Don Robinson

Donald Robinson

The memories of a teacher at Linton Camp.

Don is a Bradford lad, born near to Bradford Moor Park, in 1927, where pre war, he would play, and often got a whack from the Park Warden, if venturing on to a piece of grass that was out of bounds! Don recalls the park had metal fencing on the low wall sections; this was stripped out for scrap to assist the armaments factories to produce war weapons. Dons very early life was an unhappy one, his father died when he was just 10 years old, on a Christmas Eve, having been ill in hospital for 2 years. Mother had visited him each and every day. They had little money, and there was no social security in those days, his mother finding it very difficult, Don and his brother were taken in at the Crossley & Porter Orphan Home and School in Halifax.

This was a Dickensian, Oliver Twist type of home; he had a hard time there. Children were all dressed in a grey type of uniform, all had their own individual number, and Don was number 1995. Corporal punishment was rife. This sad experience would help Don, in later life, to understand and develop some sympathy for children at Linton, who were not in a dissimilar situation.

Having served his 2 years conscription in the navy, Don Robinson’s first period of working at Linton Camp was 1948 to 1952.

The day Don started at Linton he was conducted to Mr. Sternwhites office where the headmaster gave a short lecture on how to perform, and how to handle the boys. Mr Sternwhite, an ex Navy man, small in statue, crew cut style hair, unusual for 1948, advised Don of having a number of very tough, very big, extremely difficult and wild, and many hard cases at the school. He said to Don, “don’t let them get to you, you simply have to win. Do not under any circumstances let them get the better of you, if you do, you may as well pack your bags and go”

Hells teeth, thought a young and inexperienced Don, what the hell have I got myself into!

And above all, continued Mr. Sternwhite, ‘Be careful’!

 

Other members of staff  that Don remembers from those early days were Miss Suttle (Jesse Robson,) George Robson, having got married in the 1950’s, Wally Key, Mr. Sternwhite (headmaster), Sheila and Eric Moorhouse, Sheila was the school secretary, as was for a time, Wally Key’s wife. Mrs. Slingsby, Mrs. Woodhead  were some of the other members of staff.

Bill Sternwhite had been working in some very rough schools in Bradford before he started at Linton, so was well experienced in handling tough guys. Don’s view of Mr. Sternwhite was one of admiration. He could be a bit of a tyrant at times, but you knew exactly where you stood with him. He was very helpful as a back up. He knew how to be a headmaster.

Don found his first 2 years at Linton hard going, as a young teacher. In 1952 Don left to work in another residential school, but this time in West Germany, as it was called in those days, before reunification. Don taught at a British Forces school at Willamshavan in the north of West Germany. This was a much larger establishment catering for the offspring of British  forces who were at the time occupying this part of West Germany, having some 650 children while Don was previously used to just 120 or so back at Linton. The children in Germany were, he thought, much more sophisticated than ones back home. Don spent 4 years teaching in West Germany before returning to his old position at Linton at Christmas in 1956. He stayed on at Linton until September 1964 when he obtained a position at Leeds University. During his first time at Linton, Don lived on the premises, in a small room built into the corner of the original woodwork workshop located in the third block up from the office. (This eventually was converted into the senior boys Dorm 1)This was basic but acceptable except that living on the premises meant that you were more or less, on duty all the time. Pupils would often knock on his door with various requests, at all times, day or night. On duty at weekends gave you the Monday off. But as everybody else usually worked Mondays, Don would often go off potholing on his own. Mr. Sternwhite was not happy with these turn of events and asked Don not to. What if one day you do not come back? This plea made no difference to Don, he was young, and thought he was fireproof. Solo potholing-not a good idea!

Don would try to stay a bit aloof during visiting times; he did not really want to discuss any children’s past with their parents. Reason is probably not what you would think. As Don always wanted to take children at face value, he was not happy about hearing stories about them from mum or dad; he did not want his judgment clouded in any way. He always preferred to reach his own conclusions about any pupil. This was to him important. Very occasionally if a child had a history of disobedience, or some other valid reason why the past should be made known, then yes, that was acceptable. Otherwise he did not want to become blinkered by any possible exaggeration of a particular Childs background. It could be problematic on visiting days, where a child’s parents did not come to visit. This was very upsetting for the child, maybe the parents did not care.

 

Financial rewards were not great, but this was softened by the inclusion of free board and keep. During his second, longer period working at Linton, Don purchased a property in Grassington, called ‘Winding Stones’, this was a large detached wooden log bungalow adjacent to a farmyard just off the top of the main street, a foot path that led to Tom Lees cave was nearby.

Dons’ duties at Linton were many and varied, his main forte was teaching woodwork, and when the new workshop was converted from the original dorm 1, this included metalwork. Don was instrumental in fitting out the newly converted workshop, specifying various pieces of modern equipment to create what was to become a superb practical learning facility, including pottery. He also held classes in art and science and PE.

