Tag Archives: nottingham high school

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.

 

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“A long forgotten war, wasted young lives” (7)

It’s a long time since Post No 6 in this series about the futility of the Boer War, but I would like to finish off with what is perhaps the saddest and most poignant tale of them all. The Second Boer War (1899 – 1902) was fought between the British Empire and the two independent Boer (Dutch) states, the Republic of Transvaal and the Orange Free State, over the British Empire’s influence in South Africa.

The catalyst for the war was the discovery of diamonds and gold in the Boer states:

Richard Truman Fitzhugh was born on June 8th 1873. He was educated first at Shrewsbury Grammar School and then at Nottingham High School. There are at least four boys visible in this picture of the School, taken from a spot near what was then the old Caretaker’s House:

Richard arrived at the High School on May 4th 1891, with the sole intention of passing the examination needed to enter university and to become a doctor.  His success was duly recorded in the School List :

“London Matriculation Examination, First Division, June 1891”

Having accomplished exactly what he had come for, Richard left at the end of the school  year, in July 1891.

Richard was particularly talented and popular, but sadly he became a totally innocent victim of a greedy overseas war, started by men eager for gold and diamonds:

“It is with deep regret that we record the death of Dr Richard Truman FitzHugh, the only son of Mr Richard Fitzhugh, JP, of Clumber Crescent, The Park, Nottingham. His death occurred on June 15th, 1900 as the result of enteric fever (typhoid), at the Imperial Yeomanry Base Hospital at Deelfontein, South Africa.”

Richard was only 27 years old.

The first intimation of his illness had reached Nottingham at the end of May. In his letter, Richard mentioned that he was suffering from shivering fits.

Then a telegram arrived in Nottingham saying that Richard was seriously ill.

On Friday, June 15th, another telegram arrived, with the first indication of anything life-threatening:

“Regret to inform you that your son, Richard, is dangerously ill with enteric fever”.

Two days of anxious suspense followed, then a third telegram arrived:

“Deeply regret to inform you of the death of your son, Richard, from enteric fever, an irreparable loss to this hospital, he having endeared himself to all.”

Richard had gone straight from Nottingham High School to Guy’s Hospital for his medical training. He passed important examinations in 1892 and in 1895. He became a Member of the Royal College of Surgeons, a Licentiate of the Royal College of Physicians and then a Bachelor of Medicine in 1898. Here is a ward in the hospital with what may be an oxygen tent in the rear right corner:

Richard worked as Assistant House-Surgeon and House Physician as well as Obstetric Resident, Clinical and Gynaecological Assistant, and Dresser in the eye wards. Here’s one of the operating theatres:

His obituary came from his colleagues:

”He was a man of culture and ability, held in high regard by his associates at Guy’s, not only because of his medical skill, but because of the part he played in its social life. He was a fine sportsman and soon took a prominent place in athletics. He was a leading cricketer and helped to win the cup in 1892. He was best of all at Association Football. Indeed, Richard was one of the best players of recent years, and won the cup in 1894, besides captaining the team from 1894-1896.

He was Assistant Secretary of the Student’s Club, President of the Residents, and foremost among the singers at Christmas.

Richard was a man with a keen sense of humour and the most popular performer at the smoking concerts which cheered us up so well. One of his songs was so admired that, however many others he sang, he could never leave the piano until he had sung that favourite one.

Behind his good humour and cheeriness, though, there was a solid character, and an honest straight forwardness that made us all trust and admire him. An old friend wrote:

“There was nobody I worked with at Guy’s for whose character I had greater respect, or whose society gave me greater pleasure.

He was a sterling gentleman and there is some consolation that he died amongst his friends, and that everything was done for him.”

The news of “the termination of such a promising career by a malignant disease which is causing more deaths than the enemy, has evoked enormous sympathy for his family.”

Mr Fripp was the Senior Surgeon at the Imperial Yeomanry Base Hospital at Deelfontein:

He wrote:

“Everybody felt they had lost a friend. He was popular with his colleagues and the nursing sisters, the NCOs and the orderlies, and also with the patients. It seemed he would attain a very high place in his profession, but he also had many characteristics which endeared him to everyone.

Poor “Fitz” will never be forgotten. There “was an enormous congregation at his funeral. All ranks of the hospital were represented. They formed a long procession to the cemetery. The coffin was carried by orderlies, and some of his fellow Guy’s men acted as pall-bearers.

I doubt if the cost of war was ever brought home to us as fully as when we heard of poor FitzHugh’ s death. None of us even knew he was ill.”

Dr Fitzhugh’s death is commemorated on the Nottingham Boer War Memorial in the Forest Recreation Ground. It used to stand in Queen Street in the city centre but was moved in 1927. No war memorials last for ever. Sadly, after a certain period of time, they have to be relocated elsewhere to make room for the new war memorial.

