the Reverend Charles Stephens (1)

Over the years, quite a few ministers of the church have worked as Masters at the High School. One of the most memorable in recent years was the Reverend Charles H Stephens who arrived at the school in 1945. “Charlie” was a much respected teacher of Geography who served the High School well until 1978. As well as Geography, he taught at one time or another, Astronomy, Divinity, Mathematics and Modern Languages. Above all, though, he was a keen photographer who left behind him a huge number of photographs of the school, both boys, buildings and activities.

In 1990 or thereabouts, I scanned virtually all of them into the computers of the day and produced a couple of CDs of his work. I was told as my reward that I could have my own set of photographs to do with as I wished. So here we are. A quarter of a century later, I’ve finally done something to preserve his legacy in an active way.

Some of the most striking photographs were taken in early 1960 when the new block on the northern side of the West Quadrangle opened for business. This was the last part of the extensive school building scheme financed by JD Player, the cigarette millionaire and philanthropist extraordinaire. Here are the new buildings, just a few days before their opening. Notice the dots on the windows so that the builders don’t smash them:

The new buildings consisted of two spacious geography rooms, two junior form rooms, and four sixth form rooms. At half term, the members of staff moved into their first ever purpose built Common Room, nowadays called the Staff Room. The rooms on the second floor came into use in the half term after this. They were originally designed to be a music rehearsal room, a prefects’ room, a general science laboratory and a biology laboratory. The latter was considered by Mr “Bill” Neville, the Head of Biology, to be the finest in the county. The new buildings were officially opened on September 22nd 1960, by the vice-chancellor of Nottingham University.

What was most amazing about this new section of the High School were the floors. I am no expert on flooring but I think they were block parquet floors and they were absolutely amazing. They were smooth, polished and reflective, a bit like me. They were quite wonderful. And the floors in the new block were not the only ones at that time. Here is the corridor on the ground floor:

And here is the other end with what in those days was the caretakers’ room:

Here it is in glorious close-up:

Don’t forget that I did a series of four posts about the High School’s caretakers over the years. Here’s a link to the first one, and the second, and the third, and the fourth.

Here are the new geography rooms. The chairs are actually reflected in the floor:

And here is the Reverend Stephens, teaching perhaps a Year 10 or Year 11 class:




Filed under History, Nottingham, The High School

22 responses to “the Reverend Charles Stephens (1)

  1. Andy Jones

    Fascinating John. I have taken the liberty of sharing this to the ONs Facebook page – hope you don’t mind!

  2. It is a fabulous looking building which is unusual for the 1960s when town planners were doing their best to make everything functional and ugly. Do you know who the architect was?

    • Sorry, I don’t. The building was designed in the late fifties and it would have had to blend in with other bits of the school built from 1870 onwards so it was unlikely to have been very different from the rest. As far as I am aware, the usual practice has always been to use local Nottingham architects, preferably old boys because you might get mates’ rates.

      • I am always saddened by what architects and planners did to our towns in the 1950s and 60s in the stampede to rebuild in the modern style. I compare it with the French who did a much more patient and better job of rebuilding their towns to recreate rather than to replace. The Germans too I suppose. I wonder if we had Marshall Aid money too quickly and it burnt a hole in our pockets whilst those in Europe had to wait a bit longer?

        REPLY: I know that by 1945, Britain was absolutely bankrupt because of the fact that they had fought the war for six years, longer than any of the other Allies. I don’t know if we even received Marshall money but I do know that the Americans were extremely keen to receive our Lend Lease repayments which only finished in 2006, amazingly.
        Much of the available money, the Labour Government spent on establishing the NHS, the Social Services system, clearing slums and so on. Twenty years later, Nottingham suffered enormously from the 1960s planners, who demolished some wonderful old buildings. It just wouldn’t have been allowed nowadays.

  3. A treasure trove, John. I shall henceforth think of you as ‘smooth, polished, and reflective’ 🙂

  4. You don’t get floors like that anymore do you! Perhaps they should call it the Knifton floor! The building is an unusual shape, was there a reason for it do you know?

