"One of the reaons for my not being quite in the mainstream of school society was that I had attenae well tuned in curious directions..."
Just as we were preparing the first day of PETiTathon2015!, an unsolicited package arrived in the office addressed simply to "Planned Environment Therapy Trust". Inside, the opening line of a beautifully-typed letter on reassuringly fine stationery said:
"Dear whomsoever opens this and has to work out what to do with it."
A great opening line for what came next:
"73+ years ago I was a maladjusted child who spent a year - the academic year 1941/42 - at Dunnow Hall. Only someone steeped in history will recognise that name. But the PETT website leads me to think that there will be some at the Barns who may do."
What accompanied the letter was a wonderful, beautifully-produced, extremely well-written and structured, hard-back account of a life more than touched by one of the pioneering communities for "maladjusted" children, as well as by St. Christophers in Letchworth (to which he was sent next, and from his account of which the page-opening quote above comes (p. 134)). Before going further, here is how you can get your own copy of the book - and you really should:
go online and buy it by card at www.memoir1940s.org.uk.
The production values which have gone into the design and printing of the book make it difficult to understand how it can be priced so low: But just accept it, and if nothing else, order another as a Christmas present for someone else you care for.
As an explanation for sending the book to PETT out of the blue, Mr. Atkinson says in his letter:
"Some maladjusted children do come out of that state; I think the book bears witness to my having done so. It also bears witness (I hope) to the huge appreciation I retain for Dunnow Hall and Dr. Fitch in those far off times."
Personal accounts of people who have been seen as "maladjusted" and taken into the system are few, and for something as early as 1941/42, and for Dunnow, are very rare indeed: In 1993 the Archive recorded an interview with the late Sidney Hill, who was on the staff at Dunnow Hall, from 1942-1946; and there are accounts by both staff and former children of Ledston Hall, to which Dr. Fitch moved the school from Dunnow (including the memories of Wennington's Tom James as a child; and Margaret Doncaster as a member of staff). But memoirs of those with direct experience of what might now be considered trauma and resilience, having been in a pioneering school for "maladjusted" children, are extremely rare and extremely precious.
To be conducted through this experience by someone with the openness and touch of Gerard Hofnung is a delight.
That's enough said: If you want to know more, buy the book and read it. What we will do here, in honour of Mr. Atkinson's gift 9and with some juggling of original plans and time), is to upload two documents which may help you to know more about Dunnow Hall, and what Dr. Fitch did:
- The report of a visit in 1944(?) by Frank Mathews, founder of the Birmingham Society for the Care of Invalid and Nervous Children, "to Barns House, Peebles and Dunnow Hall, Cheshire", from the David Wills Collection;
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PETiTathon2015! Day Two:
2.2b Oral History: Dr. John Coleman OBE, recorded 2 November 1994: Working with Refugees and Displaced Persons