School Ma’ams To Be!

Mabel Hellewell in Bingley College blazer in 1927

Mabel Hellewell in Bingley College blazer in 1927

I am now 91, and recently gave up my home in a small West Riding village to be looked after at a nursing home in Bingley, West Yorkshire. I have happy memories of Bingley because it’s where from 1926 until 1928 I took my teacher training.

My parents were ordinary working folk, and we lived in a terraced house in a narrow street of identical terraces called Vernon Road. My elder sister and I could never make out how they managed to afford to send us both to college, but my mother was determined that we should not go into the mill.

Perhaps it was the combination of Scottish and Yorkshire blood that gave her a nose for thrift, but they found the money and were trained to become teachers.

High up above the town, Bingley College had a main college block and five halls of residence called Priestly,

Acland, Ascham, Hild and Alcuin. I was in the latter and used to wonder why a female college chose the names of successful menl

When we arrived the Principal gave a talk in which she explained how the Industrial Revolution affected ordinary people. She explained that houses had been built with only one tap, no baths and outside lavatories. This caused a snigger throughout her audience as most of us were still living like that!

The college was relatively new when I went, and was a pet idea of the West Riding County Council, so money was always available. We had a fine tiered lecture theatre with such hard seats that we took our own cushions. It was a demonstration theatre with classroom space in the middle. A class would come from one of the schools in the town and we were treated to a lesson which bore little resemblance to the teaching practices we suffered later!

The most important point about the college was that it was supposed to be progressive in that we students were allowed to make our own decisions. One big issue was that we were not allowed to smoke, but of course many of us did. We even had a female maths lecturer who smoked a pipe! the students protested about the rule and passed a resolution that smoking should be allowed. By lunchtime the college reeked of smoke!

The ruling eventually had to be modified because one girl set fire to the net curtains in the bedroom, so certain rooms were designated as smoking rooms. I gave up in any case because my hands were turning yellow.

It was a happy time. We worked all morning, but the afternoons were free so we set off walking, often across the moors to Ilkley.

The Principal used to say that if she met a group of girls tidily dressed they were domestics from the college. If they were scruffy, of course they would be students!

Nothing ever changes, does it? We did have a sort of uniform – bottle-green gymslips for gym and blazers to match, optional.

Apart from studying we had Saturday night dances with each other (no boys being available), visits to the theatre in Leeds, where we raced up the stone staircase to get a seat in the gods for a shilling, and inter-hall competitions in netball, hockey and tennis.

At the end of it all I qualified, taught for a year and then got married. By law, this meant giving up a career, for women were not allowed to be married and work as teachers. For the rest of my life I brought up four children, and now have the pleasure of 15 grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren.

The college has grown old with me; it is now a residential complex with a nursing home and luxury retirement apartments.

Mabel Hellewell (dictated to daughter-in-law Stephanie Hellewell)