Updated 03 Dec 2014

Retford Grammar School

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Memories of RGS 1951-59

by Ian McIntosh

Ian McIntosh sends these Memories of Schooldays. I find them delightful to read because we started at Retford on the same day in the same class, only a couple of desks apart. Thank goodness I can still remember almost everything he mentions. Ian sends this photo of himself, "in my sixth form days". Also these photos of boys in his class.
Ian writes: "I had rather a staggered career at school, rather held back by mind-numbing bouts of migraine. When I left I intended to go to Teacher Training College but ended up doing a year as an unqualified teacher at an enormous junior school teaching first-year bottom stream 1D. It was John Gover who put me on to a new college opening in Nottingham and I was in its first intake in 1960. I then taught sciences for the whole of my career ending up as Assistant Head of Lower School at a large High School in Norfolk. Annette and I married in 1966 and she was the head of the Art department in a similar school and then Senior Year-Head."

    Memories of Retford Grammar School
    Ian McIntosh 1951-1959

    July 1951 saw my departure from Bircotes Junior School for a summer holiday in which to prepare for the next stage in my education. School uniform had to be bought from the only supplier, Loseby’s of Retford and Worksop. We were still in the era of post-war austerity and although clothes rationing had ended, things were still not fully back to normal, so the only compulsory items seemed to be a school cap (dark green with red braid stripes radiating from the crown) and a school tie with red and green stripes and I think a blazer was desirable but not yet compulsory.

    In our area, the place for a school satchel was Frost’s the saddlers in Bawtry. Their window display was a riot of colour, showing the jockey’s silks in preparation for the racing at Doncaster. The most striking impression on entering the shop was a strong, glorious smell of leather, then the sight of saddles and other horsey bits and pieces. My parents chose a simple (i.e. affordable) satchel with single shoulder strap and front pocket and two buckles to fasten the flap. Price £2/10s if I remember aright.

    There were about six of us from our junior school on the bus to Retford, plus others we knew, who were in higher forms. Of course we had all been told of the horrible initiation ceremonies which awaited us as “New Boys” - heads pushed down the lavatory and the chain pulled etc. etc… Needless to say, none of these horrors turned out to be true, at least in my experience. The older boys seemed more intent on catching up on their holiday gossip and playing ball games on the field, than on tormenting “sprogs.” They scarcely gave us more than a curious glance.

    We were lined up in front of the main entrance beneath the Belfry and split into two forms alphabetically. The A to J surnames were in 1J and the K to Zs were in 1K and were treated as parallel forms. I believe that this was the first year for this arrangement and it seemed to confuse some of the well-established masters. I was in 1K (as was our esteemed webmaster here!) and our form master was Mr. E.C. Charlton who was a stickler for high standards of behaviour and stood no nonsense. In the classroom we were seated in alphabetical order starting on the back row, left-hand side. I remember the order now. Kemp, Kirk, Lake, McIntosh, Massey, Milburn, Mokes, Morris, Morris …

    Many of our lessons were held in our own form-room on the New Block, some in specialist rooms.

    History with Mr. Charlton. aka “Charlie” or “Bull” or “Mizza” - The Old Stone Age, and on from there!

    English with Mr. Hunter. Superb graphic artist who drew wonderful, humorous illustrations of scenes from the poems we were reading. I recall, from the Pied Piper of Hamelin, his drawing of the obese Mayor and his Corporation, showing the two meanings of “corporation.” He left to take up a post in Northumberland and we then had Mr. Charlton.

    Science with Mr. Wilson. For this we went to the Chemistry Lab. which seemed half underground, the high windows being at pavement level. One of our first practical lessons was to plot a cooling curve for paraffin wax (or was it naphthalene?) In one lesson, when we were sitting crowded around the teacher’s bench on lab. stools and side benches, one boy (D.M.S. I think) was obviously fascinated by the form of the laboratory taps, which were tall and had narrow tapering spouts. I watched him with growing disbelief as he slowly rotated the tap until the outlet was pointing up in the air. Then, following his own unofficial line of enquiry, he tried to turn the tap on - as it was stiff, he tried harder and suddenly to his and everyone else’s horror a forceful jet of water shot into the air and landed on and between the seated boys. Minor chaos followed but calm was quickly restored. I think the master realized that no malice was intended!

