Master.

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It was not long before the new Head Master was making his presence felt. At the end of January 1935 he records a visit by Mr C Speakman, County Organiser. According to the record, Mr Speakman instructed him to requisition new furniture for the School but it is far more likely that Mr Bennett pointed out the inadequacies of the existing furniture and received agreement for its replacement. Mr Speakman could hardly have arrived simply to demand the ordering of such a quantity: new tables and chairs for the Infant Department, new dual locker desks for Standards I, II and III, two class teachers' desks and one head teacher's desk.

In similar vein there are visits by Mr Degg, Clerk of Works, about the erection of a folding screen in the main room, Mr Steeples from County Office about the planting of trees and shrubs in various borders, Mr Rabbit in connection with caretaker's duties and re-decoration of the School House, Mr Gyte, School Manager, to give permission for the use of timber from a former concert platform as path edgings in the School Garden.

Having sorted out the classrooms, a Jumble Sale was organized and this realised over 8 to buy sports apparatus. This was a magnificent sum when one considers that a football cost the equivalent of 60p and a good cricket bat would have been 80p in 1935. The Head Teacher had an intriguing scheme to bring on the school bowlers; he would take the batting but the bails would be removed and each stump had a halfpenny put on it. For the successful, there was financial reward as well as the achievement of having bowled out Mr Bennett.

1935 was Jubilee Year and the school closed for two days in connection with the celebrations. Before that, the whole premises were made spick and span and the two stretches of lawn were mowed and clipped until presumed perfect. However, inspection by the Head Master then required the children to appear with their small handicraft scissors and trim the offending blades of grass which the mower had missed. The School House was provided with a short flagpole on each gable end to display a Union Jack; the flags blew away over the years but the poles remained for later years as if each were waiting for a TV aerial to summon in the next Jubilee of 1977.

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Part of the School House was covered with dense ivy and from time to time this attracted literally hundreds of chirping sparrows. Mr Bennett was advised that they could be removed quite easily if he would allow nets to be used. So one evening a group of villagers appeared with a huge net that was draped across the front of the house and with skill acquired from earlier visits a vast number of sparrows were trapped and taken away, for no charge. This apparently had been a regular event but it was banned henceforth when Mrs Bennett learned that the final result was sparrow pie.

Jubilee celebrations started at 9 am on 6th May when Clifford Bennett, General Secretary to the Committee, despatched a telegram of loyalty and goodwill to their Majesties. There was a public service of thanksgiving in the schoolyard, children's sports in the afternoon, open-air dancing in the Memorial grounds, a torchlight procession to Quarry Hill for the lighting of the bonfire and a free dance in the School from 11 pm to 3 am. There were afternoon teas between the sports, Mrs Hutton presented all children with a Jubilee mug and Mrs Bennett presented prizes for the the Sports.

The Yorkshire Penny Bank was used by the School for its accounts and a branch operated at the School under the guidance of the Head Teacher. To encourage thrift and as a further mark of the Jubilee celebrations, each child was given a bank book with an initial deposit of one shilling (5p) provided by the generosity of Mr J G J Hutton. Children already with a bank book had a shilling added but no one was allowed to draw out the gift until after they left School. Children brought their savings to School on a Monday and the little boy was often tasked that evening with counting out huge mounds of pennies into columns of 12 before Mr Bennett checked them and took them to the bank.

During the summer holidays for 1935 the new screen was erected across the middle of the large room. It moved in concertina fashion along grooves in the floor and a high partition above. This replaced an unsatisfactory room divider fashioned from rough dark green curtains which removed visual contact but not the normal classroom sounds on either side. The residents of the back rows in each class welcomed the screen because misbehaviour had frequently resulted in retribution from behind. One teacher was known to use a thimble on her finger and issue a sharp tap through the curtains on the offender's head (known colloquially as 'thimble pie').

In the early part of the next term men arrived to paint the new screen and the whole exterior of the School. Curtains were fitted to the windows of the main room. The heating apparatus in the little boy's exciting 'stoke hole' was giving trouble by the end of the year and the start of the new term after Xmas was delayed for 2 days although it was several weeks before the School became acceptably warm again.

But 1935 was not simply a year in which the new Head Master had clearly set about improving matters for the School during the day. There had been more discussions with Mr Speakman and somehow or other woodworking tools and equipment appeared at the School. Evening woodworking classes proved very popular. Here was Mr Bennett organising these and other evening classes generally and putting to use a qualification gained soon after his teacher training that of City & Guilds Woodwork by giving his evening time as an instructor.