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Poems in “The Nottinghamian” 1922-1946 (6) or “The Cat”, after D.H.Lawrence

The famous novelist, David Herbert Lawrence, was a Nottingham County Council Scholarship pupil at Nottingham High School from 1898-1901.

For a number of reasons, despite his fame as one of the 20th century’s greatest novelists, Lawrence soon became persona non grata at his old school, and, even more so at his old university, which was then called University College, Nottingham.

The problem was that he wrote dubious books where the main characters indulged in naughty practices which embarrassed many of the good citizens of Nottingham and elsewhere:

Furthermore, in 1912, Frieda, the wife of  Professor Weekley, the Head of the Modern Languages Faculty at University College, Nottingham, had run off with Lawrence. She left behind her her three children, who, by the divorce laws of the time, she was forbidden to see. And it was all Lawrence’s fault, and everybody in Nottingham thought Lawrence was a cad and a bounder and they were all firmly on the side of the much wronged Professor Weekley.

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Given that Lawrence was an Old Nottinghamian, and had behaved so badly, the School had little choice but to condemn him whenever the occasion arose. And those negative feelings extended as far as everything that Lawrence had ever written. Well, how could a cad and a bounder write anything of any value? And exactly the same thing happened at University College, Nottingham.

Imagine my surprise, then, when I opened the July 1941 edition of the School Magazine, the Nottinghamian, and found the following poem:

 

CAT

(After D.H. Lawrence)

 

In the daytime,

She only sits licking her back with a rough, pink tongue

Like emery paper rubbing on a wooden frame.

Or curls up in a chair before the fire and mews.

Only milk can tempt her into the kitchen, and then she

Laps,

As gold-fish nibble ant-eggs, or cows munch grass,

With an insatiable longing for more.

Her tail, swishing gently to and fro ;

Her little black funny nose.

She purrs, purrs more gently than a ticking clock or than a baby

breathing in his sleep.

Her small, black feet and glossy shining fur,

Her dark-green eyes blinking in the bright day sunshine.

No more lively than a tired horse, or an old man sitting on a seat in the

park.

Only occasionally does she ring in a sparrow, clawed in a moment of

fiendish exertion ;

Or a mouse, mauled by those deadly cat-claws.

 

But at night, when the dark shadows hide the corners of the roofs and

people sleep,

She goes out and meets the other cats from down the road.

Then life begins, night-life of a thousand cats,

The cat life.

The black life.

They go and roll on the irises, and on the lilies, and hold a cat-

conference behind dark trees.

 

Life returns,

The cat life.

Squealing, scratching, and miaouwing and chasing one another through

the shrubs.

Squealing like naughty children, and then miaouwing again.

And then they squeal.

I wake, and wonder what the squealing  is,

Like a child strayed from its mother.

Cats in the garden, sitting on the lilies or chasing one another through

the green shrubs.

The night-life.

The cat life.

The poem was written by DE Rhodes of 6 Cl. That is to say, Dennis Everard Rhodes of 6 Classics. Dennis was born on March 14th 1923. He was the son of the schoolmaster at East Bridgford, a country village to the east of Nottingham, and he entered the High School, on a Nottinghamshire County Council Scholarship, on September 20th 1934, at the age of eleven.

He left the school on July 29th 1941 and went to Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge with an Open Scholarship.

Dennis Rhodes lived to be 97, and he died only months ago. His adult life was on the academic world stage and some of it was so academic that a simple old codger like myself cannot even understand what he was doing. So, sometime soon, there will be a blog post about Dr Dennis Rhodes PhD, and what he got up to in the last seventy years of his life.

 

 

 

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My latest book

snip-of-coverThose of you who follow my blog will be familiar with the many stories I have told about Nottingham High School; its Founders, its coat of arms, its war heroes, its caretakers and its one or two villains. I have recently finished compiling these stories, and many more, into a new book called Nottingham High School: The Anecdotal History of a British Public School, published with Lulu.com.

My history is an entertaining one about the people behind the institution – what they thought, said, and did from the reign of Henry VIII up to the modern era. I want to tell the stories of the ordinary people whose actions changed the history of Nottingham forever, and those whose lives had much wider influence on the history of our country and on the lives of people across the world. I tell the tales of all people connected with the High School – teachers, support staff, boys, alumni… from caretakers to kings!

image_update_72e24141db868b82_1348683417_9j-4aaqskThe book is written in diary form and runs from Thursday, June 30th 1289 to Thursday, July 12th 2012. It’s an easy read that you can dip in and out of as you wish. Find out about the antics of the boys, the excesses of the staff, the sacrifices of the alumni, and the castle-like school building in all its majesty.

