From "The New Psychology" section of Maurice Bridgeland, "Pioneer Work With Maladjusted Children", Staples Press, London (1971), pp. 150-155.



In his psychiatric work with children, Fitch met the same discouraging experience which had induced Dr Dodd to found his school. So many of the behaviour problems with which he was called on to deal were the result of harmful and intractable home conditions combined with inadequate schooling that he realized that much of his work was being wasted.

It is characteristic of him that his interest was immediately diverted to education, a sphere in which he had had no previous experience other than some schooling in France after he had been expelled from Monmouth School for throwing an ink-bomb at a master. Nevertheless in 1935, at the age of forty-eight, he took over - with great enthusiasm but few funds - Dunnow Hall at Newton in Bowland, a large mansion on the Yorkshire-Lancashire border, to see what 'a controlled environment and regular life' could do for maladjusted children. He is of interest not only because he was one of the first 'special school' principals to make extensive use of the loophole provided by the 1921 Act to secure financial support from the local authority to maintain and educate maladjusted children but also because he was one of the few pioneers who saw sufficiently beyond his own institution to propose a comprehensive general scheme for the establishment and management of residential schools for the maladjusted.

Apart from his Memorandum on the Establishment of Schools for Maladjusted Children in 1948, which was never published, he seems to have written little, but both his widow and some of his surviving colleagues have been very helpful in providing me with material related to his life and work. He started his school at Dunnow Hall with three children and a staff of four, and at first had great difficulty in finding sufficient children who were diagnosed as maladjusted, and who could afford the fees, to add to the numbers. His first, unwelcome, expedient was to accept educationally subnormal children. This made for great difficulties particularly, he found, in out-of-school activities. He then secured the support of St Helen's L.E.A., who were prepared to pay thirty to thirty-five shillings a week for children who required 'special' education. The Clitheroe Advertiser and Times (20 November 1936) announced that 'Dunnow Hall is ... to be recognized by the Board of Education as a school for all that large field of pupils whose existence has been very briefly and inadequately hinted at, i.e. those who are neither delinquent nor defective but in need of special forms of education. The School Medical Services are to make themselves responsible for the cost as an extension of their normal medical activities and thus one more attempt is being made to stop the waste of human activity, and increase the sum of happiness by training childhood in stabilized and intelligent adult life.' The number of children increased and the intelligence level rose.

At the beginning of the war the problems caused by evacuation resulted in a large increase in the number of children and a considerable decrease in the number of members of staff, most of whom were 'conscientious objectors' with little academic training. The school, however, survived, partly through the help of the Quakers in Yorkshire, and when it was re-organized under an Educational Trust in 1945, in accordance with the provisions of the Educational Act, the Society of Friends was represented on the committee together with L.E.A. representatives. Dr Fitch became the director.

In June 1948 the school was moved to Ledston Hall, near Castleford, an Elizabethan mansion which required a great deal of conversion to house the sixty children and ten teaching staff. When Dr Fitch retired in 1952 the school was moved to Breckenbrough, near Thirsk, and a schoolmaster was appointed as head. The school still survives as a secondary special school for maladjusted boys.

Lo! who dares say 'Do this,' who dares call down

My will from its high purpose? Who say 'stand'

Or `go'? This mighty moment I would frown

On abject Caesars - not the stoutest band

Of mailed heroes should tear off my crown.

Chip of organic members!

Old Scholar of the Spheres!

Thy spirit never slumbers

But rolls about our ears.

For ever and for ever!

O what a mad endeavour

Worketh he.

This Keatsian tribute to Dr Fitch appeared in the Dunnow Hall Magazine in July 1935. Already Dr Fitch had established himself as a somewhat authoritarian figure who, although he claimed to be a 'great believer in personal liberty', said in the same speech (7 August 1936) : 'With the extraordinary swing in the opposite direction from Victorianism, with its repressive and inhibitive methods, the swing has been far too great, and there is an idea abroad that you have only to put knowledge in front of a child, and by some mysterious means it gets into that child. If that is the case then all I can say is that education is, and has been, entirely useless.... It [the child] has to be told many things and must learn what we all have to learn from statements of fact on the one hand to ordinary discipline on the other.'

There was a fixed timetable at Dunnow, although compulsion to attend classes was not absolute. Of discipline Mrs Fitch writes : 'In all things we sought a middle way between repressive discipline and entire and unguided freedom - aiming at tolerance and patience with the obstructive minority so far as it was compatible with the protection of the peaceable majority.' A school council of all senior pupils sat weekly at which school problems were discussed and weekly staff meetings were held 'when details of the children's social life, physical conditions, hereditary tendencies, and reactions were typed out and discussed in detail', and a plan of action evolved. It appears that in both meetings Dr Fitch frequently found himself 'giving detailed instructions' although in theory he objected to doing so.

Some of the instructions given to individual teachers about individual children read rather strangely to the modem ear, but at least reveal Dr Fitch as a man with his feet on the ground, not too concerned with the niceties of psychological jargon

A. 'Backward and babyish. Shirker and piffler. Needs a firm hand and if need be a hard hand. Should never be allowed to get away with anything.'

