Yvonne Edgar-Gibson, Armathwaite & WW2 Memories

Yvonne Edgar-Gibson, Armathwaite & WW2 Memories


Memories of Hunmanby Hall School in the Lake District during WW2
Yvonne Edgar-Gibson (née Obbard) 2020

Pupil Hunmanby Hall 1939-44

Because my days at Hunmanby Hall School were such a happy time I decided to celebrate my 88th birthday in Keswick with a nostalgic Short Break and it was indeed an excellent idea.

I was eight and a half when war broke out in 1939 and I was with my grandparents in Fleet.  My parents were in Egypt where my army officer father was posted.  Wives were sent home at the end of the ‘phoney war’ and, as Fleet began to experience bomb scares (oh the scary sound of the siren in the night and the trip downstairs to be tucked into the cupboard under the stairs!) my mother collected me and we went North.  I do wonder how my mother managed to move around with only public transport but she did and we ended up in a b&b in Cockermouth where I developed rheumatic fever.  The landlady was not happy and my mother discovered a girl’s school evacuated from Filey to Bassenthwaite - my brother was already in boarding school on the Yorkshire moors - so this seemed the answer to her prayer!

Thus, at the age of almost 9, I was enrolled into Hunmanby Hall School.  As an ‘army brat’ I was used to moving and, in those days, children did not question the adults’ decision, so that was that and the sensation of abandonment is easy to recall but it quickly fades at the time!  To start with we were in the main building of Armathwaite Hall, which was then in private ownership, but the youngest pupils were moved fairly quickly to Bassen Fell, a more suitable house for young children, though classes were still in Armathwaite.

My first vivid memory is of my classroom which was in the gunroom in Armathwaite.  On all the walls from about four feet of wood panelling to the ceiling they were (and to my delight still are!) covered in 18th century political cartoons by Gilray or Rowlandson.  Whether the assumption was that we were too young to read them or too young to understand them I don’t know but I was horrified and fascinated.  The drawings are vulgar and explicit and not for well brought up small girls!

Next, the amazing beauty of the Hall; its grounds and the landscape gave me a lasting affection for the area.  Overall, happy or occasionally troubled, the freedom and joy of the time we could spend outside making dens in the rhododendron bushes, the climbing tree at Bassen Fell (only if you were in Brenda Johnson’s gang and the membership changed from day to day - I am sure she went on to great things later in life!), swimming in the lake and the wild strawberries, raspberries and blueberries round the lake are my abiding memories of those years.  Discipline was firm but fair and my memories of most of the staff were of fun and humour and the school was for some years ‘home’.  Several of us even spent some of the holidays in Bassen Fell due to the war and really had fun with almost complete freedom to do what we liked as long as we appeared at meal times and bedtime with little supervision from young staff.

The Senior School was in Skipton I think and Miss Hargreaves and Miss Hardy, the Deputy Head, divided their time between the two and we learned to adapt to the different regimes.  Once back in Armathwaite and away from t1943 Ruth Hugill & Yvonne Obbardhe relaxed situation in Bassen Fell I quickly discovered that if you were caught talking after lights out when Miss Hargreaves was in charge you would sit on a stool outside the Dispensary until the others were asleep and you were allowed back to bed but if you were only reading you would just get a Disorder mark.  If Miss Hardy was in charge and you were only reading quietly (or in my case, painting a picture) - then it was the stool anyway!  I don’t actually remember anyone else doing the same but although I was naughty I can’t have been the only one; in fact as I remember, Hilary Brewis was equally naughty and we were regularly in Detention together! (photograph Ruth Hugill & Yvonne Obbard)

In the middle of a pandemic today, memories of the measles epidemic come flooding back! One by one, like ninepins, we went down with measles and one after another dormitories became sick rooms.  In those days nursing was rigorous - a week in bed in a darkened room to protect our eyesight followed by another week in bed and longer for anyone like myself with a heart problem from the rheumatic fever.  I think we all escaped lasting effects - certainly, unlike today, no-one died. 

Another (regrettable?) memory is that if you are given 20 marks to last three weeks and lost them for being late, untidy, or naughty then when you are minus 1 you might just as well be minus 20 so give up and enjoy yourself - which I tended to apply to overdrafts in later years until I became a responsible mother of three!

Eieen PowellOn a more serious note my years at the school also gave me an early grounding in the Christian faith and I am now a member of the Methodist Church.  In addition, service to others and honesty in all things were the foundation and the ethos of the school but with freedom and happiness equally important.  I also recall with pleasure the summer dresses- I was in Cecil house so mine was pink/grey and our year round smart maize dresses were pretty as well which is quite unusual for school uniform.  When the time came for me to sit the Common Entrance exam and move to the Royal School for Daughters of Officers of the Army I was devastated.  I had been on the waiting list from birth and the vacancy came at 13 with the change from Junior to Senior school.  For a long time I kept in contact with my closest friends - Patsy Goodall, Eileen Powell (photograph left) and Ruth Hugill (anyone have news of them?) and was surprised when Ursula Everest, who had been Head Girl at Hunmanby arrived at the R.S. as an English teacher! - but apart from memories of time evacuated at Longleat and personal friendships, especially my dearest and much missed friend June Sarson, the Royal School was boring in comparison and had very little lasting influence on my later years

Armathwaite Hall today is a lovely hotel which I heartily recommend and the Staff treated me like royalty! Nothing was too much trouble and I was free to wander wherever I wished.  To my delight the cartoons are still there in the gunroom (not open to residents) so I didn’t imagine them and the layout was so little changed that once I had orientated myself it was easy to locate my bedrooms, the ‘naughty’ stool, the tuck shop (until sweet rationing came in) the rhododendron bush which is still alive and the cedar tree.  I left after lunch with a huge bouquet of flowers, full of delicious food, toe and finger nails polished in the Spa ,and vowing to return.  I hope to do so when life returns to normal and I am so glad I decided that 88 was the right year to go back having gone there the first time aged 8.