Thursday, 18 September 2014

Keld Remembered

The most popular Keld Countryside & Heritage event this year was the talk given in July by Mrs Joan Moody entitled Keld Remembered. 
Joan, daughter of Rev. Arnold & Mrs Jeannie Mee, lived in The Manse at Keld from 1935 - 1942 when her father came to be minister of the three dales churches, Keld, Thwaite and Reeth.  Her memories of her childhood days in Keld are vivid, colourful and a fascinating glimpse into daily life in the dales before and during WW11. 
Here an abridged version of her talk.
'Even in the days between the two wars Keld was well loved and cherished and there were already a number of appreciative books and articles in circulation.  Enthusiastic walkers and campers, even then, came up regularly and so did fishermen, writers, broadcasters, artists and professional families looking for holidays and recreation.  They would generally stay at the Cathole Inn, sometimes at Butt House, then also the village shop and Post Office, or at Park Lodge Farm where Mrs Rukin presided.  One of these appreciative visitors was Richard (Dick) Sharp, a BBC correspondent who worked with Northern Radio.  He often stayed with us at the Manse and in 1939 involved my mother and other local people in some broadcasts about living in and around Keld in the past and the then present times.'
'Farming was the main occupation but one man who managed to do two jobs was Jack Rukin, son of old Grandpa Rukin.  Jack not only ran the farm at Park Lodge but was also the local postman and he made daily deliveries on foot or by bicycle to Tan Hill, the highest inn in England, a distance of four and a half miles.'
'One powerful influence upon us all was Keld School, the building which stands at right angles to the Manse and was part of the Congregational complex, and its formidable headmistress, Miss Marshall who reigned with a strong personality, a small cane and firm discipline.  This was an Elementary School where all ages were then taught in the same room, the older children at one end and the younger at the other.  There was a piano, and we all sang hymns and the full range of songs from the National Song Book.  There was a big basket where material and tools for needlework were kept and a hug Tortoise stove with a big iron-railed guard around it.  In winter the children who came down from the farms walked in with wet gloves and socks as well as coats and scarves and these were all hung over the iron fire guard so that the smell of drying wool hung around all day mixed with that of the coke fired stove.  Clogs were left in the cloakroom and exchanged for plimsolls.  There are, of course, no games fields in Keld and no playground.  Our PT took place on the road leading into the village and was seldom disturbed by any traffic.'
'On the 3rd September 1939, my chief memory is of my father carrying our very heavy wireless set from his study in the Manse through the doorway (now closed) that connected the Manse to the Chapel and placing it with the volume turned up to maximum so that the congregation could hear Mr Chamberlain's announcement of the Declaration of War.  This took place in deep silence and most eyes must have looked at the tablet on the wall commemorating the four lives lost so recently in the Great War.'
'My father was appointed as Air Raid Warden for Upper Swaledale and was also appointed as Billeting Officer for when the evacuees arrived.  As Air Raid Warden a telephone message would come to the Post Office on Keld 1, and Chrissie would come down to the Manse with the message.  My father would mount his dimly lit bicycle and alert anyone he considered should be told.  The evacuees came from the dockland areas & industrial cities of Tyneside and my father had to find homes for them.  Most of the farms were willing to take these unfamiliar children but not all wished to keep them once they arrived, their hygiene, manners & behaviour not easy to accept.  And by no means were all the Tyneside children happy to when they realised how remote the area is with the nearest cinema 23 miles away and the nearest fish & chip shop over the Buttertubs in Wensleydale! Most stayed and learned to love this place and the people who had taken them into their homes and there were at least a couple of boys who wanted to stay when war ended and to go on working on the farms.  My new 'best friend' Cicely was a Gateshead girl, billeted at the Post Office with the Waggetts at Butt House.  We became a pair, helping with the hens, roaming the woods and the hills together and sharing secrets.'
'The sudden and sizeable influx of children changed the school but at least one new professional teacher came with the evacuees.  At different times Miss Robinson, Miss Audus and Miss Penny stayed with us at the Manse and each of them attempted to enlarge my education although none of them succeeded in giving me an interest in knitting!  There was an immediate need for extra space in which to teach and so the Public Hall came into daytime use for education.'
'When it came to the War Effort I don't think that our contributions were of much value although we rallied to the call.  The iron railings at the front of both Miss Marshall's house (School House) and that of the Manse were never removed for scrap iron, and the collection of aluminium saucepans and other metal household goods remained for many years where they had been patriotically deposited in the angle of the lanes above Starling Castle, gradually disappearing beneath weeds until long after the war was over!' 
Farming was a reserved occupation and as the family farms had always managed with the bare minimum of workers few could be spared to go to the war, although there were some volunteers form further down the dale.  Nevertheless the men of Keld wished to serve in this, the Darkest Hour, and joined the local Defence Volunteers (later known as the Home Guard) and Keld has its own platoon.  They met in the gamekeeper's lodge by the track up to Kisdon and spent their nights on guard duty watching the skies and looking out for possible enemy planes and paratroopers.'
'Keld Public Hall, as a centre of village and dale life could not have been better and during the war it was indispensable.  It was, as I said, pressed into use as an extra classroom by day but in the evenings all kind of activities went on there.  I remember visiting drama groups, but more often there were dances, very popular, with music provided by a local farmer with his own accordion or occasionally by a small visiting band.  It was my mother, though, who got a small concert party together to present concerts in the Hall.  This party was formed from a collection of local girls and farmers' wives and they called themselves the Blackout Belles (later re-named the Victory Belles when peace was declared GC).  They rehearsed their songs and routines in the Manse with my father playing piano.  Occasionally Laurie Rukin (son of Jack Rukin and grandson of 'Grandpa' Rukin), who had a fine singing voice, might be prevailed to join in and there were short comedy sketches too.  There are still friends who recall their times with the Blackout Belles and reminisce with me, for they had a high old time together and the concerts were always a great success.' 
'We eventually and very sorrowfully left Keld in August 1942.  My mother's health was poor and I was due to go away to boarding school which itself had been evacuated to Lynton in North Devon.  For these and other reasons my father had agreed to become minister of a church near Cambridge and so it came that we moved away from Keld.  Although it was difficult to make the journey we returned to Keld whenever we could during holiday times and as chance - or Providence -  arranged we were there on VJ day in August 1945.  Cicely had not yet gone back to Gateshead and the two of us were even allowed to attend the victory dance in the Public Hall that night before the huge bonfire built in anticipation at the bottom of the village was lit, the bright flames soaring skyward in a joyful celebration of peace, a glorious contrast to the hateful fires of the Blitz and the detested blackout.  By another coincidence my father had been booked to take the service in Keld Chapel that Sunday, and so by God's grace where he had so sadly marked the beginning of the war on 3rd September 1939, he was able to lead the congregation in thanksgiving of its end.'
Grateful thanks to Joan for sharing these very special memories with us.

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