|Previous | Contents
Portrait of a College
Part I - In the Beginning
In the Beginning - based on correspondence from Alan
Come the third millennium, Bilborough College will be 43 years young,
in stark contrast to the High School, Bluecoat and High Pavement which between them will
share nearly 1000 years of history. We shall see that there is a similar contrast in both
the origins and the reasons for the foundations of these four centres of education.
Richard Mellers, a former Sheriff and Mayor of Nottingham, was a very
rich man when he died in 1507, and his widow, Agnes Mellers1,
vowed to devote herself to religious work for the rest of her life. It is not known what
turned her mind towards the foundation of a school though she would be well aware of the
obvious lack of a grammar school in the town. Following help and advice from a friend at
Court, Sir Thomas Lovell, a royal licence to found a school was granted in November, 1512,
and Agnes herself drew up a set of ordinances - a Foundation Deed - for the proper conduct
of the school. Agnes donated substantial sums of money and extensive lands which, together
with contributions to the subscription list of 85 other benefactors, were used to found
the school, in due course to become known as the Nottingham High School, in February,
1513. Agnes Mellers died in late April or early May the following year, and was buried
beside her husband in St Mary's Church, Nottingham.
At the beginning of the eighteenth century, when Nottingham Town was
divided into three parishes, St Mary's, St Peter's and St Nicholas in the Diocese of York,
there was still only one Free School. A meeting was held on 27th February, 17062, by certain inhabitants of the town who were greatly
distressed by the absence of all provision for the education of the poor. Proposals were
put before a meeting of the Common Council and the following resolution was carried on
19th November, 1706.
Upon application made to this Corporation by Mr Jenner and Mr Clark touching the
setting up and founding of a Charity School in the Town of Nottingham for the bringing up
and Educating of poor children ... allow £5 per annum to be paid as other subscriptions
are during pleasure.
Subscriptions to the foundation from 185 signatories totalled £110 -
3s - 0d. The Town Clerk, John Town, drew up the rules for the school based on the model
for Charity Schools which had been created by the Society for Promoting Christian
Knowledge, itself formed in only 1699. At 7 am on 1st May, 1707, Mr Baptist Miller opened
the doors of the Bluecoat School in Nottingham and admitted 25 boys and 15 girls, citizens
of Nottingham. Which doors, exactly, is not known, but somewhere in St Mary's Parish.
In the 1780s the High Pavement Chapel congregation3
was beginning to embrace Unitarianism, and in an age when Nonconformists of all shades of
opinion played important roles in the social, political and economic life of Nottingham,
it was one of the most influential bodies of Dissenters in the town. It is not surprising
that the Chapel wanted to found its own school. The embittered feeling between the local
Church and Dissent was further aggravated when the trustees of the Church of England
Bluecoat School, who, despite receiving subscriptions from the High Pavement Dissenters,
were all too often disinclined to accept their recommendations for scholars. From the
minutes of a Vestry meeting held on 28th October, 1787:
It having been communicated to this Vestry that the Trustees of the Halifax Lane
Meeting House are willing to appropriate the Income thereof and the Money now in their
Hands which has arisen from the Rents of the said Meeting House, to the supporting of a
Charity School for the Children of poor Persons belonging to this Society Resolved
unanimously that this is an object which ought to receive the Encouragement of this
society and that the Members present will give their Assistance to carry the Scheme into
The Halifax Lane Meeting House had been built by a group who had broken
with the main High Pavement Chapel earlier in the century but had now been accepted back
into the fold. The High Pavement school opened in January, 1788, and the scholars were
taught in the home of the master, Thomas Wheatcroft.
Over the next eighty years, many more elementary schools were created
in the Borough of Nottingham, mostly under the auspices of the churches. In 1870, the
Elementary Education Act (The Forster Act) was passed. The aim of this Act was to provide
elementary schools throughout the country, filling the gaps in the existing provision
established by the churches, private benefactors and guilds. It divided the country into
school districts, and, in those districts with inadequate provision, required a school
board to be elected which would raise money through the rates to provide public elementary
schools (often called 'board schools'). These schools, which were to be non-denominational
and open to inspection, were to provide education for all children between 5 and 13 years
We can read in the Borough of Nottingham School Board Minutes, written
in a lovely copper-plate hand, as follows:
At a Council Meeting of Mayor, Aldermen and Burgesses of the Borough of Nottingham held
in the Town Hall there on 17th October, 1870, duly convened.
