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Portrait of a College
Part II - Bilborough Grammar School
The Peake Years 1957-1958
Most of the Staff appointed to take up their new-issue Bilborough chalk
in September, 1957, had succumbed to curiosity and visited the building site at some time
during that Summer, and all arrived safely on Monday, 9th September - Headmaster, Senior
Master, Senior Mistress and 16 Assistant Teachers - see Appendix D.
Entering the building from the main drive, their path took them from the double-doors
diagonally across the entrance hall (which doubled as a dining hall) to the long narrow
'admin' corridor along which they passed, on their left, the switch room and medical room,
and a small cubby-hole masquerading as the office for the Senior Mistress, followed by
two, rather more spacious, rooms - and the only rooms in the building that were carpeted -
the first occupied by the secretary, Mrs L Bowmer, seated at her desk which carried the
telephone - Lime Tree 624 - and the second by the Headmaster, and finally, the ladies and
gents toilets before emerging into the staff-room. Here, then, occurred the first staff
meeting. Twelve staff were able to sit in half-comfortable arm-chairs, arranged in two
lines forming a gangway down to the 2-barred electric fire set in a stone fire-place and
chimney breast on the wall at the far end from the door. Half of this dozen was able to
look through high, wide windows towards the tower block, the other half over lockers and
across the accessible patio onto the lower playing field. The Senior Master sat at his
desk across one corner of the room, the remaining staff on upright chairs against a file
of three wooden, work tables. Those with coats hung them in two cubby-holes, referred to
as ladies and gents cloakrooms, which formed part of the fourth side of the room. Adjacent
to the cloakrooms was the 'tea mashing facility' - yet a fourth cubby-hole with standing
room for four (just) - with a double gas-ring, gas-heated water geyser, stone sink and
wooden draining board. In the one year only, 1957-58, with three senior and 16 assistant
teachers, were the above facilities adequate. Imagine the crush and tensions when the
number of staff rose to 50, as it did within ten years.
The following day, the children arrived - all 377 of them - chattering
nervously in small groups. Where should they go? What would they be doing this day, the
first day at a new school, new to them, their friends and the staff alike. Their doubts
were soon resolved as they were divided, first into year groups, and then, as registers
were called, into forms. The four first forms, three second forms and five third forms
(two of which were known as 'lower thirds') were led to their form rooms - as shown - to
participate in the induction course which had been meticulously planned by the Headmaster.
1A, Miss Lynch (33, 1.1);
1B, Miss Butler (32, 0.1);
1C, S Sherman (33, 0.2);
1D, N L Kirton (30, 0.3).
2A, Miss Betts (33, Music Room);
2B, C E Rains (32, 2.1);
2C, Miss Davenport (28, 1.3).
3A, R Downing (35, 1.4);
3B, A P Sanday (33, 2.6);
3C, R Protherough (25, 1.5).
L3A, F S Redding (32, 2.3);
L3B, D K Rowat (31, 2.4).
During the course of the morning, the pupils received
copies of the school rules - reproduced in Appendix E
for the benefit of those who failed to read them 40 years ago. It was a matter of some
pride to Dr Peake that when Councillor C M Reed, Chairman of the School Governors, visited
that Tuesday afternoon, he could be taken around the school and shown twelve classes of
children hard at work.
The following day, the Director of Education called. A week later, a
representative of the City Police gave a talk on Road Safety and carried out an inspection
of all cycles on the premises. By half-term, there had taken place a 3rd-year Parents'
Evening and no less than four outings, to a concert given by the City of Birmingham
Orchestra, to a Folk Song and Dance Festival in Birmingham and two to the [old] Playhouse.
Two HMIs had also visited. Immediately after the 3-day half-term, the Governors came to
take tea with the staff. In November, two students from the University began their
Teaching Practice, one in History (subsidiary Geography) and the other in Geography
(subsidiary Biology). A 2nd-year Parents' Evening was held, and at the beginning of
December, in only the 13th week in the life of the new school, examinations were set and
sat. There was a third visit to the Playhouse, and term finished with a Carol Service in
the school hall.
Early in the new year, the Head was engaged in appointing staff for the
following September, confirming that planning for curriculum, timetabling and staffing
matters was well in hand. Parents of first- and lower third-formers turned out for
Parents' Evenings in goodly numbers despite atrocious weather conditions. Pupils' cultural
needs continued to be met with attendance at two concerts, yet another visit to the
Playhouse and two illustrated talks by members of the Imperial Institute, and their more
immediate needs by a careers evening. I am not able to report the conclusions (if, indeed,
there were any) arrived at during discussion with Heads of contributory Junior Schools on
the teaching of English and writing; Science staff met colleagues from the Glaisdale,
Margaret Glen-Bott and Peveril Bilateral Schools. (A comparable meeting to discuss the
teaching of Mathematics was held in May). The second term ended with an Easter Service.
