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Durham County Council's dairy and poultry school at Sherburn Hall

School training women in dairy work and poultry keeping during the war

Type: Technical School

Before the war dairy classes and courses were taught at Armstrong College in Newcastle, then part of Durham University. Early in the war, however, the dairy shed in Newcastle was required for military purposes. This meant that the location of where dairy classes would continue to be taught was in question. Sherburn Hall in Durham was suggested as a suitable site and after an inspection of the Hall, the approval for the use of the premises was agreed in January 1915.

The large numbers of men leaving County Durham to fight in the war left a shortage of agricultural labourers, a shortage that was partly solved by women taking up the roles previously done by the men. Women from within farming families would have had knowledge and previous experience of this work but there were others who required training. Sherburn Hall provided training in two particular areas of agricultural knowledge; dairying and poultry work.

Over the period of three months around August to October 1916, 30 students underwent a course of instruction in dairying and poultry keeping. County Council minutes from November 1916 record how favourably the courses were looked on by the Women’s Agricultural war committee. The women were given lessons in milking, milk testing, cheese-making and butter making.

The Auckland Chronicle reports 1000s of women enrolling into the “land army” during April 1917 but stated the biggest needs were for milkmaids and dairy workers, making the specialist training the women were receiving at Sherburn Hall invaluable.

Scholarships were awarded for the training of women on four week courses. The Board of Agriculture urged as many women as possible to be trained at Sherburn Hall in April 1917 and sanctioned 100 scholarships to do this.

The principal of the school was Miss Eliza Anna Maidment who had a considerable amount of knowledge and expertise in the field of dairying and poultry keeping. By the time the war began, Miss Maidment had spent over 15 years lecturing and demonstrating in dairying and poultry keeping all over England.

In addition to the dairying work taught at the Hall, the women received training in poultry keeping. Stock birds were cared for by the students on the Hall’s extensive poultry farm and then ‘sittings’ of eggs given out to cottagers and freeholders in the area. Miss Maidment showed that there was considerable profit to be made from the keeping of poultry and selling of eggs and was keen to emphasise that this could be the case for people who kept poultry on their own land.

The training and new techniques proposed by Miss Maidment were seen as revolutionary by some. The trained women took their newly acquired skills and knowledge to farms in the County. Not only did this have a vital role in increasing food supply in the country during war time but was also seen as skills important to the Country’s future production and self-sufficiency in milk and dairy products.

A report given by Miss Maidment in August 1917 stated that many of the women had been placed on farms for general work, others on specific poultry farms and were doing well.

Civil Parish: Sherburn

Contributed by Fiona Johnson - Durham