It is resolved and ordered that application be made to the Educational Department of
Her Majesty's Privy Council that a School Board may forthwith be formed within and for the
Borough of Nottingham in pursuance of the Elementary Education Act 1870.
The Members of the Board were elected the following
month and met very frequently in the New Year. A sub-committee responsible for statistics
carried out a census of the schools in the Borough, and Inspections were arranged (Appendix A). Of 105 schools, 72 were described as efficient
and 33 non-efficient (a portent of things to come?); of the latter, deficient in teaching
power or having insufficient apparatus or unsuitable accommodation, it was felt that 12
could be 'made efficient'. At the close of the nineteenth century there were just under
one hundred elementary schools in the Borough accommodating some 11,000 children.
The School Board was, however, short-lived being
abolished under the 1902 Education Act (The Balfour Act) and replaced by the Local
Education Authority (LEA) which was charged with the responsibility of doing for secondary
education what the School Board, under the 1870 Act, had done for elementary education.
Further pressure on the LEA to develop secondary education came via the 1918
Education Act (The Fisher Act) when exemptions to the requirement to attend school between
the ages of 5 and 14 were removed. Even so, by the mid 1920s, secondary education
provision in the City was poor, there being a mere 3.9 places per 1000 of the population
rising to 7 per 1000 if the High Schools and Brincliffe School places were included,
compared with 11.8 in Leicester and 20.4 (the highest quoted4)
in Bradford. We may read in the same Report
There were approximately 4,500 boys and girls aged 11 in public elementary schools [in
Nottingham] of whom 1000 reached the qualifying standard [in the Annual General
Examination of 11 year olds] for admission to secondary school of which 240 went to
Mundella and High Pavement and 760 were 'debarred' from any opportunity of benefiting from
secondary education and thereby entering many of the higher callings in life for which
their ability might fit them.
Though the land was purchased in 1925-6 (62,560 sq yds at 4s - 9½d /
sq yd, total £14,988 - 6s - 8d), the Manning School for Girls did not open on Gregory
Boulevard until Easter, 1931. This brought to three the number of 'grammar schools' in the
City. (The Annual Report, 1927-8, introduced the nomenclature of 'grammar school' for the
secondary schools taking pupils who passed the General Examination for 11 year olds, and
'modern school' for other secondary-aged schools.)
The growth and nature of education provision in the dozen or so years
following the end of World War II was dictated by three factors, the raising of the school
leaving age, the increase in the birth rate and the 1944 Education Act (The Butler Act).
The raising of the school leaving age from 14 to
15 years had been discussed in the Education Committee, and indeed more widely5, for some 20 years, and was required, in the words of the
Annual Report, 1947, in order to
... bring satisfactory dividends in the way of more skilful and better informed workers
and more enlightened and public spirited citizens ...
and the deed was implemented with effect from 1st
April, 1947 (until 1971-72, when 16 years became the minimum school leaving age). In
Circular 145 from the Ministry of Education it was recognised that
... a rise in birth rate would present the education service with problems affecting
supply of teachers, accommodation and furniture ... and ... the effect of birth rate would
be felt in Junior Schools by September, 1950.
Over the eight year period 1947 to 1955, the number of pupils increased
by a staggering 40% in primary schools (to 34,038) and by an even more amazing 49% in
secondary schools (to 18,294)6.
But now we must sharpen the focus. It will come as no surprise to find
that in Annual Report after Annual Report there are lengthy references to land being
purchased (or appropriated) and schools being planned, built and opened for business. In
the Report of 1947 we learn (inter alia) that land was acquired on the Bilborough
Bilborough Estate, 33 acres, Nursery School, 3 Primary Schools, 1 Secondary School
Bilborough Estate, 18.3 acres, Playing fields for Player Schools
Bilborough Estate, 11.46 acres, 3 Primary Schools
Bilborough Estate, 64.86 acres, 3 Secondary Schools
All Approved by Housing and Estates Committee
In the following year we have the first reference to the building of
... a new secondary (grammar) school at Bestwood to supplement and relieve the pressure
on High Pavement School7
which at that time occupied premises on Stanley Road, premises which
had been built for, and first occupied by, High Pavement in 1895, and further more,
premises which were to receive and nurture the seed which would grow into Bilborough
Grammar School. There is also a minute to the effect that
Bilborough Road Secondary School is to be erected on the site between Bilborough Road
and Hanslope Crescent. This school will ultimately accommodate 600 children of secondary
age but, in the first instance, it must be used to accommodate 640 juniors.
