Colsterdale Schoolhouse

Outisde the schoolhouse on a sunny Winter's day.
Outisde the schoolhouse on a sunny Winter's day.

I came across this curious building whilst scouting out hunting for bygone relics in the borderlands of the Yorkshire Dales’ South-East regions, where an invisible line on the moors South of Coverdale dictates a shift in territorial management, and the Nidderdale AONB lays claim to the lands beyond.

This location lies just over that arbitrary divide in the sparsely populated valley of Colsterdale, and my initial feeling that it was once a tiny chapel, was instantly disproved upon checking historic maps, on which it’s actually labelled as a Schoolhouse. There are only 3 rooms (and that’s being generous and counting the porch) — the main schoolroom adjoins another small outhouse which was once possibly a pantry or storage, though now the entire thing serves as shelter for the resident sheep—their droppings carpeting the floor on which pools of rainwater have formed after entering from jagged scars present in the roof structure.

Inside the ruins of the tiny schoolroom in Colsterdale.
Inside the ruins of the tiny schoolroom in Colsterdale.

The rise and fall of the extensive coal mining operations that were present in the dale up to the early 20th century1 seem to have likewise dictated the school’s fortunes, with numerous colliery operations ushering in an influx of workers and their dependents in the 18th century for which it was likely built to accommodate. Its datestone suggests this construction completed in 1787, however this was actually for an earlier building on the same site, which was reformed into the current structure in 1882 with a donation from the local landowner, after which it also shared usage as a chapel-of-ease (thus vindicating my original assessment!). Only a few lone walls now hint to the schoolmaster’s house which once stood nearby, and appears to have been soundly demolished at some point or other in the region’s history.

Dating the old schoolhouse.
Dating the old schoolhouse.

Mining gradually wound down towards the end of the 20th century as the stripped veins became more cost inefficient to work, and the last solid reference I can find to the schoolhouse is from 1903 when it appears to have still seen use in some capacity, although I did find a scant mention in the contents of an academic journal dated to 1979, that suggests it was still being used even then, though I would imagine in a much reduced capacity.

As expected, information on such a small, relatively insignificant site is incredibly difficult to find online, the building itself certainly long left behind by the march of progress, and before the web was even a twinkle in the eye of Tim Berners-Lee. Luckily though, I managed to get a hold of a copy of this detailed tome, which features an addendum containing a few details on the school2 which will have to do for now, so until industry somehow miraculously returns to Colsterdale and the children need somewhere to study, school is most definitely out.

  1. The name of the valley itself actually derives from the Middle English word for collier, suggesting it’s been mined for many centuries prior to the industry’s upturn around the time of the Industrial Revolution.
  2. Mostly who the headteachers were and the amounts they were paid, which was obviously studiously detailed in some dusty archive somewhere.
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