Updated 19 Apr 2009

Retford Grammar School

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Memories of RGS 1940-47

by Dave Dickinson

David Dickinson (at RGS 1940-1947) sends these 2009 reminiscences of school during difficult times. Thanks David.

    Memories of Retford Grammar School

    I lived about a mile from Beckingham up the Gringley road and caught a Lincolnshire Road Car bus at 8.00 a.m at the end of our lane. It arrived in Cannon Square at 8.40 from where we walked to the school. When I first attended the school, assembly was at 9.00, then we went to the first lesson in the allocated room and walked between each lesson to the next in its allocated room and so on until finishing time at 4.00 p.m with an hour for lunch. While in Junior Dept we didn't have to walk between each lesson as "Tash" Illingworth took all subjects in the one class room. Our homeward bus left Cannon Square at 4.30 arriving home at ten past five. When the Yarmouth school was evacuated to Retford during the war our school times were from 10.00 until 3.00. Yarmouth lads went from 8.00 to 10.00 and again from 3.00 to 5.00. They were all billeted in Retford as far as I know. Unfortunately for us the buses only ran every two hours from Gainsborough to Retford so those of us who travelled on that route still used the 8 o'clock and 4.30 buses. As the school was occupied we weren't able to stay and do our homework so we just wandered around the town, perhaps went to the library or into the local billiards hall and most afternoons went to a local baker's shop and bought a cob loaf to eat. Oddly, if we got detention we were able to stay for that!! On wet days it was worth doing detention. I had always thought it was Leeds Grammar School that was with us, but at my nephew's wedding in 1987 near Yarmouth his father-in-law told me that he was evacuated to our school during the war, so I realised my memory must have been faulty!

    There were three levels of punishment for misdeeds, "lines", detention and the cane. The cane was always wielded in the headmaster's room, but by Mr McFerran, not the Head. It was across the palm of the hand. There was a set of about a dozen or so School Rules. Prefects could set us lines to write for the next day, but only members of staff were able to give detention - an hour after school finished. If any lines weren't handed in next day then we would get detention during which we wrote out the lines and a few more on top!!

    I started in 1940 in Junior Department A, which was to the left of the main building and next to the "New Block". Tash Illingworth was our only teacher and my main memory of him was the unerring accuracy with which he could throw the board rubber at any of us who displeased him!! I was put into Bescoby House.

    In Sept '41 I went into Form 3a, taking 8 subjects, then to 4a, then Remove A, (when I was transferred to Foljambe House), then to Science V, then Science Cert. When we took the Cambridge School Certificate, I managed to get three credits (English Language, English Literature and French) and four "Very Good"s (Maths, Chemistry, Physics and Art). I then went into Science VI. My ambition up to then had been to become an architect but was persuaded by my father to leave before taking "Highers".

    What he had in mind for me didn't work out and eventually I was called up into the RAF for National Service at aged 18. On being demobbed I was unable to get a job for three months, but then I managed to get a job with British Celanese at Spondon, near Derby as a shift analyst, going part time to the Derby Tech. from where I got a scholarship to go full time to University to study chemistry. After a total of six years I ended up with a B.Sc and a Ph.D., after which I worked for I.C.I for thirty years.

    One's life doesn’t always go as planned!!

    However, back to my memories of Retford.

    The two oldest members of staff were Percy Hammond (Boss) and Andrews, the gardener-cum-caretaker. Both were there when my father was a boarder at the school, about the time of WW1. I have a copy of the post card depicting the school which my father sent to his mother and the post mark is April 1916. I think it is the same vintage as the one on your web page, but I have already sent you a copy of mine for you to compare. At the time my father attended the school the Head was Mr Gough for whom my father held the greatest regard.

    My Great Uncle, Sam Dickinson, who eventually became a professional cricketer and was in the Boer War, was also at RGS ( I am sending you a copy of a certificate of merit awarded to him). The head at that time (1883) was Oliver C. Cockrem. I thought my grandfather, John Henry Dickinson also attended, but I am not sure because I know he attended a school at Nottingham at one time. John and Sam came from Misson near Bawtry. My father, John Everatt Dickinson was born in Beckingham.

    Boss Hammond was the art and woodwork teacher, but we only did art, I presume because they couldn't get wood during the war.

    If one faced the school from the main gate on London Road, the Chemistry Lab was on the ground floor to the left of the main entrance and clock tower. The physics room was somewhere behind and above that. To the left of the school grounds, i.e. nearer Retford town centre was a road, Dominie Cross which led to a side gate, on the left of which entrance was the "Tin Tab", Andrews' domain and changing rooms for sporting activities.

    On the right of this entrance was the building in which Junior Dept was located as well as the room from milk was collected by milk monitors. To one end of this building, towards London Road, was the "New Block" at right angles to the main school building. At the back of the main building, on the left hand end was the workshop where Boss Hammond ruled, knocking us on the back of the head with his heavy gold ring on his left hand if we got something wrong, saying "That's no use boy". I even saw one boy knocked off his stool!!

    On the right of the main entrance were two class rooms, H1 & H2, but I can't remember what subjects were taught in them. The main assembly hall projected out from the back of the main building and beyond that was the playing field. In the far corner of the playing field was a fives court and round the edge to it's left was a series of air-raid shelters. Cricket and athletics events were held on the field.

    The Headmaster's house was on the right side of the main building when facing it from London Road. On part of the top floor of that part was a class room called the Dormitory, presumably because that was what it was in the days of boarders! Beyond that the Staff Common Room, accessed through the Dormitory. When we were at a class in the Dormitory staff were always walking through. On one occasion when Mr Wallace was taking us for biology and describing some intimate part of anatomy, he suddenly changed what he was saying in mid sentence. Mrs Harvey walked through and then he reverted to what he had been telling us!