But do not be misled - this reference describes the future William
Sharp School. A note in the Report of 1951 informs us that
Mr P T Taylor head of classics [at Mundella School] left to become Head at Malton
Grammar School, Yorkshire, and the post was filled by Mr J I Williams.
(I might mention here that Mr Williams moved to Mundella Grammar School
(via East Grinstead) from Humberston Foundation School, Clee, my alma mater.
In an incident at Clee, Ivor was rehearsing a G & S production when he slipped off the
stage and fell into the front row of chairs setting up a domino effect and bringing down
with an enormous clatter, rather like the sound of gunfire, 25 rows of 'collapsible'
seating, which had the Headmaster, Colonel Thomas, racing from his study to the Hall.
Fortunately, Ivor was not hurt. The rehearsal collapsed too.)
Further factors served to exacerbate the problems
for the planners. A census indicated that the population of the city had risen owing to
migration into the city; there was migration from old to new estates within the city;
schools on new housing estates had to provide for 5-15 year olds8.
A sub-committee examined all labour-saving methods of construction and schools were to be
built in aluminium, Medway (timber), Hills (steel and concrete) and Orlit methods9, that is, until the winter of 1951-2 when steel became
difficult to obtain and rationing was imposed. In September, 1951, Statutory Instruction
No. 1753 prescribing new standards for school premises was issued by the Ministry of
Education reducing both the site area for a 600 pupil secondary school from 22 acres to
17¼ acres and also the sanitary accommodation.
A grand survey of Nottingham City education provision
was carried out and an Educational Development Plan was published in 1952, at which time
there were 3 Secondary (Grammar) Schools, 3 Secondary (Technical) Schools, 30 Other
Secondary Schools and 76 Primary Schools. Further details from the survey are given in Appendix B.
A development plan was drawn up for each of the 14 School Districts,
Bilborough falling into District 6B, and in paragraph 430 of the Development document we
can read that
... a new grammar school is also to be built on the site [adjacent to Hanslope
In due course appropriate application was made to the
Ministry of Education which allocated the erection of this school to the 1954-5 building
programme. Rostance (Builders) of Nottingham obtained the tender in a sum of £159,669 and
in the Annual Report to July, 1954, we are told that
... work is now in progress on Bilborough (new Mundella) Grammar School, with
completion by September, 1956.
Twelve months later, it is reported10
Every effort is being made to roof in the main block before the onset of winter in an
attempt to complete the School to allow it to open at the scheduled time, but progress
must depend on the supply of material. Estimated date of completion is September, 1956 to
One year on11
... most of the structure is now roofed in and the brickwork is progressing
satisfactorily. It is expected that the school will be opened for instruction in
Predicting future numbers of pupils in the
area of the Authority was only a part of the problem; decisions had to be arrived at on
the nature of the education provision to be made available. In the Annual Report, 1954, we
may read as follows.
Until the Education Act was passed in 1944, there was a very real distinction between
what were 'Elementary' Schools and what were 'Secondary' Schools. One of the intentions of
the Act was to remove this distinction and to provide secondary education for all pupils
over the age of 11 years, whether they were of the academic type, (who heretofore had been
educated in Grammar Schools) or not. Two of the important steps taken towards the
achievement of this ideal were the abolition of all fees in schools maintained by the
Authority and the payment of all teachers on the same basic scale. It was not, of course,
possible immediately by the stroke of a pen to transfer what were elementary schools into
secondary schools. This has been a change which could only be introduced gradually, and
the efforts of the Committee have been directed constantly throughout the last ten years
to the raising of the standards provided in the new secondary schools without lowering the
standard of education provided in the old secondary (grammar) schools.
The Committee, however, in their building programmes have to look forward to the
passing of the 'bulge' [due to the higher birth rate] into secondary schools and at times
they have had to arrange for buildings built for use ultimately as secondary schools to be
used temporarily as primary schools12.
A case in point was William Sharp School in which
... with 65% of [total] work complete, the classroom block will be taken into use as a
junior school in September, 195313
The secondary school section
... opened in February / March, 1955, with places for 720 pupils10.