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The first exhibition of Day and Evening School Work was held on 27th and 28th March, attended by Mr Beeson, Assistant Director of Education for Derbyshire and thoroughly enjoyed by all participants; 160 people later attended the First Evening Institute Annual Dinner at the School. The School Managers wrote formally to compliment everyone concerned to whom they felt great credit was due. The following year there is a record of' 'an exceptionally large attendance' at the second exhibition. Classes included woodwork, art embroidery, dressmaking and first aid and for some reason there was prolific output of embroidered work mounted in firescreens, one of which at least has survived in the home of the writer.

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The Annual Dinner was quite an affair, lasting from 7 pm to 2 am. The dinner was followed by speeches and the presentation of awards, after which there was 'light entertainment' from a visiting artiste leading next to the whist drive and dance and ending with everyone singing Auld Lang Syne and the National Anthem. Although there had been evening classes in earlier years, there were none when Mr Bennett arrived. His first year produced 40 students, there were 80 in the second session causing duplication of classes but all went on very successfully until they had to be discontinued soon after the outbreak of war in 1939.

1936 brought new experiences into the lives of the Ridgeway schoolchildren. A white wooden 'beehive' [Stevenson's Screen] was put up for weather records to be taken daily at 9 am and later in the year older boys and girls went to Summer Camp at Sutton-on-Sea. Boys visited a tool works and a steel works in Sheffield whilst the girls were taken to see the film 'The Crusades' or visited a food factory. A visiting speaker brought Rembrandt etchings to illustrate a talk but perhaps the most significant event was the development of a new housing estate at Gleadless. Still in Derbyshire at that time, children at Gleadless qualified for attendance at Ridgeway School and so very gradually there was a mix of pupils coming from very different backgrounds and home conditions. Whatever one would describe as being a 'Ridgeway accent' was soon heard to mingle with broad Yorkshire. Class numbers rose and by 1937 there were 147 children at the School.

To meet this situation a new teacher had to be appointed and some people reading this may have fond memories of Mr Sharpe who came to Ridgeway School in September 1937, accompanied Mr Bennett to Frecheville in 1939, and continued to teach Ridgeway (and other) children there for many years until he retired. At Ridgeway, Miss Hall taught infants, Miss Hendley the next class and Mrs Longfoot, Mr Sharpe and Mr Bennett took the upper classes. Mrs Bennett occasionally came in as supply teacher when others were absent. Several years later, Mrs Longfoot married Reverend Partridge and disappeared with him to somewhere in Lincolnshire.

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New classes, new children and a new teacher all meant some re-organisation. By now, the ubiquitous Mr Speakman had been persuaded to recommend that a full half day every week should be included in the boys' timetable for woodwork. The timetables had already been completely revised once when Mr Bennett arrived because "the present ones, in my opinion, do not fit our requirements"; not only the three 'Rs' but woodwork, gardening, school visits, and anything pertaining to the best for the pupils was somehow included. The Bennett family recall that one week in every summer holiday for practically all of Mr Bennett's working life was devoted to the dining room table. It was covered with huge sheets of paper and cigarette ash until the intricate business of a proper timetable for the next school year had been achieved.

Mr Bennett smoked Gold Flake cigarettes and these could be had from Mrs Walker's shop across the road from the School. If the little boy was told to fetch a packet he would be allowed to keep the halfpenny change from the shilling given for 20 cigarettes. Less affluent smokers might use the slot machine outside Mrs Walker's shop where placing twopence in the slot would reward you with a small packet containing 2 Woodbines and 3 matches. Mrs Walker sold a large range of coloured fizzy pop and 'kali' sherberts with a stick of hollow liquorice in them, samples of which might be obtained for a halfpenny or a penny. Empty bottles were good currency because they were each worth a penny on return.

Visiting Mrs Walker's shop one might see the arrival of the brewery wagon, puffing and steam powered as it made a delivery to the 'Palace'. Certainly one could hardly fail to notice an oil covered workman in a very small building with a stable door type entrance adjacent to the shop. This was Norman Easton who knew everything about 'pushbikes', repaired them and provided spare parts from the dark interior of his workshop which gave out a welcoming smell of light oil and drying enamel.

1937 did not start well. On 19th January only 89 children were at School due to an influenza outbreak and by the end of January the School was closed for two weeks on the Medical Officer's advice. With little time to recover from this setback, the electricians arrived in mid-February to wire the School. The small boy spent all the time he could watching the electricians at work. The floorboards were taken up, pipes were laid to contain wires, holes were knocked in walls and switches appeared in iron boxes. Outside in the road a huge hole was being excavated near the lower playground gate and children were entranced to see hot tar being poured into iron junction boxes which presumably lie there to this day. Modern regulations would perhaps forbid such work going on in the presence of children but the work did go on and so did the teaching in the School.

