Tag Archives: Arboretum Street

Nottingham High School on ebay (2)

As well as not buying a rather expensive medallion on ebay, I have actually bought a postcard or two over the years. The first one was sent on October 27th 1926. It is stamped with an 8.00 pm postmark, so I presume that it was written earlier that day and then posted perhaps before dinner, or, more likely perhaps, on the sender’s way home from work. It was a Wednesday, which in those days would have been half day closing, so he probably left work at 1.00 pm and put it into the post box on his way home:

Notice how the Post Office slogan is “British Goods are best”. Only a few months after the General Strike, the economy was in real need of a boost if further discontent and upheaval was to be avoided. Notice too, the beautiful, classic stamp. King George V was a fanatical stamp collector, and loved nothing better of an evening than sticking his stamps in his thousand albums. When you’re an emperor, this is the album for you:

The postcard is addressed to NG Peet of 2 Gorsey Close in Mapperley Park. I couldn’t trace a Gorsey Close but I did find a Gorsey Road. Here is a close up view of the area. Gorsey Road is between the B684 Woodborough Road and Mapperley Road, in Mapperley Park, one of Nottingham’s leafier suburbs. Look as always for the orange arrow.  No 2 is on the corner with the B684, Woodborough Road. :

If you look at this larger map, you can see that Gorsey Road is not too far away from the High School which is in the bottom left corner in the area between Arboretum Street, Forest Road East and Waverley Street. The School is on the corner either side of the pale green patch. Gorsey Road, I should have said, is again indicated by the orange arrow.

This is No 2 Gorsey Road now, a little overgrown perhaps, and in a street which looks to have gone a little downhill, but obviously, it was a very beautiful house in its time:

The Peet family had only recently moved to Gorsey Close when that postcard arrived in the late evening of October 27th 1926. In the Kelly’s Directory published in 1925, their future abode was owned by Edward Westwick Kirk of Kirk & Macdonald. The Head of the Family, WG Peet, was living at that time at 249 Woodborough Road, presumably with everyone else in the family. Here it is:

Three years or so later, when all of the information had been collected for the 1928 edition of the Kelly’s Directory, the house in Gorsey Road was now recorded as being occupied by Mrs Ann Elizabeth Peet. She was presumably NG Peet’s mother, rather than his wife. At this time her son was still in his early twenties and it is by no means surprising that he was still living in the parental home. There is certainly no NG Peet listed as living elsewhere in Nottingham, nor indeed in the rest of the county.

In 1929, the High School prepared its own list of the Old Boys’ addresses. In that, NG Peet is listed as still living at 2 Gorsey Close although it could just be that they carried an old address forward.

NG Peet, incidentally, I should have introduced him earlier. He is Noel Gordon Peet, who was born on December 26th 1901, hence the name. His father was William George Peet who was a “General Agent”. Six years later, in 1925, the relevant Kelly’s Directory listed William George Peet as working for “WG Peet, Son & Company”. By 1928, he is listed as a “yarn merchant” operating from Kaye’s Walk. His telephone number was listed as “TN 42769” and his telegraphic address as “Knitiarns”.

Noel entered the High School on April 26th 1917, at the age of 15. He was Boy No 3662 and he stayed there until July 1919. At this time, 1917 at least, the family was living at 413 Mansfield Road. Here’s 413 Mansfield Road, in spirit a very similar house to 2 Gorsey Road. I’m a huge lover of trees, but these need a tree surgeon and his assistant for a day and the whole place would look so much better:

Noel packed a lot into his two and a bit years at the High School. He won the Fifth Form B Prize in 1918 and the Fifth Form Writing Prize in the same year. In 1919, he won the Sixth Form B Prize. In the Officer Training Corps, he became a Corporal in 1918 and a Sergeant in 1919. In cricket, he won the School Prize for Batting in the same year.  He had 13 innings and scored a total of 144 runs at an average of 11.07. His top score was 36. Not a classic season for the School apparently !