    Those of us who stayed for lunch and didn't bring sandwiches had lunch in a dining room in the Head master's house. It was cooked by the Head's wife. The favourite sweet by far was very stodgy suet pudding(spotted dick) with sugar on it rather than custard!! Those boys who brought sandwiches had them in the "Tin Tab".

    The only sports I was involved in were various athletics events. My father didn't allow me to play any ball games as I wore glasses and he believed if I got hit my eyes would be cut!! In any case most matches were played on Saturday mornings and I had work to do at home!


    Teachers and their subjects

    J.D. Illingworth (Tash)         All Subjects in Junior Dept
    W.E. Lewis (Tubby)              Scripture
    G.W.R .Lines                    English & Geography
    Miss B. Garland                 Latin, French & German
         (She was off ill frequently and eventually died so 
          our lessons were very spasmodic)
    P.J.Dunne                       History
    Miss B. O'Hara                  General Science & Chemistry
         (She married ??Jones the Chemistry Master who was 
          in the services during the war)
    P. Hammond (Boss)               Art
         (He was a teacher of woodwork and art when my father 
          was a boarder at the school)
    P.B.E. Beasley (Oscar)          Physics
    Mrs W.J. Harvie                 English
         (Her husband was in the military and I believe he must 
          have been killed, because she later married P.J.Dunne. 
          I don't remember anything about her having a baby)
    A. Spencer (Spug)               French
    E.E. Charlton                   History
    Rev. W.P. McFerran              Geography
         (He also wielded the cane in the headmaster's study!!!)
    C.R.P. Wallace (The Colonel)    Biology
    Miss B.A. Rampton               German
    Miss N. Nicklin                 French
    ?? Jones                        Chemistry on his return from the war.
    C.W. Pilkington-Rogers (Wag)    Maths for sixth form only
    Andrews was the Gardner and groundsman and sorted the milk out for 
    monitors to collect. He kept the grass on the sports field cut and 
    marked out the field for various activities e.g. for sports day. He 
    also was at the school when my father was there.
    I still have most if not all my school reports and the above subjects 
    were abstracted form their entries. I don't remember all the teachers 
    clearly, but some I do!! 
    Tash Illingworth was most memorable due to the unerring accuracy with 
    which he could throw the wooden backed board rubber at anyone who 
    displeased him!
    Oscar Beasley had two other nicknames in addition to Oscar. He was 
    sometimes referred to as Oscar Beeswax and other times, rather unkindly 
    as "How how". His face was paralysed down one side, I think because he 
    had been kicked in the face playing rugby, so when he laughed it came 
    out as "how, how, how ......".
    The Head was called "Wag" because he had a very bad limp, perhaps a 
    false leg, I believe because of an injury in WW1. I never knew he was 
    involved with theatre, but I did know he was a magistrate. As far as I 
    remember he only taught the sixth form maths.
    I was initially very poor at French when Spug Spencer was the teacher, 
    but improved immensely when Noreen Nicklin took over. I believe she 
    eventually married T. Waterhouse, who was a student when she first came. 
    I didn't get on well with Spug, but did with Noreen Nicklin. I have 
    never understood whether the mutual dislike was because I was bad at 
    French or whether I was bad at French because of the mutual dislike!
    I always thought G.W.R.Lines' parents must have had a sense of humour, 
    in those days there was the Great Western Railway (Lines), but I don't 
    remember him having a nickname!
    Boss Hammond taught art and woodwork, but there weren't any woodwork 
    classes in my time. I suspect it was difficult to get wood during the 
    war. I have a copy of his poems. It cost 2/6!!
    Some of the pupils:
    J.M.Noble - he was one of the brightest, if not the best in our class.
    J.Almond - an exceptionally good all round sportsman.
    F.J.Jackson - keen on steam engines! He came from Bawtry.
    M.J.Moorhouse - a very good swimmer, but was killed at the swimming pool. 
    A number of us had been allowed to go there during an off period in the 
    exam season. He was on the diving board showing us poor swimmers his 
    skills and dived in doing what he called "dead man's drop" - prophetic 
    as it turned out. That involved keeping his hands to his side as he 
    entered the water. He came to the surface, swam slowly to the side but 
    had some difficulty climbing out. He was helped but had obviously hit 
    his head on the bottom of the pool. He had a small cut between his eyes 
    which was bleeding slightly. He was taken to the hospital where we later 
    discovered he had died. This was a shock to all of us as he didn't appear 
    to us badly injured. He was a very popular lad and a very good swimmer. 
    A very sad day.
    John Codd - He was in a class above me, maybe two. He was best known for 
    being an excellent sprinter, always well ahead in the field. Unfortunately 
    when he was old enough he got a motorbike, an Ariel Square Four, a very 
    powerful bike with a four cylinder engine. He would tear up and down 
    London Road, probably showing off to the girls. He eventually came off 
    while riding standing up on the seat and was killed.
    Michael Crompton - He took Languages, was another very bright pupil, 
    wrote articles for the “Retfordian”. He father owned the "Paper Bag 
    Shop" in Retford.
    A.J.Evans - He had a twin brother who was in the year below. This seemed 
    odd since they were both the same age!
    Colin Sykes - Played the trumpet and once gave the class a talk about it.
    John Barrow - played the piano for assembly in the mornings.
    Frank Levick - I think he was in a class higher than mine. He lived in 
    Beckingham and travelled on the same bus as myself. I think he became a 
    Charles Christmas - came from Clayworth.

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