John Rennison and Barbara - THE VAYRO ANCESTRY

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John Rennison and Barbara

John Rennison


My research has shown that in 116-29 BC a certain Marcus Terentius Varro was a Roman Historian and Soldier, but also a celebrated writer whose vast and varied knowledge earned him the title of the "Most learned of the Romans". He was credited with over 400 books, and in comparison my humble attempt at recording my family history is a small contribution to literature.

I was born in Willington, County Durham and baptised by the Reverend W H Jefferson at St Catherine's Church in the neighbouring village of Crook. My father John William spent most of his working life in the local mines and my mother Phoebe Isabella Franks was the daughter of a skin cart collector or "rag and bone man".

My memories of World War Two are minimal, for apart from the occasional air-raid siren Willington was relatively unaffected. Children played with their wooden tommy guns and threw batteries as grenades. Thankfully the family members who enlisted all came back safely, others including my father continued to work at Brancepeth Colliery, digging coal,as part of the War Effort.

At Willington C of E Primary Mr Tweddle and Mrs Farrah encouraged an interest in flora, fauna and ornithology that continue to this day. Time was spent in the playground exchanging military cap badges, playing marbles, top and whip and leap frog against the wall.

I had two brothers Clifford Roy and Brian. Many years later I discovered that I would have had yet a third brother Harold, but unfortunately he was born with Spina Bifida on the last day of December 1942, and buried only three days later at St John's Chapel in Sunnybrow. My parents seldom spoke of him and he lies in an unmarked grave that I have been unable to find. The chapel itself was the place of several family weddings, and the graveyard is well attended, but the place of worship no longer stands.

Below      Family Tree Network for John Rennison and Barbara Vayro (nee Gill)

My childhood memories are of street gas lamps, shovelling "roundies" into the coalhouse, collecting the horse droppings for the allotment, and outside middens. Typical colliery village situations that can be seen preserved at Beamish North of England Museum, and related in Catherine Cookson novels. Life was hard at home, but life was good. There were neighbours who helped one another in the colliery terrace houses, and back doors that were always open and seldom locked.

I had narrowly missed the requirements for Grammar School entry so spent 5 years at Crook Alderman Cape Secondary Modern School, on a course that led to several GCE exams. There I was introduced to Woodwork by my mentor George Turner, who showed me the intricacies of the mortise and tenon joint, and the delightful aroma of cedar shavings as they curl off the blade of a sharp smoothing plane.

Just before starting the Alderman Cape I had broken my wrist so for the first few weeks I sat on the gymnasium wall bars watching my peers do forward rolls. I never did catch up, and avoided contact sports at all costs particularly after a chipped kneecap in a hockey match. I preferred snooker in the Miner's Welfare Hall, exploring the local woods and quarries for bird's nests, walking the fells of Weardale and fishing for brown trout, though I must admit I seldom caught any.

From the age of twelve to fifteen I delivered newspapers to supplement my pocket money, and this enabled me to buy my first racing cycle, and in turn allowed me to quickly get to the station to see the steam train specials that were rapidly disappearing from the railways. We kept chickens, pigeons and budgerigars on dad's allotment, and like most mining families he concentrated on growing vegetables, tomatoes and flowers and entered his leeks in the annual show. His success rate was a little better than my fishing tactics.






Another Wedding


Initially I had considered following my father into the mining industry, perhaps in the engineering workshops, as a joiner, but Mr Turner encouraged me to look elsewhere for career prospects and consider becoming a "Handicraft" teacher like himself. The final decision was made after I had been underground at Brancepeth Colliery where my father was both Safety Officer and a Pit Deputy of some influence. We descended by way of steps in a disused drift entrance near Oakenshaw, and after wading through water over our knees we reached a worked-out seam and crawled between props with fifteen inches of space between floor and roof. At that stage he said we should switch off our helmet lamps, and listen. In absolute pitch blackness the eerie creaking of roof and continuous dripping of water gave a spine chilling memory that survives to this day. On returning to the surface and daylight it was obvious that a lesson had been both taught and learnt, and that my future lay elsewhere. It was the best day's work that my father had done!