    Maths with Mr. J.D. Illingworth aka “Tash.” Always interesting. I can see now his diagrams illustrating the proofs of various geometric laws. We had to be quick to assess his “mood” as he could be jovial and jokey for the most part but morose and punitive on occasions. He was also our Latin master but for the first few weeks of the Autumn term we went to the Albert Street baths for swimming lessons, until they closed for the winter season. We ran to the baths chasing after Tash on his battered old bike which he told us was a “Rolls Canardly”. It rolls down one hill and can ‘ardly get up the next! When Latin lessons did start, it was a nightmare for me. I really did not get the hang of it at all. Now, having learnt a little Spanish, I wish we had started with that modern language and then moved on to Latin, it would have been so much easier.

    As a complete aside, Mr Illingworth had a son at the school, Paul who was an excellent swimmer and diver. Years later I met him in Norfolk where he was Rector of Weston Longville church and he told me that “Tash” was still alive and well into his eighties. All that cigarette smoke must have preserved him!

    Religious Education with Mr. Holman aka “Sandy.” I don’t remember much about the lessons except that he expected quite long essays about things which the writers of the Authorised Version managed to express in a handful of verses!

    P.E. and Geography with Mr. H. Brooke. I was utterly hopeless at almost all aspects of gym work and sport in general. When shown how to vault over the “Box,” I ran at it full tilt and head-butted it instead of doing a somersault over it.

    Games with Mr. Charlton. We had to walk from school, down Dominie Cross road past the Sir Frederick Milner secondary school to the school playing field. Here we played football on a sloping pitch, with the master in his robust trench coat looking on.

    French with Mr. Chislett. I got on with French much better than Latin.

    Art with Mr. Penrose. I quite liked Art and was reasonably good at it. I always seemed to get the same mark term after term, 54%!

    Music with Mr. Gooder. I really enjoyed music lessons in school although I did not play an instrument as many of the boys did - some with quite advanced piano grades under their belts.

    The usual daily ritual started with the first bell when we had to line up outside the hall for assembly. We stood in rows according to form under the ever watchful eye of Rev. MacFarran who was ferocious with anyone who transgressed. The Head would enter majestically, address the school, announce the hymn and the reading and have the whole thing over quite speedily. Then came registration and on to lesson time. There were seven lesson periods per day, two before morning break, then two after. Lunch time was from 12.35 to 13.50 and there were two sittings for lunch. (Speaking of which, the lunches at school were superb, except for the day when the gas works blew up and the school meals staff had to try to cook something up on Mrs. Gover’s AGA.)

    The trestle tables were arranged lengthways with a “Dinner Prefect” at each end and eight boys on forms along the side. There was a rota whereby every so many weeks, your table had to act as ‘servers’ for all the tables in the other sitting for a week. The scheme was administered by ‘Mac’ - Rev. MacFarran. The prized allocation was to serve the masters’ table as they sometimes left a small tip! (Or so I was told. Such luck never came my way.) After afternoon registration, there were three more lessons and school ended at 4.10p.m.

    After school, on Wednesdays and Fridays was the dreaded DETENTION. Miscreants were sent to the office to, “Bring me the detention book, boy.” The head read out the list in assembly by way of shaming the guilty. Detention was held in “The Dormitory,” a name lingering from a time when the school had in-house boarders. It ended at 5.15pm and one had to rush to get the bus from Cannon Square by 5.35. If a master on duty was slow to end the detention session, it could be 7.00pm before one got home. I thought it most unfair on those not living in Retford.

    Punishments meted out by masters, varied from copying out the school rules - Prefects have absolute authority over all questions of discipline. etc. - to writing lines (paper provided by all but Mr. Charlton - “I don’t care if you write it on sugar bags, laddie.”
    - detention (see above)
    - Saturday morning detention (almost the nuclear deterrent)
    - caning (officially only by the head and deputy, but got round by masters who used a slipper, or “Tash” who used the “Bacon Slicer,” a chop across the buttocks with the edge of a ruler. Painful and left little evidence!

