Why no statue ? (6) John Player

Last time, I was talking about how the High School’s most philanthropic Old Boy, John Dane Player, had set up wonderful leisure facilities for his tobacco company’s employees. All kind of sports were catered for and there was even a company newspaper called “Navy Cuttings”. John Player’s generosity didn’t stop there, though. Mr and Mrs Player did not have any children of their own and they donated extremely generous sums of money to the Nottingham Children’s Hospital, as well as to the Nottingham General Hospital. In 1933, for example, he donated £25,000 to the General Hospital (£1.8 million today). In 1927, he had already given a total of £50,000 to extend Nottingham Children’s Hospital (£3.2 million today). Here’s the original Children’s Hospital, on Chestnut Grove, just off the Mansfield Road :

At the Children’s Hospital, John Player served on the management committee, attending weekly meetings and visiting the children almost daily for the rest of his life. When he died in 1950, he had donated £180,000 to the Children’s Hospital (worth an absolute minimum of £6.2 million in today’s money, and considerably more in real terms as the buying power of the pound was much greater in years gone by.)

Here Princess Mary is accompanied by Mr John Player at the opening of the Player Wing on April 30th 1927. You can probably guess who paid for it all:

Away from the hospital donations, Nottingham University received large amounts of money from John Player, who also paid for a great many convalescent homes, churches and church halls, including St. Margaret’s church on Aspley Lane and the village hall at Whatton. Here’s St Margaret’s:

In November 1903, Old Boy, John Dane Player became a Governor of Nottingham High School. His acceptance was typically modest…

“Nothing would give me greater pleasure than to be a Governor of my old School; please convey to the Governing Body my thanks. I much appreciate the honour they have done me.”

His first gift was a cheque for £300 (£36,717 in today’s terms). He soon became one of the founders and main supporters of the Dame Agnes Mellers Lads’ Club.

By 1933, he had paid for several new High School buildings including the Gymnasium and the newly converted Library. He had already paid for the East Block. Then it was a new cycle shed, a Sixth Form darkroom, a junior science laboratory, a second science lecture room and a new cloakroom. He had also bought the Valley Road playing fields for the school and then provided them with a school Assembly Hall. After that he financed the plan whereby the Middle Block was demolished to build new science laboratories as well as a new three storey West Block. Even five years after his death, the North Block was constructed largely due to his generosity. In actual fact, very little of the major building in the school between 1868-1960 was not directly due to the generosity of John Player.

Here’s an aerial view of the High School in the 1950s. If you find the main entrance steps (bottom left, one o’clock from the circular walkway around the war memorial), they lead to the old building from the 1860s, which is roughly a dozen windows wide. The rest is all down to John Player, and the gap in what is, very roughly, the rather angular figure eight of the school, will be filled by the North Block, five years after John Player’s death. Even readers who have never seen the High School might be able to pick out the West Block, the East Block, the Middle Block,  the Assembly Hall and, by a process of elimination, the Gymnasium.

We still have some photographs of the building process. This is the Assembly Hall in the mid-thirties:

The Assembly Hall, incidentally, was never consecrated as a Christian site of worship, and this wise decision allowed it to be used for plays, debates, concerts and functions. It was the Headmaster, Mr Reynolds, who devised the system whereby, if the School Bible was resting on its lectern, then the hall was a Place of Worship, but if it was not there, then the building was being used for secular purposes. Mr Reynolds wanted to call it the Player Hall, but this was resisted by John Player himself, who said that it should not be a “Player’s Hall, but a Workers’ Hall.”

This is the North Block being erected in the late fifties, early sixties:

John Dane Player paid for some of the shiniest floors in the world. Player’s Parquet with a current street value of £8 million:

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Despite his immense wealth, John Dane Player was a very modest man. His own admiration was reserved for the brilliant scholars the High School turned out at that time. On one occasion, he is known to have said to a fellow Old Boy:

“I was no good at school. Were you? ”

Those brilliant scholars are largely gone and forgotten, of course, and it was they who benefited from the High School, rather than vice versa. Indeed, one is tempted to wonder where the High School would be now, were it not for John Dane Player.

Incidentally, I have been unable to trace the first two photographs. If anybody has a genuine problem with them, then please contact me.




Filed under History, Nottingham, The High School

17 responses to “Why no statue ? (6) John Player

  1. GP

    Quite a guy! The billionaires of today should learn from Mr. Player!

    • I am absolutely with you on that one! They build up their fortunes gold brick by gold brick and to what purpose? I read recently that one of these billionaires could afford easily, to buy every single person in the USA a Big Mac and Fries. And what then? A really good pizza?
      They could well take Andrew Carnegie as their model. I had a library to visit when I was six or seven years old, courtesy of Mr Carnegie, and I’m sure today’s wealthiest could manage a little bit better than that, if they put their minds to it. How about a university or two, with free places for clever poor kids, and no fee paying places at all ? There’s a start for them!

  2. You have made a good case for a statue but there would be so many objections that it is unlikely to succeed.

    • Yes, I suppose that that is right, but the fact is that in Player’s time, cigarettes were seen as helping people both in this country, and in the USA. They were supposedly good for asthma and other lung problems , and the word “addiction” was never used about them until Player had been dead for at least thirty years.
      Arguing about statues is good fun, but to me, there is a subtle difference when the money was earned by selling something that was reckoned to be beneficial to the health of one and all and was fully approved by everyone.
      Certainly, nobody said a word when soldiers waiting to go “over the top” were given cigarettes to calm their nerves by the YMCA, Salvation Army, Toc H and other Christian groups.
      Having said that, though, I won’t hold my breath for the statue, not that I can after all those fags at university.

      • That advert says it all. In my opinion, it all boils down to the fact that nobody ever said in 1952 that cigarettes were bad for you. And I realised, thinking to myself this afternoon, that John Player did not actively do anything bad. He made cigarettes and it was your choice whether you bought them or just walked on past the shop.
        If we go, though, to the man whose statue was thrown in the harbour, he got his money from slavery. He hit you over the head and took you to the USA, where your life was about as miserable as it can get. You had no say in what happened to you. And that’s a huge difference from people choosing to buy “ten Number Six, please”.

  3. Wow. I love men like him who are selfless.

    • Absolutely. And it’s a very great pity that today’s wealthiest can’t take a leaf from Player’s book. Over here we have so many rich young soccer players, earning perhaps up to half a million pounds a week, but the majority of them seem to concentrate on buying luxury cars, just about the worst way to spend your money.
      As they invariably come from poor backgrounds, why don’t these young men do something to improve the area where they grew up? A hospital, perhaps, or a school would be nice.

  4. Fascinating as always John. The school certainly owes John Player a great deal, he certainly put a lot of money and effort into it!

    • Thank you for those kind words. Before 1970, there was only a very small number of classrooms that he hadn’t financed. I don’t think that there would even be a school of the standard it now is, had it not been for John Player.
      Today, of course, the school has many philanthropists who have taken Player’s place. Chief among them is a man called Harry Djanogly who has financed a Music School, a Design Centre and a Science Block. Out in the city of Nottingham, he has paid for the Djanogly City Academy, the Djanogly Community Leisure Centre, the Djanogly Community Orchestra, the Djanogly Concert Hall, the Djanogly Theatre, and the Djanogly Gallery.

  5. Thank you for sharing about John Dane Player. I like your posts.

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