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From an Interview with Jack Tear. Transcribed by Jacky Lawrence
Jack Tear - WEA Memories

A Picture of Jack Tear with his war service medals
Jack Tear

I used to go to union meetings and they had a bloke called Sir Joyce Chester and he was most interested in educating the workers. So, they were encouraging weekend schools and I got involved. They arranged a weekend school at Knuston Hall and they came from the Northampton branch, Wellingborough, Kettering and even Norwich. We met on Friday nights and had a social evening. On Saturday mornings and afternoons we had a session with an early finish for those as wanted to go to the pub. We had a winding up on Sunday morning with a review and everybody was allowed to give their opinions. A lot of us stayed the night as well and it was that damp we had to have an electric fire on all night. Miss Smith was the lady in charge and she was a nice person, well educated, but they hadn’t the chance to do much.

I used to go to all of them anyway so that’s how I got interested. Then the Rushden WEA (Workers Educational Association) branch started, we were encouraged to run our own classes you see and in Northamptonshire there were seven branches. The most powerful part of the WEA was the Eastern District which covered seven counties:  Cambridgeshire, Bedfordshire, Northamptonshire, Essex, Norfolk, Lincolnshire and Suffolk. Anyway there were seven. Rushden started running their own classes and I think it was about 12 shillings for a twelve week course and if we extended it to twenty four weeks it was double. When I finished a couple of years ago it was £28 for ten weeks.

We were very well served, ever so well helped by the Adult Education in Rushden. There was a chap named Roger, Roger Northwood. He was in charge for ever so long and he would ring up and say he was having a meeting for people to come and register and if we wanted a table we could have one. We did occasionally but not every time. They were ever so good and gave us publicity and we co-operated by trying not to get the same course that they were taking.

A Picture of Alfred Street School
Alfred Street School
Listen to Jack Tear talking about the early days of the
WEA in Rushden

We had a lady named Penny Young and somebody did a report of the week and at the finish we handed her the booklet and she was ever so pleased, she was ever so good. Most of the tutors were really fantastic. We done all sorts and there’s some as different say as Heraldry. Marshall Martin, Heraldry it’s fascinating you just see these coloured shields that they had when the knights went into battle. It was fascinating, he said it took him thirty years and we had ten weeks to study it.

Listen to Jack Tear talking about how the finances of the WEA were slowly built up.

I was chairman for twenty five years and the Northamptonshire Federation used to usually meet either at Kettering Library and then for ever so many years we met at, I think the Arts College, in Northampton. Each class used to have to send a bill for five quid, the annual fee, we were sending then fifty, we was helping them out. That’s why Bob Chapman, our organiser, always did so much for us because he’d appreciated what we’d done.

WEA Logo

They used to have three regular meetings in Cambridge. November was the AGM of the Eastern District. We used to meet at the Arts College in Bennett’s Street. There used to be some marvellous meetings and there was a chap named Fred Jakes, he was the secretary of the Eastern District. He knew your name whenever he saw you, he remembered you and he was very eloquent and got no side. Him and his secretary, Miss Mothersole, they sometimes came to your AGMs. They used to get round to us, as many as they could to help. And we used to have the syllabus of programmes all set out like Art, History, all the variations of industrial news and things like that. So much in fact that they had so much choice that you used to have a job to agree on the subjects.

Some of the things you could learn, there’s no doubt it’s a marvellous organisation and it was all started by this one chap , I forget his name, in 1903.

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