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

In 1935, ten years after that poor little fox was shot by Mr Hallam the School Caterer, Mr.Boot the lovable School Caretaker, was promoted to the post of “School Marshal” or “Porter”. The advertisement to fill his job as a mere caretaker attracted 1,475 applicants, a measure, perhaps, of the depths of the economic recession into which the country had been allowed to sink. Mr.Boot was then succeeded by Mr.Hubbuck, whom Mr.Reynolds was to call the “Beau Idéal” of caretakers.

During the 1930s, there had been a Porter’s Lodge next to the Western Porch, with a parlour, kitchen, scullery, three bedrooms and some cellars. Eventually, the cellars of the Porter’s Lodge became the School boiler house, and the parlour became a storeroom, where generations of caretakers brewed their tea, until Mr.Boot drank the very last cup, shortly before demolition in 1939:

west end of school

During the Second World War, in 1940, what might have been a very serious fire in the new West Block of the School was only prevented by the vigilance of the ever watchful School Caretaker, Mr.Hubbuck. It started in the Quartermaster’s Room, which later became the Book Room, right up in the roof, and soon spread to the N.A.A.F.I., later to become the Prep Handicraft Room. Mr.Hubbuck saw soldiers rushing up the stairs carrying buckets of water, and promptly called the Fire Brigade. Only minor damage was caused by the flames, but, typically, much more was done by the water from the Forest Road fire hydrants used to put them out. For months afterwards, the roof of that corner of the building had to be covered by a tarpaulin while it was being repaired.

Not long after this episode, the school became a sorting depot for troops who had survived the Dunkirk evacuation, and the South Notts Hussars departed, taking a large amount of stolen school equipment with them:


On one evening in Arboretum Street, Mr.Hubbock came across a group of local youths who were stealing ropes from the gymnasium of the Girls’ High School. He got the ropes back by pretending to be a plain clothes policeman, but was astonished to find that the Army had left the school without even locking it. This, sadly, was minor fare by the standards of the military. Many large country houses commandeered by the Army had been picked completely clean of all valuables by 1945 and in some cases, the damage done was so extensive that the houses  had to be demolished.

In one edition of the “Nottinghamian”, Anthony R. Broome (1944-1950) reminisced about how….

“During the Second World War, lunch was taken in the School Refectory. I am quite sure providing food for energetic and growing boys during and after the conflict must have been a nightmare for those responsible. The fare provided could be described as reasonably acceptable to fairly awful. On one occasion a friend looked at his meat, winced, looked at me and said,  “That reminds me …I have not seen Mr.Ings’ dog this week.”

Mr.Ings was the caretaker and his dog was a large Alsatian. Sadly the remark was overheard by Miss Fraser, the Matron, who was supervising the lunch. She went berserk. A master appeared in an instant and we were sent outside where the untimely arrival of the dreaded Mr.Reynolds the Headmaster added to our discomfort. That afternoon we arrived home later than usual…and hungry as well.”

Fortunately, in Easter Term 1949, sweet rationing came to an end, to the great relief of Bill Boot, the then Caretaker, who was operating the Tuck Shop at the time.

In another edition of the “Nottinghamian”, Staff Member, Bill Neville, an ex-Head of Biology, reminisced about how Bill Boot had occupied the corner room which contained D.H.Lawrence’s carved initials, in the same corridor as the Staff Room.

“Bill Boot had been for many years the School Caretaker, and later became the School Marshal. The Caretaker’s House occupied the space between the West Block and what is now the Founder Hall. Where the Caretaker’s Bungalow now stands was an open space on which stood a hut, where the CCF Signal Section was housed. When the CCF Radio Net was started in 1951 (?), a radio station, complete with aerial mast was installed, to the considerable annoyance of the then caretaker, Mr. Ings, who protested that transmissions interfered with reception on his newly installed television (9 inch, black and white screen) -he may well have been one of the earliest members of the school to have a TV set. Certainly there was no set in the school for several years to come”.

Here are those famous initials of D.H.Lawrence, Schoolboy Vandal:

P1470269 ZZZZZZZ

These photographs now show the luxurious Caretakers’ Room which was newly constructed in the early 1950s. They were taken by that very popular teacher from the past, the Reverend Charlie Stephens:

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In December 1949, F.Martin Hall and John G.Golds celebrated Bill Boot’s birthday with the following poem which appeared in “The Nottinghamian”. It was dedicated to the ever popular figure of the school caretaker and although I have already quoted it in another blogpost, I make no excuse for repeating it. …

To Bill Boot on his 70th birthday

You are old, Father William, the schoolboy said,
And your tooth is of marvellous length,
Yet your tap on the door makes the whole building rock,
Where on earth do you find all that strength ?

In my youth, said the Sage, when I fought for the Queen,
Frequent exercise, Generals demanded,
I chased Kruger each morning around Spion Kop,
Do you wonder my muscles expanded ?

You are old, Father William, the schoolboy said,
And your hair has long since turned quite grey,
Yet your voice like a clarion round the School rings,
How d’you manage such volume, I pray ?

In my youth, said the Sage, when I served with Lord “Bobs,”
His commands could not travel by wireless
So I bawled them (in code) right across the Transvaal,
And my throat, by this means, became tireless.

You are old, Father William, yet your eagle eye
Seems as bright as the stars high in heaven,
Pray, how does your eyesight thus function so well,
With no help from Aneurin Bevan ?

I have answered your questions, the wrathful Sage said,
And as sure as my name’s William B.,
If you pester me further, my patience will go,
So be off, or I’ll put you in D.