On the third day of the third term, 25th April, 1958, came the
'Official Opening of the School' by the Rt Hon Hugh T N Gaitskell PC CBE MP. The following
is extracted from Bilborough Magazine No 1.
THE official opening of the first mixed grammar school to be built in
Nottingham this century could have been a drab and formal affair. Two things in particular
prevented it from being so: the rare combination of circumstances which made it possible
for all of the children to be present, and the easy informality and charm of our chief
guest, the Right Honourable Hugh Gaitskell, MP, leader of the Labour Party. One incident
from early in the afternoon may be taken as typical. The long line of official cars filed
slowly down the drive past ranks of applauding children, Mr Gaitskell dismounted, turned
the official key in the lock and then - resisting the pressure of a bevy of dignitaries
behind him - turned to chat for a few moments with some of the prefects who had been
leading the cheering.
After the speeches were over, too, Mr Gaitskell was keenly interested in seeing over
the school and talking with groups of pupils painting in the art room or carrying out
experiments in the laboratories. "It was an essentially happy function", wrote
the reporter of the Times Educational Supplement. "Instantly, like a perfume,
you recognised the atmosphere of a friendly school."
For the occasion, the hall was packed with as many people as the combined mathematical
ingenuity of the committee, Mr Sanday and the Headmaster could contrive. Boys and girls,
smart as always in their black and turquoise, had balcony seats along the promenade. Below
them on the floor of the hall parents were suitably impressed with the splendours of the
building, and even headmasters and visitors from other schools could be forgiven a touch
of jealousy in their glances. On the stage assembled what was inevitably known to the
audience as "the top brass"; an impressive array of Members of Parliament,
members of the Education Committee and the Administration, inspectors, architects and
others who had shared in the creation of the school which was now complete around them.
Although one member of the staff regretted that no bottle of champagne was broken across
the bows of the grand piano, the official opening was soon complete.
Mr Gaitskell was introduced by the Chairman of the Education Committee, Councillor John
Kenyon, who said, in a brief survey of recent developments, that 46 new schools had been
built since the war. "We're hoping the situation will be reached in this city when no
talent will be wasted", he went on. The Lord Mayor, Alderman W Hickling, JP, also
spoke, and prayers of dedication for the school were offered by the Rev R J Hamper,
minister of the Bilborough Baptist Church.
In his speech, Mr Gaitskell, who was given an enthusiastic welcome, said, "The
young people of Nottingham have before them today greater opportunities than any other
young people in the country". He did not mean simply opportunities for worldly
success, but for the entry into a fuller and richer life through the development of
personality. Taking his cue from the numerous experiments being pursued in Nottingham, Mr
Gaitskell developed his main theme: a comprehensive system of education which meant an
abandonment of permanent segregation at 11 - without implying that every child must
necessarily go to the same kind of huge, impersonal school. "The link which I
understand is to be fashioned between this grammar school and a neighbouring modern school
illustrates the point I have in mind."
Turning to the curriculum, Mr Gaitskell said that it was time that we abandoned the
idea that true education meant a profound knowledge of the classics, history and
literature. Today it involved at least some science and technology as well. The standards
of education themselves were not good enough. Smaller classes were essential for good
teaching, and teachers had to be given the status they deserved if sufficient numbers were
to be recruited.
Looking back on the occasion, though, the things that remain in the mind are not the
speeches. We remember rather the scrubbed and shining look of the building under one of
this summer's rare blue skies, the staff struggling with their gowns and hoods which the
wind twirled round them, the school waiting patiently and eagerly for the arrival of their
visitors. We remember the two small first-formers presenting bouquets almost as big as
themselves, and the voice of Tanya White reading some appropriate lines of Wordsworth. We
remember the efficient 'waitresses' in their smart turquoise and white caps and aprons,
and - dare we say - we remember one of the few occasions when the Headmaster looked almost
nervous, as he rose in the majesty of his doctoral robes to second the vote of thanks to
the chairman. [Unattributed]
The First Annual Athletic Sports was held in the afternoon of 28th
April - a significant occasion which by 1961 had expanded to 54 events. The Welbeck House
Captains received the Champions Trophy from Councillor Mrs Reed, wife of the Chairman of
Governors. In addition to visits to the Playhouse and two more illustrated talks given by
lecturers from the Imperial Institute, there were school presentations of three 1-Act
plays: Home is the Hunted (R F Delderfield); excerpts from A Midsummer Night's Dream
(Shakespeare); The Crimson Cocoanut (Ian Hay). 37 children with three staff attended a
field course in Windermere over Whit half-term; examinations were held at the beginning of
July and the year ended with a blaze of visits to the Central Library, Stanton Iron Works,
Leicester Museum, Wollaton Hall Museum, Stavely Iron Works, Edale for fieldwork and
The first school year ended on 24th July, 1958, after
38 weeks and 2 days of labour - officially!! The tone had been set, benchmarks laid down.
