Stramongate School, Gardening, Land Work

Stramongate School – The War Years

Our Curatorial Assistant, Francesca, is digitising the Stramongate School Magazine. This is providing a fascinating insight into the lives of the students in the early 20th century. A Quaker school from 1698 to 1939, today its name belongs to one of Kendal’s primary schools. This week we are going to look at how the gardening, work experience and land work undertaken by the pupils and alumni of Stamongate School helped the war effort.

Stramongate School, Gardening, Land Work
Gardening Detail from the Quaker Tapestry

Gardening as exercise

Forms of exercise with a practical function were encouraged at the School. An account details the activities of the pupils in the gardens of Dalton House. They were, the reader is assured, partaking in work ‘to a more useful purpose than the rearing of flowers’. Because of the shortage of labour due to the war, the gardener was unable to manage all of it himself. Thus, the boys were given an entire section of the garden to use as a vegetable patch. The narrator recounts their efforts drily.

‘Turnips seem to be the most popular crop, for every garden seems to have at least three rows. One boy was greatly surprised to find onions where he was sure he had sown turnips…Judging from the amount of lettuce and radishes, there ought to be enough salad to last Dalton House until September.’

The resulting vegetables were to be sold back to Dalton House. ‘Besides the profits the garden has other advantages’ a schoolmaster writes, ‘It has both provided a pastime for those who do not care for games, and it is one of the ways in which we can “do our bit”’.

Work Experience

Later that same year (1916) a group of boys ‘went farming on Friday afternoon and returned on Saturday night’. This provided both work experience for the boys and the farmer with a helping hand. The overall experience seems to have been fun, if tiring. ‘…we did accomplish something, which at any rate was so much like work, that we spent Sunday in bed, recuperating. A lot of real work was done, in fact the farmer asked us to come again.’

Stramongate School, Gardening, Land Work
Detail of agricultural workers ploughing and sowing from the Quaker Tapestry

Land Girls

Alumni, known as ‘Old Girls’, also helped by becoming ‘land girls’ even if just for the duration of the war. Aimee Tomlinson took up land work after work at the local Red Cross war hospital dried up. She went on a short course, after which she immediately started at a farm.

Aimee arose at 5:30 every single morning, but advised getting up even earlier to choose a good-tempered cow for milking. She hoed turnips and ‘never before did I imagine that there was so much worry and work with them…The side-hoeing or weeding [is] a very tedious job and one’s back feels as though it could never be straightened again!’ Despite this, she later took up a position at a farm that required a 40 minutes cycle ride to and from work over the hills – on top of her day’s farm work!

Stramongate School, Gardening, Land Work
Agriculture Detail from the William Allen Panel of the Quaker Tapestry

Exercise and Health

In modern-day life there are strong concerns around mental health and an increasing emphasis on the concept of ‘wellness’. In this light, it is interesting that the people of the early 20th century seemed to have an intuitive awareness of the importance of exercise and being outdoors more generally and strongly encouraged this wherever possible. At Stramongate School, it appears to have been a vital tool in managing the pupil’s anxieties around the war. It also helped provide local communities with food and filled the gap in labour left behind by the men who went to war.

Interesting to contemplate is whether these initiatives stemmed from a more general call to action by the ‘land army’. It certainly appears as though the gardening project at Dalton House was the result of a uniquely Quaker sense of collective responsibility and emphasis on health.

This blog is part of our ‘The War Years’ series, looking into life at Stramongate School in Kendal, Cumbria during the years of the First World War. Check out our other blog posts below to find out more.

Further Information

Check out these blog posts to find out more:

Our magazine digitisation project

About Stramongate School in the war years

About school sports at Stramongate during World War One

Supporting the Quaker Tapestry

We hope you have enjoyed reading our blog and gained an insight into life at Stramongate School during WWI. There will be more insights into the war years as we continue to digitise the Stramongate School Magazine.

The main gardener photograph above is available as a beginners embroidery kit from our online shop

We couldn’t accept and care for these wonderful artefacts without our dedicated Care and Conservation team. However we need your help to…

– Create an improved database of the extensive Quaker Tapestry collection of supplementary items

– Develop best practice of the Care and Conservation volunteers through further training

Your donation will help us achieve our goals and ensure the longevity of the exhibition and collection. Please consider making a donation 

Quaker Tapestry Facts

The colourful tapestry panels measure 63.5cm x 53.3cm and are made using a mix of five ancient stiches and a new one, invented for the project. Embroiderers around the world now use the ‘Quaker Stitch’.

World traveller and writer Alexander McCall Smith, says they’re one of the ‘six best tapestries’ to see in the world.

The panels help you find out about famous scientists, engineers, bankers, botanists and non-conformists who pioneered industrial welfare, fair trade, prison reform, peace work and anti-slavery initiatives. Many were Cumbrians.

Begun in 1981 and completed in 1996, they’re the work of 4,000 men, women and children from around the world. Some of the panels made journeys of thousands of miles as they passed from one group of people to another.

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