Hallowe’en Nights (5) Ghosts in the High School

It is often supposed that in a building as old as the present High School there should be a school ghost.

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Ray Eastwood, the caretaker, once told me this story, in the early or mid-1980s, although to be honest, I have forgotten the exact date…..

“One year, a small number of boys were expelled from the school because of their appalling behaviour. They made threats that they would return, and either vandalise, or even set fire to the school. Because of this, my colleague Tony Hatcher and myself were asked to sleep in the school to forestall any problems. In actual fact, we borrowed a German Shepherd dog from a security firm that I had connections with, and all three of us moved with our camp beds into one of the rooms at the front of the school, underneath Reception, on the ground floor.

One morning, around 6.15 a.m., Tony and myself were sitting up in our beds having a cup of tea and a cigarette, when we clearly heard footsteps in the corridor above. They seemed to start near the staffroom, and then to proceed around the corner, past the staff toilets, and along the corridor towards the offices, directly above us. We both of us thought that these must be the footsteps of somebody who had broken into the school, and we rushed out of our temporary accommodation. We grabbed the dog, and threw him up the stairs to pursue the presumed miscreants. The poor animal wanted none of it, and he slunk off back into the room to his basket, his tail between his legs. We ourselves went on, rushed up the stairs and charged into the area around Reception. We could find absolutely nobody. We explored all around. All the windows were secure. All the doors that should have been locked were locked. There was no explanation whatsoever of what we had heard. There was certainly nobody there.”

In actual fact, Ray did offer me an explanation….He thought that the footsteps that both Ray and he had so clearly heard were those of Eric Oldham, a caretaker who had worked at the High School until some eight or ten years previously. One sunny Saturday evening at the end of that blistering hot August of 1976, after many years of faithful and steadfast service, poor Eric had collapsed and died as he made his rounds to lock up the school. He was found by his poor wife, lying on the sandstone paving slabs just inside the Main Gates. In the School Magazine, Mr.Oldham was described as “one of the school’s most devoted servants and a warm hearted friend”.

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When Eric used to unlock the many various rooms inside the school every morning, he invariably followed the same route at the same time of day. Eric would have been walking along those same corridors, in the very same direction as the mysterious footsteps we so clearly heard, at the same early hour of the morning. Perhaps it was him, reluctant still to pass the school into anyone else’s care.

Shortly after the idea of a school ghost was first mooted, it later emerged that there had already been another claimant to the position. This phantom was in the then Preparatory School which educated boys aged between eight and eleven years of age.

Quite a number of reports had emerged that as boys walked down a particular set of stairs towards the Waverley Street end of the building, they repeatedly had felt what could only be described as invisible fingers grabbing at the bottoms of their trousers, as if somebody was trying to clutch at their ankles as they went past. This story was told to me quite a few times in the Main School by a number of boys of varying ages, so it must have been fairly well known at the time, although it was unclear whether any of the teachers in the Preparatory School were aware of it. At least one member of the Main School staff knew of it, however.
I have an explanation for this although it does require a certain “leap of faith”. The new building of the Preparatory School was constructed on the site of a magnificent Victorian house. It was still used for Sixth Form lessons for a short period during the early years of my time at the High School, and may well have been the Sixth Form Centre, although I am no longer totally certain of this. Originally, the house had belonged to Dr.Dixon, Headmaster of the school from 1868-1884. On May 29th 1876, his wife, Ada, died “of the effects of a chill”, leaving her husband with five children, who were, according to “The Forester”, “Robert, Charles, Harold, Sydney and one daughter to bring up, four sons and a daughter”.

My best guess is that the clutching fingers belonged to Ada, who, as a spirit, was unwilling to leave her children, as she could see that her husband was struggling with the job of looking after them. It may well be that the staircase in the modern Preparatory School occupied the same three dimensional space as a long forgotten room in the now demolished Victorian house.

Interestingly, neither of the two ghosts, if indeed they were ghosts, has persisted. The stories in the Preparatory School disappeared after just a couple of years at most, and as regards the tale of the footsteps in the corridor, both Ray and Tony were denying vehemently that anything had ever happened within weeks of originally talking about the event. Why that was, I never did discover, although it is always nice to have a School Conspiracy Theory.

Next time……The School Werewolf and how to apply for the job

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Periods of work……only a few days every full moon

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Paid holidays…….once in a blue moon

If you are interested in the ghosts of Nottinghamshire, there are at least two lists of reported hauntings.

Wooooooo

Hooooooo

 

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Filed under History, Nottingham, The High School

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