George F Sewell
Recollections of School in the 1840s
from Joan Gaskin
This article was originally published in the May 2006 edition of Soul Search, the journal of The Sole Society
An interest in walking in the Yorkshire river valleys has led me to many old books on local history, and I hope the following from one of them will be of interest to readers.
George F Sewell, 52 Godwin Street, Bradford, Yorkshire, was the printer of “Kirkby Overblow & District” by Harry Speight in 1903, and he is mentioned on page 132 of the book in relation to a boarding school at Morcar Hill, Kearby, run by a Mr Samuel Hodgson in the 1830s.
Speight writes “Few of the pupils are now living but amongst them is the printer of this book, Mr George F Sewell, who has been good enough to put together the following interesting sketch of his recollections of the school 60 or more years ago. Mr Sewell, it may be added, as Honorary Secretary of Bradford Festival Choral Society, is well known in the musical world about Bradford, and his impressions of the quaint music of the parish church at Kirkby Overblow are of more than passing interest.”
“Among the earliest recollections of my youthful days are those connected with the school at Morcar Hill. It was about the year 1840 that I became a pupil at this school. The master, Mr Samuel Hodgson, was a man of imposing presence, much given to the use of words of learned length and thunderous sound, and my no means unmindful of the ancient proverb “Spare the rod, spoil the child”. Many of his pupils were from Leeds or Bradford."
"One portion of the curriculum deeply impressed itself upon my youthful mind. Once or twice a week the boys were mustered in regular order in front of the school-house, and each boy in turn was compelled to drink a tumbler of that potent sulphurous liquid yclept Harrogate water, a compound which, whatever its health-giving properties may be, is a most nauseous draught. Probably it had its due effect upon us, though I cannot say, but it reminds one forcibly of Dotheboys Hall and Mrs Wackford Squeers. In those days too, the Earl of Harewood’s hounds often had a meet in this neighbourhood, and when they chanced to pass the school-house in full cry, there was a perfect stampede amongst us, study was at once abandoned and the boys rushed out wildly in pursuit of the hunt."
“On Sunday mornings the pupils were marched in solemn procession to the church at Kirkby Overblow, and the quaint and primitive appearance of the interior and the rude fashion of the singing is strongly impressed on my mind even at this distance in time. These were the days when the organ had not yet supplanted the bass viol, the clarionet, flute and bassoon."
"Well do I remember one of the strange old tunes which was often sung. It is known by the name of ‘Peru’ and is of a peculiarly weird character. It is still to be found in some of the old collections of psalmody, but I have never heard it sung since those days. Chanting the psalms was then to be heard only in cathedral churches, and at Kirkby Overblow they were read in alternate verses by the parson and clerk. The te deum and other canticles were sung to florid Anglican chants, and the ‘Amens’ at the end of prayers were uttered in a sonorous fashion by the clerk."
“The existence of the school was abruptly terminated by the bankruptcy of Mr Hodgson, and all the boys were sent home. A few months ago, I paid a visit to the old school, but how changed was the scene! The building erected as a temple of the Muses was then tenanted by poultry, and filled with rubbish of all descriptions. Where had been formerly heard the voice of learning, was now to be heard only the quacking of ducks and the cackle of poultry. Altogether the place had a melancholy and neglected appearance, and one which contrasted strongly with the recollections of my youth.”
Kirkby Overblow is an ancient village between Leeds and Harrogate, and Kearby is a mile or so to the south overlooking the Wharfe valley and across the river from the Harewood Estate. n
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