Breckenbrough School History - Chapter 1

In 1934 Dr. Arthur Fitch, a Psychiatrist with great enthusiasm and few funds procured Dunnow Hall at Newton-in-Bowland, a stonebuilt Victorian mansion, to provide a 'controlled environment and regular life' for maladjusted children. For sometime previously he had felt that the only way to treat some disturbed children was to take them away from the environment that had caused their problems and to educate them in an atmosphere of peace and tranquility. He persuaded the Squire of Slaidburn to allow him tenancy of the older wing of Dunnow Hall for his own residence and to make the rest of the house habitable for the staff and children. In September 1934, after great problems, firstly in finding suitable children and then with accepting educationally subnormal children the school was opened. Dr. Fitch was gradually able to increase the number of suitable clients when the School Medical Services came to his aid.

Arthur Fitch gathered round him teachers and relations with varying qualifications and expertise, but mostly with drive and vision and a dedication which led them to take part in whatever was needed to keep the establishment running effectively. Not only were potential teachers asked about their qualifications, but whether they could milk a cow or service a boiler! His own daughter Olive acted as an assistant matron for a time and his mother, the beloved Grannie of the family, was an indefatigable darner of everyone's socks. Several young teachers, trained at Charlotte Mason College at Ambleside, joined the staff, one of whom married Louis, Arthur Fitch's son, in 1938. Daughter-in-law Joan remembers that farming interests and involvements for the children were quite as important as the academic schooling. She also recalls a great mix of children at the time, some normal, some maladjusted and some with mental handicap, with ages ranging from 5 to 19, and that the children themselves adjusted to each other in a family way, making allowances for the less able in whichever way became apparent.

Also in 1938 Arthur Fitch remarried and his wife Joan was able to make much needed contacts with village people, and as the war clouds gathered, helped to dispel some of the rumours of the 'queer folk up at the Hall'. During rumours of war and the war itself, many refugees came for sanctuary to Dunnow. Some were pupils, to help them adjust in a strange country without their parents, and some were staff to assist with domestic or agricultural duties. As the refugee adults were whisked away to internment, so they were replaced by Conscientious Objectors directed into teaching and agriculture.

Arthur Fitch had long held to the Quaker Peace Testimony and now he joined the Religious Society of Friends. As a consequence of this he was now keen to provide a Quaker Meeting for his household. In Newton-on-Bowland was a small ancient Meeting House not used for many years, and leave was granted for the school to use this building. Thither the congregation made their way each Sunday morning for a Meeting for Worship often with a Sunday School flavour. Members of staff took it in turn to recall Quaker historical figures and events, and other religious landmarks in the Christian calendar. As much of the Meeting was held in silence as is the tradition of Friends, the staff were amazed at the ability of the children to sit quietly during this time, given the restless nature of many of them. The situation of the Meeting House with its views across a patchwork of fields, fells and moor was contributory to this vision of peace in a war-torn world.

Sidney Hill, with his wife Kate, went to Dunnow Hall in 1942, staying until 1947, and remembers 'being met by our employer at Clitheroe Station and being driven over Waddington Fell to see the splendid valley through which the River Hodder runs'. They recall being members of an interesting group of staff who included amongst them people who later became a Cambridge graduate, a Clinical Psychologist, a Chartered Civil Engineer, and a Headmaster of a Local Authority School, whilst Sidney Hill himslef moved on to Special School education in Scotland and eventually to the Scottish Inspectorate of Schools. Arthur Fitch laid down general guidelines but on the whole left the implementation of policy to other members of staff. He ran study seminars on Psychology and Psychopathology of Children, which were both enlightening and stimulating. It was a time of transformation and development in the treatment and education of the maladjusted child in the average and above average intelligence range. Kate Hill recalls that their salary was 70 per annum, plus board and lodging, but hours of work and conditions of service were not of importance and it was a happy time. Other memories include impromptu free days out, walking on the fells with a picnic, a successful if noisy percussion band,a large workshop and an enthusiastic choir.

The beginning of the war caused problems by a large increase in numbers of children, some of the noral I.Q. categories as evacuees from the cities, although at the same time the staff decreased in number. The school survived when it was reorganised under an Educational Trust in 1945, in accordance with the provisions of the Education Act. The Society of Friends in Yorkshire was represented on the Board together with the Local Education Authority Representatives and Dr. Fitch became the Director, a role not easy for him to accept.

In June 1948 the school was moved to Ledston Hall near Castleford in West Yorkshire, an ancient Elizabethan mansion with a long history, and this was required to house 60 children with ten teaching staff. At Ledston it was deemed necessary to smarten the children up and so from casual, comfortable boiler suits the boys were put into grey flannel suits with the girls in grey pinafore dresses. Their blazers sported the badge of the Arthur Fitch Educational Trust and the school became more formal. Meeting for Worship was now held in the Great Hall of the house where 45 or so of the children plus the staff could be comfortably seated.

Although Arthur Fitch was a Psychiatrist he did not practise intensive Psychotherapy with the children. In the words of his wife 'treatment was an apparently casual affair given as they needed it without their knowledge'. As an administrator and organiser Dr. Fitch must have had considerable ability, although he did not suffer fools gladly. Looking beyond his time and its limitations he saw the needs of maladjusted children as:

  1. more such schools,
  2. more teachers,
  3. psychologists trained in remedial techniques,
  4. more facilities and
  5. a clear distinction between the needs of the maladjusted and the subnormal.
Dr. Fitch dealt with children of both sexes, but talks were held about a single sex school for boys as being a more viable proposition, which led to some dissention at the time. When Arthur Fitch retired in 1952 a schoolmaster was appointed as Head of the school.

Chapter 2

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