Young, experienced heads of department were supported by even younger and very
enthusiastic assistant teachers. The experience ensured that a high academic standard
would be achieved and the youthful, spirited support ensured that life would be lived to
the full. In addition to the host of educational experiences described above, there were
regular sporting fixtures for boys and girls, in winter and in summer - mainly completed
on a Saturday. Mention must also be made of the clubs and societies, most of which ran
weekly from 4.00 to 5.00 pm. A poll carried out towards the end of the year (and reported
in full in Appendix F) indicated strongest membership
for the Dramatic Society, followed by the Geographical Society and the Dancing Club - the
latter reminding me that the first Xmas Party took place on 13th December, 1957, with Mr N
L Kirton acting as MC. Oh - and 'self-help' had started - the Burma Road (or Bell's Path)
was constructed. Officialdom agreed that a path was required from the changing rooms up
towards the top field - but it could not be afforded for 3 years. With 'volunteers' from
the boys of the lower thirds and 3A (and also from parents) a cinder path was laid in the
four days, 14-17th July. Parents Mr and Mrs Orchard contributed a trophy for tennis and
Mrs Reed the Charlotte Reed trophy for hockey; Forest Fields Grammar School donated a cup
for athletics and High Pavement Grammar School a rose bowl for rugby football.
In the first issue of the school magazine, writing under a heading
borrowed from Mr Potter, his former Headmaster at High Pavement, Dr Peake had this to say.
FROM MY STUDY WINDOW
MY FIRST recollections of Strelley date back to 1935, when the
very site on which our school is built became the High Pavement School playing field. Even
then the drainage was a problem and Strelley mud became a by-word in the
"rugger" schools for miles around. Our changing accommodation consisted of two
huts and it was counted a privilege to bathe in the large tank into which the groundsman
poured water, heated in the typical ex-army boiler. How welcome was the sight of the gate,
(which must have been almost exactly at our main entrance on Bilborough Road, then
Coventry Lane), when we returned breathless from our cross-country runs. Up the bridle
path to Strelley Church we trotted, down towards Cossal, through a copse or two, across
ploughed fields, then the sand quarry, Coventry Lane . . . and so, home! At last! What
thoughts passed through my mind then, I remember not - certainly no ideas of the future,
of post war building, (not even of war), still less of a new grammar school under my care.
And so to early 1957 when, a few days after my appointment, I made my way to look over
the incomplete building, which we are fashioning into a school. There was still the mud,
churned up by scores of lorries, where once it had been the rugger boots and the cows.
Inside, floors were being laid, walls plastered, electrical fittings assembled - all was
purposeful chaos, monotonous noise of tools and popular song. Workmen were everywhere. The
months passed, the first eighteen members of the teaching staff had been appointed,
equipment and furniture were arriving, the workmen were slowly going, the new uniform was
not merely in the shop windows it was actually being worn: the birth of a new grammar
It is hard to convey the thrill of these beginnings, the excitement and eager faces of
the first 380 children on the first day of term, the satisfaction of showing the Chairman
of our Governors, Councillor Reed, a school at work on its very first afternoon. That
fact, in itself, is a tribute indeed to the hard work of my colleagues, volunteers from
the boys and girls, and officers of the Education Committee, especially the Surveyors
Department. It will be apparent from the pages of this magazine that the year has
continued as it began, with enthusiasm and purpose, with hard work in a friendly, cheerful
atmosphere. A year then of achievement; we have 'begun a great matter', but know that 'it
is not the beginning, but the continuing of the same, until it be thoroughly finished,
which yieldeth the true glory' (Sir Francis Drake, on the day he sailed into Cadiz 1587).
We seek for our School a reputation for hard work, good sportsmanship and sensible
behaviour, for reliability and integrity. As Mr Gaitskell reminded us at the Official
Opening, a complete education is something more than training for a good job, there are
spiritual values, which we neglect to our peril. To love the Lord our God with all our
heart, with all our strength and with all our mind, and our neighbour as ourself is still
the greatest commandment of all.
What then of our future? The Bilborough Grammar School and the Clifton Hall Grammar
School (for girls) are almost certainly the last two Grammar Schools to be opened in our
City. The pattern of Secondary Education is changing throughout the Country and ours is
the responsibility and privilege both to accept the challenge of new ideas and, at the
same time, to hold fast those proven traditions of the past, which meet the needs of the
modern society into which our scholars are going. In our developing relationship with the
William Sharp School we have a unique opportunity of removing some of the unfortunate
consequences of a rigid tripartite system of Secondary education, of providing first rate
educational facilities for both the most academically able (not superior) child and the
average (though not inferior) child.
Whatever the facilities and opportunities provided, however capable the staff or able
the child, unless the co-operation between home and school, parent and teacher is
whole-hearted and effective, the full development of the child's personality will suffer
immeasurably. We value the co-operation of our Parents very highly indeed.
18th September, 1999