Caretakers? The people who take care of us : Part Two

This is the second section of an eventual four, all of which will tell the story of the remarkable characters who have worked as caretakers at the High School over the last 150 years.

When “Knolley” Knowles retired from his post as School Porter in 1898, his place was taken by Mr Robert Holmes, the brother of the Army Drill Serjeant, George Holmes. The latter, after long years of faithful service, was allowed to move into “Knolley’s” old house on Clarendon Street, but only on condition that he found accommodation for his brother, Robert Holmes, the new caretaker. He, therefore, moved Robert into the rooms which he himself had just occupied, but had been forced to vacate because of the terrible fumes from the heating system.

The recently retired “Knolley”, unfortunately, did not live very long to enjoy his hard earned retirement presents, a “handsome easy chair, and a case of silver spoons”. He died on Sunday, March 25th 1900 at his home at 36, Hartley Road. He was seventy-two years of age, and his real name, unknown to nearly everybody at the High School, was William Knowles Keach. The funeral took place at the Church Cemetery on Mansfield Road on Thursday, April 27th and was attended by Dr Gow, the Headmaster, and a number of senior teachers including Mr Corner, Mr W.E.Ryles, Mr Liddell and many of the senior boys of the school. There were many handsome wreathes and crosses in evidence:

cemetry

Mrs Rebecca Keach was to outlive her husband by several years. She eventually passed away in June 1911, at the family home in Hartley Road.

During the last few years of the nineteenth century Dr Gow would coach his Classical Sixth Form class to Oxbridge Scholarship standard, usually teaching them for four periods a day, keeping just one period free mid-morning for seeing parents:

dr gow

There was no telephone in those days. Visitors’ cards and telegrams were brought to Dr Gow during class teaching time by Robert Holmes, the caretaker. One telegram particularly amused both the great man and his class. “Dear Headmaster, Please tell the boys that Bovril says Mafeking is relieved”…a slick piece of advertising.

Just after the Great War, a short novel entitled “The Three Merles” appeared in the bookshops of the nation:

lozengeIt portrayed the High School at the turn of the century and had been written by a former pupil of the school, Richard St.Clair Page. Set in an imaginary school, just like the real one, the plot had a Mr.Lupton, and a Serjeant Holmes as its School Porter.….The book’s sergeant was new to the job, having  just been promoted from being caretaker in a warehouse in the town. Hence he was always very polite when he brought a message:

“Dr.Govan wishes to see Master Grier at the break”

When the newness began to wear off, “Master” before a small boy’s name would soon just disappear. The Doctor had called him “The Porter”, when he introduced him to the school after prayers the week before.

“Boys, I wish you to know Serjeant Holmes, the new porter of the school.” And the sergeant, with his medals shining very brightly, had saluted the whole school.

As a body the school resented him. He belonged to the new order of things, and the school thought it preferred the old times to the many new things which were being introduced.”

Now though, let’s meet the real High School’s real George Holmes, who was the school’s Drill Serjeant. He was responsible for:

“…the usual manual exercise and marching drill, bayonet exercise, sword drill for infantry and cavalry and Indian club exercise.”

In this photograph of the staff, taken possibly in 1885, he is sitting on the grass:

staff 17890

Every time I see that photograph, I can imagine the Rolling Stones using it as an album cover. Perhaps that’s what the unfortunate fold is. Damage caused by Mick Jagger.

In 1901, the school magazine, “The Forester”, decided once again to look back into the past. It published “A Memory” of old Mr Knowles, the long serving school caretaker, who had retired just three years previously, and who had recently died. “Knolley” had obviously been so well loved in the school that everybody wanted to remember him. They just could not let him disappear for ever. He had:

“a wonderful sense of humour and a stock of jokes. With what gusto he rang that bell so that you stopped up your ears at the deafeningness of it. When raking out the fires, with what quiet satisfaction he gave the finishing touch, a smart single rap of the poker on the bar ! Never did he cause irritation, he was universally liked.”

“What Old Boy cannot remember the occasions when, by forgetting his books, he has obtained the privilege of making an awesome journey, with Knowles as guide, through the mysterious Coal Hole?

Who cannot recall the many times when the front door has been held open by Knolley’s friendly hands while a frantic headlong rush up the front steps has just saved a punishment for lateness? Who after the heat of the game hasn’t refreshed himself with a glass of cold water or excellent herb beer at Knowles’ Lodge?”

Equally respected was his wife, Mrs Knowles, who:

“was as kind as a mother to small boys…if we had scratched a finger, fallen in the mud, bumped a forehead, or met with any other of a boy’s accidents.”

In December 1915, Robert Knowles, “Knolley”s brother, who had been appointed as caretaker in 1898, set up the Nottingham High School Pets’ Club which took place every Wednesday. He spoke to potential members for forty minutes at an inaugural meeting, and kept them enthralled by his enthusiasm for the subject, offering advice on the care of pets and how to purchase them:

caret

Old Boy, Roy Henderson, was later to speak about the school just before the Great War….

“Nobody was ever allowed inside the school during breaks, but it never seemed to rain! In any case, all the boys were always very keen to get out of the building. There were few amenities for the boys, including just six to eight cracked stone washbasins. There was a tuck shop, near the south eastern corner of the present day West Quadrangle. It was run by Robert, the School Caretaker. The small shop on Forest Road which boys at the end of the twentieth century called “Dicko’s” was at this time called “Baldry’s”, and it was a sweet shop. A female member of staff, a Mrs Digblair, lived in the rooms above it. She was one of the school’s first ever mistresses, and members of the Sixth Form loved to go and have tea with her.”

This superbly detailed view of the school was taken from an overflying biplane in 1921. Waverley Mount, bottom left, used to be called Clarendon Street, and the first house on the left as you walked away from the High School was the “Caretaker’s Cottage”. In the garden, just to the right, the white areas are, in actual fact, lines of washing which has been put out to dry. Presumably, this means that the photo was taken on a Monday morning. Notice the figures on the tennis court. They are surely waving to this mechanical marvel as  it passes overhead:

aerial

This article will be continued in the near future.

 

 

 

 

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8 Comments

Filed under History, Nottingham, The High School

8 responses to “Caretakers? The people who take care of us : Part Two

  1. Good post John, nice to commemorate the anonymous workers in life. I especially like that final picture.
    The group photo could have been used by the Rolling Stones but it looks to me like inspiration for ‘Band on the Run’.

  2. Oh how things have changed! A drill sergeant hmmm now there’s an idea to put to the head!

    • In recent years, our Cadet Force has attracted enough paperwork before and after everything that they do, that we have employed various ex-Army sergeants to help out with it. Some of them have been a little bit fierce. Others have been world class at being difficult to get hold of!

  3. You’re right about that picture looking somewhat like a Stones’ album cover. Too bad Queen never did one like that, they had the degrees and I.Q.’s to back it up.
    I like that there was a lecture on pets.

    • These people working in the background have surprised us all with their expert knowledge of subjects like, for example, keeping pets. Occasionally, the surprise has been military. Years ago it was Cadet Force Inspection Day and one of the caretakers came in with his chest covered in medals, none of them awarded for knowing important people. He had seen action in Northern Ireland, Bosnia, Kosovo…Pat had been all over the place with the army, trying to establish law and order. The kids were all entranced. They hadn’t realised that they actually knew a real soldier!.

      • Remember that old saying – “You have to watch out for the quiet ones.” – real men don’t feel the need to brag, they are secure within themselves.
        Thank you, John.

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