Between 1948 and 1953, there was an increase in the number of grammar
school places of 363 (15.5%).
More parents have wished advanced education for their children at a time when society
needs an ever-increasing number of men and women with professional and scientific training
and when, owing to the Authority's and the Ministry's policies, no capable boys and girls
who can manage to remain at school for Sixth Form work need now be debarred from
Universities, Training Colleges or other places of Higher Education by financial
considerations. All these factors have made for much larger sixth forms12.
The Committee had shown excellent anticipation of this
trend in numbers of grammar school places when, in 1950, it had sought and received from
the Ministry of Education special dispensation to recognise St Catherine's School,
hitherto a non-grammar school, as a Catholic Girls' Grammar School. Now again, in the
light of evidence accruing in the early 1950s, it was decided that the premises under
construction on Bilborough Road should be used not to rehouse Mundella Grammar School from
its site on the Embankment, opened in 1899, but to accommodate a new grammar school,
Bilborough Grammar School. As Forest Fields flourished and Bilborough and Clifton Hall
developed, the total number of grammar school places increased to 4492 in 1963, a rise of
62% over 10 years. (See Appendix C )
As the foundations were being dug on the Bilborough Road site, so the
seeds of the pupil population were being sown in Stanley Road. In the Annual Report, 1955,
we may read the following.
In view of the opening of the new High Pavement building at Bestwood in September,
1955, it was decided to admit 200 pupils of 11 years of age and 100 pupils of 12 years of
age to the Forest Fields Grammar School which was to be established in the former High
Pavement premises. Pupils born in the calendar years 1943 and 1944 had therefore to be
examined in addition to candidates for admission to the Secondary (Technical) Schools and
for late entry to Grammar Schools at the age of 13.
The adaptations to the Stanley Road premises to meet the needs of boys
and girls were carried out in the summer of 1955 - the old lavatory block roofed in and
refitted, partitioning creating three classrooms, a housecraft centre, four new science
laboratories - and
... many favourable comments have been received on the improvements achieved within the
limit of the Minor Capital Works Scheme.11
but the building programme on the western outskirts of the city fell
behind schedule, the consequences of which are spelled out in the Annual Report, 1956.
The Education Committee decided that during the postponement of the completion of the
Bilborough Grammar School it would be necessary for an additional 100 pupils of about 11
years of age residing in the Bilborough area to be admitted to the Forest Fields Grammar
School in September, 1956. These pupils together with approximately 100 pupils in the same
age group admitted to the Forest Fields Grammar School in September 1955 will be
transferred to the Bilborough Grammar School on its opening in September, 1957.
It might have been added, but was not, that four other people would
also transfer with these two hundred pupils. For September, 1956, three 'extra' teachers
were appointed specifically to spend a year at Forest Fields and then to accompany the
Bilborough pupils, this to provide a measure of continuity. These members of staff were
Miss Butler, Miss Davenport and Mr Sherman. The fourth person was ... Dr H J Peake.
Harry Peake, born in March, 1923, was a pupil at High Pavement Grammar
School from 1934 to 1942, serving as Head Boy in his final year. He won an Open
Scholarship to Queen's College, Oxford, and had completed only part of his degree when he
was conscripted as a Junior Scientific Officer at the Foreign Office, assisting in the
work of the 'code breakers' at Bletchley Park from 1944 to 1945. He taught mathematics and
physics at High Pavement for two years before returning to Queen's to complete his
mathematics degree. During the period 1949-1955, he travelled daily (in his inherited
'baby Austin') from his home in Nottingham to lecture at Loughborough Colleges and also
completed his Master's degree (Hydrodynamics and Aerodynamics) and Doctorate (Various
Problems in Electric and Magnetic Fields) on a part-time basis at the University of
Nottingham. In 1955 he was appointed head of mathematics at Forest Fields Grammar School
under Oliver Barnett, one of his former masters at High Pavement. Mr Barnett (a future
Chairman of the Education Committee) was well aware of the opportunities in the City for
aspiring Heads and his advice and encouragement were acted upon, Dr H J Peake being
appointed Headmaster of Bilborough Grammar School in early 1957.
