Memories of King Edward VI Grammar School
and life in Retford 1949 - 1954
Memories of Retford Grammar School (1949 – 1954)
– John Frankland
I was at Blyth School when I managed to pass the 11+. We lived one mile
south of the village and so I used to bike it – downhill in the morning
and uphill in the evening – to get the school bus into Retford. In
decent weather, I sometimes cycled all the way to Retford.
I remember my first day at RGS. Mr Pilkington-Rogers was headmaster – I
didn’t have much connection with him but I knew that he wielded the cane
from time to time and I was happy to keep my distance. After that first
Assembly, the new boys were told to remain behind. Mr McFarren (‘Mac’)
addressed us but within minutes he was bawling at one particular newcomer
– in fact he went ballistic at the lad – something to do with his jacket
not being right I think. We were all frozen with fear and I resolved to
keep well clear of this Master. It was much later that I enjoyed listening
to Mac’s ‘Troddles’ stories when we should have been learning geography.
The school was in for a treat when Mr Gover took over as Head. In his
first Assembly, he told the school to sit on the floor and only stand to
sing the hymn. Everyone thought that this was a real privilege, if a bit
soft, and we were delighted. I eventually conned my way into the choir
– mainly to have a comfy seat in the balcony at the back of the Hall.
I remember the games field at the back of the school with its Fives Court
and Air Raid Shelters. The whole school used to join in with a game that
involved throwing a ball as hard as possible at someone. That someone had
to fist the ball away or take over the throwing if it hit the body.
Bruised limbs and sore knuckles were commonplace on the more serious
players. The game must have had a name?
We had to pass ‘Sir Fred’s’ school to get to the Fields for the football
or cricket sessions. We had to suffer hurls of abuse and threats of death
as we hurried past! I think there were three football pitches but I
remember mostly the ‘Mountain Side’ with its ridiculous slope! I was in
Bescoby House and somehow managed to get into the House Second XI.
Swimming was at the Public Baths and we would sprint there from school
in order not to lose a minutes swimming time. The place was pretty
dilapidated but we loved every moment there. I swam a few times for the
school, visiting Doncaster and Nottingham for competions.
School dinners were great and, amongst the usual puddings – ‘frogspawn’
and ‘electric pie’ (current pie), I was introduced to the treacle based
Cornflake Tart, always with dollops of custard. It’s still a firm favourite
with me and on my menu from time to time even now! The ‘Penny Buns’ from
the shop in London Rd were also excellent – later distributed from a van
at the school.
Train Spotting was a regular activity during the lunch breaks. I re-visited
the station with my son, some years ago now, and was delighted to see my
initials still carved in the wall where we used to patiently sit! I just
wish I had my ‘Ian Allen’ log book still.
Some of us visited Sheffield City Hall with the Music Club to listen to
the Ted Heath Band. I hadn’t a clue what to expect (never heard of him)
but that evening I was totally taken by the atmosphere and the big band
sound – I was an instant convert to big band and jazz. I still am.
A group of us also went to Anglesey for a week’s camp. ‘Spike’ was the
organiser and we had a terrific time, meeting up with other schools,
expeditions along the coast, sleeping in Bell Tents etc.
One summer ‘Banna’ (Bannister) and I cycled all the way to Paris and
Fontainebleu. How we got permission from parents to do that beggars belief
but we did. We went by train to London, then bike to Dover and across to
Calais. We lived on bread and jam and found that in France we could buy
beer and wine even at the age of 14. That was when one pound equalled
1000francs – we felt really rich! Mr Chislett expected us to speak
better French on our return but I’m not sure that there was much improvement.
I was very interested in cars (I joined the Motor Trade eventually) and was
always delighted when the sometimes fiery Mr Hunter skilfully sketched
the cars of the day (XK120 I recall) on the blackboard. Mr Beasley was
also a car man and I recall him driving into the school in the new Mini
Cooper which he allowed us to closely examine. I admired him for that and
definitely tried harder in his physics lessons! I didn’t like maths very
much and was not very good at it – I remember ‘Tash’ more for his ‘Bacon
Slicers’ and dedication to sports. However, when Duncan McNeil (‘Brag’)
joined the staff, I changed completely – couldn’t get enough maths and I
still love the subject. What a tragedy when I heard that ‘Brag’ had been
killed in a motor accident.
All in all, it was a good experience at RGS. I’m very proud to have been
a student there and although I didn’t particularly shine academically (I
had to catch up as a young adult), I still appreciate the way the school
provided a sound and solid background for a decent life. What a shame to
close down such a successful and historic school.