He learned these skills while at Teacher Training College in Loughborough.

With Linton being essentially an ‘Open Air School’, lots of outdoor activities was arranged, and what better way to provide some equipment for these pastimes than to arrange for pupils to make useful practical items that would offer learning, and give some excellent use in the playground. A particular favorite were stilts, easily made, and afforded lots of physical fun for the children. Each stilt made in the workshop was colour coded and name tagged so that the maker could be identified, and due credit taken. Sledges were another successful project, some 20 or so being made, and come the winter much use was made of these. They were of excellent quality being used well into the 1960’s and maybe beyond. A particular favorite of the writer was skis. Much skill and patience under Dons direction was needed to perfect the shape of the specially purchased timber used. A process of hot water soaking and clamp bending to a pre made mould, or template, was used to perfect the shape. Don had devised a foot retaining clip that was attached on the ski to allow wellington booted kids to be able to use without breaking ones leg during any tumbles. This was devised using strips of rubber taken from the many vehicle tyres, from the playground, and worked in such a way to allow safety in use. Skiing in the top field or better yet, the barn field was great fun. We also built in the workshop canoes, fibre glass variety, and canvass. These were sailed on various safe sections of the River Wharfe. Longer trips by canoe were also undertaken, one such outing involved canoeing all the way to Selby, then back to Bingley, over a two week period. Money for these trips out was always in short supply and on occasions cakes and biscuits were baked then sold to parents on visiting days, this was usually supervised by Mrs Slingsby. During visiting day, if a child was looking smartly dressed and well fed, some parents would ask if they could return home. Some did not have the courtesy to ask, they would simply take them. Sadly, some months later, they often returned looking scruffy, all skin and bone, and generally the worse for wear. Occasionally children would go home well dressed and looking very smart, for a short holiday, and return in rags.

 

Lots of pupils in the early years, in the late 1940’s were in very poor health, suffering amongst other ailments, malnutrition. Some came from poor homes, some had drunken parents, etc. Very many children had little or no self esteem. Often when requested to do something, or perform a simple task, a popular reply was, ‘I cant do that’, or ‘I’m no good at that’.

Don took it upon himself to try to change attitudes, designing tasks and jobs where kids simply could not fail. Take the making of the stilts in the workshop. Here we had simply 2 bits of wood, sanding and knocking together was really all that was required, but the end result, as simple as it was, and given the right praise and encouragement, could change a small child’s attitude towards himself creating confidence, and making him feel proud. To this end Don had designed simple toys that could fairly easily be made out of wood, things like elephants, Scottie shaped dogs, put wheels on and hours of joy for a child, who probably had little or nothing in terms of possessions at home. In art class instead of asking pupils to paint scenes where obvious lack of artistic talent could be easily identified in the finished product, if asked to paint, say, farmyard animals, then a person would have to be good to paint an acceptable scene. However, if asked to paint the surface of Mars, who could tell if it was good or not! He would praise a particular child’s painting, sending him to show it to Mr. Robson, who, playing the part professionally, would also exclaim how marvelous the picture was! The artist could not fail! To add to the child’s enthusiasm, Don would hang the picture in the assembly hall, or a well trod corridor. Other tasks and tests were designed. One well enjoyed task was for the boys to race from one end of the playing field to the other then erect a tent. Records of the winners from these activities was kept and logged, and as trips out were often limited to a certain number of pupils, winners, or children who had performed these tasks well, had the first option of participating.

People high up in the Education department thought that the school ought to often have the best equipment available within the budget. Don’s attitude was different. He thought, that back in Bradford, no way could kids spend heaps on good equipment for say, camping. Don thought it better and more useful in every day life, for the children to improvise. Hence sleeping out under plastic sheeting was often implemented. He taught how to live in the great outdoors for very little money. This was all part of Dons method of teaching the pupils not to just accept their lot in life, but to take action, and do something about it. To think differently was the order of the day. Don often argued this stance with people higher up the hierarchy. If he lost the argument, he simply ignored them. One other useful method was to set initiation tests, these proved to be very popular. Simple questions where pupils had to find answers, for instance, what is the police sergeant in Grassington called? Who is the Lord Major of Bradford? Other trials were more of a practical nature, such as building the highest pile of stones. Some would chase round and build massive cairns with lots and lots of stone. One group simply stacked stones on top of each other, leaning against a building wall! That naturally won! Catch a moth was another instruction, but it must be alive.

But they would get really good. Become far too successful. They would knock on Dons door demanding him to set them a task to do! Give us an initiative test, they demanded, we have nothing to do!

Don was at his wits end trying to devise tasks.

He had a brainwave, go and catch a live bat, that should stump them, he thought. Shortly they returned to Don’s door, saying we got the bat sir!