Also listed in the High School’s list of Old Boys in 1929 was William Ronald Peet, Noel’s younger brother. He too is recorded as living at No 2 Gorsey Close. He was born on October 9th 1910 and entered the High School as Boy No 4036 on May 1st 1919. He left in December 1926 at the end of the First Term. By the time William entered the School, the family had moved from Mansfield Road and were living at Sutherland Lodge in Lucknow Drive in Mapperley Park. The boys’ father is listed as a “manager”. Lucknow Drive, or rather the word “Lucknow”, is visible in the top right corner of the second map above.

Did anything significant happen on the day the postcard was posted, namely October  27th 1926, anywhere in the world ? Well, nothing really earth shattering, but there was one episode which I found quite amusing. Here’s a clue, with a picture of a Shipstone’s Brewery beer crate and some of their products:

Shipstone’s Brewery lasted from 1852-1991. I always felt that it was, at best, an acquired taste. Anyway, here’s the funny story to finish with. It comes from ‘Hansard’ which records everything said by everybody in debates in the Houses of Parliament. The story came out because Labour Party MP, Alfred Salter, was censured in the House of Commons for refusing to retract remarks of his that had appeared in the Daily Express:

 “I am not prepared to withdraw, modify or apologise for anything I have said on this matter, and I propose to repeat the words I made use of and about which complaint has been made.

I said, and I repeat it here to-day, that I have seen members of all parties in this House, my own party I regret to say included, drunk in this House not on one occasion but on many.”

A motion was passed calling the statement “a gross libel on the Members of this House and a grave breach of its privileges.”

 

 

 

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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:

South-Nottinghamshire-Hussars-Badge_grande

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.

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

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

In July 1950, Miss S.J.Webb, a teacher who was retiring after 23 years’ service in the Preparatory School for Boys from 7-11 years of age, had her “Memories of the Old Preparatory” published in the School Magazine:

“When I came in 1917, there were four Forms, 1A, 1B, 1C and 1D, and they occupied the four front rooms of houses No. 9 and No. 11, Miss Richmond was in charge and she and I lived in No.11. Mrs. Richardson was caretaker and as there was no dining hall, she provided dinner…for about twenty-two boys from the senior school. Her dinners soon became very popular, especially her puddings of which there always seemed an unfailing supply, and which were of a kind that usually finds favour with a hungry boy. The Prep. boys went home to dinner. This was possible as we had a very long dinner hour and in those days meat coupons had to be given up at each meal where meat was provided. Talking of caretakers, I can see old Holmes, caretaker of the big school, going down the steps and jangling a bunch of keys, calling out to the boys : “Doctor’s orders is . . .” (referring to Dr. Turpin, the Headmaster). His hobby was birds and his house seemed full of them:

m_budgie

He lived in the house now occupied by Mr.Ings on Waverley Mount, only it looked very different then. The Old Prep. was a very happy, busy, place and yet how leisurely compared with to-day! (1950)”

When Robert Holmes, the school’s eccentric and beloved caretaker, retired in the early 1920s, the following poem appeared in “The Nottinghamian”, in celebration of  an individual who was universally known as “Robert”. Almost totally deaf, and a great favourite of the boys, Robert was well-known for his poems, which he would pay to have printed, and then distribute himself around the school, to both boys and staff. In this way, for example, he celebrated the end of the Great War. Most unfortunately, few of his poems appear to have survived to the present day, although it may well be that the following effort, by “FROG”, is in the style of the great man. It starts by expressing the writer’s regrets at having eaten too many little cakes in Robert’s tuck shop:

TO ROBERT.

I.
Ah ! Robert, would that I could be
As free from pain as when
I had not yet gone on the “spree”
In thine enticing den!
When I did buy a penny cake.
And had a joyous chew,
I little thought that tummy ache
Would make me want to – – – – !
II.
And yet I curse my cruel fate
That I must parted be
From thee. O man of mighty weight
Who bid’st “good-day” to me
When up the steps of N.H.S.
At one past nine I race…..
Thou let’st me in, so heaven bless
Thy brightly beaming face,
III
In heat, in cold, in wet, in dry,
I hear thy morning bell
And sometimes if I’m lucky, I
Get in, and then all’s well:
But oft I’m late, and then, Ah Woe!
With fifty lines I’m vexed,
Or in detention have to go –
(Yes muse? Thank you for next.)

