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:
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:
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:
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:
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”:
Two memorable characters then appeared on the scene as School Caretakers. The first was 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:
Neither Ray Eastwood nor his colleague, Tony Hatcher, will ever be forgotten by those who had the privilege of knowing them.