My book contains new and previously unpublished research into the lives of some of the most famous ex-pupils of the school. Read about the childhood of scurrilous author D.H.Lawrence, whose controversial books were still banned 50 years after he wrote them. Read about the disruptive antics of Albert Ball V.C., the daring air ace who always fought alone. Read about American Old Boy, Major General Mahin of the U.S. Army, a man whose power and authority in the Second World War rivalled that of General Patton, until he was killed (or was it murder?).

The tone of my work is interesting and light, but at the same time, as you know from my blogposts, I can show my more serious side when occasion demands. A very large number of former pupils from the High School died in the two World Wars and their sacrifices are reflected in my book.

I have really enjoyed writing this new history book, and I hope that you will find it an entertaining and intriguing read. If you would like to give it a go, then it is now available from my page on Lulu.com.

p1040694

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“500 Happy Returns” Now on Sale!

500 happy returns nottingham high school's birthdayI am thrilled to announce that my new book, 500 Happy Returns: Nottingham High School’s Birthday, is now available for purchase. Over the past month or so I’ve been working on the finished publication, and I’m delighted that it’s now ready to be presented to customers. The proof copies arrived about a week ago, and it was very exciting to see a giant word document transformed into a real, physical book. Now I’m getting excited all over again when I see the book listed on Amazon!

This book is the culmination of a creative writing project to commemorate the school’s half millennium milestone. I invited all the staff, pupils (from age 4-18), cleaners, and support staff to write a hundred words about their day, preferably linking their entry to a specific time. I had the idea that these entries could tell the story of the school day minute-by-minute from a broad perspective. Participation was entirely voluntary, and I was really pleased to get around 800 contributions from members of the school. The good news is that these entries cover the whole day and now you can pick up a book that charts a typical school day in a top British public school at the turn of the twenty-first century. It’s great to be able to see such a tangible product at the end of a school project, and I hope that all staff and pupils involved really like what has been achieved, and enjoy seeing their contributions in the book.

Hopefully, a lot of people will enjoy reading this volume, especially as it commemorates the 500th birthday of the school and all the profits are being donated to the school’s bursary funds. So here’s hoping that this publication will provide a lasting legacy for the education of gifted children years down the line!

Now available from Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com

Now available from Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com

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New book sent to the press!

cover of bookJust a quick announcement to say how happy I am that we’ve managed to secure a publisher for our school project. In February the school celebrated its 500th birthday, and we asked each member of the school – staff, boys (aged 4-18), cleaners, support staff, and caterers – to record what they were doing at any part of their working day in 100 words. I’ve finished editing all the reports, and I’m pleased to say that we have a minute-by-minute snapshot of the school on its 500th birthday from over 800 perspectives.

I was originally planning on releasing the book just on Kindle, but I am very pleased to be able to tell you that there will be a physical edition of the book as well! You will be able to buy paperback copies of the books from Amazon, or download it straight to your Kindle.

All proceeds from the sale of this volume will be donated to the school’s bursary funds which provide crucial financial help to children from all backgrounds.

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Publishing a New Book – Cover Just Finished!

We’ve just finished working on the cover for the Kindle release of our new book – check it out!

The Lady in Waiting

Over the past couple of weeks I’ve been preparing a new book for publication on behalf of my Dad. John Knifton has been editing a commemorative volume as part of the celebrations of Nottingham High School’s 500th anniversary (the school was originally opened way back in the days of Henry VIII). All profits from this book will be donated to the school’s bursary funds, which enable gifted boys from all backgrounds to attend the school.

500 Happy Returns: Nottingham High School’s Birthdayis a unique celebration of the school’s anniversary, recording the events of the day from a huge range of perspectives. A few weeks ago, on February 1st, everybody at Nottingham High School was invited to write a short description of what they had done in any given part of their day. This included all the teachers, all the support staff and all the boys, from the very youngest…

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New Book Coming Soon!

John Knifton blog picSometime in the next couple of weeks I’ll be publishing my new book about the 500th anniversary of Nottingham High School.

500 Happy Returns: Nottingham High School’s Birthday is a unique celebration of the school’s anniversary, recording the events of the day from a huge range of perspectives. A few weeks ago, on February 1st, everybody at Nottingham High School was invited to write a short description of what they had done in any given part of their day. This included all the teachers, all the support staff and all the boys, from the very youngest in Lovell House (aged 4) to the young men of Year 13.

I have now finally finished collating the results, which total almost 800 individual contributions. It has produced a fascinating, and perhaps poignant, minute-by-minute snap shot of life in a public school at the beginning of the twenty-first century.

As soon as the book is published I will post details of how to get a copy on this website, so please come back soon.

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