IV.
My muse forsakes me wherefore here
Mine eloquence I’ll stay;
Before I go away
May Allah ever champion thee,
And bless thy kind old heart —
Yes, Robert ? Doctor’s orders, eh?
All right, I will depart!

This cartoon of Robert appeared in “The Nottinghamian” in July 1922.  It was his job to ring the school bell:

ringing bell arly

In 1923, sadly, both Robert, the School Caretaker, and his wife passed on. Robert had always been a writer of very vivid letters, and, as we have seen, he wrote much poetry. This is how he celebrated the early days of the Cadet Corps…

“If you look through them gates
You’ll see Captain Yates
A-drilling of boys by the score.
So come on, my lads,
Get leave of your dads
And join the High School Corps.”

This seems to have been the only single one of Robert’s celebrated poems to have survived. It is extremely reminiscent of Pam Ayres, a very successful poet of the 1970s and 1980s.

During this period in the 1920s, many boys used the extensive rail network which criss-crossed the county at this time. Local stations included the Victoria Station, from which there was a long and tiring trudge up a never ending hill to the High School, firstly along Shakespeare Street and then up Waverley Street. Here is the long demolished station:

nottingham(c1903)victoria_old51

Quite often, the boys who were late would be able to hear the caretaker distantly tolling the school bell, and this event was later to be described by a great author,  D.H.Lawrence himself.  Another station which many boys used to use was on the far side of the Forest, at what is now the eastern end of Gregory Boulevard. Those boys could then make use of the many footpaths which came up the hill towards the school, around the back of the Church Cemetery. The “Train Boys” of course, were continually subject to the vagaries of the railway system, but, at the same time, they were famed for their ability to use this to explain away their extreme lateness, absence of homework etc. etc

cartoon of train boys

On the evening of Tuesday, June 16th 1925, a simply dreadful event occurred.  Mr.Hallam, the School Caterer, shot and killed a fox. the so-called “Mrs.Reynard”, and surely one of Nottingham’s first ever urban foxes. This cruel man provided a very sharp contrast with Robert Holmes, the Caretaker,who had loved all of God’s creatures.

The fox was a vixen who had been a particular favourite of the senior boys and who had introduced them to “unknown parts of the shrubbery”, in front of the school, where they had been able to take a keen interest in her activities. One prefect had even ruined his trousers by following her through the dense undergrowth:

Fox_009

One day, however, the fox went too far, and allegedly attacked the School Caretaker’s cat. The School Caretaker then asked Mr.Hallam, the School Caterer, for help, and the latter turned up one evening “in the playground armed to the teeth with a gun and two tame rabbits.” The staff and their wives, playing on the tennis courts, were then rather amazed to see Mr.Hallam leave the two tame rabbits on the lawn and await developments. Sure enough, the fox soon arrived, attempted to eat the rabbits, and was promptly shot dead.

The “Shrubbery” was a dense jungle of vegetation at the front of the school at this time. Nowadays, it has been opened up and gentrified somewhat, as the Lower Lawns. The jungle certainly appears thick enough to allow naughty boys, or naughty young men, to smoke a cigarette or two in there at break. This old postcard shows just how dense the foliage was:

front schoollll

This article will be concluded in the near future.

 

 

 

 

 

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

This is the first 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 I first became a teacher, my Dad, who had spent most of his life doing exactly that same job, gave me some valuable advice. He asked me “Who is the most important person in any school?”

I gave him a list of likely candidates, but he dismissed them all as incorrect by some margin. The correct answer of course, was “The caretaker.” If there is no Head Teacher, it’s no problem, and lessons will go on. A teacher is missing, off sick? Somebody else will cover the lessons, no problem. No caretaker and the toilets are blocked? No school, we all have to go home!”

caret

I have found it more or less impossible, though, to create a complete list of High School caretakers over the last 150 or so years, because such men are quite simply not considered to be important enough to be remembered, unlike Headmasters, the names of which are all displayed on the wall behind the Reception Desk.

