Agriculture alumni Gillian shares memories from 1959

Written by Gillian Butters (nee Mainwaring) in August 2020

I attended Reaseheath in 1958/59, when it was known as The Cheshire School of Agriculture. It was a two year course, the first year spent on a farm, learning the basics but also to ascertain whether you were suited to the outdoor life. I was not from a farming background but I worked as an apprentice and I worked a 65 hour week, biking the 3 miles there and back at each end of the day, for £1 per week.

In the autumn of 1958, I started the Agriculture/Rural domestic economy course, along with 17 other girls and we were housed in the Women’s Hostel situated at the far side of the Hall. We each had our own bedrooms and our Matron was Mrs Stanley who on a Saturday would stand in the stairwell and call “sheets towels pillowcases” and we would respond by hurling said articles over the bannisters. We were never addressed by our Christian names, always Miss and our surname.

We learnt agriculture, horticulture, poultry keeping, all aspects of dairy work, including cheese and butter making, and domestic science, which was held in the newly constructed building and contained all the latest equipment. Learning to cook was a novelty for me, as we hadn’t learnt any at my school. I enjoyed the baking part of it, but it was very much ‘country fare’ and we had to cope with offal and what seemed to be copious amounts of blood, when making jugged hare, black puddings etc. We coped with brown cow heels, pig trotters and tripe, not thinking too deeply about their origin.

Early on in the course I had met Glenys and we tended to do a lot of things together, this being the case when we attempted sausage making. The pork, husk and other ingredients had been delivered plus the intestines which we had to wash before being attached to the nozzle of the mincer. Glenys held on to the casings and inserted the meat and I turned the handle and pushed the meat down with a wooden spoon, so far so good. We were making good progress when I lifted said spoon and half of it was gone – I was left with just the stalk! The bowl of the spoon was elsewhere. We decided honesty would be the best policy, so we said nothing! Unfortunately for us, what we made during the day ended up on our plates at supper time. The dairy technology students, numbering about 15, used to join us for our evening meals and they declared that they were the best sausages ever. Glenys and I went hungry that night. I think we can safely admit to our crime now, as the D.T students were a lot older than us, so are probably not still around to sue us.

Our days were long, and if you were on milking duty you were required to be either at the Home Farm or the Hall Farm by 6am. None of us had cars, so it was either a bike or a walk. Kale cutting was done by hand, which was fine unless it had been frosty or worse still snowing. The rest of the day was taken up with lectures which were held in the Quad building at the side of the Hall. I somehow managed to get my ‘O Level’ biology, thanks to Peter Harper, so I could add that to the other ‘O Levels’ I gained at school.

After supper there was ‘homework’ which lasted for a couple of hours. There was little time for leisure, except at weekends when we played netball, hockey and visited the Brine baths, which were incredibly cold. We were allowed to visit Nantwich town and we found all the short cuts on our bikes. The Red Lion and other pubs were strictly out of bounds but one of our number regularly broke the rules and would bribe one of us to leave the sash windows in the Common Room ajar, so she could tumble in when she returned from her illicit nights out. One night she tumbled into a waiting Mrs Stanley. She could be seen regularly around the grounds wearing her duffle coat with a bottle of gin, and when we had our open day she moved around all of the directional signs so the visiting dignitaries got lost – she was expelled!

The rest of us completed the most enjoyable course and my parents were amazed when I was awarded “Student of the Year” and Glenys received Mr Lamberton’s special shield which she has to this day, so it’s a good job we kept quiet about the sausage.

Nowadays when I return occasionally to compete in the unaffiliated Dressage at Reaseheath, I am quite envious of the present-day students and the wide range of equine courses that are available to them. It is a far cry from the days when my husband’s grandmother attended Worleston Dairy to learn butter and cheese making at the end of the 19th century (she was born in the 1880s). Perhaps Worleston Dairy was the forerunner of the now University Centre Reaseheath.

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