The other day, out of nowhere, I was jolted back to the year 1998 when a long-forgotten photograph emerged out of cyberspace. It shows the ford on the River Leven, nestled gracefully into the grounds of the Friends’ School at Great Ayton. Astonishingly, I have no recollection of ever capturing this moment, and the realisation that 26 years had passed since then is somewhat sobering.
Back in those days, the school had just closed, and the inevitable transformation into a private housing development had yet to take place. The urge to revisit that very spot gripped me, to capture the essence of time’s passage through a recreation of the shot. Yet, my intentions were thwarted as I discovered that the grounds were now guarded by locked gates and the river bank draped in a shroud of shrubbery.
Undeterred, I chose a different viewpoint, turning my camera upstream to view the ford from the north, just above the weir in the above photo. There, a concrete platform remained submerged beneath the water’s flow, surprisingly gentle in spite of the recent rains. It would be meaningless to say that the years had not been kind to the scene. The most obvious transformation is on the north bank, where a sandstone retaining wall now holds back the new access road. The old school building still stands, converted now into housing. The white footbridge has been relocated some fifty metres downstream.
Back in the year 1841, with a generous helping hand from a local Quaker named Thomas Richardson, the school was established. Its purpose? To tend to the needs of 36 boys and an equal number of girls, all hailing from families linked to the Society of Friends. The gates also opened for others, albeit for a fee, reflecting the average yearly expense per child. At the outset, 80 boarders could be housed, a place of learning and friendship. As the days turned into years, the school’s reputation grew, attracting an ever-increasing number of students. The numbers swelled until the school could no longer contain the roll of 300 pupils.
In the year 1968, a turning point beckoned. The Meeting House, at the heart of the school’s endeavours, underwent a transformation to house the entire student body. But the early 1990s saw a steady decline in pupil numbers, a troubling omen of what lay ahead. And so, it came to pass, in the year 1997, that the school, once filled with laughter and dreams, had to close its doors.
As I continued on with my day’s wanderings, Mother Nature’s capriciousness decided to drench me in yet another soaking. And so I walked on, contemplative of the relentless march of time.