Ashford School 1960 Reunion, our last tango

We moved to the beautiful village of Ashford-in-the-Water in March 1960. In those days there was easy access across Sheepwash and Hyde Bridges, both now closed to traffic. The village was a self-sufficient and supportive community. It was those golden days when everyone knew everyone else and people were happy to leave the house without locking the door. There were two pubs, three shops and a Post Office, a red phone box (still present but redundant), a fishmonger, a photographer, coal merchant, a tea-room, a recreation ground with swings, a cricket ground for the traditional Sunday afternoon match, a Police House with our own village bobby, a Hall, Memorial Institute, Methodist Church, Holy Trinity Church with a vicar who resided at the Vicarage and the C of E primary school. Neither a holiday cottage nor second home insight.

Today’s moments are tomorrow’s memories. The photo of the school group in 1960 was taken by the late Mr McCrindle with a sophisticated camera for the era. He positioned us symmetrically and captured a moment of our idyllic salad days. If only we had realised then just how idyllic they were when the world was a different place. It was a moment we wanted to recapture 62 years later. There were 61 pupils and 3 staff. How did we do it? The arrival of social media, the fact that several had stayed locally was helpful and we had further assistance from The Peak Advertiser who kindly published an article about the event. We located 53 of our group and the youngest teacher, Miss Brocklehurst. Sadly, 7 had already passed away and 4 more left this mortal coil while we were making the arrangements. Only 8 could not be located, 5 were from the local children’s home and 3 seemed to have vanished.

We began planning and organising 18 months ago. It would have been in 2021 but like so many other events it was delayed due to Covid. Where did we start? Facebook! The place where one of the group had posted the photograph We set up a page and added people to it as we located them. Some were siblings or cousins. Find one and others follow. The initial problem was where to hold the event. The obvious place was the school so that the photo could be taken in the same place. Alas, those long gone days of primary education in the village when the local vicar would come in at 3.30 pm to end the day with a prayer are long gone. The school closed in 1988. This is where the sad reality dawned. The village has changed beyond belief. Most of what we knew or took for granted in 1960 had also disappeared including one pub, two shops, photographer, police sergeant, fishmonger, coal merchant and the Methodist Church. Consequently, it was the third location choice, or to be more precise, the only option now available - The Memorial Institute. The whole event was planned round recapturing the photograph. Who would take the pic or several? Modern technology means that several would be clicking on phones and tablets throughout the event but one person’s husband agreed to taking the official ones. When? After much thought about the village’s geographical location and tourist situation neither winter nor summer would be good options. We were left with midweek in May or September.

The day arrived. Wednesday, May 18th. Good fortune was on our side, it was a beautiful sunny day not a rain cloud in sight. The photo would be on the lawn in front of the Institute, an outside event. In the spirit of the event it was essential to use catering facilities from the village community. We thank ‘The Bull’s Head’ for doing the buffet for us, they provided a feast fit for royalty. I was salivating when all the dishes arrived. Also, It was imperative to remember those who were unable to be with us. Their names were on cards on a Memorial table with photographs, candles and flowers. In addition we had a copy of the school closure service, various photographs from school days on display and information regarding the event available by the door.

Our Ashfordian buddies began arriving after 11.30 and congregated outside in the sunshine. It was magical as they easily recognised buddies they had not seen in decades. Hugs, smiles, laughter as conversational catch-ups began with those they never thought they would see again. Eventually, they ambled inside for drinks to welcoming relaxing music from the era. Many looking round the Institute trying to remember when they were last there. For me it was 1971. We also realised that at the same time in 1960, just after noon, we would have been walking through those doors for a school dinner. The conversations continued until it was time for the main event. The moment of recapture. Outside. We congregated as far as possible in the same positions as before. Clicking time and finally a thumbs up from our photographer indicating he was happy with the selection he had taken. Conversation continued as we ambled back inside for the buffet. Very different from school dinners. Each collected a plateful from the sumptuous feast and seated themselves round tables with old friends or family members they had not seen for some time. Phone numbers, email addresses swapped. Why had they drifted apart? It is what life does to all of us. When school days are over we drift through our lives moving to where work takes us. Family and new friends come along, old friends fade out. In our youth we looked forward. In our senior years we look back with both gratitude for what we had and hope for the future. Most spent some time looking at the Memorial table with their own memories of those who were unable to join us. Finally, it was time to leave. Was it all over? No, well not for all. Many walked down the road to the pub. It was a case of let the party continue because we have learnt that life is short. Most of us were born during the reign of King George V1. Our Queen is celebrating a 70 year reign and so we were reminded of our age and thankful to be together for one last tango.

I have written this article because those of us in our later years have seen incredible and unimaginable changes in the world. Social media was unheard in the 1960’s. Not invented. Being social meant going to a party, disco or the pub. Many will have school photos in a box in the attic. Maybe, you have already found one, looked at it and cannot remember half the people or are wondering what happened to so and so who was your best buddy. Why did you not stay in touch? I would encourage you to post the photo on the Net and have your own reunion. Reconnect and enjoy the last tango.