That is not to say, however, that the High School does not value its caretakers very highly. In school magazines such as “The Nottinghamian” and before that, “The Forester”, there are many affectionate reminiscences either by or about the school’s caretakers. And in these reminiscences, it soon becomes abundantly clear that the High School’s caretakers have always been very popular, well loved figures, especially with the boys.

William Knowles Keach was one of the very first caretakers, towards the end of the nineteenth century. His daughter provided some trips down Memory Lane from the period 1880-1883…

“My father, Mr.Keach, was the first caretaker of the School when it was moved to its present site in 1868 ; he remained until about 1890 : for some unknown reason, he was always known as Knowles, or by the affectionate nickname “Knolley”. He was initially employed by Lawyer Patchett , a leading Nottingham figure. My father was an expert at his work for which he received 13s. 0d. a week, but lost his pay during “wet time.”, that is to say, periods when rain forced him to wait inside for the weather to improve. Mr.Patchett suggested to my father that he should try for the job at the new school which was being built. Naturally, my mother was consulted, and she thought it “a good thing, Bill” since the wage was to be 18s. 0d. a week, plus house, coal and gas, with no loss of money in wet weather. Children, however, were frowned upon, but my father gave an assurance that there would be no trouble, and his application was successful. The caretaker’s house was at that time a part of the school building and consisted of a kitchen and parlour on the ground floor, a cellar and three bedrooms upstairs – one over the side door, another over the bay window, and the third over Mr Liddell’s classroom (later 4A room). I was born in this house in 1870, and lived there with my father and mother, three brothers and three sisters. The family did all the caretaking and cleaning in the school. My father was also responsible for the upkeep of the grounds and garden:

front schoollll

He did all the lawn mowing, and supervised the removal of the sandstone when the yard and gardens of to-day were excavated – no small task. In winter we helped him to clear snow from the paths. For general repairs a Mr. Rushworth was called in. He was known as “quarter-to-three” feet, on account of the way he walked!

In those days the school yard was all open country, with grass and gorse bushes. There was no wall on Forest Road, a street where windmills still stood or had perhaps only recently disappeared. There were no railings on Arboretum Street, just a rough fence. The grounds immediately around the buildings consisted of sandstone outcrops, loose sand and plantations of trees and shrubs, some of which were on the site of the present caretaker’s house and the present Music Room, though at a higher level. Here is some of that loose sand, still there in the 1930s:

one west

The Headmaster, Dr, Dixon, lived in the end house of Waverley Mount (then called Clarendon Road). This house later became part of the “Preparatory School.”, and was demolished to build the present building. The other part of the large house was occupied by Mr. Taylor, the veterinarian. Many years later the great “Drawing Room” with its barrel roof was built on top of the north wing, and our house had to be partly demolished to make way for it. The present caretaker’s house was then built. Mr.Tait was responsible for the erection, under Mr.Patchett’s direction, and Mr.Jelly was the joiner for the Drawing Room. There was a bit of jealousy between them about the cost.”

In 1880 a new and rather grand sounding Porter’s Lodge was completed to the south east of what is now called Waverley Mount. Previously, Mr.Keach, aka Mr.Knowles,  had lived with his family in a room at the southern end of the class-room corridor (near present day W2). As mentioned above, his wife had given birth to at least one baby in this rather cramped accommodation. Young Miss Keach appears to be the only baby ever born in the High School, unless, of course, somebody knows better….

Mr.Knowles, as School Caretaker, had the duty of locking up all the gates on Forest Road at 2.15p.m.  His greatest delight was to lock up just before the appointed time, and then beam at the small batch of boys who came running up from the Forest, where they had stayed to see the first horse race, which was generally timed to start at 2 o’clock. This meant their running round Waverley Street to another school entrance and a bad mark if they were late! Here is the Forest in the 1880s, looking down towards the horse racing course:

forest

Mr.Knowles was also remembered for the occasions when he would come to put extra coal on the huge coal fires which were used to heat every classroom. If the Master’s desk was sited in the correct position, “Knolley” was able to go up behind the Master with his dirty, blackened, coal encrusted hands and pretend to move forward and seize the Master’s often bald head, as if to leave black sooty handprints on it. This caused enormous merriment among the watching schoolboys.

