September 6, 2008

“Larnin farmin” - From Kirkley Hall to King’s College

The second intake (1951) at the Northumberland
Farm Institute at Kirkley Hall. Ponteland



Finding my way from Newcastle central station up to the School of Agriculture at King's College in 1952 for an interview was indeed a worry for a country lad from the North Tyne. I was terrified that they'd say I hadn't done enough schooling. But having been to Korkley Haall saved the day and four of us from Kirkley joined the academic throng at Kings.

Sandy Main
I was interviewed by Sandy Main (for his sins a Durham man), but a stalwart of the Agric Department along with Jim Hall. Both men had unchallenged knowledge of North East farming. Sandy was generous in his understanding of me rrushed edyication and said I could enter the first year of a three-year degree.


I wasn't really sure what that involved as three years seemed a lifetime of study. So when I gat heme all I said to my North Tyne farming mentors was that I was gannin te Kings Colleege, which many still called Armstrong college where daft professors came from, telling farmers aboot basic slag and wild white clover. I sensed that they didn't think much good cud cum oot o' mare colleege larnin from daft professors.


First year traumas
The first year was murder as it was back to school with a vengeance! Classes were big and full of bright students from other University schools (including medicine) to study the pure sciences. Lecturers had little time (and obvious contempt) for what they considered "thick" Agric students like us. We dare not for the life of us ask any questions in lectures, and after lectures the lecturers did a runner so they could not be held up by students. The fear of failure was at times overwhelming.


Getting some fresh North Tyne air at weekends by milkin and muckin oot on local farms, and scraping the muck off in time to join the North Tyne Melody Makers on Saturday night in the Bellingham toon haall was enough to maintain sanity for the following week.


Wee's this Kiwi bloke?
But faith was restored in our second and subsequent years at Kings when we got into
agriculture proper. At this time an earthquake shook the Department in the form of a long lanky New Zealander called Professor Mac Cooper who came to Kings from Wye College in the deep sooth. He replaced the late Professor Wheldon, a County Durham man with a famous Jersey herd who I remember arriving each morning with bowler hat, umbrella and spats – obviously strite from muckin oot the byor!

When Prof Cooper arrived, the place didn't know what hit it. It was marvelous to be part of this new age of agriculture at Kings. We were all terrified at the start, but in no time we grew to love this mountain of a man. His fame spread far and wide and with it our pride in having the privilege to be one of his students. I still treasure this today.


Nafferton needs sortin oot!
Prof got Jim Merridew from Wye to sort out Nafferton, but nowt compared to the research farm at Cockle Park. Prof did the unheard of things - he got some dairy cuws, poultry and pigs, and he bought a flock of Clun Forest yowes from doon sooth. He got Ted Pears the chief tractor man and a wonderful Northumbrian to plew up Tree Field and Palace Leas - historic fields that had only seen hoof and horn for over 100 years.


Our class went ahead and wrote new verses for the historic Cockle Park song- and it was my late Durham friend Henry Pickering from Wolsingham who coordinated these new verses in breaks between lectures.


The Clun flock
In my fourth year, my project at Cockle Park was with these new-fangled Clun yowes with Mick Givens the shepherd. Mick had been heording oot-bye in the Cheviots before coming to Cockle Park. The Cluns were a daft sheep to anyone like Mick who was a Blackie and a Chivit man. The lambs were born blackish brown and got lighter with age. "Moosy doon" Mick described this colour – his further explanation is not printable!


Wor Mick
He got sare vexed one day by some instruction from "the Prrofessor" (shepherds always being laws unto themselves) and declared to me while foamin at the mooth that "the Prof knaas as much aboot sheep as me hint-end knaas about shuttin snipes"!


Cockle Park tower
Living in the tower at Cockle Park was great fun and from the top turrets you got such a sweeping view back towards the Cheviot hills - and any approaching enemy. Mrs Mason the houskeeper (another great Northumbrian) and her husband Jim (a Scotsman) were a great pair. A spiral staircases may have been good for right-handed swordsmen to deter invaders coming up them, but their worn narrow steps proved devastating to those off ganin up craalin te bed after ower many Newcassel broons!

(Photo by Malcolm Tait in 1966, another past student resident.)

Apparently the tower was built as a hunting lodge as well as a protection against reiving.





Memorable days
They were memorable days, made so by a lanky Kiwi who lit fires about the importance of agriculture in the bellies of his many dedicated students. The late Mac Cooper was a great Kiwi and a wonderful and much-loved adopted Northumbrian. We loved this giant of a man, and to this day his "Kiwi' wisdom and outlook on life is as fresh as the days we sat on hard seats at his feet.

Why Durham University?
But we true Northumbrians had a problem - we ended up with a degree from Durham University with it's Latin name of Dunelm, as King's College at that time was a college under the University. That always seemed a bit odd till we remembered that Durham was one of Britain's oldest universities, along with the other two 'doon sooth' - Oxford and Cambridge that may as well have been on another planet. The folk who attended them always seemed to us Northern Lads to be a bit daft! Prof Mac went to Oxford for a spell but he was the exception.

The Agric scarf
We were all proud to have our own Agric Department scarf. My 56-year-old one doesn't get much use these days in the Mediterranean climate of New Zealand, apart from a mid-winter international rugby match to put on the cold plastic seat as insulation. It was good to see the break away from Durham to become Newcastle University
So us owld Kings Agric graduates have the daft pleasure of saying that wor degrees are B.Sc. (Dunelm). And there's only those daft lot from Cambs. and Oxon who can use Latin names of their degrees, not that anybody today would have a clue.

It certainly wouldn't get you a free 'Newcasselbroon'!


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