Woodwork classes for the boys in School were at least as popular as similar classes provided for their parents at Evening School despite the fact that disobedience to safety rules carried severe penalties. Any boy cutting himself with a chisel or saw would first have the wound cleaned and dressed, after which he would receive one or more strokes of the cane for not handling tools properly. Mr Fowler, one of His Majesty's Inspectors for Schools was so impressed with the woodworking activities that he ordered an epidiascope to be made for onward transmission to a school in Rhodesia and also took examples of work and mechanical drawings to be displayed at a Head Teachers' Refresher Course in Matlock.

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Students of woodwork both young and old must have been amazed to see Mr Bennett using tools with either hand. He could trim the end of a piece of wood with whichever hand was convenient and his family still retain a saw block that he used this way. The gift continued in batting left-handed or right-handed at cricket and giving surprisingly strong left arm returns at tennis.

The almost extinct School Garden which was a plot some way from the School approximately opposite the Memorial Hall had been brought back into usefulness by Mr Bennett, himself a keen gardener, and in July 1937 the efforts of staff and boys were rewarded: First Prize had been gained in the competition organised by the Norton Agricultural Show and the School had won the Artindale Challenge Cup. They repeated this achievement in 1938  giving extra glory to their efforts. Boys had to pay two shillings and sixpence (12p) if they wished to join the gardening class but they were allowed to take home a much greater worth in vegetables they had grown.

1938 was a special year for the School Sports Day which had been another of Mr Bennett's innovations since 1935. There were nearly 500 entries for the various events, everyone was provided with a tea and all non-winners received consolation prizes. A great deal of athletic and sporting information is recorded in a new School magazine entitled 'Ridge-Ways' which appeared annually from December 1936. Ridgeway Cricket Club allowed the School to use their wicket in the top playing field and Mrs Bennett led a girls team against the boys, beating them by 27 runs. She scored 44 not out (hardly surprising and perhaps a little unfair since she had played cricket for Netherthorpe Grammar School).

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By September, the international situation was beginning to deteriorate and the School had been chosen as a distribution centre for gas masks. With a typical eye for the important issue, Mr Bennett closed the School for a few days and together with the staff trained by him all the respirators were fitted and issued to members of the public. The little boy remembered the wonderment of watching a 'poison gas practice' which took place in the School House. To make a gas-proof room, Mr Charlie Webster saturated a bed blanket in a tub of water and then nailed it round the larder door with great conviction.

We are reminded in the School Log Book of enjoyable times when the School closed for a half holiday on Shrove Tuesday, another on Empire Day (after a morning when all pupils were instructed on that topic) and then on various occasions for a half day to reward good attendance in the previous month. Sometimes a whole day off would be given, as for example on the marriage of HRH Duke of Gloucester and Lady Alice Scott, or for use as a polling station in a parliamentary election. Eckington Feast was an annual excuse for two days holiday in June. More soberly, on the day of the funeral of King George V a short service was held after which everyone went home. Each year on Armistice Day there was a special morning service at which the little boy stood quietly with all the others whilst one of the top boys or girls read the stirring lines of 'We Will Remember Them'.

Accidents would happen. George Bolsover received a cut in his cheek when he collided with Nellie Rodgers in the playground resulting also in her glasses being broken. Geoffrey Bennett disobeyed the rules by sliding from side to side on one of old desks with a long wooden seat; Miss Hendley took him behind the blackboard to remove his trousers and the splinter but the privacy was limited and all the class watched the action with interest. The see-saw hit Ernest Archer on his chin and Brian Fidler banged into the playground wall during PT which was always held outside, weather permitting. Violet Haslam was 'knocked down and run over' whilst in Eckington for the girls' cookery class but back at School next day. Full recognition however must go to Megron Shaw for 3 entries in the Log Book: she managed to be knocked down by a motorcycle, later on she injured her arm whilst sliding on the ice and then shortly before leaving Ridgeway School she fell down again sliding in the playground and had to be sent home (although she did win a prize for good attendance).

Frosty days were great fun because the school yard had a slight slope which meant that five or six parallel 'slides' of different lengths and difficulty could be in use at the same time. No doubt it would be considered too dangerous these days and certainly the extra half-hour playtime granted to enjoy the slides before they melted would never be given.

Perhaps with a view to keeping them friendly if ever a nasty accident should happen, there was always a good response to the Sheffield Hospitals Egg Week. At Easter time the pupils were asked to bring eggs for the hospitals and responded with increasing numbers from 541 in 1935 to 922 in 1939. On health matters, the School was frequently visited by some medical person. Either Nurse Booth would be examining 'heads' (or more correctly, the contents of your hair) or giving eye tests or the School Doctor would be doing 'medicals' or the School Dentist would be looking in your mouth.

