SANKEY Helen PDF Print E-mail

Helen Sankey – a personal view of Auchencairn in the 1920’s

When I was little we all went to the same school and stayed there until we left at fourteen. There were three teachers, Mr. Morrison being the Headmaster who then lived in the School House next door. I started when I was almost five and was in Miss Mills' class until I was seven. She was a very kind and wonderful teacher. At seven, I went into Miss Ken's class who was the second cousin of Mr Ken of Fagra Mill in Dundrennan, who now runs the sheep transport service. As cars were still rare in 1926 Miss Kerr had to stay in the village, and lived in Craignure during the week and cycled home at weekends.
At eleven I moved up to Mr. Morrison's class. In those days the eleven plus was called the 'Control' and I manage to pass this. Mr. Morrison left soon after to teach in New Abbey and was replaced by Mr. Gellatly who was even stricter than Mr. Morrison had been, using the strap every time we misbehaved. I remember getting the strap in front of the whole class once for talking in a music lesson.

Once a week a science teacher, called Mr Home, visited the school and we used Bunsen burners and mixed acids. I think that is all I remember of our science lessons. Another teacher also came each week, a Miss Hasting, who taught cookery on a paraffin cooker that had four rings and an oven. We used to cook stews and one day I can recollect making an apple snowball, which was a cooking apple stuffed with sugar and fruit and covered in pastry. There were from twenty-five to thirty pupils in each of the three classes in those days. In the evenings once a week we had Brownies with a Miss Ovens who stayed at Torr House.
My father was really a fisherman and worked for Mrs McKie at Auchencairn House - the stained glass window in the Church was in memory of her late husband, and it was her nephew who became the MP for Galloway. Besides being a fisherman he was also a lifeboat man and each year there was a practice which the whole village turned out to watch. When I was about three or four I was down at the lifeboat house on Balcary cliffs with my mother to watch father going out in the boat. As the boat rushed down the ramp it sent up a huge backwash which seemed to pour up the ramp. I remember letting everybody down by screaming and screaming, thinking we were all going to drown.

Later my father was caretaker at the Barlocco Barytes Mines. Every Sunday, after church in our Sunday best, my mother and father and two sisters and I would walk the two and a half miles to Barlocco so that he could check everything was all right at the mine. My father was also a grave-digger for a time. I remember once that Mr Kirwan who lived at Collin House (it was not pink then) had stipulated in his will that he was to be buried in the grounds of Collin House. My father had to go to the Police Station on Main Street to collect the dynamite he needed and once up on Collin Hill he blasted away at the rock until there was room for a grave. I believe it is still there with a fence around it.

My elder brother, Robert, or Bob as he was known, had been a seaman on the SS Nicholas, but during the 1926 slump the ship had to be sold to Sweden. Three years later he married and took the tenancy over on Hestan Island from Mr. Tweedie. In those days you could walk onto the beach near Auchenshore House, and the sea-bed was much sandier and firmer than now. Robert's daughter was called May Maxwell, from the heroine of Crockett's story 'The Raiders".

I vividly remember Robert's wife taking ill and having to go to hospital: my father and mother and I had to carry the baby, in a clothes basket with a hot water bottle and blanket across to Hestan just a few days before Christmas at nine o'clock at night! It was bitterly cold. As we approached the island near the Auchencairn Lane, which is the Hass Burn flowing into the sea, my feet began to sink into the mud and I fell over. My wellie stayed in the mud and I had to dig it out and my father was very cross with me. I was thirteen 'then. When we got to the island we left my mother to look after the baby whilst Robert cared for the cattle and sheep on the island. My father and I returned to our home, the Mill House on Church Street, with the help of a hurricane lamp. I took extra care to make sure I didn't get stuck in the mud on the way back.
My best friends' father, Peter Maxwell, was a driver for Davidson's Bus Service. He used to go to Dalbeattie Railway Station to meet the train and also to do the messages in Dalbeattie for the villagers in Auchencairn and Palnackie. Occasionally we would go to Castle Douglas on the Saturday night bus to the cinema, and I remember seeing Mary Pickford in The Seven Sparrows and Charlie Chaplin in The Gold Rush.

On our Sunday School trips we used to go to the sea where we had picnics and ran races. I was never particularly good at the races. Sometimes we would go as far as Bumfoot, or else to Rascarrel or Orroland. What made the trips extra exciting was the fact that we went by horse and cart. There would be about six horse and carts in a convoy making their way down to the sea. The horses were either Clydesdales or some other shire horses and they would have their hair plaited and done up with ribbons. The carts had planks laid across for us children to sit on and the carts would also be cleaned up and polished and decorated. We always enjoyed those trips they were good fun.