On entering, and closing the door, they unwrapped the coat, and sure enough out flew the bat, settling on the curtains!

How on earth did you do it? Gasped Don.

Oh, easy, we threw sand and gravel in the air in front of the flying bat, and it fell to the ground!

If you are determined, you can succeed.

 

 

When it comes to people, Don is always an optimist, never cynical, always seeing the best in people, and ever determined to help people, and guide them onto the right path. Sometimes, he had to admit defeat. Some children were beyond help, and some are known to have ended up in prison, not many, but certainly some. Names were mentioned, but obviously I will not include here. One young chap was actually seen by Don to be robbing the mailbag that was usually delivered early by the postman, and left on the office steps, until the office was opened up. Don happened to have left breakfast early and witnessed fully this chap pilfering the mailbag. When later challenged by Don, he vehemently denied any knowledge of the event, and continued to do so till he left, always arguing that Don must have been mistaken! Another boy had drawn a knife on a teacher at a Bradford school, Mr. Sternwhite warned Don to be on his guard when handling this particular boy. Don had actually been threatened by a boy with a chisel during woodwork class! This chap was known to go off the rails, big time, at least once a month! He was a right nutter! He was a big lad who could easily be ‘wound up’ by other boys, and would go off the rails, taking a lot of skill to calm down. Interestingly he would spend hours if given a watch or clock to repair. That’s said; Don did develop a soft spot for him, and bumped into him, and his big tractor, a number of occasions after he had left Linton. He eventually did time for some misdemeanor or other.

A monthly visit by a psychiatrist was often an interesting experience, but his methods were usually text book in nature, Don often disagreeing with the official strategy, preferring to work his own way, besides, he did not care for the chap, a Dr. Eggleston.

While at University, Dons interest and experience in the great outdoors led to him being offered to train other teaching staff in safety techniques while supervising children on the fells and other participation activities, and pass on his knowledge. This offer from Kirklees, came at a time when he had little spare time, and only weekends were identified to take the courses, so Don, not really interested, submitted a ‘silly’ price, and was surprised when his fee was accepted. So why not?

Dons long held interest in the great outdoors, and in particularly, pot-holing, came in very useful while at Linton. Being very experienced in such activities meant that Don could take groups of children down various ‘easy’ pots in the area, such as Dow Cave, Dowker Bottom Cave, and others, I myself having done Dow cave under Dons leadership. Don and his friends, found in one trip, ancient remains of cave dwellers, and in another, a decomposed body of a miner in Buckton Mine, which led to a half hearted police investigation.

Mr Sternwhite was happy to encourage children to keep pets at the school, rabbits, chickens, and particularly pigeons. Yet another method used to retain children’s interest and encourage responsibility.

 

Some confusion about the dorm blocks has been resolved by Don.

In the 1950’s the first block by the playground/office was for senior boys, some 50 sleeping in bunk beds, with a large veranda on the end facing the main office, and just double doors at the other end. Staff allocated small living space at each end.

The second block was for junior boys, identically built.

The third block, the one that ended up being dorm 1, had the woodwork room at the office end, with the housecrafts, girls stuff, with Mrs Slingsby, cookery and such, at the other end. In the middle of this block was a classroom called the ’Remedial’ class. This was where Mrs. Woodhead, usually, taught children basics, ones who could not read or write.

The fourth block was another set of three classrooms, this block became dorm 2.

The fifth block was where junior girls, and some really young boys slept, this became dorm 3.

The last, sixth block, was for senior girls, becoming dorm 4.

Trips out from school were arranged. Wally organized a week’s trip to the Norfolk Broads, on a boat. They took along about 10/12 boys for the week. Teacher Sheila Cathrell went to assist.

Don was for a short time seconded to Bradford Grammar School, where he found the pupils difficult but in a totally different way to the kids at Linton. He found it difficult to relate to the kids at the grammar, who seemed to have it all going for them, and knew it.

During breaks from Linton, Don went on a pioneering tough tour of North Africa, Algeria, and the Atlas Mountains, mixing with mountaintop Berber tribes, living on Oasis in the Sahara Desert. When he returned to his role at Linton, he was a different person.

He decided that he would not allow the Linton children to intimidate him any more; the trip improved his confidence a great deal!

Since leaving Linton, Don has traveled to many parts of the world, leading expeditions with young people to many places, from Peru to China. He is particularly proud of the China tour as this was well before China opened up to the west. The focus was on central China, a closed area to westerners normally; indeed it took 2 years of careful detailed planning to ensure the trip was a successful one.

Don was sorry to hear of the closure of the school, and feels even now that it was a great shame. Some children who found their way to Linton were genuinely ill, others who were in trouble with the police, and were offered a choice, Probation, or Linton, either way, the facility was very useful in all cases, no matter what the reason for your stay.