In the Beginning
based on correspondence from
Alan Gill (1956-63)
In September, 1955, Forest Fields, in addition to having a three form
intake of its own, acquired an extra 100 first formers as temporary lodgers in forms
designated M1A, M1B and M1C, the M standing for Mundella. These pupils wore full Mundella
uniform of maroon blazers with braiding, and Mundella badge and tie. Later, when the plans
changed, so did the uniform. So, in September, 1956, my year group wore black blazers with
the Forest Fields badge - the Bilborough badge not yet having been designed - and the
Bilborough tie. My mother received a letter in the summer describing the uniform, and
quoting a list of suppliers. I was taken to Dixon and Parkers on Friar Lane and kitted
out. On the school photograph taken in July, 1957, children can be seen wearing Forest
Fields, Mundella and Bilborough uniforms, but when we moved to Bilborough in the
September, everyone was in full BGS uniform, including the new badge. On the badge
(designed by Mr E J Laws of the Nottingham Castle Museum) are combined the 'vairé or and
gules' from the arms of William Peverel, first Lord of the manor of Strelley and
Bilborough, with the open book of learning and the winged sword of justice and equity. The
motto is 'summa fide ac probitate' - the first Mission Statement?
I was in form M1B, form teacher Miss Butler, in a room in a building on
the west side of Stanley Road, not in the 1895 building. We stayed in our form room for
most of our lessons, the exceptions being woodwork, art and science. We mixed with Forest
Field pupils only in assemblies, house assemblies, PE, swimming and games. The 'houses'
were named Annesley, Clumber, Rufford and Welbeck, and when we moved to Bilborough, these
house names were retained, and the pupils who moved stayed in the same house. Continuity
also stretched to the colours of exercise books - blue for English, grey for Maths, green
for History, etc - and when we transferred we continued to use the same books until
they were full when they were replaced by books of the same subject colour though now
carrying the Bilborough crest.
I cannot recall any rivalry or tension between the two schools of
pupils, and I note in the editorial of "The Forestrian", August, 1956, that Mr J
E Bailey, deputy head and classicist, wrote "Already there is a unity of purpose . .
. which is shared by all including those who will be leaving us to form the new foundation
of the school at Bilborough in 1957. These children have indeed become so much a part of
the school that one becomes almost unconscious of the fact that even their uniform is a
Towards the end of our last term at Forest Fields we were taken for a
look around Bilborough Grammar School. We had to make our own way there - it was probably
on a games afternoon. I remember sitting on the low wall outside the main building and
looking up at the 'tower block' with its lines of glass windows and blue panels. To me it
looked very modern, a complete contrast to the Victorian Gothic building I was leaving
(described by one of its Heads as 'a hideous red brick spectacle'). The area around
Bilborough was familiar to all of us and would have been within walking distance for many
of its pupils. When we were shown around I was impressed by the floor of the entrance /
dining hall, with tiles with small raised discs on them that were supposed to deaden the
sound of footsteps. As it dawned on me that, on my next visit, I would be walking through
those double doors as a second form pupil, I felt a thrill of anticipation.
A contemporaneous word about the three schools mentioned earlier. In
January, 1892, High Pavement School formally passed to the Nottingham School Board. The
break with the Chapel came about for financial reasons; for a long time the Chapel had
been unable to provide more than a small portion of the ever-increasing cost of a school
which was not only growing but which had also to meet Government standards. In 1895, new
premises were provided for it on Stanley Road. Under the 1902 Education Act, High Pavement
and Mundella (which had opened in April, 1899) passed under direct control of the City
Council. Bluecoat School moved in July, 1853, to new premises in Calar Street - which was
promptly renamed Bluecoat Street, and again in September, 1967, to its present site on
Aspley Lane, formerly 12 acres of glebe land. In 1956-58, it lost its independence and
adopted the status (available since the 1944 Education Act) of a Church of England
Voluntary Aided Grammar School. As Bilborough opened for instruction for the first time,
the High School began its 445th year as an Independent School.
1. History of Nottingham High School, Adam W.
2. History of the Bluecoat School, F. W. V. Taylor
3. High Pavement Remembered, Edited by Alan Bates
4. Annual Report, 1925-6
5. Reports of the Hadow and Spens Committees
6. Annual Reports, 1947-1955
7. Annual Report, 1949
8. Annual Report, 1952
9. Annual Report, 1951
10. Annual Report, 1955
11. Annual Report, 1956
12. Annual Report, 1954
13. Annual Report, 1953
18th September, 1999