Peter Yorke (1938-2018)


Many Old Sedberghians will remember Peter as a fellow pupil, as a teacher, as a Housemaster, as a member of the O.S. Club, as an administrator or just as an apparently constant presence at Sedbergh.

He was born in Eccles, Manchester on 12 September 1938 and came to the Lune Valley when his parents bought Casterton Grange in 1940 – a large and imposing house close to Casterton School. It was in his formative years here that he developed his love for Westmorland and for the Lune Valley in particular.

He attended Cressbrook School in Kirkby Lonsdale, founded by Felix Dowson (E 1892-1897) and later owned and run by OS David Donald (Lupton House 1930-1934). He recalled being introduced to the fells at this time as well as breaking the ice on the swimming pool for early morning dips. It was a hardy and hearty regime in which lasting friendships were forged.

After Cressbrook School Peter was in Powell House from 1952 to 1957. He often talked about the liberal regime that he enjoyed under the Housemastership of John Begley. Peter particularly enjoyed running across the fells, often running the ten miles to his home at Casterton for afternoon tea. Skating seemed a feature of the winters of this period with house yards flooded to provide suitable rinks. Peter became involved with the annual Bradford Boys Camps on Busk Holme under the supervision of Ian MacDougall, helping with meals and introducing the visitors to the area. Peter recalled with particular fondness his days in Clio (Sixth Form history class in the School library). Contemporaries remember Peter as a shy, diffident and self-effacing young man, being reflective and thoughtful. He was something of an enigma.

After Powell House Peter went up to Hertford College, Oxford University to read history. He enjoyed his time there and became involved in College cricket, running the social events for a season.

After Oxford Peter went to Ardvreck School in Perthshire. He was noted for being good company and for his frequent and regular trips on the Scottish hills.  It was here he evolved from looking after the cricket square and being a useful helping hand to becoming a teacher. His move back to Cressbrook School in 1963, this time as a master, was no surprise. He became the Deputy Headmaster under David Donald. After its closure in 1976 he took a small group of Cressbrook boys to Sedbergh School. From this temporary arrangement Peter created a permanent and successful House which evolved into the junior school and which is now the Casterton Sedbergh Preparatory School.

An effective teacher of all subjects his style was often a little eccentric. Jan van der Velde (L 77-82) recalls a typical lesson: Peter would start by sitting behind the teacher’s desk. As he asked earnest questions he would lean forwards, talking in his quiet and deliberate manner. Slowly and gradually he would begin to slide onto the desk, his torso and legs inching forwards, all the time talking. By the end of the lesson he would have made his way over the obstacle course of his desk and would stand in front of it making overarm bowling actions interspersed with the odd ‘sixer’ as he knocked an imaginary cricket ball out of the imaginary cricket ground.

But Peter was much more than a classroom teacher. He loved the fells in and around Sedbergh. He always, on the first day of the school year, took the boys of Cressbrook House to the top of his beloved Winder. Later, when living at its foot, he climbed the hill every day making many hundred ascents. He regularly took boys camping in the local area. Trips to Leck Beck with swims under the waterfalls, trips to the Lune to canoe, trips to Barbondale so he could walk boys back over Calf Top. He introduced pupils to wet pits, dry pits and altar fires, to fly tying, bridge and chess. In the summer he took parties to Loch Earn with more canoeing and larger hills to climb and there were many trips to the island of Rhum. In the winter he would take boys ice-skating on the local tarns, occasionally in the dark illuminating the scene with his car headlights and providing warming hot chocolate. Music and drama featured in his tenure as a housemaster. Many will remember performances of The Thwarting of Baron Bolligrew, or Treasure Island or Huckleberry Finn.

In 1983, Peter, an apparently confirmed bachelor, married Pat which resulted in his three beloved daughters; Sally, Susannah and Jessica. Peter provided constant and unbiased support to both his daughters and pupils alike, wishing only for them to be happy and true to themselves.

After leaving the house he taught for a few years and then he worked on the 1996 Sedbergh School Appeal with Jeremy Gaskell before he was asked to look into establishing the Sedbergh Foundation. This was set up in 2001. Peter worked with Russell Spears, Jeremy Prall and then from 2003 with Richard Witt. From this time, until he retired at the age of seventy, Peter was instrumental in helping to establish the Sedbergh School Foundation database, the Friends of Sedbergh School and the 1525 Society. His vision, research and knowledge all contributed to the success of each of these bodies.

For many years Peter loyally served the Old Sedberghian Club as a committee member. He brought to this role a seriousness and earnestness in his endeavours to ensure that the Club engaged with a broader membership. It was through his knowledge that Peter was able to improve the Club’s database helping it to keep in contact with more people than it might otherwise have done.

In recent years Peter was treasurer of the Cumbria’s Museum of Military Life from its start in 2002. He also helped with the database where, yet again, his knowledge of so many people was used to great advantage.

Peter also became involved with the Church of the Holy Ghost at Middleton. He was very enthusiastic in maintaining a sense of community and his involvement with the re-erection of the Roman Milestone, with the churches finances and with their coffee mornings and occasional exhibitions all helped to bring the people of Middleton together. This was recognised by them when Peter was honoured to be made president of their sheepdog trials in 2017!

Peter was always excellent company. He was loyal to his daughters and loyal and steadfast to both Cressbrook School, Cressbrook House and Sedbergh School.  That loyalty was borne out of his staunch principles of fairness and out of his interest in and thoughtfulness about others. He seemed to know just about everybody and how they were all connected. Certainly his knowledge of Sedbergh and Sedberghians was encyclopaedic. Peter was an easy conversationalist with an impish sense of humour, often making people laugh, including, on formal occasions, by just whispering a little amusing observation.

Peter was a true Sedberghian with a love for the school, its people and its environment but his true legacy was captured in Selva Ramasamy’s (CH 81-83, S 83-89) words: “He was a teacher who made a difference in my life. He showed me kindness, he encouraged me and, most importantly, he gave me confidence in myself.”

Peter will be remembered for being a kind and gentle man who made an indelible impression on those whom he taught and knew. We shall not see his like again.

John Sykes