This marvellous photograph shows the school at the end of the nineteenth century. Notice the many chimneys all contained in large chimney stacks, and all obviously requiring frequent injections of fresh coal. Notice also the three boys lounging at the corner of the building. Their companion is sitting on the edge of the tennis court:

west end of school

On Wednesday, December 21st 1898 the High School broke up for Christmas, and Mr.Knowles, now the School Porter, retired after thirty three years of service. The school prefects had organised a collection, and the boys of the school contributed over £33. This enormous sum of money was used to purchase a “handsome easy chair, and a case of silver spoons”. The balance, a total of twenty five sovereigns, was presented to Mr.and Mrs.Knowles by W.A.Blackwall and the other prefects, together with a beautifully illuminated address.

This article will be continued in the near future.

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Where did those three “merles” come from? Part Two

Last time, I posed a number of questions about the three black birds on the school crest, the so-called “merles”, and the coats of arms of a number of different families with the surname Meller, Mellers, Mellor and even Mellors:

Notts Crest COLOUR xxxxxxxxxxx

If you remember, I was far from convinced that there was any connection between Dame Agnes and any of these families, the closest of them a minimum of a week’s journey away in Manchester. I was equally doubtful about the existence of “merles” as a bird in English heraldry. Indeed, overall, in English, the word “merle” does not really seem to relate particularly strongly to birds at all.

Wikipedia, for example, states that “merle” is a first name used by both men and women, a surname of French origin, a rather beautiful pattern in dogs’ coats, another name for the wine grape Merlot, a German glider originally built in 1938 for the 1940 Olympics gliding competition, a Crusader fort near Tantura on the coast of Israel and finally mentions the fact that the MS Phocine, a ferry, was originally named MS Merle.

In the bird world, Wikipedia states that it is a name for the “Icterid varieties of which the male is predominantly black, especially the Common Blackbird, Turdus merula.” The first word is the Latin for thrush, and “merula” means Blackbird.
I need to say here that “Icterids” are exclusively American birds such as grackles, orioles, cowbirds, meadowlarks and bobolinks:

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Back to Wikipedia, which continues with the fact that “merula” gives the French their word “merle” and also gives the Scots their word “merl”. According to Wiktionary, it is also an “English 19th century bird name from merle, blackbird, possibly also a variant of Muriel”. That is in itself quite interesting as many common birds in Merrye Olde Englande had their own human names. Jack Daw. Mag Pie. Jenny Wren, Robin Redbreast. Sparrows were called Philip because of their chirping call. A modern equivalent would be the Soviet ruler, Joe Starling.
Very tenuous links between Dame Agnes and merles therefore, made all the more tenuous by another, etymological, dictionary,  which states that “merle” is a late fifteenth century word which nowadays “owes its survival in modern times to its use by Scottish poets.” And how many fifteenth century Scottish poets can you name? Or any living, modern ones come to that?
Scotland, of course, is even further away from Dame Agnes than Manchester. And just in case you see a possible link between Dame Agnes and the “late fifteenth century”, don’t forget that the alleged Mellers’ coat of arms wasn’t ever used by her, and first appeared only in 1808.

Sooooo, where did that coat of arms come from?

Well, just for a moment, let’s go back to that idea that Dame Agnes was a lifelong staunch Roman Catholic with a very real fear of Hell for wrongdoers, especially those who might have cheated their customers a bit, perhaps when they were flogging them very large and very expensive bells.

One evening, sitting comatose in front of our TV set, I happened to see this coat of arms on a documentary programme as the camera panned down the High Street of a famous city:

Canterbu
The city was, of course, Canterbury. But where did the City of Canterbury find those striking and exciting  black birds? Well, it’s not a huge surprise:

Becket-arms

The shield above is that of Thomas Becket also known as Saint Thomas of Canterbury, Thomas of London, and later Thomas à Becket. Born in December of probably 1118 or 1120, he became Archbishop of Canterbury in 1162 but was then martyred in Canterbury Cathedral on December 20th 1170 by followers of Henry II, namely Reginald fitzUrse, Hugh de Morville, William de Tracy, and Richard le Breton.