B. 'A very firm hand. Incredibly untidy and slapdash. A nice child but needs keeping at a distance.'

L. 'Much more capable than he appears. Lazy, inert and slack (partly owing to early disease). Needs pushing hard. No notice should be taken of tears.'

R. 'Very average mentally. In all ways a complete fathead. Will try to be the dear little girl if allowed.'

His largely untrained staff were further lectured on many aspects of modem psychological and psychopathological theory and practice which, together with their instructions, were doubtless modified in the light of that intuitive sympathy which is so essential to, and fortunately so often found in, workers with maladjusted children.

As one can see, one of Dr Fitch's most insistent contentions was that he was not dealing with abnormal children but with normal children who, when they could profit by the improved environment offered at Dunnow or Ledston, could be treated in a more or less normal way. Although a psychiatrist he did not attempt any intensive psychotherapy with his children. As Mrs Fitch says : 'Psychiatry with him was not a thing taken in sessions in a self-conscious way, but something that pervaded his whole life'; treatment was an apparently casual affair given 'as they needed it without their knowing they were having it'. When asked what he did with the children in his charge the answer was usually the same as W. H. Hunt's 'Nothing at all!' 'The stimulation of personal interests and the removal of sources of chronic irritation were in themselves sufficient to cause maladjustment to disappear, or to disappear to a large extent.'

As an administrator and organizer Dr Fitch must have had considerable ability and many of the organizational ideas which he put forward in the 1930s and 1940s were still being discussed and newly put into practice in the 1960s: co-education welcomed by the Underwood Report but still rarely implemented; the four-term year to prevent the regression that almost inevitably occurs when maladjusted children return to unsatisfactory homes for over-long summer holidays, and his interesting and original plan for the establishment of groups of schools for maladjusted children forming one unit with facilities for student teaching and psychiatric and psychological support.

A memorandum which he produced on this fundamental subject was in its scope and originality far beyond the possibilities of his own time, but not of ours, and was a distillation of many years of thoughtful practice. He envisaged units of three co-educational schools, junior, middle and senior, within easy reach of one another in the country but with the senior school, at least, within reach of a sizeable town. There would be accommodation in the senior school for probation, social science, medical and teaching students and there would be full-time psychiatric and psychological staff to oversee therapeutic, diagnostic and remedial work. A seaside hostel would be available to those children unable to go home during the holidays.

The staff should have a strong personal concern in the work but also well-developed lives of their own. A high proportion should be married. 'A deep belief in the human race, a wide tolerance, a profound love of children and a willingness to learn' are considered of more importance than academic or psychological qualifications. Discipline should, as far as possible, be based on the inculcation of normal social behaviour and it should be seen to exist as a necessary structure within which the individual child may feel secure. It should be 'a condition rather than an event and should be present throughout a carefully thought out and controlled milieu'. Punishment, where necessary, should take the form of voluntary expiation, unresented correction and logical restriction. It should be the 'logical consequence' of the act. Religion, acceptable to the children, should provide the 'external standard of reference'.

Dr Fitch considered that children of above average intelligence would profit most from the experience offered but stressed that intellectual attainment would be affected by the basic emotional disturbance, the origins of which he saw as stemming essentially from previous abnormal and 'illogical' environments. He hoped that, with the extension of child-guidance clinics, the majority of children would be referred early through local education authorities. Each school, containing no more than forty to fifty children, would be sub-divided for small-group work in academic and practical subjects and social activities. There would be considerable emphasis on remedial teaching in the basic subjects and arts and crafts would be encouraged as curricula and extra-curricula activities. Social activities would be carefully planned on the basis of family-groups guilds, which would also form the basis for discussion of school matters to be raised at the general meeting.

Looking beyond his time and its limitations he saw the immediate needs of work with maladjusted children as more such schools, more teachers, more psychologists trained in remedial teaching, more training facilities, and a clear administrative and lay distinction between the needs of the sub-normal and of the maladjusted.

Above all, where Drs Decroly and Claparede had stressed the value to normal children of methods evolved in work with abnormal children, Dr Fitch emphasized the importance of treating and educating maladjusted children as normal children with some special needs derived from their experience of abnormal circumstances.



This text has been selected, prepared, and uploaded as part of

PETiTathon 2015!

Our quick and concise fundraising appeal

You can vote for more like this by donating to PETT, and telling us why:

mydonateClick to Give


PETiTathon2015! Day One

PETiTathon2015! Day Two:

2.1 Renewing Barns Centre: A Story in Pictures

2.2 Oral History: Dr. John Coleman (1993/1994)

2.2a Oral History: Dr. John Coleman, recorded 13 September 1993: General Background

2.2b Oral History: Dr. John Coleman OBE, recorded  2 November 1994: Working with Refugees and Displaced Persons

2.3 'Blackout, Austerity and Pride: Life in the 1940s', by Roger Atkinson, OBE (2015)

2.4 'Dr Alfred Fitch', from Maurice Bridgeland, "Pioneer Work With Maladjusted Children" (1971)

2.5 'Report on visit to Barns School, Peebles & Dunnow Hall, Cheshire", Frank Mathews (1944?)