(With apologies to Lewis Carroll. In the last verse it was considered impolite to suggest that Mr. Boot would actually threaten to kick anyone downstairs.)”

William “Bill” Boot was to retire in December 1950 after twenty-eight years’ service. He was replaced by Mr.T.H.Briggs, who had previously worked as a policeman in the city. Bill Boot had fought in the Boer War, and was famed for his rapid, shuffling gait, and his extremely rapid speech, which, with his accent, was frequently almost unintelligible. His hobby was fishing, and he travelled widely at weekends. When he retired, he received a small pension, but, alas, did not live very long to enjoy it, as he was sadly killed while crossing the road on December 7th 1952. Another victim, perhaps, of the “Curse of the High School Caretaker”.

The caretaker’s house, which was only a yard or two away from the entrance to the Founder Hall, was demolished in April 1965. This photograph shows the land during one of its many transition points:

no caretakers' house

The present day bungalow was built for Mr and Mrs Oldham, the School Caretaker and his First Lady. At the end of August 1976 though, poor Eric Oldham collapsed and died one sunny Saturday evening, as he walked round the school, locking up all the gates. Another popular man, the “Nottinghamian” described him as “one of the school’s most devoted servants and a warm hearted friend”:

mr oldham

Two memorable characters then appeared on the scene as School Caretakers. The first was Tony Hatcher:

tony hatcher

The second was Ray Eastwood. Together they were two of the nicest men I ever had the privilege to meet during my 38 years at the High School. Ray Eastwood was to retire as School Caretaker after many years’ valuable service, on Thursday, January 31st 2008.  He was an unfailingly nice man who always did his very best to be helpful. He always carried what appeared to be the largest bunch of keys in the world:

ray cccccccc

Neither Ray Eastwood nor his colleague, Tony Hatcher, will ever be forgotten by those who had the privilege of knowing them.



Filed under History, Nottingham, The High School

27 responses to “Caretakers? The people who take care of us : Part Four

  1. Nice story. Good research. I have come across reports before of military damage to country houses and public buildings. Help for Heroes – I don’t think so!

  2. This series has been a fitting tribute to the oft unsung. I well remember my primary school caretaker, for a rather embarrassing reason:

    • That is a pretty scary story, Derrick! I only ever hit one boy in all my years and I was immediately very, very uncomfortable with it. Mind you, my sarcasm was occasionally world class!

      • It was very different in the 1940s. Thanks for reading

      • BehindPlod

        It was probably a year or so before you joined the NHS but I do remember one of your colleagues (he had only just joined the staff) chucking a board rubber across E8. Unfortunately his aim was not quite so well honed as the more experienced masters and he managed to hit The Duke’s son square on the head. I’m prettty sure he saw his teaching career going down the tube at that very moment. But, it being the 70s nothing happened – Siggy should have ducked.!

  3. These series must have brought back a ton of memories for you, John. I am wondering if the Alsatian was ever seen again ? The Matron and Headmaster do seem to have over-reacted to your friend’s off-hand remark about the dog. This has been a fantastic series for men who as a rule are overlooked when it comes to the scheme of things.

    • Actually, the account I read didn’t mention the dog, so perhaps he did go to join the great meat pie in the sky. And yes, I am pleased that I have made my own contribution so that these unsung heroes are not all forgotten.

  4. In a crowd like that, I would bet more than one made the same comment about the missing dog! (see below for reply)

  5. Very neat and precise report on the unsung heroes of elementary schools.

  6. I’ve really enjoyed this series. I have a background as a historian – it makes me curious about places like this. You did a great job with both research and telling the stories, making me have a real mental image of what all of these people looked like. Thanks for sharing it with us!

    • Thank you for your very kind words. I am glad that you enjoyed the series. I always think that the “little men” should have a bit more of the lime light cast on them from time to time. Without all their efforts, we would be lost!

  7. A fabulous series of posts John. I too recently came across an example of the military causing so much damage that the building, a stately home, had to be demolished. These people, who keep the schools going, really are wonderful souls, I’ve yet to come across one who was not liked by all those who crossed their paths. A great tribute to them all.

  8. Thank you so much for sharing.

  9. Charles Francis Henry Smith

    I remember working for Eric Oldham during school holidays in the 1970s. The photo show Eric on the left, the gentleman on the right was Len, who always called a mug of tea a ‘lid’ (as in the old mash cans). I remember one of Eric’s favorite sayings was “while you’re resting…”, uttered when he found you sat down having a cup of tea, and was followed by a directive to do something (while having a tea break!). Eric’s wife ran the tuck shop, first in the Founder’s Hall upstairs and then at ground level near their bungalow. Eric claimed credit for first nominating Sir Stanley Rous (the former FA and FIFA head) to officially open the Founder’s Hall.

  10. Pingback: the Reverend Charles Stephens (1) | John Knifton

  11. Andy Torr ON (1960-1967)

    Loved these posts, John – and I second every comment re those unsung heroes of our NHS schooldays. I have fond memories of both Mssrs Oldham and (Ellis?) – as well as Matron Fraser (?) when my 11-year-old face had a nasty encounter with a cricket bat during lunch break. Adam Thomas, who was on playground supervision at the time and was thus my immediate, bloodstained port of call, treated me with sympathetic kid-gloves for the rest of my school career, but sadly (for him, I suppose) I remained utter rubbish at History.

    • Thank you. I’m so glad that you enjoy my posts and I’m so glad that you appreciated the role of the caretakers wh3en you were a boy. No caretaker, no school! You can’t have a school with no heating, or no toilets and so on. And at the High School I never met a caretaker who wasn’t totally dedicated to the job, although they did frequently require cautious handling!

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