Here is an account of the slaying, written by eyewitness Edward Grim. Edward must have been an extremely brave man. Completely unarmed, the young clerk stood up to four knights dressed in chain mail, all of them equipped with the heavy savage swords of the era. Edward was gravely wounded in the incident, as he tried in vain to protect Becket (Reader discretion is advised):

“The wicked knight leapt suddenly upon him, cutting off the top of the crown of his head. Next he received a second blow on the head, but still he stood firm and immovable. At the third blow he fell on his knees and elbows, offering himself a living sacrifice, and saying in a low voice, “For the name of Jesus and the protection of the Church, I am ready to embrace death.” But the third knight inflicted a terrible wound as he lay prostrate. By this stroke, the crown of his head was separated from the head in such a way that the blood white with the brain, and the brain no less red from the blood, dyed the floor of the cathedral:

Murder_of_Thomas_BecketThe same clerk who had entered with the knights (not Edward Grim) placed his foot on the neck of the holy priest and precious martyr, and, horrible to relate, scattered the brains and blood about the pavements, crying to the others, ‘Let us away, knights; this fellow will arise no more.”

640px-English_-_Martyrdmasxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

Soon after this famously gory death, Thomas was promoted to sainthood by Pope Alexander III. Canterbury Cathedral subsequently became the most important centre of pilgrimage in England, most famously for Geoffrey Chaucer.

The birds on Thomas à Becket’s shield have red feet and red beaks and they are nowadays called “choughs”, although apparently in medieval times, they were often referred to by pilgrims as “beckitts”.

chough_nb_tcm9-94034

I feel sure that there is some kind of clue here:

columbo

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Where did those three “merles” come from? Part One

Not many people would be able to answer this question.

What exactly is “Ermine a Lozenge Argent charged with three Blackbirds rising proper on a Chief Gules an open Book also proper garnished Or between two Ducal Coronets of the last.” ?

Well, it’s one of these, more or less. What’s a lozenge between friends?:

Notts Crest COLOUR xxxxxxxxxxx

The origin of the High School’s coat of arms has always been, to me, a major enigma. Apparently, there has always supposed to have been a connection between the arms of Dame Agnes’ family, namely “Mellers” and another family called Mellor, who lived in Mellor, a village between Stockport and Glossop.

(Where?)

(Well, let’s put it this way. in either town you can easily get a bus to Manchester. It’s a distance of some seven miles and twelve miles respectively)

Here is their coat of arms:

0mellor coat of

To me though there is quite a difference in spelling between Mellor and Mellers, although the Mellor coat of arms is obviously a reasonable fit with the school’s crest.

This theory, though, does rely almost totally on the supposition that Richard Mellers was related to this “Family in the North” whose coat of arms displayed three black birds. In actual fact, there is no reason to suppose any proven link whatsoever between the two families. After all, it’s a very long way between Nottingham and Stockport in late medieval times. More than ninety miles, in fact. The best part of a week on foot, not counting any unexpected meetings with Robin Hood and his Merrie Men.

Let’s look at a small number of other likely coats of arms. Let’s start with Mellers. It should be said that Dame Agnes herself always spelt her name as “Mellers” (but never as “Mellor”):

For “Mellers”, we find very few coats of arms, but there is this one:

meller_c

Let’s try “Meller”. We do find this one, and furthermore, the very same shield is listed elsewhere as “Mellers” :

meller_cThat’s not the answer, though,, because we also find this shield for Meller, as well:

meller-ireland

And this one:

meller_large irish

And this one:

Smeller red

Clearly, something, somewhere, is not quite right. It may even be very wrong. There are problems here, and the first major one may well be connected with the simple issue of the spelling of Dame Agnes’ surname. Despite her own insistence on Mellers, mentioned above, a quick look at “Google Images” will reveal that Mellers, Mellor, Meller and probably Mellors, appear to be disturbingly interchangeable.Coats of arms just seem to come and go. They are different every tine you look at Google. This is because, I suspect, they are connected less with accurate heraldry than the desire to sell tee-shirts, mugs, key rings, ties and even underpants with your family crest on them.