There were concerns about children travelling from a distance and having to bring sandwiches for lunch. Some help was given by providing Horlicks as a hot drink, chosen by children's ballot in opposition to cocoa or milk. A great deal of thought and effort was put into the problem of providing school dinners and after several months the War Memorial building was fitted out for use, 80 dinners being served on the first day, 3rd July 1939. This might be considered the final achievement for the School by Mr Bennett during his five busy years at Ridgeway.

What he did academically is recorded by the School Inspectors. In 1936,


Mr W H Young, HMI, writes

This is an efficient rural school, and its healthy educational condition is a tribute to the thoughtful and enthusiastic efforts of the Head Master, who, during the eighteen months he has been in charge here, has done well to maintain, and in some respects improve the good reputation of the school.


By 1939, Sir R C M Curtis, HMI, reports

This school is directed by an able Head Master. His successful control of the school is indicated by its capacity to absorb a large number of immigrants (sic) with singularly little disturbance to its smooth working. These newcomers are fortunate to enter a school which is sound in its basic attainments and offers a well balanced education ... it was pleasing to find the children so responsive, so outspoken, and so obviously keen.


Children achieved all sorts of things from a record number of Minor Scholarships and Free Places to Halfway, and prizes in national essay competitions for Health Week, the Lifeboats and for Handwriting. Truancy was almost unknown and special awards could come for individual good attendance. The Cadbury essay competition about the Gold Coast kept mouths watering: the small boy remembered how he won six bars of chocolate (peppermint creme was best). He, along with Iris Bedford and Irvine Rodgers competed for top place in term results (Irvine usually won).

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Mr Bennett formally ended his period as Head Teacher at Ridgeway School on 4th August 1939 and began grappling with his new responsibilities at Frecheville. He had also involved himself extensively in the social life of Ridgeway village. He was librarian for the County Library, member, treasurer and later vice-president of the War Memorial Board, chairman and treasurer of the Hospital Association, treasurer, team member and vice-chairman of the Cricket Club, founder of the Annual Flower and Vegetable Show, local organiser for the Blind, chief Air Raid Warden and regular visitor to all the various public houses.

Throughout the whole of his time as Head Teacher at Ridgeway he taught a class of children. How he achieved this is almost beyond belief when one considers the many activities and interests he undertook, together with an obviously unending stream of callers at the School hardly a day passes in the Log Book without mention of doctor, nurse, attendance officer, dentist, parent, county adviser, HMI, staff sickness, bad weather, etc. What also makes it remarkable is that he was not altogether a fit person. His teaching certificate was initially restricted in view of his health since he had been seriously ill in training college with pleurisy. He succumbed frequently to 'influenza' and was taken ill with scarlet fever soon after arriving at Ridgeway.

Clifford Bennett was not liked by everybody. He could be dogmatic and he certainly liked to get his own way. He had strong ideas about what was 'right' in any situation and oddly enough, his view was usually proved to be correct though he did (rarely) admit he was wrong. He set high standards and expected them of others without question, which sometimes caused problems. Very little praise came from him to his staff, pupils or family and although we know he was intensely proud of the achievements of all these, it was not his way to disclose it directly. Like some other teachers, he occasionally treated adults as if they were pupils in his class but behind such oddities of behaviour lay a caring and benevolent person.

Throughout his adult life he worked tirelessly for the good of the community. He retained his links with Ridgeway and was elected Rural District Councillor in 1947. In the same year he organized various 'Welcome Home' activities for returning service men and women culminating in a Reception Dinner for over 120 people at the Station Hotel, Chesterfield. He is remembered by pupils and staff as a firm disciplinarian who always had the interests of the children at heart. To many others, he was privately ever willing to help with personal problems and a source of inspiration from his energy, enthusiasm and devotion to duty. By 1939, Ridgeway School was one of the best in the County. The enormous strides made by the Head Teacher had taken effect to the benefit of the pupils and furthermore, village life was enhanced because of his efforts.

Mr & Mrs Bennett left Ridgeway in 1966 and moved to Ollerton, Notts, after he had been Head Teacher at Frecheville School for 27 years. He was a native of Tideswell, Derbys, and the elder son of a railway signalman. He won a scholarship to Tideswell Grammar School and later trained as a teacher at Sheffield City Training College. When he was appointed to Ridgeway School it was from a list of over 200 applicants and he became the youngest Head Teacher in Derbyshire. He died on 27th June 1975, aged 69, after several years with a debilitating illness.

Geoffrey Bennett

August 2006


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