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Lessons in education. Chapter 1: Getting Started

by Irene Simpson

In the beginning

Irene Simpson

The Author

It was quite an interesting set of circumstances that led me to a career in education. Ever since I can remember, my father always believed that whether you were a boy or a girl, you should have a skill in life. So when I left school, I won a scholarship to the Gregg School which was a commercial training school in Newcastle upon Tyne and there I learned shorthand, typing and bookkeeping. This used the Gregg system of shorthand (rather than Pitmans) which was invented by John Robert Gregg in 1888 (1). Gregg Shorthand is a phonetic writing system, which means it records the sounds of the speaker, not the English spelling. With a very simple alphabet, Gregg shorthand is very fast in writing but can take a great deal of practice to master it. Speeds of 280 words per minute have been recorded and those notes are still legible to anyone else who knows the system. We were also taught English and Mathematics. After I had completed my training I got a job in a ships chandlers office on the Quayside in Newcastle where I was secretary to one of the directors. The company was involved in supplying ships with all types of materials and commodities and as this was during the second world war the job was actually a reserved occupation.

Carlton House Terrace, London

Carlton House Terrace (3)

I stayed there for a while and then I read something in the newspaper about recruitment opportunities with "The Ministry". This was the administrative centre for the Ministry of Pensions (and later National Insurance) called Benton Park View in Newcastle upon Tyne (2). I realised early on in life that the people who had the power were the men because it was the men who had the money! I thought in that case letís join them if you canít beat them. It meant that I was going to get onto an employment ladder. So I took the Civil Service Entrance examination and passed that. I started work at the Longbenton Office. I hadnít been there very long when I was sent down to London to Carlton House Terrace where they had a house at which they were dealing with industrial injuries and I was seconded there for about three months. At the end of that time I went back again to Longbenton where there was a typing pool to which I was appointed supervisor.

I was quite happy at "The Ministry" but towards the end of the war and shortly afterwards there were recruitment drives because there was a nationwide shortage of teachers. Education was also something which interested me and so I applied. Many people did so, having come straight out of the forces or, like myself, were coming from reserved occupations. My husband, Don (Simpson), had already done his degree first and then went on to study for a Diploma in Education. It took him a year and he gained a distinction. We were generally mature students and I think the authorities weeded out the unsuitable ones quite quickly. They took no prisoners! It wasnít a case that you were given a second chance. Either you could do it or you were out. It was classified as emergency training but it was surprising the number of people who went on afterwards to become heads. I knew at least three who got headships in North Shields.

Back to school: Wynyard College, County Durham

Irene Simpson at Wynyard

Irene at Wynyard Hall

I was at college at Wynyard Hall in County Durham (4). It was the family home of Lord Londonderry but had never been open to the public. As they had several homes around the country the house had been requisitioned by the War Office during the second world war for use by the Army. When they vacated it, the buildings were used for a time by the Fire Brigade. At the end of the war, it was again empty and the Government handed it over to the education authorities for use as an Emergency College.

Wynyard Hall
Front elevation

Wynyard Hall, County Durham: Front elevation and main entrance

Main entrance

Wynyard Hall, County Durham: The main entrance and the library

The lake
The grounds

Wynyard Hall: The lake and the grounds

Continued in column 2...

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Life in college

Miss Sophie Bertie, the Principal

Miss Sophie Bertie

Our principal was Miss Sophie Bertie. She was born in 1896, had undergone a strict Edwardian upbringing and had an impressive personal and academic record. She came from a very famous family (one of her ancestrors had been a famous admiral around the time of Lord Nelson) and was very upper crust in her attitude. Wynyard Hall was a very interesting place and Miss Bertie had insisted that the college be affiliated to Durham University. It was very, very quiet as it was way out in the country. The main building had a lovely ballroom where all the assemblies and functions were held and Lord Londonderry made a point of coming to the speech days. There was also a large statuary hall, full of great big marble statues, which used to give me the creeps because it was never well lit. There was also a large library full of enclosed book cases. At the time I was there Lord Londonderry would have been in his early 40s (I believe that he died quite young) and the family would spend some of their time on the estate and riding horses. There was even a gamekeeper attached to the grounds.

Cover of the Wynyard magazine 1948 edition

The "Wynyard" magazine
1948-1949 edition

It was a live-in college. They had converted various parts of the hall into bedrooms. It was freezing cold and they provided linen sheets. There were people there to clean and cook and to serve us our meals. We were able to take advantage of the facilities within the grounds. We werenít able to go out to Stockton in the evenings because we were too isolated although we did have our own bicycles. After dark it was absolutely pitch black because there were no lights. So we were stuck there really. There was one evening occasion when you could invite friends to come to a party. Most of the time we were too busy working but, much to my surprise, I was elected to the position of editor of the house magazine at Wynyard College. A scan of my editorial from that magazine appears at the bottom of this page.

The people who were teaching us had been seconded from universities and colleges around the country. There were a number of courses that were taught and I took English. There were also extra courses laid on if anyone was discovered to have a weakness in one area. You also had to undertake a special project. A particular friend of mine was more artistically inclined and was very interested in needlework and so she did that as her special subject. She designed and created a cushion showing the animals going into the ark. She also made up a dress by choosing and printing up the material.

Getting ready for sports
The girls share a joke

Scenes at Wynyard Hall: Preparing for sports, sharing a joke

The training course led to a Teachers Training Certificate and lasted for thirteen months. It was different to todayís courses because we had to start our first teaching practice after six weeks of study. Each attachment lasted for one month, and if you were unable to keep discipline or if the tutors thought that you were unsuitable then you were out. The first teaching practice I did was in Hartlepool, the second I came home for and was attached to a school in Cullercoats. My last one I did at Middlesbrough. Funnily enough the inspector who came to inspect my last teaching practice was also the man who came to inspect my probationary year.

I was ready for the fray ...


Editorial from "Wynyard" magazine 1948-1949

On to the next episode: Backworth and beyond


1. Gregg Shorthand: Article on wikipedia
2. Benton Park View: Article on wikipedia
3. Carlton House Terrace: InfoBritain
4. Wynyard Hall Training College: Wynyard Hall Park - Virtual Visitors Centre

Added: May 8th 2008
Last updated: March 24th 2012

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