Those black birds on the High School shield have always been regarded as Blackbirds, an everyday bird species in England:

blackbird

The theory is that the heraldic word for a blackbird is “merle”, taken from the French, and this gives us a devilishly funny pun for the surname “Mellers”. Such side splitters are called “Canting Arms”. They are used to  establish a visual pun, as in the following examples:

canting
I am just not sure about this word “merle”. Just because a coat of arms contains a number of black birds (as opposed to green ones), that does not automatically mean that we are dealing with canting arms, even if the French word “merle” refers to our familiar back garden bird, the Blackbird, aka turdus merula, and the name “Mellers” sounds perhaps, possibly, maybe, slightly, conceivably, like it.

What is more disturbing, though, is the discovery that “merle” appears to mean absolutely nothing whatsoever in English Heraldry. On Amazon, the search for “Heraldry” reveals five books, all with the same title. It is “A Complete Guide to Heraldry” by A.C.Fox-Davis:

fox daviesThis rather old book is the standard work on English Heraldry and has been for quite a considerable time. It is a book of some 645 pages, but there is not a single “merle” on any one of them.  And more important still, if merles did actually exist in Heraldry, then why did the Heralds’ College, known also as the College of Arms, call these birds “blackbirds” when they made that formal grant-of-arms to the school as recently as 1949? Why didn’t they call them “merles” and thereby preserve the “Laugh, I nearly died” visual pun?
And don’t think that the College of Arms are just a bunch of fly-by-night door-to-door sellers of heraldic key rings and underwear. They were founded well before Dame Agnes Mellers, in fact as far back as 1484. To quote the definition on the Heraldry Society website:

“The College of Arms is the only official English authority for confirming the correctness of armorial ensigns — Arms, Crests, Supporters and Badges — claimed by descent from an armigerous ancestor, or for granting new ones to those who qualify for them.”

In other words, if they say it’s a blackbird it’s a blackbird. You can’t just decide to call it a “merle” because you feel like it, or because it seemed like a good idea at the time. It’s just not allowed. Here is another blackbird, just to refresh your memory:

Blackbird-01

In 1920 at least, nobody called it a “merle”. In June of that year, the new school magazine, “The Highvite” contained a “Sports Chorus”, including appropriately vigorous music. The words were…

“Score our High School / ye Highvites now score for victory.
Our High School / For Highvites, never, never, never shall be beaten
By any Worksop / Newark & c. team
At the Sign of the Blackbirds three.”

No “merles” there then. It is equally interesting to note that in “The Nottinghamian” of December 1921, the school’s emblem is again referred to as containing blackbirds, rather than merles. This overturning of tradition, however, does not mean that the use of three black birds does not connect us directly with Dame Agnes. Let’s look at it from a different angle, just for a moment.

Many people have believed over the years that it was only when the school changed its site from Stoney Street to Arboretum Street in 1867 that the three black birds were first adapted. But this was definitely not the case since photographs from the mid-nineteenth century show quite clearly that a badge with three birds was displayed on the wall of the Free School building. In this case, though, their wings were folded rather than the modern version, flapping and ready for immediate and dynamic intellectual and sporting take-off:

stoney st enlarged

Indeed, it is thought that the three black birds were in evidence as an unofficial badge for the school from at least June 16th 1808 onwards. On this date, an unknown but apparently very bored clerk has decorated the title page of the funky new volume of the Schoolwardens’ Annual Balance Sheets with the traditional three black birds, so it has clearly been known as a symbol connected with the school for a very long time.

Interestingly enough, another slightly more modern place where the birds’ wings can be seen as folded dates from 1936, when some new stained glass sections were put into the windows at the back of the recently built Assembly Hall:

assembly hall

And nowadays, of course, this folded wings version forms the badge of the Old Nottinghamians’ Society. Presumably, that is why they appear in this guise on a car badge being sold off on ebay:

car badge

Next time, I will attempt to answer the question of where did those black birds come from? In the meantime here’s a clue. Not all black birds are Blackbirds:

chough_nb_tcm9-94034

 

 

 

 

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