    Prefects also gave out lines and in my early days they had a lunchtime detention. Their uniform was distinguishable from the others as the cap was plain dark green with a silken tassel hanging from the crown rather in the manner of the mortarboard.

    As new boys, we had to learn the ropes, such as keeping to the one-way system, raising the peak of one’s cap on seeing a master in town or doffing the cap completely if seeing Mrs. Gover cycling to or from home. As I remember it, my school life for the first few years was filled with fear. There was fun, of course, and the pleasure at mastering new things and making new friendships.

    During lunchtime we were allowed out into the town and often went across the road (the A1) to Mrs. Smedley’s shop for a glass of ‘pop’ where she would mix bizarre concoctions of various mineral waters such as dandelion and burdock with cherryade with a splash of limeade - whatever ridiculous recipe we came up with - all for 2½d. She also sold old fashioned pen nibs of an amazing variety - severely angled ones for left-handers - ones with five points, for ruling music manuscripts! Woolworths was an attraction too as was the “Paper Bag Shop,” just behind the town hall.

    As new boys, some of us had little idea about those assumed norms of how things were done. One incident illustrates this naïveté . It was announced that we were to have the afternoon off to go to the playing field to watch the school football team play against another school and as we were not remotely interested in football, I, together with two class-mates decided to go off to the town until bus time. We did not regard this as sneaking off and were quite open about our tour of Retford. Just as we were entering Woolworths, who should we see coming out but our form master. We greeted him politely with the usual tip of the cap and continued on our way untroubled. However ...
    ...there was trouble, and it lasted for years! We seemed never to hear the last of it and it took me a long to redeem myself in that master’s eyes. He later held me up as a paragon of virtue for volunteering to enter more events in the House sports “Standard Tests.”

    The latter were athletic tests for which points were gained according to times/distances recorded relative to age. No matter how poor you were you could gain a point even for running 100 yards quite slowly. The more events you entered, the more points you clocked up. These points were added to those on Sports Day to decide the winning house. The pressure was on everyone to take part, even the dud runners and throwers, like me!

    End of Part One.

    Ian McIntosh June 2013

    Memories of Retford Grammar School
    (Part Two)
    Ian McIntosh 1951-1959

    At the end of the first year we were tested and the results determined whether we were to be in the “A” or “B” stream in the second year. I was in 2B! As far as I remember, it was at the beginning of our second year that there were several boys transferred to the school as a result of their scores in the “13+” exam. From memory, they went on to do well, having been classed as “11+” failures. Although I have much to thank the school for, I find the idea of classing children as failures at the age of eleven distasteful. Much of my time from second year to fifth year was spent trying to master the subjects being taught, with varying degrees of success. The only subject I really hated and could not handle, was Latin. (If only we had had a year of Spanish first!) My preferences and abilities were in the science subjects. I find it difficult to differentiate events, and to put them in chronological order, for the time I spent in the second, third and fourth years. What follows is going to be very much as things come to mind. Going back to the first year, I remember one cold February morning, my friend Peter Millburn looking out of the window in a maths lesson with Mr. Illingworth, and asking him why the school flag was flying at half-mast. He did not know but went to find out and on his return told us that the King had died that morning. I think there was a special assembly in which the choir sang “God Save the Queen” which we found strange after a lifetime of singing “God Save the King.” Some days later the whole school was assembled, along with other groups, in the market square, in front of the Town Hall to hear the Royal Proclamation read out.

    Founders’ Day
    Every year, the whole school would go to St. Swithuns church for the Founders’ Day service in which the founders of the school were lauded. From memory, there was a civic element with the mayor present (but I may be mistaken, here.) I got the giggles during a quiet moment in the service and received a hefty prod from the head boy, D.A.Smith.

