by Michael Rayworth (1952-57)
I have just read some of the magnificent success stories of old boys from Ermysted’s over the years and felt the urge to balance this by writing my story which resembled an academic plane crash that most would want to forget. But I remember my days at the school with some nostalgia, and I eventually made good.
It all started in 1952 when my parents decided that an Ermysted’s education would be good for me and would continue the family tradition at the school. My parents had since moved away to Cumbria and I suddenly found myself dumped in School House and in class 2A, which was supposed to reflect my abilities at my former school in Penrith.
For the first two years I was unhappy and found the experience difficult. This was reflected in my performance at the school where I repeated a year and demoted to 3B a year later. My school reports were unbelievably bad and the source of jokes and much sarcasm from the subject teachers.
The teachers, however, were excellent, sympathetic and tried to make my time there more comfortable. Cassie Edwards may have had class discipline difficulties but was a very kind man who helped me in School House during my early days.
The house master in School House was headmaster M L Forster (Bru), a strong disciplinarian but a person whom I respected and who, in a strange way, helped me through the first two years.
I also had great respect for many other teachers. I was a practical person more comfortable with maths and science and I saw Di Evans as a teacher who spoke a language I understood. I have never come across another academic with the ability, the control and the charisma who had the immediate respect of everyone he spoke to. I have never seen anyone who had a bad word for him.
I enjoyed Maths with TES Stoakley, a class where I thought some of the best school wit and humour was generated. (I learned that mathematically a line has no thickness – except for the white line down the middle of the road!)
Paddy Rodgers, Willy Hardacre, Bill Gibbon and Gaius Haig were all outstanding teachers but to me they represented despair in my own abilities. In the 5th year I was able to drop languages and the classical subjects. I would have dropped English Language but this was a subject needed for most professions.
Throughout this time I excelled in woodwork, and the encouragement of Bill Hewitt was something I will never forget. I won the Skipton Mechanics Institute Prize for woodwork which was a huge boost to my morale and a turning point for the rest of my time at school. But it was too late. It was O levels next year and I knew they would be a disaster.
I left school in 1957 with five miserable O levels. I took private lessons from Di Evans to get O level Physics. Di Evans was superb and I passed a 3 year O level Physics course in three months with 90%. English Language was another matter where I struggled and I set off for a course to be a cabinet maker at Loughborough University – it was a course where English Language was not required.
However, just before I started the course I managed to pass English Language – at the fifth attempt, and with good results – and started an apprenticeship in Civil Engineering with Westmorland County Council. Civil Engineering was what I had always really wanted to do because I could clearly see a good professional career in road building prompted by increasing car ownership and severe road congestion.
At technical college I surprised myself with some outstanding academic results. I went to the University of Salford as a mature student and came out with a very good degree in Civil Engineering before becoming a Chartered Engineer and later a Fellow of the Institution of Civil Engineers.
I continued working for Westmorland County Council as a bridge designer but quickly moved on to work for the newly-formed Road Construction Units in Cheshire and Warwickshire on some major UK motorways bridges. I was the author of several technical papers on bridge design, old mine workings and winning prestigious Institution of Civil Engineers prizes. My days at Ermysted’s with poor academic results and withering sarcasm about my academic abilities now seemed a long way off.
When the English motorway programme was coming to an end I moved to Scotland and worked for Strathclyde Regional Council, the largest local authority in western Europe. I worked my way up to Chief Road Engineer with management responsible for all new construction and retired in 1992, having to take redundancy with the demise of Strathclyde.
Following retirement I moved to Argyll where I set up a successful furniture making business over the next 20 years and am currently running a small timber merchant business. Thank you Bill Hewitt – hardly a day passes without me thinking what you would have done!!!
When I left Ermysted’s I had become more contented at school and in hindsight am convinced that I suffered from dyslexia, a word not invented in the 50s and 60s. I believe this caused my academic difficulties. But I excelled with practical work and feel that it was my experience at Ermysted’s which gave me the opportunity to have two very successful and fulfilling careers in one lifetime with virtually no school qualifications – and, in my late 70s, I still want to continue.
About Michael Rayworth
After a successful career in Civil Engineering Mike retired in 1992 reluctantly having to take redundancy when Strathclyde Regional Council was disbanded. Opportunities for Civil Engineering were becoming limited in the 90s so he set up a furniture making business, specialising in Charles Rennie Mackintosh reproductions. He subsequently became, and still is a timber merchant buying oak trees and selling milled and dried timber to cabinet makers.