    • I think the building was designed to fit in with another building you cannot see. On the very left of the photograph you can see the much darker brickwork of the North Entrance. Beyond that is the Assembly Hall, which you cannot see. It was built by the incredible generosity of John Player, the cigarette manufacturer. The new building was supposed to be similar to, and as symmetrical as possible with, the Hall, which dates from around 1935.

      • Thank you John, that would explain the shape and different design. Did John Player have a significant link to the school, or was it simply a gift?

      • John Player was an Old Boy from the 1870s. He was a philanthropist who gave huge amounts of money away, much of it to the High School. Between 1900-1970, he paid for virtually every single new building in the school, the gym, the hall, the middle block, the east block, the west block, the North block, and the games fields. He made his money from cigarettes, of course, and apparently, the taxes he paid were worth three or four pence off the national income tax. That was when bi!!ionaires used their money for others, of course.

      • He certainly was a prominent figure and one who obviously gave back as much as he took out. A shame others couldn’t follow his lead!

  5. Ed Grummitt

    Somewhere, I have the “begging letter” which was sent to parents in 1963 (NHS 450th anniversary), asking for large sums of money for the swimming pool, new dining rooms, etc. It was actually a very professional little booklet containing some of Charlie Stephens’ photos which you’ve posted! There were some superb larger ones taken by Charlie or persons unknown: the old library before the mezzanine floor was put in – the changing rooms at Hucknall Road, (this shot seems to exude a muddy pong, even 50 odd years afterwards) – the new Music Room with I think Austen Scott and concert band – and others.
    The photos of the superb parquet flooring bring back memories of House Shoes. Once the “New Block” was opened, it was realised what appalling damage pupils’ shoes could wreak, and House Shoes were ordered to be worn when traversing the flooring. This resulted in piles of odd House Shoes, which naturally led to House Shoe fights. Obviously I know nothing of this disgraceful behaviour, as at the time I was in Charlie’s U4B1 and extremely well behaved – I have only learned of this from an ex member of U5A, who shall be nameless! Personally, I blame the influence of the Beatles.

    • The photographs I used were in the school archives, and I was allowed to scan them for my own use many years ago. In return I supplied CDs of what I had done. It was just a pity that the quality of some of the scans was not too good. By the time I was teaching at NHS the floors were not in the slightest bit shiny, which is not surprising, of course. As far as I know, they were taken up just a few years ago.

  6. Chris Waller

    The Revd. Stephens was indeed a highly competent photographer. I am very impressed by the standard of his interiors, a demanding area of photography.

  7. Jan

    Chas’s form room was certainly not that neat and tidy by the middle 70s, but his slide projector still had pride of place.

    It’s hard to believe that the projector was just about the most advanced piece of educational technology in the school – not even a TV as I recall.

    For anyone who wants a copy of this post I will Banda it.

    • I don’t know when the school first acquired a television set, but even in my time there from 1975 onwards, the staff’s technical knowledge was often far from impressive. One member of staff managed to insert a VHS tape backwards on one occasion. If you still have an old VHS recorder, try that one for yourself!

    • Ed Grummitt

      Jan, the reference to Banda really made me laugh – it was still used at Barclays Bank as late as 1970. I try to tell my son and daughter about stuff like that but it doesn’t seem to compute.

  8. Jeremy Fearon

    The High School was not the only beneficiary of Players money. Nottingham University received large donations and the village hall at Whatton was paid for by Players. I worked for the company for 8 years and the factories in Radford built during the 1930s featured large underground air raid shelters used by the employees and the population of Radford and Bobbers Mill during the war. The tunnels were carved out of the sandstone and it was quite an experience to be able to walk most of the way to Hyson Green underground where there were other public entrances to the tunnel system.

    • Thank you very much for your contribution, Jeremy.
      JD Player was a wonderful man and a fine example to all those grasping American trillionaires who wouldn’t dream of sharing their money with anybody. I shall be doing a series of blog posts in the near future called “Why isn’t there a statue?” and that will certainly include John Dane Player as well as many other selfless men who have either been born or have lived in Nottingham.
      Hopefully, you will allow me to quote the details you have supplied, all of which are news to me and many other people I suspect!

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