    Stage Productions
    There was a core of younger masters who together with the senior English master, Mr. Bartley, put on revues. The first of these, I believe, was “Pleas Sir!” which features the said masters and some of the more talented pupils. The stage in the hall was not suitable for theatrical work as it stood, but Mr. Allcock and others built an apron to extend the stage forwards into the hall by about four feet. Then wooden towers were added at each side to support the lights and curtains. Mr. McNeil rigged up the electrics with a bank of dimmers for the stage and front-of-house lights. A powerful spotlight was operated from the projection room, behind the balcony. In some of the productions girls from Retford High School for Girls took part. (Oh, the excitement!) One production echoed the advent of commercial TV and sketches were interspersed by adverts.
    “Glisto Magic Wonder for all your household chores,
    Glisto for the furniture, Glisto for the floors!”
    During my time in the sixth form I worked behind the scenes, building sets and painting flats. I found this a most rewarding experience and continued this interest when at college.

    Film shows, music concerts and theatre visits.
    From time to time the timetable was suspended for the afternoon and we were ushered into the hall for a film show. Usually the films were “worthy” in theme. Science subjects given the Hollywood treatment by American evangelicals with a heavy-handed religious message at the end. Or, more rarely, a Jacques Tati film!
    To black out the hall, large canvas-covered screens were hung on the outside of the windows – tricky on a breezy day.
    I remember, too, visits to a local cinema for a music concert and to Nottingham Playhouse (the little old one, not the 1960s one.)

    Each year there were exams in every subject (I can’t remember if they were more frequent) and there were termly reports. The report sheets were given to the boys to fill in name, form, age etc and then the masters wrote insightful comments such as, “Satis.” – meaning satisfactory. This clerical work was done during lesson time while we amused ourselves with games. When the reports were complete, with the additional comments by the Head of House and the Headmaster, we were issued with envelopes which we addressed to our parents and the form master folded the report, put it in the envelope and watched carefully while we sealed it. The trick was to lick the gum off so it did not stick well and open the envelope as soon as we were back in our desk. We were graded by mark as a percentage but class position was by “Rank,” a statistician’s concept which largely passed us by and baffled most parents.

    Some winters we got snow, which was a great delight, giving rise to snowball fights on the field. “Tash” Illingworth would enter the school by the back gate and walk at a steady pace in front of the bike sheds while boys lined up to try to hit him with a well-aimed snowball! I never saw him seriously hit, the snowballs seemed miraculously to just miss. And him with a seraphic smile of triumph!
    One year some senior possibly fourth year boys organised the construction of two giant snowmen, one, very tall and very lean had the name “Spike” written in bits of coke and the other, round and fat had the initials of one of the headmaster’s nicknames embedded. They stayed up without comment for a couple of days, then in assembly, the head, without any air of anger or outrage said that the groundsman was concerned that the weight of the snow would damage the grass, and that it would be appreciated if the snowmen could be dismantled and the snow scattered about the field where it would harmlessly melt in due course.
    At break and lunchtime the task was carried out and the giants were dispersed as efficiently and with as much good humour as they had been assembled. I think this illustrates the tolerant attitude of the head and his way of dealing with teen-age boys. More on this theme later.

    New buildings
    During my last year or two at school there were new buildings constructed. Firstly, due to a gift of £10,000 from Sir Stuart Goodwin, an old boy of the school, and Master Cutler in Sheffield, squash courts were built. Then new laboratories were built for chemistry, physics and biology. During the transfer to the new labs, quite a lot of old equipment was got rid of, and we could help ourselves to what we fancied. I had an induction coil, for example.
    In clearing out the old museum / biology lab, we discovered boxes of old photographic glass-plate negatives which we were told to dump in the dustbin. As a keen photographer, this now horrifies me.
    The new laboratories were built using the CLASP system of modular construction and had large windows and sprung floors. Direct sunlight meant that Bunsen burner flames were rendered invisible and the sprung floors played havoc with the chemical balances. Progress, eh!

    When clearing out the old Physics lab. we turned our attention to the large glass-fronted cupboards which stood to the left and right of the blackboard. The left-hand one had always had three or four rifles dating from the time when the school had a rifle club, probably before the second world war. When I got to the top of the step ladder and looked on the top of the cupboard there was a cardboard box lid with assorted small change, halfpennies, pennies and threepenny bits all covered in a layer of dust. Then I found more cardboard boxes which were very heavy for their size and on opening on I found live .22 ammunition for the rifles! Mr. Beasley went rather pale when we asked him what we should do with it all! I think we may have been sworn to secrecy, but I don’t remember.