I accepted a place to train as a Furniture and Industrial Designer at Newcastle College of Art and Technology. The four years of courses that I followed led to much more than simply being a "Woodwork" teacher, and developed skills in Cabinet Making, Engineering, Draughtsmanship and of course Designing.

I must admit that despite several professional qualifications, the lure of working in industry did not appeal. Consequently a further year was spent in Leicester College of Art to gain a teaching qualification and graduate status.

There were four "Geordies" who descended on Leicester myself and three close friends who were all determined to become "Craft, Design and Technology" teachers.  "Look out Leicester, Here we come!!"  We all stayed with Mrs Miezewska a Polish widow who provided little in terms of home comforts and hospitality. Most Weekends, as soon as lectures were finished (and sometimes before) we would make a bee-line for the north, in my case hitch-hiking back to Willington in all weathers, a practice that is seldom seen these days.

Left to Right

Lauren Amie Holdsworth
Allison’s eldest

Allison Jayne Holdsworth
daughter (Cunningham)

Chloe Louise Vayro
J P and Tracey’s daughter

Tracey Vayro nee Stonehouse

Right to Left

Jacqueline Anne Lennard
younger daughter

Jamie Lee Vayro-Lennard
Jacqueline’s daughter

Abbie May Holdsworth
Allison’s youngest daughter

Rebecca Jade Holdsworth
Allison’s middle daughter


Barbara Vayro nee Gill 60th Birthday group


I was still at Alderman Cape when I met my wife Barbara (nee Gill), and I have to admit that she supported me throughout my student years, waiting patiently, expecting me back at all hours with drawing board and tee square and watching closely as I spent time completing college assignments. Behind every good man there is a good woman!! (The Gill details appear elsewhere.)

My first teaching appointment was at Peterlee Grammar Technical School where I taught Woodwork, Metalwork, and Technical Drawing through to GCE level, and helped organise camping trips to Snowdonia and the Cairngorms.

Barbara and I were married at St Mary's Church in Howden Le Wear and a flat in Nesbit Road Peterlee was to become our first home, within easy walking distance of the school, and where our eldest daughter Allison Jayne was born.

My next appointment as Lecturer in Basic Design at Hartlepool involved teaching Foundation Course elements in the 3D Studies Area, and organising a workshop where students under my supervision explored projects in Industrial Design, Furniture, Sculpture, and Jewellery. Our second daughter Jacqueline Anne was also born in Peterlee and our son Johnathan Paul was born Hartlepool.

Left to Right

George Lennard
Jacqueline’s husband

Kearan Dean Vayro-Lennard
Jacqueline and George’s son
eldest grandson

Right to Left

Ian Cunningham
Allison’s husband

Johnathan Paul Vayro
son of JRV and Barbara

Adam David Vayro
son of Johnathan and Tracey


John Rennison Vayro 63rd Birthday group


Whilst at the College of Art I became involved in the training of teachers of Design Technology at the College of St Hild and St Bede in Durham City. A part-time appointment, led to a full-time post with full responsibility for the Initial Teacher Training "Craft" Course leading to the Certificate of Education.

I joined the staff of the newly formed School of Education in Durham University as Lecturer in Education with special responsibility for Primary Design Technology within the Undergraduate, Post Graduate, Advanced Diploma and In-Service course programmes, and stayed in this post until the mid 1990s. Despite taking voluntary early retirement, I continued to work part-time for a further ten years.

I have to admit that I have always seen teaching as a challenge, and apart from a few brief Design Consultancy contracts have never strayed into the industry for which I was trained. Teaching has been very frustrating and often particularly stressful at times, but there is something incredibly rewarding and satisfying about passing on information, developing ideas, watching individuals master new skills beyond their own expectations and the face to face contact with students of all ages has always kept me going. In particular, a few short months of teaching in Primary Schools was like a Magical Mystery Tour.

Yet putting all this aside for a moment, having spent my forty years in teaching, I have never forgotten my roots in the colliery village of Willington. Basically I am just the son of a miner, the grandson of a miner, and the great grandson of a farm hind James Vayro who was born at Tranmire farm in Ellingstring, Lower Wensleydale, North Yorkshire.

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