Kenneth Ashurst and Helen Rae

At Flixton Girls we always enjoy hearing from past students and staff with news about their educational journey, what they are planning to do next and their memories of times past at school. It was therefore really exciting to recently hear from a son of an ex-Domestic Science Mistress from way back to 1936, during the first few years of Flixton School (Girls) inception.

The school opened in September 1933 for both boys and girls, although students were taught separately, with the school site split boys to the left and girls to the right. However, the staff did share a communal space for lunch and refreshments. It was here that Kenneth (Ken) Ashurst, boy's teacher and Helen Rae, girl's teacher met.

Helen moved from Leicester over the Summer of 1936 to take up her position as the Domestic Science Mistress at Flixton School. She says her time at this school was happy, overall the staff were young and headmistress Miss Waring was a supportive and forward thinking headteacher. They made lifelong friends from their days at Flixton School, in particular Nan Walley, History teacher and Molly Hindley, Domestic Science Mistress. In fact, both Ken and Helen formed the bridal party of colleague Molly Hindley, pictured below. (Bride - Molly Hindley, bridesmaid to her right Helen Rae & Ken second from left)

Helen and Ken met and fell in love, whilst working at Flixton School. They lived locally, Longfield Avenue, Glenhaven Avenue and Ullswater Road, once married and had many good memories of times in the late 1930's and early 1940's, teaching and taking separate boys and girls trips to Copenhagen and Saint Malo in Brittany.

Helen was a member of the Flixton Senior Staff Players, which received wonderful reviews, particularly for their production of 'Love from a Stranger' by Frank Vosper. Helen was a good actress as the following extract from a review shows, 'It is, perhaps, to HF Rae that the chief acting honours must fall. The excellence of her characterisation as Cecily Harrington, Lovell's intended victim, was never in doubt from the moment she first appeared. As the girl in search of romance she was deliciously ingenuous and wistful and impulsive. As Lovell's wife she visibly matured, remained gracious and charming yet slightly worried. But her great moments came in the last Act and she never once failed to take advantage of her opportunities; she was remarkably convincing as an 'amateur hypnotist'. And she certainly knows how to make use of facial expressions and how to register fear which is no easy task for the amateur. Her lines were spoken naturally and evenly and her pleasantly modulated tones were a delight to the ear.'

Their wedding took place on 23rd March 1940 at the Congregational Church, Little Lever near Bolton, the town in which Ken's parents resided. Helen was 28 and Ken was 24 and they honeymooned in the Lake District before returning to life at Flixton.

Helen continued her teaching at Flixton until 1942, when they moved away and were expecting their first

child. Miss Waring wrote a testimonial to Mrs Ashurst (nee Rae) upon her departure, which said,

'As a teacher of Domestic subjects, Mrs Ashurst is outstanding – her integrity of purpose and close attention to every detail of her work has been a splendid asset to the School. The work of the girls has reached a very high standard and their respect for her is in a very high plane.

With regards to School functions, Mrs Ashurst has carried out catering for some 100 guests on many occasions each year and her work for the Christmas Parties of the 500 girls has been a joy to them and a point of real admiration from all concerned. Mrs Ashurst planned and carried out a course of six lectures in War Time cookery at which some five to six hundred adults were instructed.

As a House Mistress, Mrs Ashurst has shown herself of great value – everything her House undertook was carried out with vigour and exactitude. Her high example to the girls has always been a real influence for good among the girls.

Mrs Ashurst has had charge of the Domestic Science Department of three staff. The requisition, planning and purchasing, the scheme of work and the overlooking of the whole of these subjects, have been in her hands and well the work has been done.

It is always a pleasure to deal with Mrs Ashurst for her clear brain, her foresight and her capacity for carrying out her ideas are excellent.'

Following their move away from Flixton, Ken joined the RAF and during WWII he learnt to fly in Canada and flew mainly gliders in the Glider Pilot Regiment, later retiring as RAF Squadron Leader. After leaving the RAF he became a headmaster, after completing a degree at Manchester University. Then in 1950 he was appointed HM Inspector of Schools and the family moved to the North East, away from Lancashire, the county of the time.

Helen and Ken went on to have three children and enjoyed a happy life together.

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