    Being a Prefect (or “Nix” was the nickname!)
    The master who has a down on me for several years because of the football match incident (see Part. 1) saw me in a different light when I offered to do some extra activities in the Standard Tests (see Part. 1) and when the time came, I believe, supported my being made a prefect. This was a great surprise to me as I did not think of myself as being in favour to that degree. The process usually entailed being appointed as a sub-prefect, whilst still in the Lower Sixth form, to replace the prefects who were sitting their A-level exams. I must have performed reasonably well as I was later confirmed as a full prefect.
    The duties were pretty much to keep the boys in order everywhere except in lessons. The privilege was to be able to use the prefects’ room during breaks and non-lesson periods. One of the jobs was to ring the bell for the start of school and the lesson changes. Initially, this was by using a bell rope attached to a suspended bell, later, an electric bell was installed with a bell-push just outside the office. Another duty was to do a reading in assembly after going to the Head’s study to tell him that the school was ready for him.
    We could issue ‘lines’ to errant boys but prefects’ detention had been abolished (if my memory is correct.)
    At Christmas dinner, we decided to dine in the prefects’ room and have wine! All went well until the master on duty popped his head round the door with some message and took in the scene and departed.
    Next the deputy head came in and announced that he had consulted the headmaster about our having wine on school premises. To our surprise, the head’s response was that he was disappointed that we had not asked him first! I believe that the next year’s prefects did ask and got his permission.

    There was a school choir which led the hymn singing in morning assembly. They sat in the tiered seats in the balcony at the rear of the hall. They also sang at the Founders’ Day service. The music master was Mr. Gooder, later replaced for a year or so by Mr. Gray and then Mr. Taylor was appointed. It was he who announced in assembly that he wanted to recruit many more pupils into the choir as he had a special project in mind. He said he needed about 400 pupils to audition (out of a school roll of about 460!) for a much larger choir.
    I stood up to volunteer, amidst much sniggering. Eventually, lots more joined and the choir was formed. The plan was to perform two works, Bach’s St. Luke Passion (actually, an amalgam of pieces from other works such as the St. Matthew Passion) and Schubert’s Mass in G. Rehearsals started in the Autumn term. After we mastered the Bach, we turned to the Schubert, which we disliked. By the time came for the performance, we much preferred the Schubert! The performance in the parish church was recorded by Jim Porter, who I believe had an LP made.

    Ian McIntosh
    December 2014

    End of Part Two.

    Ian McIntosh Dec 2014

Back: T Wilson, PW Williamson, MJ Turner, JC White, JC Palmer, JA Shuker, JG Tasker, AJ Walker, BS Lake, P Millburn
Mid: JE Tarr, D Mokes, RC Kemp, A Oxby, RW Willcock, G Skelton, G Smith, MA Orritt, TJ Partridge, J Morris
Front: GM Rose, AR Massey, KR Kirk, AW Stubbings, PJ Thorlby, Mr EC Charlton, I McIntosh, JM Sulley, GK Morris, DM Scott, JC Willshee

Back: I McIntosh, WF Gallagher, M Cooke, P Milburn, JC White, TA Besford, G Skelton, PW Williamson, JM Sulley
Mid: Collins?, Brewster?, D Cook, A Fox, AR Massey, P Henry, JJ Gallaher, DM Scott, BE Hicks, MA Orritt
Front: TJ Partridge, ??, PJ Thorlby, JG Tasker, AW Stubbings, Mr JD Illingworth, Flaherty, B Holt, B? Wright, N Robinson, Beardsmore??

Back: ??, ??, D Hunt, N Thorne, "Jake" Webster
Mid: Vallentine?, ? Hedley, ??, ??, A Booth, ? Conniff, J Rowley, ??
Front: JA Simpson, I McIntosh, ??, Hagen Jurke, Dr Arnold, P Barratt, B Holt, JGJ Porter, R Briggs

Back: Scott, Neil Thorne, David Hunt, Ian McIntosh, Bamforth?, "Jake" Webster, Brian Holt, Bishop?
Front: Peter Barton, Simon Chislett, Keith Morris, Roger Greaves (Head Boy), Lionel Jones, Sam Blower, Hagen Jurke

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